A circular path

by Don Hartness

I said I didn’t have any more quotes from Alister McGrath, but I lied.

When cleaning out my file folder after concluding this series (and whether I write something in the future for this category, I cannot say) I found one more quote. I think it’s a perfect closure for this series.

Without further ado:

“The belief that there is no God is just as much a matter of faith as the belief that there is a God. If “faith” is defined as “belief lying beyond proof”, both Christianity and atheism are faiths. While this suggestion might seem astonishing to some atheists, it is not only philosophically correct but also illuminating in shedding light on the changed fortunes of atheism in recent years. The strength of atheistic feeling has been directly proportional to that of its religious antithesis: with the weakening of religious faith in many parts of the West, especially Western Europe, there has been a concomitant erosion in the attractiveness of its atheistic alternatives. In the Western European context at least, a swelling public indifference toward religion has led to the loss of the potency of both poles of religious culture, Christianity and atheism.

In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the ultimate circularity of the great atheist philosophies of recent centuries. The explanations of the origin of the idea of God put forward by Feuerback, Marx, and Freud have one all important feature in common: they presuppose atheism. It is the fundamental assumption that there is not – indeed, that there cannot be – a God that prompts them to offer explanations of why perfectly intelligent human beings should think that there is a God to believe in. As there is no God, the origins of this idea must lie in the malfunctioning of the mind, the subtle influence of the human unconscious, or the complex social forces that shape our beliefs and values, often without our being aware of them.  Yet when all is said and done, these explanations of religious beliefs start out from atheist premises and duly arrive at atheist conclusions.  They are, in their own way, coherent: they are not, however, compelling. They simply offer an atheist explanation of religious belief, in much the same way as Christianity offers a theistic explanation of the same phenomenon. They explain observation on the basis of a preconceived standpoint; they most emphatically do not establish that standpoint in the first place.”