Normally, I take Mondays to reflect on Sunday evening’s homily. Last night’s was one to let simmer for a bit, though, plus, intriguingly, atheism seems to be coming up in my circles lately. Christian friends have been sending my articles asking for my thoughts and, since I have quite a few, it’s going to take two posts to share them so make sure to wait until Wednesday before voicing your disagreements. 🙂 One friend sent me an article entitled, “The Intellectual Snobbery of Conspicuous Atheism” by Emma Green. It reads like a hybrid of an apt critique of a common argument of atheists and a review of an atheists’ book. This book claims that the complexity of the modern world has done away with the need for God, that the current work of modern intellectuals has now “got that covered.” That seems to be one of humanity’s favorite ways to “defeat” any argument: caricature-ize the opposition unrecognizable so you don’t have to deal with real people’s actual beliefs and construct your argument from there.
To start, I don’t know a single present-day Christian who thinks God is “simple.” But it seems that he same people who reject a god for being too simple would reject a god who was not simple enough. In fact, as but merely one example, this is exactly what happens in the class formulation of the argument of suffering as evidence against the existence of God. That is, this argument is basically a reduction of God to a mere machine or cosmic slot machine and a rejection of that god in the face of an unspeakably broken world. So because evil exists, an all-loving, all-powerful, all-good God cannot. (I’ll be taking a theodicy class next quarter so stay tuned for more on THAT.)
Evil is thus assumed to be this easily fixed problem that a) God could wipe out because God is all-powerful, b) God would want to wipe out in because God is all good and c) God knows how to wipe out because God is all-knowing. But, since evil is clearly a present and active force in our world, such a god could not possibly exist. Claiming (correctly) that God’s knowledge, love and power are far more complex than their human correlates is seen as a cop-out by those who reject God on these grounds. That is, essentially, God is “too complex” to adequately eradicate evil.
Now, is the God I believe and believe in all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful? It depends on how you define those attributes and actually, “you” don’t get to. I don’t either, not if I really want to follow the God I say I believe in (that is, one who is, among other things, ultimately sovereign). The point is that it seems that those who would disbelieve will reject God when God is “too simple,” as they reportedly do in modernism, or too complex. But when modernism rejects God in favor of human intellect, as Ms. Green points out in her article, they fail to account for how such intellect even came to be in the first place. They cannot answer why there is something rather than nothing. Allow me to illustrate the pride of such statements as “the need for God is made obsolete by the presence and power of modern intellectuals” with a joke my father told me several years ago (when I was still an “atheist”):
A team of scientists have finally discovered how to create life from dirt. A particularly bold member of the team decides to inform God of humanity’s hard-won independence from God. “Thank you, Sir, but we won’t be needing your help anymore, we can take it from here.” Intrigued, God says, “Oh? Show me.” The team kneels down and begins to mold the clay on the ground. “Not so fast,” God says. “Get your own dirt.”
Of course, this is not a trump card. (And, by the way, if you think this is about evolution vs. creationism, you’ve missed the point.) This is merely a humorous way to get at the hubris of humanity. The god the “modern complexity” argument rejects is, conveniently for modernist intellectuals who are now positioned to solve the world’s problems, a really simple god (can we say “low-hanging fruit?”). That is, the god so definitively “defeated” by this argument is a “god of the gaps.” This concept of god uses God to merely “plug” any current hole in human knowledge, which means, as human knowledges increases, “God” decreases.
When I come to a gap in my knowledge, I don’t “fill it in” with God, though, I simply admit that there’s a gap. “I don’t know” is a thing Christians are allowed to say as much as anybody else (and probably should, speaking of pride) – in fact, the longer I know God, the more I find myself saying it. Belief in God does not mean you are God – as in, you are permitted to not have all the answers and legitimate faith simultaneously. Christians are criticized both for thinking they have all the answers and for not having all the answers, and the latter is the basis for this intellectual snobbery that rejects God. So the modern world is too complex for “God,” but humanity can figure it out? I’m sorry, but we’re rapidly destroying the only planet we have to live on (this fact made even more heartbreaking if you’ve seen Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I Am”), our history is full of hate-fueled bloodshed and we can’t manage to take care of those who look or think differently than we do, have less money or more difficulties. Some say society is on the verge of collapse. Again. Tell me again how “smart” humanity as a collective is.
Speaking of bloodshed, one thing I wish Ms. Green would have fleshed out, so to speak, in her helpful critique of atheistic intellectualism is violence. She mentions Nietzsche, arguably the father of atheism. Perhaps you’ve heard his famous statement that “God is dead.” The bloodiest century in human history happened AFTER Nietzsche’s proclamation, not before, when religion arguably reigned supreme in large parts of the world. I don’t mean to argue that religion has not been and is not still capable of incredible violence and I have no desire or need to defend the Church with all of its own forms of systematic abuse. But that the Church sins, that religion produces violence is not by itself an argument against it: atheism is no stranger to violence, either. What’s the common denominator between atheistic violence and religious violence? It’s by definition not God, it’s people. The problem is, once again, on our end, not God’s.