WHY I AM NOT AN ATHEIST: A Response to Gil Gaudia’s “Why I am an Atheist” (American Atheist, 3rd Quarter, 2013)

WHY I AM NOT AN ATHEIST: A Response to Gil Gaudia’s “Why I am an Atheist” (American Atheist, 3rd Quarter, 2013)

© 2013, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

I have long been searching for a coherent and sound reason for believing in atheism, and so when I came across “Why I am an Atheist,” by Gil Gaudia, in the current issue of American Atheist,[1] I was interested.  After all, Gaudia, who holds a Ph.D., is “a professor emeritus at State University of New York[2] and a former editorial assistant of American Atheist; one would think that if sound reasons for believing in atheism can be given, Gaudia is the man to do it.  And yet he fails.  Utterly.

True, his article is not meant to be a comprehensive argument for atheism; indeed, he tells us that “rather that engaging in an argument, I am aiming for others to understand my Atheist position,” and that “My intent here is to present what I (and a significant number of other Atheists) believe.

But it is this very presentation, his explanation for his belief in atheism, that is so thoroughly riddled with illogic, internal contradictions, and muddled thinking that it serves only to reinforce the suspicion that no intelligent case for atheism can be made.

The contradictions begin immediately.  Gaudia starts out by telling us that

one does not choose to be an Atheist any more than one chooses to be a homosexual.  It just is.

Yet later he cavils about the “apparent unfairness that sometimes prevails in the natural world,” and this, he says, “results in my refusal to believe in a god who would either allow or cause these unfair events.”  “Refusal to believe” is an act of the will, Gil; it isn’t something that “just is.

Furthermore, Gaudia’s implication that atheists are born, not made, is pointless.  The reality of the matter is that everyone is born an atheist.  Babies are born not believing in God – or in gravity or the power of the free market or the law of non-contradiction; they do not have the mental capacity to form beliefs.  It is as they grow older that they assemble, one by one, the constellation of beliefs they end up holding.

Thus, it is not just “many atheists” but most people who “recall wondering as children about the veracity of the religious stories that were fed to them, as well as the confusion regarding the mysterious rituals of their parents’ religion.”  But “wondering” is not tantamount to rejecting.  Intelligent people who wonder will examine the facts to see whether belief in God is justified.  And apparently most people find the case for God and against atheism powerfully persuasive; even in the secular West, where atheism has had its best shot at dispelling belief in God, the percent declaring themselves atheists remains a small minority[3].  Most people, in other words, outgrow the atheism they held on to as babies.  Atheists, it seems, are stuck perpetually in a state of arrested development.

Next, Gaudia makes an excursus to tell us that

it is undeniable that rage is often expressed toward … Atheists.  In fact, I believe that Atheists are now the most despised and underrepresented minority in America.

Actually, it is very deniable.  Anyone who pays attention to what is being promulgated by the mainstream media, public schools, and the entertainment industry will frequently encounter rage and hatred directed against Christians, but I do not recall ever seeing rage expressed toward atheists – and this is from one who reads six daily newspapers as a regular practice.  If rage is ever expressed against atheists, it is certainly not “often.”  (To be sure, this is a claim that atheists frequently make, as they seem to enjoy pity parties among themselves while congratulating themselves on how brave they are in the face of this putative rage.)  If an individual atheist does find he is “despised,” he might consider whether it is simply because he himself is personally unpleasant.

As we return to the substance of Gaudia’s presentation, we notice an interesting thing: he makes it abundantly – if tacitly – clear that atheism is a position of faith, not fact.  This admission, perhaps inadvertent, will no doubt enrage his atheist confreres, but it is undeniable.  Consider the following:

My intent here is to present what I (and a significant number of other Atheists) believe.

As an Atheist, I believe in only one world, the natural world.  I feel very strongly that only the natural world can be observed, studied, and eventually understood.

Most important is my belief that the natural world adheres to the rules of logic and reason.

In a system of one world, it is possible, I believe, to assign value to events in some orderly way …

These are statements of faith, not fact.

Next, we see a major and fatal flaw in Gaudia’s thinking.  He writes

I believe in only one world, the natural world.  I feel very strongly that only the natural world can be observed, studied, and eventually understood … This is the world that science apprehends and attempts to comprehend.

