What If God Doesn’t Exist?

In another entry in this blog (13th October 2006), I discussed some arguments for the existence of God.  I think that having a working knowledge of some of these ideas which have developed throughout the history of the Church can be useful, both for strengthening the faith of believers, and for use in our evangelistic efforts.  However, there is another way we can approach both these goals. 

Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest philosophers of all time (and certainly of the 20th century) said that; “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” (Incidentally, he was an atheist and did indeed believe that life was totally without meaning).  However, it’s been my experience that most people who call themselves ‘atheist’ haven’t thought very deeply about this, and may, paradoxically, believe that humans, animals, plants and even things (great works of art for example) have meaning and significance, without finding themselves being driven to a belief in God. I want us to try and get inside the minds of these people who do not believe in the existence of God (1) and see where it leads us.  Now is the time to take off your ‘faith spectacles’.

The first obvious question in this godless universe will surely be; “If I’m right, where did everything come from?”  As we noted in the Cosmological Argument in my October 13th entry, for a non-believer, this is a difficult (if not impossible) question to answer.  But let’s carry on with our little game and suppose that we have come up with an answer to this question which satisfies us.  We have decided, perhaps, that science has shown that everything in the universe has spontaneously erupted into being from nothing and with no designing or guiding force. The universe simply exists; we are convinced that there is no Creator and that science will eventually reveal how everything came into existence. As everything has occurred by ‘chance’ or ‘accident’ and without design or purpose, we must come to the conclusion that there can be no objective point or ultimate reason for anything. We are, as I’ve often heard unbelievers point out, just insignificant specks on a little planet at the end of the universe.  The whole thing is “A tale told by an idiot.” (2)  The whole question of ‘meaning’ is totally subjective.  

The real unbeliever, unlike the believer, doesn’t have to bother with such things as the so-called ‘problem of evil’ because evil doesn’t exist.  Things have simply evolved this way. Evil is just a name we perhaps give to our left-over instincts of self preservation from the time when we were brute beasts; that force which drove us to kill, thieve and do whatever necessary to preserve ourselves and our offspring at all costs. Put another way, ‘evil’ is just a label which we, either individually or collectively, decide subjectively is ‘bad’.  The same thing goes for the concept of ‘wrong’.  How could anything be – in an objective sense – ‘wrong’?  And what of truth, honesty, sin, falsity, beauty, art and so on? All these things too are just subjective, human ideas, the result of the evolution of human thought.  The obvious conclusion is that these ideas too have no objective, intrinsic worth. (3)

Every thing and every event in the universe from top to bottom is (as Russell observed) without any meaning, other than subjectively in our minds.  My children are meaningless (it hurts me even to imagine this for the sake of our illustration) and only have real importance to our family because of the animal or herd instincts to protect them which have evolved over time. I’m labouring the main point here, but let me repeat it once again: the only value anything has is what we as individuals or as societies give to that thing.  No objective values.  No good or evil; right or wrong; true or false.
Now, assuming we’ve imagined ourselves into the atheist’s mindset reasonably successfully, what might be our next line of thought?  Well, for me, it’s this: if all the above is true, why should I act in a ‘decent’, ‘honest’ or ‘right’ way. After all, what do these words really mean? As I’m descended from an ape and will only be around for 70 or so years, why not just do as I like (at least as far as our man-made laws will allow) and blow all the meaningless values of everyone else, whether of individual or society?  There is no God; we’re just monkeys who’ve moved on.  There are no rights and wrongs. We can do as we like. (4) 

Okay, let’s put our ‘faith spectacles’ back on. Ah! That’s better! How different everything looks! The countryside and hills rolling into the distance outside my window are no longer accidental, but the beautiful handiwork of a wonderful and powerful Creator.  And I can sense that power which seems to throb behind and beyond everything, giving existence and sustaining all creation and all life.  Suddenly love, beauty, goodness, truth and honesty are real things which I can again recognise. Those that I love and those I’ve never met are again filled with objective and immeasurable meaning and significance. Why? Because they were created by God in his own image and so loved by him that he sent his only Son into the world to rescue them from meaninglessness (e.g. John 3:16).

I’ll leave you with one or two observations as to what you may experience if you try the above line of reasoning with an agnostic or atheistic acquaintance. True atheists may remain unconvinced and seem quite happy in a godless universe and even a kind of peace in the face of meaningless absurdity.  But for most ordinary people, you’ll find that making this claim – that if there’s no God, everything is meaningless – will really irritate them! I think that one reason for this is that they’ll immediately see your argument as an indirect attack upon their own significance or that of their loved ones. As observed earlier they’ve most likely never really thought about such things in any depth, and have happily trundled through life with a kind of vague assumption that, because they have values which they place on things, there is some external, imaginary ‘court of appeal’ which makes these things inherently valuable; some external ‘rulebook’ which makes things ‘fair’. 

If you can get the unbeliever to understand or to concede the point you are making, he/she will almost certainly fall immediately back on the old chestnut: “Well if there’s a God, where did evil come from?”  Let’s reply by turning this on its head and asking them: “If there’s no God, where did good come from?” (5)  In a cold, meaningless universe which has sprung into being from nothing and developed by ‘random chance’ the existence of love, goodness, beauty and so on is, I would claim, inexplicable. Our recognition of these things – like our ability to create and appreciate great works of art – does nothing to aid the ‘survival of the fittest’; in fact quite often the opposite.

Whether anyone in this world cares for us or not, God cares, and this is what gives our lives meaning and significance.  Moreover, God’s love demands a response; a decision (e.g. Isaiah 45:22); as Jesus said, we are either for him or we are not (Matt 12:30).  It is, as Kierkegaard observed, ‘either/or’.  Trying to get unbelievers around us to think on the points we’ve discussed may open up a chink in their armour and hopefully bring them to reconsider their atheistic standpoints. It’s my sincere prayer that those we witness to, faced with the stark choice, will really begin to think, turn from their pig-feed and return to their heavenly Father who waits with open arms to greet them (Luke 15:16-20).

(1) Of course, there is a sense in which we can say that God really doesn’t exist!  Before you stop reading, I should clarify the last statement by saying that God IS. To talk about His ‘existing’ suggests that he is a person (but a lot bigger!) or an entity like any other in creation which exists in time and space. God does not ‘exist’ in this sense but is above, beyond, behind and within (in some sense) all which exists. And lest someone kindly posts a comment telling me that the last point suggests pantheism, maybe I should re-phrase it to say that God is in all things in the sense that all things depend on him for their being. God may be ‘in’ a tree, for example (if it makes sense to even talk this way), but the tree most certainly is not God (which is the conclusion that pantheism would make).

(2) Shakespeare; Macbeth

(3) People proposing such arguments are really sawing off the branch they’re sitting on, because if what they’re saying is true, we have no reason to listen to their opinion.  We can have our own meaningless opinion which is just as valid as theirs!  Please welcome tonight’s guest; Postmodernism!

(4) It’s interesting to note that the only ‘commandment’ in the cult of Satanism is; “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

(5) This is a paraphrase of Boethius (c480-523 AD) who said; “If there be a God, from whence proceed so many evils?  and if there be no God, from whence cometh any good?” You’ll notice that when I said this was an old chestnut, I did not exaggerate!

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