Atheism can be defined as the belief of the non-existence of God. An atheist is a person who believes that there is no God. The word is a combination of ‘a’ which means ‘no’ and Greek word ‘Theos’ meaning God (Slick).
Alex McGrath is a Christian theologian. Born in 1953, he is most famous for fostering scientific theology and is a big critic of anti-religionism and atheism though he was once an atheist himself (Absolute Astronomy). Therefore, most of his works and writings are aimed at discrediting atheism. This paper examines his arguments against atheism and its proponents.
McGrath has been quick to point out that atheism in itself is on the decline. Way back in the mid 20th century, theism was under threat as many theories had been brought forth to discredit almost everything theistic. Many people had thought that atheism would bring about peace and harmony in the world. To them, religion was the root of almost all evils. The elimination of religion would guarantee world peace. Therefore, atheism thrived at the expense of religion and Christianity. However, the tide has changed nowadays as atheistic beliefs wane. McGrath attributes this decline to his belief that atheist have run out of ideas in advancing their views to their would-be followers as atheism has lost its appeal. Some of former atheists have realized that the belief is just laden with lies. This has led even some atheists to turn against atheism. This simply implies that most people find this belief as false and misleading.
The existence, or non-existence thereof, of God cannot be proved or disproved through the use of Science. “How can they? God is simply not an empirical hypothesis that can be checked out by the scientific method,” (McGrath’s response, p.181). He uses Thomas Huxley view that a decision cannot be reached upon based on the available evidence. Therefore, we can only reach an agnostic conclusion or a conclusion using other means. The natural sciences are simply inefficient in settling this matter. Therefore, the atheistic belief that there is no God is simply misleading.
Firm followers of atheism have been quick to point out that if indeed God existed, then there should be no suffering in this world. One such atheist, Annie Benant wrote, “My heart revolts against the specter of an Almighty Indifference to the pain of sentient beings. My conscience rebels against the injustice, the cruelty, the inequality, which surrounds me on every side” (Why I Do Not Believe in God). She implies here that God is insensitive to the sufferings of this world. In his response, McGrath writes that the presence of God in itself is a source for hope and consolation during the suffering. “Our God is a suffering God” (p. 184). It is through the sufferings that turn mankind to God. As a reward for this suffering, the Christians will be taken to a place where pain and suffering have been removed.
The killings and violence perpetuated in the former Soviet Union can entirely be blamed on atheism, according to McGrath. It is common knowledge that Joseph Stalin, USSR dictator at the time, was a firm believer of Marxist ideologies (More or less). McGrath believes that Marx was himself an atheist which implies that Stalin must also have been an atheist. It is Stalin’s atheistic tendencies that led him to commit such atrocious crimes. Therefore, atheism in essence promotes such inhumane activities. Such an association supports his stance that atheism is destructive and should not be embraced at all costs “It was a world evacuated of God, to be sure-but the process of extraction appeared to have sucked that world dry of many of the vital stimuli for creativity and exhilaration. There were limits to the human imaginative capacity to laud the joys of Stalinism,” (p. 187). Ever since the end of Stalinism, there was an increased interest in religion. This is a clear indicator of the defeat of atheism.
Whilst many atheists believe that religion is on its deathbed as time goes by, McGrath thinks otherwise. In fact, he argues that religion is growing ever since the mid 20th century. To emphasize this point, he cites the television series Star Trek. When the series started it perpetuated atheistic views, just like its founder Gene Rodenberry. This stance continued until his death in 1991(p. 190). The series took a different path as it started to promote spirituality. This change in direction was in line with the change in attitude towards religion and Christianity by the public. This is a manifestation that atheism is in a decline. He also cites the increasing number of books on spirituality as a clear indicator that people are shifting away from atheism towards religion.
The emergence of Pentecostalism has played a major part in attracting people back to Christianity. Atheism had thrived as a result of the failures of the previous church organizations. Therefore, some of the atheists felt alienated from the churches. Many of them used this as the basis for attacking the church, and Christianity. However, Pentecostalism changed all that as it engaged directly with the masses as it touched on all aspects of life. Through Pentecostalism, people can feel the presence of God through The Holy Spirit. This has helped to significantly bridge the gap between the people and religion. In effect, it has converted atheists to Christianity.
The allure of atheism, according to McGrath, is the promise that through it the world would be understood as it would uncover all the mysteries of the Earth and universe. It is this thought that attracted him to atheism in the first place. When he was growing up, he had thought that natural science will enable him know the mysteries of the world. This will be made possible via scientific explanations on all phenomena of the universe. However, he noted at the time that there are some things that cannot just be proved by science alone. He felt misled. This is because it-science- was inconclusive in some aspects and it tended to give some skewed proofs on vital matters. McGrath is quick to point out that no scientific explanation can prove or disprove the existence of God in the first place. Thus, the guarantee that atheists will certainly know all the truth is flawed. This failure makes atheism lose its appeal at the first hurdle. These shortcomings left him disappointed at atheism and that is why he ditched it.
Atheists do not believe in a supernatural influence in the world. As the paper has discussed before, many of them view religion as the cause of evils. As a result, many of them hold in high esteem the power of man as the ultimate being rather than God. Annie Benant writes, “But I believe in Man. In man’s redeeming power; in man’s remoulding energy; in man’s approaching triumph, through knowledge, love, and work.” (Why I Do Not Believe in God). To counter this, McGrath revisits the planners and perpetuators of such inhuman tragedies like The Holocaust and Auschwitz gas chambers. All these evils were organized by people with views similar to hers.
In this response, Alister McGrath emerges as staunch supporter of religion and Christianity in particular. While the work was brilliantly done, it has its shortcomings. The most glaring omission is the failure to recognize other religions like Islam and Hindu. This work is solely based on The Bible and Christian doctrines paying no attention to the Quran and Hinduism. Perhaps he should have incorporated them, especially Islam. This is because many atheists point to extremist activities that are always perpetuated by terrorists in the pretence of defending their religion.