He does not seem to understand that science is a systematic study of natural phenomena via observation and experimentation; it in no way entails or proves that because the natural world is the only one science is designed to study, it therefore follows that it is the only one that is.  On the contrary, science was developed by Bible-believing Christians such as Isaac Newton.

It is not even difficult to prove this to Gaudia.  Does he believe, for example, that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1863?  Presumably he has no doubt whatsoever that this happened, but can he prove it by science?  No.  Historical events cannot be proven by science; they are proven by an entirely different methodology.  So even in the natural world, there is a great deal of information that is beyond the reach of the scientific method.  Gaudia’s implied syllogism, then,

Only what can be studied by science is real.

The supernatural realm cannot be studied by science.

Therefore the supernatural realm cannot be real.

is spectacularly wrong.  In fact, his statement that “atheism is simply the rejection of beliefs (usually religious) that are not in accord with the scientific rules of the world” does despite to both science and reason.  In light of this, it is truly ironic that Gaudia writes that

the natural world adheres to the rules of logic and reason.

He ought to try adhering to those rules himself (but then he would have to cease being an atheist, as we will see).

And now we come to a silly plea from Gaudia.  He writes

If religious people would only try to imagine how difficult it would be for them to surrender their fervor and love of god [sic] just because someone asked or demanded it from them, they might at least appreciate how Atheists feel about giving up their skepticism in the world they see as only material.

Now, as an Evangelical Christian, if I “just … asked or demanded” that atheists turn from their atheism, then certainly there would be no reason to listen to me.  But I do not do that; I provide sound reasons why their atheistic world view is untenable.

For example, I point out the following:  Gaudia clearly believes in “the scientific rules of this world,” and so do I.  So let us see how atheism measures up against these rules.  First, the most fundamental facts for us are that we exist, and that the natural world in which we find ourselves exists.  These facts raise the unavoidable questions “Whence did we come?” and “Whence came this natural world?”  If one does not believe there is a God, the only answer to both is random, undirected natural processes (viz. the theory of evolution: cosmic, chemical, and organic).

Now, the natural world endures in time and therefore cannot be eternally existent, for we could never have reached this point in time (2013) from eternity past, any more than one could ever climb halfway up an infinite staircase.  The universe therefore must have had a beginning, as cosmologists concede.  What, then, caused the natural world to come into being?  According to the only possible atheist view, once upon a time there was nothing and then that nothing coughed, hiccupped, or burped (or “quantum fluctuated” – though “nothing” cannot fluctuate) and – ta, da! – became something!  In other words, matter/energy spontaneously came out of nothing.  Uh, oh!  This is a complete violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics, one of those “scientific rules” Gaudia champions.

And we must also ask the question “Whence came life?”  According to the atheist view, simple chemicals randomly self-assembled – for no reason, “just because” – into extremely complex organic macromolecules (proteins, RNA and/or DNA) – and lots of them – and then these spontaneously self-assembled into a cell.  Uh, oh again!  This is a complete violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the “law of entropy”), which is another of those pesky “scientific rules.”  Or, to put it another way so that the atheist cannot try to weasel out of this, in all systems, open or closed, and at any conditions of temperature and pressure, the ΔGreaction for the formation of proteins, RNA, and DNA is hugely positive, and so such reactions will never spontaneously happen in the natural world.

Even if we ignore all this and pretend such a cell could have formed by random natural processes, we must then ask the question “How did this first cell come to life?”  How did this complex aggregation of chemicals actually pass from non-living to living?  Atheists don’t even have a pretend explanation; they simply assert that, well, it just happened!  Trust me!  Ooh!  Law of Biogenesis!  Those annoying little “scientific rules” also include the Law of Biogenesis, which states the scientific finding that life can only come from living beings; non-life can never come to life.  The atheist must ignore this and believe that, once upon a time, a lifeless agglomeration of chemicals must have done that very thing.

