Joe Carter over at First Things argues that "We have to abandon the politically correct notion that atheism is intellectually respectable." My own view is that theism and atheism are both intellectually respectable. Carter makes his case by invoking St. Paul:
In Romans, St. Paul is clear that atheism is a case of vincible ignorance: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Acknowledging the existence of God is just the beginning—we must also recognize several of his divine attributes. Atheists that deny this reality are, as St. Paul said, without excuse. They are vincibly ignorant.
Rather than quote the whole of the Pauline passage at Romans 1: 18-20, I'll summarize it. Men are godless and wicked and suppress the truth. What may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. Human beings have no excuse for their unbelief. "For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . . ."
Paul's claim here is that the existence and nature of God are evident from creation and that unbelief is a result of a willful turning away from the truth. There is no excuse for unbelief because it is a plain fact that the natural world is divine handiwork. Now I am a theist and I am sympathetic to Christianity. But although I have one foot in Jerusalem, the other is planted firmly in Athens (philosophy, the autonomy of reason). And so I must point out that to characterize the natural world as 'made' or 'created' begs the question in favor of theism. As begging the question, the Pauline claim about the evidentness of the world's being created offers no support for theism. It is an analytic proposition that there is no creation without a creator. So if the heavens and the earth are a creation, then it follows straightaway that a creator exists.
But is the world a divine creation? This is the question, and the answer is not obvious. That the natural world is a divine artifact is not evident to the senses, or to the heart, or to reason. Of course, one can argue for the existence of God from the existence and order of the natural world. I have done it myself. But those who reject theistic arguments, and construct anti-theistic arguments, have their reasons too, and it cannot fairly be said that what animates the best of them is a stubborn and prideful refusal to submit to a truth that is evident. It is not evident to the senses that the natural world is a divine artifact.
I may be moved to marvel at "the starry skies above me" (Kant). But seeing is not seeing as. If you see the starry skies as divine handiwork, then this is an interpretation from within a theistic framework. But the datum seen can just as easily be given a nontheistic interpretation.
At the end of the day you must decide which of these interpretations to accept. You will not find some plain fact that will decide it for you. There is no fact you can point to, or argument you can give, that definitively rules out theism or rules it in.
If the atheism of some has its origin in pride, stubborness and a willful refusal to recognize any power or authority beyond oneself, or beyond the human, as is plainly the case with many of the cyberpunks over at Internet Infidels and similar sites, not to mention such luminaries as Russell and Sartre, it does not follow that the atheism of all has this origin.
It is all-too-human to suspect in our opponents moral depravity when we cannot convince them. The Pauline passage smacks of that all-too-humanity. There are sincere and decent atheists, and they have plenty of excuse for their unbelief. The best of them, if wrong in the end, are excusably wrong.
Paul appears to be doing what ideologues regularly do when pushed to the wall in debate: they resort to ad hominem attacks and psychologizing: you are willful and stubborn and blinded by pride and lust; or you are a shill for corporate interests; or you are 'homophobic' or 'Islamophobic' or xenophobic; or you are a fear-monger and a hater; or you are a liar or insincere or stupid; or you are a racist, etc.
Joe Carter does the same thing.
Objection: "You are ignoring the deleterious noetic consequences of original sin. Because our faculties have been corrupted by it, we fail to find evident what is in itself evident, namely, that the world is a divine artifact. And it is because of this original sin that unbelief is inexcusable."
This response raises its own difficulties. First, how can one be morally responsible for a sin that one has not oneself committed but has somehow inherited? Second, if our faculties have been so corrupted by original sin that we can no longer reliably distinguish between the evident and the non-evident, then this corruption will extend to all our cognitive operations including Paul's theological reasoning, which we therefore should not trust either.
For a different take on Carter's piece, see Michael Liccione's Why Atheism Can Be Respectable.