Life without God

29 07 2008

A few months ago I asked a question, “Does the way I view the world change the way i live?” In other words, are my actions dependent on or a result of my worldview. Some articles and books I read recently gave me a more concrete answer. Without a doubt I answer in the affirmative.

Yesterday I read an article entitled “The absurdity of life without God” on William Lane Craigs website. It was a great article. It posits that people who claim to be atheists, live life with great contradiction and inconsistency. Without God, life is just a cosmic accident, a result of matter + time + chance. Humanity becomes the great cosmic orphan. Absolutely alone in the universe. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell “We must build our lives on the firm foundation of unyielding despair”. The despair of being alone, purposeless, and meaningless in the universe. But people do not live that way. Its absurd. They live as if their lives have meaning, and purpose. Again we see this in the area of objective moral values. If we deny the existence of God, we deny an referent from which we can determine actions to be right and wrong. Morality becomes the product of personal taste and/or social-biological conditioning. In other words, truly subjective.

But again people do not live this way. People affirm that certain things are wrong regardless of context or conditioning. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks Hitler or Stalin did the world a favour by murdering millions of Jews and their own country men respectively.  But without affirming that God exists, how can we condemn these actions as wrong? By doing so we acknowledge that objective moral values exist. If morals are no longer subjective they point to a referent. Here the inconsistency is clear. One writer said “If God is dead, then man is dead too.” Dostoyevsky pushed a similar idea “If there is no Imortality then all things are permitted”. How can we condemn war or murder, or abuse while affirming life has no meaning?

Recently I picked up a copy of Tammy Bruce’s “The Death of Right and Wrong”. Its extremely insightful. Bruce claims to be skeptical of organised religion (or organised anything for that matter) and is thoroughly agnostic. As insightful as the book is there are some glaring inconsistencies (despite her being a lesbian femmenist and trying to take the moral high ground).
When discussing issues, she continues to make statements like “Its just plain wrong”.
However this is absurb given what we have discussed above. She rightly posits that liberal left wing are greatly hypocritical. Tolerance may be their battle cry, but they are only tolerant of those who share their worldview. One chapter discusses the hypocrisy Christian bashing, while any anti-semetic or anti-islamic behaviour is labeled as a “hate-crime”. She cites the example of Offili’s “art”, which depicts the virgin Mary coming out of a vagina, smeared with elephant dung. This was hailed as a great work of art and even got government funding. Try doing that with Mohammed!
But it wasnt all doom and gloom. Her description of the Christians she met was surprising. They were friendly, tolerant, and happy people. In stark contrast to her liberal, femmenist, homosexual friends who were extremely intolerant, unfriendly and unhappy people.

But again I come down to the question, on what grounds do we call this wrong? On its hypocrisy and inconsistency? Hardly. Post-modernity has shown us that whats wrong for you is not wrong for me. How can we condemn someone for their belief when we encouraged it in the first place? We have no grounds to condem this behaviour if we affirm that God does not exist.Its ironic that Bruce is critical of the movement that gave her the freedom to be what she is.

Has atheism given us a solution to the inconsistency? Not as far as I can see. Dr. L.D Rue posits that we believe a “Noble Lie”, one that tricks us into believing there is value in the universe, and that tells us not to live for self existence. But without such lies it becomes impossible to exist. This is also absurb because once we realise we believe a lie, we are right back where we started. Its like a placebo, it only works if you believe its true. Bertrand Russell said he could not live as if morality was simply a matter of taste, and did not know the solution the problem. If this is the best that the secular scholars can come up with then Atheism is truly in trouble. However inspite of all this evolution is still taught as a fact in schools and universities. Humanity is shown to be a meaningless product of a cosmic accident. Any dissenters are shunned as anti-intellectuals. (Check out Ben Steins latest movie “Expelled” for more on this) The media continue hail people like Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris as the great defenders of intellectualism and their books are national best sellers.  Like I said, we are truly inconsistent as a society. Our society is one that is truly at emnity with and seeking a hiding place from God.

