Atheism and Intellectual Courage

One of the important qualities that religious dialogue often lacks is respect. We need to be deliberate in considering the strengths of the positions with which we disagree. I have noticed that looking for the good points of different worldviews is often correlated with the ability to respect the people who believe differently than myself. After all, it is hard to respect someone who seems, to you, to believe utter nonsense. I want to look at some of the virtues of atheists and some of the strengths of atheism.

In particular, I want to celebrate how many atheists are willing to have a hard-hitting, bite-the-bullet, live with the consequences attitude.

For instance, as I’ve argued elsewhere, atheism leads to determinism, hopelessness, purposelessness, the absence of morality, and other difficult implications. As Richard Dawkins puts it,

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Blindness to suffering is an inherent consequence of natural selection. Nature is neither kind nor cruel but indifferent.

I respect Dawkins for saying these things. It takes a certain courage and intellectual hardiness to own up to the consequences of atheism, to accept them, and to publicly stand by them. This kind of robust affirmation of both atheism and its consequences is refreshing. It would be much easier to obfuscate the issues than to clearly stand by the logical implications of one’s belief system. (By no means am I saying that Dawkins has been 100% consistent in this area, but in this post I am looking to celebrate the good I see in him).

Let’s work to:

  • deepen our interest in looking for the good in other perspectives
  • deepen our respect for those who believe differently than we do
  • identify areas of our own intellectual cowardice, and
  • become more intellectually courageous, standing by our convictions at their full strength.

Certainly, intellectual courage is a value that Christians should affirm. The greatest commandment in the Christian faith is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). To use all of our mind, in conjunction with all of our heart, soul and strength, is to be intellectually courageous.