Chapter 10 - Atheism is Dumb
It used to be people were backward and superstitious. They worshiped everything. Trees, animals, stars, sun and moon. They thought the gods threw lightning bolts from the sky, caused the wind to blow, and controlled the movement of the heavenly bodies. Then science came along. Slowly, humanity realized that so many of the things that was once thought to be the action of the gods were in reality the action of natural processes. With time, everything from weather, to movement of planets, to the creation of the species itself was found to have plausible natural processes that had absolutely nothing to do with the gods. God, if he were still to be believed in at all, became the "God of the gaps." Responsible for an ever decreasing realm. Those truly knowledgeable in sciences went all the way. For many scientists God has been eliminated altogether. Atheism then is the telos of science. The perfect completion of knowledge. Further, anyone with any brains can see that religion also has many obvious contradictions. The bible is riddled with errors. Various religions disagree with each other. It is all such nonsense. No say the 'brights' religion is obviously false and probably harmful.
This way of seeing things has been adopted by many the young internet warrior. It is something that more than a few college professors promote. It is something that, while rarely explicitly stated, often pervades much of our movies, literature, and political discussions.
But it is all complete BS. The emperor has no clothes. The opposite is true. Atheism is ridiculous and backward. It is philosophically bankrupt. It is self contradictory. It has no foundation in truth. It adds nothing to the world. Its arguments against religion are childish, simple and easily refuted. And no one with any brains should ever be an atheist.
To show how this is true, let's start with a shot to the heart of atheistic arrogance: the idea that they are the scientific ones. They are not. In fact, atheism is fundamentally incompatible with science.
Why Atheism and Science are Incompatible
There is an excellent book by
Notre Dame philosopher, Alvin Plantinga titled, Where The Conflict Really Lies. In it, Plantinga discusses the rationality
of our brains. There is a truth about the rationality of our brains that few people consider. It is impossible to be sure that our brains do work.
Comedian Brian Regan has
a bit where space men go looking for intelligent life but only find
unintelligent life. They get off the space ship, see aliens walking around with
dumb looks on their faces who say, "2+2= Chicken!" 2+2=chicken is a good example of a brain that does not work. In contrast, when
we humans say, 2+2=4, we assume that is a meaningful statement. We assume that
our brains work well enough for that. And a lot of other things. We debate
things. We reason things. We gather evidence. We draw conclusions. We assume
that these are all valuable things to do. We think our brains work. We
acknowledge limitations (sometimes we forget things, sometimes we misunderstand,
etc) but to even attempt to learn, discuss or debate, we have to assume a
certain level of rationality of our brains.
But this is impossible to prove. As soon as we use logic, reason, evidence or arguments to prove that our brains work, we assume our conclusion. If our brains didn't work, the logic, reason, evidence, and argument we make might be no more meaningful than 2+2=chicken. There is no non-circular way to prove rationality.
So... is it rational to believe we are rational?
Plantinga says.... maybe.
He explains that it is rational to assume something if there not a good reason to doubt it. He uses the the illlustration of walking past a feild and seeing a white animal in the distance.
Imagine a man walking by a field and sees a white fluffy animal on the hill. He immediately thinks, 'that is a sheep.' He goes into town and sits down in the bar continuing to assume he has seen a sheep. At this point, he is perfectly rational. But suppose the farmer who owns that land happens to be sitting next to him and says, 'no, I don't have any sheep. I do have a big fluffy white dog though.'
At that point, for the man to continue to assume that the sheep was a sheep is irrational. The only rational way to continue to believe that he saw a sheep would be to go back to the field, climb the hill, and look at the animal up close. It is still possible it was a sheep but the assumption of sheep is no longer rational.
In this illustration, the sheep represents rationality. And
the farmer represents our worldview (how we make sense of the world).
Plantinga says that naturalism is a worldview (a farmer) who asserts that there
is no sheep in that field. He explains that atheistic unguided evolution (no God, no
Spirit, no Divine) is a farmer who owns no sheep. The universe is full of
irrational beings. Trees, bacteria, fish, mushrooms, dogs, and spiders are all
the products of natural selection and absolutely none of them are able to
distinguish between 2+2=4 and 2+2=chicken. Not a single one. And that is
because evolution does not select for rationality. It selects for survival. It
is possible to imagine certain times when rationality might help survival but
there are other times when rationality would hinder survival. For example, if I see a lump in the forest, it is better for me to irrationally assume it is
a bear and run away immediately than to rationally evaluate it as the lump gets closer and
eyes me for food. Most things evolution created survive very well without any
rational thought whatsoever. Some things survive precisely due to
In fact, if evolution made us rational, we are the only known product of the process to utilize rationality for survival. Possible...but hardly something you could just assume. It is the sort of thing we would need to prove to believe. We would need to go back to the hill and get a good look at that fluffy white animal. Which, when it comes to our brains, is (as shown above) impossible. There is no non circular way to prove rationality. We can't get back to the hill. The atheistic evolutionary farmer is saying, 'there is no sheep on that hill' and we cannot go back to check.
