FATHERHOOD AND THE CASE FOR GOD
In her book, Why Me? A Doctor Looks at the Book of Job, Yale University Pediatrics Oncologist, Dr. Diane Komp, relates an experience of Rebecca Pippert. As a student in a college biology class, Pippert heard her professor, on the first day of the semester, say that humans are “merely a fortuitous concourse of atoms, a meaningless piece of protoplasm in an absurd world” (108). Later in the semester, the same professor exclaimed to the class that his daughter had run away to live with an older man. He said, “She will be deeply wounded. She will scar, and I can’t do anything to help.” Dr. Komp continues the story, “Pippert raised her hand and quietly asked how, according to [the professor’s] system of thinking, mere protoplasm could scar? ‘Touché,’ the professor responded. ‘I could never regard my daughter as a set of chemicals, never. I can’t take my beliefs that far’” (108-09).
The professor’s obvious contradiction reminds me of what Katharine Tait, the daughter of a prominent 20th century agnostic professor, says about her dad in the book, My Father Bertrand Russell. Professor Russell (1872-1970) was a free thinker and ardent opponent of Christianity as expressed in his essay, “Why I am Not a Christian.” The British mathematician and philosopher Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize and authored more than 40 books. His Beacon Hill School, 60 miles from London, was a free thought school where children had “absolute freedom of inquiry” (Tait 73). Katharine Tait says among the school’s most important aspects was “its sexual freedom . . . [freedom] to say anything . . . about sex, to ask any question and compare . . . without concealment. . . . [N]o topic was ever forbidden” (95). In his autobiography Russell says he and his second wife, Dora, began the school because “we disliked prudery and religious instruction and a great many restraints on freedom which are taken for granted in conventional schools” (233). However, Beacon Hill School is described by Russell’s daughter as a source of “grief” and “emotional disaster” (Tait 98-99).
In spite of his leanings toward atheism Russell believed that parents “must begin teaching the child with its very first breath that it has entered into a moral world” (59). The implicit contradiction should be obvious. C. S. Lewis refers to it in his book, Surprised By Joy, when he described his journey from atheism to Christianity: “I was at this time living like so many Atheists and Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions” (64).
Militant atheist Richard Dawkins implies this “whirl of contradictions” within atheism and antitheism when he says, “I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. . . . I am not saying how we humans ought to behave. . . . My own feeling is that a human society based simply on [evolution] the gene’s law of ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live” (2-3). The truth is Dawkins does not, nor does any other atheist, have a rational basis on which to advocate true objective morality, given the atheistic position. There can be no moral obligation without an ultimate absolute standard (i.e. God). Ralph Gilmore, in a 2016 debate held at The Ohio State University with Duke atheistic professor of philosophy Alex Rosenberg, explains:
Ravi Zacharias said, “While theoretically, a person may block God out, logically, there will be a break down because ultimately all enunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind.” If you are going to say that ‘this’ is better than ‘this.’ This is bad and this is good. If you are going to make any prescriptive judgements whatsoever, then at some point it has to occur to you that by what right do you make that judgement? “He should not have done that.” “She should have acted in a better way.” How do you make those judgements, if there is not a universal moral law? (Gilmore and Rosenberg 57)
If it is the case, as per Rebecca Pippert’s aforementioned professor, as well as professors Russell, Dawkins, Rosenberg, et al., that a human being is merely a concourse of atoms—a meaningless piece of protoplasm in an absurd world, then on what rational basis can any father tell his children that they are under real moral obligation to do anything?
Katharine Tait recalls how she once asked her father whether she should “sleep with an amiable young man of [her] acquaintance” (155). Bertrand Russell answered his daughter with the following:
Do you love him?
No. Not really.
Then, [you] shouldn’t. It’s best to save that for someone you love and not treat it lightly. (Tait 156)
“Do we have free will?” He said, “no,” writing philosophically; but he acted “yes” and wrote “yes” when his moral passions were engaged.
“Is there progress in the world?” He might say “no” and make fun of the sillier versions of it, but acted “yes” and based his life on the hope of it. (184)
When it comes to God, why is it that men think in one world while living in another? How can a man as a professor in a university advocate to the sons and daughters of other men the godless doctrine that implies they are nothing but a meaningless piece of protoplasm in an absurd world? However, when it comes to that same professor’s own sons and daughters, he cannot bring himself to say that they are merely a set of chemicals. He sees his own son or daughter as a great life of extreme value with conscience, will, and soul—a unique center of personality and loved unconditionally.
Men think in one world and live in another when they exchange “the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:24). Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, challenged the philosophers of Athens with the affirmation that God actually is not far from each one of us, because, perhaps quoting Epimenides, it is the case that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28). Katharine Russell Tait summarizes the story of her father: “Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it” (185).
Every father who is thinking rationally (i.e. in harmony with the law of rationality and all of the laws of logic) really does know that his child (son or daughter) is not a mere concourse of atoms or a meaningless piece of protoplasm in an absurd world. Fatherhood itself is a constituent element in the case for the existence of God.
I am not the brood of the dust and sod,
Nor a shuttled thread in the loom of fate;
But the child divine of the living God,
With eternity for my life’s estate.
I am not a sport of a cosmic night,
Nor a thing of chance that has grown to man;
But a deathless soul on my upward flight,
And my father’s heir in His wondrous plan.
As surely as I know of my own existence, and the existence of my own children (all with rational, moral, and spiritual capacity), I know that there is the existence of the ultimate, absolute, objective good (God). True fatherhood makes the case for God.
Charles C. Pugh III
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1976.
Gilmore, Ralph, and Alex Rosenberg. The Gilmore-Rosenberg Debate: Suffering, Morality, and the Existence of God. Vienna: Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 2017.
Komp, Diane M. Why Me? A Doctor Looks at the Book of Job. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001.
Lewis, C. S. “Surprised by Joy.” The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational P, 1987.
Russell, Bertrand. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. 1951. Boston: Little Brown/Atlantic Monthly, 1968.
Tait, Katharine. My Father Bertrand Russell. New York: Harcourt-Brace-Jovanovich, 1975.