Friday, January 14, 2011

Accessorizing atheism

Randal Rauser says:

A substance dualist might argue for their view that the human agent is a soul by arguing that we have free will and free will requires a non-physical agent to intervene in the chain of material causes.

This misses the point in two key respects:

i) The issue isn’t physicalism v. dualism, per se. The issue is what underwrites the end-result.

What does substance dualism amount to in atheism? A human being is still the byproduct of a mindless process.

To take a comparison, suppose I’m having a business lunch. In the middle of lunch the waiter passes me a note which says, “Call home.”

I will leave the table and call home.

Suppose I’m playing a game of scrabble, and on one throw the letters spell “Call home.”

I won’t call home. I attach no significance to that outcome.

What’s the difference? You have the same result, but the process makes all the difference. Although the sentences are identical and, in that respect, equally meaningful, the note is a message whereas the scrabble pattern is not. The scrabble sentence is accidentally or coincidentally meaningful. It’s not a genuine message or communication. In that respect, it’s no different than gibberish. The result of random chance.

Likewise, unless human beings are the product of a wise Creator, human life doesn’t have the same value. It has no inherent dignity.

ii) Randal also disregards the issue of the afterlife. If human beings don’t survive the grave, then that, too, radically affects the value of life.

Take one of those European villages that hasn’t changed very much in 800 years. Folks have been living in the same cottages and townhouses for 800 years. But while the buildings are the same, the residents are not. Every 100 years, give or take, you have a total replacement rate.

Not only does this apply to individuals, but to an entire set of relationships. Parents, grandparents, children, spouses, siblings, lifelong friends–and even their pets. When they all die, that entire cumulative network of mutual affections and shared memories dies with them. Lost forever. A total loss to all parties concerned. 

That’s the standard atheistic narrative. And it you take that to heart, it makes a huge difference to your outlook on life.

Rauser doesn’t begin to appreciate the unique and all-important value of the Christian vision. For him it’s just a nice accessory. A dispensable add-on which enhances the value of life, but isn’t fundamental to the value of life. 


  1. Regardless of whether you adopt a theistic or atheistic worldview, life cannot have any ultimate purpose. At least so says Stephen Maitzen:


  2. ATM,

    Your comment is the Internet equivalent of a Mormon visiting my front door, saying "Mormonism is true" and then handing me the book of Mormon.

    Does Maitzen know you're out evangelizing with his arguments? How about *using* them...can you formulate his argument in a couple of sentences?

  3. Steve,

    You'll appreciate this Doug Wilson quote from The Case for Classical Christian Education:

    “The Christian faith is not a condiment to be used to flavor the neutral substance of secular knowledge.”

  4. Maitzen's argument speaks for itself and would not be bolstered by a restatement from someone with my lowly intellect. Read it and weep. I love the line: Surely we can ask — I hereby do ask - what's so great about that?"

  5. The Atheist Missionary does seem to be the type of lazy person who thinks that linking to other people makes him intelligent by proxy. But he more than makes up for that with his arrogance.

  6. ATM,

    Atheism is false. I'll refer you to [every possible argument against atheism] to see for yourself. Read it and weep! Of course, some haven't made the textbooks yet. Still a few years off. You'll have to imagine them. But check out their poignant conclusion: "atheism is false.". I love it!

  7. ATM,

    The simple refutation of your author is that he simply thinks all the theist is doing is playing the 5 yr. old and asking a question. The point isn't that a question can be monkeyed at every step along the way and so you can just monkey what the theist does; the point is that the theist has a position that ends with a normatively anchored answer whereas the atheist does not. We were *made to* glorify God, that's part of the *purpose* for which we were made to function *properly*. That's a normative answer, and it ends there. To ask "why is that meaningful" isn't profound, it's to be ignorant of the argument. The reason the theist continues to ask the question of the atheist is because the atheist keeps pushing the question back with one non-normative, non-purposive answer after another. What's so great about it is that you are fulfilling the purpose for which you were made, functionally as fully and as properly and as optimally as you ought. Just because you can *say* "What's so great about that," doesn't mean you've really defeated anything.

  8. Many ancient Jews believed in a Creator but rejected the notion of an afterlife, yet they seemed to hold a respect for human life.

    What if God simply allowed man's awareness to cease once his body died, but the person's "value" indeed had some significance to Him and Him alone for purposes known only to Him?

    Would that render human life less valuable?

  9. The OT has a doctrine of the afterlife.

    It would have value for *God*, but not the decedent. And that's the point. Your life can't be valuable to *you* if you cease to exist. For that matter, you can't value the lives of others if you cease to exist.

  10. Just because you can *say* "What's so great about that," doesn't mean you've really defeated anything.

    Except for the speaker's own coherency and rationality as he commits epistemological suicide.

    And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. - John 3:19

    In Christ,

  11. Paul to TAM: >>... We were *made to* glorify God, that's part of the *purpose* for which we were made to function *properly*....<<

    Well put. I would add that all without exception shall glorify God precisely according to His pleasure and purpose, whether as vessels of mercy or as vessels of wrath. The point can't be underlined enough.