February 2007

The following item was sent by a church pastor.

It s not easy to be an atheist

An atheist is confined to a life without ultimate purpose. Yes, atheists enjoy many smaller meanings of life– like friendship and love, pleasure and sorrow, Mozart and Plato. But to be consistent with his atheism, he cannot allow for ultimate meaning. Yet, if the atheist is honest, he will admit to feeling that there is something more to existence -something bigger. Someone said, “The blazing evidence for immortality is our dissatisfaction with any other solution.” According to Scripture, God has, “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). To maintain his position, the atheist must suppress the feeling that there is more to life than temporal pleasures. But the atheist encounters many other difficulties.

The atheist must also suppress the demands of logic. He is like the man who finds an encyclopedia lying in the woods and refuses to believe it is the product of intelligent design. Everything about the book suggests intelligent cause. But, if he accepted such a possibility, he might be forced to conclude that living creatures composed of millions of DNA-controlled cells (each cell containing the amount of information in an encyclopedia) have an intelligent cause. His controlling bias against God will not allow him to accept this.

Yet, ironically, the atheist has to believe in miracles without believing in God. Why? Well, one law that nature seems to obey is this: whatever begins to exist is caused to exist. The atheist knows that the universe began to exist and since the universe is, according to the atheist, all there is, the very existence of the universe seems to be a colossal violation of the laws of nature (i.e., a miracle). It’s hard to believe in miracles without God.

An atheist must also suppress all notions of morality. He is not able to declare any quality to be morally superior to another. Such admissions require an absolute standard of goodness and duty. Without this, there is no basis for an atheist to declare peace better than war or love better than hate. These are simply alternative choices without moral superiority. The atheist is stuck believing that morality has no claim on you or anyone else.

In fact, the atheist must conclude that evil is an illusion. For there to be evil, there must also be some real, objective standard of right and wrong. But if the physical universe is all there is, there can be no such standard (How could arrangements of matter and energy make judgments about good and evil true?). So, there are no real evils, just violations of human customs or conventions. How hard it would be to think of murderers as merely having bad manners.

The atheist must also live with the arrogance of his position. Although he realizes that he does not possess total knowledge, his assertion that there is no God requires that he pretend such knowledge. Although he has limited experience, he must convince himself that he has total experience so that he can eliminate the possibility of God. It is not easy to hold the arrogant assertions required by atheism in a society that requires blind tolerance of every ideology.

The atheist must also deny the validity of historical proof. If he accepted the standard rules for testing the truth claims of historical documents, he would be forced to accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The account of Jesus’ resurrection is strongly validated by standard rules for judging historical accuracy. The extensive manuscript evidence of eyewitnesses to the resurrection is presented in an unbiased, authentic manner. It is the atheist’s anti-supernatural bias that keeps him from allowing history to prove anything.

Finally, the atheist must admit that human beings are not importantly different from other animals. According to the atheist, we are simply the result of blind chance operating on the primordial ooze, and differing from animals by only a few genes. Yet, the wonders of human achievement and the moral dignity we ascribe to human beings just do not fit with the claim that we are no different than the animals. The realities of human creativity, love, reason, and moral value seem to indicate that humans are creatures uniquely made in the image of God.

Always remember that the atheist’s problem with belief in God is not the absence of evidence but the suppression of it. This is what scripture teaches. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:20-22).

Thank you very much for your insightful and well-thought-out letter. I will address you points one at a time.

“An atheist is confined to a life without ultimate purpose.” I agree, if you mean by “ultimate purpose” a goal given by a supernatural being. In fact, in that case, as an atheist I disagree with you by definition. On the other hand, I believe that it is every person’s responsibility to try and make the world a better place. That is not a God-given purpose, but it is the highest purpose I can think of aspiring to. What would you, as a theist, say that your ultimate purpose is? The only answers I have gotten to this question from theists in the past have been “to serve God” or “to fulfill whatever God’s purpose for me is on earth,” both of which are, to me at least, so vague as to be potentially useless.

“If the atheist is honest, he will admit to feeling that there is something more to existence -something bigger.” If you are honest, then you will admit that you don’t know how it feels be an atheist. I agree that there is more to life than temporal pleasures (as I said in my previous paragraph), but I am not suppressing any feelings. Many atheists say that theists only have religion because they are afraid of their knowledge that there is nothing after death or that there is no supernatural force looking after them. I would not insult you by saying that you are “repressing” such feelings.

