Foreword: After first publishing this post and subsequently talking it through with some good atheist friends of mine, it came to light that many of the issues I raise here may come across as a personal attack on atheism or atheists. They were never intended that way. Rather, what I set out here is a deconstruction of the particular flavour of Neo-Darwinism (New Atheism) found in Dawkins, Dennett, et al. when taken to its logical conclusion. Its purpose is philosophical, not personal. To all my thoughtful atheist friends and Christian family, this one’s for you, with love.
I am an atheist.
What does that mean?
“A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.”
But if there is no God, there can be no “I am.” Without the divine, there is no self. There is no person.
If all is the crackling of atoms in the dust, if all is neurons forming connections, if all is reduced to particles leaping together one moment and breaking apart in the next, there can be no “me,” no “you.”
By definition, an atheist cannot be an atheist, because atheism presupposes that there is no self to which that label refers. The human is not a person, but merely an evolved creature reduced to advanced cells reduced to bare atoms.
Let’s take this one step further. Humanism makes an atheist presupposition – namely, the human without the divine; morality derived from the natural rather than the supernatural. But this is problematic. Atheism takes the human out of humanism. There is no self to call your own, no common humanity from which ethics arises. No, we are all just dust and ashes swirling in and out of existence, labelled according to pragmatic scientific categories for the sake of simplicity.
Logically, when all is biology explained away by physical sciences alone, the “I am” by which you make the statement falls apart. There is no “I am.” The mind, the self, the soul – whatever personality to which you refer – is redundant. The mind is not a thing-in-itself – rather, it is simply the result of neurons moving and converging. There is only causality, with no freedom of will. There is no will. There is no way of externalising yourself. You (a term used with caution, because there can, in this system, be no you) are simply the result of a mechanistic system of cause and effect.
But this can be taken even further. If there is no absolute truth external to the human, and no truth internal to him because there is only flesh and dust, there can be no morality. Ethics becomes a game of what is most useful to society, the great game of the preservation of the species.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that a society saw its most pragmatic ethical course as eradicating a particular people group for the sake of its survival and flourishing. Let’s imagine Hitler’s brand of National Socialism, and his systematic persecution and elimination of the Jews, for example. “Evil!” the humanist cries.
But, how can he say this with any substance? First, there is no moral order (external “right” or “wrong”) to which this cry of unfair play refers. Secondly, since there is no person, there can be no Holocaust – in the sense that no people were exterminated. For all is atoms. There can be only nihilism.
This is a tyrannically dangerous road to journey down. Atheism means the abolition of everything. Nothing is real, nothing is certain. There is no you or me or us.
This isn’t an attempt to say there aren’t good reasons for being an atheist – rather, it is a plea to examine the logical consequences of your assertion.
If atheism is correct, there is no reason not to pillage, rape and murder – because anything can be justified by the “preservation of the species.” If, in retort, you appeal to “common humanity,” you have to go further and give me grounds for believing in the human being.
The natural cannot be explained away without the supernatural, because without God, there is, quite literally, nothing – nothing you can call yourself, or your lover, or the things you hold most dear.
This is why, for the Christian, everything turns on Christ. Christ is the invisible God made visible, and the Son of Man – spirit intersected with flesh and blood and atoms. He is anthropology, producing a philosophy of the person – the supernatural intersecting with the natural, dust animated with spirit, atoms erupting in divinity.
All turns, therefore, on Christ. Without him, all talk of God can be put away safely because, even if there is a God out there, there would be no way for natural man to reach the supernatural. But with Christ, God presents himself to man, as man – personal being, identity and all. He, the perfect man, a model for humanity – who, by implication, are individual beings with selves, made according to that image.
Christ is the pivot on which it all hinges. Without him there is nothing, with him everything is at stake.