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The Failure of Atheism


    Philosophical Apologetic's deals with the rational defense of the

Christian Faith. Philosophy means the love of wisdom. One of the

functions of philosophy is the attempt to describe the true nature of

reality. Philosophy of religion (a branch of philosophy) and

apologetics (a branch of theology) overlap in certain areas.

Arguments for God’s existence, the philosophical problem of evil, the

possibility of miracles, and the nature of morality are common to

both philosophy of religion and apologetics. These topics will be

examined in this section.

 

ATHEISM AND AGNOSTICISM

 

   Atheism is the belief that it can be proven that God does not exist.

Agnosticism, on the other hand, is the belief that man cannot know

whether or not God exists. It is possible to hold weaker forms of

either view. However, this chapter is only concerned with refuting

the more dogmatic forms of atheism and agnosticism. Only the

stronger forms, if proven, would defeat theism. The weaker forms

leave open the possibility of theism. However, both atheism and

agnosticism, in their strongest forms, are self-refuting.

In order for one to disprove God’s existence (atheism), he would

have to be all-knowing. One would need to have the ability to see

and know all things in the physical and spiritual realms. In short, one

would have to be God to disprove God’s existence. Of course, this is

absurd.

 

   Agnosticism is also self-defeating. One must know something

about God to know that nothing can be known about God.

Obviously, this statement refutes itself. Therefore, agnosticism, like

atheism, is a self-refuting view.

   Many agnostics say that since man is finite (limited), he can never

attain knowledge of an infinite (unlimited) Being. It is true that the

finite cannot find the infinite on its own. However, this ignores the

possibility that the infinite Being may choose to reveal Himself to

finite beings. This is exactly what Christianity claims. The Bible

teaches that God reveals Himself through both nature (Romans 1:18-

22; Psalms 19:1) and the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

DID MAN INVENT GOD?

 

   Throughout history thinkers proclaimed their belief that God was

a product of man’s imagination. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)

taught that man, due to his fear of death, wishes God into existence.

Man recognizes his limitations and fears. God is projected to calm

these fears. In short, God is what man wishes to be.

   Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) saw two separate causes for man’s

belief in God. First, Freud believed that each boy desires to have

sexual relations with his mother. Because of this, he becomes jealous

of his father and develops a hatred for him. Second, since man could

not fully understand the forces of nature, he began to fear nature.

Freud concluded that due to these two factors (man’s guilt for hating

his father and man’s fear of nature), mankind deified nature and

personalized it into a Father God.

   It should be understood that the speculation of Feuerbach and

Freud was never meant to be used as an argument against God’s

existence. Instead, these two thinkers believed that God’s existence

had already been proven false by the advances of modern science.

Their views were promoted not to disprove God’s existence. Rather,

they were promoted as a desperate attempt to explain why nearly all

of mankind believes in a non-existent God. Therefore, the ideas of

Feuerbach and Freud should not be considered evidence against

God’s existence. Instead, their theories were merely attempts to

explain away some of the evidence against their views.

   Freud’s own theories can be used against him. For it seems more

likely that atheism is caused by the desire to kill the father image,

rather than theism being caused by man’s guilt for wanting to kill his

father. In man’s attempt to be autonomous, he wishes God out of

existence.

   Whatever the case, the speculation of Feuerbach and Freud seems

itself to be wishful thinking by atheists. If men were to invent a God,

it is doubtful that it would be the demanding God of the Bible. Man

would create a more permissive god, much like the gods of the pagan

religions. In short, the theories of Feuerbach and Freud offer a more

adequate explanation for atheism and idolatry than they do for

Christianity.

 

A.  J. AYER AND LOGICAL POSITIVISM

 

   In the first half of this century, A. J. Ayer and his colleagues

popularized their view of logical positivism. Logical positivism was

based upon the verification principle. This principle declared that for

a statement to be meaningful, it has to be either true by definition or

verifiable by one or more of the five senses. This meant that all

discussion about God should be considered meaningless.

If true, this view would be very damaging for theism. Though it

would not prove God’s nonexistence, it would make all talk about

God meaningless. If one cannot meaningfully talk about God, one

cannot speculate about his possible existence.

   The problem with the verification principle is that it is itself not

true by definition or verifiable by one or more of the five senses. In

other words, the verification principle is self-refuting. If the

verification principle is true, then it is itself meaningless, for it fails its

own test.

