ANSWERING OBJECTIONS FROM AN ATHEIST
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© 2021, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.
There are two problems with atheism. First, it is impossible, as logic and the laws of science show. Second, it precludes any objective meaning to life (and objective values), beyond personal preferences. The latter problem does not, of course, disprove atheism, but the former does.
We addressed problems with atheism in our “Atheism and the Meaning of Life” podcast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPTRID8ak94 and elsewhere) and have received some lengthy comments in response from one Robin Dude. He obviously spent some effort on formulating his comments, and it is only fair to give him a response. His approach was to list a quote from the podcast and type a comment in response, so, for maximum clarity, we list the quote (bolded) with his comment (bolded and italicized) followed by our response.
Comments and Responses
“…the fact that the world and the life in it exists requires some kind of explanation to where it came from…”
Same place you think your god came from, maybe?
Atheists are bound to naturalistic explanations only, so, no, the world and the life in it could not come from the “same place” as God. As explained in the podcast, anything that endures in time, as the universe and people and animals do, must have a beginning, so the atheist is bound to give us a naturalistic explanation for that beginning. God, who does not endure in time, has no beginning and so does not come from “some place.”
“…First Law of Thermodynamics tells us something could not come from nothing…”
And no one proposes it did.
Actually, there are high-profile atheists who do propose this very thing; witness Lawrence Krauss’ risible book A Universe from Nothing and Stephen Hawking’s A Grand Design, in which he writes, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” If Mr. Dude agrees that the idea is absurd, as his comment seems to imply, he is still stuck with offering a naturalistic explanation, which he signally fails to do.
“…where did the world come from in the first place…”
No one knows. If you think you do know, provide some means of testing your answer. One possible solution is an eternal quantum vacuum, but that hasn’t been demonstrated.
Mr. Dude seems to be missing the problem here; we do know that the First Law of Thermodynamics precludes any sort of naturalistic explanation for origins, including the idea of a putative “eternal quantum vacuum.” A quantum vacuum is a quantum state with lowest possible energy. There’s that word – energy – which is something that cannot come out of nothing, per the First Law of Thermodynamics, nor can it be eternal since it endures in time. So, yes, we do know: naturalistic explanations are impossible, which means the only viable explanation for the world and the life in it is a creator God.
“…the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that all natural processes tend towards disorder…”
The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that all processes in the universe increase entropy (what you are calling ‘disorder’). When you clean up a room, the amount of entropy in the universe goes up and not down by you doing so. That is, cleaning a room increases disorder. This means that what you are thinking of as ‘disorder’ is not what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is talking about. You may ask how the entropy increases if you clean a room? While it looks to you like you have increased order, that increase in order comes at the cost of extra disorder elsewhere, specifically within your body. The amount the disorder in your body (measured as a function of energy, not some human scale representation of what ‘looks orderly’ to us, as if we were important) goes up by more than the order you’ve imparted to the room.
It is ironic that in his response Mr. Dude illustrates what is wrong with his view. Indeed, we can reduce the entropy (disorder) in a room by cleaning it – but this requires chemical energy (in this case from food), a machine (in this case our bodies) that can convert the energy into useful work, and a plan (in our brain) for that work. Without those factors, processes always tend towards disorder, per the Gibbs Free Energy equation; complex order never results from a natural process, which is why the room will never spontaneously clean itself up, why houses, left alone long enough, will decay into a pile of rubble but a pile of rubble, no matter how long it is given will never spontaneously self-assemble into a house, and why, despite the best efforts in the laboratory to induce it, proteins and DNA will never spontaneously form on their own, putting paid to any notion of chemical evolution, and, with it, to atheism. The Second Law of Thermodynamics guarantees that the order we see in the universe and in living beings most certainly cannot have developed by naturalistic processes.
“…how did a random mass of subatomic particles flying away from each other turn into complex solar systems and galaxies and so on…”
Gravity. The fact that they are ‘mass’ is what lets them do so. At first they were too hot to condense like that, but as the pressure dropped so did the pressure, and they condensed into matter.
