I’ve written over 250 blog posts here since 2011. People still come across my old posts by searching for something on Google, so nearly every day I receive new comments on a wide variety of old posts. Many of the comments are from atheists.
As I read the latest comments this week, I noticed a running theme.
The vast majority of atheists who comment here don’t seem to want God to exist.
They talk about the “freedom” of no longer believing in God, how nice it is to be self-reliant, how great it feels to get rid of guilt, how they’ve found more meaning in life without God, how they can better enjoy all that life has to offer, how the world will be a better place when religion is gone, and so on.
If I saw God—and a godless existence—in the way most of these commenters do, I wouldn’t want to believe He exists either.
But I don’t think those who prefer the atheistic picture of reality have given it enough thought; no one should want atheism to be true if we really draw out the implications of what that means for our existence. If people considered that more deeply, I think there would be more atheists saying, “I sure wish God existed, but there just isn’t enough evidence!” rather than, “There’s no evidence for God…and that sure is great!”
To be clear, wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true. But this isn’t a post about the evidence for the truth of any one worldview. This is a post about appropriately understanding the logical implications of a worldview.
With more than 60 percent of young adults rejecting their Christian faith today, and many becoming atheists, I have to wonder how many did so thinking atheism was actually more attractive…and not understanding these implications.
As parents, we should not only show our kids why there’s good reason to believe God exists, but why they should be thrilled that He does.
Let’s see what reality would look like in a world without God.
1. Life has no objective meaning in an atheistic world.
In an atheistic world, our universe and everything in it developed by strictly natural forces. There’s no creative or sustaining intelligence behind it, and no ultimate reason for its existence. It just is.
It follows that there can be no objective meaning of life in such a world because there’s no Creator with the authority to say what that is. People can create their own meaning, but there’s no meaning which applies to everyone.
Now, many people are enamored by that thought, but we should ask how meaningful that meaning can ever be. Without God, we’re just chemical specks in a vast, indifferent universe. You can choose to find meaning in saving the endangered Hawksbill turtle, but ultimately the Hawksbill turtle is just molecules in motion like you and every other living thing—why bother? You can choose to find meaning in art, but scientists say the sun will eventually explode and swallow the Earth—do paint patterns on canvas really matter? You can choose to find meaning in ending human suffering, but if humans have no more inherent value than rocks, why not just end those lives instead?
There’s no reason to celebrate the ability to live according to our small, self-defined meanings when ultimately such an existence leads to nothingness.
2. Life has no special value in an atheistic world.
Astronomer and agnostic Carl Sagan said in his bestseller Cosmos, “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.”
Sagan appropriately sums up the value of life in an atheistic world: it has no more inherent value than its chemical components. Nothing exists apart from the basic matter of which we—and everything else in the universe—are comprised. In a world without God, we’re simply molecular machines.
3. There’s little reason to believe we could actually make free choices in an atheistic world.
If all we are is our biology, a logical implication is that our decisions are driven by strictly physical impulses—we’re bound by the shackles of physical law. As molecular biologist Francis Crick said, “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”
Yet belief in the reality of some degree of free will fundamentally shapes how we live. Questions like What should we do with our lives? What is our responsibility to other people? and How should we make sense of evil?—have meaning because they presume humans have the ability to make choices that matter. That ability is highly questionable, however, in the context of an atheistic world.
4. No way of living is better than any other way of living in an atheistic world.
If God doesn’t exist, there’s no objective reason why anyone should live in any particular way. Should implies a moral obligation. But if we’re all just molecules in motion, to whom would we be morally obliged? To other molecules in motion? Clearly not. In an atheistic world, no one can prescribe a way of living for anyone else because there’s no moral authority, and, therefore, no objective basis for doing so. How a person “should” live his or her life can only be a matter of opinion. One way cannot be morally better than any other way.
5. No one has a responsibility to anyone else in an atheistic world.
If life has no special value because it’s the product of purely natural forces, and there’s no moral authority to establish relational obligations, the idea of responsibility to one another is senseless. Molecules can’t owe other molecules anything.
Despite this implication of a world without God, many atheists consider themselves “humanists” and stress the importance of believing in human dignity and equal rights. It sounds good, but there’s a logical problem with the humanist position. If God doesn’t exist, natural rights that are equally held by all people also don’t exist. A “right” is something to which a person is entitled, and you can’t be entitled to something unless someone entitles you to it. Who has the authority to give rights to humankind if God doesn’t exist?
6. There is no such thing as evil in an atheistic world.
On any given day, you can scroll through news headlines and read about people being murdered, children being abused, women being raped, and much more. It’s part of our most basic intuition to categorize such things as “evil.” But in a world without God, there’s no objective standard for calling anything evil. Without a moral authority, any one person’s view of murder, child abuse, and rape can only be a matter of opinion.
To be sure, atheists can feel as much moral outrage at the evil in the world as anyone who believes in God. They just have no objective basis for appealing to others to feel the same way. It can only be something they don’t like, not something that’s actually wrong.
7. Life is ultimately hopeless in an atheistic world.
To recap, here’s a basic picture of reality in a world without God:
- Life is an accident with no objective meaning.
- We’re chemical specks in a vast, indifferent universe with no more inherent value than rocks.
- There’s little reason to believe we can freely make choices.
- No one should live in any particular way because it makes no moral difference.
- No one has a responsibility to anyone else because we’re just molecules in motion with no moral obligations.
- There’s no such thing as objective moral evil, so we can’t even condemn even the worst actions of society as objectively wrong.
Such a picture is undoubtedly hopeless in any meaningful sense. Sure, atheists can have “hope” in life, if we’re talking about hope for things like good parking spots or rain. Some hopes may have greater significance for a while—the hope of getting married, finding a good job, beating cancer, or having a family—but all of these hopes end in the same place after being realized: a grave.
Compare all this with a world in which God exists:
- Life is precious and is the product of a purposeful Creator. All living things were meant to be here—no cosmic accidents involved.
- Every person’s life has objective meaning: to know our perfect God and make Him known.
- We have the ability to make choices and moral accountability for the choices we make. What we do actually matters.
- Living a morally good life is the natural outcome of our belief in, knowledge of, and relationship with our perfectly good Creator.
- There’s an objective basis for equal human rights because every human is created in the image of God and is therefore equally valuable.
- Evil is an objective reality worthy of condemnation.
Instead of a grave, those who have put their trust in Jesus enter the glorious presence of the Lord and live with Him forever in a place free from pain and suffering (Revelation 21:4). This is a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
That is hope.
Does it mean God exists or that Christianity is true? No. Again, that’s another subject.
But anyone who has thought through such a comparison of worldviews should want God to exist.
See chapter 30 in my book, Talking with Your Kids about God, for a conversation guide on discussing these subjects with your kids.