I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist

“If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose to your life. If there’s a real purpose to your life, there there’s a real right and wrong way to live it. Choices you make now not only affect you here but will affect you in eternity. On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it. And it doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe — your destiny is dust.” -Frank Turek, from the foreword to “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

1. If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose to your life.

This is statement seems to say that there is *must* be purpose to your life if God exists, but Frank Turek does not address the possibility that if God exists, he might not be personally involved in your life, or anyone’s for that matter. Maybe his only involvement was as creator and you have no more purpose than any other rock or tree or animal. I don’t know what the truth is. The Bible tells of men who allegedly spoke to God but I find such stories difficult to believe.

2. On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing.

This statement makes the assumption that meaning can only come from God. How does he come to that conclusion? Meaning equals value. My life is valuable to me and it has some value to my family and friends. I take great pleasure in learning about the world and enjoying its sights, sounds, flavors and other sensations. There was a time when I believed what I was taught about God. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without God. I believe that Frank Turek and other believers are suffering from the same lack of imagination. I don’t mean to put the blame on them. I think it is perfectly natural to believe in God. The concept of God is a natural way to explain:

1. Where did we come from?
2. Who are we?
3. Why are we here?
4. How should we live?
5. Where are we going?

Turek says that the answers to these questions depend on the existence of God, but I would argue that we can find some answers (not all) even if God does not exist. We can learn who we are and where we came from through historical research. There are limits to what we can know but history books can tell us a lot (including the Bible and other ancient texts). How we should live is something that we are working out all the time. Even institutions that teach objective morality have changed their positions on what they consider to be prudent. “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?” are more difficult questions. Some people can’t bear the thought that we might never know the answers. People will always gravitate toward those who have compelling explanations to these questions. I tend to take such explanations with a grain of salt.

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9 thoughts on “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist

  1. I’ve always had a problem with theological arguments that *only* address monotheism. Yes that is a valid religious worldview held by millions, but it seems less common for atheists and agnostics to address Buddhism or the many forms of Paganism in any serious manner. The existence of a supreme deity has little to do with meaning in Buddhism and most forms of Paganism – even the forms of Paganism that believe in many deities! While I will agree that religion in general can make for a more meaningful life (although it isn’t necessary), I think one’s possible relationship to deitie(s) is only a part of what gives a religious life meaning. There are plenty of religions that also revere nature and ancestors. The seasonal cycles can give one meaning and may or may not be deified.

  2. Grey, I am certainly guilty of focusing a lot of attention on Christianity and atheism while not giving much attention (at least on this blog) to Buddhism or paganism. I’m trying to learn to be open to all truth wherever I find it. It’s hard to overcome old hangups.

  3. Oh I wasn’t actually focusing on you – it was more a general annoyance with people who like to argue theology. 🙂 You already do strike me as open. You may not agree with other religious perspectives, but you are willing to listen and respect that they exist.

  4. Dedwarmo, you said that you find some stories about God difficult to believe. I find some things difficult to believe as well. For instance, the story that you and I are the product of a blind purposeless universe which came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.

    I think you misinterpreted statement #2 by ignoring the word ‘ultimate’. Because, if God does not exist, then there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to your life. Sure, you can find some temporary meaning, but Turek’s argument is that, ultimately, the choices we make such as the choice to do good or to become a mass murderer make not one bit of difference if there is no God.

    You may take some explanations to life’s questions with a grain of salt, but if you’re like many atheists (the object of Turek’s book) you take a lot of things entirely by faith!

  5. I too find it difficult to believe that you and I are the product of a blind purposeless universe which came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.

    When theists bring up this idea of ultimate meaning or lack thereof are they trying to use this as a way to prove that God exists?

    1. Without God there is no ultimate meaning
    2. It’s impossible to imagine that life has no ultimate meaning.
    3. Therefore God must exist.

    I agree that most of what I believe, I take entirely on faith.

    * My memories.
    * Historical events that I was not part of.
    * News stories that I consume via radio, TV, books, internet, etc.
    * Stories that people tell me about their life.
    * Explanations about how the natural world works.
    * Explanations about how my own body works.
    * Labels on products I buy.

