When an atheist does good
CONTRIBUTORS EARLMONT Williams, in his article in your paper on Thursday, January 18, and Garth Rattray in an earlier column dealing with the same topic, demonstrate precisely what is fundamentally wrong with religious belief. Religious people begin with an assumption that God is beyond human reason and experience and then proceed to tell us a great deal about what He is like. This is a fundamental contradiction.
Williams writes of God that "He is not subjected to the limitations of human life" and proceeds to ask, "If indeed we are finite and imperfect, how could we perceive of and apprehend the infinite and the perfect without an infinite and perfect being impressing such perceptions on our minds?" In his column, Dr Rattray writes, "Our physical bodies are four-dimensional entities confined by time and space. Even within this sphere of existence, there are many mysteries and wonders - far too many for our mortal minds to begin to comprehend. Because of this, we will never be able to understand God and therefore many misconceptions will arise."
As Bertrand Russell (20th century British philosopher) has pointed out (and I paraphrase from memory), when theologians start out with the assumption that God is beyond human understanding, it follows that they will very likely be talking nonsense when they try to speak about Him.
We do have a natural propensity for faith. That is a factual observation. But a better explanation can be developed from the Darwinian paradigm of natural selection. The complete dependence of the human infant on its parents for a number of years after birth makes it imperative that he has complete faith in his parents and is always obedient during these early years.
Individuals who do not have this trait will likely die out and the characteristics be removed from the gene pool.
Even if God exists, we still have responsibility for what we decide to be good and what we select as being evil from His word. When an atheist does good, he expects nothing substantial in return, only the intangible notion that he has made a choice to do what he considers to be in the long-term interest of his species. On the other hand, the Christian expects a reward in Heaven. Who is more altruistic? Which act is really good?
I am, etc.,
R. Howard Thompson