In contrast, most religious worldviews have a farmer who either says nothing about the sheep or affirms that he does indeed own sheep. For example, the Christian worldview says that God is rational and created humans in his image. We are rational because God created us rational. Christians can merrily assume rationality and do so rationally. Our farmer owns sheep. And just as the man who thought he saw a sheep is rational for assuming it was a sheep (and even more so if the farmer next to him agrees that it was a sheep), it is perfectly rational for Christians to assume that we are rational. We can move on to higher forms of knowledge (science, logic, etc).
So, atheistic naturalism, Plantiga argues, is in direct conflict with rationality and by extention in direct conflict with all scientific pursuits that rely on rationality. It is inherently irrational to assume you are rational. Unguided atheistic evolution makes such an assumption highly unlikely. So, when it comes to science and intellectual discovery, only one worldview is in direct contrast. Atheistic naturalism. There is no rational way to argue for naturalism. It is fundamentally irrational.
You cannot be a consistent atheist and be confident that your brain works at all .... let alone that the complicated outworkings of science are correct. Science and atheism do not go together.
Why We Cannot Test for God
But... atheists might respond, 'Christianity has all sorts of conflicts with science.' One of the things they think is the most unscientific is a belief in a God that cannot be tested. Isn't science all about verification?
This statement is presumed and assumed by many. But it is deeply flawed.Why? Because it assumes something about God that Christianity and Judaism deny: that God is not personal. If God is personal (ie he interacts with humanity not
as a force but as a being that responds and answers based on our behavior),
than we have to ask: is God is the sort of God that allows himself to be
When scientists test humans, they often take steps to prevent the humans from knowing they are being tested (with blind tests or lying to them about the nature of the test). But if there was an all knowing God, he certainly could not be tricked like this. So who says he would allow himself to be tested?
When the Russians first orbited earth, the astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, wryly declared "I have been to heaven and God is not there." To this, CS Lewis responded that God does not relate to man the way an upstairs neighbor relates to a downstairs neighbor, he wrote,
"If there is a God who created the world and created us, I could no more “meet” Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. If Hamlet wants to prove there is a Shakespeare, he’s not going to be able to do it in a lab, nor is he going to be able to find Shakespeare by going up into the top of the stage. The only way he will know something about Shakespeare is if Shakespeare writes something about himself into the play."
We relate to God like a character relates to the author of a novel. We know him if and only if he writes himself into the story. We know him because he is evident in the text of the story. Every tree. Every breath. Every smile. Every song. Every laugh. Every flower. Every peace of bread and cup of wine is a pointer to the author. We know him because he reveals himself to us. We don't put him in a test tube.
But... atheists say. You need to be able to prove him. We should never believe things that cannot be absolutely and scientifically proven.
The Burden of Proof is on Atheists
Many... maybe most... people think that it is the job of religious
believers to prove God exists. George Carlin used to have a bit in his act
where he said something along the lines of, 'if you tell someone a bench has
just been painted, they reach out to check. But if you tell them that a big
invisible being is watching everything you do, they trust you.'
Every atheist takes this line of reasoning. Christians are making a big claim. They claim that some being created everything, watches everyone, and has infinite power. That is a big claim so there should be some real big proof. 'Prove it Christians.'
But is that a good argument? Do we really need to prove everything that is important in life? The truth is that some of the most important things in life are not provable at all. Remember the discussion above on the rationality of our brains? Things like the rationality of our brains or the reliability of our senses need to just be accepted as basic facts. It is impossible to prove, for example, that we are not a butterfly dreaming we are a human. Once again, we sort of just accept that we are really humans and not butterflies.
Another catagory of thing that we usually do not attempt to prove are things that most would consider obviously true. Let me
give you an example with the following hypothetical phone conversation:
Lewis: I am sitting at my desk right now.
Richard: Desk? How do you know you have a desk? Prove it is there.
Lewis: Uh. Ok. I know I have a desk because I can feel it, see it, and put books on it.
Richard: That could just be your over-active imagination. Maybe your senses are deceiving you. Maybe you are on drugs.
Lewis: Ok, well my wife is standing right by me and she can see the desk too.
Richard: Wife? Obviously, that has all the same problems as the desk. Prove you have a wife.
Lewis: What? That is ridiculous. Why would I lie about that? I am not going to prove it. I have a wife, I know I have a wife, and if you want to attempt to prove otherwise feel free.
Richard: Me prove it? You are the one making a positive claim. If you want me to believe in your wife you need to prove it.
In this example, the wife and the desk are what philosophers would call 'basic.' There are some things that we accept as basic (without need of defense). These things can be challenged (as everything can) but if they are they burden lies on the challenger not the one that accepts it. If you think I don't have a desk or a wife, it is conceivable that you could disprove them (maybe show somehow I am in a simulation or on heavy drugs) but that would be up to you to show, not me.
And as we saw in the above fictional conversation, not taking some aspects of life and making them philosophically 'basic' would make meaningful conversation almost impossible. You cannot get past even the smallest thing without providing elaborate (sometimes impossible) proofs. If you are looking out your window and you remark on the beautiful tree, you do not need to prove the tree is real and not some elaborate projection or hallucination. If you are discussing your name, you do not need to dig up a birth certificate before the conversation moves on. We just accept these things. If someone doubts the tree, your name, or anything else that is basic in the conversation, it really is up to them to prove that what appears obviously true is actually false.
