Three Reasons I Am Not An Atheist
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.
My high school students often joke that I have an “inner atheist.” I do like to role-play an atheist with Christian audiences, and have even co-written an entire book responding to the New Atheists, Is God Just A Human Invention?. And yet atheism is not just an issue for me. I have many atheist friends with whom I enjoy regular conversations about life, philosophy, sports, and God. I have read the influential atheists of the past, such as Bertrand Russell and Camus, and many of the leading atheists today, such as Richard Dawkins. And yet, when all things are taken into consideration, there are three main reasons why I am not an atheist.
1. Atheism Cannot Answer the Big Questions of Life. For any worldview to be considered valid, it needs to answer the big questions about life, such as: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is the universe fine-tuned? Where did life come from? Why did consciousness emerge? Why are humans valuable? Is there objective beauty? The truth is that atheism cannot answer any of these questions, as I observed in an earlier post. Sure, there are many attempts to explain them on a naturalistic worldview, and some are better than others, but none of these explanations are more reasonable than those offered by theism. Atheism simply lacks the resources to account for the kinds of phenomena listed above.
2. Atheism Denies Common Sense. The atheistic worldview directly contradicts many of our common sense beliefs about the world, such as the belief in a real right and wrong and the existence of free will. Even Sam Harris, one of the most outspoken New Atheists, has written an entire book arguing for determinism. And yet the denial of free will raises many troubling questions: Why did Harris bother to write the book, and try to persuade us to reject free will, if everything is already determined anyways? How can anyone be held accountable for a crime? Why give moral praise? How can Harris so strongly emphasize the virtues of reason, which implies a mind that can reflect on ideas, if there is no immaterial mind and all beliefs are determined anyways? This is only one example of how atheism contradicts common sense, but there are many more. Consistent atheism involves embracing a worldview that undermines the very things that make life meaningful.
3. Atheism Is A Hopeless Worldview. It is no secret that atheism implies the rejection of human value, objective purpose, and life after death. According to Carl Sagan, the Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. As the French atheist Sartre observed, once we lose eternity, the amount of time we have is meaningless. Yet his solution is to create meaning by choosing a certain course of action. In a similar fashion, Bertrand Russell said we should build our lives upon the “firm foundation of unyielding despair.” Essentially, their solution is to pretend the universe has meaning, which is really just an exercise in self-delusion. Of course, the hopelessness of atheism does not mean it’s false. But could our deep desire for hope and meaning be a pointer, as C.S. Lewis observed, to the existence of real hope and meaning? Atheism fails to satisfy both intellectually and existentially.
There are many other reasons why I am not an atheist. But until atheism can provide satisfying answers to the big questions of life, match our common sense beliefs about the world, and provide hope, I find no compelling reason to embrace it.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.