No, the gravitational pull between two subatomic particles is not nearly enough, and this is easy to demonstrate in the real world. The gravitational force of attraction between the Earth and an oxygen molecule is at least 1.133 x 1053 times greater than that between two subatomic particles at the same distance of separation. The Earth’s atmosphere is supposedly 4.1 billion years old, yet in all that time the molecules in our atmosphere have not accreted to the surface of the Earth. This is why critical thinkers need to do the actual number crunching, instead of accepting evolutionist claims uncritically.
“…how did simple, non-living chemicals self assemble to give you the proteins and DNA…”
Likely DNA came much later, after RNA, and before proteins. Still, no one knows… and if you think you do know, then provide some means of testing your answer.
This is misdirection from Mr. Dude. We are not asking the order in which these complex macromolecules came into being, but how they did so contrary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. To say “no one knows” is a dodge; no one can make a viable proposal because it is scientifically impossible, but they are loathe to admit it.
“…the law of biogenesis tells us that life can only come from already living things…”
The ‘law of biogenesis’ is based on a two week experiment. That’s all. It is meant to counter a claim that things like rats and maggots were produced by rice and rotting meat. It has no bearing on the origins of life. We actually have a lot of parts of a natural origins for life.
Pasteur’s original work may have been a two-week experiment, but it certainly did not end there. Since that time, thousands of experiments have been done, under every conceivable optimal condition, to bring life from nonliving matter, and all have failed. When a phenomenon is tested thousands of times, always with the same result, it becomes a law (in this case the Law of Biogenesis); that is the inductive method by which science works. Saying that it applies only to rats and maggots and rice and rotting meat is like saying the Law of Gravity applies only to apples falling from trees, the apocryphal “first experiment” regarding gravity.
Do we “actually have a lot of parts of a natural origins [sic] for life”? We have a lot of theoretical and speculative suggestions, certainly, about when it happened and where it happened, but nothing for the quintessential element: how it happened. Nor will we, since science has already proven it impossible.
“…selling point, trying to convince people to abandon God…”
The meaning of life shouldn’t have any bearing on this. How you come to decide something is true should, and then you follow that wherever it leads, regardless as to how much you like the answer.
Many atheists do try to convince people that there is no God, and this is a tough selling point for that; this is a factual observation that I made, not an argument against atheism that I advanced. The truth of my statement is self evident. Mr. Dude is correct, of course; we need to follow the evidence “wherever it leads, regardless as to how much you like the answer,” which raises the question as to whether Mr. Dude is willing to do so himself. Atheism, as I have shown, is impossible; is he willing to follow the evidence and accept that conclusion?
“…why can’t the pursuit of one’s own happiness be the meaning…”
That’s what theists often do. You’ve just convinced yourselves that happiness in this life is temporary and if only you follow some set of rules you can get a better kind of happiness that isn’t temporary.
Atheists, however, tend to find meaning in friends and family, helping those they care about and those around them.
Christians do not follow Christianity only because it makes us happy eternally but because it is ultimately true. “Meaning” is that which has ultimate and eternal significance, that does not cease with the end of human life. Following Christ may make us happy, but it has meaning because it accords with the purpose and nature of ultimate reality. Not so with the ephemeral happiness of people on their way to being worm food. As I wrote elsewhere:
One of the problems associated with atheism is that life in such a worldview is without any sort of objective meaning; the atheist inevitably must choose between some sort of hedonism, based on personal preferences, or he is faced with nihilism. This, in and of itself, does not disprove atheism, but it is nevertheless problematic, certainly from a marketing point of view.
There is no way to get around this fact; every attempt by atheists to identify meaning in life ends up with them promoting views they personally prefer as if they were absolute and meaningful, yet wiser people rightly ask what makes their personal preferences meaningful to anyone else, and in light of that why they could be considered to be “meaning.”
