Why I am Not an Atheist
By Jesse Jost
For the most part, atheists are content to keep their views to themselves. Understandably atheism and religious fervor don’t usually go together…Until now. Today there is group of militant, dogmatic, fundamentalist atheists with the evangelistic drive of Billy Graham. If you haven’t heard the names of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Daniel Dennett, you soon will. In fact you just did. These men have the passion of a late 1800’s women’s temperance union. However it is not the evils of alcohol they are trying to ban, it is the evils of religion. Hitchens claims that “religion poisons everything” while Dawkins wants the teaching of religion to minors to be classified as child abuse. These men welcome us “deluded God-believing nut cases” to abandon our bigoted superstitions and join them in their clear thinking oasis. I have read much of the so called “New Atheism’s” evangelistic material. They want to convert the world to join them in the church of the godless.
These men are pleading with us to become followers of the truth and abandon our superstitions. Apparently we are supposed to listen to them when they tell us not to let anybody tell us what to think. According to them, we are alone in dying planet and the material realm is all that exists. They write copiously trying to prove that there is as much evidence for God as there is for pink unicorns or an invisible flying spaghetti monster. But their biggest gripe is how immoral we are to follow the dictates of ruthless, genocide commanding, slavery loving, Dictator. These men don’t just disbelieve in God, they hate him.
As Christian’s we love it when non-believers take a minute to examine our claims and give a hearing to our faith. So in the spirit of Christian charity, let’s take a moment and consider the Atheist’s perspective. I want to know if in the Atheists own definition of reality if there are any compelling reasons, or any moral obligation to adopt their beliefs.
Dan Barker was an evangelical/Pentecostal preacher for 19 years before he abandoned his belief in God. He says in his autobiography/debunking theism handbook entitled “Godless” that he had to choose between God and truth. Let’s examine with along with Pilate, what is truth in an atheist universe?
In ordinary experience we write off an idea as a delusion if it can be proven that the idea was the product of an irrational cause. For example if someone claims to have been abducted by aliens, and we find out that this person was drunk or on drugs, we discard his testimony on the basis that his thoughts where chemically induced. Or here is another example, if you put ten monkeys in a room with a type writer and they somehow managed to type, “The earth is flat” would there would be any reason to accept what they wrote as truth? No, this is not a meaningful message, it was simply an accident. Any idea or a message that is the product of natural, mindless causes does not compel us to believe it. In fact it would be irrational to believe it.
However in an atheist universe, all of our “reasoning” is ultimately the result of an irrational mindless cause. If matter is all that is, our consciousness is simply an illusion. We are nothing more than organic computers being programmed by nature’s blind forces. If we do not have an immaterial rational mind that is free to choose between true and false ideas, then what we believe will be dictated by our experience.
This means that Dan Barker does not believe in God because his environment and life experience programmed him to think so. Accordingly, I must believe in God because I have been programmed differently. So what? Nature made Dan Barker Native American, male, and musical. Nature made me dark haired, 5’10’, and part Scandinavian. Are my attributes “true” and Dan Barkers attributes “false.” You can see it is an absurd question. Life experience might make some people fat, or tanned, or bald, but this is just the way they are. People are different and they think differently from each other, but the category of true or false would not apply. Can computers decide if an idea is true or false? Of course not, it simply “thinks” what it is programmed to. If the atheist is correct we are nothing more than advanced computers and truth ceases to exist. What we believe is just a byproduct of our life experience. We have no choice in the matter. (pun intended)
Richard Dawkins claims that belief in God is a delusion, a genetic hangover from primitive times. But if this whole planet is the result of irrational forces, rationality itself is simply an illusion. It is not just belief in God that is a delusion, but all of our ideas would ultimately be delusional. Barker said he had to choose between God and truth. However, he failed to see that if there is no God, there is no truth.
