Atheism and Intellectual Integrity

I have sometimes mulled over how far atheism is a position of intellectual integrity. A quote from Carl Sagan in the Washington Post has made me think about this again. Sagan, the great cosmologist of distinctive voice and, I believe, no particular friend of Christianity once remarked, “An atheist has to know a lot more than I know.” Now here is what makes me think about the intellectual integrity of atheism. Agnosticism I understand- there may be a divine being but we cannot know for sure. Atheism- that there is no God I find more difficult to understand. For does not atheism presuppose the omniscience of the atheist? That he has indeed sufficient knowledge to conclude that there is beyond doubt no God? Is agnosticism not a much more intellectually defensible question?

The current tend towards militant atheism makes me question its intellectual integrity still further. If God does not exist why is that not clear to all who have sufficient education? Why has belief not collapsed? Why the militancy and ‘yah boo’ derision of belief as opposed to sane argument for atheism? Or is it a case of argument weak shout loudly?

Finally if atheists refuse to take seriously arguments for belief is it not a case that they too have closed minds just as surely as the religionists they decry? Is not agnosticism the more intellectually defensible position?

Again I must go back to the Bible and agree with the words of the Psalms which state, ‘the fool has said in his heart there is no God.’

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7 Responses to “Atheism and Intellectual Integrity”

  1. Joe Says:

    “For does not atheism presuppose the omniscience of the atheist? That he has indeed sufficient knowledge to conclude that there is beyond doubt no God? Is agnosticism not a much more intellectually defensible question?”

    No.

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismmyths/a/omniscience.htm
    http://atheism.about.com/od/aboutatheism/p/atheism101.htm

    “If God does not exist why is that not clear to all who have sufficient education?”

    You mean, like it was clear to all those sufficiently educated Christians that blacks were fully human and deserved equal rights?

    “Why has belief not collapsed?”

    Why has belief in astrology not collapsed?

    “Finally if atheists refuse to take seriously arguments for belief is it not a case that they too have closed minds just as surely as the religionists they decry?”

    Why do you assume that they haven’t taken arguments seriously, then seriously examined them, an finally found them too poor to justify belief?

    “Again I must go back to the Bible and agree with the words of the Psalms which state, ‘the fool has said in his heart there is no God.’”

    Well, gee, if your god exists then why is that not clear to all who have sufficient education? Why has atheism not collapsed? Why the “yah boo” derision of disbleief as opposed to a sane argument for theism? Or is this a case of a weak position being defended through insults?

    You might make a credible defender of religious theism if you didn’t adopt the tactics you presume to criticize – and if you displayed a bit more understanding of atheism in the first place.

  2. sibbesian Says:

    Christian belief has never been based upon education. Rather it is rooted in God’s revelation and our willingness to receive that revelation. In other words Christianity is not for an intellectual elite.
    My question “Why has belief not collapsed?” still holds- if atheism is so obvious why have we not witnessed the collapse of Christianity? For example why is Christianity now taking such a central role in Chinese culture almost half a century after there was an attempt to eradicate it? I don’t grasp your point on astrology.
    I’m not ASSUMING that atheists haven’t taken the case for Christianity seriously, rather as I have encountered some atheists in the blogsphere it has become clear that they on the whole do not understand the nature of Christianity.
    You cannot read Hitchens, Dawkins et al and tell me that there is not a fair degree of yah boo comment.
    And you’re right I should not stoop to that level in defence of Christianity. Nor do I intend to. As far as I am aware I have not derided those who profess atheism. I am happy enough, as our previous discussion has demonstrated, that I am open to discuss with atheists, to acknowledge where I think they have a case and to try to engage respectfully with views. My recent post did not as far as I can see go beyond raising issues for comment.

  3. gilderoy Says:

    Certain held presuppositions will always lead (logically) to certain conclusions. This will never change.
    Discussions will take place…but it comes down to a matter of faith in revealed truth, as a starting point, and subsequently that truth being philosophically and logically out worked.

    The only hope for reconciliation between atheist and theist is for both to waken up and see that the justification or falsification of any mystical experience or religious truth statement is purely subjective–there is no objective fact that will ever substantiate religious experience or the existence of god. You either have faith or you don’t.

    In nature, source and conclusion they are different. Both have cases, but discussion will only have one ending–the shaking of hands, a respectful goodbye…and the prayer that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth to the “fool” who says there is no god,” while the atheist quietly walks home stating that the theist was a genuine and kind individual, but wrong.

    However, if one feels the need to convince the atheist that he/she is wrong then, again, you and I have differing starting points.

    My advice, instead of wasting your evening in meaningless discussion, take the kids out for a meal or plan an evening of serious love-making with your wife or girlfriend.

  4. sibbesian Says:

    Thanks for the advice Gilderoy, my wife and family will be thrilled! I accept your point on presuppositions. But I’m not as accepting of your idea of faith as a mystical experience especially in the light of the historic particularity of Jesus that lies at the heart of the Christian.
    I’m left a little uncertain by your statement, ‘However, if one feels the need to convince the atheist that he/she is wrong then, again, you and I have differing starting points.’ If I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died to make atonement for my sins so that I might be reconciled to God, why would I wish to withhold that message from someone who is pursuing the folly of shutting himself off from God? Might such an approach not be deemed uncharitable? Why should I not at least wish to engage in discussion with such a person with a view to the testing of both our beliefs?
    Whilst the discussion may at times prove difficult it may also prove to be of eternal significance.

  5. Feargal Says:

    Watching both sides at times displaying the very arrogance and self righteousness with which the opposition is slapped….. I do not think anyone has a claim to be pure! My guess (and my philosophical beginning) is with Jesus, with his background, with his own claims and test of claim. At least he was clear on rejecting arrogance and pride (note how often his own followers failed that!). I find nothing to act as a brake on an atheist, being able to proclaim, as some atheists I know, that self-expression is enough.

    I have to say, with pain, to paraphrase Gandhi, “Even if I could consider atheism seriously, I could not become an atheist, because of all the atheists”.

    On that basis, I wish to hear how atheists will express an opinion on my life, on my values, on any test of truthfulness, or even on my own hubris.

  6. JD Winty Says:

    1st, belief and knowledge are very different things and to presume that an atheist is operating from a knowledge position with respect to God simply doesn’t make sense. It is a position of belief, in this case the lack of such is god(s).
    2nd, regarding knowledge, since nobody can claim to know all proofs, then nobody can claim to know for sure about anything and thus everyone is an agnostic.
    3rd, atheists tend to appreciate and enjoin themselves far more with science and the values most important to same. It is these values that are so important in supporting the beliefs they do hold and give it credibility. Religion operates despite any of the values found in science and without anything of real evidentiary value, giving it very little credibility. In the face of this, the atheist can operate from a much greater degree of certainty about where things stand in this world.

  7. sibbesian Says:

    Thanks JD. I of course disagree that ‘religion operates despite any values found in science.’ To begin with modern science grew out of a Christian worldview. Secondly, many Christians are also scientists. Thirdly, science and Christianity are not inherently in conflict- only certain approaches to both are in conflict. Furthermore I fail to see what values arise as a result of science. Or how science enables an atheist to answer questions about God with a greater degree of certainty.

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