In stark contrast the Bible speaks to us today and answers the questions that scientists, philosophers and psychologists have asked for centuries. The same, simple message still rings true 2000 years later. Man is a sinful creature in need of a saviour. In his fallen state he desires only to gratify his own desires. Yet when we are opened by the Holy spirit to the truth and given a new heart, we change. This is the basic message of the Gospel. Some have diluted it, watered it down or ignored certain parts of it, but the truth has a way of coming out. No other book has so accurately described the human condition (For more see my post on Total Depravity). This should be good news to a dying world but is dismissed as a fairy tale. Paul was right when he said “[The Gospel] is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles…If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing”
(1 Cor 1:23, 2 Cor 4:3).

How Christians should respond to these claims is a post for another day.I hope I have shown you that to live a life as an atheist is to live in contradiction and inconsistency. As a Calvinist Christian I expect non christians to try anything to justify life apart from God. This the effect sin has had on man. What I find ironic is that the atheist world view is presented under the guise of intellectualism and rationality. Surely if we were rational we would weigh all the evidence and make a decision on what best fits the evidence? Surely it is irrational to want to live a life devoid of meaning, purpose and value?




7 responses

30 07 2008
m slater

“What I find ironic is that the atheist world view is presented under the guise of intellectualism and rationality. Surely if we were rational we would weigh all the evidence and make a decision on what best fits the evidence? Surely it is irrational to want to live a life devoid of meaning, purpose and value?”

It would indeed be quite irrational to ‘want’ a life devoid of meaning, but if you weighed the evidence and could not buy into religious claims would you be choosing atheism because you want that or because it is all that is left?
I’m not an atheist, obviously, but I would admit that atheism or at least agnosticism makes more sense to me than a lot of ‘religions’ like the New Age movement, or Hinduism. Yes, the form atheism takes today is overly shaped by modernity, sort of a ‘you can’t empirically prove God exists so I don’t believe it’ approach which is not a good argument. However, the Bart Eherman style agnosticism, based mostly on skepticism and a dissatisfaction with how faith in his eyes can not handle the problem of evil, at least I see where that is coming from even though I disagree.
I don’t know, if Christianity/Judaism did not exist, I’d likely go down that road because no other faith tradition seems to be able to deal with the problem of evil in a way that satisfies me. And, equally important for me, no other faith tradition has the same kind of historical legitimacy. So Mormonism with its totally unprovable history of all sorts of crazy things that happened in the Americas before Europeans came, not an option.

“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks Hitler or Stalin did the world a favor by murdering millions of Jews and their own country men respectively. But without affirming that God exists, how can we condemn these actions as wrong? By doing so we acknowledge that objective moral values exist.”

Just a thought. I suppose that if you did not have God and his word as the basis for morality the world community would still have reason to condemn this sort of thing if for no other reason than self preservation. After all, if no one tries to stop it when it happens to others, who will stop it if it happens to your people? Not that it is a good or true basis for morality, just crossed my mind as I read.

30 07 2008

Yeah, I agree on your first point, even thought that was not implied by my post in the overall context. But its still worth asking. Have atheists truly weighed the evidence or are they chosing to stick their heads in the sand? Of all the “Does God exist debates?” i’ve read, no atheist has ever answered the questions of objective moral values. On what grounds do they condemn the actions of another apart from their own preferences? Sure we could argue society preservation thing, but again that makes actions subjective and doesnt deal with the problem of objective moral values. The new atheist/agnostic arguement only pushes the question back a bit further without answering anything. Without God, good and evil are just meaningless terms. Why do they class things as Evil if there is no God? How can they condemn those actions? By doing so they are either (1) Acting inconsistently with their beliefs or (2) borrowing from the Belief that there is a God (as Schaeffer said). Either way Good or Evil becomes a personal preference for someone. Whats evil for me, may not be evil for you, so I have no standard with which to condemn your actions. The choices carry the same weight as chosing whether to eat cereal or toast for breakfast.

I read a debate between Hitchens (letter to a christian nation) and Wilson (letter from a Christian citizen) – Hitchens never answered the question of Objective moral values, and Wilson rightly hammered home the point, “Given your atheism, those actions are wrong because of…..what?”

