The Impoverishment of Atheism
The Bible plainly teaches that the evidence for the existence of God is so plain and available that a man is a fool who reaches the conclusion that God does not exist (Psalm 19:1-4; Acts 14:17; Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Whether or not this man ever expresses his conviction to anyone else is irrelevant to his own miserable condition. If he says to himself that God does not exist, then the God who wrote the Bible declares this man a fool.
And yet some who reach the unenviable position of such irrational foolhardiness evidently, because of the way that they advocate their conclusion to others, think that there is some positive benefit to be had by subscribing to it. It is one thing to see in atheism only a curse. It is another thing to think that atheism somehow is a blessing. It would seem that depressed atheists would be more open to persuasion to the opposite viewpoint since it would lift their spirits. On the other hand, atheists who revel in skepticism would seem harder to convince that their doctrine is absurd.
Just here I want to make a few brief observations that indicate the absolute worthlessness of atheism. It has no value. It is not simply that it has a little of something good to offer; it has nothing. It is not simply a negative view that is wholly innocent in its nature, but it is seriously destructive in its complete makeup. And when men begin to publicly advance it not only as possibly helpful but as absolutely essential to human improvement and happiness on earth, the perverted use of such nonsense needs to be exposed.
The points that I will make will not be elaborated. They will simply be observed with but few comments, but the points are worthy of much consideration.
First, atheism provides no meaning or purpose to human living. Philosophers have throughout human history been wrestling with the problem of what life is all about. Atheism has absolutely no contribution to make. It is stuck between two impossible intellectual commitments: no Mind is responsible for our existence or that of anything whatever that exists. And at the other end of the spectrum, there is no destiny of the human spirit, because no human spirit exists either! So, everything is meaningless. When the searching spirit cries out for meaning, atheism at best can provide only a temporary fix. It has no answer, because there is no answer except that human life has no meaning.
Two, atheism provides no rational explanation for anything. All is the “product” of fluke, chance, and an impossible ontological situation. Not only is it the case that “out of nothing something comes,” but rather that “out of nothing everything comes!” Somehow, nothing is the grand ultimate provider of something. Philosophically, atheism is bankrupt!
Three, atheism has no explanation for the currently operative “laws of thought.” These “laws” that regulate all of human thinking have been discovered, isolated, and described. The law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of contradiction provide the intellectual capacity for human thought. And the essential thing is, that each law was in operation in every accountable human mind before any one of them was located. It is impossible to think without them, and you can only attack them or deny them by using them! Add to these, the “law of rationality” (the law which says that we ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence) and you have the basic mental framework for the whole of intellectual activity on earth. To deny them is to affirm them and to assail them is to use them! What is the explanation for such an arrangement that makes it rationally impossible to be irrational? Atheism has no answer, because it grounds all mental framework in mindless matter!
Four, atheism has no answer to the question of the origin of the human conscience. The conscience is that intellectual apparatus and feature of human personality that intuits moral law. It is that by which a man is able to grasp a moral distinction between “right” and “wrong.” The significance of right and wrong, to the human, is poised at the position of his conscience. If conscience can’t grasp it, the person cannot become morally accountable. To deny the existence and nature of conscience would be to deny human capacity to enter the domain of the moral. To admit the domain of absolute good and absolute evil is to admit the existence of the conscience. And to deny the absoluteness of moral right and of moral evil is to admit that nothing is wrong in any meaningful sense! And yet, no atheist wants to live in a world where everything is considered morally subjective, at least when it comes to how he himself should be treated!
Five, since atheism is a system that can only allow for subjective ethics, then it can provide absolutely no help in describing the way that humans ought to live. In fact, there is no “ought” to be sought; there is no moral obligation with which men should comply. Everything is “up for grabs.” It is “each man for himself,” in a “dog eat dog” world where no man’s opinion is worth any more than any other man’s opinion as far as an opinion’s capacity to reach the level of moral authority is concerned. An atheist cannot tell anyone how to live or the best way to live, given his atheism as the basis for his suggestion. He can only tell you how he wants you to live. Some atheists think that they can tell what makes for happier people and so ground their ethical suggestions on the metaphysical conclusion that a person should so live as to become the happiest by his course of living. Others might think that a person should so live as to make others happy or to make the greatest number happy. But this is a conclusion not based on atheism, and a conclusion that cannot be discovered as it oozes up out of the mud. A man might follow a course that makes him happy (at least to some degree), but whether or not such basis can be “the” basis of a planned life cannot be grounded in atheism.
