Among atheists most follow the pattern Kreeft notes: “If we do not worship God, we will worship idols, for we are by nature worshipers.” I’ve seen intellect, sensation and an abstract subjective happiness. Some, perhaps like men who very shallowly read Asimov, instead have faith in identifying the vague progress of science as a science of universal progress. They transpose the proper utility of science in the material and use it as a weapon, aiming at the immaterial. They ignore the simple fact that we recognize metaphysics because Aristotle knew physics answers only hows and is useless toward whys.
Read Asimov a little deeper, though, and we see he realizes that science cannot correct what is wrong with men. It does not take much knowledge of the deterioration of the Spacers, or of the Empire, or even of the Foundation to disassociate Asimov from utopianism. However clever Hari Seldon, his psychohistory fails. As Lewis notes in his explanation of original sin:
That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.
We also see some elite condescension in atheist circles which, although it has a parallel in certain prelates who disdained drumming in St. Peter’s when the African bishops were scheduled for Rome, has no parallel in the man who said, “the more African, the better.” Some atheists, observably not despairing of anything but Christians, have a kind of pride we find in every heresy — even the Gnostics thought they were bearers of a secret immortal truth available to an elite few, and they believed that the deluded Christians should be dissuaded with absurdities. We see it in the state endorsement of Arianism, in the mockeries of the Manichees and throughout materialist scientism.
Atheists who deny materialist scientism exists deny reality, for it does not take long, talking to rank-and-file village atheists, to find someone who says they believe that just because science has not solved all the problems of metaphysics — not to mention the ethical and material problems in government, education, social ills, &c. — that only means science has not solved the problem yet. That naturalist science is the best worldview because all metaphysics can be explained physically. We cannot truthfully say that only empirical things are true — such a statement undermines its own credentials.
In all fairness, this is so absurd and so clearly wrong few if any practiced atheists do this. “It does not exist among scientists,” the good atheists say, “but only among the non-scientists who get their science from the news.” Correct. But if we are to listen to your bad news that God does not exist, how are you going to convince not just the intelligent but the middling and the outright dumb — remember the movement! remember the good fight! remember the revolution! — who cannot, by reason of mental infirmity, understand in a true way?
If they are skeptical of all men as you suggest, you will be the first they will disdain, being so radical against and patronizing toward and disconnected from the democracy of the dead. If they accept this, then this will be but the first of a thousand submissions. They will listen to you and they will trust you and they, whether you like it or not, will be your disciples. Not even God can do the logically impossible, and yet you command men to disobey commandments, to have faith in this thing I say by not having faith in things any men say. If you are a man, this is impossible. Only God, or at least someone participating higher in the form of rational being, can tell men to distrust men, or to stand against men who do wrong, with any authority.
You tell them: Hold nothing sacred. Question everything. If they are to remain coherent, they will question everything but your commandment on the matter.