We’re told atheism is a rational response to the Bible’s factual failures. That’s a cover story. Atheism is really about an illusory freedom from Big Rules.
A lot of the fault atheists find with the Bible are grounded in its scientific failures. But those failures ultimately really don’t matter to the ordinary man or woman. Their lives are unaffected whether God initiated the Big Bang or not. It’s also irrelevant whether God created the solar system or not.
I don’t deny that, from a purely knowledge-based point of view, it’s utterly fascinating to learn the science and physics behind the universe’s coming together after the Big Bang. I don’t question any of the science. But it still doesn’t make a difference to me personally, whether God created it or not. That alone should not drive me to atheism.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, though, thinks it matters a great deal, as evidenced by his periodic insufferably smug tweets, whether directly about God, the futility of religion, or about the nature of science:
A subject is scientifically controversial when actively debated by legions of scientists, not when actively debated by the public, the press, or by politicians.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 24, 2018
Evidence collected over many years, obtained from many locations, indicates that the power of Prayer is insufficient to stop bullets from killing school children.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 16, 2018
Merry Christmas to the world’s 2.5 billion Christians. And to the remaining 5 billion people, including Muslims Atheists Hindus Buddhists Animists & Jews, Happy Monday.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) December 24, 2017
If the world were really going to end, cosmically, I’d let y’all know, and with plenty of time to do nothing about it.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 30, 2017
I can sort of get where Tyson is coming from. Thanks to his credentials, he thinks he’s figured out the secrets of the universe. In his field, God as creator is competition to his theories about natural laws as “creator.” He’s not even going to debate the subject. As far as he’s concerned, he won. Atheism rules!
Still, I think Tyson might have a bit of humility, because last I heard, he doesn’t have an answer for what preceded the Big Bang. Theories? Sure. But an answer, no. Until the astrophysicists can get past that one with certainty, I’ll reserve judgment about God’s existence and hope that, if He does exist, He doesn’t have any serious reservations about my existence.
But let’s return to the ordinary Jane or Joe in the street, the one whose life is unaffected by the raging battle between some astrophysicists and God.
Peering back a few hundred years, when the Enlightenment hit, I can understand that a sense of betrayal might have driven some people — ordinary people, not scientists — away from God:
“But, but you said the world was created in six days?! I’ve been taught forever that learned men calculated Earth’s creation to just several thousand years ago. How in the world does any of this remain valid when the earth turns up traces of animals and civilizations going back more than those thousands of years?”
This crisis of faith deepened with Darwin’s Origin of Species, which proposed a slow, gradual creation narrative, rather than God’s “you can have it all in one day” plan. Logic insisted that, if the Bible was wrong on the facts, then it must be wrong on the whole God thing too. That thinking certainly guided the dogmatic atheism of my younger days.
I’ve mellowed since those days. Without denying the known science, I still feel that too many questions are left unanswered for me to state, as I once so dogmatically did, that there is no God. The Big Bang? Yeah, I believe it happened, and I think we’re peeling away some of the mysteries of what happened after, but I’m still stuck on the question about what came before?
And how did life on earth get started? Again, I don’t question how it developed after it started, to the extent that the fossil record reveals facts and implies theories, but none of that answers the question about what sparked life in the first place? And if life came from other planets, as some are now positing, borne here by meteors, what was the spark on the other planets?
I can go all Baby Snooks and ask the “why” question endlessly. The bare bones fact, though, is that science always takes us so far, and then no further. No matter what you do or say, eventually you’re staring at a large, blank wall, that stretches indefinitely in all directions. As long as we don’t know what’s on the other side — and we don’t — I reserve judgment.
Thus, while the sureties that drive atheism may be able to dismiss the Bible — “since it got the Creation story wrong, and I refuse to recognize it as a metaphor, the whole Bible from God on down is a lie” — they cannot address the Great Unknown. Despite this glaring hole in our knowledge, atheists are absolutely frantic to prove to the world that there is no God.
Which leads me to my opening question: Why atheism? Or rather, why this desperate need to force atheism on the rest of us. After all, what value can it serve the individual, the community, the nation, or all of mankind to say that the Earth — indeed, the whole universe — is a thing that came together randomly, produced life randomly, and then randomly gave us abilities and personalities that are greater than the sum of our biological and chemical parts? That’s so meaningless and meaninglessness is empty, and lonely, and depressing. In other words, it’s nihilism which is, almost by definition, a dead-end. I don’t like dead-ends, nor do most people, at least in an existential sense.
I wonder if the answer doesn’t lie, of all places, in this 1969 video showing a snarkily respectful(ish) Woody Allen (who is Jewish by birth and atheist by intellect) interviewing an amused, but steadfast, Billy Graham:
I know what Leftist atheists watching that video are thinking, because I once thought the same: “Can you believe what a stupid fool Billy Graham is? It’s hard to understand how, today, people can still believe in the Bible. It’s been nothing but trouble. It turned the Jews into targets for 3,000 years. It made Christians kill Muslims during the Crusades (never mind that the Crusades were a reaction to Muslims slaughtering Christians), and it resulted in centuries of religious wars in Europe. Reasonable people don’t need a hate-filled old book to tell them how to live good lives. After all, I’m an atheist and I’m a decent person.”
Did I get that right? Whether you are or were an atheist, or you know atheists, that’s exactly how most atheists think, especially about the Bible. (Today’s atheism has a curious respect for the Koran, but that may be the same nervous respect ordinary people in a community have for the Mafia Don’s instruction book telling them how to survive in his territory or rise in his ranks.)
