Christians who attack atheists need to know their opponent. It’s often clear they haven’t been paying attention.
I’ve written several posts about supposed atheists who want the atheist community to acknowledge the benefits Christianity has provided to society and the powerful arguments in favor of Christianity. Why doesn’t such an “atheist” just declare himself a Christian?
Here’s another example, an atheist who laments the consequences of the atheist worldview. Dozens of Christian articles gushed about this atheist attacking atheism, but the first was “The Inevitable Consequence of An Atheistic Worldview” (2014) at the Cold-Case Christianity blog. I’ll first respond to the atheist’s points and then consider Christian apologists’ reactions.
An odd atheist
I’ll use a masculine pronoun for this anonymous atheist because he was dubbed “John” in the original article. He begins by stating the atheist’s position, with a goal of showing that we’re all alone.
We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself.
Not exactly. It’s an accident in that there’s no evidence for it being intentional, but there are scientific laws which govern the formation of universes and the creation and evolution of life. Rolling dice is “random chance,” but natural selection tuning life to be well suited for millions of environmental niches is not.
While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, [and] civility seem to exist, we know they do not.
Someone needs a dictionary. These words are clearly defined, and, as defined, they exist. What I think he means is that there are no objective forms of these traits, just the human-created ones.
This error is widespread among Christians, but et tu, Brute? Perhaps this atheist isn’t especially experienced in the typical Christian arguments and the fallacies to avoid.
But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it.
I imagine John Nihilist sitting alone in a dim corner of a basement café, wearing a beret and a black turtleneck, reading Sartre or maybe Nietzsche and smoking Gauloises as he sips coffee and muses about the utter meaninglessness of it all. It’s a shame that only objective meaning would satisfy him, because the regular kind works well for the rest of us.
One could wonder if this is a parody (and it gets worse), but since the Christian community has taken it as an honest statement, I’ll interpret it that way, too.
John fights reality
John describes those “dreams, loves, opinions, and desires” as “fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses . . . that’s it.” Humans nurture children, create, and build only because out genes tell us to. We’re just bags of DNA. “Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.”
He says this as if it’s a dark, embarrassing truth, but it’s just reality that well-adapted adults deal with easily. John’s problem is approaching the effect at the wrong level. Let me illustrate with another example. You could talk about love at the chemical level or worse, at the quantum level, but why would you? Not much poetry about love is written at this low level—you focus instead on the personal level. We don’t disprove that love exists when we can explain the biology behind it.
Are you marveling about the importance of love, or is the topic neurobiology? Pick one.
Or another example: you can talk about how evolution works with the different species represented as game pieces that Evolution pushes around like pebbles pushed by mindless waves, but there is no human emotion or meaning at that level. Return to the level of the individual if you want to talk about laws, civility, and morals.
And back to John’s approach: yes, you can look under the hood to see how synapses, genes, and DNA work, but why then add dreams, love, creativity, and family to the same sentence? It’s like a magic show: you can enjoy the show in the audience, or you can peek behind the curtain to see how it’s all done, but these two approaches don’t mix.
This reminds me of Christian apologist William Lane Craig in anguish when, as a child, he learned that we all die. Yes, Dr. Craig, we all die, but that provides no evidence for Christianity. And yes, John, we can focus on synapses and DNA, but that doesn’t mean we can’t move on to consider love, dreams, and meaning.
And now, morality
John really jumps the shark when he moves on to morality.
Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me.
Nothing in your world stops you from raping and murdering? There is in mine. Penn Jillette nicely slapls this one down:
The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero.
John says that “there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife,” but he forgets that nothing in King David’s world stopped him from killing a man (Uriah) and reproducing with his wife (Bathsheba), either. The Christian could respond that God punished David for his sin, but that misses the point. John claimed to have found a weakness in the atheist worldview not shared by the Christian worldview, and he failed (h/t commenter epicurus).
Humans are social animals, and evolution has favored pro-social behavior—trust, empathy, compassion, and so on. According to John, however, atheists like me who don’t ’fess up as sociopaths are “inferior” and “just a little bit less evolved.”
He’s so out of touch that I do wonder if this guy’s for real, but let’s set that aside. What’s more interesting is how he’s been received within the Christian community. They should instead poll atheists to see if many think this way. I know of none.
Study two religions, and you’re done in an hour.
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 2017-8-28.)
Image from flickr