The “Faith” Of Atheism

Oct 23rd, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

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In 1933 a group of thirty-four liberal US humanists drafted the “Humanist Manifesto I,” which for its time was a radical document.  Committed to reason, science and democracy, the document rejected orthodox and dogmatic positions and argued for a “new statement of the means and purposes of religion.” [Paul Kurtz, ed., The Humanist Manifesto I and II, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1973, p. 8] The Manifesto maintained that the universe is “self-existing and not created,” explained only by the evolutionary hypothesis.  The Manifesto affirmed that the human race is the center of all things and that religion must be redefined in these terms. Finally, the Manifesto rejected capitalism and affirmed some kind of socialist order as the wave of the future.  In 1973 a group of 114 scholars published “Humanist Manifest II,” which not only reaffirmed the tenets of the 1933 document, but also addressed the issues of civil liberties, equality, democracy, human survival, world economic growth, population and the environment, war and peace and the building of a world community.  The survival of the human race is not dependent on a divine being but on humanity itself, the Manifesto argued.  In addition, it maintained that humans must abandon the archaic dogmas and ideologies that inhibit creative explorations and solutions.  Human freedom must be embraced as the ultimate value and preserved at all costs.


In short, modern humanism/secularism despises conventional religion and traditional morality.  It rejects any belief in God and, instead, affirms a dogmatic and optimistic belief in humankind.  [For this essay, humanism, secularism and atheism are interchangeable terms.  The nuances of difference between them are beyond the purpose of this essay.]  Modern humanists see the problems of the world—racism, oppression, militarism, war and poverty—as solvable by humans working together for the maximum fulfillment of all.  Traditional religion, whatever its form, humanists argue, has not made progress in solving these human problems. The modern humanist claims that we must put faith in ourselves and aggressively attack the problems of the human race.


Despite the antisupernaturalism of modern atheism, this worldview still has a theology.  Here are the salient themes of that theology:

  • Creation and the Universe.  The atheist contends that the physical world was formed from chaos and that only man’s reason has brought some order to this chaos; there is no divine plan or purpose.  Only matter is eternal.  Carl Sagan, who popularized the secular approach to science and cosmic evolution, argued that “The Cosmos is all that is or ever will be.”  The universe as we know it is a closed system.  It cannot be reordered from anything or anyone from outside itself.  There is no transcendent God.  Because humans are matter and because there is no such thing as a soul (or anything supernatural for that matter), the laws of the universe apply to humans as well.  Humans do not transcend the universe in any manner whatsoever.  The universe is a closed system based on a uniform set of cause-effect relationships and humans are a part of that system.
  • God.  Secularists insist that there is no personal God who created the universe or who gives any kind of meaning to the universe.  As “The Humans Manifesto II” asserts, “We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of the supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race.  As non-theists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.” [p. 16] Thus, humans make their own history, without any master plan.  There is no accountability to God and no fear of judgment from Him.
  • Humanity.  The human race is a cosmic accident.  Humans come from nothing and when they die go to nothing.  But that does not mean humanity is insignificant; indeed, humans are the key to a better world.  “Humanist Manifesto II” contends that “reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that mankind possesses.” [p. 17] That is why modern humanism believes that compassion, cooperation and community will bring about a better world.  For that reason, economic well-being is possible in a world of “shared human values.”  There is no such thing as eternity, so modern humanism affirms that happiness is the only core value for the human race.  Humanism as a philosophy contends that “man is the measure of all things.”  In themselves, humans are the ultimate norm by which values are determined.  They are the ultimate beings and the ultimate authority; all reality and all of life center on human beings.  Curiously, although humans emerge from nothing and move towards nothing at death, somehow humans acquire supreme dignity.  Yet, despite the humanist’s belief in human progress, what is the real reason for hope?  Why should we affirm human dignity?  Why should I fight to solve the problems of racism, war or poverty?  Why does it really make any difference at all whether I focus on progress or focus on living for the moment now?  If nothingness is my ultimate destiny, then human dignity is an illusion. Although emotionally satisfactory, humanism is intellectually dishonest and untenable.  For that reason, the issue of death remains a formidable problem for humanism.   “The Humanist Manifesto II” claims that “. . . the total personality is a function of the biological organism transacting in a social and cultural context.  There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body.” [p. 17] The only “immortality” for the human, says “The Humanist Manifesto II” is to “continue to exist in our progeny and in the way our lives have influenced others in our culture.” [p. 17] There is no hope of seeing loved ones, of life after death or of an eternal destiny.  Humans live for the moment or for “influencing others.”
  • Ethics.  Modern secularism maintains that there are no absolutes to guide humans in the ethical area.  “The Humanist Manifesto II” demands that “. . . moral values derive their source from human experience.  Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction.  Ethics stem from human need and intent.  To deny this distorts the whole basis of life.  Human life has meaning because we create and develop our futures. . . . We strive for the good life, here and now.” [p. 17] For that reason, all human acts are ethically neutral, except for their influence on others for good or ill.  But human standards are constantly changing and fluid and vary from culture to culture.  Hence, humans must create their own standards and then live consistently with them.  Humanism rejects any dependence on absolute ethics; instead, sexual freedom, personal autonomy and the unbridled pursuit of personal peace and happiness are the vital center of the humanist’s ethical standard.




A secular atheism remains the dominant worldview in most colleges and universities.  It pervades the discipline of science and informs the general approach to the humanities.  It gives the impression of being objective, unbiased and modern.  Today, however, in the typical college or university, Postmodernism is competing with atheistic humanism.  Where humanism has generally argued that truth is knowable and certain, obtainable through the scientific method, Postmodernism steps away from humanism’s claim and argues that truth in any absolute or certain sense is not attainable.  For that reason, toleration of all beliefs, worldviews and systems is the reigning tenet of Postmodernism.  Because both seek human autonomy with no accountability, the relativism and the pluralism of Postmodernism mesh perfectly with the antisupernaturalism of secularism.  The difference between the two is how each views the possibility of attaining absolute truth.


In conclusion, Michael Guillen, a physicist who became a Christian, argues that atheism actually posits a faith that constitutes the foundation of its worldview.  He writes, “When I was an atheist . . . my worldview rested on the core axiom that seeing is believing.  When I learned that 95% of the cosmos is invisible, consisting of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy,’ names for things we don’t understand, that core assumption became untenable.  As a scientist, I had to believe in a universe I mostly could not see.  My core axiom became ‘believing is seeing.’”  He goes on, “science’s worldview is becoming more mystical, not less.  Witness supernatural-like concepts such as virtual particles, imaginary time and quantum entanglement . . . Faith is the foundation of the entire human experience—the basis for both science and religion.  Our faith in physical reality drives us to seek treatments for deadly diseases like COVID-19, to explore the depths of the sea, to invent the perfect source of energy.  Our faith in spiritual reality drives us to create breathtaking works of art, music, and architecture; to see life as a divine creation, not an accident of nature; to be curious about things that are not of this world. .  . Faith is anything but a weakness.  It is the mightiest power in the universe.”  Soli Deo gloria.

See James P. Eckman, The Truth about Worldviews, pp. 17-26; and Michael Guillen in the Wall Street Journal (24 September 2021).

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