I wonder if atheists have really thought through the implications of what they believe. By that I don’t mean the implications for what happens when you die. That is usually the first place Christians want to focus the discussion. Rather, I wonder if they have really thought about the implications of what happens when you live.
I heard a sermon this weekend by Steve Brown in which he pointed out that a group of atheists have spent $40,000 to put advertisements on buses and billboards in Washington D.C. trying to convince people to NOT believe in God. It is a campaign designed to lead up to Christmas telling people that there is no God to be good for. You should just be “good for goodness sake”. Well that might sound great coming from Bruce Springsteen on his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but it makes for lousy philosophy. Do they really want to promote that we be good, simply for the sake of goodness, as if goodness is some universally agreed to principle that is for the betterment of us all? If so, then they are completely violating their own position of atheism.
Here is what I mean by that. If there is no God who is responsible for the created order we see around us, then the only real alternative we have to explain all that exists is a purely materialistic, Darwinian naturalism. That is a position that says there is no spiritual realm and survival is based on the strong survive and the weak die. It is truly survival of the fittest. If it is indeed survival of the fittest then I have absolutely no motivation what-so-ever to do anything good for anyone other than my own family. After all it is my gene pool that I want to see survive. If you and yours get in the way of me and mine, then I need to do whatever it takes to get you out of the picture. You are nothing but competition for resources. Maybe I can find some personal benefit in extending some care to you and yours if you live near me and it will improve my life. But surely I have no reason to even begin to be worried about the starving people of Darfur, or the people dying in the D.R. Congo civil war, or AIDS orphans in Swaziland.
The Russian literary genius and Christian, Dostoevsky said “if there is no God, everything is permissable”. In other words, if the is no God, no supreme moral authority, then we may do whatever we want, whenever we want. Naturalism, Darwinianism, should in fact then rule the day and we should behave only in a way that further secures our own survival and comfort and that our our clan or tribe. Now some will say that all humanity is one large tribe or family and so we need to care for one another througout the world. Sorry, but that is like the situation that develops when someone wins the lottery. All of a sudden a host of never before heard from cousins come out of the woodwork wanting a share. No, if you are not in my immediate sphere of family, those I am directly responsible for, then if I follow atheism to its reasonable conclusion, I don’t care what happens to you. Not only that, but if I can get over on you and improve my life at your expense, then so be it.
But in reality, there is a God and he is a God who is moral and just, as well as merciful and forgiving, then it changes everything. Then, and only then do I have a true motivation to live for others. Then I am called to indeed “Love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and love my neighbor as myself”. Atheists want to experience the benefits of a world that believes in such a God but not the responsibility of submitting to and following such a God. You can’t have it both ways.
Sadly many Christians are functional atheists. By that I mean that we too want the benefits of such a God. We want to have the peace and joy and comfort that comes from His existence. But we reserve the right to live our lives as we want to, as if He really did not exist. Or we at least act like He does not matter when we make decisions on how to live. How many really think through the implications of what they do with their money each day as it relates to God? I suspect most of us only think about God when the money runs short or we are making a major life changing purchase. How many of us really think about God when we are planning our leisure time, or hobbies, or what we will eat, or when we must deal with the hurt feelings we have towards someone else? You see, if there is no God then indeed, do whatever you want, whenever you want. But if in fact there is a God and He is the God of the Bible, then all that we do, at every moment of our lives, must be done and lived out of love for Him and for our neighbor. In doing so, we will indeed be followers of Jesus who did not concern Himself with his own survival and comfort, but instead sacrificed all on a cross so that we could survive. Then He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, sacrificing ourselves daily out of love for Him and others.
Not a simple task.
Maybe that is why atheists dont want Him to be real.
14 thoughts on “What if Atheists are Right?”
“If it is indeed survival of the fittest then I have absolutely no motivation what-so-ever to do anything good for anyone other than my own family.”
There is plenty of motivation.
Do you make your own clothes? Can you grow your own food? Are you a doctor who can heal yourself and your family when they’re sick? Or do you, perhaps, benefit from forming and becoming part of a society in which multiple people add their abilities to the mix and trade with you in order to get what they need that you might have.
“f you and yours get in the way of me and mine, then I need to do whatever it takes to get you out of the picture. You are nothing but competition for resources.”
I don’t think you understand what a social animal is. Homo sapiens sapiens are not predators by nature. We’re a social species that had found through the millenia of evolving, both biologically and socially, that our strength is in sticking together.
Thanks for your comment.
The motivation that you mention helps make my point. It is all motivation based on how I will benefit. I need to be part of a social network because I need clothes, food, and a doctor. As you say, “in order to get what they need that you might have.” They are in it for what they need and I am as well. But what motivation do I have to sacrifice for people outside my tribe that I can see no benefit to myself in that sacrifice? If 10,000 people in some far off land die of starvation and I never even hear about it, the impact on me is so negligible as to go unnoticed. It is still about me and mine.