Furthermore, as we’ve said, there is all manner of information beyond the reach of the scientific method, and this includes historical events such as the assassination of Lincoln.  The death and resurrection of Jesus fall into this category, and by the rules of ancient historiography, they are the best attested facts of the ancient world, by far[4].  Now, when Gaudia writes, “I understand that I must abandon with world upon my death,” he is not asserting something other than what we also believe:

And as it is appointed for men to die once (Hebrews 9:27a)

The crucial question, however, is what happens to you after that.  Gaudia obviously believes that all existence ceases upon death, but since he has not yet died, there is no reason to accord any credibility to his pronouncements in this matter; he cannot know what happens after death.  Jesus, on the other, having died and then returned from the dead, is the only one qualified to speak on this matter.  And what He says is abundantly clear; there is life after death, a resurrection of life and a resurrection of condemnation (John 5:24-29), and whether you put your faith in Jesus or not will determine which of these will be your lot (John 3:16-18, John 6:28-29).  You will not be able to opt out.

Apropos to this, we do recognize that Gaudia finds objectionable “the concepts of heaven, hell, and an afterlife that are all based upon punishment or reward for the life led in the natural world.”  It should be obvious, however, that not liking something is not tantamount to an argument against its reality.

The inconsistency continues when Gaudia turns to his understanding of “unfairness.”  Gaudia writes,

In a system of one world, it is possible, I believe, to assign value to events in some orderly way based on fair principles that foster a comprehensive moral code.  In a two-world system, that code is still desirable, but it is complicated and contradicted by the necessity to explain the inevitable unfairness imposed by random natural events like hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes, or mechanical failures that cause people to die in accidents.  War, illness, and other misfortunes seem to be also unfairly distributed around the world.  A two-world system that involves an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent god elicits unavoidable complications created by the apparent unfairness that sometimes prevails in the natural world.

Now, if there is no God to give absolute moral standards, what exactly would constitute “fair principles”?  Who decides what is fair or unfair?  Gaudia?  Me?  It is certainly not the case that there is a universal human consensus on such matters; one need only look at such issues as abortion to see that.  In reality, any “comprehensive moral code” that Gaudia or anyone else would care to proffer would be nothing more than his own personal opinion, based on his own idiosyncratic estimation of what is fair.  (Gaudia does not even explain why, in a natural world built by “survival of the fittest,” we should even seek to be “fair”.)

Furthermore, the only “orderly way” in which such a code could be “foster[ed]” would be by “might makes right”; whoever happens to be in power would impose his own preferred moral code, by force or the threat of force, until he is supplanted by the next strongman.  One need look only at Soviet Russia or Maoist China or, for that matter, revolutionary France and its Reign of Terror to see how atheists in control of a society “assign value to events in some orderly way based on fair principles that foster a comprehensive moral code.

As for Gaudia’s statement that “the apparent unfairness that sometimes prevails in the natural world … results in my refusal to believe in a god who would either allow or cause these unfair events,” it reveals thinking that is patently risible.  A more perceptive person would realize that the “apparent unfairness that sometimes prevails in the natural world” does not allow us to ignore the fact that God is the only explanation for the existence of the universe and the life in it, and therefore must Himself exist.  All this “apparent unfairness” means that God does not do things the way Gaudia thinks he should – nor is there any obligation upon Him to do so.

The absurdity continues.  Gaudia objects that

no one … has ever been able to explain how the natural world of cause and effect would be affected by any agent from a supernatural world.  What could possibly be the interface between the material of the physical world and the ethereal forces of the supernatural world?

Can he seriously mean to suggest that God can only be real if we can understand exactly how He does things?  Is it not reasonable to assume that an omnipotent, omniscient God’s ways would not be fully comprehensible to us?

Gaudia should not lose sight of the fact that we do not even fully understand the various ways in which the “elements, atoms, electrons, or even quarks that comprise the architecture of the material world” that he mentions interact; we simply describe what we see without understanding why it happens.  For example, Gaudia earlier mentioned “the strong and weak forces of the nuclear system.”  What exactly is the “strong nuclear force”?

Well, we know that like electric charges (+ve/+ve and –ve/-ve) repel each other while unlike charges (+ve/-ve) attract each other.  We also know that the nucleus of the atom is made up only of protons (which have +ve charge) and, in most cases, neutrons (which are electrically neutral).  Any atom heavier than hydrogen has more than one proton, and, since the protons are each positively charged, they should repel each other so that the nucleus should not stay together.