Here, Mr. Dude proves my point. His “meaning” is nothing more than personal preferences. They may matter to him, but exceedingly few of the 7.6 billion people on the planet care even a scintilla about Mr. Dude’s friends and family, who, according to his worldview, will die and utterly cease to exist, so that Mr. Dude’s help and care does them no ultimate good.
Again, this does not disprove atheism, but it is an inevitable reality for atheists. There is no meaning to their lives, just personal preferences, as Mr. Dude has demonstrated for us. Christians, on the other hand are serving God because He is true, not because we are trying to be happy, and that has ultimate and eternal significance.
“…hold to this concomitant model of evolution, you believe that the universe is heading towards heat death…”
Just so we’re clear, there is no ‘model of evolution’ that includes the heat death of the universe.
The heat death of the universe, which will occur when universal thermal equilibrium is reached, is the unavoidable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is not a feature of a “model of evolution,” and unlike this latter it is not fictitious; it is a scientific fact that every physicist in the world recognizes.
“…whether something matters… isn’t that kind of subjective? … If there’s a god it’s not subjective…”
Yes, it is. It’s God’s subjective opinion about whether it matters, and he has the power to enforce his opinion on others. To be objective it cannot depend upon any mind. Anything that is mind-dependent (values, things ‘mattering’, and so on) will always be subjective.
No. God is the creator of the physical world in all its reality. Metaphysics (meaning and morality) is built into the physical world every bit of much as is physics. No one would suggest that the laws of physics are subjective simply because they originated in the mind of God; so, too, the laws of metaphysics. We discover them in the word of God; we do not get to decide on them.
“…some sort of hedonism based on personal preference… or nihilism…”
How about something based on evolutionary necessity? Those beings that continue to live will be those that behave in some ways and not others. This isn’t ‘personal preference’ because it’s not related to you, alone, and it’s not nihilism. Moreover, if you look at the sort of species we are, you quickly find that, by this point, we require each other to survive. No one can survive on their own for a lifetime. So the only way we get through this is by caring for our community as a whole, instead of just ourselves. Add to this that, due to the amount we are connected and require one another to survive and reproduce, we are biologically more incentivized to be altruistic, to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the group, so that the species will continue. This, of course, is at constant war with the more self-serving models of our behavior that also have benefit. Which is where the balance has ended up today and why you see the behavior you see.
It is at this point we have to wonder whether Mr. Dude listened carefully to the entire podcast, because the arguments he is making have been thoroughly debunked. He says that “Those beings that continue to live will be those that behave in some ways and not others,” which is a (failed) attempt at explaining behaviour but it has nothing to do with meaning. Why exactly should beings continue to live – for a time, and then die and become worm food (for worms that will themselves die)? Where is the meaning in this; Mr. Dude does not tell us.
Mr. Dude continues harping on how we survive but fails to explain why we should or why it matters to anyone other than ourselves and those around us. He claims that we are biologically incentivized to be altruistic, although I showed clearly that the historical evidence shows exactly the opposite; generally, the more ruthless survive better and certainly have an advantage in differential reproduction. Furthermore, where altruism exists, it is intra-tribal, not global. Historically, people outside the tribe were treated with anything but altruism. So Mr. Dude’s attempt to explain why we should care about the torture of people on the other side of the world is a failure.
As a Christian, I have a reason to be altruistic; Mr. Dude has, as we have said, only a personal preference. Another atheist, such as Josef Stalin, had the opposite personal preference, and it would be interesting to see Mr. Dude explain why – objectively – he is right on this and Stalin wrong.
“…the atheist has real trouble… defining any sort of real meaning…”
Health and happiness of the human species in general, us (individually) within that. I would find it shocking if, after we peel away all the hand waving mysticism and sophistry, you didn’t think this was your basis for ‘meaning’ as well. To show this, consider the following scenario. You were created by God as a source of entertainment for him. He will always remember you and everything you do, so every act you do will have a lasting, eternal presence in the mind of God, but you won’t continue. Do you care? Remember, you have a lasting effect, it’s just not lasting in the way that it leads to you continuing. Be good, be bad, it all has consequences for the entertainment of God but not for you because there’s no afterlife.
