AN ENLIGHTENED PHILOSOPHY CAN AN ATHEIST BELIEVE ANYTHING? (2010)

A review by Andrew Furlong of An Enlightened Philosophy Can an Atheist Believe Anything? By Geoff Crocker, published by O Books (2010)

Geoff Crocker's extensive range of reading and his breadth of thinking are well evidenced in this engaging book. He is concerned about the moral nihilism within a reductionist atheistic outlook, which focuses on physical explanations of the universe and of human life within it. In this outlook, he detects a strong tendency towards consumerism, as the chief goal of both the market and of human aspirations. He doubts whether there is a place for morality in such world view.

He thinks it is possible to build a bridge between a religion such as Christianity and the secular atheism which he considers has such a strong hold on many people in western societies. He believes that the Bible has a rich pool of stories, which if stripped of their theological dimension, can provide people, in 21st century, with moral examples that are both challenging and inspiring. He thinks that these resources could fill the moral vacuum in an atheistic vision for life. Not everyone will agree that atheists give no recognition to moral values.

In his scientific and sociological overviews, he raises the question whether we have any freedom to make choices or whether we are totally determined in all our decisions and actions. He inclines towards thinking that we have some freedom, but of a very limited nature. Is he right? Or is the question whether human beings have freedom impossible to decide on and therefore an area of uncertainty that is part of what it means to live out a human life?

If it could be proved that there is no freedom, then presumably we cannot be held morally responsible for our motives, intentions and actions. On the other hand, if we cannot prove that we have freedom, what is the meaning of holding people morally accountable for their actions? What would count as proof in these instances?

Whether one believes in God or not, on what are moral virtues based? Why is it right to do good, pursue justice and show love? Can we or can we not prove it is right to do these things? Is this another area of human life in which we live with mystery and uncertainty? Maybe all we can say is that we have made a commitment, which we believe we have the freedom to make, to try to do good, believing that this is the right way in which to try to live?

Perhaps this book might have drawn clearer distinctions between believing and knowing, and might have brought out more clearly the inescapable dimension of uncertainty which is part and parcel of each human life. Such uncertainty surely relates to not knowing whether the atheist or the theist is correct in their beliefs about what is the truth about the universe. Does the universe exhaust all of life's meaning or is there another dimension which will complete the meaning of life?

Undoubtedly, one of the values of this book is the number of questions it raises in the critical mind.

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