The recent atheist propaganda is full moral denunciations. These godless men speak with the tone and fervor of southern Baptist revival leaders, calling us to repent of our immoral religious beliefs. But what is morality in an atheist world? Who defines what is right and wrong? Is our conscience just the result of evolutionary conditioning? If so are we under obligation to obey it? Do we have a moral duty to our genes? If so wouldn’t it be immoral to put on deodorant or clip our nails? If it is okay to go against nature in some areas, then why not rebel in other areas as well? Maybe morality is up to us as individuals? If this is the case and I decide something is wrong, then can’t I change my mind? Perhaps morality is decided by societies? But then how could there ever be an immoral society? If Hitler had accomplished his goal of conquering the world, would that have made the holocaust right?
Atheists react strongly to the charge that there is no morality apart from God. They respond by saying that they are every bit as moral as those who do believe in God. But what I want to know is “says who?” They are as good as others? By what standard? They say they don’t need God to define morality. To them morality is defined by doing that which minimizes the amount of harm to others. Sounds good, but who says we have to obey that? Certainly not nature. The rule of the survival of the fittest says that if you want to survive, you have to harm your neighbor before he harms you. True, we may decide that is advantageous to be nice to others. But what if we decide it is advantageous to kill everybody that disagrees with us? In fact, who says we have to do what we think is advantageous?
When the Atheist condemns our beliefs or practices as immoral, he has no objective standard that is above humanity by which to judge. In a blind random universe that exploded out of nothing, there is nothing above or outside of nature, so there is no rule for the way things ought to be, just a description of the way things are. Right and wrong become nothing more than a matter of taste. When Christopher Hitchens says the laws in the Old Testament are immoral, all he really means is that he does not like such laws. Well, I don’t like sushi, so what?
In an atheist universe, not only is truth non-existent, it simply doesn’t matter, we have no moral obligation to follow it. Our existence is a fluke accident. Our beliefs are merely the result of cultural forces. In a few short years we will disappear and once again become nonexistent. What does it matter what we believe? Any idea that makes us happier should be embraced, no matter how delusional! There is no over arching moral obligation to believe the “truth.” People who have abandoned their faith in God have written about how painful it was it lose the comfort of the idea of a loving heavenly Father and to walk away from their Christian friends. Yet they endured the pain because they felt compelled to follow the truth. But why? Why put yourself through that?
If these atheist evangelists are right, there is no judgment day. There is no Creator that we are accountable to. No objective moral law that tells us we have to sacrifice our happiness to the truth. If this is correct, far better to be deluded and happy, then to know the truth and be miserable. After all it ultimately won’t matter what we did or believed, in a billion years this universe will have died a heat death and no one will even remember we were here. If there is no God there is no truth and no moral obligation to follow it.
Now I know there is a danger in arguing in this way. After all morality and truth seems to be such an undeniable part of our experience. I’m sure the atheist will object that he does not believe in God, yet he still believes in truth and he does trust his mind and that he is a moral person. That is not the point. The issue is as an atheist, is he justified in these beliefs? My point is not that we need a belief in God to have truth and morality, but that we need a God for these to be meaningful concepts. In the same way you don’t have to believe you have a brain in order to think and command your body around, but you do have to have a brain.
My purpose in writing this article was not to present positive proof that God exists, but rather to show that without a God there is no such thing as proof. Atheism is incoherent and ultimately unlivable. If the atheist is correct, then all of our ideas are ultimately delusional because our minds are simply the product of irrational forces. There is no judgment day, or overarching moral obligation to follow the truth or get rid of childish notions, so if I am happier believing in God and finding comfort and guidance in Him, I’ll stick with what makes me happy.
However if the atheist is false, then there is a God. Our minds could be trusted because they are the gift of a rational God. Immaterial minds that are free to search for the truth and to choose between truth and error, would become a possibility. Right and wrong, good and evil, could exist, and be defined by the nature of God. We would accountable to a Creator, we would have to answer to him for our thoughts and actions. Truth and morality would matter if there is a God.
Either way, if the atheist is correct or mistaken, I have no reason to become an atheist.
P.S. I sent the above article to an Atheist friend, and he wrote back with some objections. I am not free to share his response. But I did write back clarifying some of the points I made in my article. Here is my response. Hopefully it makes my points clearer.
Rationality, Morality, and Free Will
In my article, I tried to make two points. Let me retry to make those same points with your comments and rebuttals in mind. You made some curious points that contradict the points other atheists have made. From this point I will try not to assume you believe exactly the same as Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, or other atheists such as Will Provine.