I realise the evidence is not the thing that converts someone. No one has the ability to believe in God except by the operation of the Holy Spirit. But that doesnt mean we should stop providing a rational defense of the Christian faith. Thats what I love about Christianity. Its appeals to my mind as well as my heart.

Fully with you on the other religions comment. None of them answer the problem of evil decently, and none of them are as historically verifiable as the Bible.

31 07 2008
m slater

I agree, no true and deep morality can exist outside of dependence on God and the revelation of His Word.
However, just on the basis of life experiance, it seems that people who have no place in their lives for God can still have a strong sense of morality. Perhapes not as often on certian issues (sexual morals etc) but things like racism, unjust war, the plight of the poor, many of the people who speak out stongly on these have a morality with a very different basis from yours and mine but one which however imperfectly has pointed them to a part of the truth.
Of cource, as a beliver I would say that this is a result of God placing this in them, his common grace and the natural order. But I have to admit as an athiest/agnostic I would not be prone to see this innate sense of right and wrong as from a higher being.

I agree fully that Christian faith/theology/spirituality appeals both to heart and mind, and that we ought to explore that in a way which takes both into account. However, for me persoanlly I’ve always been a bit adverse to apologetics. In part because it ofton seems more like an attempt to prove ones intellectual superiority, and that God ceases to really be the point pretty early on… in other words the approach and additude I tend to see from apologetics is not one I am comfortable with. Also, as one of my profs used to say, in the end God does not need us to defend him. Not that our faith does not make sense, or that logic and thoughtfulness should not be important to us, but rather that for a true adherance to what the Bible teaches we need a hermenutic of faith, not just facts.
Hope that makes at least some sense…

31 07 2008

Yeah very true about the way apologetics has been done. Sometimes we prefer arguing to prove how smart we are, rather than letting God be the focal point. Too often these debates turn into mudslinging matches. I have to say that this is not true of the debate I went to recently with William Lane Craig. He was professional, courteous and full of grace towards his opponent.

However my point of the post was to show that if an atheist wants to condem someones actions as right or wrong, they really have no grounds on which to do so apart from their own subjective and personal preferences. In fact right and wrong become meaningless terms in the realm of the subjective. An atheist may not see it that way, but even the smartest atheists will admit that as true. The biggest problem atheists face is the problem of ultimate origins. Especially in the area of objective moral values.

Apologetics have made me feel uneasy at times. Ian Wishart does a terrible job by repaying Evil with Evil, and I found him to lack grace in his approach to the atheists (His book “The divinity code” is the most sarcastic apologgetic book I’ve ever read) . But that doesnt mean we should stop “contending for the faith”. God may not “need” us to defend him, but is that who we are defending? I think we defend our faith for our own sake and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ. At times we all wonder whether this Christian belief can stand up to intellectual arguements. The same could be true for defending the historicity of the Gospels, or the historical accuracy of the Resurrection. They may not “need” defending because we believe them to true by the Holy spirit who lives within us, but its great to know that no one in history has disproved them.

31 07 2008
m slater

“The biggest problem atheists face is the problem of ultimate origins. Especially in the area of objective moral values.”
True true, I fail to see why one would buy into the idea of an eternal dust cloud that suddenly explodes and gradually forms our universe, compleate with creating life from inatamate matter, and see this as less a step of faith than beliving in God. Just does not add up does it? Whatever one may think of biological evolution (for me personally I’m perfectly fine with micro but not comfortable with the science behind macro), when you push God out of the picture how do you explain that we exist in the first place?

I did not mean to come across as saying that there is no place for things like demonstrating the historicity of the resurrection or the accuracy of the Gospels, both are important efforts and I have read much on both. By being uncomfortable with apologetics I was thinking less the idea of showing the faith is intellectually viable (as with the above examples), and more the tendancy to demontrate the historical or scientific data, and then assume that in doing so we have proven our belifes to be true and anothers to be wrong. I guess to me there is a stark contrast between a book like Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” and some of the more us vs. them style hostility I see in authors like a Geisler.

31 07 2008
m slater

Also, I too have heard good things about William Craig. I believe that would have been quite an interesting session.

31 07 2008

Yeah he was fantastic, he comes accross as such a nice guy and looks a lot like Tony Danza LOL !!!

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