So once we’re getting down to ‘what we care about’ being the health and happiness of us and our species, we’re talking that same evolutionary imperative I mentioned above. And now we not only don’t need a god to explain meaning, but even have a potential explanation for why we would want to have an eternal life and thus have invented such tales of an afterlife.
No matter how often Mr. Dude repeats a falsehood, it does not thereby become true. Caring about health and happiness of friends and family and vacuous claims about caring about the species in general are not real meaning; they are personal preferences regarding people who will soon become worm food in a world headed to heat death; there is no eternal value or significance in this.
It is also a good idea to understand what the person with whom one is arguing believes before arguing against. Mr. Dude shows that he has not done that. We do not believe that God created us “as a source of entertainment for him”; He created as us share His love with us, somewhat like parents having children. They do not do it to be “entertained” by their children.
And, yes, we certainly do believe there is an afterlife, and we base that belief on the testimony of Jesus Christ, who did actually die on a Roman cross and was stabbed in the side with a Roman spear, who was buried in a tomb and returned again alive on the third day and was seen by many witnesses across forty days, showing Himself alive by many infallible proofs.
Mr. Dude, in contrast, is guessing that there is no afterlife but is basing that guess on no evidence at all so his guess is of no value. He really needs to think this through more carefully before making a mistake that will cost him for eternity.
“…how does [the torture of others] affect you personally…”
Suppose you live in a huge tree. You would want that tree to be healthy, the branches strong so that your branch can support you. Now suppose someone else in that tree is dripping poison onto the roots of the tree, or stuffing a branch near theirs (not theirs) with parasites. Does that affect you personally? Yes, of course. It’s harming the tree you depend upon for survival and thriving (health and happiness). Obviously such things cannot be tolerated. Even worse, it explains not only why we will care about those poisons and parasites, but why the ones doing the poisoning should be concerned as well. It may be a big tree, able to withstand a lot of poison or parasites, but it would be utterly foolish not to find such actions abhorrent since doing them harms all of us, even though it’s sometimes hard to see the effects.
Here Mr. Dude is committing the logical fallacy of false analogy. Why does he say that people unknown to him torturing other people unknown to him in a far-off land corresponds to poisoning the roots of a tree rather than, say, pruning off rotten branches? What makes his analogy the correct one? Unless, of course, we first assume that happiness is good and torture is bad, per Mr. Dude’s personal preference? In that case, he is now committing the logical fallacy of circular argument.
The sad reality is that the history of the world is replete with wars of aggression and torture and brutality, yet now we have reached new heights of power, prosperity, lifespan, and advancement despite those things, which rather undercuts Mr. Dude’s basis for opposing such things. As a Christian, I can say that on an objective basis that such things are bad, while even on the basis of his personal preference, Mr. Dude cannot say they are bad in any way consistent with his own basis.
“…is [avoiding pain and getting pleasure] still really meaning…”
So… is avoiding hell and gaining heaven really meaning?
This has already been answered. Gaining heaven is in accordance with the objective values God has built into His creation so, yes, it is meaningful. Temporary pleasure of an entity that will soon be worm food in a world headed for heat death is not.
“…humans… are a bunch of organisms that descended by chance from primitive organisms that crawled out of primordial soup and learned to walk upright, each of whom breathes, eats, and reproduces until he dies, trying until then to avoid pain… and this is what Kagan & Shermer offer as meaning to life?…”
Not just the individual, but the species, the group. Any species or group that does not do that doesn’t exist (for long). Anything that doesn’t exist doesn’t matter and has no meaning.
