Part I – Ancient Beliefs
Atheism is a belief system. Atheists don’t like to admit it but it is. They want us to believe atheism is physically rational, based on scientific facts, not beliefs. However, the basic tents of atheism are unproven and cannot be proven.
But in spite of their protests, the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on August 19, 2005, in the case of Kaufman v. McCaughtry, defined atheism as a religion. In its opinion, the Court stated the following:
Without venturing too far into the realm of the philosophical, we have suggested in the past that when a person sincerely holds beliefs dealing with issues of “ultimate concern” that for her occupy a “place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons,” those beliefs represent her religion. . . . We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. If we think of religion as taking a position on divinity, then atheism is indeed a form of religion.
The opinion of the Court continues:
In keeping with this idea, the Court has adopted a broad definition of “religion” that includes non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as theistic ones.
Atheism is a belief system in the eyes of the Court. But what are atheism’s beliefs? How do they apply those beliefs to their interpretation of the world? Atheism rests on two basic beliefs: (1) God does not exist and (2) the physical world is the only reality.
From the very beginning their belief system is on shaky ground. The non-existence of God cannot be proven but the existence of God can be proven logically. In addition, scientific discoveries demonstrate more and more each day that the existence of God is far more probable and reasonable than God’s non-existence. The wonders of nature, starting with items too small for the microscope and reaching to objects beyond the reach of our most powerful telescopes, declare the reasonableness of belief in the existence of God.
What about their belief in the physical world? Is it the only reality? Materialism may seem an obvious choice but it leaves so many things unexplained. How do you explain the enduring value of love, hope, trust, or honesty? If there is no spiritual world, how do I explain my feelings of connectedness to it? How can materialism explain consciousness? How can I be aware of my own existence if being does not exist?
I want answers to these questions. The Bible says the answers do exist. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14: 6 NAS) The Bible also promises in Jeremiah 29; 13, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” I want answers, not just a line of atheistic, materialistic prattle.
The Bible’s answers may seem enigmatic but atheism has no answers at all.
Some of atheism’s beliefs may appear strange or confusing. You may feel you have gone “down a rabbit hole” as Alice did in Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland. When Alice went down the rabbit hole, she entered a strange, topsy-turvy, upside-down, ridiculous new world. Wikipedia defines “down a rabbit hole” as “a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting or the mentally deranging.”
During the last two hundred years atheism has taken our society and our culture, “down the rabbit hole.” Now we are so far down the rabbit hole that the weird beliefs of atheism seem normal. We need to identify these beliefs as they are strange and dangerous. We need to understand the difference between the corrupt, unnatural beliefs of atheism and the healthy, beneficial beliefs of Christianity.
So let’s descend together “down the rabbit hole” of atheism.
There Are No Absolutes
This discussion of atheist beliefs is divided into two parts. The first part examines ancient atheist beliefs. The most complete statement of this system of belief was formulated during the first century B.C. by Lucretius in his book On the Nature of Things. The second part concerns the growth of atheism and the application of atheist doctrine to new areas such as science, morality, and racism.
Atheism preaches there are no absolutes—no God, no truth, no good or bad, no right or wrong. Atheists say God is the basis for almost all absolutes. If there is no God, there are no absolutes.
Is this even logical? One day in a philosophy class, two students were trying to show the illogic of atheist beliefs. The first student said, “There is no truth.” The second answered, “Boy, that’s the truth.” Two other students joined their banter. The first said, “There are no absolutes and no truth.” The second responded, “That is absolutely true.” But the denial of absolutes is no joke. The repercussions of this belief are wide-ranging and totally destructive. The end result is chaos.
For an example of such repercussions, consider this statement from Nietzsche. No one went further down the rabbit hole than Friedrich Nietzsche. He wrote in his book Beyond Good and Evil, “Objection, evasion, joyous distrust, and love of irony are signs of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology.” This is a classic example of the crazy, upside-down world of atheism.
Nietzsche wrote that absolutes, such as truth, virtue, and goodness, are pathology, like a disease or a plague. Signs of “health” include objections, that is, arguing or finding fault. Irony, joyous distrust, and evasion are all forms of lying. Nietzsche is saying, “Truth is bad; lying is good.” It sounds like we’ve gone down a rabbit hole.
If there is no God, there is no basis for a strong ethical system. According to Bertrand Russell,
The nonexistence of God makes more difference to some of us than to others. To me, it means that there is no absolute morality, that moralities are sets of social conventions devised by humans to satisfy their needs.
In other words, social convention decides what is good and bad. This could lead to rule by the majority. History tells us it often results in a kind of mob rule where the loudest voices decide what is right and wrong. Atheism’s morality finds nothing wrong with slavery in the antebellum South of the United States or with the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Social convention in those places and times approved of the enslaving of Africans and mass murder of Jews.
Atheist ethical systems consider judgments in matters of right or wrong, good or bad, as personal opinions. There are no rules and no fences in atheist systems. Thus, evil has no boundaries. There is no accountability and no responsibility.
