In Seven Types of Atheism, the English philosopher John Gray—an atheist himself—argues that most unbelievers have merely replaced faith in God with faith in something else, afraid or unable to admit the arbitrariness of the universe. Isaac Inkeles, while praising the book as “lucid and stunningly erudite,” also points to its deficiencies:
Gray is certainly right, I think, that in an attempt to flee what for them would otherwise be a godless world, atheists often make the same sorts of metaphysical assumptions they criticize the religious for making. But his jeremiad against meaning is less devastating than he thinks.
Gray has argued that there is no objective source of meaning. Therefore, he says, religious and ethical statements are meaningless. But this . . . is an unwarranted leap. Just because one cannot justify one’s belief to a skeptic does not mean that it must be abandoned or even that it is unjustifiable. First of all, if one cannot objectively prove one’s beliefs, then one need not. No one is obliged to do what is impossible.
If this move sidesteps the problem, the alternative is to double down and embrace it. Even in a silent, unknowable world, faith is possible—not despite silence and skepticism, but because of them. This was the position of, among others, the late Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, who has become increasingly influential in Israeli religious circles in the decade since his death in 2007.
After reviewing several midrashic passages that highlight Abraham’s uncertainty regarding God’s will with regard to the sacrifice of his son Isaac, Rabbi Rosenberg concluded that there was no way for Abraham to know what God wanted him to do. His trial—like ours—was to believe and to act in instances where belief and action could not be justified. . . . An inability to ground human meaning and religious faith might not mean they cannot be justified, only that they need not be.