Atheists’ Terrible, Unbearable Worldview (and Some Pushback)

Atheists’ Terrible, Unbearable Worldview (and Some Pushback) December 18, 2020

It’s our lucky day! Someone else wants to lecture atheists on how best to live as an atheist. Let’s see how the attack holds up this time.

Transhumanism and worldview

Transhumanism is technology to augment human frailties, and Christian apologist William Lane Craig (WLC) dismissed any hope that it would give atheists what the Christian worldview has.

It’s difficult to live with the conclusions of an atheistic worldview. The kind of nihilism that atheism implies, I think, is existentially unbearable. And therefore one will either be profoundly unhappy if one tries to live consistently, or, more probably, in order to be happy one will simply choose to live inconsistently, and one will grasp for these substitutes, these surrogates [that is, technologically-driven approaches to human life extension], for God and immortality.

I am continually amazed at WLC’s arguments. It’s difficult for him to live with the conclusions of an atheistic worldview . . . and so what? That says absolutely nothing about the correctness of atheism! He has two doctorates. He knows this. But by example, he’s encouraging his followers to pick their conclusions first and ignore any evidence.

Think of what they imagine WLC giving them license for.

  • Atheism says that you won’t be playing canasta with Jesus in heaven a million years from now? No problem—just reject it. Evidence is for losers. Just follow your heart.
  • Evolution makes baby Jesus cry? No problem—declare that the Bible (or tradition or your pastor) trumps science.
  • Policies to reduce climate change might be expensive or inconvenient? No problem—just find a PhD who says whatever you’d rather hear. All you need is one.

Wishful thinking like this instead of an evidence-based argument would be rejected in middle school. Is this an approach to knowledge what WLC would teach his philosophy students? This childish thinking does not help produce a durable society able to adapt and improve.

I thought (wrongly, obviously) that being on their best intellectual behavior was what Christian philosophers did to polish the reputation of their philosophical arguments. Most of us abandoned this kind of thinking when we stopped being six years old.

I realize this isn’t news—it’s just what conservative Christians do. But I’m amazed at the lack of a fig leaf, the lack of even a pretense of applying those two doctorates.

Rant over; back to the argument

(Sigh.) So where were we? WLC says that atheism is existentially unbearable, but I follow the evidence, and the evidence says that we live and die and that’s it. There’s no evidence of a heaven, so we shouldn’t believe in one. A finite life isn’t perfect, but dealing with unpleasant realities is what adults do. Wishing for a happier reality doesn’t get us anywhere.

He then ponders the distant future (the very distant future):

These futile gestures toward the prolongation of human existence [such as putting human consciousness into computers] are all ultimately futile because the universe itself is doomed to destruction in the thermodynamic heat death of the cosmos. . . .

It’s so sobering it’s almost unbearable to face.

He ought to hang around atheists more to marvel at their superhuman abilities of acting like grownups and realizing that sometimes you don’t get what you want.

Let’s try to grasp his concern. Suppose scientists and engineers eventually extend human lifetimes to a thousand years. No—suppose they could extend lifetimes to a billion years. WLC wonders, why would they bother? The universe will still end eventually. For him, it’s all or nothing, infinite life or finite life. A longer life still has an end, and that’s unbearable.

Now return to the “heat death of the cosmos.” WLC uses that as a marker for the effective end of the universe. The heat death of the universe is hypothesized in 10100 years, and he’s saying that no matter how effective scientists are in extending life, they can’t beat this ultimate limit. Whether your life lasts ninety years or a thousand years or a billion years or (incredibly) 10100 years, he says it’s all futile.

This crazy thinking is so outside ordinary concerns that I must return to it one final time. WLC says, “It’s so sobering it’s almost unbearable to face” that the universe will be dead in a googol years. That’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. “Unbearable to face”? WLC needs a new therapist. No one else is kept awake by this thought.

