The Self–Made Atheist

Recently, there was a public announcement from Professor Keith Parsons of the University of Houston that has caused quite a stir. Professor Parsons has for the past ten years taught in the area known as the philosophy of religion. As you can imagine, that would be the search for a sound, philosophical basis for religion, not necessarily Christianity, Judaism, or any religion in particular, but simply how do you find a philosophical basis for religion, a belief in one or more gods.

The key portion of his statement is this:

I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest… I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it.

This quote and more details can be found at the following URL:

What has happened here? What has Professor Parsons done? He has spent years examining the question, “does God exist?” with himself as the judge of the answer to the question. The question is one that Christian apologists have devoted much effort to over the past two millennia in the effort to bring people to Jesus Christ. A typical resources such as Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Kreeft and Taccelli lists 20 standard arguments for the existence of God (p. 47). I have to confess that I am not personally very well persuaded by many of these arguments, but that is largely because I have not taken the time to study them really carefully; I am convinced of the existence of God from my own experience without recourse to the arguments of the apologists.

But look again at what Professor Parsons has done. He has made himself the judge of the validity of the answer. It is not wrong to ask the question, but we must be very careful about what we will accept for an answer. Consider St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 1:21-25  For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has given great power to men to understand the workings of the physical universe. He has provided us the ability to probe into the remote reaches of His creation with things like the Hubble telescope with which we see events that happened eons ago at unimaginably great distances from us and the information of their happening is only now arriving to us. At the other extreme, we are being enabled to understand the actual building blocks of life, the gene sequences that control every aspect of our physical structure. We do all of this only because God has provided us with the tools to be able to do it. Let us never think that we are so clever that we do this on our own, without God. And while there is much new knowledge that is becoming known, it is painfully evident that there is very much that we do no know and have no real expectation of ever knowing in so many areas. So let us not think ourselves in any sense “all powerful” or “ominscient.” That would truly be a joke!

The Christian faith, the faith that connects us to God the Father through Jesus Christ His only Son and gives us the continual protection of the Holy Ghost is not something we can prove by philosophy, it is not something for which we can demand a sign when we want one, but it simply lived in faith, day by day, week by week. Because as St. Paul says, the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Poor Professor Parsons is much to be pitied. It is implied that he had some sort of faith previously, most likely that he was even a Christian, but now he has talked himself into being an atheist. His chances of salvation are very poor at this point, barring a sudden turn around in his life. This sort of thing has happened before, I am sure. The great Sir Issac Newton was extremely concerned with theology, and eventually convinced himself that the concept of the Holy Trinity was not true, thus making Newton essentially a Unitarian (although not necessarily exactly what that means today). How he reached that conclusion mystifies me, but it cost Newton his faculty position which had required that he be in holy orders in the Church of England, something he could not do if he denied the Trinity. This simply shows the great hazard we incur when we invoke our own judgment on such questions.

Let us pray for Professor Parsons.


About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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