Atheist Claims that Awe of Being Alive is Enough

(Elizabeth C) #1

Hi everyone,

I have had a very difficult time understanding how many atheists claim to find fulfillment in the awe and wonder of simply being alive, and I still don’t understand how to open them up within their own assumptions, as Ravi says. Of course, we all to some extent understand and hopefully revel in the incredible miracle it is to simply be alive, but for me and for many others this drives us to ask why are we alive, which should in turn lead us to the Author of life. Why do many atheists think that it is enough for them to simply be in awe of being alive? Have any of you had conversations with people who hold this type of view?

What got me thinking about this once again was an article where the writer (an atheist) is talking about the four steps of the human consciousness, among other things. To give context, this is a quote concerning my question:

“Step 3 is also the answer to anyone who accuses atheists of being amoral or cynical or nihilistic, or wonders how atheists find any meaning in life without the hope and incentive of an afterlife. … On Step 3, I feel immensely lucky to be alive and can’t believe how cool it is that I’m a group of atoms that can think about atoms—on Step 3, life itself is more than enough to make me excited, hopeful, loving, and kind. But Step 3 is only possible because science has cleared the way there, which is why Carl Sagan said that “science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” In this way, science is the “prophet” of this framework—the one who reveals new truth to us and gives us an opportunity to alter ourselves by accessing it.”

I am also very, very curious to hear people’s thoughts on the last two sentences of this paragraph.

Thanks!
Elizabeth

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(SeanO) #2

@LizMath I think that there are plenty of what Ravi terms ‘happy thinking pagans’ - people who have simply accepted that this life is all there is and do their best to be happy within it. Lewis said that God often finds our desires too weak - we settle for too little - we do not chase after eternity in our hearts and instead settle for only the material world.

I’ve included some articles below, as well as the notes from a talk I gave on showing people they need God to handle the classic three dilemmas of Epicurus - fear of divine judgment, fear of death and anxiety. The traditional pagan ways of dealing with these issues - ignoring God, ignoring death and trying not to set expectations so low they cannot be frustrated - don’t cut it.

  1. Fear of divine judgment - ignoring God may deal with divine judgment, but someone becomes your lover and judge. It may be your work, your spouse, your looks - but in the end you rely on something outside yourself to validate your existence.
  2. Fear of death - the atheist solution is to ignore it, perhaps via chocolate, alcohol and entertainment. Or by trying to live the good life and hope to leave a great legacy.
  3. Dealing with anxiety - there is no means of dealing with anxiety without God - there is no ultimate plan. Anything could happen at any moment, including death. My friend at work said he liked to jog because when he was running he could forget his anxieties because of the exertion it required of his body. Without God there really is no good way to deal with anxiety.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Lewis

Ravi Zacharias: The happy pagan is wrapped up in the belief that this world and the success it affords are the greatest pursuits in life. He or she feels no need for anything transcendent. Life has been reduced to temporal pursuits disconnected from all the other disciplines necessary for life to be meaningfully engaged.

Some are completely unreflective; they don’t think enough to know they have no right to be happy. They borrow on capital they don’t have. Many of these people, though, are sophisticated thinkers in their fields-scientists, mathematicians, computer engineers. They are specialists with a glaring weakness: The do not ask the questions of life itself.

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The classic "I just want to be a good person" response
(Kathleen) #3

Hi, @LizMath!
A very interesting Sagan quote within the larger quote; thanks for sharing it. May I ask where you read this? I’m just initially curious to the context in which it was written. :slight_smile:

I have come across atheists who would agree with those sentiments and actually get quite frustrated when Christians tell them that their lives must be depressing and meaningless…and I can’t really blame them! After all, at least in the Western world, they live and muddle through everyday life in a very similar way to us Christians. But, something you wrote really stuck me…

I actually do think that it leads them to (what they believe to be) the author of life – which I’m having trouble finding the correct word for it… blind chance? the ‘impersonal forces’ at play? (…I do wonder what they would say is the author of life!) If God does not exist, then life itself is indeed a miracle. So I can see how this framework makes sense to them. Their ‘why’ seems to be is less about ultimate purpose (as there is none), and more about how the universe functions.

I would be curious of his definition spirituality. I suspect it’s a lot like ‘mystery’? That is, this world is mysterious, and ‘science’ (whatever he means by that) is what reveals truth…?

My first reaction is that this is a massive overstatement. Science relies on human creativity and interpretation. Really, what they’re glorifying (even worshipping and placing their trust in) is humanity. This statement is a picture of man worshipping himself and his potential. Which, again, makes total sense if one does not have anything higher in one’s framework.

