Led by the biologist Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion,” atheism has taken on a new life in popular religious debate. Dawkins’s brand of atheism is scientific in that it views the “God hypothesis” as obviously inadequate to the known facts. In particular, he employs the facts of evolution to challenge the need to postulate God as the designer of the universe. For atheists like Dawkins, belief in God is an intellectual mistake, and honest thinkers need simply to recognize this and move on from the silliness and abuses associated with religion.
Most believers, however, do not come to religion through philosophical arguments. Rather, their belief arises from their personal experiences of a spiritual world of meaning and values, with God as its center.
The first paragraph talks about “scientific” atheism and the known facts, but then the second paragraph criticizes that view by talking about philosophical arguments. Gary Gutting, the Notre Dame philosopher who wrote the post, makes a kind of transition from the first to the second with the remark about “an intellectual mistake,” but still, it seems like a muddying of the waters to imply that Dawkins is guilty of “scientism” and then once that’s taken care of, shift to philosophical arguments.
Of course most atheism combines the two, and most non-philosophers don’t worry much about keeping them separate. At any rate, that second paragraph doesn’t make much sense to me, for the usual kind of reason. It seems circular. Most believers get their belief from personal experiences, with God at the center. But “God” is the very item that’s in question, so how can “God” be at the center before there is any reason to think “God” exists? Gutting slots “God” in there as if it were perfectly natural and inevitable, but “God” is what atheists don’t believe exists, so it’s question-begging to slot “God” in anywhere.
A spiritual world of meaning and values is a very general category, and could mean anything or nothing. “God” is much more specific, despite its convenient flexibility for purposes of argument. It doesn’t work to claim or imply that belief in God is not an intellectual mistake by talking about personal experiences of a spiritual world of meaning and values, with God as its center. Gary Gutting is a philosopher so I’m confident that he knows that much better than I do…yet he said it anyway. (Maybe he just meant “with the idea of God at its center” – but he didn’t say that.)