Can Unbelievers Really Be Happy? – Commentary
The previous entry described coping mechanisms used by unbelievers to deal with ‘uncreatedness’ and crisis. Let’s think about them.
Earlier today, we analyzed the article by Valerie van Mulukom at The Conversation, “How non-religious worldviews provide solace in times of crisis.” We summarized responses of unbelievers to crisis (atheists, agnostics and ‘nones’) into a list 13 coping mechanisms for dealing with what Francis Schaeffer called ‘uncreatedness’ – a perceived uncaring universe, autonomous to itself. Here’s the list again:
- Trust science.
- Humanity will solve our problems if we work for one another’s good.
- We’re all in this together.
- The law of evolution brought us to this point and will continue moving life forward.
- Only accept evidence-based beliefs.
- Use reason.
- Make the most of the one opportunity you have.
- Do good to our fellow creatures.
- Preserve the environment for future generations.
- Seek understanding, which brings a sense of control.
- Learn to accept and cope with what you can’t control.
- Someday science and modern medicine will make things better.
- Over time, we all get over sad situations.
How can believers in the Creator God of the Bible respond to these sentiments? We should use compassion and kindness, of course, but sometimes the most caring answer is a wake-up call; then there can be a conversation. I’d like to introduce a wake-up call with a joke that I hope brings a chuckle, but makes a serious point:
Psychologist: Congratulations. You’re cured!
Patient: Some cure. I used to be Napoleon. Now I’m nobody.
What was the most caring thing to do for the patient? It was to tell him the truth. People can get very comfortable in their delusions. They can feel satisfied, contented, and happy by believing wrong things, like thinking that they are Napoleon. Letting someone continue in a delusion is actually the most uncaring thing to do. Sometimes the bad news must come first. Better for the doctor to say “You have cancer” than hide it from the patient, if it can be followed by, “but we can remove it.” The Bible gives bad news first, “We are lost in sin” before the good news, “We can be saved.” Our challenge is to help the unbeliever to understand that the worldview of ‘uncreatedness’ is a delusion. Then, and only then, can we have a conversation about how to cope with what appears to be a cold, uncaring world.
It won’t take long, because the delusion can be unmasked quickly. So let’s think. Notice that all 13 of the coping mechanisms in the list use language. Language is supernatural. How’s that? It is not made of particles and forces. It is the product of a mind. Every unbeliever who appeals to any of the 13 coping statements is creating concepts (or repeating concepts of other persons) from his or her mind. The concepts did not evolve by unguided natural processes, nor did they arise from natural laws: if they had, they would be meaningless, as inevitable products of impersonal forces. No; the statements are all created ideas from persons with minds. They convey concepts with semantic meanings, arising from thoughts. Thoughts are beyond nature, or above nature – they are, therefore, super-natural (above or beyond nature). C.S. Lewis emphasized this point.
The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists. The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse: it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing. — C.S. Lewis, Miracles
Language may utilize physical things, like keyboards, the voice, or paper and ink, but language itself is conceptual, not physical. Think of a TV screen. The message of the movie or documentary or news program is not derived from the physical pixels and electronics; it is orthogonal to it. It comes out perpendicular to the screen from the mind of the producer to the mind of the receiver. Technology uses physical media to represent in symbols the concepts the minds intentionally want to convey. In this way, intelligent design drives the physical, not the other way around.
In a similar way, the laws of logic are supernatural. Anyone using logic in their arguments is inherently appealing to supernatural concepts to make a point. That applies to anyone seeking to amass evidence in order to prove a conclusion of science as well. One cannot “believe in science” or “trust the scientific method” without affirming the supernatural.
One consequence of this argument is that unbelievers don’t exist. Everybody believes in the supernatural and miracles. They prove it by using language. And what more preposterous miracle can anyone come up with than to think that ‘nothing’ exploded a long time ago, and became ‘everything’ — including their own mind? So let us all disabuse ourselves of the myth of the unbeliever. We are all believers. The question becomes, which among us has the most coherent set of beliefs? Some believers may prefer not to fellowship with other believers in church, but to think that anyone is really an atheist or agnostic or a ‘none’ (no matter what they may call themselves) is mistaken. Here we are, trying to figure out whether unbelievers or believers have the best answers to the ultimate questions, all the while deceiving ourselves with the irrational premise that unbelievers exist! That’s kind of funny. It’s like falling for the idea that the patient really was Napoleon all along.
The well-equipped defender of the faith must understand the fallacy of self-refutation, to avoid being tripped up by logical-sounding arguments. In his lectures and in his recent book Scientism and Secularism (Crossway, 2018), philosopher of science Dr J.P. Moreland has elaborated on the fallacy, warning that any self-refuting statement is necessarily false. Examples he uses include, “I cannot speak a word of English” (spoken in English), or, “This sentence is false.” Such a statement is obviously irrational, because it refutes itself. It was never true. it will never be true. No amount of further research will make it true. It will never evolve to be true. It is irrational on its face, and must be rejected. Anyone making such an assertion, furthermore, proves himself to be irrational. The statement is self-refuting.
Once the fallacy of self-refutation is understood, and interlocutors know it must be avoided, the case can be made that unbelief is self-refuting. Did the irrational give rise to rationality? Did the impersonal give rise to personhood? Did meaninglessness give rise to semantics? Evolutionists respond that these are all emergent properties from the mutations and natural selection. But that is self-refuting; if that were the case, one could never know that anything he says is true. Natural selection (if it did anything other than say “Stuff Happens“) would only work toward survival, not rationality.