   If atheism is to deliver a fatal blow to theism, it will have to look

elsewhere.  Logical positivism has failed to render discussion about

God meaningless.

 

IS RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE EQUIVOCAL?

 

   Some have maintained that all talk about God is equivocal.  In

Other  words, they believe that terms used to describe God have totally

different  meanings  than when they are used in connection with finite

beings such as man. If this is true, then man cannot know anything

about God. If someone says God is holy, he has uttered a meaningless

statement. For man knows what holiness means only when it refers

to a man. Man has no idea of what holiness means when applied to

God. What holiness means in reference to an infinite being (God)

cannot be known by finite beings. If the theist is justified in his or her

claims to know something about God, then this objection must be

answered.

   Some theists have argued that terms used to describe God are

univocal. This means that they have totally the same meaning

when used to describe both God and man. The problem with this

view is that it is hard to believe that God is holy in the same way that

man can be holy. For God is infinitely holy, whereas man is only

finitely holy. Can holiness have the exact meaning for both man and

God? It seems not.

   Other theists contend that religious language is analogical. They

hold that terms used of God and man are not equivocal (totally

different meanings) or univocal (totally the same meanings). Instead,

terms used of God and man are only analogical (similar meanings).

However, this view is also problematic. For if God-talk is analogical,

then theologians are still using meaningless terms about God. For

terms like “holiness” still lack the same meaning they hold when used

of men. We can only know what holiness means when it is applied to

man. It appears that there must be some univocal element to Godtalk

if it is to be meaningful.

   The answer to this dilemma is to hold the view of Thomas Aquinas.

He reasoned that words have the same meaning (univocal) when

applied to either God or man. However, Aquinas taught that they can

only be applied in a similar (analogical) way. Therefore, holiness

means the same thing for both man and God. Still, it must be applied

finitely to man and infinitely to God. Therefore, God-talk is not

equivocal. Theists can meaningfully talk about God.

 

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE AND EXISTENTIALISM

 

Jean-Paul Sartre was a famous French philosopher and

existentialist. He argued that if the theist persists in his assertion that

everything needs a cause, then even God needs a cause. Therefore, the

theist, according to Sartre, must argue that God caused His own

existence. But, this would make God a self-caused being, which is

impossible. For a being to cause its own existence, it must exist

before it existed in order to bring itself into existence. However, it is

absurd to say that a being existed before it existed. Therefore,

reasoned Sartre, since God is a self-caused being, He cannot exist.

However, no informed theist believes that everything (including

God) needs a cause. Only dependent beings (beings that have a

beginning) need a cause. Since God is an independent and eternal

being, He does not need a cause. God is not a self-caused being. He

is an uncaused being. His existence needs no cause for He always

existed.

   Sartre also contended that since man is free, God cannot exist. In

his view, if man is free (and Sartre believed so), then there could be

no sovereign God. If a sovereign God exists, then men are robots.

There have been two ways that theists respond to this argument.

One can take a hyper-Calvinistic position and deny human free

will. Or, one can simply maintain that God sovereignly chose to

make  man free. Still, man is not absolutely free. He is free to

disobey God and reject Christ, but he is not free to escape the Godordained

consequences of his actions. In short, neither of Sartre’s

objections presents insurmountable problems for theism.

 

BERTRAND RUSSELL

 

   The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell

reasoned that if everything needs a cause, then so does God. But if

God doesn’t need a cause, then neither does the universe. As

mentioned above, the theist responds to this by pointing out that not

everything needs a cause. Only that which has a beginning needs a

cause. Since God does not have a beginning, He needs no cause.

Secondly, there is both scientific and philosophical evidence that

the universe had a beginning. Scientific evidence consists in the

second law of thermodynamics (energy deterioration) and the big

bang model. The second law of thermodynamics shows that the

amount of usable energy in the universe is running down. Therefore,

the universe will eventually cease to exist when all its energy is used

up. But if the universe will have an end, it had to have a beginning.

This means that the universe began with all its energy in a usable state.

Hence, the universe had a beginning.

 

THE BIG BANG MODEL

 

   The big bang model reveals that the universe is expanding at an

equal rate in all directions. This is much like the effects of an explosion

which blows debris in all directions. If one goes back in time, the

universe would become more and more dense until the entire

universe would be compressed into an infinitely small point. This

would mark the beginning of the universe.

