How a Christian sees atheism

by Neil Rickert

There’s probably a wide range of views about atheism among Christians.  This post is about the view that Frank Schaeffer has, as described in a video that he has posted on his blog.

Schaeffer is a former fundamentalist evangelical Christian, who has broken with that extreme view.  But he remains Christian.  I follow Shaeffer’s blog, because he has some good analysis of the role of evangelical Christianity in conservative politics.  His most recent post is:

where he describes an online course that he is offering.  The first video in the course is free, and is part of that post.  It is a little over 5 minutes in length, and worth watching to get a picture of what Schaeffer, and perhaps many other Christians think of atheism.

Almost entirely wrong

Schaeffer’s view does not even come close to resembling my understanding of atheism.  However, if his view is widespread, it does help us understand why Christians say some of the things they do about atheism.

Schaeffer begins by asking whether atheism is:

  • doubt about meaning in life;
  • a theological position cast in secular terms.

He seems to believe that both of those are true, while I think that neither is true.

It quickly becomes apparent that Schaeffer has a less critical take on agnosticism.  What he sees as agnosticism is closer to what I see as atheism.

Schaeffer goes on to mention music and the arts as things that atheists cannot explain.

It’s weird.  As far as I know, atheists make no special claims about music and art, and many of them have the same sort of enjoyment of music and art that Christians have.

I’m inclined to think that Schaeffer has confused atheism with the philosophy of reductive materialism, though even then I suspect that many reductive materialists would disagree with the picture that Schaeffer has painted.

Now go watch that short video, and see for yourself.

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5 Comments to “How a Christian sees atheism”

  1. Speaking as a reductive materialist, I’d say I have no problem with music and art, or the appreciation thereof. I’m similarly happy with love, beauty, truth, and goodness.

    I’m not very impressed with what I’ve seen of Schaeffer so far. It strikes me as extended argumentum ad mysterium (to make up a phrase): beauty is mysterious, science provides understanding, so science cannot account for beauty. Bad argument.

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  2. A quibble: I would classify atheism as a theological position (if we accept, for example, Wikipedia’s definition of theology as a “systematic and rational study of concepts of deity”). Atheism thinks that deity is non-existent or, at least, in the absence of evidence that atheists (and probably most theists) expect there to be for deity, highly improbable. Systematically and rationally studying a concept and concluding it is wrong is still studying the concept.

    But I agree that atheism, per se, is not a “belief system” though, at times, some atheists make it hard to remember that.

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  3. Interesting post and link, Neil. I agree that neither of Schaeffer’s points about atheism are true for me. His view is terribly simplistic, equating the lack of imagination in creating a god narrative and the fact that we cannot explain everything we experience with a weaknesses in atheism. Atheism is not a religion and to claim that it is only suggests that he does not understand. I don’t believe in ghosts, vampires or leprechauns, but my lack of belief in these things does not qualify as a philosophy or religion. Religion is a belief in something that cannot be proven. It doesn’t make sense to say that not having faith in someone’s unproven stories qualifies as a belief system or religion. (I know I’m preaching to the choir!)

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