Atheists often find it difficult to understand why theists continue to believe in God despite lack of evidence and the nearly insurmountable problem of evil. But the theist position isn’t difficult to understand once we recognize that the divide between theism and atheism results from radically different premises about the nature of knowledge.
In his excellent book, The Existence of God (Cornell University, 1965), Wallace I. Matson distinguishes between “crude” and “subtle” versions of the Cosmological argument for God’s existence. It is the suble version that interests me here. Put very briefly, it is this:
If the world is intelligible, then God exists. But the world is intelligible. Therefore God exists. — Matson, The Existence of God, page 62
What is meant by intelligibility? It means, briefly, that the world is explainable in terms of causal relationships, scientific laws, “sufficient reason” (“There is a Sufficient Reason why everything that is, is so and not otherwise.” — Leibniz). In investigating the world, says the theist, scientists uncover this underlying causality and framework, that is to say, scientists tap into and thereby discover the intelligence with which the world is imbued. That it is so imbued is unquestionable; that the source of the imbuing is God is obvious, even if not strictly provable.
The atheist position is that the theist has made a basic mistake. Like the kid who puts on rose-colored glasses and sees a rosy world and concludes that the world is rose-colored, the theist fails to realize that the human mind necessarily imparts a patina of intelligibility to everything it illuminates. The theist sees causal relationships and a blueprint of scientific laws imbued in the physical world, whereas the atheist avers that these are only artifacts of the human mind, the currency itself of human intelligence shining on the world.
Intelligence, says the atheist, isn’t out there, it’s in here. And it got in here as a product of evolution, nothing more. We evolved to have minds, and our minds are essentially information-colored glasses which impart — unavoidably — a patina of information, properties, and relationships upon everything we think about.
Intelligibility is in us, not outside us, but no matter: it is just as useful either way.