Reclaiming Reason from Atheism
Does atheism have a true monopoly on reason? In my conversations with nonbelievers, I’ve found that probing deeper into the atheistic worldview exposes a key weakness in that perspective and provides an opportunity to demonstrate Christianity’s solid footing in reason.
The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
— Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 423/277.
Generally, a diatribe against religion emerges. Believers are accused of being a bunch of hypocrites who oppress people with their rules while religions are painted in broad strokes as ridiculous superstitions and crutches for weak-minded people. Many claim that belief in God is irrational. From my experience, the atheist asserts that humanity has evolved beyond these irrational impulses and structures, now seeing religion for the garbage it is.
My next question is, “Okay, but why choose atheism?”
After all, a lack of faith comes with distinct disadvantages. For example, studies show that people with no faith are more likely than their religious counterparts to suffer from depression and to commit suicide.1 Besides that (or perhaps at the root of that), atheism doesn’t provide any sense of meaning or purpose for life because everything will end with total annihilation.
Even if atheists argue that we can assign meaning to our lives, once the Sun burns out and the universe goes to heat death what is left? What will be the purpose of striving to not believe in superstition? What will be the purpose of helping other people? Why not just spend all your time throwing pebbles into the sea instead? In the end, such an activity will mean as much as the greatest acts of philanthropy. Pragmatically, wouldn’t it be better to be deluded and happy for this brief, meaningless time?
Nonbelievers often answer that they choose atheism because it’s true. Further, pragmatism is not a good test for truth, which I concede. But is truth really worth possibly sacrificing health, happiness, and meaning? Here some opinions diverge, but most atheists would say that truth is of the utmost importance in dictating their worldview.
“Alright,” I reply, “if truth is so important, why is it that only a small sliver of people ever find it?” My familiarity with scientists may bias this response, but I think most atheists would say that people believe in God because humanity has evolved to believe in God. In the past, religion served a useful function in promoting survival by bringing order to communities and existential motivation to mankind.
Thus, over 90 percent of the world population today suffers from the effects of this grand evolutionary delusion. Only the free-thinkers, the “brights,” have figured out how to get beyond the rubbish of mysticism programmed into our genes through the evolutionary process.
But if it’s true that the human brain is wired to believe in something that is false, then the brain is demonstrably unreliable for discerning truth. How then can atheists trust that their brain has found the truth? Why are they free from the mental subroutines programmed via evolution? How can they be certain that their brain finds truth, not just in this case, but ever? As recently highlighted by Kenneth Samples, atheism’s very assumptions about the world guarantee that we cannot know truth. We have become prisoners of our brain and the evolutionary processes that built it. Reason has been reduced to a molecular pool game with proteins and chemicals whacking about through neural circuitry, generating pictures, colors, and sensations.
While having a molecular pool game governing your decisions may sound fun for a bit, it precludes any master-of-my-own-destiny claims to independence or ownership of achievements, capacities, or ideas. After all, you don’t own your ideas, choices, achievements or fate; that’s just the way the balls bounce.
The Christian Alternative
Bereft of the certainty of reason and truth that results from a godless worldview, it seems better for the atheist to seek an alternative. In his book C. S. Lewis’ Case for the Christian Faith, Richard Purtill offers the biblical perspective on reason and its origins (emphasis added):
One way of getting a preliminary insight into Lewis’ argument [from reason] is to ask whether nature is a product of mind or mind is a product of nature. If God created nature, as Christians believe, then nature is understandable by reason because it is a product of reason.2
Christianity offers that man is made in the image of God and from this we gather that our mind is formed in likeness to God’s mind. Thus, we have a reason for our reason which is Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, Earth, and our mind. Indeed the apostle John describes how “the Word” (logos, which can also be translated as “reason”) was with God in the beginning, how reason formed all of nature, and how the incarnate Word came to Earth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–4, 14)
The idea of Christ as the Word is further refined in John 14:6 where Jesus describes Himself as “the way and the truth and the life.” Here Jesus, reason incarnate, properly claims primacy over truth and life, highlighting how truth and life flow from reason.
Conversely, atheism fails to provide hope, a reason for living, a reason for meaning, or a reason for reason at all. With such a hopeless doctrine for life or truth, I hope atheists will consider reclaiming their reason by exploring the rich doctrines of Christianity that celebrate reason and hope.
1. See Lisa Miller et al., “Religiosity and Major Depression in Adults at High Risk: A Ten-Year Prospective Study,” American Journal of Psychiatry 169, (January 2012): 89–94, and Kanita Dervic et al., “Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt,” American Journal of Psychiatry 161 (December 2004): 2303–308.
2. Richard Purtill, C. S. Lewis’ Case for the Christian Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004), 40.
By Dr. Katie Galloway
Dr. Katie Galloway earned a PhD in chemical engineering with a minor in biology from Caltech in 2012. In the summer of 2013 she served as an adjunct research scholar at RTB before beginning postdoctoral studies in neurobiology and regenerative medicine at USC.