Six, since atheism is reduced to the practice of living without meaning, it assails the dignity of man. Man has a nature, and it is complex. According to Scripture, man is composed of body, soul, and spirit. According to atheism, man is not composed. He is only body. His total makeup is like that of a pig. His brain somehow is more highly developed, but again this is all according to chance occurrence and the mindless program of organic evolution. But in the end, whether one has a man’s brain or a pig’s brain, a brain is a brain. And according to nature, there is no value to a man in principle that cannot at the same time be ascribed to a pig. We are all bound for death and that will end us all. Five dollars is, numerically speaking, greater than one dollar. But all dollars are still only dollars. The Bible teaches us of our kinship to God. That is what explains our rationality and our conscience and our purpose and meaning. Man, because of God, has value and dignity. Atheism attacks God and so attacks man. Even atheists who attempt to suggest a kind of ethical program in the hope of helping man, do so under the illusion that they are actually helping. Alcohol producers warn us to “drink responsibly” while producing the product that enslaves and destroys. When misguided atheists write books to help us live better, they do not realize what they are doing.
Seven, atheism cannot explain the continuing order of the universe. How is it that there continues to be an atmosphere in which even an atheist can live and move and have his being? Why does the world continue to exist? Why are the “laws” that science seeks to discover and explain constant as regulators of the affairs of this universe? How can science itself as a legitimate field or category of inquiry continue? It is because that certain “laws” are stable and regulative. And these laws continue. How could mindless matter give rise to the development of the scientific laws over the millions of years of suggested evolutionary development? How could chaos give rise to order and mud to mind given the evolutionary view of things? And how could things get “fixed” and settled as ongoing principles or laws of operation? What gives such laws any ontological status in the first place, to say nothing of why they continue, in the second? Atheism again has only the irrational mutterings of a man on philosophical dope. The management of the universe is as foreign to any offered atheistic explanation as is the origin of it!
Eight, atheism has no contribution to make to philosophy of history. Why has history gone the way that it has? Since atheism cannot explain anything, it certainly cannot explain why the course of human history has taken the form that it has. Of course, human history is a broad and complex field for human analysis, but there are certain principles that explain it to some degree. The progress of nations has always historically been based on whether or not the inhabitants followed the dictate provided in Genesis 1:28. Unless there was for some reason the need for personal divine penetration into human affairs, the side of history (progress in advancement in time) has always been on the side of the country or countries whose citizenry attempted to “subdue” the earth. Too, human character has played a part. Righteousness and sin still effect historical development. The rise and fall of nations entails the application of this truth (cf. Psalm 127:1; Proverbs 14:34). And of course, according to Scripture, the overall outline of human history has involved God’s management of human affairs so that men can be saved (Romans 9-11). If atheism has made a contribution to human history, it is only by means of its impediment to its advancement.
Nine, atheism doesn’t know what to do about truth! Truth as a concept is both metaphysical and eternal. It is not meshed into empirical facts but resides in an atmosphere of eternity and is attached to the person of God himself. No God, no ultimate truth! If atheists are correct, truth is of very recent origin. Facts have to do with events and states of affairs, with things that happen. Truth has to do with propositions. We can illustrate this way: It is a fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States. The statement that “George Washington was the first president of the United States” is true. This is basically the difference between a fact and truth. The concept of “truth” has to do with accuracy with regard to a claim. Fact has to do with what has occurred or exists in a non-propositional way. Given evolution, truth evolved about six to ten thousand years ago. When man first began to think, truth was created! If I were an atheist, I would spend more time on an explanation for the most recent arrival of “truth” on earth than with obsessing over a relatively “young earth” claimed by some religionists. Truth is a human invention, per atheism. And its value is simply that which humans choose to invest in it! Nothing more! This is why there can never be moral obligation for any man to become an atheist!
