What if the atheists are right? What if our Universe, the Earth, mankind, and you and I all exist by mere chance? What if, as Carl Sagan put it, “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” and with nothing beyond the physical universe, Richard Dawkins was correct in stating “we are on our own in the universe…. humanity can expect no help from outside”?
Point 1: If the Cosmos is all there is, then all that is will die.
“Earth has been habitable for 4.5 billion years and only has a half billion years left.” That’s the conclusion of Pennsylvania State University professor James Kasting. According to Professor Kasting, “Astronomers always knew that the oceans would evaporate, but they typically thought it would occur only when the Sun left the main sequence – that will be in five billion years. However, my calculations show the oceans may evaporate much earlier.”
What will happen after our planet can no longer support life? Professors Peter Schröder and Robert Smith predict that “In a few billion years, the Sun will fuse the last of its hydrogen into helium, turn into a red giant and expand to 250 times its current size.” Initially, there will appear to be hope for the now lifeless planet we call home, as the gravitational pull from the Sun will be loosened, enabling the Earth to widen its orbit and escape being enveloped by the Sun. However, this widening orbit will cause a “tidal bulge” on the Sun’s surface. This bulge will “lag just behind the Earth in its orbit, slowing it down enough to drag it to a fiery demise.”
Tens of billions of years later, according to astrophysicists, “the sun will have shrunk to a white dwarf, giving little light and even less heat to whatever is left of Earth, and entered a long, lingering death that could last 100 trillion years—or a thousand times longer than the cosmos has existed to date. The same will happen to most other stars, although a few will end their lives as blazing supernovas. Finally, though, all that will be left in the cosmos will be black holes, the burnt-out cinders of stars and the dead husks of planets. The universe will be cold and black.”
“By the time the final chapter of cosmic history is written—further in the future than our minds can grasp—humanity, and perhaps even biology, will long since have vanished. Yet it’s conceivable that consciousness will survive, perhaps in the form of a disembodied digital intelligence. If so, then someone may still be around to note that the universe, once ablaze with the light of uncountable stars, has become an unimaginably vast, cold, dark and profoundly lonely place.”
Is this really our great hope? That all that we know, all that we love, all that we are… may live on one day as nothing more than a faint and distant memory, drifting aimlessly through a cold, dead nothingness? If “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” then what else IS there to hope for? Since there is no God, there is no outside force to intervene. We, the Earth, and the Universe will ultimately share the same fate… death.
Point 2: If atheism is true, then man’s search for meaning is in vain.
Psychoanalyst and Nazi concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl spent the later part of his life developing a psychological technique he termed logotherapy, which he developed by studying his and his fellow prisoners’ psyches during his years in concentration camps. His work was focused on “the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning,” which he detailed in his book Man’s Search For Meaning
How essential is this search of meaning to man? Frankl summed up his findings by saying that “this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man,” and yet if, as William Lane Craig points out in his book Reasonable Faith, “mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe,” what ultimate meaning could there be in the existence of anything or anyone? Perhaps one could say that they have “influenced others or affected the course of history,” but while their life “may be important relative to certain other events… what is the ultimate significance of any of these events? If all these events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them?” If there is no God, there can be no meaning.
This is why many atheists compare man’s search for meaning to questions like “what is the meaning of a cup of coffee?” To distinguish ourselves in any ultimate sense from an inanimate object is nonsensical, we both simply exist, neither one having any ultimate reason for existing, and neither holding any more inherent value than the other, which brings me to my next point.
Point 3: If there is no immortality and no ultimate moral authority, then all things are permitted.
Humanist philosopher Richard Taylor points out in his book Ethics, Faith, and Reason that “to say that something is wrong because . . . it is forbidden by God, is . . . perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong . . . even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable. . . . The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” The only way that something can be wrong in any real and objective sense, is if a God exists to declare it to be so.
If there is no God, and we have no ultimate moral authority to turn to, then what possible right could any of us have to declare anyone or anything wrong? We simply exist, and prefer one thing or the other. Truly, there exists a more or less consistent set of moral laws that we all subscribe to (a point we will explore later), but with no binding moral authority, choosing to acknowledge and behave according to these rules is nothing more than a valueless fact. Ghandi chose to follow these rules, Hitler didn’t. Is Ghandi a better person for doing so? Only in the sense that the majority of our species have decided it to be so. Was Hitler wrong for killing six million Jews? Most would say yes, but what of the minority of people that would say no? If God does not exist, then moral judgment is nothing more than opinion.
