He Says It Better Than I Can

“From the perspective of a Christian, the refusal of an atheist to be a Christian is dismaying, but it is at least intelligible. But what is really disconcerting is the failure of atheists to be atheists. That is the thing that cries out for further exploration.”

So begins Douglas Wilson’s short defense of Christian belief written for the Huffington Post. The full HP article, also containing an argument for atheism by Christopher Hitchens, serves as a taste of the debates captured by the recently released documentary film, Collision. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the film highlights the relationship and debate between these two interesting public intellectuals. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet received the copy I ordered, so I can’t make a full review.

In the meantime, however, I found Wilson’s piece to give a concise and compelling expression of a centrally important argument against atheism. So I thought I’d pass along a further excerpt:

So if the universe is what the atheist maintains it is, then this determines what sort of account we must give for the nature of everything — and this includes the atheist’s thought processes, ethical convictions, and aesthetic appreciations. If you were to shake up two bottles of pop and place them on a table to fizz over, you could not fill up an auditorium with people who came to watch them debate. This is because they are not debating; they are just fizzing. If you were to shake up one bottle of pop, and show it film footage of some genocidal atrocity, the reaction you would get is not moral outrage, but rather more fizzing. And if you were to shake it really hard by means of art school, and place it in front of Michelangelo’s David, or the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral, the results would not really be aesthetic appreciation, but more fizzing still.

If the atheist is right, then I am not a Christian because I have mistaken beliefs, but am rather a Christian because that is what these chemicals would always do in this arrangement and at this temperature. The problem is that this atheistic assumption does the very same thing to the atheist’s case for atheism. The atheist gives us an account of all things which makes it impossible for us to believe that any account of all things could possibly be true. But no account of things can be tenable unless it provides us with the preconditions that make it possible for our “accounting” to represent genuine insight. Atheism fails to do this, and the failure is a spectacular one. Nor does atheism allow us to have any fixed ethical standard, or the possibility of beauty.

It does no good to appeal to the discoveries made by science and reason, for one of the things that reason has apparently brought us is atheism. Right? And not content to let sleeping dogs lie, reason also brings us the inexorable consequences of atheism, which includes the unpalatable but necessary conclusion that random neuron firings do not amount to any “truth” that corresponds to anything outside our heads. This, ironically enough, includes atheism, and so we find ourselves falling out of the tree, saw in one hand and branch in the other.

For a more detailed argument along these lines by one of the world’s leading philosophers, check out Alvin Plantiga’s interaction with the arguments of Richard Dawkins in this article in Books and Culture. Also, Tim Keller incorporates Plantinga’s argument, along with corroborating observations from those outside the Christian faith in chapter 8 (“The Clues of God”) of The Reason for God.

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