The Bankruptcy of Atheism


cropped-robgoodgravatar.jpgby Rob Lundberg


When you look at the title, you might be thinking, “Hey wait a minute Rob! What do you mean that atheism is a bankrupt worldview?” If you are an atheist reading this, welcome, and I hope you will indulge this post with the utmost of objectivity.  But the purpose of this post is to tackle this question from a fair and systematic approach.

Remember that if one can make a worldview look totally ridiculous, the chances are that the worldview has not been understood. My goal is not to show atheism as a ridiculous worldview. It is to show it’s flaws and its failures as a viable worldview.

One way is in the thinking that it is hard to win an atheist to believe in the existence of God and the become a follower of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh. The other way is to look at this from the angle of two words or phrases in the question, “atheism” and “ideologically bankrupt.”  This is the approach that I wish to take on this subject.  I will be referring to those in this post who have debated and written much on this subject, like Dr. William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias.

In order to start this presentation, I need to set forth some definitions and parameters and then show their applicability in demonstrating the impossibility of atheism. Let me say again that if you are a skeptic, an atheist, or embrace some form of skepticism, I want you to indulge this post, with an open mind and see if what I have presented makes any sense to you. I would like to respond to you and your questions.

Definitions Applicable to the Argument

Before getting into the applicational part of my argument I think it is important define some terms so that both sides who read this will understand where I am coming from. If there are any problems or questions to my argument, those challenges will most likely begin from this section.  What will do is define three terms: Theism and God, atheism, let’s not neglect impossibility and ideologically bankrupt.

Theisms and the idea of God.

Speaking to the subject of theism, theism comes from the Greek word theos (θεος) meaning God or a god. The word theism can be used to refer to either one exclusive God or it can refer to a belief in some or more gods. Linked with a preposition, we have beliefs in all kinds of different views of “God”:

a.  Monotheism,  the view that “one God” exists;

b.  Pantheism, the view that “all is God”;

c.  Polytheism, the view that there are “many gods.”

d.  Atheism, the assertion that there is “no God or gods.”   

So the theistic worldview is the one that maintains the existence of God.  The question is then what kind of God exists and whether the God that exists is personal or impersonal, infinite or finite, transcendent or semi-transcendent. Atheism says such a God does not exist.   For the purposes of this study, let’s streamline the view of God for our understanding.

In referring to God,  When we are using or defining “God,” for the purposes of this presentation and conversation, we are referring to One who is, the spaceless, timeless, immaterial, infinitely powerful, moral, personal, intelligent, sustainer, Creator and First Cause of the existence and Designer of the known universe. This is speaking, for our contexts, to both the existence and the essence of God, where God is the only entity in existence, the reason for whose existence is in Himself. . . the greatest of all possible Being.

Atheism:  When referring to atheism, I am speaking in general terms of the  the word atheos (αθεος) a – meaning “no” and theos (θεος) meaning “God.”  Combining the prefix with the root, theos, I am referring to a worldview which denies the existence of a personal, timeless, immaterial First Cause of the existence and design of the universe. 

There are various kinds of atheists[1] that might take issue with this definition, but this is the definition that is most basic for this discussion.

Impossibility: Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “impossibility as something that cannot be done or something that cannot occur; the quality or state of being impossible.”

When I refer to atheism being a bankrupt ideology, I am referring to it as an ideology that is worthless or devoid of any meaningful ideas. There might be an inference that the ideology *once* had some value, but not any more.

Now atheism will posit that theism or the belief in God is foolishness or absurdity, even delusional. However if we weigh in this definition of impossibility, I think we will find that it is more reasonable to believe that God may exist, rather than believing that God does not exist.  Let me move to my arguments on this.

The loudest impossibility for atheism, shows that it is logically flawed.

Atheism states that there is no being that exists that has absolute knowledge, is morally good, and all powerful.  Yet the atheist, in making such an assertion, is claiming that they have absolute knowledge and moral reasons to make the assertion that such a Being does not exist. This is what is call a violation of the law of noncontradiction.[2]

Atheism is ideologically bankrupt existentially in three major areas.

In looking at the term impossibility referring to atheism, another word interchangeable with this word, impossibility is the word absurdity. At this juncture, I am going to offer William Lane Craig’s excerpt from t his book, On Guard, where he offers the following on the absurdity of atheism.

