Historically, one of the most attractive features of atheism has been its claim to stark realism. No matter how unappealing a godless universe may turn out to be, atheists claim to be committed to adhering to the truth at all costs. However, in this essay, I would like to show that at the very heart of atheism are several extremely unexpected paradoxes, areas in which atheism is shown to be in tension with a commitment to realism and a life consistent with truth…
I want to summarize the paradoxes I believe are inherent to the atheism.
1. Truth-seeking. If a truth-loving God doesn’t exist, then truth-seeking is neither intrinsically good nor morally obligatory. Therefore, paradoxically, the Christian has grounds to urge all people to seek the truth and to claim it is their moral obligation to seek the truth whereas the atheist has no grounds to urge others to seek the truth or to claim it is their moral obligation to do so.
2. Moral reflection. Suffering and evil in the world is so prolific and horrendous that we instinctively avoid thinking about it to preserve our happiness. If Christianity is true, then all suffering and evil will one day be destroyed and healed. If atheism is true, suffering and evil are pointless and will never be rectified. So, paradoxically, a Christian gains the emotional resources to reflect honestly on suffering by reflecting on reality (as he perceives it) while an atheist gains the emotional resources to reflect honestly on suffering only by ignoring reality (as he perceives it).
3. Moral motivation. If Christianity is true, then all of our moral choices have tremendous, eternal significance. If atheism is true, then none of our moral choices have any eternal significance. So, paradoxically, the Christian gains the motivation to act morally by reflecting on reality (as he perceives it) while the atheist gains the motivation to act morally only by ignoring reality (as he perceives it).
None of these observations imply that atheism is necessarily false or that Christianity is true. But I hope that they do cause atheists some serious reflection. At least in these three areas, there is a conflict between the general perception that atheists live a life of realism, facing the truth about reality squarely, and the philosophical and psychological reality of atheism itself. In contrast, Christianity not only provides a basis for the idea that truth is of intrinsic value, but provides resources to enable the Christian to conform his beliefs and behavior to the truth. I would like to gently suggest that those who value truth-seeking and realism should consider whether atheism can justify or support either of these ideals.
Christianity agrees with Hamlet when he said to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” Reductionistic worldviews insist that there are fewer things in heaven and earth. Living according to these worldviews is like living in a concrete bunker with no windows. Communicating a Christian worldview should be like inviting people to open the door and come out. Our message ought to express the joy of leading captives out of a small, cramped world into one that is expansive and liberating.
The new Atheists quote Sigmund Freud, that God is a ‘wish fulfillment; a fictional father figure projected in the sky of our imagination and created by our desire for security.’ On this view, Heaven is an imaginary projection of our extinction and death. And religion is simply a psychological escape mechanism so that we don’t have to face life as it really is. Well, of course, that’s all true; provided only that God does not exist. But if God does exist, exactly the same Freudian argument will show you equally convincingly that it is atheism that is the flight from reality. A projection of the desire not to have to meet God one day and give account for your life. If God does exist, then atheism can easily be seen as a psychological escape mechanism; to avoid taking responsibility for one’s life.