Atheism’s Dire Paradox

In atheism, this is all there is.

To the atheist, this is all there is.

Atheism is sold as a modern, up-to-date way of thinking, free from the superstitious baggage of religion. Instead of following the rules of an imaginary creature, you get to do whatever you please, for reason and science do not put a bunch of restrictions on what you’re allowed to do. To the atheist, anyone who clings to rules laid down by some magical man in the sky is insane; human beings have the intelligence and foresight to manage their own affairs.

There’s only one problem: a rigorous atheism denies liberty altogether.

Atheism holds that the material universe is all there is. Everything from the birth of the universe, to the formation of Earth, to the emergence of life is a cosmic accident with no special meaning or purpose. Supernatural forces do not and cannot exist; everything must obey the laws of physics. Additionally, all events have a prior cause rooted in nature, and no event can cause itself.

Humans are a part of this material universe; they are not some special creation, but mere matter like everything else. Since humans are matter, they follow the rules that all matter does: events must have a prior cause, and nothing can cause itself.

This means that every human act has a prior physical cause, therefore humans do not choose their actions at all. An atheist worldview considers “choice” a unscientific myth brought on by magical thinking, every bit as fictitious as God.

Liberty, the main selling point of atheism, turns out to be false by its own reasoning!

In light of this, how is an atheist going to sell his philosophy to religious folks? God may have a bunch of rules, but at least He lets you choose your actions. Atheist materialism doesn’t even let you do that; you’re just a machine that follows a bunch of signals. You don’t matter, because you’re just matter. Better to stick with the magical man, for the brave new way of thinking leaves you an empty shell.

If atheism is to make any sense at all, it must resolve this paradox. If atheism is all about evidence, it mustn’t use something it rejects as the bait.

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8 Responses to Atheism’s Dire Paradox

  1. Ian says:

    Atheism isn’t some ideology to be sold. It’s just a word that means “Not theist”. It’s the same as asymmetrical meaning “not symmetrical”.

    >Instead of following the rules of an imaginary creature, you get to do whatever you please

    Aye, I do what I please. And the empathy, a survival trait passed down from my cooperating ancestors, dictates what I please. I, as an atheist, don’t need to be told that it’s wrong to hurt someone. And neither do theists.

    >God may have a bunch of rules, but at least He lets you choose your actions

    If he lets you choose your actions, then how can he know the path you’ll choose? He is supposed to know everything, meaning what you choose is already pre-determined. Given that, the people who go to hell have been pre-determined, and are punished through no fault of their own. God knew they would end up in hell, for he knows everything, and yet he did nothing to save them, despite having the power to. I’d call that neglect.

    >If atheism is all about evidence, it mustn’t use something it rejects as the bait.

    Atheism isn’t “based on evidence”, at least for me, it’s mostly based on the lack of it – for any gods, not just yours.

    And you can’t lump all atheists together like that. Babies who do not have the capacity for understanding and accepting a concept means they can’t believe in anything. Someone who believes in fairies and unicorns and dismisses science but doesn’t believe in any gods is also an atheist.

  2. Alex says:

    Interesting post. I tried on the atheist hat when I was a teenager, mostly to piss off my parents, but for reasons I won’t get into here, it just wasn’t for me.

    I like how you point out that God’s law–and I’m speaking from a Christian perspective because that’s what I’m familiar with–actually affords humans maximum freedom. To that I would add the importance of an objective standard of behavior and morality against which to measure human affairs. The Ten Commandments are a pretty decent set of rules, even if your secular. In fact, I can think of at least one major industrialized superpower based in large part on them…

    To Ian–

    I’m not here to try to convert you–it’s a free country and I respect your choice–but I have to address something you wrote:

    “Given that, the people who go to hell have been pre-determined, and are punished through no fault of their own. God knew they would end up in hell, for he knows everything, and yet he did nothing to save them, despite having the power to. I’d call that neglect.”

    Free will and predestination are questions theologians have been wresting since the beginning. I think this harsh view comes from some strains of Protestantism. Anyway, most of us Jesus-types believe in free will and humanity’s choice to chose between good and evil, sin and virtue. It’s a middle ground though, since God has his own designs. Also, God is not a puppet master as so often portrayed, though He took a more active, interventionist hand prior to Christ. There’s a lot more here if you’re interested: http://orthodoxyinfo.org/AzkoulFreeWill.htm Again, I’m not trying to convert, just clarify.

    What you said, though, does apply to that other so-called Abrahamic faith that’s been in the news so much lately:

    “And the Jews and the Christians say: We are the sons of Allah and His beloved ones. Say: Why does He then chastise you for your faults? Nay, you are mortals from among those whom He has created, He forgives whom He pleases and chastises whom He pleases; and Allah’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and what is between them, and to Him is the eventual coming.” S. 5:18

    And before you say “Misinterpretation! Out of context!” check out a whole lot more here: http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/P/predestination.html

  3. Dean Esmay says:

    Reductionist thinking is a CONSTANT feature of most atheists I find, even the ones I respect and admire. The tendency is to hyperfocus on any materialist explanation they can think of and once they have it hang on to it. It’s amazing to watch it operate, because the longer they go like that, they more they apply it to more and more and more things, and eventually? They seem to turn cynical, bitter, or jaded. Sorry but it’s just what I see.

    As usual, “Not All Atheists Are Like That.” But seriously. It’s very noticeable.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Reductionist thinking is a CONSTANT feature of most atheists I find, even the ones I respect and admire. The tendency is to hyperfocus on any materialist explanation they can think of and once they have it hang on to it.

      Interesting to know. Thanks for sharing.

      I’ve also noticed a tendency to belittle believers in God with terms like “invisible friend” and “sky fairy,” meant to make them seem like children or nutcases.

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  6. Thoran says:

    Let me try!

    Christians believe that if you pray to God, all your wishes will be instantly grated 100% of the time. Except! They also think you’re going to hell just for having human desires because he made you that way and also he’s still mad at your great great great great grandmother over an apple. The two straw-men I just made up contradict each other, therefore Christianity is a paradox.

    But seriously, there are sects of Christianity that believe some of you are already predestined for hell. People that actually believe that, the Puritans for example, are always searching themselves for signs that they’re going to hell. It leads to a lot of paranoia, and probably didn’t help the Salem witch trials.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Wow, it’s been a while since anyone has commented on this post!

      Anyway, I am aware of the idea of predestination, and that some religious traditions, Christian or not, do not believe in free will. I never claimed non-belief in free will was unique to atheism, just that atheism, rigorously applied, must deny free will.

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