Tag Archives: Atheism

Ex-atheist A. N. Wilson’s reasons for returning to Christianity

UPDATE: A very special welcome to readers from 4Simpsons blog! If you do not have Neil’s blog bookmarked, you are missing out on perceptive commentary on current events and apologetics, all packaged in an attractive and functional layout! For example, check out this post on Obama’s record on abortion, and this post analyzing a recent encounter with a pro-choice challenger! Neil can fight!

Thanks so much for the link and the kind words, Neil! I appreciate it very much!

UPDATE: Welcome readers from Free Canuckistan! Thanks for the linky, Mr. WebElf!

This story is all over the Christian blogosphere, so let’s try to cover all the people who’ve written about it.

Wilson’s initial statement is found in his article in the New Statesman. (H/T Truthbomb Apologetics)

Excerpt where he describes his conversion to atheism:

…I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world.

Yeah, that’s why I would never send my kids to church until they begged and pleaded to go, and knew why they were doing it. The problem of evil and suffering that he mentions is a solid argument against God, one well worth responding too, that I answer fully here.

But another cause of his atheism was peer pressure – the desire to want to be thought of as smarter than others, the desire to not be bound by morality, the desire for autonomy from the hard task of seeking after the Lord in study and service. (More on this below)

If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens (as I did either on that trip to interview Billy Graham or another), I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world – that men and women are purely material beings (whatever that is supposed to mean), that “this is all there is” (ditto), that God, Jesus and religion are a load of baloney: and worse than that, the cause of much (no, come on, let yourself go), most (why stint yourself – go for it, man), all the trouble in the world, from Jerusalem to Belfast, from Washington to Islamabad.

He talks about the importance of the moral argument, which is the argument that converted me to Christianity so many years ago. There can be no doubt that when you meet an atheist, you are talking to someone who is disdainful of the demands of the moral law, (the objective moral standard that is imprinted on every human heart).

Everyone who has any conscience at all believes in God as the ground for that morality. It is only the immoral man who reduces morality to personal preferences or evolved social conventions. And there are so many immoral atheists today… inventing more and more speculations like Darwinism and postmodernism in order to justify full flight from the moral law they know is there.

I haven’t mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

Truthbomb Apologetics also linked to an online interview with Wilson. Peter Williams, a British Christian apologist, highlights one question, “Can you love God and agree with Darwin?”, from the interview.

Here is Wilson’s answer:

I think you can love God and agree with the author of The Voyage of the Beagle, the Earth Worm, and most of the Origin of Species. The Descent of Man, with its talk of savages, its belief that black people are more primitive than white people, and much nonsense besides, is an offence to the intelligence – and is obviously incompatible with Christianity. I think the jury is out about whether the theory of Natural selection, as defined by neo-Darwinians is true, and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book Why Us by James Lefanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian “gradualism”. But these are scientific rather than religious questions.

twoorthree.net has another analysis of the initial article.

A second article emerges

Here’s Wilson’s more recent article from the UK Daily Mail in which he describes his reasons for returning to the Christian faith even further. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The new article has a very striking title, “Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity”. There are some neat parts to this article as well.

For example, why are atheists who are force-fed faith so angry?

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been ‘conned’ by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

This next point is the critical point of this entire story. Atheists dismiss God for three reasons. 1) They want to appear intelligent in comparison others (i.e. – pride, vanity), 2) they do not want to dedicate any time to seeking and serving the person who loves them most, and 3) they believe that God should give them happiness and their needs are not met by God.

When a person becomes an atheist, they are giving an answer to questions like “does God exist?” and “does God have a will for the way I ought to live?”. Atheists do not accept that their purpose in life is to work on knowing God by first accepting Christ’s sacrifice for their current rebellion and then by re-prioritizing their lives based on the character and deeds of Christ.

Instead of accepting the need for a Savior, and the process of following Christ, they want to earn eternal life by dedicating their efforts to projects of their own choosing. Atheists choose a project that they like and work on that hoping to somehow gain eternal life by excelling at that. Similarly, atheists choose a different moral standard (i.e. – yoga, vegetarianism, recycling, socialism, etc.) and work to fulfill this standard of their own choosing in the hope that meeting that standard will justify them morally with God.

