Worldviews-Atheism

by Matt Lefebvre

If you are wondering what a worldview is, you might want to read the introduction to this series before reading this article.

What do Atheists believe?

Greek Philosopher Epicurus

From the name, it might just seem to be the simple belief that God does not exist.  This is indeed accurate, but in denying the existence of God, which has been affirmed in some form or another throughout recorded history and is the majority view still today, it leads us to ask what is believed in lieu of God.  I have mentioned in regard to other worldviews approximately when they were founded, but this is not so simple with atheism, because it is the denial of belief.  Indeed, some of the Greek philosophers denied that the gods of Greek myths existed, but a renewed rejection of the Divine came about around the 15th century when the invention of the printing press made the writings of Greek and Roman philosophers more readily available.  Through this, some were sparked toward a greater awareness of God’s Word, but others pursued more humanistic themes.  On that note, it may serve to do a little definition of terms, as this was a time when there were various views concerning God, but not necessarily outright rejection until the 19th century, when the theory of evolution caused some who might have previously been classified as deists to feel they had found an adequate explanation of life without an intelligent Creator.  Deists believe in the transcendence of God as in theism, but deny His immanence.  God for the deist is the ultimate cause of the universe, but is subsequently uninvolved.  An agnostic, a term coined by T.H. Huxley, is someone who believes that there is insufficient evidence to say whether God exists or not.  A functional atheist is someone who is apathetic toward God’s existence or non-religious in the sense of not having any religious affiliation.  An atheist is someone who says that there is sufficient evidence to say that God does not exist.  These last three could also be described as secularists, because they do not invoke God in aspects of life as an explanation or source of anything.  However, I will be focusing on atheists, who sometimes prefer the term naturalist because it describes what they believe, rather than what they do not.  A naturalist believes that matter is all there is and that there is nothing beyond the natural, or in other words, no supernatural.  There is no Being behind the universe, and by implication, no miracles.  The world is what it is and all that exists is the universe itself, which we can discover by rational inquiry and scientific exploration (based on Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.182-185).

  1. Origin-As stated above, the naturalist denies the existence of God in any form, monotheistic or otherwise.  The prevailing belief prior to the 20th century was that the universe had existed eternally; that matter, in one form or another, is all there has ever been.  According to Carl Sagan, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (Cosmos, p.4).  Modern scientific advances have, however, caused many naturalists to rethink their theories.  They still maintain that matter is all that exists, but with the advent of Big Bang cosmology, many now have attempted to incorporate the view that the universe had a beginning into their naturalistic theories.  Along with this is the belief in evolution by natural selection.  The apparent design in the universe is attributed, not to a Divine intelligence, but to impersonal forces in the universe and the earth specifically.  In reference to evolutionists, geneticist Richard Lewontin says that they “have a prior commitment, a commitment to naturalism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (Billions and Billions of Demons in The New York Review, p.31).  There are those who are honest enough to express that they do not know how the universe came into existence, but like Lewontin, they are sure it has nothing to do with God.
  2. Meaning-For the naturalist, humans are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process.  Somewhere along the line of random mutation and natural selection the human species became aware of its existence to the point of being able to think in the way that we are doing now.  Consciousness and personality are the result of chemical and physical processes and we are effectively highly developed machines that are more highly developed than other species.  Being the result of randomness and impersonal forces, there is no overarching purpose.  Religion is thus unhelpful at best, keeping people from facing the problems squarely, and solving the problems through reason and science (James Sire, The Universe Next Door, p.65-68, Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.185-187).  Whatever purpose there may be is what we make for ourselves by virtue of our highly developed evolutionary status as a species.
  3. Morality-Secularists believe the man is basically good and that there is no absolute standard of morality (Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions, p.186).  The atheist does not need such a standard to be moral, but morality is in fact relative.  Morality is determined, still very much in line with the theory of evolution, by the consensus of society.  Some things are socially taboo and thus disadvantageous, but there is nothing morally objectively wrong in society.
  4. Destiny-Coming to what James Sire describes as “perhaps, the ‘hardest’ proposition of naturalism for people to accept, yet it is absolutely demanded by the naturalists’ conception of the universe.” (The Universe Next Door, p.67), death is the extinction of the individual.  There is no hope of a naturalist afterlife or some continued existence.  At death, the machine, as described above, stops working and there is nothing more to be said.  Any hope is right now in the moment, so as humans, we need to make the most of this life.

How coherent is the Atheist worldview?