Finite human lifespan bothers me, too, but this is crazy. Would life this long be a gift or a burden?

I’m sure our more sensitive readers have picked up on WLC’s disquiet, but don’t worry. He has an escape hatch to heaven. The end of life is “unbearable to face” for him personally, and yet he’s comfortable with the idea of billions of souls in hell. Fellow atheists: when you’re in torment in hell, you can take a bit of comfort knowing that WLC won’t care. Scream all you want—you won’t rain on his parade.

(More on heaven being hellish here.)

The role of evidence

This critique of the atheist worldview is backwards. Whether you like the atheist worldview or not doesn’t matter. The focus should be on whether it’s correct or not. Figure that out, and then we can talk about the implications.

WLC was paraphrased by his cohost on where the evidence points:

Even if the evidence [for atheism vs. Christianity] were 50/50, who in the world would want to lean toward such a negative, depressing, dark view [that is, toward atheism]?

That is so not the topic. How did we get to the evidence for atheism and Christianity being equal? This is like saying, “Even if the evidence for my buying the winning Powerball lottery ticket were 50/50, who would want to lean toward the possibility that I might not win?” Your focus shouldn’t be on what to do when the evidence is a tossup (since it isn’t); it should be on understanding the actual probability and accepting the consequences.

Your chance of buying one ticket that wins the Powerball jackpot are about one in 300 million. Is Christianity any likelier to be true? Christians must provide the evidence.

The role of truth

Apparently we see the role of truth differently. Christians, is truth important to you? Do you really want to see reality, or would you ransom truth for the hope of a more pleasing worldview?

“Worldview X is unpleasant; therefore it’s untrue” isn’t how I could ever think. I’d rather see an ugly truth clearly than have it covered by a pretty lie.

And no, atheism is not discouraging

Is WLC spotting the inevitable consequences from the atheist worldview that others can’t see, or do atheists not see these consequences because they’re not there?

An atheist is simply someone who has no god belief, and very little follows from that. Has WLC ever discussed worldviews with an atheist? Very few would say that life is meaningless because of their lack of god belief. It’s not a dismal view, and the atheist shares with the theist the ordinary sources of happiness. If there is no afterlife, then life is short and precious. We don’t have time for make-believe.

Actually, it’s WLC who sees life as meaningless. He says that life on earth is “the cramped and narrow foyer leading to the great hall of God’s eternity.” What a dismal view of the only life we’re sure we get! To WLC, life on earth seems to be an ordeal to be gotten through, the overcooked vegetables that must be endured to earn dessert.

Let’s revisit those worldviews

Like Job, who was an uncomprehending pawn in a bet between Satan and God, Christians can find themselves experiencing hardships that aren’t explained in the Bible. Christians, you’re stuck defending a god who won’t meet you halfway by making his mere existence plain. Prayer doesn’t work as promised, the imminent second coming is 2000 years overdue, Jesus’s comfort during hard times is just Christian self-talk, and God isn’t necessary to explain anything we see around us.

The Christian world is like Alice’s Wonderland—weird and mysterious and run by an inscrutable god. We’re told this god wants a relationship, but somehow he always has a reason to remain hidden. He unfailingly ignores opportunities to step forward and do something useful, like preventing earthquakes or ending the current pandemic. He is indistinguishable from nothing at all. “God did it” is always a solution looking for a problem, and Christians are often forced to pick between science and the Bible.

Compare that with the atheist’s worldview. Atheists have no baggage preventing them from following the evidence. They won’t lose friends, family, or social standing. They can align themselves with reality, not make excuses for superstition. Christians, having a worldview with no cognitive dissonance is refreshing.

No, Dr. Craig, it’s not the atheist worldview that’s difficult to live with.

Another recent Christian worldview attack: About Atheists’ Empty Worldview . . .

If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it,
however helpful it might be;
if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it,
even if it gives him no help at all.
— C.S. Lewis

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Image from Brock DuPont (free-use license)
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