Recently I read a Christianity report from 2014 with some staggering statistics[i]:
- 86% of evangelical youth drop out of church after graduation, never to return
- 70% of young adults drop out of church
- 80% of young people who dropped out of church said they did not plan to do so during high school
These stats and a recent podcast by, friend of ACL, Greg Koukl, introduced me to a radical concept: God does not exist. To be fair, it’s really not the wording I’ve never heard before, it’s the psychology behind the words. In this post I’m going to spend some time unpacking this thought and then I’ll field your questions/comments below (I trust there will be *smile*).
The Bible says that God is living and active (Heb 4:12). The Bible also guarantees God’s trust with verses like Malachi 3:10—God says, “test me…”. Furthermore, there are more than enough prosperity gospel preachers with years of ammunition selling their worldview (literally) that God exists to provide for you.
Perhaps the best way to communicate what I mean is to describe how I came up with the title for this post. In the most recent episode of Unbelievable with Justin Brierly, a debate takes place on the notion of God’s existence. The antagonist in the debate said he once was a God-believer, a follower of Christ. But one day he decided that he was going to live his life for a whole year as if God didn’t exist. After that year, he found no change in his life and (arguably) better in some regards. This atheist took the God-free challenge—and liked it.
He, like so many other college students/young adults, believe that because their life is sufficient without God, He must not exist.
Well, I think there are a few problems with this reasoning.
- Living without God is not the same as Living with no God
A few weeks ago my daughter decided she didn’t need me. Everything she needed could be supplied by mommy. “Daddy’s mean.” “Daddy doesn’t listen.” “I don’t want daddy; I want mommy.” It’s fair to say that from her perspective, all those things were true. However, just because she could get everything from mommy, had no bearing on whether or not I existed. Let’s compare this analogy to atheism.
Atheists, by definition, believe God does not exist. However, even if an atheist falls in the camp that doesn’t have a belief, they still “lack enough evidence to form a belief”. This is important. Because, in either case, both types of atheists believe they don’t need God to get where they are; mommy (matter, science, natural process, etc) are sufficient reasons for current situations. That is, atheists don’t need God to explain life; they have evolution.
Yet just like my daughter only wanting mommy, evolution is secondary to the fact that causation doesn’t happen without a first cause. I mean let’s compare these analogies apples-to-apples. Even if I really wasn’t part of my daughter’s life now—if I were an absent father, or dead, or any number of scenarios—and mommy really was enough for her, that has no bearing on the fact that I (daddy) was a necessity in the procreation process. To be quite frank, my daughter would not exist to make the claim, “I don’t need daddy”, without daddy.
The same is true for atheism. To date, the only way to make life is from life. Period. Evolutionary theory, abiogenesis, alien semen, and underwater volcanic goo sludge have not demonstrably produced life. In this way, it’s possible to say “I don’t need God” but it can only be said because God (the first life) exists. #JustSayin
2. Prospering with God is not the same as God causes prosperity
One of the major points of the Unbelievable episode was that life didn’t change with or without prayer Bible study or God. This is probably the most ridiculous of the points made in the debate because it’s a category error. First, we’re clearly not talking about Greek mythology. There simply is no “appeasing” god. I’ve been through the Bible about a dozen times; I have yet to read a verse that suggests: if you are not happy and rich you just need to do more and earn God’s love.
On the contrary, we read over and over that there’s nothing we can do. We read that the earth is God’s footstool (Isa 66:1), that man is fallen and sinful—separated from God (Isa 59:2), and that Jesus pays our ransom because we cannot (Rom 3:23-25). Further, and this is important, God isn’t here to provide for our physical needs.
Just yesterday I introduced my daughter to Disney’s “Aladdin”. In the movie, Aladdin has just three wishes to woo the princess and move from poverty to royalty. Every wish is strategic and timed to perfection. I think it goes without saying, but (believe it or not) the Disney movie ends with love in the air; the guy gets the girl. And then…yup, the movie ends. That’s it. Sure there was an Aladdin 2 (“The Return of Jafar”), and a tv series for a bit, but, like life, it ends. The genie goes away, the prince and princess eventually dies (yes, I know they’re cartoons—not the point), and that’s it.
But that’s not God; that’s not the promise of the Bible. The promise is eternal life; the promise is resurrection; the promise is Heaven (or Hell) forever. Whether we live wealthy or poor, with chronic illness or physically fit, none of that matters to the promise of God.
In fact, since it fits so well, it is no coincidence that one of the major Pauline analogies is the comparison of God’s love to marriage. Often the church is referred to as the bride of Christ and Jesus is called the bridegroom several times. It means that for better or worse it is love that unites, not how many stocks you can sell or how fast your car goes or how many rooms your house contains. God is love; love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast, it keeps no record of wrong. This is probably the most oft-used wedding verse and it really is the perfect depiction of God’s desired relationship with his creation.
3. Choosing to live without God is choosing that God exists
In this final section I’ll pose two arguments for your consideration: atheism necessitates determinism and determinism denies choice.
I have argued elsewhere that atheism is deterministic in nature. By that, I mean that atheism is materialistic; the mind and the brain are one and the same. Thinking is a chemical process that produces a chemical reaction and no non-physical influences can act on physical processes. In this way, whatever data is put in is the cause of the data that comes out. So, if you are presented with two choices, it is not the thought process that results in the choice, it is neurons and atoms and proteins and a host of other physical stuffs reacting to the materials that cause a reaction. This, for time/space/scope of work/etc is highly condensed. You can read more here (for a better summary) or here (for a detailed reasoning)[ii], or here (if you prefer video).
Now, if determinism is true, there is no choice to be made. So, the idea of choosing to live without God is a rejection of determinism and an acceptance of free-will. Free-will is a concept that requires thought—a non-physical influence acting on physical processes which is not conducive with materialism and materialism is not conducive with theism, much like atheism.
To be honest, some of these arguments are better than others. It’s hard to write to appease everyone in a little less than 1500 words. But here’s the rub; for this post to make the most sense, you have to take it as a whole and not 3 sections; simply dismissing atheism as not deterministic does not refute the whole of the post. But this is probably the biggest hurdle for atheists. I say that because God makes the most sense of all the science and philosophy available. Atheism, at its core, is a series of possibilities and zero consistency. Don’t believe me? Follow me on Twitter and watch how many different answers I get to the question: “Define atheism to you.”
Even in the Unbelievable episode, the summary of the atheist position was, “there are too many problems I can’t reconcile if God exists.” News flash: there are far more holes if God does not exist. So, yeah, you can live God free—you can love it, but it doesn’t change His existence…only yours.
[ii] This article is more detailed but it should be noted that this article is also not conclusive. It has many theories to argue against this idea but it also relies on deterministic values to cause indeterministic freedoms. I believe it to be an incompatible rationale to dismiss a significant atheistic problem, but I digress.