Atheism - does it have merit? - by Keith Petersen
Atheism has been stated to embrace two forms: (1) soft atheism in which it is said, on the basis of it not being possible, per se, to disprove such, that (while the likelihood is considered to be remote) there could be a God and (2) hard atheism in which it is considered that, no matter what, an unequivocal decision has been made that there cannot possibly be a God.
Theism, as to which it is referred, is the belief that God indeed exists and, in the case of this paper, is the Christian God.
As a backdrop to this paper, in either instance of atheism - i.e., soft or hard atheism (simply to be referred to hereafter as “atheism”) - it is necessary to understand (although the atheist typically decries such a statement) that atheism is a belief system in which it is believed that God does not exist and that science (or, what has been referred to as a materialistic world view) by itself provides all the necessary answers as to the existence of time, space, creation and the moral qualities or standards by which man can and should live. It is believed in atheism that death is simply the final terminus of life on earth and that there is no afterlife. That it is accurate to call atheism a belief is born out by the dictionary which defines belief as “(1) accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of and (2) hold (something) as an opinion; think or suppose.” Pure atheism supposes that the word “belief” cannot be applied to atheism since it is not a question of “belief” but, rather, an issue of “what is”; however, this is just begging the question.
The atheist has to admit, for example, that while they commonly believe according to science that the universe had a literal beginning (i.e., that “something” came into existence out of “nothing” as a phenomenon of Nature – which is, as a natural phenomenon, a manifest impossibility), they cannot state according to science as to how this actually took place; yet, they believe that the mechanisms of science ultimately hold the answer. This is patently a belief as they themselves concede that they do not know the answer nor has science supplied a valid answer; but, they “feel sure of the truth of” their belief.
It is also important to properly define the word “science”. The dictionary says this: “science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” According to the definition as just stated science is not a system of philosophy or conjecture – it is, rather, to put it simply, an attempt to explain the universe and all that is therein. Another, simpler way to put it, is that pure science is simply a mechanism to properly explain “what are the facts as to the universe”.
The above definition is important since it is evident that presuppositions and natural predilections can (and, routinely does) quickly influence the determined atheist to drift over the line of pure science into a realm colored – perhaps (to be gracious) unconsciously with some – by conjecture and/or philosophical influences. The atheist or atheist scientist would argue against this, of course. However, how can it logically be explained that there are those who, holding beliefs as to the Christian God entirely contrary to the belief of the atheist scientist, are themselves world-class scientists - some of whom are even Nobel prize winning? Professor Peter Atkins answers this by saying that such Christian scientists are "lazy scientists" - hardly a scientific rebuttal.
Theists typically agree that, from the standpoint of rationale, pure science can best be understood by the knowledge of the Christian God – which is a fully rational consideration (i.e., a knowledge of the builder imparts an enhanced understanding to the individual touring through the builder’s house); whereas, atheists generally argue that science entirely dispels any valid consideration as to the existence of God. Two different worldviews; yet, the same scientific parameters exist for both. The best explanation for the variation – since the atheist scientist cannot assail the science of any accredited theist scientist (it is the same science existent for themselves) – is that the atheist, while protesting that theirs is only the purest science, is pursuing scientific endeavor while innately colored by personal preference and preconception against the existence of God.
It is not the intent of this paper to go into detail as to the many arguments that are raised in support of atheism (although a brief reference to these arguments is sensible and shall be taken up at the end of this paper); but, rather, to provide a more general overview as to the core issues of belief and rationale.
The writer of this paper has listened to and viewed many hours of testimony from atheists from varied backgrounds - including testimony from those who, as numbering among the leading atheists worldwide, come from the ranks of physicists and astrophysicists, chemists, mathematicians, biologists and other fields of science, as well as philosophers and writers - and it is instantly apparent that such people are gifted with high natural intelligence. This reality, of course, does not - in and of itself - confer any sacrosanct position to them - some naturally brilliant people lack common sense (another facet that makes up the fabric and reality of life) and the practicality that accompanies common sense and perhaps cannot change a light switch. Natural intelligence without the light of God in the soul typically results in presumption.
