Atheism Not Accurately Portrayed in Letter (opinion)

Last Sunday, the News-Leader published a letter in which [the Rev.] Kenneth Chumbley asked area Christians to pray for atheists when passing an atheist billboard on I-44. He went on to give a grossly misleading account of the reasons atheists are atheists and the ideas atheists have about how people ought to behave.

His definition of atheism is: "there is no evidence for God, only evidence against God’s existence." Only the first half of that statement is fundamentally true. I don’t presume to speak for all atheists, but I feel comfortable saying that while many do think there is evidence against God’s existence, absence of evidence for his existence is more than enough for others to withhold belief.

Chumbley’s explanation of the atheist thinking presented in books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is deeply flawed. He claims that atheists do not believe in God because religious institutions have done terrible things. This is patently false. Most atheists (including myself) are atheists because after years of considering scientific facts about what the universe is like and philosophical musings on what a universe created by a benevolent god would be like, they have concluded that God’s existence is improbable. Atheists believe that the good and bad deeds of religious people and institutions have no bearing on the truth value of religious claims.

Chumbley also talks about the "atheism" of Ayn Rand, in which people should do whatever pleases them, regardless of detrimental effects on others. This is not atheism. Atheism is a lack of belief in a deity. That is all. Chumbley actually discusses this early in his article, saying that atheists have faith only in "reason, or science, or some philosophy, like that of Ayn Rand." He makes a distinction between atheism and the philosophies atheists may adopt, but later refers to Rand’s philosophy as atheism anyway.

Again, I do not speak for all atheists, but neither I, nor any atheists I know agree with Ayn Rand. Chumbley mentions that [U.S. Rep.] Paul Ryan, who would like to eliminate or reduce several programs that help the needy, is heavily influenced by Rand’s ideas. This is true, but Paul Ryan is Catholic, so I’m not sure how his desire to cut social welfare programs is an indictment of atheism. There are certainly atheists who support Ryan’s plan, but they are just as certainly a small group in comparison to religious people who support the plan.

There is nothing about atheism that would tend to make atheists selfish. There are selfish atheists, but I would hope Chumbley isn’t really willing to accuse all of us of rampant self-interest based on one woman’s philosophy. There are many more atheists doing the sort of good deeds he describes when he lists the charitable acts of religious groups than there are atheists promoting Ayn Rand’s ideas. Incidentally, the billboard he mentions simply says "Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone." I fail to see any of the prejudice Chumbley feels is represented by that billboard.