Dr. Bruce Tallman, a “full-time professional spiritual director” (whatever that is) has written an opinion column for Ifpress entitled: “Awesomeness keeps me from being atheist.” Normally, I just roll my eyes at this type of ignorance and go about my day. Nonetheless, the fact that he is expressing views shared by many believers, I thought a few of you may appreciate a few comments since you may be dealing with questions like these as you interact with family this week.
Tallman begins his piece by saying: “Suffering is the rock atheists stand on. If there is a God, why is there so much suffering?”
From the start he is way off. As for me, the suffering of the world has nothing whatsoever to do with my atheism. In fact, if I came across a nonbeliever who told me they didn’t believe in god(s) because of the pain in the world, I would ask them to rethink their position. Atheism is only a statement of what someone doesn’t believe. It is a shame the word must exist at all, but our society forces us to answer the god(s) question. I compare it to the past necessity of words like Protestant and abolitionist. I could expand quite a bit on this, but for the sake of argument, I will accept the theologian’s argument for “freewill” to move on.
Tallman continues: “But let’s for once turn the tables and ask atheists a question. If there is no God, why is there so much awesomeness?” and then he goes on to speak of the “breathtaking beauty of so many things.”
I really don’t think Tallman has ever investigated what atheists actually do believe. I for one can say that once I denounced my former religiousness, the universe has become even more breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Perhaps Tallman has never read the often quoted statement of Douglas Adams: “isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
Tallman goes on to posit that the heavens reflect the “glory of God,” as claimed in 19th Psalm, and proclaims that the glorious nature of creation has led “humans to believe in gods.” This last part is true. Mankind’s quest for answers did lead to the creation of mythologies to explain these wonders. Nonetheless, these very same gods have been chased down the rabbit hole of history as the light of science has exposed their darkness. The deities who once guided arrows through the air, and were the authors of all disease, now exist outside of time and space, and were the triggers of the Big Bang.
Tallman does acknowledge that the advances of science have “revealed even greater wonders,” but continues to list the ways science falls short. Reading his arguments, I am reminded of the poem Lamia where John Keats says “Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings” and insinuates that Newton was removing the magic of the rainbow by explaining the prismatic qualities of damp air.
I do agree with Tallman when he writes of the “wonder of human development from fertilized egg to old age.” Our very existence is remarkable, and I am one of those atheists who Tallman says, “admit to needing spirituality.” However, these things—in no way—require a supernatural force.
One of the concluding remarks of Tallman’s article says: If there were no God, there would be nothing to see.” This is quite a jump. As an atheist, I am more than willing to admit that the more we learn about the universe, the more we realize we know nothing. That being said, I don’t need to declare “here be dragons” at the edges of my current understanding.
What do you think?