Take atheism for a test drive!
It’s time to take atheism for a test drive…a spin around the block!
Contrary to common atheist rhetoric, the Christian Bible encourages people to logically scrutinize everything, rather than to accept things based upon blind faith. As 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (in the Christian Bible) puts it, “Test all things; hold fast to that which is good.“
And, as 1 Peter 3:15 puts it, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
The misperception that atheism is based upon logic, and that Christianity is based upon blind faith, is the result of a deceptive definition of faith. Specifically, atheists frequently portray Christian faith as blind faith, as opposed to well reasoned faith. Atheists try to shield their faith from logical scrutiny by portraying Christianity as blind faith, but atheism as non-faith. But this is just a smokescreen. As the Christian apologist and Oxford University mathematician John Lennox puts it:
“Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”
In fact, it is impossible to live without faith. It is just a question of what one chooses to place their faith in. For example, no person can know for certain that their employer will continue to provide a paycheck. And yet, the vast majority of people who have jobs continue to go to work based upon the well reasoned faith that their employers will continue to pay them. No person who fails to make this leap of faith will keep their job for very long.
Atheism is based upon the faith that everything can be explained in terms of matter….such as atoms and molecules. This is the philosophical view known as materialism. Conversely, theism is based upon the faith that everything can be explained in terms of a creative mind (God).*
The real world is the testing ground for worldviews
In order to determine which of these faiths is the more well reasoned faith, one needs to subject both faiths to some testing. And when it comes to testing worldviews, it is the real world which serves as the testing ground.
As it turns out, materialism fails to explain several crucial aspects of reality:
If materialism is true, you don’t exist!
Philosophers Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro cite the concept of what constitutes a person held by two of the most prominent atheist figures of the last 50 years, the astronomer Carl Sagan and the biologist Francis Crick, in their book Naturalism. Sagan writes:
“I am a collection of water, calcium, and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label. But is that all? Is there nothing in here but molecules? Some people find this idea somehow demeaning to human dignity. For myself, I find it elevating that our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we are. But the essence of life is not so much the atoms and simple molecules that make us up as the way in which they are put together.” (Sagan 1980, 105)
Crick (as cited in Goetz and Taliaferro) holds a virtually identical view of what constitutes a person:
“The Astonishing Hypothesis is that ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior or a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice [in Wonderland] may have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’ This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people alive today that it can be truly called astonishing.” (Crick 1994, 3).
Please note how Crick places the word You in quotation marks in order to highlight his belief that human persons do not really exist in any meaningful sense, because humans are really nothing more than complex bundles of matter. According to atheist biologist Richard Dawkins,
“We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.”
But how could a “survival machine” determine truth? Making a truth judgement is a voluntary mental process, not a chemical or mechanical process such as digestion or a bodily reflex. Regarding this point, Nancy Pearcey writes in her book Finding Truth:
“Materialism reduces thinking to biochemical processes in the brain, akin to the chemical reactions in digestion. But digestion is not something that can be true or false. It is just a biological fact. If thinking is reduced to brain processes, then our ideas are not true or false either. But in that case, how can the materialist know that materialism is true? The philosophy is self-refuting.”
Materialism cannot explain private, first person experience
If one stops to think, what is truly astonishing is that anyone could accept a concept of human persons as absurd as that endorsed by atheists such as Crick, Sagan, and Dawkins. How can a “collection of water, calcium, and organic molecules” (in Sagan’s words) be an experiencer of an experience (or, put another way, the subject of a first-person, subjective experience)? Why would one arrangement of “water, calcium, and organic molecules” produce a first-person, subjective experience…whereas another such arrangement does not? Further how can “a pack of neurons” have a “sense of identity and free will” (in Crick’s words)? As Oxford University philosopher Colin McGinn deftly puts it:
“The problem with materialism is that it tries to construct the mind out of properties that refuse to add up to mentality.”
Michael Egnor elaborates on how it is absurd to suggest that a bundle of molecules can have a private, subjective experience:
“Restricted access means that I, and only I, experience my thoughts first-hand. I can choose to describe them to others, and others may be able to explain better than I some of the ramifications of my thoughts, but only I experience them. Even a lie-detector machine or a functional MRI doesn’t permit other people to experience my thoughts; they are merely material expressions of my brain activity, akin to speech. This is entirely unlike matter. I know the brain anatomy (matter) of my patients much better (usually) than they do. I know what their brains look like, whereas they have never actually seen them. Yet I have no first-hand experience of their thoughts, no matter how well I know their brain. We each have absolute restricted access to the experience of our own thoughts. Matter does not have this property, and therefore matter cannot be the entire cause of our thoughts.”
J.W. Wartick explains skillfully explains the absurdity of the belief that a material thing (a bundle of molecules) can add up to a person:
“On what basis can a materialist affirm that I, J.W., am the same subject now as I was 20 years ago? All my matter has been replaced. There is no material component of me which is the same as it was back then. Yet my experience tells me that I am the same subject.
How can materialists account for this?
One possibility is that they can simply point out that I am numerically identical to my past self. Although the individual pieces of matter which comprise me are not the same as they were 20 years ago, they were replaced only in portions, during which my body endured as a totality.
The difficulty with this scenario is that it only serves to underscore the problems with materialism. Imagine a mad scientist, who, over the course of a day, cuts my brain into 24 pieces. Each hour, he removes one piece of my brain and places it into another body, which has no brain. He simultaneously replaces the piece of brain with an exact molecular copy. After the day, there is a body which has my brain in it, and my body, which has a copy of my brain in it. Which is me? And, if that question can be answered on materialism (which I doubt), when did my body/brain cease being me and transfer to the other body/brain?
