Agnostics are more honest than atheists. Agnostics acknowledge that they do not know if there is a God, but atheists declare confidently that there is no God.
Does this mean that atheists have searched the Universe and concluded that there is no God to be found? No – they have not searched the Universe. Their position is a rationalistic one rather than an evidential one. Atheists arrive at their conclusion by reasoning. It goes like this.
The fundamental argument used by Antony Flew, Britain’s foremost atheist in the 20th century, and used in many debates ever since, is that if God is all powerful and all good, then why do evil and suffering exist? Either it means that God is not all powerful or that He is not all good. As evil and suffering exist, this proves that God does not exist.
No – it does not. What it does prove is that atheists intuitively know that God must be both all powerful and all good. They acknowledge in their reasoning that God cannot be one without the other.
For the more theologically literate, this is the modern, practical use of Anselm’s ontological argument.
The problem with this atheist reasoning is that the atheist does not believe in the devil as the source of evil. They blame God for the devil’s work. A simple mistake in their reasoning.
The limits and proper use of reason
It also shows the limitations of rationalism. Reason is not sufficient to prove something but only to test a proof. The reason for this is because one’s reasoning is not infallible, and one can make a mistake at any stage in one’s reasoning, just as the atheist has done above. So reason cannot prove that there is no God; it can only be used to check if a proof holds water. Some things are too high for reason to explain or understand. Reason is a useful tool, but it is not sufficient. Some things are above reason and some things are against reason. Do not confuse one for the other.
This is why in the scientific world we use experiments to check if a hypothesis is right, and this is why we need divine revelation to keep us right in our thinking about God, origins, the purpose of life, death, life after death and eternity. We neglect it at our peril.
The debate and the argument need to be based on evidence, not on reason. This is the scientific method as well as the biblical method.
1 May 2017: John Macleod’s article on atheist beliefs is headlined: ‘There is no God, and we hate Him’ – Scottish Daily Mail, Thursday 27th April 2017. He states: “atheism is not rationality. It is a religion – a faith-based belief system, like any other religion, and in whose names some of the most appalling crimes of the twentieth century were committed. And the fanaticism and hatefulness of so many atheists suggest their position is not, in truth, there is no God; it is that there is no God, and they hate Him.”
6 Oct 2017: Peter Hitchins on a similar point.
30 Nov 2019: God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists.
In 2006 John Humphrys of the BBC Today programme, a self-confessed agnostic, challenged three leaders of three main religions to prove to him that God exists. The Radio Four interviews – Humphrys In Search of God – provoked the biggest response to anything he has done in half a century of journalism. I listened to these debates but the contribution from these ‘three leaders’ was ineffective .