Although I’ve never been asked, I think the following would be a fair and reasonable question:
“Why do you spend so much time knocking atheism on your blog?”
For those who are new, the majority of my posts are either explicitly or implicitly “Christian” in nature. I spend a lot of time defending and articulating the Christian worldview, and it’s true that I spend a disproportionate amount of time contrasting it with the atheist’s worldview (rather than, say, that of the Hindu or the Muslim). There are a number of reasons for this, including my current position in science (a field increasingly populated by atheists), the fact that I’m not as well-read in other philosophies and religions, and the fact that I have a number of childhood friends who have “de-converted” from Christianity to atheism.
Regardless, I figured I should remedy this blog’s overabundance of atheism-related posts by…you guessed it…writing another post about atheism.
I understand your skepticism (pardon the pun), but all I ask for is a little faith (okay, I’m finished). Although I don’t really have much positive to say about atheism, I do have some kind things to say about certain atheists.
Given atheism, there is no ultimate meaning or significance to life. While it’s possible for the atheist to create for himself a personal sense of meaning (through his family, career, legacy, etc.), he lives with the conviction that – billions of years from now – all of his actions and accomplishments will have been for naught. With death comes nothingness. Humanity must eventually die out, and the universe itself will ultimately succumb to heat death. All sense of meaning is, therefore, both personally subjective and temporal.
And yet many atheists lead admirable, industrious lives in spite of this. While it’s true that some atheists become nihilists (and I know a few), it would seem that MOST atheists persist with an optimistic, humanistic outlook on life. This blows my mind, to be entirely honest. If one is convinced of the truth of atheism, it must surely require a tremendous and courageous act of will to maintain a positive outlook in spite of the crushing existential ramifications of one’s worldview. And I say that with complete sincerity. I’m convinced, based on the evidence, that the atheist’s understanding of the universe (and our role in it) is entirely false. Yet in a way, I can’t help but admire the personal attributes of those atheists who choose to live as if the universe had meaning anyway. (This is not to make light of the atheist’s rejection of God; rather, it’s a recognition of other admirable characteristics that he possesses.)
Given atheism, there are no objective moral values or duties to strive toward. This should be self-evident, since any objective moral standard would require an outside “Moral Arbiter” of some kind (or at the very least, some kind of external, impartial, authoritative standard against which to measure moral opinions). Again, it’s possible for the atheist to create for himself a personal system of morality (or even attempt to ground morality in biology), but these solutions necessarily involve some degree of subjectivity. Historically speaking, one of the great appeals of atheism (to many, at least) is its rejection of any absolute source of moral authority. Without a moral Lawgiver, man is free to define his own rules and pursue his own desires.
And yet, by human standards, many atheists lead outstanding, morally-praiseworthy lives. Granted, I’ve been personally mistreated and verbally assaulted by my fair share of atheists…and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had atheists say to me, “I don’t NEED a magical sky-fairy threatening ME with hell to be a good person!” Yet look at that last statement more closely. If we set aside the spiteful tone, the simplistic characterization of theist belief, and the mistaken notion that anyone can truly be a “good person” (by absolute standards…not society’s standards), then there’s actually a glimmer of truth here. All of us have an innate, God-given sense of right and wrong – whether we acknowledge God as its source or not. Comparatively speaking, many of my atheist friends DO seem to possess more compassion, more selflessness, and a greater sense of purpose than some professing Christians I know. In other words: if these individuals were drawn to atheism for its promises of moral autonomy, they don’t seem intent on abusing that freedom.
I think it’s praiseworthy that many atheists strive toward optimism and moral decency – in spite of holding a belief system that is clearly incompatible with concepts like “objective meaning” or “objective morality”. When we look past the worldview, we find that many atheists possess personal qualities that would put many of us to shame.
This also provides Christians like myself with a chance for some introspection. If our atheist friends and neighbors can find purpose and optimism and compassion in the face of a cold, uncaring universe…then how much more purposeful, optimistic, and compassionate should our lives be? (Ephesians 4:32, Romans 15:13, Hebrews 10:23).