Ten, atheism provides no sufficient motivation to what it may consider human progress in morality. When atheists write books that attempt to give moral guidelines to other humans, since men are the highest species yet evolutionarily developed, then man is, in fact, the measure of all things. Shades of the Greek sophist, Protagoras! I would ask, however, which man is the measure of all things? Since all men can’t have their way all the time and live in human society, then who should get to have his way? There is no way for an atheist to prove that one atheistic road is better, morally speaking, than another. If one atheist chooses communism and another humanism, which atheist has the higher ground of authority? At one moment, it could be the one with the gun! At another moment, it might be that the better road (one with greater social appeal) was the one being suggested by the atheist without the gun. But since there is no metaphysical basis for any atheistic authority whatever, the claimant for the “better” moral road is without any evidence! At any given moment in history, either the communist or the humanist might have a message of enormous appeal, given the existing social conditions of the time, but neither kind of atheist could produce rational proof that one kind of atheism is better than another kind at all, ever!
Eleven, atheism has no way to provide for justice. Some atheists, no doubt, would be quite willing to cite the crimes of religion against mankind. And we would have to admit that the history of religion on earth has not always been pleasant to consider. There has been much evil perpetrated on people by religion. But not all religion is right. There is much wrong religion. There are many religions. And there is little right religion being practiced. Truth on earth has been rarely found and more rarely practiced. The religion of the Bible, however, does provide for ultimate justice in that it has a doctrine of accountability and justice. Men do in this life often “get away with murder.” But it is at best only temporary, according to Scripture, for a judgment day is coming. With atheism, however, all of the injustice that men get away with on earth, they get away with, period! Atheism cannot produce nor intellectually defend a system of justice.
Twelve, atheism has no way of really offering any meaningful hope to mankind. Some atheists do see themselves as men trying to “better” the human condition, and they do plan and hope for a “better” life on earth. But, in the final analysis, there is no basis for their suggested improvement and no reason to hope that things will, after all, get “better” for man in any really meaningful sense. And the “better” that they envision, they themselves realize is only “better” for a mere moment. It is true that the best religion can degenerate into awful and oppressive false religion. But atheism in spite of its—at times—“humane” motivation, cannot rise far above its basic evolutionary barbarity. The religion of Christ has been often perverted into enormous religious persecution, it is true, but such is the result of falling away from the truth. When atheism is practiced, however, the Godlessness that it advances undercuts any alleged attempt at making things better on earth. Better for whom? For how long? Even if it tries to make things “better” for all men, it can only attempt to make things better but for a moment. There is no lasting hope to atheism! And remember, there are no atheists after death. If atheism were true, then no atheist could survive death. He would no longer exist. But if atheism were wrong, then an atheist must become a theist when he dies! So, there can only be atheists now—not later. Atheism can only at best be of temporary function. It is no accident of association that atheism and degeneration are conceptually snug.
Thirteen, atheism has no way of satisfying the human spirit to the degree that God desires and to the degree that the properly functioning human spirit desires as well. Consider Isaiah 55:2; John 6:27; Acts 17:27; Matthew 5:6; Matthew 4:4. According to Scripture, man’s spirit flourishes on a certain kind of spiritual diet. And atheism simply cannot satisfy the hunger! The sad thing is that some atheists are still hungry, but they are attempting to fill their bellies with the husks that the swine did eat (cf. Luke 15:16). Some tasks can be performed on such food, but great work cannot be attempted, much less accomplished, on such diet. There is still a “balm in Gilead” and a physician is still there (cf. Jeremiah 8:22; Matthew 9:12; Luke 4:23). It is a shame when men die of a condition that was operable simply because they refused the doctor and his counsel. And how sad that hungry men will not fill up on that which alone can fill.
Atheism is a poverty stricken viewpoint of long and miserable history. There is no defense for it, there is no improvement by it (only in spite of it), and there is absolutely no future in it. It assails human nature, the nature of truth, the nature of value, the nature of explanation, the meaning or purpose of human life on earth, human morality, and human rationality. It attacks all of these things, and yet some atheists would have us look upon their impoverished offering as helpful insights into the way things really are. How utterly misguided any atheist must be! While we love the atheist, we despise his doctrine. With David of old, we too, declare that we hate every false way, and certainly atheism is a false concept. It is an impoverished concept, and the life it really does undergird is a sad and dangerous way.
Mac Deaver holds the MA in Philosophy of Religion and Christian Doctrine from Harding Graduate School of Religion. He has done additional graduate work at the University of Dallas. He earned the Ph.D. in Christian Apologetics from Tennessee Bible College studying under Dr. Thomas B. Warren. He may be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org