Yet it does.  We don’t know why.  We proclaim that there must be a force holding them together, a force stronger than the force of electromagnetic repulsion, a force we call the “strong nuclear force.”  It is a term invented to paper over our ignorance; we have no idea what it is or how it operates – indeed we only proclaim it to be there because the protons are not acting in the way our other discoveries tell us they should.

Now, if our understanding of how the natural world, upon which we can bring to bear the scientific method, is so incomplete, how can a reasonable person suggest that we cannot believe in God, who is necessarily infinitely greater than the natural world that He created, simply because we cannot fully understand how He does what He does?  It is an objection that is truly ludicrous.

Having presented us these vacuous arguments for atheism, Gaudia finally returns to his “two world” objection.  Having previously written, “I find it impossible to understand how thinking people can surrender to what I consider the illogic of dual citizenship in the world of reality … and the world of fantasy,” he now reiterates that atheists “are unable to simultaneously exist in two worlds.”  Yet that is exactly what he himself does!   He simultaneously exists in two worlds, one “the world of reality” and the other an atheist fantasy world that is “operating under different laws”.  Consider:

  • In the real world, which operates according to the laws of science, matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from form to form.  But in Gaudia’s atheist fantasy world, nothingness can fluctuate and thereby create an entire universe of matter/energy – out of nothing.
  • In the real world, which operates according to the laws of science, all natural processes tend to maximize disorder (i.e. complex structures spontaneously break down into simpler structures, not vice versa), which means that complex organic molecules cannot spontaneously self-assemble.  In the atheist fantasy world, simple chemicals can indeed magically come together to form such complex molecules.  Why?  Just because!
  • In the real world, which operates according to the laws of science, only life can give rise to life, but in the atheist fantasy world, assemblages of lifeless chemicals can magically come to life.  How?  They just do!

And, perhaps most obviously fantastical and impossible, in the atheist fantasy world atheists are cool and brave and intelligent.

Finally, Gaudia writes

Atheists like me say only that we have not yet been provided with an explanation of supernaturalism.

Well, now he has.  The evidence for the existence of God is undeniable – which is why I am not an atheist.  In the light of this evidence, the crucial decision for Gaudia is whether he will now accept the reality of God – the God of the Bible – or continue to live in the atheist fantasy world that was constructed to escape that very reality.  His eternal destiny depends on the choice he makes.


Endnotes

[1] Gaudia, Gil. “Why I am an Atheist.” American Atheist 51(3) (3rd Quarter 2013), p. 46.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article are from ibid.  All emphases added.

[3] WIN-Gallup International GLOBAL INDEX OF RELIGIOSITY AND ATHEISM – 2012

[4] See our forthcoming article on The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.  In the meantime, see Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013)

Comments: 14

  1. Gil Gaudia says:

    Your silly piece talks about “sound reasons for believing in atheism.” I assume that as the educated and intelligent adult that you profess to be you do not believe in Santa Claus. So following your illogic, could one say that there is a belief system called “non-santaclausianism”? Do you, as someone who probably, (but I could be wrong here) does not believe in Santa Claus believe in “non-santaclausianism”?

    • John Tors says:

      The distinction you want to draw between not believing in God and believing there is no God seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. However, let us grant your point that not believing in God (“atheism”) is the default position in this debate. That does not mean, however, that the atheist believes nothing; in Gaudia’s own words, “My intent here is to present what I (and a significant number of other Atheists) believe” and “As an Atheist, I believe in only one world, the natural world.” As I pointed out in my article, the atheist cannot deny the existence of the universe and the life within it, and he must account for these according to his world view. If he denies there is a creator God, he can only appeal to random natural processes to explain these phenomena. However, genuine scientific investigation has discovered laws that preclude this appeal: as the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes, simple chemicals can never spontaneously self-assemble into the complex organic macromolecules and then the protocell needed for life, and as the Law of Biogenesis describes, even if such a protocell could form, it could never come to life. So the beliefs that necessarily must be accepted if one denies God are internally inconsistent and therefore impossible. And, by the law of the excluded middle (logic), if atheism is untenable, then theism is the only alternative – and, indeed, an omnipotent and extra-temporal Being can certainly account for the universe and the life within it. God therefore can no longer be denied, and atheism must be abandoned. (On the other hand, if we start with the default position being a denial of Santa Claus, no internal logical inconsistency develops that requires us to change that default position.) I trust this is now clear.