Lost in Irrationality
This means that anything an atheist says to argue for evolution is self-refuting, because his body and brain, being products of unguided physical forces, are merely acting out strategies that natural selection hit upon for survival. He cannot mean that evolution is true, because according to his own beliefs, he is a marionette of his selfish genes that want to use him to propagate themselves. Any vocalizations he makes to confirm evolution are no different in quality than monkey screeches trying to chase off a rival. In my interactions with atheists and evolutionists, I have never found one who understands this problem. It’s a sad commentary on how evolution generates delusional thinking, like the patient who thinks he’s Napoleon. Consider what he is saying: “I am the product of irrational, impersonal physical causes, but what I am telling you is really true!” This is sad to watch.
I’ve had atheists blow me off with the retort, “That’s just presuppositionalist nonsense.” But even that response is inconsistent, because their own worldview claims to praise logic and rationality, and yet they run away from those things when confronted with it. They make our point, playing tricks with sidestepping, name-calling and bluffing, as if they are acting out evolutionary strategies to defeat a rival. Let them explain how they derive rationality from the first principles of evolution. If they say that consistency is unimportant, then that is irrational, too, because without consistent arguments, you can prove anything, therefore nothing. These are not “presuppositionalist” arguments, whatever is meant by the term, but principles of logic.
Atheists hate it when we quote Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God,” or refer to Romans 1:22, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” . Well, let them extricate themselves from a self-refuting position first. Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” All other positions are inherently foolish, because they are self-refuting.
Notice that believing evidence is good, logic is good, and the scientific method is good also affirm prior allegiance to a non-evolving, universal morality. “Should” we use the scientific method? Says who, if it is not previously affirmed that it is good to pursue truth? Atheists are sometimes inconsistent, on the one hand asserting that morality is subjective and culturally based, but on the other hand condemning certain beliefs or practices that they think “everybody” knows are immoral. By acting as if universal rights and wrongs exist in all cultures at all times, they reject subjective morality. But if they affirm subjective morality, agreeing that what they think is immoral now could be moral in another culture or time, they refute their own claims that certain things are immoral. It’s a dilemma they cannot get out of without affirming that morality must be universal; it cannot evolve. Morality, then, is supernatural and absolute. We may not always understand the absolutes or follow them consistently, but that is another question.
Anything a self-refuted interlocutor says only makes his case worse. He disputes this argument because he agrees with it! By continuing to argue with reason, he undermines his belief that his mind is a product of unguided natural forces. The late philosopher of science Greg Bahnsen showed that some religious people make the same mistake. He pointed to Hindus who say “All is illusion,” then use rational arguments to defend their religion. Well, if all is illusion, so is the belief that all is illusion! There’s no escape. They say that “You’re using Western concepts that we reject.” Well then, the concept that Western concepts should be rejected is a rational argument which, according to their own premises, is an illusion!
Since skeptics or adherents of non-Biblical religions take advantage of concepts their premises reject, we can even accuse them of plagiarizing the Bible. They cannot derive rationality or morality from their own belief systems; they have to sneak in and steal it from the smorgasbord of Biblical concepts and values. Their hands must be gently slapped, and warned that they are not allowed to use our principles without getting into line and paying the price. It’s like the “Get your own dirt” joke, where God says this to atheists who claim they can make man from the dust of the ground without His help, but then ask Him for some dirt to start with.
Do you see the hopelessness of maintaining unbelief? Only the God of the Bible provides the necessary and sufficient grounds for using rationality at all. A top-down source of rationality, coming from an eternal, transcendent Creator who is personal, rational and good, can satisfy the prerequisites for argumentation or debate about truth. Atheism and pantheism lack those grounds, and are therefore doomed to failure if their adherents wish to use rationality to defend them. To reject rationality is to affirm it. It would be more consistent for an atheist to screech like a monkey than to use reason. It would be more consistent for a Hindu to close his eyes and repeat nonsense mantras than to convince an onlooker that Hinduism is the right path. Unbelievers need to be unmasked, not tolerated in their delusions; that would be most uncompassionate, like leaving the patient in his delusional Napoleonic identity.
From Reason to Compassion
True compassion must be grounded in truth, but truth needs to be a scalpel, not a machete. Not all unbelievers can handle this kind of mental exercise, particularly those who are suffering in a crisis. Hard-hearted skeptics might need a Jesus-vs-the-Pharisees treatment (“Woe to you… hypocrites!”), especially in public confrontations, but most often, in one-on-one interactions, compassionate listening is required to establish empathy and develop a trusting relationship with those lost in their delusions. A preacher said, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” In the majority of cases, therefore, it is sufficient and effective to help bring a person to the knowledge of their true identity: a created person made in the image of God, and then share the good news of the gospel.
Knowing that people really are made in the image of God, we know they have assets within their hearts to which we can appeal. We all come into the world as sinners, but since the Fall, people still deserve respect because of the image of God that remains. It may be corrupted by sin, but we can be assured that there are remnants of rationality and a conscience in every human heart. With that confidence, we can treat one another as having worth due to their createdness. We can speak to their rationality, even if they are irrational, and call it back toward its source. We can speak to their morality, even if they deny Biblical morality, and call it back toward the moral law of the Lawgiver and Judge. We can speak to the conscience, and draw out the sense of guilt from sin. We can fan the flames of their inner sense of human uniqueness and obligation to their Maker.
In the end, it’s all of God, not of us. God can use us as instruments of the Spirit’s work in their hearts. He gets the glory; we get the joy of being used of God. But to a fallen world, we must keep proclaiming what the mighty angel will shout in the midst of judgment,
Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. (Revelation 14:7)
Exercise: If you are a Bible-believing Christ follower interested in apologetics, go through the list of 13 coping statements above and consider how you would respond to them with the principles explained here. First, think of what you would say in public writing or speaking. Second, think of what you would say in conversation with an individual skeptic facing a crisis.