Disenchantment with Atheism
Dear Dr. Craig,
I am writing to you out of a genuine interest to have my concerns addressed. I am now and have been for some time an atheist; however, I am increasingly finding myself unsatisfied with this position and I really want to believe in God. But there are things I cannot reconcile.
The arguments for God's existence presented here and elsewhere can, at best, only support the idea of deism, or an impersonal God that is not actually involved in creation. The cosmological argument, for example, even if true, says nothing about a personal and omniscient God.
An impersonal God not involved in creation is still not enough for mankind to have "goodness" and "everlasting life".
Here is my problem: everything about the way the universe is suggests an indifferent universe. Evolution is true; but then, what is the point of it for a personal God? And because evolution is true, at what point does a life form "acquire" a soul?
What is the point of all that space in the vast cosmos if God is concerned with Earth? Why are there so many natural phenomena - black holes, pulsars, radiation, etc, if God is concerned with mankind?
The indifference of nature - and the fact that Earth is such a small drop in the vast bucket of the cosmos - suggests an indifferent universe. I simply cannot reconcile this with the idea of a personal God, because creation does not seem to exist for the development of human beings alone.
The fact that so many religions have existed throughout history suggests that religion is a cultural phenomenon, too. How do you reconcile this?
I am genuinely curious and I have been seeking answers for some time now. I greatly prefer a world with God to a world without one, but to me, the universe seems too indifferent to support the idea of a personal God.
Your question caught my eye, Jon, because I have been preparing for my debate with Alex Rosenberg, who describes himself as a “disenchanted naturalist.” He provides the following summary of atheism’s answers to some of life’s most persistent questions:
Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Is there a soul? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance!
What is the difference between right/wrong, good/bad? There is no moral difference between them.
He concludes, “So much for the meaning of history, and everything else we care about.”
I agree with you that such a view of life is pretty unsatisfying. As Rosenberg says, if you're going to be atheistic, “you will have to be comfortable with a certain amount of nihilism . . . . And just in case there’s always Prozac.”
It seems to me, therefore, that we ought to be disinclined to embrace such a self-negating view of life and the universe unless compelled to do so by the evidence. So the question is, are the obstacles to belief that trouble you really so insuperable?
I don’t think so. Consider your first objection, that the theistic arguments do not prove the existence of a personal God. That is simply mistaken, Jon. As I have explained elsewhere, the kalam cosmological argument from the beginning of the universe, the teleological argument from the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, the moral argument for a personally embodied Good, and the ontological argument for a maximally great being each requires in its own way the existence of a personal deity. Each of these arguments is incompatible with the existence of an impersonal God, such as is featured in pantheistic religions like Taoism, Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, and Buddhism. They narrow down the options of the world’s major religions to the great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Deism.
Now the Deist God, though personal, is uninvolved in the affairs of the universe. But even Deism will give radically different answers to life’s persistent questions than atheism. We move beyond Deism to Christianity by considering the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I have argued that God has specially revealed Himself in Jesus and has given evidence of this by raising him from the dead. Thus the arguments of natural theology give us a personal God, and Christian evidences give us a God who is involved in the universe and in human history. So I think we’ve got very good grounds for believing in a personal God who is intimately involved in human affairs.
But what about your objection from the apparent indifference of the universe? Well, in fact it is not true that “everything about the way the universe is suggests an indifferent universe.” What is true is that the universe seems to be for the most part, in cosmologist Sean Carroll’s words, “self-contained.” That is to say, having selected its natural laws and established its initial conditions, God permits the universe to operate on its own, without the necessity of His constantly intervening and tinkering with it. It thus provides a stable environment in which autonomous finite agents can mature and make rational and moral choices. But, as I have said, God is not totally absent from human history. In the history of the nation of Israel God has specially revealed Himself through His saving acts, culminating in the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. In salvation history God has intervened miraculously in the universe time and again. So don’t be misled by the fact that the universe is largely self-contained into thinking that God has not acted in the universe.
What about the evolution of life and biological complexity? In fact, no one knows whether the origin of life and the evolution of biological complexity did not involve miraculous interventions of God along the way. Indeed, as I have emphasized elsewhere, no complete or compelling naturalistic account of the origin of life or of the mechanisms driving biological evolution or of the evolutionary history of the Earth is available. One might well regard the origin of life and the evolution of biological complexity as positive evidence for the involvement of God in the affairs of the universe. What is the point of evolution? Well, presumably to create an environment for human beings on this planet, complete with the fossil fuels necessary for the advancement of human life and civilization, in which persons can respond rationally and freely to God’s offer of salvation and eternal life. At what point does a life form first acquire a soul? I suppose at that point in evolutionary history when its neurological capacities have evolved to such an extent that is capable of serving as the physical mechanism through which the soul can function in accord with its capacities. These are, indeed, interesting questions, but hardly objections to theistic belief.
You ask, “What is the point of all that space in the vast cosmos if God is concerned with Earth?” But why think, Jon, that God is concerned only with the Earth? I know of no theological reason to think that creation “exists for the development of human beings alone.” Maybe God has created life forms throughout the universe. Or maybe God is like a cosmic artist who simply delights in the beauty and grandeur of His creation. In fact, the vast size of the universe is not unrelated to life on Earth. For the elements of which we and the Earth itself are formed were cooked up in the interior of stars and scattered through supernovae. In order for us to exist on Earth the universe has to be old enough in order for the heavy elements to be synthesized in the interior of stars and scattered throughout the universe. But the size of the universe is a function of its age. Given that the universe is expanding, a universe that is this old will also be this large. Thus it turns out that the size of the universe actually bespeaks God’s concern for us. It also magnifies God’s majesty and greatness, as we learn more about the incredibly vast cosmos we inhabit, and underlines His condescension in visiting this planet in the person of Jesus.
As for your final point, I agree with you that religions are “cultural phenomena.” They are human expressions of man’s quest after the transcendent. But in the history of Israel and in Jesus of Nazareth in particular we have good grounds for thinking the God whose existence is demonstrated by the arguments of natural theology has revealed Himself to mankind in a decisive way. Religion has been defined as man’s best effort to reach God; Christianity is God’s best effort to reach man.