So... what about God? Can we call God basic? Is God something that we should just accept without proof? I think we can and we should.
The experience of God is so common to humanity. It is amazingly universal. Almost everyone (including many self proclaimed atheists) will admit that at some point in their life they experienced something supernatural (whether through a sensation of God or through some experience of the divine). Large majorities of the population say that they have had prayers answered. Many attest to seeing miracles. Many attest to experiencing angels. In other words, God (or the heavenly realm) is something that has been experienced by more people than many other things that we would declare philosophically basic.
Now, every religion might explain these experiences differently. And I, of course, would argue that only the Christian religion explains them adequately. But the fact that so many people are having experiences with the non-natural realm seems obviously true to me.
God is known in this world. And if you think that these billions of people are mistaken, the burden of proof is on you to show that what all these people are experiencing something that is actually false or illusory.
To answer Carlin, the reason we reach out our hand to check the paint but take God for granted is that most of us have experienced the Divine already. We have already reached out and touched that paint. paint.
God is philosophically basic.The burden is on you if you think he is not there.
Now.... do I write the above because I do not think there are good evidences for God's existence? Is this some sort of philosophical trick to get around the fact that I have no evidence for what I believe? Absolutely not. I think there is overwhelming evidence for God's existence (I will provide some of the more compelling arguments later in this chapter). But I write the above to point out that atheists do not get to sit back and simply poke holes in the arguments of others. It is their own view that is, at least on the surface, the ridiculous one. They are the ones going against the experiences of the overwhelming majority of humans living today and throughout history. Rather than being in a position to sit back and nit pick my arguments, atheists need to be able to argue their own points.
So what arguments are there for atheism? Surprisingly, there are almost no positive arguments for atheism. There are negative arguments ('you have no proof for God') but really only one positive philosophical argument for God worth discussing here: Evil in the world.
Presence of Evil in the World Does Not Make the Case for Atheism
Atheists often point to the wicked things in this world (war, starvation of children, rape of women, etc) as evidence that God is not real. After all, if an all powerful God existed, why wouldn't he stop those things?
Atheists that make these claims might not realize it but they are repeating a very old argument when they say this. This challenge to theism was originally crafted by philosophers in ancient Greece and was resurrected and articulated for the post-Enlightenment world by 18th century philosopher David Hume. He argued the following:
1-If an all powerful and good God existed, he could and would stop evil.
2- Evil exists.
3- Therefore, either God is not good, or he is not powerful but a good and all powerful God is disproved by the presence of evil in the universe.
There was a time when Hume's argument held a lot of weight in academic circles. For almost 200 years, various academics referenced the argument, built on the argument, and viewed the argument as a bullet proof case against any sort of serious belief in God.
But.... interesting thing... no one argues this anymore in academic papers.
In fact there has not been a major scholarly work published for a long time making this argument against belief in God. What happened? Why is this argument that had been around for centuries now abandoned by academics?
The answer is that philosophers (including the above discussed Alvin Plantinga) pointed to a very simple flaw in the logic. If on the final statement, you add the phrase, "...unless a good and all powerful God had a good reason to allow evil," the whole thing falls apart.
Boom. Done. Logic collapses.
If a good and all powerful God has a good reason for allowing evil then Hume's argument ceases to have any strength in providing a positive argument for atheism.
Now, you may be asking the question, 'What possible reason could God have for allowing babies to starve or women to be raped?' And that is a good question that I will attempt to answer shortly but just to explain why academic philosophers do not use the argument anymore, the answer does not matter to the logic of Hume's argument. It would be enough to say, "I have no idea what God's reason might be." It may be that we don't understand why a good God would allow evil. It may be that we doubt there could be a good reason. Hume's argument (oft repeated by modern internet atheists) has been exposed as lacking.
But let us look at this question. Why would God allow evil?
While this question has been wrestled with by Christians and non-Christians alike for the whole of human history, it is unlikely that I can provide an answer that will make anyone completely satisfied but let me touch on a few things that have been helpful for me.
Evil as an enabler of virtues
In a world where everything is safe and no real danger or trouble can come, you get no real heroes. No real adventures. No real tests. No real sacrificial love. No real overcoming of obstacles. No real victories. In short, the world would lack many beautiful and wonderful things.
An interesting book that illustrates this point well is A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In that book, the world has - thanks to a combination of social engineering and drugs - successfully removed all pain and struggle. Everyone is at peace and everyone is happy. But this perfectly happy world is shown not to be a paradise but a nightmare. "John," (aka 'the Savage') is a man raised outside this supposed utopia. He is brought into the society and sees how terrible it is that no one has any real challenges, pains, or struggles.
Unhappy with all the happiness he protests being in this society. Here is a passage:
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind."
There was a long silence."I claim them all," said the Savage at last.
The Savage saw that this artificial paradise was a nightmare. That there is something lacking when trouble is lacking.
If we consider God to be good and all powerful, perhaps he saw that creating a world where we all lived in padded, protected, and untroubled bubbles would not really be the best of all worlds. Perhaps he saw that the best world would be one where choices matter. Where heroism matters. Where doing right or doing wrong matters.
