I’m currently reading “The Great Debate: Does God Exist? Bahnsen v. Stein”. Stein, an atheist defines an atheist one who “says the case [for God’s existence] is unproved not disproved. So an atheist is someone who is without a belief in God, or he does not believe in a God. It is not someone who denies the existence of God, or who says that one does not exist, or that he can prove that one does not exist.”
Is this a fair definition? I certainly do not think so. Why? First, because I personally do not believe that the arguments for God’s existence are all that astounding. The arguments for and against seem to be about equal. I took Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” to heart and existentially chose to believe in God’s existence. So I can shake hands with anyone who says God’s existence is unproven (at least in the logical sense). Second, no one exists without some form of belief in a god – plain and simple. So saying that someone is without a belief in God shows that they do have some type of belief regarding God. The only escape from this would be total ignorance of the question. Third, his definition seems to say that agnosticism is atheism is agnosticism, etc.
Now my third argument matters little to me right now. And the second is important, but not for my current writing. Really all is says is that everyone holds some opinion about any piece of information. I’ll leave that to the epistemologists. They surely can handle that one.
My third point is very important to me right now. It even sparked my current writing. If Stein is correct, then I’m simply an atheist in bad faith. I should have followed his straight path towards atheism and never strayed from the fold if he is correct. But Stein forgot the important element that all evidence has to face: the human will. The will must make a decision for or against knowledge. The subject is confronted by knowledge. The subject must will for or against it. Ignorance is the only escape, which becomes impossible once knowledge confronts the will. (So I guess I strayed onto the second point anyways.) I say that Stein willed against the evidence for and against God’s existence. He chose to disbelieve, based on the evidence. I chose to believe irregardless of the information.
So why did Stein choose this definition of atheism? Stein was more concerned with protecting his tail than intellectual integrity – in my opinion. His definition looks humble yet self-agrandizing. Overall, the definition was far too broad to be practical and I think my criticism of it has reached it’s necessary limits. However, I want to add that Stein did try to make atheists not look like devils and I can applaud him for that. Being an atheist in the not too distant past has taught me a lot. Even with my undisclosed status now, I can still remember people making me feel like a demon or that I had gone crazy. And it’s a gut-wrenching feeling hearing Christians talk about “evil” atheists. People are equally capable of evil as good. They are also as equally capable of hiding behind self-imposed labels as other-imposed.