About the only solution the atheist can offer is that we face the absurdity of life and live this life bravely. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, for example, believed that we have no choice but to build our lives upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” Only by recognizing that the world really is a terrible place can we successfully come to terms with life. [Albert] Camus said that we should honestly recognize life’s absurdity and then live in love for one another.

The fundamental problem with this solution is that it is impossible to live consistently and happily within the framework of such a worldview. If you live consistently, you will not be happy. If you live happily, it is only because you are not consistent.

Francis Schaeffer has explained this point well. Modern man, says Schaeffer, resides in a two-story universe. In the lower story is the finite world without God; here life is absurd, as we have seen. In the upper story are meaning, value, and purpose. Now modern man lives in the lower story because he believes there is no God. But he cannot live happily in such an absurd world; therefore, he continually makes leaps of faith into the upper story to affirm meaning, value, and purpose, even though he has no right to, since he does not believe in God.[3]

Speaking to this whole idea of when atheists speak of love, as theists we are not saying that atheists cannot love. As theists we are only positing that there is no altruistic form of love in the realm of atheism. If someone wants to contend this, they would find themselves having to borrow from the Christian worldview or as Frank Turek would say, “steal from God” in order to make their case for love. Where does love come from if God does not exist?

Continuing on, Craig then draws in three areas where life becomes absurd (i.e., impossible) without God. These areas involve the meaning of life, the value of life, and lastly the purpose of life. I will defer once again to Dr. Craig for the summation of each of these areas where he will show how difficult it is to live consistently and happily with an atheistic worldview. And once again, I will comment in between.

Meaning of Life

First, the area is meaning for life. We saw that without God, life has no meaning. Yet philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Jean Paul Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action. Sartre himself chose Marxism.

Now this is totally inconsistent. It is inconsistent to say life is objectively absurd and then to say you may create meaning for your life. This is inconsistent and violates the fundamental laws of logic.  If life is really absurd, then you’re trapped in the lower story. To try to create meaning in life represents a leap to the upper story. But Sartre has no basis for this leap. His program is actually an exercise in self-delusion.[4] For the universe doesn’t really acquire a meaning just because I happen to give it one. This is easy to see: Suppose I give the universe one meaning, and you give it another. Who’s right? The answer, of course, is neither one. For the universe without God remains objectively meaningless, no matter how we happen to regard it. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the universe has meaning.” And this is just fooling yourself.

The point is this: If God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless. But man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless. So in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.[5]

Value of Life

Let’s now turn to the problem of the value of life. This is where the most blatant inconsistencies occur. First of all, atheistic humanists are totally inconsistent in affirming the traditional values of love and brotherhood. Albert Camus has been rightly criticized for inconsistently holding both to the absurdity of life and the ethics of human love and brotherhood. The view that there are no values is logically incompatible with affirming the values of love and brotherhood. Bertrand Russell, too, was inconsistent. For though he was an atheist, he was an outspoken social critic, denouncing war and restrictions on sexual freedom. Russell admitted that he could not live as though ethical values were simply a matter of personal taste, and that he therefore found his own views “incredible.” “I do not know the solution,” he confessed.[6]

Here is the whole point of this ideological mess. If God does not exist, then objective right and objective wrong cannot exist either.  As Dostoyevsky said, “All things are permitted.” But man cannot live this way. So he makes a “leap of faith” and affirms some kind of value system anyway. And when he does so, he reveals the inadequacy of a world without God.

But no atheist, no agnostic, can live consistently with such a view. Friedrich Nietzsche himself, who proclaimed the necessity of living beyond good and evil, broke with his mentor Richard Wagner precisely over the issue of the composer’s anti-Semitism and strident German nationalism. Similarly, Sartre, writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, condemned anti-Semitism, declaring that a doctrine that leads to mass extermination is not merely an opinion or matter of personal taste of equal value with its opposite.

In his important essay “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” Sartre struggled vainly to elude the contradiction between his denial of divinely pre-established values and his urgent desire to affirm the value of human persons. Like Russell, he could not live with the implications of his own denial of ethical absolutes.  So if Russell could not live with the implications of his own denial of ethical absolutes, neither can the so-called “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris.

