Atheists Cannot Possibly Be Any Good

If you are an atheist — or at least find yourself sympathetic to those that claim to be — then you are most likely familiar with the term New Atheist. If you are not, it refers to a new type of skeptic who has emerged in the past several years, who not only believes there is no God but who is also particularly hostile to those who do.

Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying, ““I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils.” Likewise, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris describes religious faith as an “uncompromising misuse of the power of our minds” which “forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity,” and that being a man of perfect faith is “a terrible thing to be.”

What is particularly interesting about the new atheist is his unmistakable sense of moral outrage over faith. Faith is not something that is simply not preferable; no, it is wrong, even evil. But wrong based on what? In a world where there is no more than the observable universe, what meaning does right and wrong possibly have? To be sure, an atheist, if he is consistent, cannot possibly be any good, not because he is not able, but because good does not exist.

Think of it: If the atheism that Harris and Dawkins hold to is true, absolutely true, then it matters little how your neighbor chooses to live, or what they choose to believe.

But are we saying that atheists are not capable of being moral? Of course not.  To be clear (and somewhat repetitive), the atheist is just as capable of being kind and generous and courageous (and whatever virtue you wish to add) as the person who believes in God. What we are saying rather is that in a world where God does not exist, there is no good. In such a world, we can conform to any code of behavior we wish to define, whether it be based on our upbringing or evolutionary past. But ultimately, it is meaningless.

As an illustration, imagine a different world, where evolution on its unguided and indifferent evolutionary course bestowed us with very long necks, and also deposited within us the odd belief that holding our heads as high as possible was the right thing to do. And imagine that that was the extent of our understanding of what is “right.”

And just as in our world, there were many of us who believed holding one’s head high was right because there was an invisible entity who held his head higher than all of us, and it is what He wanted.

But others, more educated and enlightened, came to realize that there was no such entity. But when challenged, they insisted they were just as capable of holding their heads high as the rest of us, even better at it than some of their Entity-believing peers. Or, that holding one’s head to the side was actually the right thing to do — and they condemned those who did not.

Now I ask you: Would such claims of the long-necked enlightened have any meaning?

And yet, in our world, this is exactly what we see. The new atheist protests he does not need to believe in God to be good (hold his neck high). He also condemns faith as wrong and evil because it is the opposite of scientific rationalism (“holding one’s head to the side”). The one thing we do not observe the new atheist doing is the very thing that seems most logically consistent: Responding that whether he is capable of being good or not is irrelevant, since ultimately the moral pose we choose to assume is pointless.

Think of it: If the atheism that Harris and Dawkins hold to is true, absolutely true, then it matters little how your neighbor chooses to live, or what they choose to believe. Even the worst atrocity — induced by religious extremists or an atheistic regime — is merely an unwanted  exchange of matter and energy.

So what do you think? If there is no God, is there such a thing as moral standards? If so, how did they come about, and by want scientific means do we know they exist? If not, why should we choose to live in any manner that is virtuous or what one might call moral? Lastly, what is your moral code for living, and why? I welcome your comments.

Imagining Science

As I mentioned previously, the fact that the world around us is comprehensible, both rationally and mathematically, is astounding. But it is even more astounding that we are capable of comprehending it, if the widely-held belief of our modern age is true.

The belief I am referring to is best summed up by the words of renowned scientist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins: “There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural, creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe.” In fact, any belief in a supernatural (literally: “beyond the natural”) dimension to our existence is regarded by many in higher education as backward, superstitious, quaint, and — above all else — irrational.

The fact that the world around us is comprehensible, both rationally and mathematically, is astounding. But it is even more astounding that we are capable of comprehending it, if the widely-held belief of our modern age is true.

The reasoning behind such anti-supernatural sentiment seems to find its roots in the prevalence of scientific thought in our culture. The idea is that, since we have been doing this science thing for so long and have yet to find any evidence for the supernatural, belief in the supernatural is at best grossly unjustified. I have spoken elsewhere how science would come to no other conclusion, but let’s allow for the possibility of such a world that science (actually, scientific naturalism) envisions.