Rationality and Free will.
Many atheists are materialists, in that they do believe that matter is all that exists. Because of this many atheists, such as Will Provine, deny the existence of free will. (Even Dan Barker said he questions whether we really have free will.) If our rationality is simply a part of matter, then what we believe and think will be programmed by nature’s input. Our freedom in choosing between competing ideas would only be an illusion, as our final choice would be programmed by forces beyond our control. A computer has no free will; it can only compute symbols that have been programmed into it. There is no such thing as an immoral computer because a computer has no choice in what it computes. With a computer that can play chess and make “choices” that choice is an illusion based on very complex programming.
My point is that if we do not have free will, then rationality and the search for “truth” (in this instance, I use the word to refer to the way things really are in reality) would be a pointless exercise, because we are not free to choose what we believe. In this case, you are an atheist because you have been brainwashed by nature’s input not to believe in God; you had no choice to believe otherwise. Conversely the same would go for me and my theistic beliefs.
I believe that hard determinism, (the idea we have no free will) is self-refuting. For if I don’t believe in hard determinism, my lack of belief is caused by forces outside of my control and I have no choice but to reject hard determinism.
I need to point out that I do believe in free will, but I also believe in a spiritual soul and a rational mind that is outside of nature’s laws that enables me to choose between nature’s competing inputs. My material brain is constantly receiving data, but some of this data is an illusion, such as when it appears that my canoe paddle is bent in the water, or when I misinterpret banging hot water pipes as a stalker tramping through my house. I can reason and choose between competing ideas, I can seek to discern which ideas are true and which ideas are false. I believe that the earth is round, even though my immediate experience tells me that it is flat. My mind, not my brain, is free. If it is not free there is no point in debating whether an idea is true or false. If matter is all there is, then I do not have free will in deciding the issue of God’s existence.
If we do have real free will, (not just apparent free will) then how is it possible if we do not have a mind that is free from nature’s laws? If we do have an outside, or beyond nature mind, where does it come from? Did it just pop out of nothing? As a theist, I believe in a supernatural realm, and I believe in the existence of an Ultimate Mind. I believe our rationality and free will are what it means to be made in the image of God. I would love to hear your atheistic explanation of free will and rationality.
I am very curious. Do you believe in objective morality? You seem to when you said that morality can be discovered by reason. I absolutely agree with you! I do believe in objective morality. I do believe that there are objective and absolute moral laws that are, you could say, part of the moral fabric of the universe. Now I have an explanation for this objective morality. It is that these Laws have been given to us by a Moral Law giver. They are binding upon us because we will have to give an account of our life to this Judge, and we can know them because we have been given a conscience.
I am quite familiar with Euthyfro’s Dilemma, but I think it does more harm to your view that Society is the measure of morality than it does to mine! In the argument insert your source of morality – society – into the argument where Euthyfro had God or gods. It is your view that is impaled on the horns of the dilemma. For if morality is above society, then you need to find a source for that standard. It can’t just exist as a free-floating abstract law if there is no person to back it up. An abstract law does not give us moral obligation to obey it. Justice is an abstract quality but so are lust and greed; which one are we obligated to follow? If morality is decided by Society then it is arbitrary and whatever society decides is moral. That is a horrible position to hold. This would mean that the societies that have decided that genocide is right are perfectly moral, the same goes for the society that has contracted that child sacrifice and cannibalism are moral.
For a theist, morality is neither arbitrary nor found in a moral standard above God. Morality is rooted in the nature of God. God is loving, kind, and just, and that is the foundation for these virtues being objectively morally good. We can discover them by reason because they are real. I have an explanation that gives adequate justification for objective, absolute, moral obligation. I have yet to hear one from you. You have given me suggestions for why it might be prudent to follow these moral laws, and you have given me explanations for why we might have moral sentiment, but you have not show why or how morality could be binding on society.
