The NYT is running a series of op-ed pieces on atheism:
- Is Atheism a Religion?
- What Atheism Lacks Is Mystery
- At Atheist Church, No Faith Required
- Atheism Can Have the Worst Traits of Religion
- Show Atheism the Respect That Religions Get
- Don’t Replace Religion; End It
- At Atheist Church, No Faith Required
Let’s be very clear (and honest), if there is no personal Creator, our existence is most certainly a cosmic accident. We exist by chance, not by design or purpose. Our story is one of chance in a deterministic universe governed by raw natural selection. And, if this is an accurate accounting for our existence, several facts logically follow:
- Notions of ultimate meaning are based on wishful thinking and irrational fantasy.
- There is no ultimate morality; no right or wrong; no transcendent morality. On this version of reality, morals are simply matters of personal or societal opinion. The so-called problem of evil cannot be addressed and cannot (on rational grounds) be called a problem .
- Death is both the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning and the irreversible loss of personhood. There is no hope of anything outside of this life.
If, on the other hand, there is a Creator, a personal God who made us male and female in His own image, at least three truths follow:
- Life has value, meaning and dignity beyond the limitation of human opinion.
- Personal identity, human freedom and responsibility become genuine markers of our existence. We have been endowed by our Creator with these qualities.
- The transcendent (which we intuitively recognize) elevates us out of the despair of human relativism and the limitations of human inquiry.
So many people operate as naive recipients of the reigning viewpoint of the academy – the notion that the physical, material universe is all there is, was, or ever will be. The ceiling is in place; the windows are shut and the blinds pulled. We’re locked into a world without transcendence, mystery, and especially, without God.
But more honest people admit that such a view contradicts intuitive recognitions and intrinsic yearnings they cannot explain nor escape. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why should I care to find meaning outside of survival? Is morality nothing more than alternative choices based on personal preferences? Are there no real evils, just violations of human customs or conventions? Do murderers merely have bad manners?
Are we humans simply products of blind chance operating on the primordial ooze and differing from animals by only a few genes? The wonders of human achievement and the moral dignity we ascribe to human beings just doesn’t fit the claim that we are no different from the animals. The realities of human creativity, love, reason, and moral value seem to indicate that humans are creatures of unique distinction. What accounts for this?
These universally intuitive human thoughts, desires and capacities cannot be adequately explained by an impersonal evolutionary development because they reach beyond the physical to the metaphysical in unexpected ways. We are beings who think, feel, and choose in profoundly deep and relational ways. As helpful and insightful as scientific inquiry has been, universal longings for love and meaning are unexplainable on scientific grounds. This is where we find a significant discontinuity between humans and animals.
Does our awareness of how things ought to be and our longing for something better testify to our nature as beings of dignity? If evil is a metaphysical necessity for finite creatures, why do we so strongly oppose it and long for a world without it? Why do we cry foul? Why do we long for a restoration of Paradise Lost? Why do we even think in terms of good and evil?
Dust and glory?
Struggling honestly with this exasperating enigma, Scottish writer, Richard Holloway, groaned,
“This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”
We are paradoxical beings, Jekylls and Hydes; combinations of dust and glory. We have plenty of empirical evidence for this universal fact but what is there to account for it?
The same mind used to invent life-saving machines and medicines invents instruments of war and torture. Why do we possess moral sensibilities to recognize right and wrong and participate in benevolent activities? We are capable of distinguishing justice from injustice, love from hate and freedom from oppression, but so often our vision of these things is twisted in self-serving ways.
The apostle summarized the cause of our searching well:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24-28).
I cannot endorse overuse of the science of evolution to explain realities outside of the reach of science. Honest scientists know that it’s simply outside the function of science to resolve questions about how the universe began. When atheist stretch science into philosophy (or into a form of religion) they give unsuspecting people the misleading impression that the science of evolution offers more than it’s capable.
Science can describe in fascinating detail what is within the universe and reveal purposes related to adaptability and survival in the physical world. But only God could reveal purposes that were prior to this world and beyond it. God prescribes and reveals what is beyond the descriptions of scientific inquiry.
I equally reject the myopic optimism of humanism and the dark pessimism of cynicism. The grounded realism of a Christian worldview revealed in Scripture is far more plausible when one weighs all of the evidence.
But please understand that while I believe that the Bible offers the most realistic and hopeful perspective for history and the world, I am not at all interested in using it as an imperialistic or oppressive tool to impose on moral creatures a belief system they have not chosen.
God made humans as morally culpable beings who will ultimately answer to Him as Maker and Savior. While I believe in the need for law and order and I practice Christian influence by bearing witness to God’s love and grace, I don’t believe in the human use of coercion to force beliefs on anyone.
There are surprisingly few places to turn for thoughtful answers to questions about the origins of good and evil; human suffering, and life and death. I always welcome opportunities to explore the plausibility of competing world views on these important matters.
Without suggesting that I have all the answers, I have only found one source wide enough to explain the complex dimensions of the human story and large enough to address the innate longings of the human heart.