The thought that they would have to discover and reflect on God’s revealed character and love for people revealed in the origin and design of the universe, and in the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, is totally repulsive to them. They seize on the most childish opinions about God, (God is unknowable, Christians are stupid hypocrites, I don’t want to be moral, I don’t want to be unpopular, etc.), and refuse to engage in debate to correct those childish objections.

But let’s hear from Wilson about the peer-pressure he received from smart atheists:

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion itself.

Wilson goes on to explain what finally did work to change his mind. One of the reasons for his conversion is also the second reason why I converted: discomfort with the moral evil of the godless and their hatred of God. Observing the godless can create a powerful feeling of sympathy and allegiance to God revealed in Christ, such that you naturally rebel against those who reject God.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

One thing you need to understand about being a Christian is that the life consists in being an ambassador for Christ and then taking the lumps from those who will mock you, blacklist you, expel you, suspend you, fire you, jail you, torture you and murder you. This path of suffering is rejected by atheists and church Christians alike, even though imitating Christ’s suffering for obeying God rather than men is central to Christianity.

We humans somehow internalize the idea that God should desire our happiness, and our freedom to seek that happiness in whatever activities we choose to be meaningful for us. The idea that God may have made us for a purpose – to acknowledge and defend him in public in word and deed – is so repulsive to our wills that it is totally suppressed, not just from inquiry or discussion, but in our thoughts as well.

A third argument that convinced me, that Wilson also finds convincing, is the superior character of Christians when compared to atheists. Atheists have no idea how horribly immoral they look to Christians – about as immoral as Christians look to themselves. For once the horizontal dimension of loving your neighbor is dropped, and the vertical dimension of loving God is taken up, the mask is off. The horror of sin is revealed.

And in the face of that horror, men can do extraordinary deeds as they respond to God’s forgiveness. Actions that are irrational on a naturalistic, materialistic universe are rational for Christians. Atheists simply cannot engage in self-sacrificial behaviors against their self-interest the way that Christians can. Doctrines like eternal life, the incarnation, the atonement, and objective morality, make self-sacrifice rational.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: ‘My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.’

Now, I think of that exchange and of his bravery in proclaiming his faith. Our bishops and theologians, frightened as they have been by the pounding of secularist guns, need that kind of bravery more than ever.

The Christian life is a life of self-sacrifice, self-control and bravery, punctuated by periods of loneliness and defeat. It is not for everyone, and it is certainly not for atheists. Responding in love to God’s initiative in reaching out to us is the most difficult task that can ever be assigned to any human agent. Atheists, having rejected the laws of logic, scientific discovery, the demands of the moral law and the obligations of moral duties, are simply not up to the task.

Wilson concludes his case with a final argument:

…an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives – the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

Let me just say that I have not had the happiest experiences in life, as I have alluded to elsewhere. Things are going great now, as you know from my bio. But I know, and I hope that others can see, that the kind of acts of love that I unleash on my neighbors cannot – cannot – be explained merely as a result of human effort. Life is hard, but God makes love possible in the midst of suffering.

William Lane Craig weighs in on this Daily Mail article in his audio blog here.

I am planning an entire series of posts on atheism and the Christian life next week, and I have been interviewing atheists in order to collect data for the series of posts. I highly recommend that you tune in to the blog next week for this series!

Audio debate: Should Christians be coerced to act like non-Christians by the state?

Our next debate in the series of 4 wacky British debates is on whether Christians should be allowed to express their faith in public. In particular, should Christians be allowed to express their faith in the workplace? In the UK, it sounds like it is virtually illegal, just like it was in Stalinist Russia or North Korea today.

The way it works in the UK is like this: if you are a nurse, and you offer to pray for a patient, you’re suspended. Period. The offendedness of thin-skinned atheists cancels out the liberties of Christians. Listening to the atheist Terry Sanderson is like listening to Stalin. American Christians will be shocked to find how atheism leads naturally to fascism. Listen to him for yourself!

Note that debates on the Unbelievable radio show start at about 15 minutes into the podcast.


Unbelievable? 18 Apr 2009 – Are Christians being marginalised?
Premier is inviting Christians to sign the “I am a Christian” declaration at www.iamachristian.org.uk and stand up for their Christian faith. It’s in response to the fact that over 100,000 have downloaded the National Secular Society’s “Debaptism” certificate, renouncing childhood baptismal vows.There have been a number of stories that suggest Christians are being restricted form being open about their Christian faith in the public arena, and now the National Secular Society is urging that hospital chaplains should not be funded by the NHS.Premier’s CEO Peter Kerridge explains why he believes the campaign will encourage Christian to be bold in their faith. Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society explains why they want to take Christian influence out of the public sphere, while Andrea Williams of Christian Concern for Our Nation explains why she believes the rights of Christians are being challenged.

