Alan Shlemon of the Stand to Reason ministry has written “Atheism’s Empty Soul,” an article that corrects atheists’ confusion about the consequences of their own worldview. Last time we looked at the first two arguments, that atheists (that is, naturalists) can’t claim to have free will and that they can’t claim knowledge. In this last post, we consider the final argument. (Part 1 here.)
Third, naturalism leads to nihilism because morality doesn’t exist
“The world, according to naturalism, is just there. Students cheat in school, lions eat zebras, and men rape women. Life just happens. There’s no way the world is supposed to be because there’s no ‘supposer.’ ”
So you think that God is the celestial Supposer, but by your own admission conditions for his creation are terrible?? As you say, “Students cheat in school, lions eat zebras, and men rape women”—and God allows that to happen? There are good things here on earth, but there are plenty of bad things as well; puppies and sunsets but also plague and drought. This is the best that God can do? This is his Perfect Plan? I must have higher standards for an omnipotent God than you do, since the mediocre role you imagine for God offends me a lot more than you.
(I can anticipate the Christian response. Pesky humans screwed up God’s plan, but he knew that would happen because he’s omnipotent, and he has some convoluted only-a-sacrifice-will-do fix, but let’s not go there now.)
[According to the naturalist,] God doesn’t exist as our objective moral standard, so there’s no fixed set of morals that exists outside of ourselves. Each person acts however they like.
And, yes, each person acts how they like. We take inputs from our conscience, personal experience, and society, and we respond. What’s left for the God hypothesis to explain?
Maybe you’d prefer this: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. That’s not for me. I’d rather find my own life goal, however clumsily, than have it imposed by seventeenth-century theologians.
Shlemon expands on his thesis, lamenting that atheists can’t do good or noble things. Without an ideal, there’s no way to better ourselves. He says about atheists, “Life is a trek with no moral compass and no destination.”
Which is how pretty much zero atheists would describe their lives. Here’s a tip: when you tell someone how their worldview should play out in their lives and they reject that, acknowledge that they’re experts in their worldview and reconsider your statement.
Shlemon’s claim can be salvaged if we imagine him going for objectively correct good and noble actions or an objective meaning to life. But this is unnecessary—the ordinary, non-objective kinds of “good” and “meaning” as defined in a dictionary are the definitions everyone uses.
More tough love:
But it’s worse. Despite the absence of morality, there’s no shortage of guilt. People have an intuitive sense that they do wrong. But in a world without God, there’s no forgiveness.
Suppose I steal something, and I’m found out by the victim a week later. I admit that I stole the item but assure them that everything has been made right. “I’ve confessed to God,” I tell them, “and I feel an assurance that he’s accepted my apology. I feel so much better!” Problem solved?
Of course not. If I steal something, I don’t need God’s forgiveness since I didn’t steal from God. Back to Shlemon, in a world without God, there can indeed be forgiveness from where it counts, the victim.
Our conscience, which sometimes punishes us with a feeling of guilt, comes from evolution. Guilt is yet another thing we don’t need the God hypothesis for.
Christianity to the rescue!
Shlemon wraps up by pointing to the Christian alternative.
The Christian worldview, by contrast, can justify free will, explain knowledge, and define right and wrong.
Oh, but I’m certain that it can’t—at least not with evidence that would satisfy an objective third party. Show us with evidence that God is more than wishful thinking. Or, don’t bother, since God solves no problem: even without God, atheists have a sense of free will, access to knowledge, and a working moral framework identical to Christians’.
Here’s an experiment: imagine there’s no God. Can you explain everything you experience with this godless worldview? In our world, prayers are sometimes answered and sometimes not. Sometimes good things happen and sometimes bad things—natural disasters and disease on one hand but also newborn babies and job success. Natural explanations easily explain all this and more. Is the God hypothesis necessary for anything?
is like the difference between theft and honest toil.
— Bertrand Russell (paraphrased)