Lessons In Apologetics #8: Atheism
If the Christian has no assurance that God will triumph from the way the world appears to be going, one would be better off hedging one’s bets by siding with the Devil or sitting the whole thing out all together. There are those that attempt to do just that.
Atheism is the worldview that believes that God does not exist. Those embracing this perspective tend to do so over both objective and existential reasons.
Those claiming to embrace Atheism for objective reasons often concentrate their attacks on the more scientific approaches to the existence of God such as the cosmological argument. The cosmological argument for the existence of God holds that all contingent things must have a cause and that this cause is at the minimum Aristotle’s Uncaused Cause and preferably the God of the Christian faith as expounded by Aquinas when he adapted these propositions for Christian usage. Atheists raise their hands and say hold on a moment to what they see as presumptuous conclusions.
From the Christian perspective, since God exists beyond what we perceive as time, He is sufficient or necessary to jumpstart the universe and get the temporal ball rolling. However, the Atheist has no metaphysical problem with an infinite chain of causality. Yet the laws of thermodynamics might dictate otherwise as these fundamental principles of physics hold that there is only a finite amount of energy available within a closed system.
So even though the Atheist may not have an intellectual objection to a material universe that is infinitely old, such an assumption smashes eventually against the hard wall of reality. However, seldom has that ever stopped anyone adamant about adhering to their favored delusions no matter what the evidence might say.
The next set of arguments for Atheism against belief in God center around a set of moral objections. All must confess these have crossed our minds at low points in each of our lives.
The most objective of these centers around the nature of goodness and God’s relationship to it. This argument was developed by Bertrand Russell (218).
The moral disproof for God states that good must result because either God decrees it or He does not. If good is good simply because God says it is and no one can argue against Him since He is the biggest guy on the cosmic block, good is not really good since God has willed it so arbitrarily. However, if God declares something good because of its own inherent nature or compliance with a standard beyond Himself, doesn’t that mean that the standard rather than God is ultimate? Thus, at best, God ends up being demoted to the status of Plato’s less than omnipotent demiurge.
Geisler counters, though, that this is really putting the ethical cart before the theistic horse. Geisler writes, “Rather than flowing from God’s arbitrary will, the moral law may be seen as rooted in God’s unchangeably good and loving nature, then the apparent dilemma is resolved (226).” Thus, good is something God is rather than something God decides or does. This brings to mind verses such as John 8:58 where God proclaims “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Other moral objections to the existence of God are a bit less ethereal and considerably more visceral and marked by the pain those leveling them have experienced or witnessed living here in an obviously fallen world. One such objection raised by Albert Camus in The Plague uses the backdrop of an epidemic to make the point that theism is inherently anti-humanitarian. The story posits the dichotomy that, if one assists the suffering, one is siding against God by interfering with the work of His judgment, and if one wants to be in His will and not stand in His way, one is therefore opposed to human well being (221).
Other related objections to God over the problem of evil dismiss His existence all together. A number of Atheists deny the existence of God on the grounds that, because people often suffer disproportionately to what they have done wrong, an all powerful and all good God does not exist. It is argued a God possessing these attributes would not allow evil. But because evil is rampant, that is proof that either God is not all powerful and cannot do anything about evil or that He is all powerful but does not do anything about the evil in the world because He is not good enough to care.
Though it is not always a comfort to someone that has befallen an overwhelming tragedy such as the murder of a loved one, the existence of evil does not by default disprove the existence of God. It does, however, toss the apologetic ball into the theist’s court to provide a plausible reason as to why an all-powerful and all-good God would allow suffering to exist.
Known as “theodicy”, these explanations attempt to reconcile the simultaneous existence of both God and evil. It is at this point that the theist must counter claim that the evil in the world is solvable or redeemable. The Christian especially can point out that God has indeed done something about the evil by sending His only begotten Son into the world to do something about this tragedy in the most personable of ways.
If the Atheist presses this objection too vigorously, the wily apologist ought to turn the argument back on his unbelieving compatriot. To even make the claim that God does not exist, because the world is not as good as we think it would be if He really did, is actually an indirect argument that He really does.
For to argue that things are not good enough is to assume some kind of standard exists beyond the earthly fray we find ourselves in. If this material universe was all there ever was, the highest good we could ever know is what we see around us and we’d be unable to criticize anything as the “is” automatically becomes the “ought” in such a context.
Yet there is a deep dissatisfaction that compels most human souls onward towards a better world. Romans 2:14-15 says, “…when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…”
Secondly, Atheists claiming disbelief in God because, in their view, He has not done enough to stop or prevent suffering in the world often want to have things both ways. These theophobes not only deny God over the imperfections they see in the world but then hypothesize that, if God existed, man would not be free because human freedom would be, as Geisler puts it, “circumscribed by his divine determination (231).”
However, it is because God loves us so much and respects us as individuals that in the vast majority of instances He does not directly interfere with most actions but rather permits their outcome to propel the world onward to His ultimate plan for all of His creation. Geisler writes, “If love is persuasive but never coercive, then allowing men to freely determine their own destiny would seem to be the loving way to make them (231).”
Unfortunately, some are in such a state of rebellion against God that they take this animus out on others. Foremost among such deeds would no doubt rank murder.
Some would respond that, if God really loved the innocent, He would intervene to prevent this crime. However, as C.S. Lewis hypothesizes in The Problem Of Pain, for our own benefit God has created a world that operates in the vast majority of instances by a series of repeatable and verifiable principles.
For example, according to this moral “steady-state theory”, I am able to pick up a knife to either slice a steak or slit my neighbor’s throat for the purposes of providing man with a rational world where we will not go mad. Faced with such, the Christian must embrace Romans 8:28 as a comfort in a world that often does not seem fair to our finite minds.
By Frederick Meekins