Evil as a tool for improvement
"No pain, no gain." With that phrase, most of us recognize that difficulties such as hard work, persistence, and overcoming obstacles are important for our own improvement. If a parent built a world for their child where they never had to work through anything and never had to overcome any obstacle, most people would say that parent - far from doing good - was hurting his child. Most of us can remember back on our own lives and see the trials and difficulties we went through that in the end helped us. When that friend slighted us, we learned not to do that to other people. When we failed that test, we learned to prepare better in the future. When we were cut from the football team, we realized that there is more to life than sports. When we got dumped by that girl, we learned that hearts do recover. I could go on all day. Even people that have suffered true evil sometimes point to that as a good thing in retrospect. I know people that have gone through the terrors and pains of cancer and have said that they became better people as a result.
I personally almost died from a sickness once (it was terrible and painful and awful and doctors literally were not sure if I would make it) - I would not wish my experience on anyone. But if you offered me a time machine where I could go back and remove that experience from my life, I would not do it. In those moments where I feared for my life, I learned things. I learned about the importance of God. Of family. And of the meaninglessness of so many other things. It almost killed me but it also helped me. It is part of who I am and I am now grateful it happened.
But....you might respond, what about if I had died? It is all well and fine to say that I learned from something now that I am better but what about those that do not get better? What about the millions that died in the holocaust? What about those that starve to death every day? They do not have the benefit of growing and learning from their horrible experiences.
And this would be a good critique if there is no postmortem experience. If death is the end of humanity and we cease to exist the moment we close our eyes in death, then some evils would not be learning experiences but would instead be bad things plain and simple. But the scriptures have always said that this is not the case. The prophet Daniel says, in chapter 12, that both the wicked and the righteous will be raised from the dead. Death, in other words, is temporary. And while the pain endures for a moment, in the end, every tear shall be dried. If this is true, there is no reason to believe that death - like all other evils - cannot teach us something or make us better in any way.The holocaust, for all its horror, did wake the world up to the evils of eugenics, genocides, and scientific racism. Even this prototypical example of evil, in other words, clearly helped humanity get better.
'So are you saying evil is good?'
One response to everything that I have written here is, 'are you claiming evil is not really evil but good?' No. Death is a real enemy. Evil is truly bad. God allows evil but he is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). The best illustration of this is that of an author to his work. I love Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, so let's use that. Tolkien, like all good authors, wrote darkness and evil into his story. He did it for a number of reasons (to make the story more interesting, to develop his characters, etc). But Tolkien did not like the evil in his story. He wrote about murder and betrayal not because he was murderous or traitorous but with those other goals in mind. And in the end, he made sure that those dark things were overcome by good in the end. The same is true with God. He allows evil for a purpose while simultaneously hating it, planning for it to lose, and in the end effecting its loss (with Jesus and the cross as the source and center of that plan). Far from being good, evil is so bad that God sacrificially stepped into his story to defeat it.
How Can Any Good Justify the Evil Done?
So, according to the promise of the scriptures, evil will lose in the end. The Bible culminates and concludes with a glorious vision of the end. The dead are raised. Evil is banished. And those who are oppressed are restored, renewed, and healed. Revelation 21:4 says that in that day, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
But you might ask, how can any restoration at the end justify or make up for the terrible things that happen now? You could go through a list of the horrors of rape, abuse, starvation, torture and murder and say, "However wonderful the last day might be, how can these things ever be justified or made right?"
Fyodor Dostoevsky in his novel, Brothers Karamozov put the problem this way:
"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."
In other words, isn't the horror of a tortured baby something that no amount of joy at the end could make worth doing? The rhetorical answer appears to be no.
And I would agree that the challenge is a hard one for us to understand. But I am convinced that perhaps it is just our limited vision that gives us this conclusion. I love the C.S. Lewis quote that answers this challenge:
“They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences": little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.”
Isn't this what we said of cancer and injury and sickness? Isn't this what I personally experienced as I was in that hospital bed thinking that I would die? Don't we have experiences all the time that we would not wish upon an enemy but later decide that we are glad they happened? We cannot see it as we are going through it but we see it in reverse. We don't understand why some of the terrible terrible things happen, but we can trust that somehow God will take them and build them into the future bliss.
Dostoevsky beautifully answers his own objection with this response:
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
Somehow God will make it right.
Evil as the case against atheism
A final thing to consider is that the problem of evil is a bigger problem for atheism than it is for Christianity. The concept of true evil is only possible if you believe in something outside of humanity. For evil to truly exist, it means that killing, murder, torture and rape must be fundamentally bad things. They cannot be things that simply exist as social constructs. But with atheism, evil is not really evil. It is a social construct that depends on how we feel about it. Again quoting CS Lewis,
"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple."
But there is another aspect to atheism that I think should struggle with the existence of evil. It is the lack of hopelessness in atheism. When we see evil, what can we say of it? With atheism, we can say nothing. We can try to fight it but in the end we lose. Everyone dies. Starvation continues. War continues. We all end up suffering. No one gets out of here alive. Death wins.