You say that “Homo sapiens sapiens are not predators by nature. We’re a social species that had found through the millenia of evolving, both biologically and socially, that our strength is in sticking together.” Interesting thought. If we are not predatory by nature then how do you explain, Darfur, The D.R. Congo, Somalia, etc. etc. I think we have learned to stick together at least in part because of the predatory nature of human beings.
My point is that without a belief in a supreme being who has established some sort of moral imperative, there is no reason for me to make an altruistic sacrifice for others. I can make certain sacrifices and accommodations as long as I get some return on my sacrifice. But if I truly adhere to naturalism then if it ever comes to a choice between me and mine, and them and theirs, then naturalism dictates that they must loose. I find this in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus, (not well followed by the way) that out of love for God and others we are to be servants looking out for the needs of others before those of ourselves.
I look forward to continued discussion with you.
“But what motivation do I have to sacrifice for people outside my tribe that I can see no benefit to myself in that sacrifice?”
What sacrifices are there now that you do that you can see no benefit for yourself or your family?
I see no sacrifice a human can make that, at the very least, there is the benefit of contributing to a pattern of action that would benefit us should we be in the same situation as those we are sacrificing for. If you know of one, please share it.
“Interesting thought. If we are not predatory by nature then how do you explain, Darfur, The D.R. Congo, Somalia, etc. etc. I think we have learned to stick together at least in part because of the predatory nature of human beings.”
We are not predatory, but we are xenophobic. It is in our evolved nature to stick together. Because there are so many of us, that leads to tribalism. In our past that meant sticking together with people we personally knew. As our populations grew, that meant sticking together with people who we, at least, think we know by our common culture. We still haven’t moved past the tribal mentality. We may never do so, but I have hope.
“I can make certain sacrifices and accommodations as long as I get some return on my sacrifice.”
Again, I can see of no sacrifice that doesn’t give you some return. Even sacrificing your life, while resulting in your death, contributes to a society that would support sacrificing one’s life if it came down to it, thus benefiting ‘yours’ even if it doesn’t benefit you directly.
I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose I could start by saying that I am certainly glad that you have religion and believe in God. Based on your comments, fear of God is the only thing that motivates you to show compassion for your fellow man. You certainly aren’t alone in that regard. If fear of God’s judgment is the only reason that you show concern for others, than I am genuinely glad that you believe in God. But many atheists, myself included, are willing and able to “be good for goodness sake.” I care about other humans, period. There doesn’t need to be some self serving motive behind compassion, and it doesn’t need to be inspired by fear of damnation or karma or anything else. It’s simple enough to let compassion be inspired by the desire to be compassionate. That having been said, 99% of the work to that end is done the moment you become able to fully appreciate the world from other people’s perspective. The tone of what you’re writing suggests that you aren’t, because I can assure you that you have missed the idea and intent behind the message “Be good for goodness sake.”
I don’t think I am saying at all that fear of judgment is what motivates me. In fact, it is a love for God and the people that He has created in His image that motivates me. At least in my best of moments that is the case.
What I am trying to understand in the “being good for goodness sake” motto is if it is consistent with the philosophical foundations of Atheism. Those foundations are in naturalism as is Darwinism. That philosophy does not lend itself to compassion for compassion sake or goodness for goodness sake. In fact I believe that the case can be made historically that the ideas of compassion for others and self sacrifice on behalf of others really have their roots it a Theistic system. It seems to me that to leave God out of the equation, but to want a society built on the values of a Theistic system is inconsistent.
Maybe the problem is in the use of the word “benefit”. There are immediate benefits that may or may not be evident in our actions. There are also secondary or indirect benefits that can be found in most any if not all actions we perform. So in some way I could probably find some benefit to those important to me in any sacrifice on my part.
More to the issue I think is the idea of survival of the fittest. That foundational principle of naturalism is what I find to be in conflict with wanting to hold to ideals that care for others beyond my scope of influence or relationships. I can understand it from a tribal perspective because the tribe is “family”. But I have a hard time seeing why a committed atheist, who must by definition be a naturalist, would bother to care about people halfway around the world? Consistency of thought would seem to make the plight of those folks irrelevant unless there was some clearly identifiable, significant impact on my life that was identifiable.
I suppose bottom line is I am wondering on what basis does an Atheist make moral decisions?
I think your problem is that you seem to think that “survival of the fittest’ is a worldview or part of an ideology. It isn’t. It is merely a description of what happens in nature.