One reality stands clear and vivid in the midst of the arguments as to the existence of God and it is this: that from any and every perspective, there are absolute and final truths as to anything and everything in this universe - whether they are understood or not. In this respect, there is a hard-edged nature to the truth. As has been said, a group of blind philosophers might postulate as to the existence and/or the nature of the sun - but, whatever the accuracies or inaccuracies of their final thoughts, there is what is inherently true as to the existence and the nature of the sun.
As an aside (but, relative to the character of those who engage on the world stage in public debate as to theism and atheism), it is noteworthy that routinely (I say not, always) the atheists tend to demonstrate a more cavalier attitude towards their opponents and any consideration as to the existence of God - i.e., a tendency to use derogatory and/or abusive language, be dismissive, supercilious and accusatory - while the theists typically do not display such attitudes and language. This highlights a salient fact: the atheistic worldview (whatever are the protestations to the contrary) is all about the “me” and what “me” thinks and to what “me” is entitled; whereas, the Christian - concerned substantially less with the “me” and more with the “you” - is approaching the entire subject with a deep and charitable desire (aligned with God’s own desire that “all men should be saved and come to [the] knowledge of [the] truth.”) that the atheist may gain light as to God. The theists’ attitudes typically, therefore, display a more courteous, gentlemanly and caring demeanor since their attitudes are in relation to the compassions of God.
Since atheism takes an initial, broad stance against all “religion”, per se, a few statements need to be made about “religion” in general and Christianity in particular. In respect of general arguments against religions, so-called, it should be stated that Christianity alone sets out distinctively that man, in his natural estate and as a morally fallen creature before a righteous and holy Creator God, is guilty, lost and without hope unless God Himself intercedes and intervenes - which is that very provision, of course, of the Cross of Christ. Every other religion inherently is merit based - in which man, purportedly through his own endeavor and some methodology of his own, is able (even if it is an ultimate result necessitating, perhaps, centuries of process such as is postulated in Hinduism) to attain to a properly righteous standard and state.
Implicit in the above, of course, is the reality that, if such attainment is necessary, a standard of “good” or “holy” is seen in God alone - to which man must attain. This instantly defines that man in his inherent estate is not good or holy - which is, of course, by any scrutiny of the history of this world, immediately and painfully apparent. The notion that a fallen (i.e., “not good”) creature can then on some proposed, internal merit effectuate for himself a permanent change into a purely good state can be seen, even on the surface, to be an inconsistent and impossible result. And, in respect of this the Bible clearly states, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and pursuit of the wind. That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered” (Ecclesiastes 1:14 - 15).
The result of this understanding is to simply invalidate any religion, so-called, that holds that man not only can but wills to, through his own works, bring himself into a moral, God-like state. That this “self-help” tenet is a delusion and is designed to lull the soul into an erroneous complacency without fear of any ultimate judgment should be immediately apparent. Any single unrighteousness in life - whether in action or thought only - immediately defines that the creature is not holy or good. For man to be truly “good” a state of permanent goodness is required, and the Bible says on this point “Out of the same mouth goes forth blessing and cursing. It is not right, my brethren, that these things should be thus. Does the fountain, out of the same opening, pour forth sweet and bitter? Can, my brethren, a fig produce olives, or a vine figs?” (James 3). And so, God records for our understanding in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Men blithely refer to themselves and others as "good"; but, the reality is that, as is said in Luke 18, “There is none good but one, God.”
Only Christianity shows the true estate of man - morally distant from a Holy God and totally dependent on His grace for both immediate and ultimate salvation. The Judaism of the Old Testament, of course, sets out in its principles that man is morally fallen and lost. The law as given to Moses was never intended by God to provide a venue by which man could be saved (“Now we know that whatever the things the law says, it speaks to those under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God. Wherefore by works of law no flesh shall be justified before him; for by law [is] knowledge of sin” - Romans 3:19 - 20). Although, of course, if man were able to keep the law he would have been able to prove his own righteous standing before a righteous God; but, in this he has ever failed. The law was given, rather, to illustrate that man could not keep the law as James 2:10 so highlights, “For whoever shall keep the whole law and shall offend in one [point], he has come under the guilt of [breaking] all.” Thus, man is left with the only possible road to salvation and eternal life - looking to the saving grace of a Savior God.