Again, Mr. Dude has failed to explain why it is meaningful for a species to survive. Once Mr. Dude is worm food, why will it be meaningful if humans are still around – as opposed, to, say, triceratops? Which species have to survive to give life meaning, and which are expendable? Most species throughout history have not, in fact, survived, so meaning based on species survival is looking tenuous. And since no species will survive indefinitely but will come to an end some time before heat death is reached, there does not seem to be a basis for meaning in survival, nor does Mr. Dude attempt to show such a thing. His bald assertions to the effect ring hollow.
“…why should the torture of a human matter any more than the suffering of a fly trapped in a spider’s web…”
Matter to whom? To the fly trapped in that web, it matters more than the torture of some humans. To us it’s the other way around. Values, all values, are ultimately subjective but can be subjective at the level of the group or species.
And here we go, folks! Mr. Dude admits here that there is no real meaning to life, but only personal preferences, which vary from one group to the next. He could have saved us a lot of time by admitting this from the start. But, as I said, atheists are loathe to admit it, perhaps even to themselves.
“…does [the suffering of animals] matter to us? And the answer is no, why should it?…”
Remember that tree you’re living in? Well, turns out that we’re connected to more than just our own species. We need other species to survive and thrive as well, because without them our world falls apart, and we die along with it. Obviously we have done, and continue to do, a lot of damage to our own environment, and it’s beginning to look like all that is getting closer every day to biting us in the butt. But because we have trouble seeing it at that level, we have trouble taking appropriate action at that scale. Even atheists fall into this. We just haven’t evolved to see things globally because for most of our history it didn’t matter. If you figure 20 years represents a ‘generation’ in humans, we weren’t affecting things on a global scale for the first 7000 generations we were around. For the next 3000 generations we did some damage but nothing huge on a global scale. Sure, we wiped out several species in the Americas, created a few deserts like the ones in the southern USA, the Australian outback, and the whole Middle-East, but that took a long, long time. Then for the next 200 generations we upped things causing some serious damage in terms of deforestation and wiping out various species. Yet all of that kicked into high gear in the last 10 generations, with us wiping out whole swaths of species all over the world as well as poisoning the whole planet at once. And much of that last bit has been in the last 3 generations.
So we’ve been around for about 10,000 generations, and only in the last 3 generations were we powerful enough to do enough damage to all those other branches to begin to see, if you look really closely, that we are poisoning our own tree with it. Think about how that works for evolution. 9997… to 3. That is why we aren’t doing anything, and won’t until it’s too late, and why you get people (mainly theists) who cry out that we can’t hurt the Earth, that we can just continue and it’ll be fine.
Remember that the tree is a false analogy? Here Mr. Dude makes it much worse for himself. He bemoans the supposed destruction we are doing to the Earth, implying, it seems, that the extinction of species is a bad thing and perhaps hinting there is meaning in trying to reverse that. But he claims that “we need other species to survive and thrive as well, because without them our world falls apart, and we die along with it” and that humans are the problem “in the last 10 generations, with us wiping out whole swaths of species all over the world.” It may interest Mr. Dude to know that 99% of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct, yet the world seems to continue operating just fine for us. And, according to the evolutionary timeline, almost all of these extinctions happened before modern man even came into being. So his concerns do not seem to be well grounded. But the most telling part is this: “our world falls apart, and we die along with it.” Well, if that is a problem for Mr. Dude, the game is over – we are all going to die, along with our world and all the species in it, as we approach the heat death of the universe. So much for meaning in the atheistic world view.
“…worldwide…there are thousands of people being tortured… can [atheists] name even half a dozen of them…”
Right now there are non-believers in Russia. Can you name some? If not, does that mean they don’t matter? Or does what we accept of a situation hold irrespective of whether we have current exemplars of that situation? Do I have to know of someone who has been raped to say rape would be of concern to me? Do I have to know of any expert violinist who has, without consent, attached himself to another person to share their liver in order to deem that of concern? I think not. Why should it? I do not need an instantiation of a situation to object to the situation.