  2. Gil Gaudia says:

    . . . as mud . . . almost.

  3. Gil Gaudia says:

    Tell me about non-santaclausianism. Are you a non-santaclausianist because you do not believe in Santa Claus (You don’t, do you?)? Since I believe you are an intelligent adult, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and say that since you do not believe in Santa Claus, I should not, inappropriately, say that you believe in non-santaclausianism. Therefore, you should not say I believe in atheism. Can we agree on that? Please leave the Second Law of Thermodynamics out of your reply.

    • John Tors says:

      Very well, if that’s what you prefer. You do not believe in atheism. You do believe in Darwinist materialism, a worldview that is internally contradictory and scientifically impossible. That seems to me to be more important than what labels we use.

  4. Gil Gaudia says:

    John, you say, “That seems to me to be more important than what labels we use.”

    So why are you labeling me as a believer in “Darwinist materialism”?

    • John Tors says:

      Because you are “a believer in ‘Darwinist materialism.’” You seem to have overlooked the “more important” in my statement. I did not say that it is wrong to use labels, nor do I think it is wrong to do so. Labels can be helpful, as long as they are accurate. My point clearly was that believing a world view that is “internally contradictory and scientifically impossible” is a far “more important” issue than what label you choose to call that worldview.

  5. Gil Gaudia says:

    I believe that the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence . . . tens of thousands of published research articles; millions of fossils and tons of evidence found in the strata of rocks and canyons worldwide; patterns of skeletal development from fish to amphibians to reptiles, mammals and primates; blood composition, genetic markers and chromosomal patterns, and DNA evidence that is indisputable about the similarities, connections and progressions of all organic life; almost universal agreement among studies and data from biology, geology, paleontology, archaeology, chemistry and even astronomy (with regard to time lines and stellar development) . . . I believe that all this internally consistent, empirical evidence, is more persuasive than the ideas created by fearful, ignorant nomads 3,000 years ago. I might add that the entire edifice of Judeo-Christian mythology is based upon the fantasies of clueless ancients who claim to know about talking snakes, (yet did not know
    enough to keep excrement out of their food) an example of which snake has never been observed among all the species of snakes from the coral snake of Florida to the king cobra of India, in all the recorded history of science.

    Just so you do not misinterpret what I have written; I believe there is more evidence in the realm of observational science than in the imaginations of preliterate, ignorant, superstitious men.

    • John Tors says:

      I know you believe these things, but it seems to me that you have missed some key points. To illustrate the first point, imagine you are a police detective called to the scene of a murder. The victim, John Doe, was killed within the last few hours. You remember that John Doe has an enemy, Fred Smith, who hates him and has threatened to kill him in the past. Even as you are thinking about this, the CSI team finds that the killer was left handed, had red hair, was over six feet tall, and was a hunchback. You recall that Fred Smith is left handed, has red hair, is 6’3” tall, and is a hunchback. This seems to be compelling evidence so you go to arrest Fred Smith, only to find that Smith died six years ago. He is obviously not the murderer. It does no good to adduce the forensic evidence that points to Smith, since there are other possibilities to explain that evidence (another left-handed red-haired six-foot-tall hunchback, for example) whereas a dead man manifestly did not commit the murder. The point is that even if some lines of evidence are consistent with a theory, if other facts make that theory impossible then it is wrong and must be discarded.

      Now, it is noteworthy that you mentioned “observational science,” as this brings us to our next point. Science fundamentally is based on making observations and using inductive logic on the observed data to discover laws of nature (i.e. things that always happen and are never seen to be violated e.g. the Law of Gravity = two masses separated by a distance r always attract each other with a force = GM1M2/r2). Laws constitute the most certain knowledge yielded by the scientific method, and so any theory that violates even one law of science is wrong and must be discarded.