But what I noticed watching the video now that I have a little more maturity and humility, and a little less arrogant assurance, is that Woody Allen desperately wanted permission to give in to his basest instincts. You might notice the same.
Woody Allen came down heavily on the side of unconstrained sex and the burden of honoring one’s parents (who, even if they’re great, are bossy, old-fashioned, and make you feel guilty a lot). He could equally have made his protests about some of the other commandments. “Why should I pay a merchant first before I’ve had the chance to try the product? As long as I pay for it later if I like it, there’s no harm in me taking it from his store, and if I do it secretively, I avoid a big fight.” “So what if I want my neighbor’s wife or his donkey? If I don’t do anything about it, that’s fine. And if I do act on that desire, well, the neighbor should have taken better care of them. It’s really his fault, not mine.”
Billy Graham recognized, of course, that Allen was trying to be funny, but he also understood the core truth driving Allen’s comments — God’s rules are inconvenient. They constrain us from engaging in selfish and hedonistic acts. In other words, God is the Big Daddy telling Allen, “No, don’t sleep with your girlfriend. No, don’t steal from the store. No, don’t cheat on the game.”
If you’re 13 years old (or 14 or 15 or, in a world in which youth has no incentive to mature, 26), you bitterly resent those rules. You’ve been hearing them practically since you were born, and you’re tired of being bossed around.
Now that you’re a big boy, isn’t it time that Big Daddy let’s go, because you know the score. Sex is good. The store’s owner won’t miss those things and he has enough money anyway. Likewise, if the players on the other team aren’t good enough to win on their own or smart enough to cheat too, who cares?
But Big Daddy and Billy Graham know a secret about those rules: They are the difference between a good life that has meaning and that leaves you with few regrets as you face down your own mortality, and a bad life that is unfulfilling, that exposes you to unreasonable risks, that destroys communities, and that will almost certainly leave you buried under a mountain of regrets at the end.
Really, when you get right down to it, no matter what atheists say to you about religious wars, Big Bangs, and evolution, those are excuses that are either dated as to Christians and Jews or, when clothed in scientific language, entirely irrelevant to their own lives. The real reason they embrace atheism is the same reason that a 14-year-old kid yells at his dad “You’re not the boss of me.”
An empty universe makes no demands. God (or merely the belief either in God or in the possibility of a God) makes lots of demands. If you’re an orthodox Jew, God makes hundreds of demands. If you’re a conservative Jew or Christian, He makes at least ten big demands, with it being up to you how many of the attendant rules (either from Leviticus or from the Sermon on the Mount) you intend to follow as well. The promise of following those demands, though, is that you will have a life well-lived.
It’s important to note that, as to you, the individual and depending on your chosen level of orthodoxy, these demands will not prevent you from engaging in fulfilling activities. They will not stop you from being a doctor, physicist, cowboy, construction worker, skier, marksman, military person, teacher, mother, father, or anything else. These demands will also not protect you from tragedy. They will not stop car accidents, insane people, disease, or war.
Instead, these demands are tied things that are more intrinsic to us than the job we choose or the world around us (and its ills and threats). They are about imposing upon ourselves a self-discipline that eschews impulsive and self-gratifying behavior in exchange for deeper and truer long-term benefits that affect our minds, our bodies, our relationships, and our communities.
In other words, God’s (or Big Daddy’s) rules are about the individual and his (or her) personal responsibility. They are the rules of mature people who exercise self-control because they see the future — and in this future, more often than not, tending to oneself by following Biblical rules has positive ramifications for the larger community, from home to nation. Moreover, a truly mature person understands that you spread this self-control, not through force, but through modeling it in one’s own life and teaching it to one’s own children.
Atheism, however, just like the Leftism with which it is so often paired, is an adolescent response to the world. It’s about rebellion against a father or mother. It’s about group identification. It’s about throwing around your newfound weight as an adolescent. And it’s about making yourself feel better for your moral mistakes and failings by saying “Everybody does it” — and then using the power/peer pressure of your group identification (whether sexual, racial, or government-loving) to make damn sure that everybody else indeed does “it” (whatever “it” is), whether they want to or not.
And that, my friends, no matter what else they tell you, is why so many immature people (aka Leftists) choose atheism — they are immature, and they think the freedom from rules that comes with atheism will make them happy in both the short and the long-term. As every young person who has made serious moral mistakes knows, this is almost invariably a false hypothesis.
(By the way, this post does not address those people who once believed in God but who have concluded that God abandoned them specifically or this world generally, leaving them despairing, hopeless, and alone in the universe. I don’t really consider those people atheists. They are believers whose very sense of abandonment means that they believe something ought to be there but, because they cannot find it, are forcing themselves to reject its existence.)
(One more by the way: This post is not intended to say that atheists cannot behave morally. We all know extremely moral atheists. If you ask them what guides their moral behavior, they’ll tell you that they reasoned their way to it. The truth, though, is that in Western cultures, “reasoned morality” is simply a non-religious version of Biblical morality. They’ve taken the Biblical rules, which tend to create high-functioning communities, and “sanitized” them for atheism. Once you get one or two generations away from Biblical belief, though, sanitized Biblical morality will be meaningless. Indeed, if you want to see what that looks like in America, just study the Leftist, politically correct, identity-based gyrations on campus. Absolute morality is a stranger to American college campuses. Instead, the faculty has substituted victim status as the “moral ruler.” This means that morality is defined by your position on the victim-identity ladder, leading to endless struggles to attain the top rung, something I wrote about long ago at American Thinker.)