   The scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe does not

stand alone. Philosophical evidence can be found as well. For if the

universe is eternal, there would be an infinite amount of actual events

in the past. But then it would be impossible to reach the present

moment. For no matter how many events one traverses, there will

always be an infinite amount of events left. Hence, the present

moment could never be reached. But the present moment has been

reached. This reveals that there is only a finite amount of events in the

past. Therefore, the universe had a first event. In other words, the

universe had a beginning.

    Bertrand Russell’s objection therefore loses its force. The universe

cannot be eternal. It must have a cause. Eventually one must arrive

at a first cause, a being that needs no cause. This uncaused being is

what the theist calls God.

 

ALBERT CAMUS

 

   The French existentialist Albert Camus authored the novel

entitled The Plague. In this work, Camus argued that if God allowed

the plague to occur, then to fight the plague is to fight God. Therefore,

to be religious, one must be antihumanitarian. Only the atheist can

be a humanitarian and remain consistent with his beliefs.

   However, though God permits the plague (symbolic for evil and

human suffering) for the purpose of a greater good, He is nonetheless

working to defeat the plague.  In fact, the greater good coming from

God permitting the plague may include the godly man joining God

to battle the plague.  Just because God allows something to occur

does not make it in itself good. For God could and does allow evil to

occur for the purpose of a good that He will bring from the evil.

   Therefore, a person can be religious and also be humanitarian

Without  going against his or her beliefs. On the other hand, what is

to prevent the atheist from doing whatever he pleases? It seems that

the Christian humanitarian is more consistent with his or her beliefs

than the atheist is. For in atheism there is no final judgment and moral

values are mere human inventions. Atheists are not being consistent

with their world view whenever they condemn an action as wrong.

 

ANTONY FLEW

 

    British philosopher Antony Flew claims that since there is no way

to falsify God’s existence, to assert that He does exist is an incoherent

statement. Flew is famous for his parable of the invisible

gardener. In this parable, a believer and a non-believer come upon

a garden in the midst of the wilderness. The believer assumes that

there exists a gardener who cares for the garden. The non-believer,

however, disagrees. He concludes that there is no gardener. They

were not able to detect the existence of the gardener though they ran

several tests. They did not see or hear him enter the garden. Even

bloodhounds could not smell him. Rather than surrender his faith in

the gardener, the believer reasons that the gardener must be invisible

and unable to be detected by the five senses. The non-believer

responds by stating that there is no difference between this invisible

gardener and no gardener at all. In other words, if there is no way to

falsify a view, then the view is worthless.

   Flew declares that just as there is no way to falsify the existence of

the invisible gardener, so too the existence of the Christian God

cannot be falsified. In short, to claim that God exists is to make a

meaningless statement. There is no way to prove it false.

   In response to Flew’s objection, several things can be noted. First,

the believer views the universe as dependent and in need of a cause.

If there were no independent God, there would also be no dependent

universe. If the universe could be shown to exist independent of any

cause, then this would go a long way to falsifying the God hypothesis.

However, scientific and philosophical arguments for an eternal and

independent universe have not been successful.

Recent thought seems to lead in the other direction.

Second, the God of the Bible is not a silent God who is unable to

be detected. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are filled with prophecies

that were fulfilled hundreds of years after they were recorded. If

these prophecies had failed, then the God of the Bible would be

falsified.

   Third, Christianity claims that the God of the Bible has become a

man (John 1:1,14). The invisible gardener has taken visible form.

Jesus claimed to be God incarnate. Jesus gave persuasive evidence for

this claim by performing numerous miracles in the presence of

eyewitnesses. His greatest miracle was when He rose from the dead

and appeared to many eyewitnesses. If the first century Jewish

religious leaders had produced the rotting corpse of Christ, they

would have falsified Christ’s claims and crushed Christianity in its

embryonic form. Despite the fact that the Jewish religious leaders had

the desire and to do so, they did not produce the body. In a later

chapter, the resurrection will be examined in greater detail. What

needs to be noted here is that the belief in the existence of the God of

the Bible is open to testing and falsification. Instead of claiming that

God is an incoherent concept incapable of being falsified, Flew would

do better to examine the supposed evidence for the Christian God

and then attempt to prove as false the claim that He exists.

 

ARGUMENTS FROM CONTRADICTORY ATTRIBUTES

 

   One attempt to refute the existence of God is to claim that the God

of the Bible has certain characteristics that are contradictory. If this

can be proven, the Christian God cannot exist. This atheistic

endeavor can take its form in several different arguments. Two

examples will suffice.