Sign the declaration at www.iamachristian.org.uk

For Terry Sanderson see www.secularism.org.uk

For Andrea Williams see www.ccfon.org


Atheism naturally leads to heavy-handed censorship of other views.

Human rights and liberties have no place in an atheistic, materialistic universe – it’s just survival of the fittest. And that’s what led atheist regimes to murder 100 million people in the 20th century. Violence, hatred and coercion are natural on atheism. That’s consistent atheism. There are no objective moral values, moral duties and morally significant actions in an atheistic universe. It’s all accidental.

Yes, I am exaggerating for effect, many atheists are not like that, especially the libertarians and fiscal conservatives, who do believe (inconsistently) in morality and freedom of religion. But those are rare! In a materialist universe, there is no such thing as objective human rights and human dignity, so even the fundamental right of free speech and freedom of religious expression can be removed.

UPDATE: I just want to define fascism so people understand what I am saying. Fascism is the system of government in which the values and purposes of the state are imposed on the people through state coercion. When something that someone else says makes you feel bad, and you threaten them with state coercion, you are using the state to force that person to give up their fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech, and act in a state-approved manner. That’s fascism.

Atheists need to learn how to listen to those who disagree with them and tolerate other points of view.

UPDATE: Be sure and check my comparison of a famous, authentic, consistent Christian with a famous, authentic, consistent non-Christian.

An experimental particle physicist answers speculations about creation and fine-tuning

I was corresponding with Dr. Michael G. Strauss recently regarding some comments that my previous articles on the kalam, fine-tuning and habitability arguments had drawn. Dr. Strauss is a tenured professor but he also does research on particle physics.

I wanted to draw your attention to a lecture given by Dr. Strauss to the students at Stanford University. In the lecture, he gives 3 arguments from the progress of science that support the conclusion that the universe was created and designed by an intelligent agent of immense power.

I highly recommend this lecture, entitled “Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God”.

Dr. Strauss is not a Christian philosopher or debater – he is a practicing physicist with a stack of publications, who is excited by scientific discoveries that confirm the existence of God.

Here is an outline of the lecture:

What does science tell us about God?
– the discoveries of Copernicus made humans less significant in the universe
– the discoveries of Darwin should that humans are an accident
– but this all pre-modern science
– what do the latest findings of science say about God?

Evidence #1: the origin of the universe
– the steady state model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the oscillating model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the big bang model supports theism, and it is supported by multiple recent discoveries
– the quantum gravity model supports atheism, but it pure theory and has never been tested or confirmed by experiment and observation

Evidence #2: the fine-tuning of physical constants for life
– there are over 100 examples of constants that must be selected within a narrow range in order for the universe to support the minimal requirements for life
– example: mass density
– example: strong nuclear force (what he studies)
– example: carbon formation

Evidence #3: the fine-tuning of our planet for habitability
– the type of galaxy and our location in it
– our solar system and our star
– our planet
– our moon

What Dr. Strauss thinks about science

As you listen to the lecture, pay close attention to the fact that it is the progress of science that has disproved atheism and given support to theism. Atheism is based on old science. And people who continue to cling to atheism against the new evidence must resort to speculations that are either not testable at all, or not confirmed by experimental testing.

Let’s take a look at two of the speculations that sound scientific, but aren’t confirmed by any research. The first is quantum mechanics (i.e. – vacuum fluctuation model). It argues that the universe is an event without a cause, because there is an unobservable hyper-universe that spawned our universe. The second is a response to the fine-tuning. It argues that there are an infinite number of unobservable universes that are not fine-tuned, and we just happen to be in the fine-tuned one.

Notice that both responses are theoretical speculations that take refuge in unobservable entities in order to escape the good experimental science that proves that there is a Creator and Designer. It’s atheism-of-the-gaps!