But the Christian has no such hopeless condition. We can say in the face of evil that in the end life triumphs. In the end, good beats evil. We say to the mother with the child dying of cancer, "Your child is in God's hands. You will see him again. Death is not the end. We don't know the purpose but we do know there is one. Be at peace and draw near to God who guides all things"
Evil is terrible. Death is horrible. But far from making the case for atheism, these things make the case against atheism and ultimately point our hearts and hopes to the one that can finally and fully deal with evil. So, far from being a proof against belief in God, I would argue that evil is actually a proof for God.
And if this argument is wrong, atheism is out of positive arguments. The rest of the case for atheism is really a negative argument ('there is no evidence of God') which is really no argument at all (many things exist that we do not know exist). But what might some of the evidences for God be?
I am thinking of one right now. Actually.... my thinking is one. Many people fail to realize that magic that is involved in human consciousness. It is something that is so remarkable that by itself it provides a strong evidence for the divine. Let's review.
The Magic of Consciousness
We humans are conscious. And we
are conscious that we are conscious. Rene Descartes put this at the very center
of knowledge. Everything else could be questioned. I could be a butterfly
dreaming that I am a human. But one thing I know. "I think, therefore I
am." It is impossible to deny this without self contradiction.
I think because of our almost universal acceptance of naturalism, we are inclined to just assume that somehow physical things can become conscious. Humans are just moist computers (as Scott Adams says) and we became conscious. Therefore it follows that electronic brains might become conscious at some point as well.
But even conceiving of how physical things might become conscious is an impossible thought experiment. Even hardened atheists like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker acknowledge the greatness of the problem. Dawkins writes (referencing Steven Pinker's work),
"In How the Mind Works Steve [Pinker] elegantly sets out the problem of subjective consciousness, and asks where it comes from and what’s the explanation. Then he’s honest enough to say, ‘Beats the heck out of me.’ That is an honest thing to say, and I echo it."
Many laypersons do not see what Pinker and Dawkins see. For
the average person, a computer is a sort of magical thing. We see a box with a
bunch of circuit boards and wires in it that produces really cool outputs. Ask
your iPhone to marry you and the voice comes back, 'Let's just be friends.'
That is a witty and funny thing. Almost human. Siri will be conscious soon.
Except, no she won't. Wires and circuits are not magic. Nor is a well written computer code.
Let me take away the 'magic' of your iPhone with a helpful analogy an electrical engineering professor gave me. My undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering and my university required me to take a couple of circuits classes just so I would not be totally ignorant. In order to explain to Mechanical Engineers how circuits worked, my professor suggested that we think of the flow of electrons through a circuit like water flowing through a complicated canal.
Voltage, he said, can be thought of as the water level. Amperage could be thought of as the water speed. Resisters can be thought of as sharp bends in the canal. Switches can be thought of as a high wall that stops the flow of water. And motors can be thought of as a mill being turned by the flow of water. It was an imperfect analogy but it was helpful to understand what the various parts did.
But let's take that analogy further. Let's suppose (and this is possible) we had a giant canal. You construct the canals to make a mechanical computer. There are switches and different paths through which the water can flow. You create a computer code with the canals. If the water flows one way, it flips on a light. If it flows another way, it flips on another light. You could, with various water levels, bends, and forks, create a river that functioned like a simple computer. Give it inputs, and it would give outputs. It really is possible if you had a big enough canal and the workers to modify it.
Now.... make that canal really giant. Put it on some imaginary planet of almost infinite size. You could create a river-super-computer. Water flowing that flipped lights on and hit speakers to make pre-programmed noises. You could make that river like Siri. It could make jokes. It could tell you the time. It could tell you the weather forecast.
But... would that intricate canal ever become conscious? Of course not. It is water flowing through a canal flipping on lights and noise-making machines. However cleverly you designed the flowing water, it would still be water running through canals. It would never... never...be conscious. For that river to suddenly be able to think, "I am a river," would be something wholly un-mechancial. It would be magic. And rivers are not magic.
And neither are electrons.
It is not that we have not figured out the evolutionary step that caused consciousness. It is that the step is in another dimension. Outside the physical. A step into the spiritual dimension. This is why Dawkins and Pinker are stumped. The fact that humans are conscious is a magical thing. It cannot be explained by evolution. It cannot be explained by physical processes. We are a river of chemicals and electrons who are aware that we are a river of chemicals and electrons.
Consciousness is perhaps the greatest pointer to God that we have. It is right in front of us. It is us. Scripture says we were made in the image of God. I think therefore I am? Sure... but also, I think therefore .... God is.
[Note: One way that atheists try to get around the problem of consciousness is something called panpsychism. I have added a section to the appendix of this book to discuss this claim. But short story, it is not a good alternative.]
Atheists Pretend to be On the Moral High Ground But Cannot Define "Moral"
I once noted on Twitter that I thought famed Sam Harris was not smart. I got "ratioed"n by Sam Harris fan boys who argued that I probably was too dumb to understand Harris.
Perhaps but I don't think so. I could ride the short bus every day and
yet that would not make Harris's profound confusion about the "Is/Ought"
problem any less embarrassing.
But let me explain his error and then you can judge for yourself. The challenge with atheism and morals (the subject of Harris' book) is the "Is/Ought" problem. If you are not familiar with the Is/Ought problem I can explain briefly. This problem says this: just because something is a particular way doesn't mean that something ought to be a particular way.