Francis Schaeffer commented,
“In passing we should note this curious mark of our age: The only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute”
If there are no absolutes, there is no stability for society. Eventually, chaos always wins in this situation. What about materialism? What can be said about atheism’s second basic belief?
Materialism Is the Only Reality
There are two kinds of materialism. The first is defined by an overwhelming desire for physical objects. Many people—both religious and non-religious people, both atheists and theists— want more and more stuff. This stuff—houses, cars, expensive clothes, etc.—serves as an idol. Materialism separates a person from God. Jesus made this point in Matthew 6: 24,
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (NAS)
The atheist’s belief system includes the other kind of materialism. Their materialism is the belief that the physical world is all that exists. A philosopher might define an atheist’s materialism as the sole ontological state of being. In other words, an atheist’s materialism is the totality of reality. According to Democritus, all that exists is atoms and void.
What’s wrong with materialism as a belief system? It’s too small. It fails to account for too many aspects of reality and life. G. K. Chesterton said it well:
As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out… His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cogwheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world.
As a world-view, materialism has an “insane simplicity.” A very simple sentence can explain everything that truly exists in the materialist’s world. What’s that sentence? “The physical world is all that truly exists.” The basic philosophy of materialism is simple—too simple—insanely simple.
At first glance, materialism seems to include everything. It’s the basis for science. Materialism covers the basic concerns of life—food, clothing, shelter. But as we look more closely we begin to understand the shortcomings of materialism. There is no sense of interpersonal love in the materialist’s world. Love is a biological urge that tricks us into having sex for the survival of the species. Nor is there any virtue or justice or courage in a materialistic universe. What happens to the person if non-material qualities such as these are lacking from our world-view? According to Chesterton,
It is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry,
initiative, all that is human.
Belief in materialism will result in the loss of humanity for its adherents. But materialism goes further than that. According to R. L. Dabney, materialism can destroy the world.
The consistent working of materialism would turn all men into beasts of prey, and earth into pandemonium. The partial establishment of the doctrine immediately produces mischiefs so intolerable, that human society refuses to endure them.
In short, materialism fails as a belief system. A belief system should provide answers or at least struggle with concepts outside its scope. Materialism does not. Materialism denies the existence of many aspects of life that obviously exist and that must be explained.
Atheists also redefine the words “rational” and “irrational.” But are their new definitions reasonable and rational?
Reason and Rationality
For about 1700 years Christianity was considered reasonable and rational. Philosophers and scholars frolicked among its doctrines, proving again and again the reason and rationality of Christianity. Judaism was considered reasonable and rational for more than a thousand years earlier. Suddenly, at the dawn of the Enlightenment, religion became irrational and unreasonable. Why? Because atheists changed the focus and scope of what is rational. Reason was then applied only to this new definition of “rational.”
There are many definitions for the word “reason.” We are concerned here only with the reason as a thought process—the philosophical definition for the word “reason.” Google provides the following definitions: as a noun “reason” refers to “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.” As a verb reason means “to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.”
What does “rational” mean? According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “rational” means “having reason or understanding” or “relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason.”
How did atheists “hijack” the words reason and rational? First, they separated and placed a barrier between the words “faith” and “reason.” Faith, for the atheist, refers to belief in make believe worlds, ancient superstitions, and your own opinions. However, reason, according to their definition, is based on solid objects that we can see, touch, hear, taste, or feel. In other words, their definition of reason and rationality harkens back to their belief in materialism.
They maintain their belief is not based on faith. It’s based on scientific facts. Christopher Hitchens made the following distinction between reason and faith.
“Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.”
The skeptic Michael Shermer agrees, saying, “Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason.” Atheists redefine reason and rationality as words that relate only to physical objects. This kind of thinking truly is from the rabbit hole.
Metaphysical Items Do Not Exist
This aspect of atheistic belief should be obvious considering their belief in materialism. If the physical world is all that exists, then, of course, it logically follows that metaphysical objects cannot exist. Metaphysical concepts are nothing more than wind.
Atheists have a problem when they deny the existence of metaphysical items. Metaphysical objects and concepts define who we are as human beings. How can atheists deny the existence of such things?
I remind you that atheists are materialists. Atheists believe that all that exists is atoms and void. There is no spirit or soul or being. Man is a machine. We are nothing more than very complex, complicated machines. Atheists believe that we have no soul. According to atheist Daniel Dennett:
But what’s it [the soul] made of? It’s made of neurons. It’s made of lots of tiny robots. And we can actually explain the structure and operation of that kind of soul, whereas an eternal, immortal, immaterial soul is just a metaphysical rug under which you sweep your embarrassment for not having any explanation.
Atheists accept the existence of a mechanical mass of neurons but there is no such thing as a soul. But if there is no soul, no spirit, and no being, why do I feel as though I am a person—a self? Why do I feel like I am a being—an individual entity in a world filled with other entities?
