I was recently asked what I consider the best reasons to be a Christian, as well as what I consider the best reasons to be an atheist or agnostic. Whew. That’s quite the question, I thought, and I realized that I had no chance of giving a good answer on the spot. Both because I knew I was incapable of articulating my thoughts on the matter without many, many words coming out of my mouth — to many —, but more importantly, because I wasn’t sure that I had thoughts on the matter. That’s not quite right. I had thoughts; I did have reasons which struck me as better than others for Christianity; I did have reasons which struck me as better than others for atheism/agnosticism; I had just never thought about putting this reasons together into any sort of hierarchy.
But the question struck me as a really good one, and one that I should try to give an answer to. So I went about listing the various reasons I could think of for being a Christian — both those reasons that would appeal to others, and those reasons that might be unique to my situation in the world. And I went about listing the various reasons I could think of for being an atheist or an agnostic — again, both those reasons that would appeal publicly, and those which were exclusively private.
(A short aside. As I was composing these two lists, the first thing I realized was this: I couldn’t articulate many of the reasons! I couldn’t even really include them into my list. This was more true for some of the “Christian” reasons than for the “Atheist” reasons, though I’m not entirely sure why. I’ll try to touch on what sorts of reasons these were, but for now I’ll just that they were the sorts of reasons that I’ve only seen partially articulated in music or poetry or narrative; I’ve never seen them articulated in the form of an argument. I mention this aside so that the reader will know that the list I will give shortly is not a complete list: it doesn’t contain all of what I consider the “best reasons”.)
Let’s start with those reasons which I consider to be the best reasons for atheism. It’s easier to start here, because I think the best reasons for atheism can all be put in the form of an argument — i.e a set of propositions, one of which is a conclusion and the rest of which are premises which support the conclusion.
My “Top Reasons For Atheism/Agnosticism”:
(1) The Problem of Evil. There is probably much more agreement that this is the best reason for atheism than there is agreement for any other. And there is probably much more agreement that this is the best reason for atheism than there is agreement that any one reason is the best reason for theism. The Problem of Evil is a very well-known argument, and has a lot of force for a lot of people. I am one of those people. I find it to be a very powerful objection to theism, and I see no easy defeater to this objection (No publicly-compelling defeater at least; I myself have at least come to some sort of terms with the argument.) What is the Problem of Evil? Well there are quite a few versions of it, but all of them share at least this in common: They move from the observation that our world contains some pretty nasty suffering and end up with the conclusion that God does not exist, or that God probably does not exist, or that we shouldn’t believe that God exists (OR, at the very least, that we have some powerful reasons not the believe that God exists.) My favored version combines facts about the magnitude, distribution, and duration of this world’s evils and sufferings with the fact that we have yet to come up with a good reason why God would have to allow these evils and sufferings; and proceeds from these premises to the atheist/agnostic conclusion. I’ll have more to say about this “reason”, and many of the other reasons, in some upcoming posts.
(2) The Problem of Silence…
To be continued.