Summary: A Christian Analysis Of Atheism, Part 1
If the Middle Ages are to stand in history books as the Age of Faith, it could be equally asserted that the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries will no doubt be remembered as the Era of Unbelief. Whereas unbelievers in the Middle Ages were careful in how they expressed their theological doubts for fear of befalling persecution, theists (be they Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox Jew) have today learned selectivity in how they go about expressing challenges to the prevailing lack of belief impacting fundamental cultural institutions such as government, academia, and the scientific establishment. And like the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, the atheistic establishment of today seeks to foster a worldview influencing all aspects of society and binds all individuals whether they wish to be or not. Such an assertion will become more obvious in the following analysis which identifies significant atheistic thinkers, clarifies why some chose to adhere to this particular belief system, and critiques this worldview and contrasts it with Christian monotheism.
As an intellectual tradition, atheism has captured the minds of some of history’s most formidable thinkers. Creation science apologist Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis has astutely pointed out that social issues and public policies rest upon a foundation of thought and belief. Keeping with this analogy, atheism proceeds from a theoretical base up through a practical program designed to influence various spheres of culture such as politics and education with prominent luminaries within the movement solidifying this mental edifice along the way.
As stated elsewhere within these introductory comments, atheism did not suddenly appear on the doorstep of the twentieth and twenty-first century fully formed demanding things like the removal of school prayer and the enshrinement of evolution as biological dogma. Rather like a weed strangling the other plants around it, today’s culture of unbelief sprang from the soil in which it was planted. While atheism can trace its pedigree back throughout much of human history, a number of modern thinkers have ensured this system a place of prominence within the cultural consciousness.
One pivotal intellect laying a foundation for atheism was Ludwig Feuerbach. In "The Essence Of Christianity", Feuerbach set out to undermine the claims of the supernatural by providing religious belief with a naturalistic basis postulating that the idea of God is merely a mental projection of the goodness and nobility residing within man’s own bosom (McGrath, 95). Once mankind realizes that there is no transcendent deity to rely on, Feuerbach argued, his sense of alienation could be overcome by reembracing the notions of perfectibility once reserved for God as an integral component of human nature (Lawhead, 399).
Attempting to solidify these claims regarding man’s position atop a materialistic universe through a veneer of science was Charles Darwin. According to "The Cambridge Dictionary Of Philosophy", Darwin was among the first to popularize theories of materialistic gradualism or evolution with a naturalistic mechanism, namely the process of natural selection where adaptations are accumulated in surviving organisms and passed on to succeeding generations (177-179). According to Darwin in "The Origin Of Species", it is through the accumulation of these adaptations in response to varying environmental conditions that biologists find the diverse plethora of organisms that inhabit the earth today. Alister McGrath points out in "Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths" that "The Origin Of Species" and its ensuing theory of evolution was not accepted as much for its scientific insight than for its justification of passionately believed ideological assumptions such as the free trade policies of the English Whig Party, various strands of socialism, and assorted theories regarding the perceived hierarchy of human races and ethnic groups (161).
Standing upon thinkers such as Feuerbach and Darwin who provided atheism with theoretical and allegedly scientific justifications were other formidable intellects pursuing the implications of a social order divorced from the influence of God. One such figure drawing upon the fonts of atheism for such a purpose was Karl Marx.
Marx served as a kind of intellectual middleman between the theoretically-inclined such as Feuerbach and Darwin and the later activists such as Lenin and Mao who would adapt Marx’s own writings for the actual political arena. Borrowing from the materialism of Feuerbach, Marx believed that religion and the notion of God were devised by bourgeois elites in order to subjugate the proletarian masses. Borrowing from Darwin’s theory of growth through conflict, Marx believed these religious notions would have to be swept away along side with most forms of private property in order to make a way for the pending socialist utopia. Marx’s call for action and summary for analysis were sounded in "The Communist Manifesto"; his beliefs received further exposition through the massive "Das Kapital", much of which was compiled by Friedrich Engels after the death of his comrade.
Another prominent twentieth century thinker dedicated to the cause of atheism was Bertrand Russell. Though best remembered in academia as a foremost philosopher of mathematics, it could be argued that Russell’s most widespread contribution remains as an influential proponent of applied atheism.