And why should I be embarrassed by not having an explanation for everything? I know less than 1/10th of 1% of all that is to be known just about the Earth. And the Earth is only one minor, insignificant planet in the vast expanse of space. My ignorance is overwhelming. It’s that way for all of us. What sort of arrogance would call me to believe I have an answer for everything? Sorry, Daniel Dennett, but often the most intelligent answer we can give is “I don’t know.” Try it some time. You may find the honesty of that phrase to be delightfully refreshing.
Denying the existence of a soul is just the tip of the atheist iceberg. Atheists try to explain consciousness in terms of a materialistic universe. The result could be comical if it weren’t so confusing. Consciousness is so complex that it defies all attempts to treat it as a mechanical component of “atoms and void.”
Metaphysical items are one more example as to why materialism is too small to serve as a world-view. But atheists don’t care. They are distracted by the ethical system born of materialism.
The Pursuit of Pleasure
This phrase is the primary ethical statement for atheists. The pursuit of pleasure also seems to dominate life in America. Everyone anxiously searches for pleasure and happiness. The Declaration of Independence enshrines the expectation of Americans to pursue happiness.
What is pleasure? What is happiness? Each person has his own answer. Pleasure and happiness are difficult to define but that’s only part of the problem. Some pleasures are beyond our ability to achieve, such as security, safety, and control. Some people pursue a specific goal—money, wealth, sex, fame. They reach their goal only to find emptiness and dissatisfaction.
Epicurus points out that sensual pleasures lead only to emptiness.
When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.
According to Epicurus, the person of understanding strives for different pleasures.
He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things will direct every preference and aversion toward securing health of body and tranquility of mind, seeing that this is the sum and end of a happy life. For the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid.
Atheists do not like to follow instructions. They do not like to take orders. (Who does?) And they do not like to give up their physical pleasures.
Lucretius goes further than this. To have pleasure, one first must rid himself of pain. The greatest source of pain is religion and the fear of death.
If men saw that there was a fixed limit to their woes; they would be able in some way to withstand the religious scruples and threatenings of the seers. As it is, there is no way, no means of resisting, since they must fear after death everlasting pains.
Following this statement, Lucretius begins to lay out his atheistic world-view. The universe is eternal. Not even a God can create something from nothing. The universe is made up of unimaginably tiny corpuscles called atoms. These atoms come together to produce everything in the world.
Death is nothing more than the cessation of sensation. Why should death be troubling? What is there to dread? According to Lucretius:
Nature therefore holds this up to us as a mirror of the time yet to come after our death. Is there aught in this that looks appalling, aught that wears an aspect of gloom? Is it not more untroubled than any sheep?
Men live in guilt and dread while here on earth. They fear the consequences of their actions. Lucretius wrote, “There is in life a dread of punishment for evil deeds.” This dread is baseless. If you believe this, according to Lucretius, you are a fool. And “the life of fools at length becomes a hell on earth.”
Lucretius also warns against excessive sexual desire. “Meat and drink are taken into the body,” he wrote. They can fill up cavities and sate some cravings. Sexual desire does not work this way. Sexual cravings are never sated.
In crossed and hopeless love are ills such as you may seize with closed eyes, past numbering; so that it is better to watch beforehand . . . and be on your guard not to be drawn in.
What effect did Epicurus and Lucretius have on the world? Gods and ancient traditions were the source of ethical laws and values before Epicurus came along. But if the highest guideline for behavior is the pursuit of pleasure, then I’m the one who defines what constitutes pleasure for me. And if I’m the one who defines pleasure for me, then I decide what is right and wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable for me. I become my own highest authority regarding my personal ethics.
Although Epicurus and Lucretius warned people to avoid sensual pleasures, their advice was ignored. By the time atheism reappeared in the late Middle Ages, the name atheist was synonymous with libertine or sexual pervert.
For many people today, the pursuit of pleasure has become a race after cheap, tawdry thrills. Some people in our society almost seem to compete at finding and testing every type of debauchery. A larger portion of our country encourages this behavior in the name of freedom. The apostle Paul speaks of this kind of debauchery in II Timothy 3: 1-4
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, nholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
Freedom was intended to be an entitlement to enable people to grow and improve and achieve greatness—to become the best possible person. We have transformed this gift into a license that validates our descent into the pit of debauchery on a ladder of wickedness.
In our democracy everyone has a right to freedom but few have the wisdom to comprehend the best use of freedom or the empowered stability to maintain a course toward true freedom. Freedom is like a pulley. A pulley is used in an elevator to lift us to new heights of beauty. Or just as a pulley can be used to lower a bucket into a well, even so freedom can be used to validate our descent into lasciviousness.
Of course, an atheist would not see it this way. If there is no good or bad, each person defines good and bad for himself. If the highest ethical standard is the pursuit of happiness or pleasure, then the atheist has no shame to accompany his behavior. Everything is permitted.
Is this perfect freedom or is it a recipe for moral anarchy?
These are atheism’s classic beliefs. Since the return of atheism in the seventeenth century, atheism has developed new beliefs. These beliefs will be considered in our next installment.