You made the dogmatic assertion that morality can never be decided by power but by the people. But the sad fact of history is that dictators who do not believe in a God have made themselves the measure of morality. A man who has no fear of God, or no sense of accountability to a Creator discovers that he can do whatever he can get away with. The atheistic blood baths of the 20th century provide gory proof of the truth Dostoyevsky’s prophetic warning, “If there is no God then everything is permitted.”
I understand that you do not believe in a God so in your mind, any time I appeal to a God, I am simply referring to an imaginary deity that can be defined at will and can be redefined to suit my tastes. The sad fact is, that many people do that with the idea of God. They say, “to me God is this…” All a statement like that tells us is what is going on in that particular’s persons mind, it tells us nothing about the existence of an actual God. If there is no God, then I would agree with you, religion would be nothing more than men using superstition and an imaginary threat to control people. (This is why the Ten Commandments tell us not to have any false gods.)
However, if there is a God, this would change things. This God actually would be the measure of morality, and we would be accountable to him. At this point I am not defending any man-made God. I am simply saying it is possible that there is an ultimate mind behind this universe. Much more brilliant minds than mine have seen this. Albert Einstein was not a traditional theist but he believed in a cosmic mind that was behind the creation of the universe. One of the leading atheists of the 20th century, Antony Flew, was so convinced by the evidence that he now believes in an ultimate mind that created the universe.
I do want to keep this conversation cordial without things getting too nasty or personal, but I must tell you I resent your notion that I do not think things through with an open mind or question things. I do think and examine truth claims. It was the way I was raised, to examine everything and hold fast what is good. I try to think critically and I have examined Islam, atheism, and Mormonism. Just because I believe in a God does not mean I am irrational or don’t question life or am not willing to change. I believe these kinds of accusations will not help us discover the truth. I could throw the same charge your way, that you are close-minded and are not willing to look at the evidence for the existence of God, but how would that help?
I would love to continue this discussion, but please let’s keep this to the ideas rather than personal attacks.
One more thing, you said that morality has nothing to with truth. I believe it does. Most people have an underlying assumption that we are morally obligated to believe what is true. For example, if it is true that the world is round, we should believe it. If it is true that there is no God, then we should not believe in a God. But if there is no objective moral law then why are we obligated to believe the truth? If a belief in God makes me happier and gives me a sense of purpose and meaning, then why should I reject it? The way I see it if there is a God, there is an objective, morally obligating law that tells us we should seek the truth and reject false ideas. But if there is no God, I cannot see how there can be such a moral law that compels us to reject false ideas.
I have heard many atheists say that because there is no God, the only meaning in the universe is what we give it. Let’s say they are right. In this case I am justified in deciding to find my meaning in believing that I was created by a loving heavenly Father who has a purpose and plan for my life. I am filled with love and gratitude to this God because he has filled my life with good things. His love enables me to love Heidi and John-Michael in a selfless way. I find moral courage to do what is right because I know I will have to give an account of my life to him on judgment day. What is wrong with this?
I must make it clear that I do really believe these things are true, that this is the correct view of reality. If these ideas were false, I would find no comfort in them. Do I have possible ulterior motives for wanting these things to be true? Yes. Does that automatically make my ideas false? Absolutely not. I could argue that you do not want there to be a God, because if there were, you would not be free to determine morality for yourself, you would be accountable to a higher power. A powerful reason for not wanting there to be a God. But neither of these reasons has anything to do with the actual existence of God!
I really hope I have not turned you off or discouraged you from further dialogue. I do look forward to your reply. I do hold my views far more loosely than you might think. I do try to look at life from the perspective of someone who was born with a clean slate instead of someone who has been preprogrammed by their religion. It really is a fascinating exercise! I have so many unanswered questions. But I can’t abandon an idea simply because I have doubts about it. Anytime you reject an idea, you are necessarily replacing it with another idea. I don’t just question my current ideas, I also question the ideas that would replace them. For example, I do struggle with the idea that God does not seem to heal amputees. But if I reject God, the amputee is still without an arm, only now there is no hope of a resurrection where the arm will be restored. Hope is a powerful force in a person’s life. Without God, it is hard to have hope. I can demand to know why God has not healed a missing arm, or I can marvel at all the healthy arms that He has given people.
Thanks for your time.