Atheism, the Bible, and doubt
I am not an atheist, nor even an agnostic. Keep that in mind, because I am not saying the Bible promotes atheism. Quite the opposite, of course — but there is a passage in the Bible that helps us Jews and Christians to understand why some people are atheist/agnostic and why we cannot persuade them otherwise. The reason may humble us.
From 1 Corinthians 2:14 (King James Version):
[T]he natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
This passage rebukes atheism, but it also reveals to us the central difference between those of us who believe in God and those who do not. We are given no reason to hold ourselves above atheists, for we are not the authors of our own faith. We are, instead, the recipients of a free gift, having done nothing to earn it.
There may seem to be, at first, every reason to reject spiritual faith in God and to accept a purely material (i.e., natural) explanation of reality. Indeed, many a believer in God experiences doubt when confronted by the vast array of influences from physical science. Only when we further investigate the core of materialist science do we find at its center emptiness and futility.
Bear in mind that this is not a condemnation of science, but rather a rejection of the unscientific philosophy that underpins the beliefs of many modern scientists. That philosophy avers that the only explanation for physical reality is...well, physical reality.
That circular philosophy makes no mention of right or wrong, of good or evil, or of the inherent worth of humankind. It leaves no room for our spiritual nature. Indeed, it is at a loss to explain the most obvious scientific evidence of our nonphysical nature, our consciousness, which is the only observed phenomenon that observes itself. Finally, in rejecting the independent agency of the human soul — that is, free will — physical science abandons all notions of personal accountability.
Such a philosophy offers nothing useful.
As for accountability, the atheist cannot say the devil made me do it; he says instead that nature made him do it. Indeed, according to him, everything you think, do, and say is forced upon you by the unknowing, uncaring, and blind forces of nature. In that paradigm, nothing is ever anyone's fault, nor is there any virtue in doing right.
The atheist says there is no purpose in our existence unless we imagine one, but that sort of imagination is not purpose; it is illusion.
The atheist demands proof and, finding none, rejects God. In Acts 26:28, the Bible gives an example of the futility of trying to prove God by physical means: "Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuade me to become a Christian.'"
Almost, but not quite.
While one cannot proceed by logical steps from atheism to faith in God, one can, instead, if beginning with faith, explain the place of physical science in the spiritual life of man.
As Bishop Fulton J Sheen wrote:
The great arcana of Divine Mysteries cannot be known by reason, but only by Revelation. Reason can however, once in possession of these truths, offer persuasions to show that they are not only not contrary to reason, or destructive of nature, but eminently suited to a scientific temper of mind and the perfection of all that is best in human nature.
We cannot, then, persuade the atheist. Only God can do that. What we can do, however, is to stand fast in our faith and not let it be taken from us, neither by force nor by guile.
Image: Jakob Vogel.
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