John Mark Reynold, 2004.
What has happened to American atheism? If internet content is any clue, then this is a movement in serious decline. With an aging set of arguments, it seems to survive mostly on a sense of superiority it gained in the fifties. This is sad, since atheism has had a long and interesting philosophical tradition. On the other hand, on-line content is not well suited (at present) for long arguments. For example, this blog is certainly not a set of arguments, but a running commentary. So perhaps American atheism is more robust in the academy than it seems on-line.
In philosophy, atheism long ago lost the “cutting edge” with journals like Philosophia Christi and groups such as the Society of Christian Philosophers enjoying sustained growth. Lately, I have noticed that younger defenders of atheism often are less well educated and have less background than their predecessors. A movement is in peril that moves from Flew to Dan Barker. Most top philosophy programs now have a solid number of evangelical Christians in them. Catholic philosophy continues as a strong force in the field. Of course, one can rationally be an atheist or an agnostic. There are many fine atheist thinkers, some of whom are valued mentors of my own. For me, it is not a position that seems as plausible as theism after careful examination. Plato led me out of any desire to be an atheist along with a good dose of logic. More than any other work, his Republic and Timaeus made me look for a that great “known unknown.”
Let me briefly give three reasons I am not an atheist:
First, atheism has no way to sustain meaningful goodness and beauty. It might be the case that the Good and the Beautiful are “unreal” or human creations. However, if there is a rational way to sustain their existence, then I prefer that view. It seems better to me to be able to say that the KKK is evil and not just that I dislike their views as a personal preference. It seems preferable to know that a rose is beautiful, than to think there is no real beauty at all. Of course, this is a complicated discussion, but if Christian theism must struggle to make sense of evil (and it must), then I prefer that to a struggle to sustain any concept of “good.”
Second, some arguments for God’s existence seem sound and compelling to me. Versions of the ontological argument (such as those of Plantinga) are at the very least intellectually interesting. The Kalaam Argument as formulated by my friend William Lane Craig is also worth looking at. Evidence for at least some supernatural experiences, like Christ coming back from the dead, also seem convincing. The existence of the human mind also seems suggestive on a non-naturalistic reality. So certain rational considerations suggest God’s possible (or probable) existence to me.
Finally, I have had a personal experience with God. It might be the case that this is “just in my head,” but I see no rational gain in believing so. I cannot doubt this experience happened and so the simple explanation (that the experience is what it seems to be) is best. This religious experience lines up with those of other people at other places at other times. I have put God to the test and He is there. Atheism can explain this away, but since it has cost me nothing in terms of being able to live a rational and skeptical life, theism seems preferable. There was a time in my life when I greatly wanted God to be “unreal.” Personally, having read both sides of the literature at the highest level, I could not remain outside the traditional Christian fold. I teach and live by the code that any question is good, if asked sincerely.
I also stand with Plato as a lover of Socrates and the hard question. However, skepticism (God bless it!) is just one tool in a philosopher’s tool kit. It cannot be basic, because then one would end up being skeptical about skepticism itself. Instead, I prefer moving ahead with beliefs (properly basic ones and ones rationally developed from those) while always examining them with best reason.In any case, my friends who are non-theists are good folk and deserve a hearing. They think I am wrong and many of my views dangerous. Of course, I return the favor! However, the best way to deal with such disagreements is in the free market of ideas. This is not an apologetics blog, of course. There are many good resources on line. However, for those interested in serious work, I would recommend getting off line and reading some back issues of Philosophia Christi (https://www.biola.edu/philchristi/) which is young, but growing publication from my school or some other serious journal in philosophy of religion. The best group to examine is the Society of Christian Philosophers. On a popular level, I admire the folk at Stand to Reason (https://www.str.org/).