When I ask my unbelieving friends “Why are you an atheist?” they generally respond with something like “Because there is no God.” I ask them to dig a little deeper to answer my original question.
Generally, a diatribe against religion emerges. Believers are accused of being a bunch of hypocrites who oppress people with their rules while religions are painted in broad strokes as ridiculous superstitions and crutches for weak-minded people. Many claim that belief in God is irrational. From my experience, the atheist asserts that humanity has evolved beyond these irrational impulses and structures, now seeing religion for the garbage it is.
My next question is, “Okay, but why choose atheism?”
After all, a lack of faith comes with distinct disadvantages. For example, studies show that people with no faith are more likely than their religious counterparts to suffer from depression and to commit suicide.1 Besides that (or perhaps at the root of that), atheism doesn’t provide any sense of meaning or purpose for life because everything will end with total annihilation.
Even if atheists argue that we can assign meaning to our lives, once the Sun burns out and the universe goes to heat death what is left? What will be the purpose of striving to not believe in superstition? What will be the purpose of helping other people? Why not just spend all your time throwing pebbles into the sea instead? In the end, such an activity will mean as much as the greatest acts of philanthropy. Pragmatically, wouldn’t it be better to be deluded and happy for this brief, meaningless time?
Nonbelievers often answer that they choose atheism because it’s true. Further, pragmatism is not a good test for truth, which I concede. But is truth really worth possibly sacrificing health, happiness, and meaning? Here some opinions diverge, but most atheists would say that truth is of the utmost importance in dictating their worldview.
“Alright,” I reply, “if truth is so important, why is it that only a small sliver of people ever find it?” My familiarity with scientists may bias this response, but I think most atheists would say that people believe in God because humanity has evolved to believe in God. In the past, religion served a useful function in promoting survival by bringing order to communities and existential motivation to mankind.
Thus, over 90 percent of the world population today suffers from the effects of this grand evolutionary delusion. Only the free-thinkers, the “brights,” have figured out how to get beyond the rubbish of mysticism programmed into our genes through the evolutionary process.
But if it’s true that the human brain is wired to believe in something that is false, then the brain is demonstrably unreliable for discerning truth. How then can atheists trust that their brain has found the truth? Why are they free from the mental subroutines programmed via evolution? How can they be certain that their brain finds truth, not just in this case, but ever? As recently highlighted by Kenneth Samples, atheism’s very assumptions about the world guarantee that we cannot know truth. We have become prisoners of our brain and the evolutionary processes that built it. Reason has been reduced to a molecular pool game with proteins and chemicals whacking about through neural circuitry, generating pictures, colors, and sensations.
While having a molecular pool game governing your decisions may sound fun for a bit, it precludes any master-of-my-own-destiny claims to independence or ownership of achievements, capacities, or ideas. After all, you don’t own your ideas, choices, achievements or fate; that’s just the way the balls bounce.
The Christian Alternative
Bereft of the certainty of reason and truth that results from a godless worldview, it seems better for the atheist to seek an alternative. In his book C. S. Lewis’ Case for the Christian Faith, Richard Purtill offers the biblical perspective on reason and its origins (emphasis added):