Explain the reasons for the rise of atheism
There are many different reasons that are seen as factors for the rise of atheism. However, many peoples description of atheism is different. Some people think of it is as not believing in a God at all, but others see it as being confused about your religion and not having strong beliefs about one certain religion. The reasons for the rise of atheism range from being scientific to belief in other religions. One of the first reasons for a rise in atheism is due to our increased scientific knowledge, which is now being described as ‘the supreme catalyst’ for the rise of atheism. The reason for science having such an influence is due to the fact that it now gives us natural explanations for many of the world’s processes. Ray Billington, a well-known philosopher argues that above all 3 scientific developments have contributed mostly to the rise in atheism. For example the rise of the telescope shone a light on the otherwise fairly dark beliefs of what shape the world was and it gave explanations as to how the universe exists without the guardianship of God. Another of these scientific discoveries was Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’, which brought about trial and error rather than purposiveness.
Lastly, in the early decades of the twentieth century, the psychoanalysts, in particular Freud’s teaching about the unconscious mind came about. Freud’s teaching suggests that ‘the idea of the conscience as the still small voice of God must go, to be replaced by that of an accumulation of experiences and ideas encountered at all stages of any individual persons life’. Secondly empiricism; the view that all that may be known of reality is what can be known through the five senses; is also another key factor in the increasing number of atheists. Something is proved true or false through sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. An empiricist holds the belief that we can hold no knowledge of anything beyond the bounds of sense experience and that knowledge can only be gained through these experiences. To some extent, empiricism can be thought of as the basis of the development of science that has previously been considered. This is due to the fact that science bases its theories and conclusions on the basis of experience in the form of experiments and such. Empiricists such as John Locke have tried to justify the belief in God on empirical grounds, however Gavin Hyman argues that God cannot be touched, smelt, tasted seen or heard and thus he is nonempirical. Hume however argues that we have to draw our conclusions ‘merely from known phenomena’. Empiricism further tarnishes theism with A.J. Ayer’s verification principle. This is the principle that says unless we know in principle how to verify a statement (true or false), then the statement is meaningless.
Although, Ayer accepted the empiricist view that the only way to verify a statement is through empirical evidence, except for those statements that are true by definition. However he concludes that statements about God are meaningless as they cannot be verified by either method and thus we cannot believe God exists. Furthermore, there is the problem of evil. Many believe this to be the biggest contributor to the rise in the atheism as it is the factor that most challenges our belief in God. The problem of evil basically means that if there really is a God then why do evil things happen every day to perfectly innocent people – surely it is God’s duty to prevent such things? People believe that if one of the two contraries were infinite then the other one would be completely destroyed. However this is not the case and so doubt is threaded into those religious believers to which evil happens of Gods existence. The problem of evil is often shown as one of the most compelling reasons for the rejection of God. Obviously religious believers would reject these conclusions with perfectly strong arguments although an atheist would use the argument in return that if God really is ‘all-loving’ then why does he not stop the evil. A rebellion against moral absolutes has also begun to come to forefront of the explanations for the rise of atheism with the dawn of the 21st century.
A moral absolute is the idea that there are God given rules and that those who break them are immoral. Some examples of moral absolutes are the 10 commandments and the 7 deadly sins. 1960’s brought a sexual and moral revolution, which was seen as a major catalyst for atheism of symptom of growing atheism. People began to reject religion on the grounds that they wanted to have sex without it being thought of a sin if it is not within marriage. The invention of the pill and the beginnings of capitalism in the 1980’s lead to us rejecting sexual ethics and beliefs that greed/gluttony/sloth were wrong. Capitalism encouraged us to embrace our desires. When we embraced capitalism and the new sexual freedom given to us by contraceptives we lost interest in religion and what seemed like an old fashioned morality. The rejection of moral absolutes means that we are going against God’s will of how He wants us to act therefore with the rejection of moral absolutes, we are rejecting religion, thus we are not following a religion which classes us as atheists and this gives another explanation to the rise of atheism. Finally since the 20th century the work of theologians, sociologists and anthropologists has began to promote increased dialogue between and detailed study of different faiths thus people have become aware of other faiths. Although communication between different religions is nothing new, it is only since the 20th century those similarities and contradictions of religions has been promoted.
Contradictions between religions have began to question the validity of some of them, for example, miracles like the Resurrection that claim to establish the exclusive validity of Christianity, implicitly destroy that of Islam, Judaism and all faiths that reject the Christian truth claims. It is not surprising that with all these conflicting views and beliefs on different religions that religious believer’s begin to doubt their own views and own religion, thus pushing them towards the obvious option of atheism. In conclusion, other the past couple of years there have been many increasing reasons that lead to explaining atheism, however in my opinion the most prominent of these reasons has to be science as this give us logical reasons to many questions that we have previously had. For example, the creation of Persinger’s helmet gives a very valid reason for theists to be lead to atheism. Bibliography
– AQA Religious Studies: Philosophy of Religion – Nelson Thornes