Atheism as Ideology

According to a 2012 poll, with 50,000 respondents from 40 countries, roughly 13% of the world population identifies as atheist.[1] This is quite a small demographic, though one would imagine otherwise from the visibility, and influence, atheism garners through academia, media, and the culture industry. Note that these three institutional carriers of the atheistic worldview remain allied with the economic and political organs of the modern state. For, without the continuance of education as a priority among issues of governance the economic health of society, and the state as such, is jeopardised. And, it is uncontroversially true, we live in a world that is saturated with media communication; a significant amount of it simply unavoidable in that it directly, or indirectly, supports and sustains the academic, economic, and political life of nation states. Thus, modern social consciousness remains inextricably tied up with what is considered acceptable, or desirable, by influencers in academic, media and cultural circles. And, so, it remains a worthwhile task to question the tacit presuppositions that motivate the perceived viability of atheism in these circles, and, subsequently, in the imagination of society at large.

It is my contention, along with many philosophers and thinkers from both Christian and secular traditions, atheism as a worldview has no legs to stand on but those of traditions not themselves compatible with modern scientific and philosophical assumptions.[2] One need only look at the historical emergence of Renaissance philosophy from the rib of medieval scholasticism, and the Enlightenment culminating in the crude empiricism of modernity, to understand the nature of our contemporary suspicion of transcendence and, indeed, of theism simpliciter.

§1

Right up to the late Middle Ages, and early Renaissance period, the notion of the world as constituted by a divine being was a given.[3] The rediscovery of Aristotle in the 12th and 13th centuries was the first development to fund philosophy and inquiry into nature independent of theological foundations. However, it is notable that this revival of Aristotelianism was not without its fair share of Christian workers. The work of Christian theologians, philosophers, and logicians like Abelard, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas in the preceding period was steeped in Aristotle. It is, thus, beyond dispute that the new Aristotelianism, which in the Renaissance would bolster independent scientific investigation, and subsequently lead to the rise of humanism, was nurtured by Christian philosophers in no small part. [4] After the Enlightenment, Christian Aristotelianism was not so much refuted as neglected.[5] The rise of the sciences, and philosophy without commitment to theology allowed for the emergence of libertinage in thought—as it was now decoupled from questions of morality and virtue which were part and parcel of the parent enterprise. Then, it would be mistaken to imagine that atheism had always been at the philosophic heart of humanity’s most probing inquiries into the nature of the world and understanding. [6]

From the historical picture of modernity’s rise from previously environing shapes of thought, it is evident that modern philosophy’s claim to a complete break from earlier modes of thought is unmotivated. It is all too easy to say that ‘had there been no medieval scholastic period in philosophy there would still be the Enlightenment, and modern empiricism’ but such a claim is always unprovable. We do not after all have any means to verify the causal origins of our historical situation in its antecedents from which we are temporally, philosophically, and ideologically so far removed. In fact, this insight is to be credited to David Hume whose skeptical rejection of causal inferences due to their problematic inductive aspect[7], makes the case against modern empiricism and its rejection of traditional philosophy. So much for an empiricist view of the rise of modern radical empiricism independent of its theological prehistory!

§2

We have seen how the claim of modern empiricism, the dogma which grounds the doctrine of atheism, to absolute historical originality is fantastic at its worst but now I want to concentrate on showing how it is intellectually bankrupt at its best.

On the empirical view of the universe, there is no way to knowledge but that of the senses. But, this meta-philosophical insight into the nature of knowledge is itself a maxim, and unprovable through the testimony of the senses. It is an epistemological notion and not an observational datum, consequently it constitutes a negation of the idea that there can only be knowledge constituted by sense experience. Again, if it is possible to know general facts about what can be known and an understanding of these factual states constitutes a specific type of knowledge what we have is a cake that we have already eaten. That is, we have a serious counterexample to the claim about knowability through the senses alone. Ergo, empiricism is incapable of supporting general claims about knowledge.

2.1. Suppose there is a set of facts which once enumerated exhaustively explains a phenomenon φ then, assuming such knowledge is based on sense experience ˫ (φ → (φ→ φ)). The only operating assumption is a datum of sense experience which implies φ. Now, to discharge φ, and show that ˫ (φ → (φ→ φ)) is an adequate explanation of the phenomenon, we need to introduce the notion of conditionals, i.e. ˫ ifthen relationships which show why φ in the first place. Then, to prove that ˫ (φ → (φ→ φ)) is an exhaustive explanation we need to discharge φ, which can be done in two steps: 1. (φ→ φ) which says if φ then φ, and 2. [From 1.]  φ → (φ→ φ). But, we have still not accounted for 1. It remains an assumption that φ. Since, φ is only an implication that is assumed to be the result of a datum of sense experience, and we cannot explain sense experience in terms of sense experience itself [circular explanation], the empirical claim to validity of ˫ (φ → (φ→ φ) is perpetually doubtful on Humean grounds. The ground of sense experience being itself a metaphysical principle is corrosive for the empiricists’ claim to logical and explanatory consistency of knowledge founded on sense experience, setting aside also its claim to exhaustiveness.

