Would you ever expect to find the complete works of Shakespeare printed, collated, and bound by an accidental explosion?
But this is exactly what we have. An explosion that not only gave us the complete works of Shakespeare, but a bunch of bipedal units to act things out, crowds to weep and moan, and an industry of Shakespeare criticism that spans centuries. But the explosion didn’t stop there. It also gave us Kafka, Russian architecture, solar panels, Jeffersonian democracy, Christianity, and ivory poaching.
We are bits of the flying flotsam, spinning away from the eye of the Great Disaster. Anything we do is attributable to Chaos, for we are its children, carbon-based shrapnel with sensitive nerve endings, a problem with self-importance, and a taste for pizza.
I see your painting. It’s by Pollock. But where is your story? What is the plot? Who are the characters. What are the rules?
In this story, the Darwinian device that moves action is called (hail, the conquering hero) natural selection. But it has no purpose, no goal at all. Survival is the result for some and death for others, but there is nothing in this story to show that one is actually to be preferred over the other. Survival as good is just one of the axioms that’s been adopted by the faithful. The characters? What do you mean? There is only a strange impersonal trinity—Time, Chance, and Matter. Matter exists, and it is shaped by chemical reactions as Time and Chance act upon it. You have no soul. You are simply a combination of chemicals. What you call “death” is nothing more than a transition out of one combination and the beginning of another. Welcome to the leaf pile—you as mulch is no better or worse than you as man. When you begin and end is a pointless question…
The truth is that very few atheists will try to maintain that atheism is pleasant. It has been pitched as a hard truth, and those squinty-eyed atheists are the brave ones (the “brights,” according to Richard Dawkins), the ones willing to peer into the burning bosom of reality, see absolutely nothing, and write best-selling books about their experiences (and to convince us of our own soullessness). They preach this hard, chemically fatalistic doctrine like a bunch of Victorian Calvinists unable to understand why the populace won’t simply bow their heads and come along quietly.
Because it is nonsense. (And you can keep your tenure. I’d rather have a ping-pong table.)
Remember Jean-Paul Sartre’s statement that the basic philosophical question is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing. In other words, you begin with nothing. Now, to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing. It must be what I call nothing-something or nothing-nothing. If one is going to accept this answer, it must be nothing-nothing, which means there must be no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.
. . . You must not let anybody say he is giving an answer beginning with nothing and then really begin with something: energy, mass, motion, or personality. That would be something, and something is not nothing.
The truth is, I have never heard this argument sustained, for it is unthinkable that all that now is has come out of utter nothing.
. . . The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. But if we begin with a personal beginning and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless . . .
It is the Christian who has the answer at this point—a titanic answer! . . . Man’s damnation today is that he can find no meaning for man, but if we begin with the personal beginning we have an absolutely opposite situation. We have the reality of the fact that personality does have meaning because it is not alienated from what has always been, and what is, and what always will be. This is our answer, and with this we have a solution to the problem of existence—of bare being and its complexity—but also for man’s being different, with a personality which distinguishes him from non man.
We man use an illustration of two valleys. Often in the Swiss Alps, there is a valley filled with water and an adjacent valley without water. Surprisingly enough, sometimes the mountain springs leaks, and suddenly the second valley begins to fill up with water. As long as the level of water in the second valley does not rise higher than the level of water in the first valley, everyone concludes that there is a real possibility that the second lake came from the first. However, if the water in the second valley goes thirty feet higher than the water in the first valley, nobody gives that answer. If we begin with a personal beginning to all things, then we can understand that man’s aspiration for personality has a possible answer.
If we begin with less than personality, we must finally reduce personality to the impersonal. The modern scientific world does this in its reductionism, in which the word “personality” is only the impersonal plus complexity. In the naturalistic scientific world, whether social, psychological, or natural science, a man is reduced to the impersonal plus complexity. There is not real, intrinsic difference.
–Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent