Why Should the Atheist be Faithful in Marriage?

One week before I graduated high school, the film Bridges of Madison County hit theaters. For an 18-year old girl with a bit of a crush on the gravelly-voiced Clint Eastwood, a plot line that included a whirlwind romance and life-long unrequited love was a recipe for a teary-eyed sigh-fest. For months after seeing the movie, I would name it as my favorite chick flick, and each time I watched it over again I urged Francesca to open the truck door.

The film, in case you haven’t seen it, is about adultery. An emotionally unfulfilled farm wife has a torrid three-day affair with a handsome travelling photographer while her husband and children are off showing livestock at the state fair. Her husband, a gentle, kind man, never learns of the indiscretion, and thereafter, Francesca remains loyal to him for the remainder of his days, even nursing him on his deathbed. Yet, the film viewer is left wistfully disappointed that Francesca didn’t run away with the exciting and romantic Robert Kincaid when she had the opportunity.

Had anyone questioned the 18-year-old me about my views on the permissibility of adultery, I would have vehemently opposed it, as I still do. So, there was a sharp dissonance between my intellectual/moral convictions and my immature sentiments about Bridges of Madison County–a fine testament to how we sometimes inadvertently turn a blind eye to our inner moral compass under emotional circumstances. But, unless you are a moral relativist, wrong is always wrong, no matter what feelings or desires are involved, and (this is KEY) whether or not anyone finds out about the deed.

In the Christian worldview, there are moral absolutes– things that are wrong, for all people, in all times and places. Infidelity to one’s spouse is always certainly wrong, even if one manages to successfully hide it. Why do we believe this? Because God has created and sanctified marriage; the wife’s body belongs only to her husband, and the husband’s belongs to his wife. As my own wedding vows to my husband said, “I am consecrated unto you alone.” There are indelible Laws, and these laws can exist only because there is a Law Giver.

But what about in the atheistic worldview? If the atheist determines that he or she can be unfaithful while away on a business trip without their spouse ever finding out (and thus being hurt), on what grounds can they claim their adultery would actually be wrong? Most often, I’ve heard “wrong” defined by unbelievers as being something that causes someone else emotional or physical pain. So, what is there to stop them from satisfying physical urges unbeknownst to anyone that would be upset by the action? If they insist on calling adultery “bad,” how are they grounding that badness? Where’s the measuring rod?

In a 2007 article (now in his website archives), atheist Richard Dawkins frowned upon those valuing faithfulness. In “Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster,” he asked, “Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place?” He says that we need to intellectually “rise above” the sexual jealousy that blind Darwinian evolution has produced in us and cheerfully permit our spouses to carry on any sexual recreation they choose to have outside the marriage bed. “Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others if he or she is that way inclined?” he asks. Dawkins is being completely consistent with his worldview by denying any objective sexual morality, even where marriage is concerned, so long as no one is harmed. (It remains unclear, however, why harming anyone or anything is objectively wrong in his view, where morality is nothing but an evolutionary social construct.)

My sense is that most self-described atheists, particularly those who are in happy marriages, have a deep-seated conviction that something is truly wrong with marital infidelity. As God’s image-bearers, the Truth of Things resonates strongly within their soul, and they know that spouses should be faithful. Just like they know, intuitively, that it is wrong to stab puppies with scissors for fun. The Apostle Paul talked about how even those who do not profess to follow God often still follow His law, for it is written on their hearts—“their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15).

I’ve never personally encountered an atheist who verbally endorsed objective morality. Some have told me that we should simply “let emotions be our guide” (you know, those blindly evolved neuro-chemical reactions in our blindly evolved brain) or that we should simply “refrain from harming” anyone. These are technically compatible with a clandestine extramarital affair, aren’t they? At the end of the day, though, how many unbelievers would claim that secretly cheating on your husband or wife is not absolutely wrong? Not that many, I’m thinking.

It’s a curious thing.