  Atheists often argue that if God is all-powerful, then He can do

anything. This would include the ability to create a rock so large that

even He cannot lift it. But if God cannot lift this rock, He is not allpowerful.

Therefore, concludes the atheist, no all-powerful God can

exist.

    Though the theist agrees that God is all-powerful, he recognizes

that there are some things which even an all-powerful being cannot

do. Since an all-powerful being will always be able to accomplish

whatever He sets out to do, it is impossible for an all-powerful being

to fail. The above atheistic argument is arguing that since God is allpowerful

   He can do anything—even fail. This is like saying that since

God is all-powerful He can be not all-powerful. Obviously, this is

absurd. An all-powerful being cannot fail. Therefore, God can create

a rock of tremendous size, but, since He is all-powerful, He will

always be able to lift it.

   There are several things that an all-powerful being cannot do: He

cannot lie, sin, or change His mind (Numbers 23:19; James 1:13; 1

Samuel 15:29). Anything that indicates failure cannot be credited to

God.

    It should also be noted that God cannot do whatever is impossible

by definition. For instance, God cannot create square circles. He

cannot create a human that is non-human. He cannot make

something both exist and not exist at the same time.

   In short, when one says that God is all-powerful, one means that

God is able to accomplish all that He desires to do. It means that God

can do everything that is possible. But even an all-powerful being

cannot do what is impossible by definition. God can do many things

that are humanly impossible. However, there are some things that

even an all-powerful being cannot do.

    Therefore, since God is all-powerful, He will always be able to

master His creation. He will always be able to lift any rock that He

creates. And, since all that exists (besides Himself) is His creation,

there is no rock, nor will there ever be a rock, that He cannot lift.

A second example of an argument against God from supposed

contradictory attributes is as follows. If something is good simply

because God wills it, then good is merely an arbitrary concept. But,

if God wills it because it is good, then good is a standard above God.

Therefore, either good is arbitrary or good is above God.

   If the theist concedes either of these two propositions, the concept

of God will be damaged. For if good is arbitrary, then calling God

good says nothing more than He does what He wills to do. He doesn’t

do what is right. He simply acts arbitrarily. Whatever He does

automatically is considered right for the mere reason that it is an act

of God.

   If the theist takes the other alternative of the dilemma, the

situation is no better. For if God decides to do something because it

is good, it appears that there is a standard of right and wrong above

God. But then God would not be the ultimate being. A necessary

element of the traditional Christian concept of God is that He is the

ultimate being. There is no being greater than God. However, God

cannot be the ultimate being if there is a standard of right and wrong

to which He must submit. The standard itself would be the ultimate

being since it would be above God.

   Those who use this objection against theism fail to acknowledge

that God wills something because it is consistent with His own good

nature. Therefore, the standard is not above God; God is the

standard. Thus, good is not arbitrary, for it is based upon God’s

good nature.

 

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

 

   Many atheists believe that the existence of evil is proof that an allgood

and all-powerful God does not exist. The significance of this

argument requires that an entire chapter of this work be dedicated to

its refutation. Therefore, discussion of this objection will be dealt with

in a later chapter of this dissertation.

 

THE REAL PROBLEM WITH ATHEISTS

 

   According to the Bible, the real problem with atheists is not an

intellectual problem. Rather it is a moral problem. It is not that there

is not enough evidence for God’s existence. Instead, the atheist

chooses not to submit to the Creator. The Bible declares that those

who act upon the truth will come to the light of Christ (John 3:16-21).

On the other hand, those who suppress the truth of God’s existence

are without excuse. For the invisible God has revealed His existence

and power through His visible creation (Romans 1:18-23).

    It appears that there are two opposing drives in each person. One

is a thirst for God (John 6:35). The other is the drive for human

autonomy (Romans 3:10-12). If a person seeks God with all his heart,

he will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). But if he chooses to continually

reject the Creator, there is no amount of evidence that will change his

mind, unless he chooses to sincerely consider the evidence. All that

the Christian apologist can do is provide evidence for the existence of

the God of the Bible and to refute arguments for atheism. Once a

strong case for Christian Theism is made, the atheist must still choose

to accept or reject the evidence. The inward persuasion of the Holy

Spirit on the heart of the nonbeliever is necessary, but, in the end, the

atheist must choose to follow that persuasion. The ultimate problem

is not one of the intellect; it is a moral problem of the will. When all

is said and done, one must choose God.

 

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