  1. Logical consistency-This worldview is undoubtedly one that prides itself on reason and scientific enquiry, sticking with only the facts, defending it to the death.  However, in some of the most fundamental questions of life, the best naturalists can answer is “This is just the way it is” or “I’m sure we’ll figure it out someday”.  Sagan says that there is nothing but matter or the cosmos, but as Norman Geisler and Frank Turek point out, “‘nothing-but’ statements imply ‘more than’ knowledge.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.60).  On the question of the universe being eternal or having a beginning, they will accept anything except a Divine Foot.  However, philosophically postulating an infinite number of material things is against both common sense and scientific discovery, as we will see below.  On the question of the beginning of life, the answer is that something must have happened, and even though they claim to know the kind of event it must have been, theories and experiments to recreate it have been unsuccessful to this point.  However, this is also counter intuitive, for impersonal forces do not bring anything into existence.  Evolution is a mechanism for after things get going and life has started, but not before.  As far as the place of humans,

    Dr. William Lane Craig

    William Lane Craig has some insightful thoughts, after quoting Paul Kurtz: “’the discoveries of Copernicus and Darwin . . . have [undermined] the belief that we are fundamentally different from all other species.’ He muses that ‘many [people] still refuse to accept the full implications of these discoveries.’ They ‘still seek to find a special place for the human species in the scheme of things.’ Kurtz is doubtlessly thinking of theists. Ironically, however, it is precisely humanists themselves who seek to find a special place for the human species in the scheme of things, who refuse to accept the full implications of reducing human beings to just another animal species. For humanists continue to treat human beings as morally special in contrast to other species.” (Reasonable Faith, p.174).  It seems as though it is in fact the naturalists who are not taking their evolutionary beliefs to the “natural” conclusions.  There is also something to be said of their opinions on morality.  Of course, if matter is all that exists, there is no adequate basis for morality, so then, no matter how heinous a crime or an injustice, there is no way that a naturalist can say that an act is objectively wrong; only socially taboo or evolutionarily disadvantageous.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it thinks too much of man.  In Nazi Germany, it was not socially unacceptable to persecute Jews and other so-called outcasts of society.  We cannot say that anything done there was wrong on an atheistic point of view.

