David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

The Most Honest Atheist In The World

The Atlantic has published a startlingly honest article by Crispin Sartwell, as you can see even from it’s title, Irrational Atheism: Not Believing in God Isn’t Always Based on Reasoned Arguments And That’s OK. In it Sartwell admits:

  • The atheistic worldview “is similar to the worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.”
  • His view of the universe as a natural, material system is based on his interpretation of his experience not on a rational argument.
  • “I have taken a leap of atheist faith.”
  • Atheism can be as much a product of family, social, and institutional context as religious faith.
  • “The idea that the atheist comes to her view of the world through rationality and argumentation, while the believer relies on arbitrary emotional commitments, is false.”
  • Just as religious people have often offloaded the burden of their choices on church dogma, so some atheists are equally willing to offload their beliefs on “reason” or “science” without acknowledging that they are making a bold intellectual commitment about the nature of the universe, and making it with utterly insufficient data.
  • Science rests on emotional commitment (that there is a truth), a passionate affirmation of desire, in which our social system backs us up.

What a refreshing blast of humble and honest air! You cannot but admire such a sincere, transparent, and honorable atheist. But the article ends on a painfully sad note, which may partly explain Sartwell’s atheism, and maybe even his humility:

Genuinely bad things have happened to me in my life: One of my brothers was murdered; another committed suicide. I’ve experienced addiction and mental illness. And I, like you, have watched horrors unfold all over the globe. I don’t—I can’t—believe this to be best of all possible worlds. I think there is genuinely unredeemed, pointless pain. Some of it is mine.

By not believing in God, I keep faith with the world’s indifference. I love its beauty. I hate its suffering…I’m perfectly sincere and definite in my belief that there is no God. I can see that there could be comfort in believing otherwise, believing that all the suffering and death makes sense, that everyone gets what they deserve, and that existence works out in the end.

But to believe that would be to betray my actual experiences, and even without the aid of reasoned arguments, that’s reason enough not to believe.

As is so often the case, the agony of suffering is a large contributor to Sartwell’s atheistic faith. There are many like him, young and old, who find personal and global pain an insurmountable obstacle to Christian faith. In my experience, quoting Romans 8:28, preaching God’s sovereignty, or offering philosophical arguments about suffering in such situations is usually ineffective.

If I had the opportunity, I’d take Crispin to the historic events around Calvary and especially to the sufferings of God’s Son. I’d try to keep him at the cross as long as possible, and I’d work at explaining what happened there and how this is the only way into the power and wisdom of God. It’s also the way God calls both religionists and atheists to saving faith. As the Apostle Paul said:

We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

Comments

About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

  • Editors' Picks

    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
  • Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • So You Think Theology Is Impractical?
    So You Think Theology Is Impractical?