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(Elizabeth C) #4

Thanks for the resources!

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(Elizabeth C) #5

Thanks for the response @KMac! The article is here: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/religion-for-the-nonreligious (Firefox has this neat but sometimes annoying feature of suggesting articles to read every time you boot it up). I could not find his definition of spirituality within the article using a quick Ctrl-F search.

I completely agree with you it is worship of humanity, and in the most cynical of cases worship of oneself. (It’s also funny he calls himself a truthist now instead of an atheist, but really what is his basis for truth?) I also agree the Carl Sagan quote is putting something on a pedestal that is fallible. Over time something that has struck me in observing other’s lives (which kind of hit home again while reading this article), is that all of us worship something, whether it be family, tradition, God, ourselves, money, etc. It’s fascinating how clear it is to see that we have been created to worship because when we do not worship God we find something else to worship, even if we don’t like to admit it.

It makes sense that they say life would indeed be a miracle, but then of course this is the only miracle they allow for in the given context. I understand how it makes sense to them as well, but it’s hard for me to explain why it really should not make sense, and I think that was/is the root of my question. I think Sean might have more or less addressed it here:

So, in a sense, realizing this is all we’ve got can lead to a kind of thankfulness. However, and I think this is important, it does not lead to justice. Justice requires that our response to the brevity of our life is kindness toward our neighbor. But why? Perhaps someone decides that the brevity of life makes them want to drink and party at the expense of others - or to rip off their business firm and flee the country - or even to hurt other people. Simply because life’s brevity makes us realize we only get one chance does not have anything to do with how we treat others with the one chance we’ve got. There is no logical connection there…

From here, though I guess stems another question: many would combat this argument by saying that morals evolved for the survival of the species. Ravi and many philosophers agree this cannot be the case, but I have a hard time providing a succinct argument for this as well. If you know of another post where this is addressed or other resources that explain this in detail, I would appreciate it! :slight_smile:

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(SeanO) #6

@LizMath My brief response to the argument that morality evolved is that an ‘ought’ cannot evolve, only an ‘is’ can evolve. If our sense of right and wrong is the result of evolutionary biology, or even of archetypes resulting from evolutionary psychology as Jordan Peterson suggests, then our sense of right and wrong has no ultimate meaning. With God out of the picture, we cannot talk about what we ‘ought’ to do - only what we have ‘evolved’ to do - the first is a duty, the second a description.

No naturalistic explanation can bridge the gap between description and duty, between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. A duty requires One to whom we are accountable and an ‘ought’ requires the existence of One to whom we will one day give an account. An evolutionary explanation can only say ‘how’ we behave and not ‘how we ought’ to behave.

And this distinction is not a mere matter of punishment - as if to posit God’s existence provides only One to whom we are accountable. It is, in fact, a matter of substance. For our sense of right and wrong, good and evil, love, joy or laughter to have any ultimate substance there must be a God and there must be a supernatural realm. If we are truly just dancing to our DNA then the universe must be ultimately meaningless.

Some people argue that morality is the result of blind evolutionary forces rather than an omnipotent Creator. This view is flawed because (1) it assumes a morality that transcends evolutionary “morality,” (2) it cannot explain motive and intent, (3) it denies rather than explains morality, and (4) it cannot account for the “oughtness” of morality. Given the existence of morality as well as the nature of moral claims, the existence of God seems to be the best explanation for morality.

https://www.equip.org/article/evolution-and-ethics/

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(Elizabeth C) #7

Thanks! That is a very clear delineation. I think this can go a lot farther, especially when they say, “yes, that was my point in the first place,” so then it in a sense comes down to a discussion of free will and determinism, where, as Stephen Hawking said, “free will is just an illusion.” So then what are the arguments against determinism? I guess, in the end, where is the discord between determinism and reality? I try to think of cases like sociopaths who kill just because, but then I feel they can make the argument “oh, it’s just an aberration in the DNA,” but then again we get nowhere. It feels like a rabbit hole…

(In the end, the truly defeating argument goes back to the origins of the universe; the miracle of life happening by chance and everything coming from nothing is incredibly incoherent. Not to mention the reality of the spiritual realm is completely neglected in this worldview. But regardless, I would like to know if there is a way to get out of the rabbit hole forgetting these arguments for a minute.)

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(SeanO) #8

@LizMath I do not think that there is an argument that can logically prove beyond a shadow of a doubt one way or the other. And I think God did that on purpose. We are aware of God’s laws at a heart level and I think that we are even aware of God on a spiritual level, so long as we have not made ourselves deaf to Him. And there is an abundance of evidence pointing towards God, but God does not force our hand.