  2. Factuality-There are various scientific issues with the naturalistic worldview that either cause atheists to postulate things they do not really believe to be the case or acknowledge the possibility of something being beyond the universe. On the question of the origin of the universe, they tend to either cling to the belief in the eternal universe, contrary to modern scientific discoveries such as the expansion of the universe, the second law of thermodynamics, and Einstein’s theory of general relativity, or they end up saying that the universe brought itself into existence out of nothing.  Geisler and Turek rightly bring this to its logical conclusion.  “Either someone created something out of nothing (the Christian view), or no one created something out of nothing (the atheistic view).  Which view is more reasonable?  The Christian view.  Which view requires more faith?  The atheistic view.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.26).  With the belief, and it is a belief, that the universe caused itself to exist goes the belief that there was something before the Big Bang, but nothing really means nothing and not some form of something.  Furthermore, what about the naturalistic understanding of the origin of information, order coming from disorder?  DNA is complex by anyone’s reckoning and yet, it must have arisen by natural processes on the atheistic worldview.  Former atheist Antony Flew records his experience of being shown the fallacy of the oft-quoted “monkey theorem”, the idea that monkeys banging away on keyboards could eventually end up writing a Shakespearean sonnet.  “Schroeder first referred to an experiment conducted by the British National Council of Arts. A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys. After one month of hammering away at it (as well as using it as a bathroom!), the monkeys produced fifty typed pages — but not a single word. Schroeder noted that this was the case even though the shortest word in the English language is one letter (a or I). A is a word only if there is a space on either side of it. If we take it that the keyboard has thirty characters (the twenty-six letters and other symbols), then the likelihood of getting a one-letter word is 30 times 30 times 30, which is 27,000. The likelihood of getting a one-letter word is one chance out of 27,000.” (There Is A God, p.76).  I could also mention again the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and the origin of the Christian faith, which makes naturalism’s rejection of the miraculous untenable if the resurrection actually did happen in history.  Other examples could be cited, but the point is that for a belief system that is supposedly only concerned with the facts, there are certainly a lot of gaps.  Theists are often accused of using “God of the gaps” as an argument and saying that God must have done whatever we do not yet understand about the universe.  However, I hope I have sufficiently pointed out that there are things we do know about the universe that are inconsistent with naturalism, without any reference to God.
  3. Viability-Some might think it initially freeing to not have belief in God.  After all, you can feel a sense of control and autonomy.  You finally have your chance to make a difference in the world, making the most of the short life that you have.  As exciting as that may sound to some people, it takes for granted that life without God is practically impossible for a number of reasons, as Ravi Zacharias points out.  “…if, indeed, man was the measure of all things, someone had to determine ‘which man.’” (Can Man Live Without God, p.xiv).  Atheism rejects the God of theism, but I still consider God to be necessary, whether you believe in Him or not, because something will always take the place of “god” in a person’s life.  It is not that there is no god in a person’s life, but it is just that something (the society) or someone (the individual) takes that position.  In the case of morality, it is not that there is no sense of morality, but just that it is not considered to be absolute or finding its source in the all-loving, good God of Christian Theism.  Man is now the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong, but on what can this be based from his limited perspective?  More often than not, the definition of what is right is what the majority wants, so basically what is becomes nearly indistinguishable from what should be.  Lurking behind all this is the evolutionary aspect to society, as naturalists see it.  They say they do not need God to be good.  They live morally anyway and for the most part have similar values to the Christian worldview.  A few things could be mentioned in regard to this.  Ravi Zacharias states, “Any antitheist who lives a moral life merely lives better than his or her philosophy warrants.” (Can Man Live Without God, p.32).  The evolutionary worldview is based on survival of the fittest and is red in tooth and claw.  “An ethic of moral autonomy and individual rights, so important to secular liberals, is incapable of sustaining and nourishing values such as altruism and self-sacrifice.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, p.212).  Copan also catches Dawkins in his discussions on morality in The God Delusion.  Copan observes that “…Dawkins is helping himself to the metaphysical resources of a worldview he repudiates.” (Is God a Moral Monster?, p.210).  The West is built on biblical values, so naturally, those in such societies do not differ too drastically.  However, it could also be said that it is not that people cannot be good without belief in God, for there are moral atheists, and what is more, immoral Christians, but the belief is not that we are good because we believe in God, but rather that God has created us with a conscience, an innate sense of right and wrong.  Though not exhaustive or specific, there is a general sense of the fact that some things are just wrong and we know it.  What about the belief that humans are basically good?  Ravi Zacharias is again insightful.  “Any philosophy that has built its social structure assuming an innate goodness finds its optimism ever disappointed.” (Can Man Live Without God, p.133).  “Conveniently forgotten by those antagonistic to spiritual issues are the far more devastating consequences that have entailed when antitheism is wedded to political theory and social engineering.” (Can Man Live Without God, p.xvii).The 19th century produced some interesting ideas, from Nietzsche’s superman to Marx’s Communism, both rejecting God as a basis for anything.  However, in practice, these views saw the deaths of millions in Nazi Germany and the Communist states.  One of those affected by Communism had this to say after seeing the implications of just beliefs: “It was because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disappointed…” (C.E.M. Joad, quoted in Counterfeit Gods, p.105).  There was this hope that the state would dissolve away and there would be no government, but this view did not take into account that man is sinful and generally selfish.  Power has corrupted many a well-intentioned man and will continue to do so if we do not realize that we are not as good as we think we are.  Darrow Miller sums this up well.  “The events of the past hundred years-the two world wars, the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the nineties and the planned famines in the Ukraine in the thirties, the inhumanity of Mao and Stalin, apartheid in South Africa, and the deliberate murder of hundreds of millions of preborn babies through abortion-all deny the utopian view of the materialist.” (LifeWork, p.44).  The 20th century saw more people die in war than all the previous centuries of recorded history put together (105 million deaths, compared with 19.4 million in the 19th century and 7 million in the 18th).  As if this were not enough, according to the naturalist, all these people simply ceased to exist as persons.  There is no hope that any of them found peace, rest, and salvation after death.  Not to say that the Christian view of the afterlife must be true because it makes believers in Jesus feel better, but if I were to accept the naturalistic view of the world, I would have to see a lot more compelling evidence, for it does not seem to me to be particularly consistent nor hopeful as a worldview.  In fact, it currently seems to be in a place of denial.  I might even go so far as to concur facetiously with Alister McGrath in reference to Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion, “Might atheism be a delusion about God?” (The Dawkins Delusion?, p.65) (for more on Dawkins’ views click here and for subsequent responses to those views click here).

