Union University
Union University Dept of Language

Evangelogia



Can Mean Atheists Mean Atheism?

by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

October 7, 2009 - At times, those who embrace a thoroughly naturalistic view of the universe exhibit refreshing intellectual honesty. Consider, for example, a recent post in which an atheist writes, “You can look for meaning if you’d like, but the Universe is a semi-random collection of energy and matter, and based on all the evidence I have seen was not created with intent . . . What I am saying is that there is no direction to the Universe, no intent, no internal morals or purpose or meaning.”

Such candor is refreshing precisely because it displays a recognition of the internal logic of one’s position. In this case, if there’s no God and matter-and-energy is all there is, then the matter-and-energy that there is possesses no inherent meaning. It is, in itself, meaningless. That’s because meaning (or purpose) is inextricably linked with intentionality. Hence, a universe that is not the product of Intent is a pointless universe.

What’s striking about such honesty is that it is frequently accompanied by an inability to follow the internal logic of the naturalistic worldview to its full conclusion. This particular post is no exception. For while its author unhesitatingly embraces the pointlessness of matter-in-motion, insofar as it concerns “the universe,” he is uncomfortable with the prospect that human existence, in the grip of a universe that does not care, is equally absurd. He writes: “You might want to use the same reductionist reasoning on humans too, and say we are nothing more than machines and have no free will, no choice but to obey whatever laws of physics command us. And I cannot discount that, but I suspect we are richer than that.”

Why a naturalistic atheist would “suspect” that human beings are “richer” than the blind material forces that constitute every aspect of the universe is logically inexplicable. Of course, it’s possible that the psychological resilience of human nature defies the absurdity of naturalism. Despite the logic, the naturalist cannot help but believe there’s a point to it all. But the atheist’s confession of faith exacts a heavy cognitive sacrifice. And the struggle of the worshipper at the altar of a universe indifferent to human existence requires a Nietzschean effort of will to create meaning ex nihilo.

For the doom of a universe with no God is sure. If the far-flung gasses that comprise the galaxies have no point, then neither do the motions of the neurons in one’s brain – neither do the motions of the molecules in the space between the illuminated screen and the optical receptors in my eyes. Words, thoughts, speech, ideas are as meaningless as the motions of the heavens.

To be sure, the atheist may attempt to overcome these difficulties by asserting the meaningfulness of such things – as this particular author does. But the will-to-power cannot escape the grip of the internal logic except on pain of irrationality.

Relief and reason(!) reside in the Word – Who is, as Christians confess, before all worlds. The atheist’s intuition that there must be meaning is borrowed capital. But the Capital is real. Otherwise, the atheist’s blog would be as pointless as the universe of which it is a constituent. To which the atheist should respond: “Thanks be to God!”