“The atheist must also suppress the demands of logic.” On the contrary, looking for scientifically verifiable answers requires much more logic than does saying that any unknowns can be filled by a deity. There is a big difference between DNA and an encyclopedia — I can conceive of many natural, designless means by which DNA can come to be, but none for a book. You are correct that I have a bias against God — supernatural explanations should only be allowed when natural ones are ruled out. God should not take this personally, as I apply such reasoning to all supernatural things.

“the atheist has to believe in miracles without believing in God” Miracles are something that happens outside of the laws of nature. So far, I have seen no such thing. You are incorrect that the laws of nature require causes for effects, as many bizarre examples in quantum physics show. You are right that I don’t know what came before our universe, but there are plenty of nature-based theories awaiting testing, and I see no need to invoke God to fill gaps in knowledge.

“An atheist must also suppress all notions of morality” This statement assumes that morality is a matter of feelings or of something outside of people. I disagree. Reason can create a perfectly acceptable system of morality. In fact, in my experience, reason has done a better job of creating consistent morality than religion. I’d say that, in general, peace is better than war because less people die for no good reason during peace, and I say that without any absolute standard of goodness. I can also give you perfectly reasonable reasons to avoid unnecessary violence and the killing of children. Religion, on the other hand, sometimes says that it is a good idea to kill your enemy’s children (I’ll leave finding the Biblical citations for that up to you).

“In fact, the atheist must conclude that evil is an illusion” You’re going to have to define evil and good for me before we can really discuss this one. Many religious people, in my experience, define good as “doing God’s will” or something like that, and under such a definition, you would in a way be right in saying that I think evil is an illusion. The problem is that I don’t define good that way. I’d say that evil is acting completely in your own self interest and taking pleasure in the suffering of others (or at least not caring about the suffering of others). Plenty of people in history fit this definition of evil, and it doesn’t require the existence of anything supernatural.

Let me ask you, what is your standard of good for humanity? If it’s God, then behaving like God would be good, but given his behavior in the Old Testament I doubt you’d say that is the case. If it’s a standard laid out by God but not practiced by God, then it is a concept that either exists outside of God (in which case he is not necessary) or that is only meaningful because God commands it to be, in which case I do not find it morally compelling. There are probably other options here that I am not thinking of. I would appreciate your thoughts on this subject.

“The atheist must also live with the arrogance of his position” You are making an invalid assumption here. I do not say that there is no God, I am just not convinced of the existence of any deities. Similarly, I also do not say that there is no life in other solar systems, but I don’t believe that aliens have visited Earth. (I do think that alien visitation is more likely than the existence of God, but not by much.) In either case, with sufficient evidence I will change my mind.

“The atheist must also deny the validity of historical proof.” Not at all. As they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Standard rules of testing historical claims do not at all require the belief that Jesus rose from the dead any more than they demand that I believe the Emperor of Japan is descended from the sun god. There are many, many books about the difficulties with the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, and your assertion that the Gospels are unbiased is rather surprising to me — I found them (particularly John) biased even when I was a theist. In order to accept the Gospels at face value, my standards for accepting eye-witness accounts of the supernatural would have to be lowered so much that I’d also feel compelled to believe in Bigfoot, UFO abductions, and any number of religions. No thank you.

“Finally, the atheist must admit that human beings are not importantly different from other animals.” Well, to start, we are not “simply the result of blind chance” — I believe we are a product of evolution, which is not simply blind chance, although it does incorporate chance. But I don’t think that’s what you’re getting at.

You seem to be saying that atheists don’t think humans have some kind of moral superiority or higher value than other animals. Some atheists do think that, but I am not one of them. The wonders of human achievement and the moral responsibility we assign to humans has everything to do with the wonders of evolved intelligence, and as intelligent beings we are different from other animals because we have more of an ability to affect other living things. But the value we place on humans also has a lot to do with the fact that we are humans — I expect that lions place a lot of value on other lions, too, but that has no metaphysical implications.

You then talk about the wonders of human emotion and civilization as proof that humans are made in the image of God. I just don’t see the logical connection here. Are you saying that it is impossible for beings to have creativity, love, reason, and morality without being made in God’s image? That is an interesting statement in that it is, in principle at least, falsifiable. But other than that, I really don’t understand your reasoning.

“that the atheist’s problem with belief in God is not the absence of evidence but the suppression of it.” Show me this evidence. If it’s compelling, I’ll change my mind.

Posted on February 2, 2007 at 12:23 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Anti-atheist, Discussion

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