Vacuum fluctuation:
– offered as a response to the big bang
– what can QM do: explain how particles appear in a vacuum when the vacuum is sparked
– speculation is that this same process may explain the origin of the universe
– in order to test it, our universe would have to be contained within a larger universe, with similar laws of physics
– but there is no evidence that this unobservable hyper-universe exists

Chaotic inflationary model:
– offered as a response to the fine-tuning
– speculates that inflation may cause other universes to come into being, with different constants
– no experimental verification has been offered
– no evidence of any of these other universes

So, what we have here is a clear cut case of logical arguments and evidence for theism, vs atheist faith and wish-fulfillment. All the data we have today is for theism, but all the untestable speculating is on the part of the atheists, who have faith and hope that the progress of science will overturn what we know and replace it with the what atheists hope for. (And I haven’t even talked about the origin of life and molecular machines, etc.!)

In fact I e-mailed Dr. Strauss about these two speculations, and this was his response:

Wintery Knight,

Quantum mechanics works within the laws of physics. So if you postulate that this universe was created from QM then you must also postulate that a previous universe with similar laws existed previously.

There are a number of theories that would allow multiple universes, though none have any experimental verification. Have you read Jeff’s “Who’s Afraid of a Multiverse?” It is very good.

-Mike

I think that we need to be careful when we explore these issues of faith and science. This is not a game. We need make decisions about what is true today, not hold out hope that some discovery will be made later that validates what we want to believe.

Further study

Dr. Strauss gave a similar lecture more recently at the University of California (Santa Cruz) and in the Q&A, he actually faced questions regarding quantum mechanics and the chaotic inflationary model. You can hear him express his mistrust of theories that haven’t been proven as he urges the audience to go with the evidence, not with the self-serving speculations. Dr. Strauss takes part in a panel discussion on science and religion here.

Also on this topic is the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist physicist Victor Stenger, (audio here). Also, a lecture titled “Beyond the Big Bang”, was delivered at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in front of Victor Stenger and other physicists (audio here). There is a period of Q&A in which Bill must face challengers. These are both available on DVD. More Bill Craig debates are here.

In this published research paper from the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, William Lane Craig responds to the several naturalistic attempts to evade the implications of the kalam argument. Vacuum fluctuation, chatoric inflationary, steady state and quantum gravity models are all addressed.

How well do Darwinists do in debates with skeptics?

UPDATE: Welcome Post-Darwinist readers! Thanks for the link Denyse!

I thought that I would introduce a couple of my favorite critics of Darwinian fundamentalism, Stephen C. Meyer and Jonathan Wells. Here they are debating with Michael Shermer. I like Michael Shermer for two reasons – fiscal conservatism and engagement with his opponents. I’ve seen him MC sessions at Christian conferences. So let’s give him a chance to make his case.

Biographies of our debaters

Michael Shermer

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com), the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991).

Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Geology.

Jonathan Wells

Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University in Hayward.

Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he conducts research on the ecology of plant populations and the evolution of adaptations…. He received his doctorate in genetics at the University of Ferrara in Italy, his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Ph.D. in philosophy of science at the University of Tennessee.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Let’s start with a short 15-minute debate between Michael Shermer and Stephen Meyer, moderated by Lee Strobel.

Meyer starts with these points:

  • the origin of the universe implies a Creator who exists outside of time, space and matter, because he created time, space and matter
  • the physical constants and ratios of physics must be fine-tuned in order to support the minimal requirements for life
  • the cell is filled with molecular machines that are identical to machines built by humans, such as rotary engines
  • the cell contains biological information in the DNA, and the origin of this information cannot be explained by evolution

Shermer makes these points:

  • we should never infer intelligent causes, we should keep searching for a materialistic explanation and say we don’t know until we find an explanation that allows me to continue to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist
  • who made the designer?
  • maybe the big bang will be overturned and then we can go back to the eternal universe that I want to be true in spite of the evidence
  • we can speculate (without any experimental evidence) about alternative theories of how the universe got here, unlike the standard big bang theory which is backed by multiple lines of scientific evidence

Then a dialog ensues:

Shermer: The design of life is sub-optimal – if God did it, it should be perfect, with no trade-offs between non-functional requirements, just like Wintery Knights’ software architecture designs and Java code are perfect

Meyer: There is no such thing as a perfect design. Software architects, like Wintery Knight, who have studied software design, will tell you that non-functional requirements must be traded-off against one another. (Source: Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University)

Shermer: Let me commit the ad hominem fallacy by attacking the motives of intelligent design proponents instead of dealing with their arguments and evidence.

Meyer: Two can play at that game, since evolutionists are atheists and secular humanists. But who cares? let’s stick to the arguments and evidence, ok?

