It’s common in atheist circles to dismiss religious belief three ways:
As evolution: Belief in gods developed as a survival mechanism in prehistoric and ancient times.
As sociology: Acceptance into early societies was contingent upon joining “in-groups” that practiced superstition and controlled people by appealing to the gods.
As psychology: Religion can be explained as a result of wish-fulfillment for a cosmic Father figure who oversees an otherwise chaotic universe.
What are we to make of such atheist claims? Four responses:
1. Partial agreement: False religion can be explained quite helpfully in the above three ways.
2. Disagreement: True religion, if such a thing exists, remains unaffected.
3. Fallacy: All three dismissals assume atheism as a starting point. In philosophy that’s called “begging the question.” Meaning, it’s cheating.
4. Reverse the critique: Atheism itself can be explained in the same terms:
- Evolution: As a survival mechanism in God-believing societies.
- Sociology: As a privileged “in-group” that condemns opponents, feels superior, seeks independence.
- Psychology: As wish-fulfillment for moral autonomy and avoidance of guilt feelings.
* * *
For Christians, developing the life of the mind is a free and rich experience.
While showing love and respect to our atheist friends (and opponents), we’re under no obligation to play by their rules.
For further reading: see Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, ch 16.
Artwork by Steve Blake