A Letter From An Young Atheist
“So Lyle, you don’t believe that you can discover God through reason alone? I ask then, what else does it take? I would guess your answer would be ‘faith’, correct? If it is as you say, that God cannot be discovered through reason and rationality alone; that is the ‘crux’ of the matter for me and it is not something that I can accept. Starting with a conclusion/presupposition and working backwards is exactly what you are NOT supposed to do.”
You may find a god through human reason; however, it will not be the true God. The true God is so far beyond human consciousness that human reason cannot comprehend him and only marginally apprehend him and his existence. This is why theologians define him as the totally other.
I do believe that you have a neat and tidy view of science and how it works, which is completely naïve and totally contrary to reality. If you read Thomas Kuhn’s book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” you would see that science is not done as neat as you seem to think. Do you think scientists are sitting around, talking about the scientific method like religious people talk about the ten commandments? If they do they will respond to law (scientific method) the same way that religious people respond to the ten commandments. They may give it lip service and then ignore them or use them as a general guide for doing science. If they took them legalistically not much science would get done.
What you claim ‘you are NOT supposed to do’, is actually what is done much of the time in science. It’s very common for scientists to form a hypothesis and then set out to prove it. What is a hypothesis if it is not an opinion or a hunch? Yes, it is a guess, but a guess with a lot of convictions behind it or what we might call faith. You can bet more effort goes into proving them rather than falsifying or disproving them. If they are disproven it will be by the community when they’re published. The same things happen in philosophy and theology.
When Darwin set sail on his famous voyage, he had a will to believe his hypothesis. He was looking for evidence to prove a belief he already had held for years. He was taught evolution by his grandfather and father. Moreover, ideas on evolution were in the air during his time and both his grandfather and father believed in some form of evolution. What did he find? He found what he was looking for. He found some clues that there was evolution within the bird family, which he already knew. He saw it on the farm with the select breeding of animals. However, he found nothing that would prove his overall theories on his voyage. Note this is not to say that I do not believe in some forms of evolution, I am just stating a fact about Darwin. The finches (birds) of the islands did not in any way confirm the whole show of Darwin’s later theory of evolution. I am saying this to point out that Darwin was not a legalist about the scientific method and to some degree ignored it.
You asked what else does it take beyond reason to believe in God? As William James points out you need a “will to believe”. Reason will come to the aid of the will, for it is often the handmaiden of the will. It also comes to the aid of our passions, to justify them; you see this with those who are addicted to drugs. Their reasoning will give them all kinds of rationale for using and then it will justify their using, and just about anything else.
Reason surely does not rule in human beings. The reign of reason is a myth of the Enlightenment and in much of western culture. Humans will believe pretty much what they want to believe or what they have a will to believe. The men of the enlightenment needed something to break the power and authority of the Catholic Church, so they created the myth of the preeminence of reason as the dominating force in humans. So, they replaced the authority of the church with the authority of human reason. The thinkers of the Reformation (Protestants) also needed something to supplant the authority of the Catholic Church, so they also threw in reason along with Scripture as the new authority.
The scientific method was created to try to keep the will and passions out of reason. However, it is doubtful that any method or law could keep the human will and its passions out of the human thought process. An example of this is the atheistic communist party of the Soviet Union influencing and directing the scientific community. In communist countries the scientific method failed to keep ideological influence out. You could say that the well was poisoned, even the scientific well by group passion and ideology.
Humans also reason within their cultural environment. In this, they think corporately as well as individually, i.e. the community controls their thinking and thus their reasoning. In this setting, science is no different from religion or philosophy. In any discipline the various schools of thought argue and defend their party or community’s position. Once you become a part of a community and turn into a true believer, with the help of the community, you will see the world through the eyes of the community. You will have acquired their world view.
I think you might want to spend some time thinking about this metaphysical force that you call reason. Where does it come from and why should we trust it? Can you trust reason totally when you believe that it comes from an unreasonable cause (evolution)? If our minds are nothing more than blank slates, how can we know that the information that is written on them, including the idea of reason, is true? Could everything simply be created by our society and culture, even the idea of reason? What about the concepts of freedom and virtue? Are these concepts real or just an illusion of the biological illusion maker that we call our brain? Could consciousness come from a universal consciousness, which exists outside of our brain and nature?
Therefore, I think a man should begin a search for God by asking why he does or does not will to have a belief in God. It may be reason or it may be ones will or even one’s passion more than reason.
You say that you, do not believe because you want to believe the truth? Well, atheism empties the truth of any real meaning. In the end what different would it make? To the materialist or the atheist truth is nothing more than an illusion; that is, if their idea of truth is going to be consistent with their beliefs. The only materialists who are consistent are those who have embraced nihilism.
Nietzsche was one of the few atheistic philosophers of his day and is still, to this day, one of the few that had the courage not only to embrace nihilism but to tell others of the consequences and the logical outcome of atheism. He understood and believed rightfully so, that atheism will lead to nihilism and anarchy, if it is embraced and consistently lived out. I believe that the French Revolution is an example of what happens when people lose their faith.
Nietzsche, said ‘truth is fiction’, and if you are a materialist you should either be honest enough to stop claiming truth in any fashion other than “my truth” because for the materialist, truth only exists in each person’s mind. At best, reason can only define truth as what works for the individual and the tribe.
In your search for God by all means use reason. However, do not make it an absolute, for if you do you will find it chasing its own tail or falling into a series of unending doubts and questions. Reason was given to us as a gift from God and is a fantastic tool and has brought many blessings, but if it is misused it is like a wild animal that can kill you. It can bring you closer to God or it can cause you to fall into the abyss of unceasing doubting. That is if you have the courage to go there.
 I recommend the reading of William James essay on “The Will to Believe”.
 It seems that as atheism has increased, so has postmodernism. Postmodernism is a philosophical position that teaches that true is a personal thing or is socially created, but has no real ground in reality. This questions the very concept of reason. Some investigation will demonstrate that most postmodern’s are unbelievers. It is extremely hard for the Christian to embrace such a philosophy that would deny human reason.