In a recent discussion on theism and atheism with the Oxford professors, John Lennox and Peter Atkins representing both ends of the spectrum, the dialogue stopped, and a time of questions and answers began. One person, a scientist, wrote in saying that he is an atheist, but his commitment as a scientist to follow the evidence suggested to him that God does exist. For him, the issue isn’t the evidence, but his own feelings, instincts and emotions.
When this question was put to the two guests to respond, the answers were very intriguing. John Lennox, the Christian, suggested that the man should continue to question and research and to test the position (that God exists) personally, not from afar. The response of the atheist, Peter Atkins, was simple: stick to your “commitment to rationality” (which to him presupposes atheism).
Think about it. Would you suppose the answer, to stick to your commitment, would more likely come from the Christian or the atheist? I would. I think most people would expect that answer to come from the Christian, but it doesn’t in this case. It’s the atheist sticking dogmatically to a presupposition.
John Lennox, of course, agreed with Atkins that we should stick to rationality. For Atkins, rationality presupposes atheism. Why? He doesn’t say. He refuses to say. Throughout the entire dialogue, Atkins’s response to many of the syllogisms and arguments of John Lennox is to say simply, “Nonsense!” or, “No!”, with no more attempt than that to provide reasoning for the rejection.
Atkins wasn’t altogether evasive, but he goes back again and again to his presuppositions. Of course, Christians do too, but one difference that comes through is a difference in the degree of openness to the opposite position.
The first question posed to the two gentlemen after they finished their dialogue is this: what new evidence might lead each of them to change their minds about their positions? While Atkins says he has asked himself this question, he says he can’t conceive of any evidence that would change his mind and, if he did ever say that he changed his mind at some point, it would be because “I have simply gone mad”. Then he added, “I don’t think there can be any evidence [that would change his mind].” And he added further, that even if he were standing at the foot of cross and saw Jesus crucified before his very eyes, he would explain it as an hallucination.
I wonder how he knows that is what he would think, not having “been there”, but that is just a rhetorical question. Peter Atkins has clearly already made up his mind, and no evidence or experience will change it. He has already determined that. He is committed to his position.
Lennox is much more specific about the evidence that would dissuade him and exhibited a greater openness to changing his mind (in my assessment of the two men’s response). While he doesn’t think it likely that new evidence would change his mind, he said, “I have to be open to that”. Lennox went on to explain that he has spent his entire life opening up his Christian belief “to its opposite” and says that he is constantly questioning his own position.
Then Lennox asked Atkins if he does that. Atkins responded, “I see no reason to do that.” The exact dialogue follows:
I have said it before, and here is another example: many atheists are more dogmatic in their commitment to atheism than many believers, and the commitment to that position is every bit as presuppositional as any belief system. In fact, atheism is a belief system, though most atheists want to deny it. It is a worldview by which they filter all that the know and all of the evidence they see. The evidence they see is arranged according to their a priori position.
We all do that, of course. The difference is in the willingness to test the presuppositions. I don’t know many Christian who are not constantly testing their belief in God. It’s called doubt. Healthy doubt is a good thing, because it drives us to be sure, to test our beliefs and “prove” them as best as we can.
Many atheists are not good doubters. Sure, they may doubt belief in God, but they aren’t very good about doubting their own presuppositions and testing them. While this observation may be contrary to popular opinion (popular opinion being that atheists are purely rational creatures), the truth isn’t always well-tested by popular opinion.