Having said all the foregoing in this paper, it is of importance to recognize that, as a general statement, atheists spend relatively little time debating as to the other so-called religions of this world; but, rather, their most immediate focus is on Christianity. Why should this be? The answer is simple: Christianity is the only religion which truly places them with one life and then subsequent accountability before the judgment seat of Christ (“it is the portion of men once to die, and after this judgment” - Hebrews 9:27) - and, if they can eliminate to their satisfaction the reality of the Christian God they can be satisfied that, while there are certain laws and mores in society that should be observed, they can conduct themselves in their lives essentially as they so please. According to their views, there is no God of life and death, and, thus, no ultimate judgment.
In the following example it is in this attitude that the late Christopher Hitchens (this paper is written in 2018) - one of the world’s best known atheists - in his last public speech before his death extended the query, as one of a number of points he raised, as to why should God judge any potential sexual activity in which he or any other might engage outside of marriage, etc. His language was to the effect that having sex was his appointed, “feel-good” right - and who should say anything different? Irrespective of any moral considerations, this ignores the very real - catastrophic, really - results of untrammeled sexual activity in which marriages are ruined, children’s lives suffer upheaval, disease is spread and individuals become jaded and disaffected. It, again, is the “me” without giving just and due consideration to the fact that an equitable God sets out “for our admonition” right and wrong to the result that His blessing is upon the righteous but His wrath (and, rightfully so) is against the wrong. “Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Lateral to the atheist viewpoint that - if He did exist - the Christian God does not meet their criterion for being a just, righteous and holy God is the simple fact that such an atheist mind - whatever their arguments to actually having an essential knowledge - does not properly understand God. A natural mind darkened through it’s resistance to - or, in the case of the atheist, an absolute refutation as to - the very existence of God cannot possibly understand God and His ways. Even in natural relationships in this world there might be a general comprehension as to essential characteristics of others in any type of relationship; but, think how many times even in natural relationships people form opinions as to others at a distance and then, when actually coming to know the other person, find that their initial preconceptions were limited or inaccurate. In this way the Bible says in John 1 that the Lord, coming into this world as “the light of men … appears in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not.”
Much else could be said as to this entire subject of atheism; however, what has been set out should be sufficient to help stir any honest, enquiring soul to understand that atheism represents a feeble, self-centered cry against the majesty of God Himself. The evidence for the existence of the Christian God and His nature of love is overwhelming - it is only the churlish nature of man that would seek to reject such realities. To complete this paper, in the following section is a brief enumeration - in no particular order – of some of the primary points raised by the atheist mind.
1. If God were real He would definitively manifest Himself to me.
A. The Bible says that “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask evilly” (James 4:3). It also says, “For he that draws near to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them who seek him out” (Hebrews 11:6). Of course, the necessary faith is provided by the work of God in the heart and mind of the inquirer; but, the Bible promises in relation to this very thing “Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened” (Matthew 7). In addition to this - and, glaringly so - there is the manifest, historical significance of Jesus Christ having come into this world, died on the Cross and having risen from the dead. The tomb is empty - God has made apparent to His creation that He has interceded for man - and this in an unmistakable way!
2. All religions, so-called, are the same with just varying degrees of doctrine.
A. As has been set out already in the body of this paper, the Bible/Christianity stands alone and unique in its pronouncement that man is morally lost and only with God is the power to save. “Ye are saved by grace, through faith; and this, not of yourselves; it is God’s gift” (Ephesians 2:8). The Bible shows that salvation is not a merit-based system. Thus, the natural mind rebels against such realities and seeks to modify or refute God’s authority and rights over the lost soul of a man.
3. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection adequately accounts for the existence and evolution of life forms on this planet – especially if Nature is given enough time.
A. Darwin’s Theory (a theory only) of Evolution by Natural Selection cannot begin to explain the impossible complexity of life forms - even if such life forms were limited to only a handful of various forms of life on this earth. The DNA chain alone is too extensive in every life form to have remotely had even a vaguely logical mathematical possibility of ever having come into existence through random processes. Reflexively, the interrelationship of life forms on earth, in and under the earth, in the sky and in and under the ocean - all linking wonderfully into a virtually seamless ecosystem to support all forms of life - present an infinitely cogent testimony to design. The atheist argues against such simple and powerful reality; however, without going into further detail, to any honest mind the arguments posed are feeble and specious.
