by Christian Ledford
by Christian Ledford, UM Dearborn student—
In 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origins of Species, his magnum opus and the foundation of evolutionary biology, and changed the world. While many point to the publication of Origins as the point at which religion and science began to collide, it was merely a sign of the times; humanity’s descent into naturalism began earlier, in the Enlightenment of the 1700s in which scholars and scientists began to reject millennia-old Aristotelian and Biblical knowledge. Whereas anachronistic thinkers like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Pascal, and too many others to name were devoutly religious, this age of naturalism saw a departure from theism in efforts to explain the world around us, and the universe as a whole, outside of intelligent design and outside of God.
Today, after centuries of secular scientific thought on biology, geology, and cosmology, science has left religion behind. Those who express skepticism in unproven theories of modern science are looked down upon as unintelligent; those who advocate belief in intelligent design or even, gasp, creationism are seen as worse than unintelligent, as mentally-unsound deniers and haters of knowledge. In the wake of this abandonment, we’ve seen a rise of something peculiar called New Atheism; contrasted with the deistic atheism of Enlightenment men like Voltaire, this atheism couples itself directly with modern science in militant anti-theism, dedicated literally to the eradication of religious faith. This movement heralds champions like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, men who’ve made it their lives’ purpose to angrily persuade the world that life has no purpose.
I’ve never understood atheism. I was admittedly raised in a devoutly Christian home and educated in church all my life, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve gone without my doubts and moments of existential crisis; however, every time I’ve lapsed in faith or doubted God, I’ve always come back to my core belief that there is a God who both created the universe and guides its fate. Nothing else makes sense. Atheism, coupled with theories like evolution and geological uniformitarianism, has always been an ideology of meaninglessness; under atheism, life, as well as every single other aspect of existence, is a combined result of chance, pure random, lucky chance.
It’s by pure chance that the planet we live on exists perfectly in our sun’s habitable zone, which allows liquid water, an utter necessity for life, to exist abundantly on Earth’s surface. It’s pure chance that our moon exists in the perfect location to secure Earth’s axial tilt and guarantee our necessary day-night cycle. It’s pure chance that life, something we haven’t observed anywhere in any form in the entire observable universe, exists on Earth at all. It’s pure chance that humans, intelligent life, exist and are capable of not only speech but species consciousness and advanced thought, things not seen in any other species. For all the talk of Earth as a privileged planet and humanity as a privileged species, there’s equally as much equating this all to nothing more than a roll of the interstellar dice. At a certain point, does it not make more sense to attribute our monumental existence to some intention, some design, than to pure luck? As Thomas Aquinas eloquently said long ago in Summa Theologica, “Whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another…Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other [than]…God”.
However, it isn’t the scientific atheism’s reliance on chance that disturbs me, but rather the natural denotation of this ideology. Specifically, if our understanding of truth in the universe can rest only on nature and its laws (i.e. gravity, thermodynamics, etc.), then what does this implicate for decidedly non-natural phenomena, most importantly morality? It means that there is no absolute moral truth; it means that existence, deep down at its core, has no purpose, and in a universe where there is no meaning, nothing can have a meaning, least of all our short, insignificant lives. As far as I’m concerned, this is the fundamental problem of atheism.
If there is no God, no absolute judge of right and wrong, no designer of our lives, no scribe of our purpose, then we’re all governed simply by nature, and, in natural governance, anything goes. Per the theory of evolution, the weak will suffer and the strong will survive, with no guilt or ethics required from either; per atheism, in what position would we be in if we even attempted to ascribe some ethical judgement on the actions of either? What I’m saying here’s controversial; any self-respecting atheist would argue ethics developed as means to achieve communal unity to propel our species forward or that morality stems from our status as “social animals”. However, while perhaps making some sense on a base level, none of these attempts at explanation come close to explaining our uniquely-human species consciousness, instead only serving to promote tribalism. For example, a man in America may be implored to care for his neighbors or countrymen, but why should he care about those suffering in North Korea or Syria? A woman in Tokyo may care for her family, but why should she care if Congolese Africans starve to death? What evolutionary incentive is there in either case for compassion of the distant?
Finally: death, the great unifier. In atheistic science, death is nothingness; our deaths are but a slide into eternal oblivion, a complete failure to exist. In this sense, what hope does atheism have for children being blown apart in Aleppo? What hope is there for those forced into brutal, unending labor in Pyongyang? Under atheism, what hope is there for the downtrodden, brutalized, or broken? Their lives will not only be short but meaningless and insignificant as well.
In the end, there is no hope for man in detached atheistic science; therein lies only meaninglessness and despair. For all their vast knowledge, scientists like Richard Dawkins miss the painfully obvious, the fact that humanity needs truth and purpose, things that come only from one place: God.
However, this is God, but not just any generic god, not even one with all the prerequisite omni-qualities. A generic god may allow for some form of order and species cooperation, but, as we've seen in mythological deities throughout history, may or may not have humanity’s higher interests at heart, interests such as truth, love, happiness, and divine purpose. While it is possible that a generic god may wish for humanity to flourish, other belief systems see them only doing so so he/she could exploit them for their divine interests alone. This seems to be how Zeus and Odin, mythological supreme deities of the Greek and Nordic peoples respectively, could best be characterized. Even Allah, the target of worship in Islam, is in question, whose highest virtues, according to Muslims themselves, are those of a master to his human slaves.
The properties of the true God are none of those but rather of the one and utterly unique God of the Bible of whom I speak, who named himself as Yahweh, Adonai, and Elohim (among other great names). He alone declared himself as “Father to the fatherless” and took control of human beings not as slaves but as his “offspring”, and to those who believe as his children by adoption. He alone has ascribed to mankind the highest form of purpose: promise, authority, and dignity in His creation. And, again, for those who believe he offers the assurance of “abundant and eternal life” as co-heirs with Christ to his glorious kingdom. The God of the Bible uniquely demonstrated this by raising the crucified Christ from the dead, never to fall victim to the pains of death again; by raising Jesus from the dead, he proved that he is unlike any other would-be god whose prophets and demigods have all died and stayed dead, and, just as Jesus rose from the grave to fulfill his divine purpose, he showed that no human beings were intended for death or decay, and certainly not for nihilism in life that evolutionary modern science brings. Instead, humans were intended for the most purposeful, joyful and extended life imaginable; for Yahweh, the resurrection of his only Son was his most supreme act of Purpose.
*Extended since first published in the Michigan Journal of UM Dearborn in May of this year.