Naturalism claims to be based on science and rationality, but with no basis for order and reason in the first place, those who reject even the possibility of God end up sacrificing good science for an incoherent ideology.  I commend atheists for their critical thinking, but I would ask them to apply that thinking to their own presuppositions.  I hope I have shown a few of the reasons why it is not faith (Theism) versus reason (Atheism), but rather reasonable faith (Theism) versus unreasonable faith (Atheism).

For more on Christianity, click here.

Based on this Christian perspective I have also evaluated three other worldviews:

Islam, HinduismBuddhism


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Comments
  1. Brian Westley says:

    “I hope I have shown a few of the reasons why it is not faith (Theism) versus reason (Atheism), but rather reasonable faith (Theism) versus unreasonable faith (Atheism).”

    Nope, sorry. Complete fail.

    You can make up all the imaginary superbeings you like and somehow insist they must exist for the universe to be coherent or meaningful or whatever, but that still won’t mean they exist.

    • Hey Brian,
      Sorry you didn’t find anything worthwhile in this post to convince you of the idea of God. In this article I haven’t gone into much depth, but if you are interested, I can recommend “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler. I think you might find it very thought-provoking.
      Matt

  2. Hey Brian,
    I am curious to know what falsehoods you have seen. Perhaps you would be willing to give some examples. I would like to understand your objections.
    I have written these articles to get people to think about the question of worldview, so I would be open to hearing your perspectives on the questions involved.
    Matt

  3. Brian Westley says:

    Sure:
    “…if there is no god, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it.”

    The above are plastered as if they are facts, when they are clearly opinion, and it’s pretty much just assuming their conclusion, so it’s a circular argument. He also refers to “God” as if only his god is under consideration, which is the fallacy of equivocation.

  4. Thank you for your response, Brian.

    First of all, I just want to point out that this quote comes from the introduction to the book, so the more thorough argumentation comes in the later chapters, while in the beginning they are just laying out some basic questions to be dealt with later. In fact, the book is structured in a way that first presents arguments for an eternal Being of infinite power, outside the limits of space, time, and matter, who is also personal, purposeful, and morally pure (these are summed up on pages 197-198). On the next page, p.199, there is what I found to be a helpful distinction between theism and polytheism, and then the subsequent chapters move on to more specifics into why the authors believe that Christian theism fits the evidence best. These arguments include whether miracles are possible, whether Jesus rose from the dead, and how reliable the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life are.

    As far as what this quote is actually asserting, regardless of later explanation, it may be an opinion that is being given, but I would say an informed one, based on what is later explained. Purpose implies that there is some design, which in turn implies a designer. If there is no concept of a design, how can there be a purpose? If there is no concept of what something is supposed to do, how would anyone know if it is doing right or wrong? For example, this computer was created to help with recording and sending this information. The designer intended it to be that way, and though other people may claim that the purpose of this computer was to cook supper, we could say that they were mistaken, based on the knowledge of what the designer made it for in the first place. If there is no designer behind the universe, saying that universe was not created, there is no way to discern the purpose or meaning, right or wrong, or even to think that there would be a purpose. This is a conclusion that is not just the opinion of theists, but also of many atheists. Richard Dawkins is one of the atheists who recognizes from what he sees in the universe that there is no purpose, meaning, good, or evil. Though I obviously don’t agree with a great deal of what Dawkins says, if God does not exist and the universe is merely the result of natural, impersonal forces over a long period of time through random chance and natural selection, where would there be room for purpose? If we are just machines for propagating DNA and death is the extinction of any given person, what end are we really working toward? We can live various different ways and still end up in the same place as everyone else in death. There are those who say we can make our own meaning, but this recognizes that there is no ultimate or objective meaning outside of an individual and merely attempts to avoid this fact through pretending that there is meaning and purpose in life.

    In regard to the authors claiming that their “God” is the only one under consideration, aside from what I said above about the argument unfolding more throughout the book, even in the next paragraph and following pages the authors acknowledge that the God of Christian theism is not the only possible choice. This is from the paragraph right below what you quoted on page 20: “So which world religion, if any, answers the God question correctly?”. On page 22-23, under the heading “WHAT KIND OF GOD?”, the authors set some terminology straight. You may still disagree with their conclusions, but I don’t feel they have been dishonest in their presentation of what they feel to be convincing evidence for Christian theism. Also, in my own presentation of different worldviews, I have attempted to do the same, asking questions of each worldview and presenting evidence that I believe to be best explained with the existence of the infinite, personal God of Christianity.

    So Brian, I hope you will consider taking the time to read the whole book, as the points are made in logical order, and if anything, they can help you to think about why you believe what you believe.
    Matt

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