Is Atheism a Religion?
March 7, 2008
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Several books have come out recently decrying religion and promoting atheism as the only correct way to view the world. Personally, whenever I hear someone say that something is “the only correct way,” I get very suspicious. Absolute language tends to be the province of zealots and radical fundamentalists. Zealots and radical fundamentalists of any stripe make me nervous. For them, their understanding of God and God’s will is carte blanche to commit any act whatsoever in the name of their God.
Atheists, of course, have no God to whom they are responsible. One then has to ask to what it is they turn for their direction in life. Their answer is often one or a combination of the following: natural law, social morality or science. I’ll address these one at a time.
Natural law is problematic because it is a specific philosophical term that is tossed about by atheists as meaning anything from “common sense,” “natural moral selection” or “doing that which is right.” Used in such a manner, natural law is, by definition, so subjective as to be a useless tool.
Social morality, similarly, is dependant on the society in which it is posited. It is as dangerous to apply social morality universally as it is to impose one religion on all people. One can rarely remove a belief system from the context in which it is developed.
Science is the final line of defense for atheists. They argue that anything that people of faith attribute to God can be attributed to science with fewer steps. They employ Occom’s Razor – a philosophical tool that essentially means that in the description of any process, one should never apply any more steps than necessary. This is the “all things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best” theory.
The application of Occom’s Razor might work like this. I believe that God is the Creator, and I believe current scientific thought concerning the Big Bang Theory as the way the universe was formed. I do not find it contradictory to hold these two thoughts any more than I find a contradiction between the theory of evolution and God as Creator. I have no trouble believing that the scientific processes through which the universe came into being was at its root the action of the Creator God. However, in the application of Occom’s Razor, God would be considered an unnecessary step and would be removed.
The problem with turning to science as that to which we turn for direction in our lives is two-fold. First, science is morality-neutral. Science itself cannot form the basis of a system of morality as science is non-existent as a concept until it is employed by humans. Once employed, it is subject to the moral system of the humans employing it. Nuclear science is neither inherently good nor bad. The morality of that science is dependant on the application.
Secondly, science, in the words of a contemporary scientist, is “the current best guess.” Scientists are loathe to claim absolutes (unlike the zealots that use science as a religion). Good scientists are aware that those things that were once considered to be absolutes have fallen away as new technologies have led to new discoveries. Each generation is unable to fathom that there might be contradictory information on the horizon, and because of that, science is essentially based on faith.
Atheistic fundamentalists would like to claim that science disproves the existence of God. Religious fundamentalists would like to claim that God works independently of science. I do not believe either group is correct. I am fairly sure that science cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God, and I am fairly sure that the existence of God does not negate science, any more than the existence of God negates any body of human knowledge.
In the end, we all believe in something. The trouble begins when our faith is so blind that it becomes unquestionable. I do not know any theologian that has not at least considered the possibility of the non-existence of God. But I know far too many atheists who refuse to consider the possibility of the existence of God.