      (See our article “The Nature of Science” at https://truthinmydays.com/the-nature-of-science/ for a fuller discussion.)

      Our next point is that in the absence of God, the universe and life must be explained by random natural processes, and the only such explanation on the table is Darwinian evolution, which is what you believe. Now, here are four essential (sine qua non) steps in Darwinian evolution: (1) simple chemicals must spontaneously self-assemble into extremely complex organic macromolecules such as proteins, RNA, and DNA; (2) these complex organic macromolecules must spontaneously self-assemble into a cell (and the complexity of a cell is comparable to an automated factory the size of Los Angeles, microminiaturized); (3) this cell must come to life; and (4) vast amounts of specified-complex information coded in DNA must be created by random natural processes. The first two steps are impossible, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all natural processes tend towards breakdown and disorder, not order (and this holds for all natural processes in both open and closed systems).

      (For a detailed discussion, see our article “A Primer on Entropy (The Second Law of Thermodynamics)”at https://truthinmydays.com/a-primer-on-entropy-the-second-law-of-thermodynamics/. )

      The Law of Biogenesis, discovered by Louis Pasteur and others, states that life can only come from life, and so nonliving matter can never come to life, makes step (3) impossible. And information theory has shown that random natural processes cannot generate specified-complex information, making step (4) impossible.

      (For full discussions see Stephen C. Meyer’s The Signature in the Cell and Werner Gitt’s In the Beginning Was Information and Without Excuse.)

      In light of this, then, the theory of Darwinian evolution is an impossibility and atheism, which depends on it, is indeed internally contradictory and impossible. It is useless to point to reams of evidence that you think support the theory, because even if this evidence were consistent with the theory (and in many cases it is not), the laws of science rule this theory out. If you will do some diligent research by looking at the best arguments from both sides of the debate, you will find that these reams of data actually accord with creationism as well as, or better than, with Darwinian evolution – and creationism is not ruled out by laws of science.

      You suggest that what is in the Bible are “ideas created by fearful, ignorant nomads 3,000 years ago….based upon the fantasies of clueless ancients….[and ]the imaginations of preliterate, ignorant, superstitious men.” Simple insults, it should be noted, are not arguments. It should also be noted that the Bible in its entirety was endorsed by Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God, and if this He is then His is the final word on the matter. And inasmuch as He proved His claims by fulfilling prophecy, working miracles, and rising from the dead, that should settle the matter. I think you really should look into this more carefully.

      Finally, your cavil about “talking snakes…an example of which snake has never been observed among all the species of snakes” is a little careless, don’t you think? The Bible does not speak of talking snakes or of any species of talking snake; the serpent in Eden was being used by Satan and it was Satan in some fashion speaking through it (see Revelation 12:9, 20:2). If we do not rule out the supernatural, and we cannot, this is not a problem.

  6. Gil Gaudia says:

    To quote the old slogan from some TV campaign, John, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” It is too bad that someone filled your obviously capable mind, probably when you were young, with such incomprehensible baloney. Adios amigo!

    • John Tors says:

      Thank you for your contributions to this discussion, Gil. Actually, from as far back as I can remember, my mind was filled with the theory of evolution, which was always presented to me as fact, in school, in books (particularly the reference books on animals that I loved to read), and even in Saturday morning cartoons (“Scooby-Doo” comes to mind). I was already an adult before I heard that anyone even questioned the theory of evolution. I then carefully examined the best arguments from both sides, as well as the best responses from each side to the other, and I went where the evidence led. So when I came to reject the theory of evolution, it was on the basis of scientific facts and evidence, some of which I’ve presented to you. And inasmuch as I have presented actual evidence, I do urge you to look further into the matter. There is good information on http://www.icr.org, http://www.creation.com, and http://www.answersingenesis.org. Let us know if we may be of any further assistance.

    • I so loved your intelligent and loving response to the atheistic replies, I hope you have written a book on creation science or answers to atheists etc. God bless you greatly!!!

    • John Tors says:

      Thank you for your encouragement! I certainly am planning to write books, but it is certainly difficult to find publishers these days.

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