Sorry; No Such Thing as a Scientific Argument Against the Existence of God

I love science. I mean, I REALLY. LOVE. SCIENCE. My earliest, most vivid memories of school go back to my kindergarten class at C. Wayne Collier Elementary School, watching film strips (remember those, children of the 80s?) about dinosaurs, volcanoes, or the solar system, being transfixed by the awesomeness. My deepest desire in the sixth grade was to attend Space Camp. To this day, I am a sucker for a good science book or documentary–when it sticks to the actual science. Unfortunately, many productions these days promote a deeply philosophical agenda that isn’t scientific in the least (think of the recent TV series, Cosmos, hosted by atheist Neil DeGrasse Tyson). The tragic result of such propaganda is that some impressionable Christians end up questioning the rationality of their belief in God.

However, the statement, “God does not exist,” has never been, is not now, and never will be a scientific assertion. (See what I did there, Sagan?) This means that science, by its very definition, cannot be the epistemic justification for atheism. Yet how often do we see popular atheist writers (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, et. al.) base entire books on the claim: “God doesn’t exist! Let me show you the science!”

Really? Science investigates the matter (including the physical bodies of living organisms), energy, and relationships/dynamics of matter and energy in the material universe. But if God exists, He is immaterial and transcends the material universe. Science, no matter how far it ever advances, cannot rule Him out because it can never reach beyond the physical.

To be fair, not all materialists are trying to say that science DISPROVES God. But even arguments that simply attempt to discredit theism by rendering God superfluous point to material mechanisms and then make a philosophical leap. “Look how wonderfully creative and powerful evolution is! Nature is the designer! Therefore, God isn’t necessary! There is no goal, there is no purpose behind it all! Religion is dumb!”

This has always struck me as a ridiculous position. First of all, no matter what the “powers” of evolutionary mechanisms happen to be, there is no scientific method that can rule out an immaterial engineer of said mechanisms or any immaterial influence acting through natural processes to make them so [allegedly] powerful. To say that there is no transcendent mind orchestrating what we are able to observe in the material realm is to make a purely metaphysical statement. Unfortunately, very few scientists are trained philosophers. Perhaps this is why they don’t notice the fallacy or the enormous amount of faith required by their paradigm.

The fundamental question is: What does the World include? By “World” I mean all things material AND immaterial. The theist says that there is, in addition to all things physical, a realm of the immaterial. This realm includes God, upon whom the material universe is dependent for existence. The materialist/atheist says that there is no immaterial realm; but it is a category mistake for him or her to say science itself produces such a conclusion.

Essentially, anyone who makes the claim that science has destroyed or undermined theism is trying to piggyback their materialist philosophy onto scientific theories that cannot support the weight of such a piggy.

God, Mathematics, and Intelligent Design in Antiquity

For the past few months, I’ve been engaged in some of the most fascinating and intensive research I’ve ever undertaken. A major element of my exploration has been the question: What did the great thinkers of Greco-Roman antiquity have to say about the nature of the cosmos, particularly the applicability of mathematics to the natural world? In canvassing mathematicians, engineers, philosophers, and theologians from Plato to the fall of Rome, I learned a great deal about the brilliance of these men and why Western thought is so indebted to them.

One figure that I found particularly interesting was Nicomachus of Gerasa (60-120 AD), a Neo-Pythagorean who was trained in mathematics and philosophy in Alexandria, the epicenter of scholarship and home of the most famous (but tragically ill-fated) library in history. He wrote an Introduction to Arithmetic that became enormously successful, enduring as a standard textbook for the remainder of Antiquity and (in Latin paraphrase) throughout the Middle Ages. He also penned an Introduction to Harmonics that still survives and an Introduction to Geometry and Life of Pythagoras that, sadly, have been lost.

Nicomachus was not a Christian, but in reading his work it is evident that he perceived intentional design in nature, and saw mathematics and philosophy as partners in illuminating higher truth about the world.