In addition, the Darwinian Theory can never explain in any way the processes of thinking, loving and other intangibles present with humans who have been created in the image of God. Occam’s Razor - routinely referred to by scientists - is a principle in which it is stated that the more assumptions that have to be made for any particular occurrence, the more unlikely is the explanation. Another way of saying it is “simpler is better”. The ever wilder stretching of man’s imagination (including the fantastic suggestion that aliens planted seeds of life on the earth – mind you – aliens – i.e., not God - as well as the more fantastic sophistry of the theory of multiverses) in seeking to refute a Creator God’s existence and, conversely, to establish a premise of random natural selection as an explanation for the entirety of the universe simply emphasizes a mindset determined to exclude God from anything and everything. The simple explanation that an omniscient, all-powerful God created everything answers all considerations relating to creation and eternity.
4. A loving God would not allow suffering and death.
A. Suffering and death cannot be attributed to some casual allowance of God. God set Man in the garden of Eden (i.e., Pleasure) in a sphere in which there was no sin and no death, and man had only to listen to and obey his Creator to be eternally cared for in a utopian way. It was independency from God in eating of the one fruit as to which God had commanded not to eat that “through one man sin came into the world and through sin death.” God had warned Man that the one tree of which he was definitively not to eat was that of “the knowledge of good and evil” (it involved the knowledge of evil as to which God knew that Man was not able to overcome on his own) and that “in the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt certainly die” (death is unmistakably the righteous terminus to sin). God cannot lie and so death came in - although God in His infinite mercy and grace extended Adam’s day to over 900 years.
The curse of death was accompanied by the curse of suffering and sickness (see, as an example, Leviticus 26) - all brought about, as noticed, by Man’s self-will - none could say that it was the fault of God. Some might say that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil should not have been in the Garden; but, that is just begging the question in the same way that if a hot stove is in the kitchen and a warning is given to one capable of understanding the edict not to touch the stove - the responsibility in touching it and getting burned lies solely with the transgressor. Notice, too, that Adam and Eve were given the admonition as obviously grown and sensible - they were not unknowing babes.
In addition, God in His righteous nature - although showing great mercy - not only cannot pass by sin unnoticed (i.e., without an equitable response shown in judgment to the sin); but, if He, speaking reverently, endlessly rushed to prevent the suffering circumstances of this world an unregenerate man would decide that they do indeed already live in a paradisiacal setting - and, therefore, why trouble the conscience as to matters of self-judgment regarding sin? God, thus, would be “enabling” man with no substantial judgments to the contrary against sin and death.
Finally, as has been well stated by others, God in His compassion and love did not remain distant from man's suffering and death. The God of the universe - in the person of Jesus Christ - "a man of sorrows" - came to earth, "bore our griefs" and suffered on the Cross for our sins. Read Isaiah 53 if there is any doubt as to this matter.
5. The command given by God to Israel to destroy the Canaanites, etc. in the land was genocidal.
A. The history of Canaan was that, notably, through unrighteousness, he came under curse from his father Noah (Genesis 9). Second, every allowance was constantly made for “the stranger” throughout the early books of the Bible (especially Leviticus and Numbers where the law was given) so that they who would come to Israel on the basis of the evident presence of the God of the universe amongst Israel would be received. This is perhaps most specifically seen in 2 Chronicles 6 where Solomon could pray as to those “who is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy great name's sake, and thy mighty hand and thy stretched-out arm; when they shall come and pray toward this house, then hear thou from the heavens, the settled place of thy dwelling, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for”. This act of simple understanding and faith is highlighted in Rahab the harlot who said to the spies in Joshua 2 “for Jehovah your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” and thereby not only demonstrated her faith (“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with the unbelieving” - Hebrews 11:31) but had part, through her faith, in the lineage of the Lord Jesus (see Matthew 1:5).