Strobel: Meyer, are evolution and Christianity compatible?

Meyer: No, because evolution requires that the natural processes that create the diversity of life be random and unpredictable.

Shermer: Well, maybe the natural forces could be caused by the designer but in a totally undirected and undetectable way, so you Christians could have blind faith and we could run the public square.

Meyer: But Darwinism says and that no design is detectable in those processes, so they processes cannot be actually directed on Darwinism.

Shermer: But the designer could use natural selection and mutation.

Meyer: If so, then why did Darwin explicitly reject God having a role in these processes?

Shermer: I don’t believe in God because there isn’t enough evidence and it would require too many changes in my life. I like having autonomy from God and his moral demands. Also, we must always prefer material explanations, we can never infer that an intelligence played a role. I will only allow you to have two explanations of natural phenomena: 1) God didn’t do it, or 2) we don’t know.

Meyer: I like that you allow “we don’t know” as an explanation if we don’t know, because that is a rejection of dogmatic explanations that don’t fit the available evidence. But the arguments for design are based on what we do know, not what we don’t know – science gave us these arguments – and the progress of science has only strengthened them.

Conclusion

Well, I think it’s pretty clear who won, and who had the evidence! I like Michael Shermer, though, and I hope that he comes around to our point of view in time. At least he’s willing to debate, and he has a pretty moderate view compared to other Darwinian fundamentalists.

Other debates on Darwinism vs intelligent design

Michael Shermer debates Jonathan Wells at the pro-Darwinism Cato Institute (in 7 parts), MP3 audio is here.

Massimo Pigliucci debates Jonathan Wells for the pro-Darwinism PBS, downloadable video and audio.

John Lennox debates against Michael Shermer about the existence of God.

Further study

Here are posts on cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument. I’ll respond to hopeful, but unwarranted, speculations about quantum mechanics and chaotic inflationary models, which I will be blogging about later. I’ll blog about molecular machines in a future post.

An essay on the origin of biological information by Meyer is here and a debate between two software engineers on it is here. I’ll also mention Meyer’s forthcoming book Signature in the Cell. Don’t forget about the upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala!

By the way, William Lane Craig has also debated Massimo Pigliucci on the topic “Does God Exist?”.

UPDATE: Did you see my post on why Darwinists don’t allow debates like this to happen in school classrooms?

Is the concept of moral obligation intelligible on atheistic materialism?

Commenter ECM sent me this post from Uncommon Descent about the is-ought fallacy, and the difficulties that atheists have grounding morality on worldview in which only material things exist. The post is written by Barry Arrington. He is summarizes an argument based on some of the comments from an earlier post.

Barry introduces two assumptions:

(1) That atheistic naturalism is true.

(2) One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is.” Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.

Given our second assumption, there is nothing in the natural world from which we can infer an “ought.” And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s nothing in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action.

This makes sense to me. If only matter exists, and the whole universe is an accident, then where would an atheist get this idea that the current arrangement of matter ought to be any other way? Matter just is. This concept of “ought to be” is totally alien to an atheistic worldview where everything is matter, because moral obligations are non-material.

The article goes on: (I added the number 3)

Add a further uncontroversial assumption: (3) an action is permissible if and only if it’s not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. This is just the standard inferential scheme for formal deontic logic.

Basically, he is saying that an action is permissible so long as there is no moral obligation against that action. Can you see what’s coming? (I added the number 4)

We’ve conformed to standard principles and inference rules of logic and we’ve started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded. And yet we reach the absurd conclusion: (4) therefore, for any action you care to pick, it’s permissible to perform that action.

And let’s be clear about why this is bad for atheists:

If you’d like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan “if atheism is true, all things are permitted.” For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

Let me just add one more point. How are we supposed to be morally obligated to perform any action if we are pure matter? Meat machines don’t have free will. We would just be strings of dominoes falling forward, with no choice whether to fall or not. And even if we could somehow choose, our choices have no ultimate moral significance.

So, what does morality mean to atheists, then?

A while back, I listed some quotes about morality on atheism, taken from atheists who have actually thought through the consequences of atheism for rational moral behavior.

Here is a quotation from Richard Dawkins:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Of course, atheists can sense the objective moral standard that God has built into every person. But their materialist worldview undercuts the meaningfulness of moral values, moral duties and moral accountability. And people just don’t act morally once morality has become irrational for them. Acting morally is hard.