In Introduction to Arithmetic chapter three, he offers an elegant metaphysical statement on the mathematical nature of the intelligently-designed cosmos:

All that has by nature with systematic method been arranged in the universe seems both in part and as a whole to have been determined and ordered in accordance with number, by the forethought and the mind of him that created all things; for the pattern was fixed like a preliminary sketch, by the domination of number pre-existent in the mind of the world-creating God, number conceptual only and immaterial in every way, but at the same time the true and eternal essence, so that with reference to it, as to an artistic plan, should be created all these things, time, motion, the heavens, the stars, all sorts of revolutions.

If you are familiar with Plato’s Republic, you will notice the similarity of language.

This is such a fine example of how beautifully integrated higher learning was during that time. Scholars recognized and embraced the fact that the various branches of learning interact with one another, and believed that the philosophical and theological inferences that naturally flow from the sciences shouldn’t be omitted from academic discussion.

The Life of the Mind: Intensive Study as an Act of Worship

Georgetown University Professor Emeritus, Father James V. Schall, authored a marvelous book entitled The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking. Just the title was enough to give me shivers of anticipation when I first read it on a doctoral course syllabus. I had an inkling of the experience that awaited me, since previously, I had read Fr. Schall’s excellent work, The Order of Things. My expectations were exceeded, and The Life of the Mind is now on my top ten list of most recommended books.

Photo from my personal library--The Great Books of the Western World

Photo from my personal library–The Great Books of the Western World

In chapter 2, “Books and the Intellectual Life,” Fr. Schall discusses the importance of creating a bookish culture in the home—investing in a quality personal library (which he offers some guidance on) and thoroughly reading the books one owns with discernment and a spirit of eager desire for knowledge. “I think we ought also to read ceaselessly,” he says. “Reading, indeed, can itself be a form of prayer.”

Dozens of times I’ve been asked how I find the time to read and study as much as I do, and I usually give a very incomplete answer. “Oh, I don’t leave my house often, and I don’t watch much television.” Both are true, but the more important answer, the one I’ve been shy about articulating at any length, is that reading and intensive study are how I best worship. When I read Fr. Schall’s statement about reading being a form of prayer, I felt a great sense of affirmation.

Mind you, I’m not talking about Bible study in particular (though that is most certainly included). I experience a soul-state of worshipfulness when reading all sorts of things, from Pascal to Tolkien to Nicomachus to Shel Silverstein. Truth can be found in all kinds of literature! The early church fathers often talked about gathering God’s wisdom from far and wide, including from the works of non-Christian writers. Just as the Hebrews carried off the treasures of the Egyptians and used them to construct the Temple, so we are to seek and take truth from wherever we find it, pressing it into service for Christendom.

Basil the Great (329-379 A.D.), in his essay “To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan Literature,” uses a metaphor that I particularly love (because of the origin of my first name). He says we are like bees, testing flower after flower, taking only the sweet, quality nectar for our honey-making and leaving the rest behind.

So, yes, intellectual work is time and energy-consuming, but it is essential to cultivating a robust Christian mind. Why not begin thinking of reading and deep study as forms of worship? No one ever says, “Oh I just don’t have enough hours in the day to worship.” This is my encouragement to you, whether you have yet to embark upon the perilous but joyful journey of loving God with your mind, or if you simply needed a fresh perspective on that insatiable book obsession.

Academic and Former Atheist, Dr. Holly Ordway, on Fox News Tomorrow!

Hello faithful readers! Tomorrow morning at 8:20am Central, tune in to Fox and Friends to see an interview of my dear friend and HBU colleague, Dr. Holly Ordway. She will talk about her new book, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius Press), in which she recounts her journey to faith and later reception into the Roman Catholic Church.

Stay tuned for my review of her book. :-)

Join Me in Northern California October 10-11th

Dear Readers,

On October 10th and 11th, I’ll be giving two different lectures at the THRIVE conference in Roseville, California: “Bioethics: Making the Case for Life” and “Exploring Creation Models: The Science and the Scripture.” Both of my children’s apologetics books will be available in the resource sales area.

The plenary speakers for the weekend are Lee Strobel, Dr. Stephen Meyer, Dr. J.P. Moreland, and Dr. Craig Hazen. If it is feasible for you, I encourage you to join us for what promises to be a fantastic event!

Click the image below for details—>