I’d like to preface this post by clearly stating that my observations are not necessarily representative of the atheist population as a whole. What follows is merely a description my personal encounters. I’ve been having discussions with non-believers for a long time. Over the years, I’ve noticed distinct trends in how thoughtful, educated atheists and agnostics tend to respond to various arguments. As an apologist, it is important that I am able to better anticipate objections, so this field experience has been priceless in helping me better prepare myself for effective dialogue. One of the reasons I maintain this blog is to share the insights I’ve gained. It occurred to me a while back that it would be very interesting to pose this very simple question, as an experiment of sorts, to see how my atheist friends would respond.
“Are you glad that atheism is the truth?”
Whenever I’ve asked this question, the conversation has usually gone something much like this:
“Let me ask you something totally unrelated to the evidence for God and Christianity.”
“Are you glad that atheism is the truth?”
“Of course I’m glad it’s true! Why would I argue for its truth if I wasn’t glad about it?”
“What makes you glad that it’s true?”
“Well, for one thing, it’s the only way that humans can have genuine free will. Under Christianity, there’s no free will, there’s only God’s will. Under atheism, I choose how I live my life.”
This response is psychologically revealing, theologically erroneous, completely out of step with materialism (the philosophy that nothing besides the material universe exists), and frankly, absurd.
Let’s think about it.
If atheism is true, then we are merely a brief blip in the cosmic scheme of things. We were not intended; we evolved from non-living, non-rational matter, and whenever the maturation process of our sun eventually and inevitably makes human life impossible in our solar system, mankind will pass out of existence, and the cosmos will remain oblivious and unconcerned.
If atheism is true, our consciousness does not live on, and whenever we and our loved ones die, there is no hope for future existence.
If atheism is true, no one has the ultimate authority to decide what is right and wrong for everyone in all places at all times. Rather, we must bend our desires and behaviors in accordance with the mandates of whichever man-made government we happen to live under or else suffer the man-made consequences. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter how anyone lives, because our ultimate fates are all the same.
If atheism is true, immaterial souls do not exist and there actually isn’t any free will at all. We are meat puppets that dance to the tune of our DNA in response to the world. Our emotions, thoughts, intentions, and behaviors are material-dependent; they are determined by chemical reactions. Only if there is an immaterial soul/mind interacting with our brain can we have actual free willed agency. (For a book-length treatment of this, I recommend Richard Swinburne’s book, Mind, Brain, and Free Will.) Furthermore, under Christian theism at least, God prescribes correct behavior and attitudes, but he does not force our compliance. I suspect that what atheists often mean by having “true free will” is: not being morally accountable to a god.
Considering all of these things, how could anyone of sane mind be glad about them???
This is not to say that the awful, hopeless ramifications of a belief system such as atheism make that belief false. That’s not my argument. I’m also not arguing that the desirable ramifications of my belief system support its truthfulness. I’m simply saying that (1) it makes no sense whatsoever to be happy about the atheistic state of affairs themselves and that (2) one of the frequent reasons cited for that gladness actually fails upon close scrutiny.
How, then, is the atheist to respond? If they are honest with themselves and others, perhaps they could say something like this:
“No, I’m not glad that atheism is true. It’s a dark, bleak reality. I would much rather know that this life has ultimate meaning (as opposed to made-up meaning) and a higher purpose. I’d prefer to know that I and those I love will go on to a wonderful afterlife together. Atheism is a depressing state of affairs, no doubt. But, it is what it is.”
Interestingly, I’ve never received such a response. Once, someone said, “Sure, it’s very tempting to believe in a place like Heaven, but I’m still glad my view is true.” Whatever that means.
The next time you’re having a worldview discussion with a non-believing friend, I recommend asking them this one simple question. An interesting conversation is sure to ensue.