Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dismissing Atheism Too Quickly

Chris Stefanick has an article about the emptiness of atheism.
One atheist I debated during a question and answer session after a talk I gave at MIT informed me that, “Life is very meaningful without God. It’s about wonder and discovery. And the fact that we get to experience it in this vast universe is a miracle.” (He retracted his use of the word “miracle” after I pointed out the irony.)
I agree with Chris, of course, and I generally like his stuff. Yet I thought he was a little quick to jump to some conclusions in this article. Atheists do have a problem with the emptiness people see in it. That is why you get statements like the one above. When Christians wax eloquent about the wonder and discovery of the spiritual life atheists will scoff. In fact, they take great delight in mocking such statements. So I find it ironic not just that he would use the word "miracle" but that he would go to any sort of touchy-feely argument at all. Atheists want to be the cold rationalists. Why is he departing from that script? Because he knows the accusation of nihilism is very damaging. 
If an atheist were to take his claim that there’s no God to its logical conclusion, he’d have to admit that human existence is meaningless. Something that’s unintended, or an “accident,” is always meaningless.
The trouble is this is false. An accident can be meaningful. Think of a football bouncing in a football game. It is a random event. Yet it has meaning. Why? Because the game has meaning and the accidental bounce impacts the game. So a random event is not automatically meaningless. An external context can give a chance event meaning.

So what about human existence? Could there be an external context that gives even accidental life meaning? There could. It does not have to be God either. You could imagine a world where God does not exists yet love and beauty and truth are real things that give context and meaning to human life. It would be meaning we just fluked into but now that we are here and have the chance to do something truly good or beautiful that could matter. 

Now this option has its problems for an atheist. Where did beauty and truth and goodness come from? Why do we seem ordered towards these things? Can their existence be proven scientifically? If not, then why is believing they exist less of a problem then believing God exists?

All these are good questions yet the possibility of a world with meaning and still no god is real and cannot be dismissed quickly. I think most atheists will want to believe in some of these things. For example, most believe knowledge is better than ignorance. The love science and will work very hard to learn everything about everything. Why? One can easily imagine that they might have more pleasure in life if they didn't bother. What if they knew that for sure? What if you were guaranteed that by remaining ignorant of science and history and whatever else you could have significantly more pleasure? Would it be worth it? 

I think this kind of reasoning can lead you to question your atheism. You are rejecting nihilism and really examining the other options. After examining them they either fall apart or they lead you to God. Either beauty means nothing or it means God is real. Yet that is not obvious. It requires a lot of reflection.

Stefanick does quote some materialist atheists. That is good. It shows he is not fighting a complete straw man. Yet examples of atheist materialists does not prove all atheists are materialists or materialism is the only form of atheism worth responding to. His conclusion:
How utterly empty it is to follow the premises of atheism to their logical conclusions. Thank God atheists are wrong. And because they're wrong, most people, even most atheists, would read Singer, Wald, Crick, and Russell and find their statements both repulsive and utterly inconsistent with their experience of reality. 
So what is consistent with the atheists’s experience of reality? In a word: God. If atheists experience love, joy, the attraction to goodness, and if they act altruistically, it’s not because of their philosophy that life is an accident and man is no more than a collection of molecules. It’s because they were created with a purpose, they have a soul that is drawn to goodness, they experience the inherent value of their fellow man, and ultimately, because they’re created in the image and likeness of God, just like you and me.
Again the logical jump won't be accepted and has not been really argued for. Either you are like Singer, Wald, Crick and Russell or you are being irrational to deny God. It is going to feel like a false choice to atheists. If you examine the alleged middle ground and try and show why it does not stand up to scrutiny then you have a chance. Just asserting it is not going to convince anyone except those already on your side.  


  1. Interesting thought. Thanks for sharing them. One suggestion though. Edit the title to correct the incorrect use of "To" where you meant to use "Too."

    1. Fixed the spelling. I noticed you said "thought" when you meant "thoughts." That is very polite making an error yourself so I won't feel bad about mine! God bless you.