One of the things that fascinates me about modern defenders of the Christian faith is how casually they begin in the wrong place. They start with the assumption that their listeners are objective and analytical and can be persuaded by facts. I doubt this is true. Then they assume their role is one of defense attorney who presents a reliable case sufficient to free God from the atheist’s accusations. I know this isn’t true.
The Bible starts in a completely different place, saying we are “without excuse” for not believing (Romans 1:20). The atheist needs a defense attorney.
And what’s most surprising about this to me is that the guy who says he doesn’t believe in God has already shown that he depends upon a world in which God does exist in three ways.
First, when one says, “God does not exist,” that person is assuming that the purpose of communication is to tell the truth. They assume that they are somehow morally obligated to try to reflect what they think accurately, and they assume the person to whom they are speaking is doing the same. But this moral undergirding is suspicious. If God doesn’t exist, morality is at best a mistaken byproduct of blind evolution. So long as survival of the fittest is the only goal, there’s really no objective moral obligation. I can tell the truth if I want and not if I don’t. But when we say, “God does not exist,” we’re assuming that communication in general rests on a real obligation to tell the truth, which is a moral claim. It’s just strange to me that we act as though objective morals should exist, when a universe without God doesn’t require objective morality.
Second, when you say, “God does not exist,” you are assuming that the thoughts in your head accurately reflect the world around you. You really think that in the universe, there is not a God, and that your perception of that world is accurate. But there’s a problem. In a godless universe, everything is simply matter. Everything is made up of colliding particles. Our brains in our heads are just a collection of particles that have come to function in certain ways. But there’s nothing objective that obligates the particles in our heads to give us an accurate picture of the real world (this is sort of the red pill here). It’s the same as the first point in a way – nothing objectively obligates brains to “tell the truth,” or to work in a way that is objectively accurate. Yet when someone says, “God does not exist,” there is a fundamental assumption that brains and sensory organs must work accurately. Descartes, Berkeley, and company knew that they had to ground their philosophies in the assumed existence of God before they could begin talking about what they did and didn’t know about the world. But the assumption that our senses are right isn’t necessary in a godless material universe.
Third, when you say “God does not exist,” you are trusting that communication actually works. You are trusting that the ideas in one person’s head can be translated into language, perceived consistently, and received accurately. Deconstructionists like Foucault would say that this misrepresents they way language actually works, as truths are simply the falsehoods that have been hardened by the long baking process of history. Derrida would observe that the place where we assume big ideas are connected to particular expressions of those ideas (where “forms” are stamped into “particulars”) is a lot more fuzzy than we assume when we talk to each other. Again, a material universe with no guiding conscience would not necessitate that words have meaning or that language is effective. These things require something more purposeful than the blind movements of particles.
So when someone says “I don’t believe in God,” they are trusting that we are bound by the objective moral obligation to tell the truth, that our brains are bound to purposefully reveal accurate information, and that communication can be infused with objective meaning, none of which should necessarily exist in a godless universe. That person is acting like God is there at exactly the moment she says he isn’t.
So ironically, the person who says “God does not exist” is actually proving that God does.
Explore this and other curiosities in my book Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know, available this September from Abingdon Press.