§3

In §1 I showed why modernity’s claim to philosophical originality is rubbished by even only a perfunctory look at its historical antecedents. We have seen, in the previous section, why the modern reliance on empiricism as the chief explanatory strategy, and as superior to theology and metaphysics, is logically reprehensible. In this section, I will argue for the superior cogency and robustness of the Christian ontotheological view of reality in comparison with modern radical empiricism.

On the Christian view of the world, whose historical antecedents we saw in §1, the universe is created by a supreme intelligence, aka God. This view is ratified in the Gospel of John (1:1-4): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.[8] Note that the intelligibility of the creator is implicit in the conceptual denotation of “the Word”, which is both God and the datum which constitutes its knowability through divine revelation. It is thus that man shares in “the light” and “the life” of a God who is both before humankind, and in excess of natural causal relations between the materials that constitute the world. As we Christians believe with John in the wisdom of God who inspired his words, and guided them “from a transcendent and eternal vantage point”[9], so we have surety of knowledge without appeal to any material causal factors. Inasmuch as we don’t hold God to be a material object that is apprehended by the senses, and our knowledge of God and the world consists only in divinely revealed cognitive contents in which meaning is inherent under the Johannine rubric of Logos, material causal explanations make logical, philosophical, and scientific sense on a theological basis.[10]

§4

As I have argued in the previous sections modern empiricism and its atheistic agenda is a historical outgrowth of the Christian ontotheological premise of the created world [§1], Empiricism with regard to knowledge in general is self-refuting [§2], and Christian ontotheology has more explanatory power than contending atheistic explanatory schemas, it’s self-consistent, coherent, and fully compatible with dispassionate inquiry into the world [§3].

In conclusion, having argued against them, I invite my readers to consider what the motivations behind the rampant propagandistic espousal of atheism in small pockets of influential academics, media producers and cultural icons are. It is clear, at least, that the attitudes and worldviews that underwrite the cultural resonance of vocal atheism in the absence of justifiable reasons, are ideological. Ideological in the sense that they are reasons logically unrelated to what is demonstrably the case, and attitudinally committed to what might be. In other words, the cultural resonance of the strident atheism of a small number of academics, and cultural icons, betrays an intellectual naïvety unknown to the ancients on whose shoulders the edifice of modernity precariously teeters.


[3] Dupré, Louis. (2012). “On the Natural Desire of Seeing God”. Radical Orthodoxy. Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Vol. 1, Numbers 1 & 2 (August 2012).PP. 81-94.

[4] Copleston, Frederick, S.J. (1994). “The French Enlightenment”. Modern Philosophy: From the French Enlightenment to Kant, Volume VI. New York, Double Day. PP. 1-80.

[5] Copleston, Frederick, S.J. (1994). History of Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Volume II. New York, Double Day. PP. 1-12.

[6] ‘It is clearly erroneous to ascribe to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle only a pure, “non-religious” form of reason—Socrates had his daemon, after all, Plato the spirit Eros to lift his soul to the divine, and Aristotle named his metaphysics (quite accurately) “theology.”’http://edwardfeser.blogspot.in/2013/11/nietzschean-natural-law.html.

[7] “Hume’s positive account does much to alleviate the epistemological problem—how to distinguish good inductions from bad ones—without treating the metaphysical problem. His account is based on the principle that inductive inference is the work of association which forms a “habit of the mind” to anticipate the consequence, or effect, upon witnessing the premise, or cause….Although Hume is the progenitor of modern work on induction, induction presents a problem, indeed a multitude of problems, quite in its own right. The by now traditional problem is the matter of justification: How is induction to be justified? There are in fact several questions here, corresponding to different modes of justification. One very simple mode is to take Hume’s dilemma as a challenge, to justify (enumerative) induction one should show that it leads to true or probable conclusions from true premises. It is safe to say that in the absence of further assumptions this problem is and should be insoluble.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/#JusInd

[9] Barton, John & Muddiman, John, Eds. (2007). The Oxford Bible Commentary. New York, Oxford University Press. p. 961.

[10] The argument prosecuted in 2.1. is fully compatible with natural deduction inclusive of the Christian ontotheological premise that the world is created by a God.

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