Next, God has authority as Judge over all the earth and, as Abraham could rightly say, “Far be it from thee to do so, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that the righteous should be as the wicked—far be it from thee! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18). This plea of Abraham is made more pertinent since it was in relation to God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah because their “sin is very grievous.” God agreed with Abraham that He would not destroy the two cities if there were only ten righteous out of both cities. There were not even ten righteous, as we know, since the cities were destroyed - solemn testimony to the inherent wickedness of mankind.
Last, the tribes in Canaan in the time of Joshua are shown definitively by profane history as well as by the Bible to have been given over to vile practices of idolatry - including the sacrifices by fire of their own children to imaginary deities. God had every right to destroy them at any time, and, if He chose to use Israel as his “maul” (see Jeremiah 51:20) to cleanse the land of blood and idolatry that was entirely up to Him. An entire world went to war in the mid-1900’s to stop the spread of Nazism - nobody every called it genocide although the death and destruction were catastrophic. It is of note, when Israel strayed from fidelity to God, that God then used first the Babylonian and then the Assyrian kings to dispossess Israel and allow the land, again, to be cleansed (read 2 Chronicles 36). God’s judgments are not arbitrary – they are against what is wrong. It is of interest that the atheist apparently doesn’t raise a cry of genocide against such latter occurrences as Israel largely being driven from their land in the Old Testament or wars against evil as is mentioned above regarding Nazism.
6. God is a “God of the gaps” is raised by atheists - which is to say, a charge that Christians simply assign to the omniscience and power God anything they cannot effectively explain.
A. As Dr. John Lennox has so plainly responded, “God is the God of the things we know and the things we don’t know” - a simple and adequate statement.
7. In the name of “religion” - including Christianity - awful things have been done by humans to other humans.
A. This is a fact. However, taking up this charge specifically in respect of Christianity it is vital to separate what is set out purely as God’s Word in the Bible and what men have done or might do through any one of a number of natural influences irrespective of God’s Word. If something is said and done - even by believing Christians - and is not supported by Scripture it is wrong and God neither sanctions nor supports it.
8. Since there is no afterlife our time spent here for some seventy years does not, of necessity, lack purpose but is considerably enhanced.
A. This illogic would extrapolate to suggest that, if the average time of life here in this world were but ten years those months and years would be even considerably more enhanced. Life is only truly life if death has been removed. The God of the universe is not only providing eternal life; but, the life to come involves “Things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man's heart, which God has prepared for them that love him, (1 Corinthians 2:9).
There are other - innumerable almost - arguments raised by atheists; however, the foregoing number among probably the most salient. It is sad to the writer of this paper to see men so devoid of understanding and so hard of heart as to refuse the only possible way to proper and full joy, and that in the realm of eternal life. God has not only reversed but wonderfully superceded the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. However, God has also prepared a day of judgment (“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled, and place was not found for them”), and a place for eternal judgment, too - solemn reality. How so much infinitely greater and better to spend eternity in the cloudless joy of His favor - the very reality that God had in mind when He uttered, “Come, let us make man in our image and likeness” and placed Man into the Garden of Eden. All the work has been done on the Cross of Christ, and the Bible closes with the most wonderful of all invitations: “he that will, let him take [the] water of life freely.”
This is a most wondrous reality and links to what ultimately in any such conversations should be the first and foremost statement in respect of the one and only God of the universe. This is the statement: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). For the believing Christian the profound experience of an infinite relationship with the omniscient, omnipotent and eternal God of the universe – yet, a God so loving, so compassionate, so tender and so holy as to evoke the deepest response in the human breast – is beyond any natural comprehension. Bernard of St. Clairvaux could beautifully pen in his hymn:
Jesus ! the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Saviour of mankind!
O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who ask how kind Thou art,
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah! this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
Jesus! our present joy art Thou,
As Thou our prize wilt be;
In Thee be all our glory now,
As through eternity.
How very sad that a naturally immovable, unregenerate and stony heart will refuse this very God whom so very many have come to know as this God of love. As has been already stated, God has not been distant from man and his sufferings - in the person of Jesus Christ God not only became "manifest in flesh" but Jesus suffered rejection from man and the death of the Cross so that every hindrance between man and God would be removed once and for all for those who come in faith. The apostle Paul writes, “ that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love, in order that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all the saints what [is] the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge; that ye may be filled [even] to all the fulness of God.”