In the previous post, I began considering a question that a friend had recently posed to me: What do you think are the best reasons to be an atheist? And what do you think are the best reasons to be a theist? So I started with what I consider to be the best reasons to be an atheist. Unsurprising to most, I started with the Problem of Evil as reason #1 (though I don’t mean the order to be indicative of it’s rank vis-a-vis its’ compellingness).
Here are my reasons #2 and #3.
#2: The Problem of Silence. This argument is similar to the Problem of Evil in this respect: It argues from a conjunction of the premises that ‘We would expect the world to look like X if God existed’ and ‘The world doesn’t look like X’ to the conclusion that God does not exist, probably does not exist, or that we shouldn’t believe that God exists. But, of course, the X is different here. In the Problem of Evil, the problem was that the world seems to contain more henious evils than we would expect in a world with God. In the Problem of Silence, the problem is that God seems more “silent” than one would expect if he actually, well, existed. If God is a loving “father” – to borrow the biblical metaphor -, then one would expect him to pursue communion with his human creatures. And if one would expect God to pursue communion with his human creatures, then one would expect that God, at the very least, would make his presence well-known to his human creatures; at least, wouldn’t he remove that stumbling block of doubting whether he even exists in the first place? As far as I can see, there are no easy answers. I do not find any of the reasons which have been given to explain God’s silence to be compelling: What I mean by this is that most of these “theodicies” clearly account for only some of the silence, and if some of them account for all of the silence, it is purely speculation on our part that they do so. I find no easy response to the Problem of Silence, even though I do think that some responses are better than others, and that there are some responses good enough such that a believer can “cope” — that’s where I find myself, coping with this problem. (But, on the other hand, it’s not just the responses to the Problem that are problematic; the Problem itself has some problems. One of which is that it presupposes a God much simpler than the biblical God. It is hard to make any assumptions about what we should expect from the biblical God in this regard: After all, the biblical God is described both as someone who is a loving father, and as someone who is very often silent when we most need him to speak. I’ve said more about this argument in the past.)
A quick note: The next two arguments (#3 and #4) are not arguments against theism per se, but against Christian theism in particular. Which, if you consider Christian theism one of the more plausible species of theism, then you will probably think a blow against Christian theism to be, ipso facto, a blow against theism.
#3: The Problem of the Church. Here’s something else it seems like we would expect: A Church that wasn’t such a mess. By that I mean a few things. (i) It seems like the Church would be in a better position vis-a-vis Truth. It seems like, e.g., we would expect there not to be so much disagreement regarding the Church’s interpretation of Scripture. But we can’t even agree on the very heart of the biblical narrative, let alone the fine print. If God is going to reveal himself, wouldn’t you think he’d speak clearly enough that we could figure out what exactly he was saying. But after 2,000 years of some of the brightest minds trying to figure it out, we still can’t even agree on the fundamentals. How does that happen? A very important claim of the New Testament and the historical Church is that God is present in the life of the Church, and is guiding her into truth. But it’s hard to see that the Church is being guided into truth when we see this amount of disagreement. (ii) It seems like the Church would have more of a historical “trajectory”. This is a foggy idea, but it’s something like this: When you read the New Testament, it seems like God has really grand plans for the Church, that the Church is an important part of the long-awaited Kingdom of God finally being consummated on earth, that the Church would be kicking butt in the world in ways you could really taste. When you read the New Testament it seems like there’s going to be a really good story involving the Church that we’d be able to look back on, say, two thousand years down the road. But you look at the history of the Church from 2014 and it seems hard to find much of a trajectory, much of a narrative at all. It just looks like a mess, an institution that kinda just meanders about in different direction. Are there some incredible people and incredible stories that take place within the Church? No doubt. But does the Church as a whole make for much of a story? Or even more mildly: Can we extract a continuous narrative from any part of the Church? Is there at least some golden thread strung through the last two thousand years. Not really. At least, not the sort of narrative you’re led to expect after you read the New Testament. So what to say to this argument, what I’ve called the Problem of the Church? I’ve got a few things in mind, but nothing that really satiates me, nothing that keeps this Problem from constantly gnawing on my shoulder. And that’s why I think it’s a pretty good reason for atheism as far as reasons for atheism go.