Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god, or in a supernatural being. We hear that all the time, and it’s generally true, from a dictionary point of view. So are there no other beliefs or attitudes or philosophical world views that accompany the statement “I am an atheist”?
Let’s take a closer look. Atheists are a very diverse group, so nothing I say refers at all to all atheists. But there are some beliefs and philosophical world views that are commonly held by many (sometimes most) atheists, especially those who identify with the newer, more militant brand of atheism promoted by Krauss, Harris, Stenger, Dawkins et al.
Here is a partial list:
Free will and consciousness are delusions. Science (methodological naturalism) is the only legitimate epistemology. We are insignificant creatures living on a mediocre planet. There must be many far more advanced civilizations in the galaxy. All unsettled questions about the natural world (such as the origin of the universe and of life) will eventually be answered scientifically. All human emotional, moral and spiritual attributes are explained by evolutionary theory.
I know that many atheists will deny holding some or all of these beliefs. But others are continuously stating them in books, blogs, and articles by atheists. And the same themes are also repeated constantly on social media by less famous followers of the new atheist “creed”.
None of this should actually matter. There is no problem with a group of people all believing in some philosophical world view, even if some of them steadfastly refuse to admit it. But there is a problem when unspoken, unacknowledged presuppositions leak into the scientific enterprise. That is very dangerous. Religious (or anti-religious) agendas are as toxic for science as are political agendas. Most scientists have learned to reject these and stay away from the very risky business of allowing political or religious concerns to determine their research programs.
But sometimes it seems that for a few scientists, the temptation to gain fame and public attention by supporting the atheist agenda has not been as easily resisted. It’s true that most of the time that we read some blockbuster story in an online or print rag about scientists unlocking the secret of life or proving the absence of God, the story turns out to be a terrible distortion of an honest scientist’s work. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the scientists are actually doing research whose goal is not just better understanding of nature, but a stronger argument for atheism and against the existence of God.
Examples include research designs to gather evidence for a multiverse or any other explanation to counter the theistic argument of fine tuning of the cosmological constants; evidence against a true beginning of the universe, to counter the evidence that everything that exists came from nothing, which makes little sense in the absence of a Creator; evidence for life on other planets, to counter the false notion that Christians think the Earth was chosen by God as the only place for life and intelligence; evidence that our planet is an insignificant and minor dot in a vast universe which is teeming with much more interesting and valuable creatures and features, again to counter a false notion that Christians think the Earth is unique and the center of everything; evidence that human beings are nothing more that naked apes who acquired a few abilities (none of which unique to humans) that allowed them to conquer the planet. The purpose of the last example is to dismantle the Christian notion of Imago Dei. There have even been neuroscience experiments done to try to disprove the existence of free will.
These new anti-theistic research goals are a waste of time and resources. There is no need for science to fill these gaps in understanding in order to disprove religion. Faith in God cannot be disproven any more than the existence of God can be scientifically proven. I know that some atheists cannot grasp this, but scientists should be able to. Christians should not, and many do not use God of the gaps arguments as the basis of their faith. As a Christian scientist, I base my rational belief in God, not on what is unknown, but on what is known about our world. Like so many others, I know that new knowledge will never destroy my faith (whether it is the discovery of a multiverse or the natural mechanism for the origin of life, or the finding of alien life forms, or the final understanding of how humans came to be), but only enhance it. There is nothing that we can discover about the truth of how the world is and how it works that does not point to the glory of God.