The Faith of the Atheist – aish.com
There are a lot of atheists out there. Is it really necessary faith to maintain this position?
I may be an academic philosopher, but I’m also an Orthodox rabbi. Therefore, you may not be surprised to learn that my answer to the question “Is there a God?” is a resounding yes. There is a god. By the word “God” I mean a supremely good and intelligent being, powerful enough to bring this universe into existence and govern its evolution according to his will.
Unfortunately, most of my colleagues in the world of contemporary philosophy, at least in the English-speaking world, disagree. Nevertheless, I am happy to say: my theism does not place me in an insignificant minority. Despite our numbers, some of the greatest, best-known, and most celebrated philosophers of our time are committed theists (Saul Kripke, Alvin Plantinga, Eleonore Stump, Dean Zimmerman, Richard Swinburne, Lara Buchak, etc.). What we lack in quantity, we make up for in quality.
By the word “God” I mean a supremely good and intelligent being, powerful enough to bring this universe into existence and govern its evolution according to his will.
Of course, atheists often accuse theists of wishful thinking; to create an imaginary friend in heaven to comfort them in the face of human helplessness and mortality. In fact, I think wishful thinking is often the basis of atheism. Some people just prefer not to believe in God
Here is an example. It turns out that the various physical constants that govern our universe are extremely “finely tuned” to be hospitable to the emergence of life. According to most physicists, the odds that our universe was hospitable to life are less than one in a trillion billion billion billion billion. Atheist physicist Leonard Susskind writes that the conditions of life in this universe are “so incredibly finely tuned that no one would think it was accidental”.
The theist does not think this is accidental at all. These conditions were established on purpose, by a being powerful enough to govern the evolution of the universe: namely, God. So how does Susskind escape God? It does this by assuming that there are an infinite number of universes. Suppose you have an infinite number of universes. In this case, there may be more than a one in a trillion trillion trillion trillion chance that your universe is hospitable to life, but one universe or another is bound to be lucky.
The theist does not think this is accidental at all. These conditions were established on purpose, by a being powerful enough to govern the evolution of the universe: namely, God.
To escape the existence of a single God, the atheist is forced to postulate the existence of an infinite number of universes – some of which, presumably, contain very powerful divine beings of their own. All this to escape from God. Who here is guilty of letting their psychological desires lead them to absurd conclusions?
According to the best scientific account of the origins of life, we emerged as the product of natural selection, in a struggle for survival, in which only the best-fit genes were passed on to subsequent generations. By removing God from this image, you must assume that our cognitive faculties were shaped solely by the survival needs of Homo Sapiens in Paleolithic Africa. If this is true, should we trust our cognitive faculties?
It may be true that evolutionary pressures will generally create reliable mechanisms for belief formation. But why think that the mechanisms formed in our Paleolithic ancestors are reliable in our brand new environment? Why would you think they would be reliable in forming beliefs about very abstract theories of philosophy and science, which have little bearing on our day-to-day survival?
Unsplash.com Dustin Humes
The point, first made by Alvin Plantinga, can be put this way: the theory of evolution, coupled with atheism, undermines itself. If the theory is true, then our species has excellent reason not to believe that the outputs of our cognitive faculties are true in our current environment, especially when it comes to abstract philosophical and scientific topics, such as the origin of species.
But, if you insert God into the equation, think of evolution as a mechanism by which God allows biodiversity to emerge and assume that God has the power to influence the trajectory of the process. If you believe that out of his goodness he desires to be known and relate to cognitive beings, then you need not distrust the theory of evolution if and when the evidence leads your cognitive faculties to believe it.
Let us not forget that the methods of modern science were forged by theists, such as Francis Bacon, Robert Doyle and Isaac Newton. They believed that every complex phenomenon should have a simple explanation. Their reason for thinking so was their faith that the universe itself was built by a law-loving, legislating, and all-powerful being who wanted us to live in a world we could understand. Without this faith, scientific research would seem irrational. Perhaps this is why Einstein recognized that “science without religion is lame”, while declaring that “religion without science is blind”.
Perhaps this is why Einstein recognized that “science without religion is lame”, while declaring that “religion without science is blind”.
According to Richard Dawkins, monogamous romantic love can only appear irrational and contrary to the demands of evolution by natural selection. He writes, “Rather than the fanatically monogamous devotion to which we are susceptible, a kind of ‘polyamory’ is at first glance more rational.” Perhaps monogamy and exclusive romantic love can serve a short-term Darwinian goal: to engender loyalty to a co-parent long enough to raise a human child. There is no discernable evolutionary advantage to monogamy beyond this point.
But have you ever been in love? I imagine you won’t be too quick to conclude that it’s an irrational byproduct of evolution if that’s the case. Such a narrative simply robs the experience – an experience we know with more certainty than any scientific speculation – of its tremendous existential significance. The theist has a better explanation. God loves us and wants us to love him too. As C. S. Lewis said, the total commitment of romantic love “is a paradigm or example, built into our nature, of the love we should exercise toward God and man.” For Richard Dawkins, however, it is a particular error in our evolutionary programming that promotes fanatical devotion for no good reason.
“I found an amusing strategy, when asked if I am an atheist, to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amun Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the calf of gold and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m just going a god further.
But Dawkins does not understand the difference between God and all these false gods. The difference is seismic. I wouldn’t trust science based on the promises of a being as fickle as Zeus. I would have no explanation of love if I tried to base it on Baal’s lustful excess. To play the role that God plays, in my worldview, as the foundation on which most of our explanations of the universe rest, God must have very specific properties – He must be a supremely good and intelligent being, quite powerful to make this universe exist, and to govern its evolution, in accordance with his will. In other words, He must be God.
Much more should be said. I haven’t exhausted my reasons for believing in God, nor answered some very serious objections. Instead, in these words, I tried to explain, in a nutshell, and with a lot of neglected detail, how my belief in God works as part of my overall explanation of the universe. Moreover, I have tried to show how refusing to believe in God can be philosophically costly. If atheists question my psychological need to cling to God, I can say that I also question their psychological need to reject Him at all costs.
For more information on Rabbi Professor Samuel Lebens and his work, visit www.samlebens.com — and don’t miss his upcoming book, A Guide for the Jewish Undecided, out later this year from Yeshiva University Press and Maggid Books.