An Argument For Unbelief
By David Milan
"I would like to believe in a god, but in all the vastness of the universe,
I can't locate any Being who cares about Earth's suffering children” - Margaret Scott (1)
"I think that the arguments for religious unbelief, for agnosticism, are very strong, and anyone who denies the force of those arguments is a fool." (2)
You could be forgiven for thinking that this provocative declaration was made by a militant atheist but no, you would be mistaken, for these are the words of, arguably, the doyen of Australian Christian apologists, the late Bartholomew A. ("Bob") Santamaria. Well, of course I agree that the case for unbelief has significant power, resting as it does on the unarguable truth that there is not a scintilla of demonstrable, empirical evidence to support belief in a supernatural Being, indeed, all the accumulated evidence we do have points starkly in the opposite direction.
But thoughtful believers will be undismayed by Bob's opinion and would scarcely bother to challenge him because they already know that the case for God cannot be won in a court of law, it has no place before the bar with footling arguments raging about which burden of proof should apply - "balance of probabilities" or "beyond reasonable doubt" to "prove" that God is. That sort of evidence is not only absent but, for the True Believer, unnecessary, for God lives not in the High Court, but in the heart and the lofty realm of personal faith.
Ours was a very disturbing newscast this morning. Eastern Africa's dreadful drought maintains its relentless grip and the cost in terms of human suffering is incalculable. Endless prayerful petitions for divine intervention to send saving rain remain unanswered and as I write, eight million blameless people are at risk of perishing without the massive amounts of relief being frantically distributed by those magnificent third-world aid agencies. But here's the rub! Whilst God seems unmoved by the suffering of eight million of his African children, it appears that he is busy elsewhere, dabbling in trivia. Last year I visited a Pentecostal "healing service" where a witnesser (we'll call him Bill Smith) gave an inspirational (?) testimony to the miracle performed by God in healing his troublesome sore knee. Disappointed with conventional treatment, Bill had decided to take his problem knee to the Lord in prayer. I understand that, whilst the Lord took his time in responding to Bill's persistent petitions, eventually, a supernatural cure was duly granted and Bill is mowing his lawn again.
Bill was fulsome in his praise to God for this miraculous intervention and afterwards, seemed something of a hero to other members of the congregation who stood around congratulating him on his faith and on this evidence of. God's power to heal.
But I pondered this conundrum. What do these pious folk think when, on arrival home from church, they switch on their TVs to be confronted by chilling images of keening African mothers stumbling towards a mass grave carrying their lifeless little ones? Do they not question such mindless suffering and the Almighty's sense of priorities whereby Bill's sore knee attracts God's attention to the disadvantage of the monstrous African tragedy?
Do these believers not wonder how their God of limitless power and love can passively patrol any Children’s Cancer Ward and not graciously touch each suffering little with divine healing? Last week, eight kids perished in a Brisbane fire: might not God have awakened them in time to save these innocent lives from a ghastly, untimely death? It goes far beyond ludicrous to suggest that God chooses to ignore unmerited suffering on a vast scale yet finds time to place His healing hand on so trivial a complaint as Bill's knee. What sort of deity is this?
Michael Goulder is the Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Birmingham. He is also a world authority on the New Testament and an ex-Anglican priest. Today, he describes himself as a "non-aggressive atheist" and whilst dismissing personal belief in god, he holds the true atheist position that nobody can take the next step and declare that there is no god (for who, Michael asks, can know that?
Shortly after his resignation, Michael Goulder defended his newly-minted atheist position by resting his case, as it were, on the argument that the God of the past "no longer had any real work to do" I will conclude therefore with some words from this deeply honourable, brilliant, yet humble man.
"The tasks assigned to this God by traditional wisdom have been slowly but surely stripped from the divine side. This God no longer fights wars and defeats enemies. This God no longer chooses a special people and works through them. This God no longer sends the storms, heals the sick , spares the dying or even judges the sinner. This God no longer rewards goodness and punishes evil. Yet this virtually unemployed deity is still the primary object and substance of the Christian Church's faith". (3)
(1) "100 Australians Face Life's Biggest Questions"
(2) The Trial of God Norman Rothfield p2.
(3) Why Christianity Must Change or Die J.S.Spong p44