For although Dawkins pontificates, in his book River Out of Eden, “there is no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference,” he is a moralist despite the fact that he moralizes rejecting an absolute moral Lawgiver.  He vigorously condemns such actions as the harassment and abuse of homosexuals, religious indoctrination of children, the Incan practice of human sacrifice, and prizing cultural diversity over the interests of Amish children. He even goes so far as to offer his own amended Ten Commandments for guiding moral behavior, all the while marvelously oblivious to the contradiction with his ethical subjectivism.[7]

Indeed, one will probably never find an atheist who lives consistently with his system, let alone live out the path of their atheism to its fundamental conclusion. For a universe without moral accountability and devoid of value is unimaginably terrible.

Purpose of Life

Finally, let’s look at the problem of purpose in life. The only way most people who deny purpose in life, and seek to live happily, is either by moving themselves toward some self-utopian purpose—which amounts to self-delusion, as we saw with Sartre—or by not carrying their view to its logical conclusions. The temptation to invest one’s own petty plans and projects with objective significance and thereby to find some purpose to one’s life is almost irresistible.

For example, the outspoken atheist and Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Weinberg, at the close of his much-acclaimed book The First Three Minutes, writes,

It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that somehow we were built in from the beginning.… It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

There’s something strange about Weinberg’s moving description of the human predicament: Tragedy is not a neutral term. It expresses an evaluation of a situation. Weinberg evidently sees a life devoted to scientific pursuits as truly meaningful, and therefore it’s tragic that such a noble pursuit should be extinguished. But why, given atheism, should the pursuit of science be any different from slouching about doing nothing? Since there is no objective purpose to human life, none of our pursuits has any objective significance, however important and dear they may seem to us subjectively. They’re no more significant than shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.[8]

Conclusion

In conclusion, as we examine much of Craig’s summation on the absurdity of atheism, we see that atheism posits no meaning, no value, and no purpose at the end of life. But is that all?

Hardly, for if God does not exist, there is nothing but an eschatological horror of epic proportions for the atheist who leaves this life without God. For with the lack of meaning, value, and purpose there comes two more impossibilities of no hope and no recovery.

If there is no meaning, no value and no purpose, there can be nothing to hope for. That said, Christian hope is not a blind hope, but one that is based upon the history in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, His death, burial and resurrection.

But even worse, there is the fact that if God does exist, and there is a soul which survives after this life, the consequences are horrific for the soul that rejected God.

What do I mean?  The worse thing for the atheist is to be confronted with the fact that a loving God gave them their wish in their earthly life, and will grant them their wish in an eternal realm, separated from Him. Although atheists would like to deny the final testimonies of their dying comrades, I would like to illustrate a third party source, the daughter of Josef Stalin. 

Ravi Zacharias, in his book “Can Man Live Without God” summarizes it this way, 

A story I heard personally from Malcolm Muggeridge (that stirred me then and still does even yet) was his account of a conversation he had with Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin. She spent some time with Muggeridge in his home in England while they were working together on their BBC production on the life of her father. According to Svetlana, as Stalin lay dying, plagued with terrifying hallucinations, he suddenly sat halfway up in bed, looked up with a look of horror, clenched his fist toward the heavens once more, fell back upon his pillow, and was dead.[9] 

Although experiences are very real, they are not a full test for truth. It is not my intent to make this my final knock out argument. But is only to say, that one’s flesh, left to itself without the acknowledgement of God, has no real meaning, no real value, and no real hope. With these three, if there is a God; and I believe that there is; there is no true hope, and in the final day, there is no recovery.  This is why I believe it is part of this ministry’s mission to reach those who do not believe and maybe have no intention on believing, with the hopes to reach them with real hope, real meaning, real purpose, real value, so that they will not need to grope for a recovery, when one has been given them. The answer is to reconcile themselves to the God they reject.

This is why I believe that atheism is truly a bankrupt worldview.

Notes

[1] The general use of the term atheist, vis-a-vis atheism, is being used to cover all the various types that are out there ranging from practical atheists, implicit atheists, strong/weak atheists, anti-theists, apatheists, agnostics, secular humanists, free thinkers, etc.  So that we are not misrepresenting atheism, we are going right to the sources. This list comes from the Arguments for Atheism: What is Atheism? page.

[2] The law of noncontradiction states that you cannot have a statement that is both true and false at the same time. Atheism violates in making the claim that it has absolute knowledge that there is not supreme being with absolute knowledge.

