Today I responded to biologist Jerry Coyne’s question, which he asked at his blog, about whether atheists should take theologians (or theological discussion) seriously.
Here’s what I wrote:
I’m an agnostic who (from my previous posts here) obviously has some intellectual respect for the religious philosophical tradition, and so it’s not a hard question that you’ve asked.
I think that you should take seriously those theological discussions and theological thinkers that secular academic intellectuals and philosophers continue to take seriously. You should take seriously, for example, these five: Gabriel Marcel, Spinoza, Thomas A., Alvin Plantinga, and Reinhold Niebuhr. This is not because you might arrive at their identical conclusions about things, but because they might offer interesting and novel ways of thinking about issues of interest to atheists.
I’d like to challenge you, Professor Coyne, to read just one short theological/philosophical essay by Reinhold Niebuhr and then to comment on it here at your blog. It is the lead essay in an anthology of his writings that you can get at Amazon. The book is titled “The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr.” The essay is titled, “Optimism, Pessimism, and Religious Faith.” Whether you agree or disagree with Niebuhr’s conclusions in that essay, I’d nevertheless be curious to discover whether you find the way that he talks about the transcendent and atheism in that essay valuable or interesting.
Will you get the book, read that essay, and comment at your blog on it? I promise that I’m not leading you into a thicket of difficulty, or anything time consuming. The essay is only about 13 pages.
Here’s a link to the book at Amazon:
It will be interesting to see if he responds, and reads the Niebuhr essay and comments on it. If you’ve never read it, by the way, it’s pretty good. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Human vitality has two primary sources, animal impulse and confidence in the meaningfulness of human existence. The more human consciousness arises to full self-consciousness and to a complete recognition of the total forces of the universe in which it finds itself, the more it requires not only animal vitality but confidence in the meaningfulness of its world to maintain a healthy will-to-live. This confidence in the meaningfulness of life is not something which results from a sophisticated analysis of the forces and factors which surround the human enterprise. It is something which is assumed in every healthy life. It is primary religion. Men may be quite unable to define the meaning of life, and yet live by a simple trust that it has meaning. This primary religion is the basic optimism of all vital and wholesome human life.