In “Christianity for Modern Pagans” Peter Kreeft examines Pascal’s work. One argument Pascal makes is that God gives exactly enough light for the righteous to find Him and for the wicked to reject Him.

"He gives exactly the right amount of light. If He gave less, even the righteous would be unable to find Him, and their will would be thwarted. If He gave more, even the wicked would find Him, against their will. Thus He respects and fulfills the will of all.

If He gave more light, the righteous would not learn humility, for they would know too much. If He gave less light, the wicked would not be responsible for their wickedness, for they would know too little."

Magician’s Nephew - Lewis - We Can Make Ourselves Deaf to God

In ‘The Magician’s Nephew’, Lewis has a brilliant section where he describes Uncle Andrew’s response to Aslan’s voice. At first Uncle Andrew knew that Aslan was talking, but he hated it and so he slowly became unable to hear anything but a snarl. He deadened his own conscience - his own ability to hear God, in a sense.

When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing - only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world…And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring…He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl.

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(Winston Jones) #9

Donald Rumsfeld made popular the idea of “unknown unknowns”, things we do not even know that we do not know.
In the Universe as most understand it to-day, time extends 15 billion years to the past and hopefully an equal distance to the future, and a human life is much less than the blink of an eyelid.
Again, in the Universe of matter that extends to unimaginable distances and uncountable galaxies, a human being is only a few atoms.
In such a Universe, the only being that could know all “unknown unknowns” is God. Therefore, only God could know that God does not exist.
When the atheist asserts that God does not exist, he is not so much claiming God’s nonexistence as he is claiming that he, the atheist, is God, the all-knowing.

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(Robert Anderson) #10

My first thought is how can one find awe in something that couldn’t have been any other way? You can’t really even say that you were destined to be by science because that implies a will. Your existence just is. I don’t see how anyone can find awe or wonder in that. That’s like being in wonder that 2+2=4. There’s no surprise in that. Wonder implies that we something may have been completely different or not at all but for whatever reason is. Wonder and awe, in my opinion, is not compatible with atheism. Of course this assumes a determinist form of atheism.

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(Elizabeth C) #11

My apologies for such a late response! I completely agree no single argument or collection of arguments can prove everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, because if that were true then all that matters in this world would boil down to the rational, which is most certainly false because then it seems one’s worth would be defined by one’s intellect, not one’s God-given worth as a living breathing image-bearer. (I actually find this to be a problem in mathematics especially; if you focus on applied mathematics and struggle with the pure mathematics, you are somehow “inferior.” It’s a pride thing, and it is rampant in our field.) I also agree God does not force our hand; what would a relationship with Him be if He forced us to love Him? Love cannot be forced.

However, I do believe that every argument that is flawed or leads to a false conclusion should be untenable in some sense (this is the mathematician in me), i.e. something about it should sit poorly with us, and we should be able to tease out at least a semblance of why. We shouldn’t give up when we feel like we are in a rabbit hole.

Thanks for bringing up Pascal’s very interesting argument. It is a tantalizing argument, but I do think there is a flaw. I think God can reveal Himself as fully as He wants to each of us without compromising our will. What makes me inclined to think this is the case study Judas Iscariot; as one of the twelve disciples, he knew Jesus was God, he was taught directly by Jesus, and he didn’t run away like many of Jesus’ other disciples at hard teaching. He lived for years in Jesus’ very presence, and yet betrayed Him to be murdered for something as petty as money. But how fascinating is it that his conscience wasn’t completely dead; he couldn’t live with the guilt, but instead of turning back to God and begging for forgiveness (which he should have known the depths of Jesus’ forgiveness after walking with Him for years!) he instead chose to commit suicide.

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(Elizabeth C) #12

Very true!

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(Elizabeth C) #13

Thanks @rla9316! I think that, especially as you go higher in the sciences, yes, 2+2=4 doesn’t seem wondrous, but the fact that e^{i*pi} + 1 = 0 is in fact shocking. As the discoveries become more complex, we begin to conflate the beautiful and fascinating physical laws with the Lawmaker. Even in this discussion, I think I forgot that. Thanks for reminding me of this.

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(SeanO) #14

@LizMath Hmmm…interesting point about Judas. An off the cuff response would be that, unlike demons who have no choice but to believe and tremble, humans are still capable of genuine unbelief because God has not revealed Himself with such force that belief is inevitable. So, Pascal is not saying that people will choose to worship of God of their own volition - the demons clearly do not do so. But that people, in contrast to heavenly beings which have no choice but to believe even if they choose to rebel, can still genuinely live in unbelief. God has not forced belief upon us, though His presence certainly could do so.