And what of injustice? If there is no God, the only punishment that can be given to someone that desires to do evil is in this life. There is no ultimate justice, only the hope that to some extent evil will be punished and good will be rewarded through government, society, etc… As insufficient as these entities are in combating and punishing evil, what happens when even they are taken away as a hindrance to evil? Consider the story of Christian missionary Richard Wurmbrand, who was tortured for his faith in the prisons of communist Romania, as he reflects on the beliefs and actions of his atheistic torturers:
I often asked my torturers, “Don’t you have pity in your hearts?” They usually answered with quotations from Lenin: “You cannot make omelets without breaking the shells of eggs,” and “You cannot cut wood without making chips fly.”
I said again, “I know these quotations from Lenin. But there is a difference. When you cut a piece of wood it feels nothing. But here you are dealing with human beings. Every beating produces pain and there are mothers who weep.” It was in vain. They are materialists. For them nothing besides matter exists and to them a man is like wood, like an eggshell. With this belief they sink to unthinkable depths of cruelty.
The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward for good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I heard one torturer say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.
— Richard Wurmbrand: Tortured for Christ
19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyovski explored the impact of atheism in his work The Brothers Karamazov. At one point, a character recounts the statements of one of the brothers:
“Let me …. tell you another little story, this one about Mr. Ivan Karamazov himself, an interesting and characteristic story, I think. Well, not more than five days ago, in a company consisting mostly of ladies of our town, he solemnly declared, in the course of a discussion, that there was nothing on earth to force men to love their fellow men, that there was no law of nature that a man should love mankind, and that if there was love on earth it did not stem from any natural law but rather from man’s belief in immortality. And here he added parenthetically that if there was any natural law, it was precisely this: Destroy a man’s belief in immortality and not only will his ability to love wither away within him but, along with it, the force that impels him to continue his existence on earth. Moreover, nothing would be immoral then, everything would be permitted, even cannibalism. He went even further, finally asserting that, for every individual — people like us now, for instance — who does not believe in God or immortality, the natural moral law immediately becomes the opposite of religious law and that absolute egotism, even carried to the extent of crime, must not only be tolerated but even recognized as the wisest and perhaps the noblest course…”
“Just a minute!” Dmitry shouted unexpectedly. “I want to get it straight: crime must be considered not only as admissible but even as the logical and inevitable consequence of an atheist’s position. Did I get it right?”
“You’ve got it right,” Father Paissi said.
In her essay Existentialism and Dostoevsky, Katharena Eiermann summarized Ivan Karamazov’s contention as, “if there is no God, everything is permitted.” Wurmbrand’s atheistic torturers understood this tie between God, immortality, and morality, and with no outside entity to stop them in this life, they were left without any fear of punishment, and the result was seen in the 18 wounds to Wurmbrand’s neck, back and chest he showed to the U.S. Senate upon his return to America. If atheistic evangelist Richard Dawkins was right in declaring that belief in immortality was “dangerous nonsense,” and thus that there is no immortality and no supernatural creator, then are not all things (including the acts performed by these Communist torturers) permitted?
Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: atheism, meaning, Richard Taylor, Richard Wurmbrand, science, The Cosmos, The Earth, The Sun, Victor Frankl, VOR Series: The Basics, WIlliam Lane Craig
Editor’s Note: Introduction to the VOR Series The Basics.
You believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only those who place their faith in Jesus will find salvation after death. As a Christian, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think that they are true. Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6) or he does not. We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in “eternal fire” (Matthew 24:41). If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.
— Sam Harris: Letter to a Christian Nation
Sam Harris and the militant atheists of our day are not stupid. Neither are the Orthodox Jews, agnostics, theologically-liberal Christians, or the host of others who have openly rejected the message of the gospel. The burden of proof is on us, the disciples of Jesus, to tell the world His message, and prove that there is no reasonable response to that message other than to fall down and worship Him as Lord. The VOR series, The Basics, is my attempt at doing just that.
Obviously, not everyone will believe what we have to say, no matter how much evidence we provide, and God is not someone that is to be analyzed and discussed as if He were a mere concept, or a hat-in-hand deity in desperate need of people to believe in Him, just waiting to answer every arrogant and haughty “intellectual” question we can come up with… but giving silly, illogical, or inadequate reasons for believing this remarkably radical and supernatural message we carry gives respect neither to the message itself, nor the people to whom we bring it. As Paul said, if Messiah is not raised, we are of all men most to be pitied, for we are giving people false hope, and giving up our lives for a lie.
Let us then strive after the truth, wherever it may lead. For then, we will know the truth, and the truth shall set us free.
Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: apologetics, atheism, Jesus, Letter to a Christian Nation, orthodox jews, Paul, sam harris, Scripture, the Gospel, truth, VOR Series: The Basics