Yet Mr. Dude’s objections ring hollow indeed in the absence of action; words are cheap, as the saying goes. Yes, there are non-believers in Russia and in many parts of the world. This is why we began Truth In My Days Ministry, to equip Christians to reach out with the Gospel to unbelievers everywhere. That is why we support world missions with our money and why we preach the Gospel where opportunity permits. That is why I am spending time to craft this response to Mr. Dude. Words without action, though, as we so frequently see from atheists, do call into question whether they really care about such things as torture.
“…if they care, shouldn’t they try to find out…”
We’re humans. We’re limited. We simply can’t spend the amount of time it would take to find out for all things we agree matter where those ‘bad things’ are happening. There are so many things that we agree are unacceptable to us happening in the world, and while we want there to be people in our society looking into it, we can’t all be looking into it. We need to specialize and divide the work among us to maximize what limited resources we have. Failure to do so would end us as a species, as would doing nothing. As such you have what you see, a balance which fluctuates a bit of those looking for these issues to fix them and the rest tending to all the other functions needed to preserve and increase a society.
Certainly, people have limited time in this life and must pick and choose what they wish to spend it on. Nevertheless, a claim that one cares about something on which he spends no time lacks credibility. And, yet again, Mr. Dude fails to explain why there is meaning in preserving and increasing a society from which he will soon exit as worm food and which is heading towards final extermination in heat death. Why care?
“…by what standard would we say that the personal preferences of [some atheists] are superior to the personal preferences of [bad people]…”
Survival. What those torturers, thieves, etc, are doing poisons the whole tree. That’s why they’re wrong.
This sums up the vacuity of the atheist position rather well. We showed that “torturers, thieves, etc,” seem historically to have done better – certainly at propagating their genes – than others. And Mr. Dude has not shown that such people are poisoning the tree rather than, say, pruning dead branches. But the most telling point that Mr. Dude makes is to claim that “they’re wrong.” Really? By what standard? Genghis Khan and Stalin and Pol Pot believed they were right, while Mr. Dude thinks they were wrong. But each based his view on his personal preferences, so there is no objective standard by which one can say that they were wrong and Mr. Dude is right, or vice versa. Atheism simply does not allow for this.
A world view that claims to be the truth must be willing to meet challenges and how it responds determines whether it can, in fact, lay claim to being the truth. Atheism utterly fails that challenge. As we have said, logic and the laws of science absolutely rule it out. Robin Dude made some detailed attempts to dispute that, but as we have seen, he failed; logic and the laws of science continue to stand as an insurmountable obstacle to atheism.
We have also shown that there can be no meaning in the life of an atheist beyond personal preference. Mr. Dude also attempted to controvert that, but when all was said and done, the only meaning he could point to was personal preference. So we strongly suggest that, with the fact that God exists now being undeniable, Mr. Dude and all other atheists become diligent in finding out which God that is. We can help them out by pointing out that only one God authenticated Himself through Jesus Christ, who fulfilled ancient prophecies, worked amazing miracles, and rose from the dead. The God of the Bible is the only one who thus proves Himself.
 Tors, John. “Shermer’s Error and the Meaning of Life: Another Failed Attempt to Find Meaning in an Atheistic Life.” Posted at https://truthinmydays.com/shermers-error-and-the-meaning-of-life-another-failed-attempt-to-find-meaning-in-an-atheistic-life/ and Tors, John. “Still Waiting for an Intelligent Defence of Atheism – The Latest Failure: Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star.” Posted at https://truthinmydays.com/still-waiting-for-an-intelligent-defence-of-atheism-the-latest-failure-heather-mallick-in-the-toronto-star/.
 For details about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Gibbs Free Energy equation, see Tors, John. “A Primer on Entropy (The Second Law of Thermodynamics).” Posted at https://truthinmydays.com/a-primer-on-entropy-the-second-law-of-thermodynamics/.
 The fact that the laws of science prove that the world and the life in it could not have come into being without a Creator God, on the other hand, certainly does prove atheism to be false and untenable.
 Tors, John. “Shermer’s Error and the Meaning of Life.” op.cit.