In his Atheist Universe David Mills is asked by an interviewer: “But why so many people believe in God?” He replies: “Because, again, they were taught to believe as small children and because almost everybody they know believes in God also. We should recognize that all children are born as atheists. There is no child born with religious belief.” (29)
Well, shiver me timbers. If this generation were taught to believe as children by the previous generation, how did that previous generation itself come to believe? Were, they, too, taught by their parents? And the latter by theirs? Are we not having an infinite regress here, a favorite atheistic trick? Surely, we must at some point come to a time when Christianity was confined just to Jesus’s 12 apostles. They were not taught by their parents, were they? Nobody they knew were Christians. Why did they believe? And how did Christianity spread and increase in influence generation after generation, often against impossible odds? Why, for example, did so many people die for their faith? These are the questions Mills should be asking.
Now Mills might reply that having gained so many followers, Christianity has become self-sustaining. Yet he himself writes, correctly, that “We tend to believe that, once knowledge has been acquired and technology developed by man, these gains are ‘locked in’ and the future will only build upon these past achievements. But history argues forcefully against such an optimistic assumption.” (49) The very same point applies to any religious tradition. Truths about God, whether of reason or faith, must be relearned and defended and taught anew by each generation. One slip, and it’s all over.
Thus, secondly, Christianity has been around for 2,000 years, and Judaism for thousands of years longer. Why, I want to ask Mills, has the Church endured for so long? It would have taken a single generation that mostly refused to believe, and Christianity would have withered, contrary to our Lord’s proclamation that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt 16:18) The Church has continued triumphant, and its teachings have been preserved and deepened. How?
Mills pleads that “all children are born as atheists,” as if it meant something. Well, all children are born not knowing their parents’ names, that the earth is round, that 2 + 2 = 4; in fact, they seem to be born with no knowledge at all. Should they therefore stay ignorant? Or should they learn as much as they can, including about God?