Let's expand this definition with some examples. For most of human history, many powerful people have sought to oppress the weak and the poor. This is an observation of what is (or has been). But I think most people would agree that one ought not to seek to oppress others? The simple fact that many have done this and wanted to do it does not tell us how things ought to be. In contrast, many people think that the fact that humans want love and companionship as evidence that love and companionship are good. Humans ought to seek love. You ought not oppress and you ought love (sorry about the old fashioned word but you get the point).
People are born with some traits that we think are bad (propensity for cancer, violent tendencies etc) and other traits that we think are good (intelligence, propensity for kindness etc). Saying I am born with something (what is) does not tell me if that is good (what ought).
This is the "Is/Ought" problem. You cannot describe what is (or has been) to get to what ought to be. There is a logical/definitional gap you cannot cross... the two are not the same.
And this is a huge problem for atheists. Because atheists (unlike theists) do not believe in an Eternal Lawgiver that creates a list of oughts (commandments). They believe that what is natural is all that there is. In our Is/Ought language, atheists think the Is is all there is. Some skeptics of religion like David Hume have recognized this issue and given it its proper due. But Sam Harris is not that sort of a thinker (although few are as brilliant as Hume).
What does Harris do? Well like most not so bright athiests, he attempts to go to science. Yes folks, science. The field that is by very definition a field for evaluating what Is will be used to tell us what ought to be. Brilliant. How does Harris plan to do this?
The very short answer is that he does it by denying that there are oughts (with words but not in practice) and then proposing a John Stuart Mills style utilitarianism (a different set of oughts). In his, "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values," (that is seriously the title) he writes,
"Imagine if there were only two people living on earth: we can call them Adam and Eve. Clearly, we can ask how these two people might maximize their well-being. Are there wrong answers to this question? Of course. (Wrong answer number 1: smash each other in the face with a large rock.) And while there are ways for their personal interests to be in conflict, most solutions to the problem of how two people can thrive on earth will not be zero-sum. Surely the best solutions will not be zero sum. Yes, both of these people could be blind to the deeper possibilities of collaboration: each might attempt to kill and eat the other, for instance. Would they be wrong to behave this way? Yes, if by "wrong" we mean that they would be forsaking far deeper and more durable sources of satisfaction."
A typical Mills sort of utilitarianism. But does this really solve the Is/Ought problem? No!! Of course not. First off, the statement, "we should maximize well-being," is an ought statement. It may be one that you happen to agree with (most people do I think) but it is not by definition true. Remember the Is/Ought logical problem. The fact that most people like to have a sense of well-being does not mean that most people ought to want a sense of well-being. More than one religion says the opposite (that suffering and asceticism is a better life). Further it is clearly a fuzzy goal. What is happiness after all? I have written in the past as to why this is so hard to define let alone measure.
Consider the following: which is better: to be happy all day long (maybe sipping cocktails by the pool with a beautiful woman) or to be knee deep in mud in a jungle with a bunch of stinky men? The answer is not very easy to answer. Supposing in the second example, you are a soldier and you are fighting for the freedom of your country. Supposing that you are at that moment doing what you think God made you to do. The fact that if a social scientist handed you a poll asking how happy you were (on a zero to ten scale) you would probably be tempted to put a negative number, you would not trade places with the cocktail sipping coward for anything and doing so would make you less happy not more. Making Sam Harris style calculations about well-being in the moment hardly seems possible. Let alone the fact that, despite the hand-waving, the happiness of one person often is in conflict with the happiness of another. Every act of crime and violence speaks to this. Most acts of oppression of minorities by majorities are the result of this. The Romans made the Gauls their slaves because they lived in a society where having a bunch of slaves around was fun, legal, and profitable. It wasn't fun for the Gauls but it was a ball of laughs for the Romans. Further, there are times when no happiness or well-being can come from an action but yet it is still right. Say bravely standing up to a tyrant even though you know that he will kill you and there is little or no chance your stand will do anything. Think the man standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square. His act did no good for himself or anyone else really. He was probably killed and many others were as well. That photo is banned in China and no good came out of it. In fact, his action probably netted a negative well-being for all since China reacted so violently. But is there anyone that thinks it was wrong for him to do that? No, doing right is right even when the result sucks.
So Harris is regurgitating ideas that neither solve the "Is/Ought" problem nor the massive issues with Utilitarianism. The fact that he didn't get halfway through with this book and realize that it was a non-starter is shocking. The publishers probably didn't even read it. Why anyone takes it seriously is a bigger question.
But I think a big reason why it generally gets a pass is because it is an attempt (however obviously flawed) to solve a problem that is fundamentally unsolvable. If one wants to be an atheist and not be a nihilist, one needs to figure something out here. Atheists are so desparate to point out that the world doesn't need God. They are so desperate to show that religion is 'bad' for the world. But they cannot even define bad. Naturalistic atheism is fundamentally unable to have a divine "ought". It is stuck with what "is" and so atheists have to cling to hilariously stupid books by guys like Harris.