What ends up happening to atheists is that they only do the right thing for pleasure, or to avoid social punishments. Once the pre-supposition of materialism has destroyed the rationality of morality, it becomes impossible for atheists to answer the question “Why be moral?”. Any atheist who continues to act morally is living inconsistently with their own worldview – and that is not sustainable in the long run.

Atheistic assumptions wear down the awareness of the moral law that atheists started out with, so that they begin to advocate for obviously immoral things, like the suppression of freedom of inquiry. Eventually, the guilt becomes so strong that they exchange authentic moral values like chastity and sobriety for cheap narcissistic fads like recycling and yoga.

The case of William Wilberforce

Consider this article from the Wall Street Journal about the abolitionist William Wilberforce.

In fact, William Wilberforce was driven by a version of Christianity that today would be derided as “fundamentalist.”

…William Wilberforce himself, as a student at Cambridge University in the 1770s and as a young member of Parliament soon after, had no more than a nominal sense of faith. Then, in 1785, he began reading evangelical treatises and underwent what he called “the Great Change,” almost dropping out of politics to study for the ministry until friends persuaded him that he could do more good where he was.

And he did a great deal of good…[h]is relentless campaign eventually led Parliament to ban the slave trade, in 1807, and to pass a law shortly after his death in 1833, making the entire institution of slavery illegal. But it is impossible to understand Wilberforce’s long antislavery campaign without seeing it as part of a larger Christian impulse. The man who prodded Parliament so famously also wrote theological tracts, sponsored missionary and charitable works, and fought for what he called the “reformation of manners,” a campaign against vice.

Even during the 18th century, evangelicals were derided as over-emotional “enthusiasts” by their Enlightenment-influenced contemporaries. By the time of Wilberforce’s “great change,” liberal 18th-century theologians had sought to make Christianity more “reasonable,” de-emphasizing sin, salvation and Christ’s divinity in favor of ethics, morality and a rather distant, deistic God. Relatedly, large numbers of ordinary English people, especially among the working classes, had begun drifting away from the tepid Christianity that seemed to prevail. Evangelicalism sought to counter such trends and to reinvigorate Christian belief.

…Perhaps the leading evangelical force of the day was the Methodism of John Wesley: It focused on preaching, the close study of the Bible, communal hymn-singing and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Central to the Methodist project was the notion that good works and charity were essential components of the Christian life. Methodism spawned a vast network of churches and ramified into the evangelical branches of Anglicanism. Nearly all the social-reform movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries–from temperance and soup kitchens to slum settlement houses and prison reform–owe something to Methodism and its related evangelical strains. The campaign against slavery was the most momentous of such reforms and, over time, the most successful.It is thus fitting that John Wesley happened to write his last letter–sent in February 1791, days before his death–to William Wilberforce. Wesley urged Wilberforce to devote himself unstintingly to his antislavery campaign, a “glorious enterprise” that opposed “that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.” Wesley also urged him to “go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”

Wesley had begun preaching against slavery 20 years before and in 1774 published an abolitionist tract, “Thoughts on Slavery.” Wilberforce came into contact with the burgeoning antislavery movement in 1787, when he met Thomas Clarkson, an evangelical Anglican who had devoted his life to the abolitionist cause. Two years later, Wilberforce gave his first speech against the slave trade in Parliament.

…This idea of slaving as sin is key. As sociologist Rodney Stark noted in “For the Glory of God” (2003), the abolition of slavery in the West during the 19th century was a uniquely Christian endeavor. When chattel slavery, long absent from Europe, reappeared in imperial form in the 16th and 17th centuries–mostly in response to the need for cheap labor in the New World–the first calls to end the practice came from pious Christians, notably the Quakers. Evangelicals, not least Methodists, quickly joined the cause, and a movement was born.

William Wilberforce believed that slaves were made in the image of God – that they were embodied souls who could be resurrected to eternal life. Wilberforce believed that the purpose of human life is to freely seek God, and to be reconciled with God through Christ. He wanted all men and women to have the opportunity to investigate and respond to God’s self-revelation to them.

Further study

You can read more about Wilberforce’s beliefs here and his public activities here. And you can still see modern-day abolitionists, like Scott Klusendorf, acting out their Christian faith. Only today they’re called pro-lifers.

A good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally grounding prescriptive morality is here.