Materialism simply cannot answer these questions. The worldview is baffled by them. Yet in order for something to be a subject, it must endure through time. On materialism, I have not endured through time at all. My entire being–from my fingers to the hairs on my head to my brain–is material, and has been replaced by new material. Where am ‘I’”?
Philosopher J.P. Moreland explains how the mind cannot be explained as a lump of matter (the human brain), because mental states have several characteristics which are not shared by matter, in his book The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters:
(1) there is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to having a mental state such as a pain (e.g., we can easily tell a pain from a feeling of joy, since the two experiences are qualitatively different);
(2) many mental states have *intentionality—of-ness or about-ness directed towards an object (e.g., I can have a thought about a cat or of a lake);
(3) mental states are inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them;
(4) mental states require a subjective ontology—that is, mental states are necessarily owned by the first-person subjects who have them (only I can possess my thoughts; no one else can);
(5) mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location, being composed of parts) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language (my thoughts have no physical dimensions, no physical location, and aren’t made of simpler building blocks).
Materialists cannot live as if materialism is true
Although they often declare otherwise, atheists clearly believe in objective morals such as “it is wrong to commit genocide” or “it is wrong commit rape.” An atheist may try to deny objective morality, but, for example, one would be hard pressed to find an atheist who doesn’t think that the statement, “I have the right to freely choose my own beliefs, rather than having them imposed upon me by a state sponsored church” is objectively true. Philosopher William Lane Craig explains why materialism cannot account for morality:
“…if there isn’t any God to issue commandments to us, then why think that we have any moral duties? On the atheistic view, human being don’t seem to have any moral obligations to one another. For example, in the animal kingdom, if lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra but it doesn’t murder the zebra. If a great white shark copulates forcibly with a female, it forcibly copulates with the female, but it doesn’t rape the female, for there is no moral dimension to these actions. None of these things is prohibited or commanded; they are neither forbidden nor obligatory. So if God doesn’t exist, why think that we have any moral obligations? Who or what imposes such prohibitions or obligations upon us? Where do they come from? It is hard to see why moral duties would be anything more than the illusory by-products of social and parental conditioning.
So, admittedly, certain actions like incest and rape have become taboo in the course of human evolution, but on atheism that does absolutely nothing to show that such actions are really wrong. Activity that looks like rape and incest goes on all the time in the animal kingdom. So the rapist who chooses to flout the herd morality is really on atheism doing nothing more than acting unfashionably; he is like the man who violates the social conventions by belching loudly at the dinner table. If there isn’t any moral law giver then there isn’t any moral law that imposes itself upon us.”
George Orwell coined the term “doublethink” in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four to describe the practice of accepting two contradictory beliefs as both correct. An article by faithdefenders.com elaborates on how materialists cannot live as if atheism is true, and therefore engage in what amounts to doublethink:
“Materialists cannot logically believe in ‘love,’ yet they fall in love and marry. They cannot believe in ‘mind,’ yet they cannot avoid using ‘mind’ terminology in their speech when referring to themselves or others. They believe that man is a random swarm of non-rational atoms no different than stones, yet they value people and relationships—they do not treat their children or mates as random atoms. What they say in the classroom is therefore contradicted by how they live in the home. They experience the mystery and beauty of this world and man while denying that such things exist.”
Materialism cannot account for truth itself
If nothing exists but inanimate matter, as atheism insists, then there can be no such thing as truth. This is because a truth is immaterial and abstract, not material. Material things like molecules and rocks can neither be true nor false. Philosopher Douglas Groothuis deftly explains:
“Materialism is the worldview of American elites, especially in education and the sciences. Materialism melts under scrutiny, however—just like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Consider one reality it cannot explain: truth.
What is a statement in the philosophical sense? A statement affirms or denies something to be the case. John Coltrane played saxophone indicates a state or affairs; thus, it is a statement. However, Did John Coltrane play saxophone? is a question and not an affirmative statement. John Coltrane played the saxophone may be uttered in French or Arabic; it may be written in English or Albanian; it may be thought by you right now or by me right now; it could be communicated through sign language or through Morse Code. But how can the same idea be cognitively expressed in so many ways when those means of expression differ so dramatically? The sound of John Coltrane played saxophone in English is vastly different from that statement in Amharic [a language spoken in Ethiopia]. Nevertheless, all these acoustic blasts, inscriptions, and thoughts mean the same thing. How could that be?
The answer is that there is more to a statement than its physical or mental expression. Every statement affirms a proposition, which is the meaning of the statement. Only this reality of propositions can explain the unity of meaning in the diversity of forms of presentation. Since a proposition is not identical to any statement for which it is the meaning, propositions are not material, spatial objects. In fact, they are called abstract objects in the philosophical literature.
…Materialism cannot abide abstract objects, since they are not material.”
Regarding this point, please also see R.P. Ritchies’s post titled The Single Best Argument Against Philosophical Materialism.
*Stephen C. Meyer holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University. He explains this difference in faith (or worldview) between atheism and theism in his book Signature in the Cell:
“Since the time of the ancient Greeks, there have been two basic pictures of ultimate reality among Western intellectuals, what Germans call a Weltanschauung, or worldview. According to one worldview, mind is the primary or ultimate reality. On this view, material reality either issues from a preexisting mind, or it is shaped by a preexistent intelligence, or both…This view of reality is often called idealism to indicate that ideas come first and matter comes later. Theism is the version of idealism that holds that God is the source of the ideas that gave rise to and shaped the material world.”
“The opposite view holds that the physical universe or nature is the ultimate reality. In this view, either matter or energy (or both) are the things from which everything else comes. They are self-existent and do not need to be created or shaped by mind….In this view matter comes first, and conscious mind arrives on the scene much later and only then as a by-product of material processes and undirected evolutionary change. This worldview is called naturalism or materialism.”