The Bad Story that is Atheism

images-1We all love a good story. They awaken our longings for drama and connect us to a deeper reality that is true. Right? Wrong, according to the atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg. We’ve been duped by stories. They make us feel better. They help us get along. But they do not guide us to the truth of what is. Nor do not awaken us to aspire to what ought to be.

Do you want the truth? Then don’t run to story. Run to science. Or better, scientism. According to Rosenberg, “scientism” is “the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable way to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals.”[1] Religion, on the other hand, provides warm and fuzzy, but false, stories.

But if there is no over-arching story that is true, then why do we love and long for good story? Enter Mother Nature. We are hard-wired to look for stories—plots—to explain the motives of others so we can all get along. Otherwise we wouldn’t have survived. But Mother Nature over did it and we see plot everywhere—even when it isn’t there. We are all “conspiracy theorists.” All of us, that is, except those who embrace scientism.

Real science—“blueprints, recipes, formulas, wiring diagrams, systems of equations, and geometrical proof”[2]—beats stories. And what does real science tell us about reality? What are the answers to life’s persistent questions according to scientism? This is Rosenberg’s “Gettysburg Address” of Atheism:[3]

Is there a God? No.

What is the nature of Reality? What Physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.

What is the meaning of life? Ditto.

What am I here? Just dumb luck.

Does prayer work? Of course not.

Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?

Is there free will? Not a chance.

What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.

What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.

Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.

What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.

Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.

Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.

There is much that can be said about this list, but I want to point out one thing in this post. Despite Rosenberg’s constant denials, atheism is a story itselfand a bad one at that. What is the storyline of atheism? It could be summarized as follows:

Matter—Ignorance—Progress

The universe (all matter, time, energy, and space) either came into being a finite time ago, out of nothing, and for nothing or it is eternal—it has always existed.

Either way, it is false that “science (better: scientism) beats stories.”[4] Scientism—and the atheism it implies—are a story, and a bad one at that! It is a story without God, without meaning, and without morality. If atheism is the true story of the world then we should follow Bertrand Russell and courageously build our lives on the firm foundation of despair … or, as Rosenberg suggests, take Prozac.

But don’t buy the story that we need to give up on story. Rather, ask yourself, which of all the competing stories possesses fidelity to reality and our longings? Which story of the world is true to the way things are and captures our aspirations for how things ought to be?

It will be no surprise to readers of this blog that I think that that story is Christianity. In the gospel we find everything we want in good story: unending love, victory snatched from the hands of defeat, a magical—supernatural even—world where death is cheated, and a happy ending. And in the person of Jesus, we find everything we need as well. In fact, Christianity is not only the best story ever told, but the best possible story ever told! Further, there are ample reasons for thinking it true (some I discuss here and here). I’ll take the Christian story over Prozac any day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), 6.

[2] Ibid., 14-15.

[3] Ibid., 2-3.

[4] Ibid., 17.

7 Responses to The Bad Story that is Atheism

  1. AP Armstrong says:

    I think you are too generous. “If atheism is the true story of the world then we should …” nothing. Then no meaning, no mind, no purpose, no rationality. Truth merely corresponds to what best correlates with observations. Why an atheist would ever care to “reason” someone to their opinions is incomprehensible.

  2. “What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? — There is no moral difference between them.”

    This is the most easily refuted. Just kick an atheist in the shins and see if he still believes this.

  3. Bob A in Zionsville PA says:

    Do you really believe you can bring an atheist to God with these arguments? Do children listen more because you yell at them, it’s like beating someone over the head with Paul, when you can’t explain or simply don’t understand Christ. Try explaining to a parent (atheist or not) who just lost their child to a drunk driver, a drug over dose, a simple mistake, a drowning in a backyard pool, a suicide, that God exists and how God exists. Explain to them how God forgives them for losing a child, for having the child die a violent death and they are still forgiven, but now they will ask what sin have they committed, so why would they need to be forgiven, and that Christ died and rose from the grave for their child, and why that is significant. Or even more of a challenge is to explain to the 40,000 survivors of suicide every year, how their foundation in Christ is preventing their child from ending up in hell. Try reaching out to these Christians first before going for the atheist. If you can secure this group of people then you’ll have no problem with the atheists.

    • paul.gould@facultycommons.org says:

      Hello Bob,

      No I really don’t offer this blog to convince the atheist. My point was more modest–that, contra Rosenberg, Atheism is a story, and (as I said in the post) a bad one at that. That’s all. I don’t know what to make of your idea about yelling and beating someone over the head. And I agree with you, that the emotional problem of evil is very hard–although it doesn’t so much require a “response” as an arm around the shoulder, a listening ear, and encouragement and prayers. Of course, the intellectual problem of evil is a different matter–there are good theistic responses to the problem of evil. Thanks for your thoughts! warmly, Paul

  4. Bob A in Zionsville PA says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your response, I apologize if you mis-read my statement of Paul as being you, I meant the Paul of the New Testament. I have recently found the Pauline stories very aggressive in nature, so much so it forces the Christians, to scientism. Even without the Pauline stories, Jews go the same way, as Mohamed drives the children of Islam the same end of Rosenberg’s scientism. Your answer to the bereaved is the answer to Mr. Rosenberg. It’s about relationships and building relationships throughout our lives. The story of a bereaved parent is more effective to counter Mr. Rosenberg theory and story, and the science of the universe. I lost my 17 year old son to a car accident a year and half ago, since the “accident” my youngest son has made the cross over to scientism/ Atheist’s view strictly because of trying to explain the stories of the New Testament. My son is starting to return to faith but has a long way to go, and he’ll never be in the same place we/ he was before. It’s not because of the good or bad stories, but because the stories from the Atheist can work in the end with the New Testament, they just have to be related in a logical way. This is how Rosenberg fails. Even a horror story can teach something of human nature and the trinity’s nature. My son’s accident destroyed the relationship we had with God and Christ, only to be rebuilt in a different location, that is what Rosenberg is saying in some odd way. As for evil, emotional or intellectual, I’ve come to realize that giving up hate is the only way out, and building relationships is the only way in. I struggled with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead only to die again. How could God do that, to put the family through that grief again in the future? It’s a struggle I’ve found common among Christian parents and siblings that have lost a child / brother or sister, couple that with Paul’s aggressive stories, it really pushes people away from the faith, and opens up a avenue for the Rosenberg’s to exploit. Math and the sciences are a language that God uses to communicate for consistency. I’m enjoying your blog please keep it going. May the Lord be with you.

    Bob

    • paul.gould@facultycommons.org says:

      Hello Bob,

      Wow, I am so sorry to hear about your loss of your 17 year old son. And for your youngest sons struggles. I can only imagine. Your points are well taken. I wonder, what is it about the NT that you find particularly agressive, etc.? Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. May you and your son find comfort in Jesus. warmly, Paul

  5. Pingback: Does Jesus answer our biggest questions? | Paul Gould

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