Imagine a world, as Dawkins describes, where there is nothing behind the material Universe. All that exists is matter and energy, operating according to the observable laws of nature, and nothing more.

Now imagine you are observing the Universe, particularly Earth, just before life began. You see a lifeless, turbulent planet where, at the microscopic level, molecules are interacting constantly. Suddenly,  by pure chance, a group of molecules find themselves arranged in such a manner that we would recognize as a building block of life. And, by further chance, that building block finds itself arranged with other by-chance building blocks in a way that we would recognize as the first primitive form of life. Now to be clear: It isn’t really life: It is simply a complex arrangement of molecules. For that is all there is. Life, after all, is a concept, merely a manner we use to describe lifeless matter arranged in a certain way and acted upon by unguided natural laws in a certain manner. That is, there is nothing beyond, or “out there,” making life what it is. Life is not real; matter is. Life is the term we simply use to describe some observable arrangements of matter. And so you recognize this by-chance arrangement of matter as fitting the description of what we call life.

So you  decide to keep your eye on this particular arrangement of matter. Over eons, you observe that, through a strange combination of ongoing chance and unguided processed, more arrangements appear like the first one, a phenomenon we have called “reproduction.” And further, with the same strange combination of chance and unguided processes, the exact configuration of the molecular arrangements begins to change, becoming more diverse, eventually finding itself in a state you recognize to be what we call complex life.

You marvel; you are elated! You are witnessing before your very eyes life evolve! But to be clear, you are not in actuality witnessing life evolve. You are not, because life does not exist, let alone evolve. All that exists is matter and energy acting according to observable scientific laws.

But you cannot help but watch, and as more eons pass, the arrangements change further, finding themselves by chance in ever-peculiar and diverse configurations, till eventually, as a whole, they take on a form that you, with shock, personally recognize: Human life. Thinking, Feeling, Rational Human Life.

But of course, it isn’t really  human life you are observing — nor, for that matter, is it thinking, or feeling or rational. For not only does life not really exist, neither does Thought or Emotion. Nor even, Rationality. These things do not exist because all that exists is matter and energy. Just as life is an illusion, the things we call thought, feelings, and rationality are as well. At best, they are mere descriptors for how molecules arrange themselves, or how they interact in a physical, natural world. And this must be so, for there is nothing beyond the physical, natural world, just as scientific naturalism claims.

And suddenly you realize with horror: You do not exist. Granted you, as simply a by-chance arrangement of molecules, do. But you — as a thinking, feeling, rational entity, who can achieve what we call understanding — do not. That does not mean of course you do not experience what we describe as thought, or feelings, or that you do not experience the belief in what you understand to be rationality. But that is the problem. If all that exists is the material universe, as scientific naturalism claims, that includes you. You therefore, on your very best day, are no more than a highly complex arrangement of molecules in constant interaction. Nor can you be otherwise. The part of you that thinks, feels, reasons, and has the capacity to understand — is an illusion.

No doubt, you struggle against such a realization (even if Dawkins does not). Not because you do not want it to be so, but because everything in you says it cannot be so — including the the you who affirms the claim of scientific naturalism. But the stark reality is that in order to possess understanding, you — at least the understanding part of you — must exist in a dimension beyond the material world, something which scientific naturalism denies.

Troubled by this dilemma, you decide to accept by faith that, although all that exists is confined to the natural, physical universe, your understanding does not. That it exists beyond the natural, and by definition, is super-natural. A supernatural reality you simultaneously deny.

And that, I argue, is faith in a miracle greater than Jesus rising from the dead.

So what do you think? Do you agree with Dawkins that “there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world”? If so, what is the phenomenon we call understanding and rationality? And if you believe there is a supernatural dimension to our understanding, how far does it extend? I welcome your comments.