Historically speaking, this concession to the greatest lie in the universe is a rather recent development. While there have always been people who deny the existence of a deity, it has not been a prominent view among intellectuals, much less a serious alternative to Christian theism. What previous cultures instinctively understood, and that we in turn have forgotten, is that atheism is a form of (self-imposed) intellectual dysfunction, a lack of epistemic virtue, or–to borrow a term from my Catholic friends–a case of vincible ignorance.Vincible ignorance is lacking knowledge that is within the individual’s control and for which he is responsible before God. 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.
Some people–even some believers–will be scandalized by this claim. Such is the state of our culture that even Christians are offended by the truths expressed in Scripture. We have so thoroughly bought into the notion that atheism is an intellectually respectable position that when we point out the truth (that atheism is a form of intellectual handicap) we are viewed as intolerant. But we Christians do atheists no favor by treating them as if they were simply “differently abled.” By ignoring their epistemic and metaphysical brokenness, we are shirking our Christian duty to truly show love for our neighbor.
A very strong claim. I am, of course, a theist, and I believe that atheists really have to work to stay blind to evidence, however circumstantial, for a divine presence in the natural world (whether or not that is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Paul is another question). I do think the view that the only thing that counts as authentic knowledge is what can be reproduced in a laboratory is very, very limiting. On the other hand, it seems to me that Carter goes too far here. But maybe that’s because I myself wasn’t persuaded by the arguments for God, and came to belief as an adult through a leap of faith, mostly prompted by witnessing prayer answered in such a way that it was far more difficult for me to believe it was a coincidence than that God was there. Then again, I had to be epistemically open to the possibility of God in order to consider the evidence in front of me. If one has decided as a first principle that God could not possibly exist, nothing can change a mind so closed to lessons from experience and observation.