    If you can point out something that I take on faith that I should not believe I will happily throw out that belief.

    The things I believe require varying degrees of faith. For instance, I take on faith that if I am deprived of air for several minutes I will suffer brain damage. When I hold my breath for a while I am overcome by a desperate desire to breathe. This leads me to believe that not breathing has dire consequences. I haven’t watched anyone suffocate, but I believe it. How much faith does that belief require?

  6. When theists bring up this idea of ultimate meaning or lack thereof are they trying to use this as a way to prove that God exists?

    I don’t think so. At least I can’t say that I’ve heard any theist use the issue of ultimate meaning as a proof for God’s existence. In fact, I think it is possible to imagine that life has no ultimate meaning (and many atheists do just that). However, the value in discussing the subject is in showing the importance of the question of God’s existence, because without God, how you live your life ultimately does not matter.

    I have heard theists argue that it’s possible to believe there is no ultimate purpose in life, but it’s impossible to live happily and consistently with such a worldview. Craig makes this point in his article on, “The Absurdity of Life without God” where he says, “If one [with this view] lives consistently, he will not be happy; if one lives happily, it is only because he is not consistent.” Many atheists believe they can create their own meaning, but they’re living in a fantasy world (something quite familiar to most atheists). Craig says that in order to be happy, atheists pretend life has meaning, but this is inconsistent since if atheism is true, life has no real significance.

    By the way, I like the list you made of things that most of us take entirely on faith (though there certainly can be empirical evidence for some of the items on the list).

    If you can point out something that I take on faith that I should not believe I will happily throw out that belief.

    Yes, the belief that there is no God.

    I think it requires as much faith to believe that not breathing leads to suffocation as it does to believe that sticking your hand in a fire will lead to burns. You don’t have to experience the fire to know that it’s hot.

  7. Bobmo, when I have more time I will respond to some of your other points, but I wanted to quickly address one thing. I have repeatedly acknowledged that God might exist. I have expressed deep doubts about his existence, but I have never said that I believe that there is no God. I don’t know if God exists. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you have said (in person?) that deep down I really do believe in God. If all these things are true then why would you say that I believe that there is no God? Do you think that all people can by placed in two groups?

    1. Those who believe in God.
    2. Those who believe that there is no God.

    I think there is at least one other group:

    3. Those who don’t know if there is a God.

    I think there is another possibility regarding God’s existence. God exists, but he is very different from any of the Gods described by the world’s religions.

  8. I do agree that you have acknowledged that God might exist and you are right that I have said that deep down you really know that He does. The reason I said that you believe there is no God is based on the practical equivalence of your statements with the view that there is no God.

    Even giving you the benefit of the doubt (which I always do 😉 I don’t think your position is entirely agnostic. You do have some beliefs about the existence of God and they are on the order of one or more of the following statements:

    “Even though God may exist, He most likely does not.”
    “I know of no good reason to believe that God exists.”
    “There are no good reasons to believe that God exists.”
    “There is not enough evidence to believe God exists.”
    “The default belief should be that God does not exist.”
    “I should live my life as if God does not exist.”

    I am in no way implying that you are a hard atheist, or even an atheist in the traditional sense of the word, but your position does appear to line up with one or more of these statements and it seems that all of them are functionally equivalent to the belief that there is no God.

    I’m not sure about this third group of people you mention. If everyone does have a knowledge of God, but some suppress it, then there is no such group. In that case, there are only two groups:

    1. Those who believe in God and acknowledge it.
    2. Those who believe in God but deny it.

    I also think that there are good reasons to doubt your last comment. That is because we can infer several necessary properties of the creator of the universe. For instance, any cause of the space-time-matter continuum must be other than space-time-matter. The cause must possess unimaginable power. The cause must have a free will, since there was a decision to bring about the effect. The cause must also be personal, since only a personal agent can cause an effect temporally. If the cause were according to law or chance, the effect would coexist temporally with the cause, but if God created the universe, the cause necessarily existed without the effect. All of these characteristics are consistent with the God as revealed in nature and in Scripture.

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