[3] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending our Faith with Reason and Precision. David C. Cook Publishers: Colorado Springs, 2010: 39. (See http://www.cbn.com/special/apologetics/articles/Practical-impossibility-of-atheism.aspx).

[4] A delusion is believing something that is not true or proven to be false. If meaning is independently created, then what one may find meaningful in life as opposed to another one’s way of finding meaning for life may be the same, totally different or polar opposites. The meaning of life is one of man’s ultimate pursuits to find real happiness. But delusions cannot satisfy nor can they bring happiness.

[5] Craig, 39-40.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), p. 26.

5 comments

  1. I don’t really have time to respond to this in detail although I’m quite happy to if you drop me an email.

    I would say I’m summary you’re terribly confused, atheism is neither a worldview
    nor ian ideology, it’s a specific position on a specific question, that’s all.

    Also, your definition of atheism as a positive assertion is not one that I would subscribe or recognise, I understand why it suits your purposes to attempt to shift the burden of proof but no dice.

    Happy to chat more anytime

  2. Paul, thank you for commenting. I am not sure where you are getting your definitions for “worldview” and “ideology” I think your definition of atheism being a “a specific position on a specific question” is a lazy explanation, not wanting the burden of proof for explaining why there is no God. Please convince me that there is no God and I will concede. I am sure that if you can prove your position it will be convincing to where I will want to be embracing the truth. Would you not agree with that? However, I am very, even absolutely sure you will not be able to do that. 😉

    1. Thanks.

      I offer no explanation as to why there is no God because that’s not my assertion, I have no belief in a God or Gods, that’s an entirely different position. An Atheist one actually.

      I am not making a positive claim. My declaration that such and such a god does not exist is NOT THE SAME as asserting that no god exists, unless and until you understand that then you’re not going to get off first base.

      I realise (now) that you’ve written a completely separate article on the topic of the definition of Atheism so maybe I shouldn’t go deep on this here and frankly it’s immaterial anyway to the main points .

      Which are your whole piece is built on the false premise of Atheism as an ideology, it isn’t, let me repeat it is a specific position on a specific question.

      Atheism has no doctrine, dogma, framework, teaching or theory, many aethists share a common worldview, some do not.

      Your whole piece is a stawman that you proceed to demolish with a long list of bald ass assertions, none of which stand up to critical examination.

      My life has meaning, value and purpose without any need for the supernatural to insert itself.

      I’m sorry that you’re unable to free yourself of the tryanny of your ideology (which most definitely is an ideology) and find meaning without the need for instruction and threat but I can assure you sir that I have no need of that hypothesis..

      Thanks

      1. P: “I offer no explanation as to why there is no God because that’s not my assertion, I have no belief in a God or Gods, that’s an entirely different position.”

        If you have no belief in a God or Gods, I will grant that is an atheistic position by the definition of atheism. But I am going to assume that you are not an atheist in classical sense of the definition of term, supported by The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I will assume that you are anti-theistic, based blind reasons for rejecting God, much like Christians with lame faith believing in God, and saying that they don’t need reasons to believe.

        When I refer to atheism as a worldview, I am basing it upon the fact that every worldview answers four major questions: origin (where do we come from), meaning (why are we here, and what is the purpose for our existence), morality (what is the source of right and wrong, and is there anything wrong with anything) and destiny (is there something after this earthly existence is done?). Those who profess to be atheists have answers to these questions as well. I am pretty sure you seek to live your live in a willy nilly manner, you have answers to these questions to I am sure.

        P: I’m sorry that you’re unable to free yourself of the tryanny of your ideology (which most definitely is an ideology) and find meaning without the need for instruction and threat but I can assure you sir that I have no need of that hypothesis.

        This is a rather sorry assertion. I am not under any tyranny. I am free to live my life as a means of worship to the One (you reject) who has set me free from the burden of trying to eak out a life that would be purposeless without Him. If I am under any bondage, it is only under servitude and gratitude that I have been redeem by Christ. I hope you find that as well.

        I am not living my life under blind assertions. I have investigated the religions, and find that historical Christianity, when it is fully understood, answers life’s questions.

        Ciao

  3. Thanks , I have recently been searching for info about this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve found out till now. But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?

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