Also, you are assuming a great deal about what ‘fittest’ means. Fittest could mean anything. Certainly for some animals (we among them), strength and viciousness makes them ‘fit’ to survive. But speed makes some species fit. And intelligence. And small size. And big size. And sticking together in large numbers.
In fact, being a sociopath and nihilist and keeping to yourself would NOT make you the fittest to survive, and in fact would cut you off from human society, which would more likely lead you to die.
I agree with MorseCode, and have to add that I also think that you are misinterpreting the survival aspect of the phrase in question. It doesn’t necessarily mean on a personal level. In fact, it doesn’t mean that at all. Survival of the fittest is meant to apply genetically. As in, your genes survive if they are fit enough to do so. To expound on MorseCode’s example, sociopaths are probably less likely to successfully engage in many of the things that might perpetuate their genes. Certainly that doesn’t mean that they never manage, but compared to other groups they are far less likely to yield enough offspring to successfully increase their stake in the human gene pool.
There’s a ton more that could be said, but I don’t think it really needs to be, the simple fact is that it’s really hard not to like someone who is kind and caring, thus that person has more relationships and a larger pool of potential mates, thereby giving him a greater chance of passing along his genes than those who cut themselves off from society through mammon and apathy for their fellow man.
Also, social darwinism, which is what you are talking about, pretty much goes against what humanists claim to believe and the behavior they claim to practice. That’s worth noting considering that the advertisement which inspired you to write your initial article was delivered on behalf of American Humanist Association. You should check out the website they’ve set up to go along with the ad, it answers a number of the questions put forth in your article in much better ways than I could, and don’t worry, I’ve already looked myself and it isn’t at all offensive, and doesn’t make light of religion.
Sorry for the long post, but I have as hard a time not speaking fervently in defense of my own views as you likely do yours.
Belief in God if it is to be true belief should be like our belief in gravity. Everything we do is affected by our belief in gravity – taking a shower, sleeping, driving to work, staying away from ledges – you name it and our belief in gravity is in the back of our minds. Our belief in God should at the very least be like that. At the very best, our belief in God should be at the forefront of our minds all the time – that only comes by having a living, vibrant, dependent relationship with the one true God, Jesus Christ.
i was going to comment, but ‘morsecode’ did just great. just because someone believes there’s no God does not mean that don’t have a moral code. in fact, all of us live, to some degree, based on a moral code instilled in us by the society in general. our laws are not from God; they are determined by people. i don’t stop myself from killing others because God said so; i do it because i don’t think that’s ok, and because i don’t want to go to prison. in this society, as a rule, murder is not ok. people have decided that; not God.
i do like you comment about (essentially) ‘without God, what’s the point of life’, so i hold out as an agnostic that i hope there’s a God. that said, i do not think he’s the God that Christians, Jews and Muslims think he is. and i do think that if there is a God, he created man to be able to eventually unravel all of the mysteries of the universe, including who God is.
An interesting discussion. How can there be goodness for any sake if there is nothing but our idea of what good is to take us along. There are cultures in the world where cruelty is and hatred are the norms. What if they make better bombs than us? What if they create bigger armies the us? Does that make them better? Does that make them right. They would think so. Hitler and is ilk thought they were the greater good. It was all relative. We need an absolute to judge against without my good trumps your good. So if I am a sociopath and I can crush you… good for me and too bad for you. Goodness without the absolute of God’s Goodness is just opinion and flows with whatever the culture or dominate culture dictates. Laws become optional and we can violate anything that stands in the way of our greater good.
Well that is the way I see it anyway.
I stumbled across this and was wondering… Have your views changed in the last 4 years?
On this particular topic I would say that my thoughts are even stronger in the direction of what I wrote four years ago. Coincidentally, a few days ago I read an interview by leading atheist Richard Dawkins that only served to confirm what I wrote. Dawkins was asked about the issue of moral authority in the absence of God. His position is that all moral standards are human constructs that are products of evolutionary development and are as arbitrary as us having five instead of six fingers. The interviewer asked if that believing rape to be wrong was simply an evolutionary accident and that it there was nothing inherently wrong with raping someone. Dawkins agreed that this was the case. I give him credit that he is at least consistent with his atheism, no matter how repugnant the conclusions may be. It is exactly as Dostoevsky said, “without God everything is permissible”. Without God as the ultimate moral authority even raping someone is morally justifiable if the culture decides so. That is crazy in my book.
I personally know many atheists who volunteer, give generously to charities, and go to great lengths to try to make the world a better place, in spite of their realization that they aren’t going to be around forever.
In a lot of ways I think atheists are actually MORE attuned to morality than believers. If an atheist helps a poor person, he does it based on empathy and without any expectation of eternal reward. If a Christian helps a poor person only because God commanded him to, that is not morality at all. That is just following orders.