Other proofs (clues)
You can buy books listing all the evidence for God's existence. I provide some in the recommended reading below. So I am only going to briefly touch on a few more evidences here that I find helpful but I encourage everyone to do your own reading. Countless philosophers (from Aquinas to Plantinga) have shown philosophical proofs for God and I find most of these proofs pretty good. But I am not sure I would really call them proofs. I think proving anything is actually almost impossible. If someone wants to be skeptical, they can question everything. David Hume even questioned causation. Zhuangzi noted that it is impossible to prove we are not a butterfly dreaming we are human. So... perhaps let's call these clues rather than proofs. But when taken together they become powerful.
Who Wrote the Laws of Nature? That is a deep question. The world is strange. regularity or symmetry in nature. Why does Boyle’s law work? Boyle says the pressure of a given quantity of gas changes inversely to its volume at constant temperature. Why does Newton's laws work? Newton’s first law of motion says an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. The law of the conservation of energy says the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant. Why do we have these beautiful and mathematical ways of defining the universe?
Antony Flew, a famed atheist that came to believe in God, wrote about this in his excellent, "There is a God,"
The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and “tied together.” Einstein spoke of them as “reason incarnate.” The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked—and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God. (1)
Was the Universe Built with Us In Mind? This is a question one is forced to ask when one looks at the laws that built our universe. Why does the universe have constants that make it possible for life to exist? The principle of special relativity, quantum laws, and electromagnetic constants are all finely tuned to allow the universe to not explode or compress immediately. They allow genetic codes to be suspended and planets to be held in place. These constants are so finely tuned that even a slight change would make the universe absolutely lifeless and boring. How is it that everything was tuned in such a way as to make the glorious universe we have that (at least on earth) is teaming with life? This is a truth that strikes even the most hardened atheist scientists as hard to get around. It looks like this universe was very precisely designed for life.
Atheists scientists such as Stephen Hawking argue that perhaps there are multiple (infinite?) universes each with their own set of constants. If that were true, then of course our universe would be fine tuned because if it were not we would not be here to observe it. Sort of like the fish that observes that given all the land in the world it is a miracle he lives in the water.
But this multi-verse solution is no solution at all. First, there is zero proof for it and it only rests on the effort to avoid confronting a Designer. But, second, things get pretty ridiculous with a multi-verse. In an infinite multiverse, probabilities do not matter. (2) Anything that is highly unlikely but still theoretically possible will occur an infinite number of times. Atheist philosopher Nick Bostrom gives the example of a brain being formed by spontaneously arranged matter in an otherwise dead universe. Highly unlikely but theoretically possible. In an infinite multiverse you would get an infinite number of brains being produced. And if that is possible, it is also certainly possible that those brains could have false thoughts such as "I am a college student reading a book by Lewis Ungit about an emperor not having clothes." This is unlikely but possible. Therefore in an infinite multiverse, there would be infinite brains spontaneously formed with an infinite number of thoughts. And none of these thoughts could be said to be true. Logic would become meaningless in an infinite multiverse. Everything becomes nonsense in an infinite multiverse.
If this is the atheist solution to the fine tuning we observe in nature it is sort of a nuclear option. It solves the fine tuning by destroying logic and meaning.
Where did DNA come from? DNA is a complicated code. It is a code that explains how to build a cell. Codes are almost always signs of intelligent design. So how do we live on a planet with codes written in every cell? How did these incredibly complicated codes permeate the world? These codes that cause trout, algae, venus fly traps, spiders, elephants, and Floridians to be able to reproduce themselves are everywhere. And how did they come into existence in the first place?
The atheist will point to evolution and say the DNA evolved from the first cell millions of years ago. DNA changed thanks to genetic mutations and natural selection. Okay... let's go ahead and grant that unguided evolution is a possible explanation for the diversity of life in the world (I have my doubts) but what about that first cell. Somehow the first DNA came from somewhere.... where? Could it just have spontaneously formed? Statistically, there are not enough particles of matter in the entire world for that to happen. Stephen C. Meyer, in his excellent, Signature in the Cell, quotes biophysicist Dean Kenyon, "If the association of amino acids were a completely random event... there would not be enough mass in the entire earth, assuming it was composed exclusively of amino acids, to make even one molecule of every possible sequence of ... a low molecular weight protein" (4) Could it have formed thanks to some electromagnetic attraction? It would be super weird if laws of electromagnetic attraction created a code but they do not. There is nothing within a DNA string that would cause spontaneous assembly. No. DNA is a mystery.
It is so mysterious that famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins basically threw up his hands. He said that it is so unlikely that it possibly only happened once in the whole universe. He speculated that some other life form (presumably with a more explicable replicating process than DNA) created and planted DNA on earth.(3)
So the atheist argument for DNA is basically, "I don't know... aliens?"
Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? A great mystery to the universe is why there is a universe at all. For everything in the universe we have an explanation as to where it came from. Where did the turtle come from? The turtle came from his turtle mom. Where did she come from? She came from another turtle. You can back that up and, assuming evolution, get to some antecedent creature and then you can go back to that first life. You can do this with everything. It was formed by a volcano. Where did the moon come from? We have theories. Maybe the result of a collision between earth and something else? We know it came from something. Everything comes from something. Everything has an antecedent.Everything comes from something and nothing comes from nothing.
