Dr. Paul Copan has an interesting essay here. This is sort of a standard apologetic response to one of atheist Michael Martin’s books. But, again, what I think is more interesting is the need on the part of Martin to provide an objective basis for morality. Clearly he has thought this through to a greater degree than those naturalists who believe they can just conjure up their own subjective meaning to everything. Martin realizes that if there is no basis outside one’s own subjective will/mind as to the good, then all we are left with is power projecting itself and no way to decipher or even care why one projection is “good” and another “evil.” The Nazis were creating their own “meaning” when they built ovens for people. Why was that “evil?” If we create our own subjective meaning and one is as accidental, without purpose, without meaning, and arbitrary as the other—then these are only choices with no remainder. We create nothing out of nothing and thus there is nothing to judge—in fact judgment becomes impossible. If moral and spiritual terms can mean or refer to anything, then ultimately they mean and refer to nothing. So why do we use them? Why are they important? Indeed, why do they (even the atheist agrees) refer to those elements of life and living we consider the most important? Martin gets all this and thus his attempt at an objective morality. As Copan points out, Martin fails—but it is his attempt, his need to attempt this that is so curious.
I find it fascinating that the atheist cannot live in the world his world-view “creates” for him. He has built a cage he must continually try to escape through the use of language and concepts inherently metaphysical, philosophical, and even theological. One would think he would simply not care about spirituality, enchantment, the true, the good, and the beautiful. He should, to be consistent and logical, locate them all in the same forgettable realm as Santa Claus and yet he cannot. Why doesn’t the atheist simply speak in terms of nature and power? The eagle eats the fish. It is neither good nor evil; it just is. The weak in the herd get left behind and either the elements or the predator finishes them. It is neither good nor evil; it just is. Since they view humans as simply the most evolved (which means nothing ultimately) extension of this same world and cycle of living, breeding and death, why speak of the “good?” Why not at least be as honest as Nietzsche?
In the context of this conversation, a family friend reminded me of the very pertinent C.S. Lewis quote:
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
Here is a rather famous (and frightening) quote from the biologist Francis Crick and one most strict naturalists agree with:
The Astonishing Hypothesis is the “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice may have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people alive today that it can be truly called astonishing.
Astonishing indeed. We need to remember that when the atheist begins to toss around words like “spirituality” “enchantment” or the “good” they stand as markers for nothing really—or at least they do once we ask the atheist to unpack them and tell us what he really means. His talk of “imagination” “human motivations” and “dreams” and all the areas summed up by Crick are nothing more than the culmination of- or reduction really- to a pack of neurons firing…purely physical phenomenon linked finally to muscle that moves…something more akin to a mental yawn, burp or flatulence.