There are many in the scientific community, including some of its most prominent spokespersons, who seem to have embraced a rather militant form of atheism. Richard Dawkins seems to be the most visible just now, but there are many others.
I used to be a strongly committed atheist myself, but my viewpoint has softened, and I would categorize myself now as a curious agnostic. One of the reasons that I abandoned the atheist position is the simple fact that reason itself is silent on the question of God’s existence. Efforts have been made to put faith in God onto a solid naturalist or philosophical foundation, but the fact remains that there is still no way to compel either belief in or denial of the existence of God.
Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, has just called our attention to a book by one Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science, that is devoted to a discussion of this tension, in particular as it relates to the ongoing battle between evolutionists and creationists. The point is that natural scientists are overreaching when they go beyond the practice of science into an aggressive push for the broad acceptance of “naturalism” itself: the view that the natural sciences should be assumed to have “full coverage” of all possible phenomena; a view that is logically and explicitly incompatible with belief in an omnipotent God. In other words, these naturalistic, atheistic scientists are evangelists for their faith just as much as Billy Graham is for his.
This is a view I tend to agree with, and have written about in a previous post. But there is a question I would like to raise.
Those who wish to reconcile a belief in God with confidence in the ever-deepening understanding of the world that has been achieved by science often defend their stance by pointing out, as mentioned above, that the phenomena of the world cannot be shown to be inconsistent with the existence of God. But the atheist can respond to that by pointing out that the phenomena of the world are also not inconsistent with the idea that the world was brought into existence by Homer Simpson, or that a thrown baseball is actually carried by a team of tiny invisible winged ferrets (who do so in accordance with Newtonian mechanics merely as a matter of “style”), or that there are actually five Gods, who have the physical appearance of the 1964-65 Boston Celtics, and who rule the Universe by committee from a bus-station locker in Cincinnati (or for that matter, a few dozen more, ruling from Olympus or Asgard). Our naturalists might reasonably point out that if they were to be explicitly “atheistic” about any of those theological models, nobody would object, but somehow it is considered unjustified to believe positively in the nonexistence of a particular God-figure, namely, here in the West, the God worshipped by Christians, Jews, or Muslims (arguably the same underlying God, though that is is big subject all by itself, and far beyond the scope of this humble post). In other words, sure, it’s all possible in principle, but why should we believe any of it, and why should one imaginary God be more worthy of belief than any of the others?
Let’s say such a person did decide to adopt a belief in God. What, other than one’s social context and history, compellingly recommends one unprovable fantasy over another? How, then, is one supposed to choose? From this angle the entire enterprise begins to seem completely unmanageable, and frankly a bit silly. Why not just stick with what we can observe? Why not defend this as the only reasonable course to follow?