Does skepticism neccessitate atheism?

I am a skeptic. Proudly. I treat all truth claims with an element of distrust – and many with disdain. But I am also a Christian. And by definition a theist, and a believer in the supernatural. My skepticism extends to all other religious claims – and many claims made by subsets of Christianity. What the relationship is between Christian belief and belief in the realm of ghosts, spiritual warfare and other supernatural issues is a matter for another post. Maybe.

I think I might have previously linked to this Clive James piece on the value of skepticism – if not, I apologise. It’s mostly about climate change skepticism, though a little bit about golf ball chips (a phenomena that occurs if you have a golf course next to a potato farm).

Skepticism is great – but if you hold onto it counter to the evidence you’re not a skeptic – you’re an idiot.

The golf-ball crisp might look like a crisp, and in a moment of delusion it might taste like a crisp, and you might even swallow the whole thing, rather proud of the strength it took to chew. But if there is a weird aftertaste, it might be time to ask yourself if you have not put too much value on your own opinion. The other way of saying “What do I know?” is “What do I know?” .

Which rather tangentially brings me to the purpose of this rant. I read this article on the Friendly Atheist about the relationship between skepticism and atheism – obviously they’re linked… it’s not rocket science to suggest that most atheists are skeptics. It comes with the territory. But do all skeptics have to be atheists?

A series of posts around the atheist blogosphere suggested that the two are inextricably linked – that atheism is a logical by product of skepticism.

It started with a speech at a camp for skeptics…the speaker then had to defend his claim from some criticism…

But because I have yet to see good evidence — philosophical, scientific, or otherwise — to support religious claims, I live under the assumption there is not a god or gods above,  making me an atheist. I am still open to evidence, just with rigorous philosophical and scientific standards. A perfect example to sum up the co-existence of these labels comes from what Jacob posted in the comments to his piece. “You ask if I am agnostic about Zeus. Yes. Fairies. Yes.” But, then, Jacob is also an aZeusist, and an afairist. That is, he lives without belief in Zeus or fairies.

The problem with all these assertions – and in fact every skeptical assertion – is that it is based on one’s personal standard of evidence. Which is a personal decision. And it should be. If you want to cover your eyes, block your ears and bury your head in the sand to avoid any “evidence” that may change your opinion on any matter – then that is your choice. And I will laugh at love you even if you are wrong.

So, in the post on the Friendly Atheist the writer made this rather bold claim…

I’ll use ’skepticism’ to mean the attitude that one should scale confidence in a belief to match the evidence, and ‘atheism’ to mean the lack of belief in a god. With these definitions, the two are clearly related.

Here’s another quote from that piece.

If a person is skeptical, we expect them to embrace atheism because that’s where the evidence leads.

Only when you set fairly narrow parameters for “evidence”… I think by “evidence” you mean that’s where an understanding of the world based on scientific naturalism leads.

For some of us scientific naturalism is a good starting point, but not an end point.

Since the principle of skepticism requires religion to be treated with scrutiny, how should the movement deal with the fact that scrutiny leads to atheism?

What this post is actually saying – and the root of the problem – is that these atheists, who are skeptics, have found the evidence wanting when it comes to the question of God – but not all skeptics have put the same faith in their particular evidential methodology.

Here’s how I think those quotes could have been more honestly framed – from a skeptical standpoint – I’ll bold my changes.

If a person is skeptical, I expect them to embrace atheism because that’s where I think the evidence leads them.

Since the principle of skepticism requires religion to be treated with scrutiny, how should I deal with my opinion that scrutiny leads to atheism?

Note the similarity to the quote from Clive James’ piece – what do I know? That’s the question that should be being asked in this case. Skepticism is a subjective philosophical position that requires convincing evidence – not some sort of objective standard.

For me, I am a skeptic when it comes to scientific naturalism’s ability to answer all of life’s questions, and I am convinced by the evidence of God’s word, my observations of human nature, and my experience as a believer.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

One thought on “Does skepticism neccessitate atheism?”

Comments are closed.