SHAPIRO: Debunking Atheism

During the early 19th century, so the story goes, French astronomer Pierre-Simon de Laplace was having a conversation with French emperor Napoleon, explaining to him his theory of the beginnings of the universe. 

“Where does God fit into all this?” Napoleon supposedly asked. 

“I have no need of such a hypothesis,” de Laplace replied.

God, according to atheists, is an unnecessary hypothesis. The universe just is. 

We just are. 

There is no reason to search for a Creator, to posit that He cares about us, to suggest that there is some Higher Power that bridges the gap from what is to how things ought to be. 

Now, atheism is more than mere agnosticism, which suggests that it is impossible to know whether God exists. By that definition of agnosticism, many religious people are agnostic – although we have come to understand agnosticism as the generalized indifference to the question of God. Atheism, however, adamantly opposes the idea of a God who stands behind nature. Atheism often claims that religion corrupts mankind, that the notion of a God blinds men to the truths around them, that science is directly opposed to the idea of a Creator. In reality, none of these things are true.

God: The Unnecessary Hypothesis?

Let us begin with the idea that God is an unnecessary hypothesis. It is difficult to imagine an argument in which God is utterly unnecessary. That is because all human logic is rooted in certain basic assumptions about the nature of the world and about reason that are completely unmoored from the dictates of evolutionary biology. Let us examine just a few. 

First, we make claims of objective truth – truth that exists independent of human minds. How does such truth exist? Based on the dictates of evolutionary biology, our ability to comprehend a “truth” should really be no more than our ability to think whatever is most evolutionarily beneficial for us and our genetic descendants. But we don’t believe that we think 2+2=4 because it is most evolutionarily beneficial. We believe that 2+2=4 always and everywhere because it is true. And that bespeaks a truth beyond the merely material. 

Second, we make claims with regard to morality. But what is morality without a baseline assumption that human beings have inherent worth? Even utilitarian philosophies – the attempt to ignore moral right and wrong in favor of consequentialist outcomes – has to assume something about what makes an outcome good or bad. And that has moral premises that have to be assumed. The belief in any moral oughts requires us to believe unprovable truths that must descend from outside ourselves.

Third, we live as though we believe in choice – as though we are capable of making decisions in some way based on our own will. What in materialism would allow for such choice? How would such choice come about?

God is necessary for these thoughts – or at least the possibility of God. Trash God altogether, and you cannot explain why you would believe in objective truth, or morality, or your own ability to choose.

Does Logic Forbid God?

There are those atheists who claim that logic ought to forbid God – that belief in God is not merely un-evidenced but actually irrational. In the words of Adam Gopnik writing for The New Yorker, those who are atheists have “a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world.” But that isn’t true. There are many religious believers who acknowledge scientific bases for knowledge but also knowledge that the scientific method itself is unprovable, unless you take for granted that the search for an objective truth is possible – an assumption the scientific method itself forbids. 

As it turns out, there are a bevy of logically consistent arguments offered on behalf of God. Take, for example, the First Cause proof advanced by Aristotle, as refined by Thomas Aquinas. Edward Feser lays out the argument in his book Five Proofs for the Existence of God. The argument goes something like this: 

  • Change exists in the world.
  • But all change is the actualization of a potential for that change.
  • This means that actualization of potential is a feature of the world.
  • No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it.
  • So all change is caused by something already actual.
  • If there is change, there must be something changing.
  • The existence of that something presupposes that some concurrent actualization of that something’s potential for existing.
  • This means that any substance has at any moment an actualizer of its existence.
  • Either that actualizer presupposes the actualization of that actualizer, or that the actualizer is purely actual.
  • This means that either there is an infinite regress of actualizers or that there is a purely actual actualizer.
  • But an infinite regress is impossible, because there must be something at the bottom of the hierarchical causal series.

These are the opening steps of the argument. But this isn’t the only argument. There are several logically coherent arguments for God. That doesn’t mean that the arguments are dispositive. But the notion that it is illogical to believe in God is untrue.

Did Science Kill God?

Atheists frequently suggest that science has killed God. But as we’ve seen, science itself requires certain presuppositions outside of science; as mathematician Kurt Godel stated, any internally consistent system of mathematical axioms can’t be completely comprehensive. There must be assumptions made outside the system.