But this brings us to a very difficult problem. Everything we just listed (from turtles, to rocks, to moons) came from something else in this universe and that something else has an antecedent that is also from this universe. Everything we know requires something else in this universe to explain it. But this is a house built in the air. Because if every single thing requires an explanation of something else within the universe, then there is a giant question.... lump the universe together as a unit and ask, where did that come from? We can go to the big bang. But what caused it? What is the source of it? What caused the things that caused it? What caused the whole thing? What caused space to exist? Atheists will often speculate that some hitherto undiscovered law might mandate that matter comes from nothing but then you must ask where that law came from? In the end, pointing to an antecdent cause of anything simply pushes the question back a bit. It is like my asking, "how did that brick get to be there?" and you pointing to the brick below it as the cause. In the end, we need to stand back and ask how the whole thing got there. Even if the brick wall were infinately big and in a loop, it would not due to simply keep pointing to bricks as the explaination. Where did the whole thing come from? Why is there a brick structure at all?
The universe is like that. This mysterious structure of laws, space, matter, light, forces, and motion. In the end, it cannot be explained from something within. It needs to be explained by something without. It requires an unmoved mover. It requires an inbuilt builder. It requires something necessary rather than contingent. The ancients called this unmoved mover the Divine. I would call it Trinity.
The above arguments are not likely enough to nail down a convinced and hardened atheist and force them to change their mind. Atheists have told me that for everything we don't know, we can trust that there will be some (atheistic) explanation discovered at some point in time. I would respond that some of these clues are logical problems with atheism that can not be disproved anymore than a simple math equation can be disproved. But confirmation bias is a hell of a drug and an atheist convinced is prone to cling to any response no matter how ridiculous. But for the open minded person, I think that the above arguments should at least serve as clues. It should cause us to remark that just looking at the way that the world is, it sure seems like there must be a God.
Pascal's wager is well known and oft repeated. It goes something like this: If the Christian God is true, then the punishment for going to hell is almost infinite and the reward for going to heaven is almost infinite. But if there is no God and atheism is true, the punishment for being wrong and the reward for being right are both the same - you die and disappear. Therefore, it makes sense to 'bet' that Christianity is right. The worst that can happen is that you are wrong (atheism is true) and you die and disappear. On the other hand, if you bet that atheism is true and you are wrong, you spend eternity in hell and if you are right, you get the same fate as the Christian that was wrong (you die and disappear).
While there is a certain logic to this, I think there is also a certain shallowness to it. Is a faith based on a raw calculation of safety really a genuine faith?
But there is a 'wager' that I find to be compelling and important: Puddleglum's Wager.
In C.S. Lewis', "The Silver Chair," there is this great passage where the main characters are lost in an underground world and a witch tries to convince them that the underground world is all that there is. She casts her spell and then starts applying reason. If they argued that they had once seen the sun, she argues that the sun is just an imagined bigger version of a lamp. If they pointed to the great lion the knew, Aslan, she would say that they were just imagining a bigger version of her house cat. But then one of the characters, a gloomy man named Puddleglum says the following,
"'One word, Ma'am,' he said... 'One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Supose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
His argument, if you follow, is that if life is as dark and uninteresting as to claim that there is no sun, no lions, no sky, or world beyond the gloomy life below, he would prefer to chase fantasies. Lewis, in his brilliant way, was obviously drawing a parallel to the arguments between Christians and atheists. If atheists are right, this is the world. It is not freedom to believe that there is no purpose beyond ourselves. It is not freedom to believe that there is nothing beyond the material and natural. It is not freedom to believe that there is no postmortem existence. It is not freedom to believe that when we die, our existence fades into dirt. It is a dark gloomy underground world. Without light or hope or meaning.
And this was a wager that Puddleglum had to make. He had to bet on there being a world that was not dark and gloomy and underground. There had to be a sun. There had to be Aslan. And this is a wager that I have to make. There has to be a God. There has to be meaning. There has to be purpose.
In contrast to Pascal's Wager, this wager is not built on safety or indifferent calculations. It is built on love. Love for what the bible tells us God is like. Love for what the bible tells us this world is about. Love for what the bible tells us Jesus is. Love for fellow humans that we want to go on beyond the here and now.
The faith of Pascal's Wager is hardly faith at all. But the faith of Puddleglum is the very definition of faith: love for God and his creation. And for this, I push in all my chips. I risk it all.
"Atheism means treating the dead as though they were unborn. I
Taleb once wrote. But it is more than that. It is treating the alive as
though they are not alive. It is treating meaning as though it is an illusion.
It is supposing that there is no sky. No lions. No hope. I won't.
There is a meaning to life. It is tied up with the meaning found in the Triune. It is tied up, somehow, with a man who died on a cross for people who did not deserve to be died for. It is tied up with that. If you want to go on believing that there is no overworld, go ahead.
Atheism is dumb. The empereror has no clothes.
1- Flew, Antony; Varghese, Roy Abraham. There Is a God (p. 96). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2- This section is heavily influenced and aided by Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution in particular pages 225 ff
3- Dawkins Greatest Show On Earth
4- Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer
Suggested Further Reading
Where the Conflict Really Lies by Alvin Plantinga
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
There is a God by Antony Flew