Atheists claim that the evolutionary process relieved the need for God. After all, if God wasn’t directing the process of the creation of human beings in the literalistic interpretation of the Biblical creation story, who needed God? The problem, of course, is that evolution is an extraordinarily complex process that does not forestall the possibility of a directing hand. Stephen Meyer, an intelligent design advocate, points out that the transmission of information via cellular processes looks an awful lot like an intelligent creator transmitting information. “The great works of literature began first as ideas in the minds of writers – Tolstoy, Austen, or Donne,” he points out. “Our experience of the world shows that what we recognize as information invariably reflects the prior activity of conscious and intelligent persons. What, then, should we make of the presence of information in living organisms?” Even the most atheistic thinkers typically use teleological – ends-driven – language in describing biological processes. Richard Dawkins, for example, speaks of a “selfish gene.” But, of course, genes don’t have interests, do they? At least unless they are directed by an outside intent.

The biggest scientific problem for atheists lies in the nature of the universe itself. The Big Bang is the theory that holds that the universe began with the explosion outward of a high-density pinpoint of matter, which sounds an awful lot like the Creation story at the beginning of the Bible. In fact, the original skepticism of the Big Bang theory was driven in large measure by objections to that similarity. The very specific conditions under which our universe was created that allowed for the development of intelligent human life are often used by believers as proof of God’s hand – the so-called “fine tuning” of the universe for life is extraordinary. Atheists claim that just because you won the lottery, and had a low chance of doing so, that doesn’t mean that you won because someone intended it – somebody had to win. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether it would likely be directed if you kept winning the lottery over and over again. At some point, you might suppose that someone was cheating.

To answer that question, atheists often contemplate the idea of the multiverse – in which case, there are a lot of people who win the lottery, so our universe isn’t particularly special. The problem is that this is a completely unprovable theory. To believe it requires the same leap of faith as belief in fine-tuning by a higher power.

Then there is the question of human consciousness. Scientists have presented many theories about it, but none has been sufficient to explain how consciousness arises out of the physical processes of the brain. Physicist Roger Penrose explains, “We need a major revolution in our understanding of the physical world in order to accommodate consciousness.” Even famed atheist Richard Dawkins admits that the development of consciousness, “is, to me, the most profound mystery facing modern biology.”

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

Atheists often object to God on the grounds that if God is all good, then bad things should not happen to good people. They treat this argument as somehow dispositive. But, of course, the question of theodicy has been treated by a variety of major religious thinkers over the course of millenia. Those answers range from the simple – we do not fully understand the mind of God, so our definition of good is not his – to the more complex – that evil is actually just lack of perfection in the good, and God’s decision to create free will in his creatures must allow for just such imperfection. Suffice it to say that the question of God’s motivation is certainly not strong enough to dismiss God Himself, any more than a child can pretend its parents do not exist because sometimes its parents do not prevent bad things from happening to the child.

Why Are Religious Believers Bad?

Atheists commonly turn to the sins of believers to explain why they oppose belief in God. This is a key point from those like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins – if religion is good, why are religious believers often so bad? Of course, one could ask this about any philosophy – most people are in fact sinful and wicked, and have the capacity for good. The question is whether there is a philosophical connection between the religion and what its purported believers do – and more deeply, how we are supposed to judge whether the religion is promoting something morally good or bad without another frame of moral reference. And herein lies the deepest problem of atheism: it cannot establish a moral framework. There is no way to bridge the gap between what is and what ought to be. Atheists can make suggestions, of course; they can express opinions on the matter; they can act morally and decently by the metrics of their society. But atheism itself can make no self-sustaining moral claims on human beings. It is no coincidence that the most militantly atheistic governments – communist and fascist governments of the 20th century – have been far more murderous and tyrannical than any religious theocracy in history. Atheism promotes a vision of mankind entirely at odds with the building of a productive society: it suggests materialism, which means lack of free will; it undermines the unique value of human beings, which undermines liberty and rights; it dismisses the value of tradition in favor of a reason it cannot defend on its own terms.

Atheism, in short, cannot sustain itself. God is not the unnecessary hypothesis. At best, one could argue that the proofs of God are insufficient for you to personally believe. But God is certainly not an unnecessary hypothesis. Lack of God is a serious societal danger – and the replacement of God in the human heart with gods of other sorts, from the state to the search for subjective authenticity, ends in the worst predations imaginable.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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