By Nic Bertsch
How many times have you heard someone say something like this?
“This world is so messed up.”
“Human beings are so messed up.”
If you have never heard anyone say something like this, just ask the next person you talk to if they agree with either of the statements. The answer will almost always be yes. Those who would identify themselves as atheists, especially when their guard is down, will likewise agree that there is a massive amount of dysfunction in both people and the planet. Beliefs like these, however, are not compatible with atheism. In this post, I want explore this problem and shed some light on the inability of atheism to explain the real world.
Take environmentalism as an example. Those who would deem themselves environmentalists, would definitely agree that the planet is messed up. After all, they are constantly petitioning people and governments to reduce pollution and increase conservation efforts. They look down with disdain on those who don’t believe in global warming. There are even some of the more radical types, who actually favour reducing the population in order to help conserve animal and plant life and cut down on pollution. The question for anyone holding this view, if they are an atheist, is why?
To spot the confusion, we need to take a step back and start at the beginning. In the worldview of atheism, specifically naturalism or materialism, all that exists is matter. The universe came from nothing, by nothing, for no reason. The fact that any kind of life exists defies all probability. Humans, along with every other life form in the universe, are an accident. There is no creator, just particles. Now that we have that established: why should we think the planet is messed up?
Things can only be messed up, if there is a way they ought to be. If everything is an accident, if there is no design or purpose in life or the universe, then there is no “ought.” There just is.
Think about it for a second: The temperature of the earth has been both warmer and colder than it is now. The majority of species of animals and plants that have ever existed have gone extinct. This is what happens on earth. Why should we think, especially from the viewpoint of an atheist, that there is any reason to preserve the earth in some arbitrary state that environmentalists determine is the way it “ought” to be? The earth and the universe just are, remember? There is no design or meaning or purpose. We are an accident. We all will die, the earth will die, the universe will die, and no act of environmentalism will change that in any ultimate sense.
This is a big point of inconsistency amongst atheists, as they desperately want to affirm the need to preserve the environment, even though it makes absolutely no sense in their worldview. I say again: If the planet is messed up, it can only be because it was designed, and that design has been disrespected or abused in some way. Well, a design needs a designer. I have a feeling that the idea of a designer is not something many atheists would be quick to embrace, yet they can’t help but think in those terms. It’s almost like they are fighting against reality.
The same problem exists when dealing with human beings. To say that a person is messed up, also implies there is a way they “ought” to be. Where does that “ought” come from? If we all evolved from lower life forms through an unguided natural process that didn’t have us in mind, then who are we to judge the evolution of another human being?
Think about the kind of person that pretty much anyone would classify as “messed up”: people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ted Bundy, Darth Vader, Oscar the Grouch, etc. (Okay, those last two may not quite be on the same level as the others, but they’re still very messed up.) To what, or who, are we comparing them to when we refer to them this way? By what standard are they messed up, and us closer to the way humans “ought” to be? If atheism is true, then there is no standard. There is no way humans “ought” to behave. No one is messed up, we are just different.
Here we see once again where atheism runs contrary to reality. Check any atheist blog, website, or podcast, and you will undoubtedly hear a surplus of emoting on the evils of religion and its adherents—especially Christians. Indeed, human beings cannot help but think in moral terms. Moral “oughtness” is a hard concept to escape from, because reality is built that way. The implications of the atheistic worldview don’t match up with the way the world really is. If your worldview has no standard to judge humans as “messed up,” especially when they clearly are, then it seems to me that your worldview is false.
In the Christian worldview, there is no logical conflict with affirming either of these views. We believe the planet is messed up because we believe it was designed a certain way. The entire Christian worldview is built upon the foundation that at the Fall of mankind, disorder and brokenness entered creation, and since then the world has never been what is was meant to be. There is no conflict or category switching necessary for the Christian to be consistent. Moreover, we believe we do have a responsibility to care for the environment, because we were placed as stewards over what God created. We can explain our obligation to the environment and each other by grounding it in our God-given responsibilities. Atheism cannot ground such responsibility in anything other than personal preference.
Likewise, we believe that people are messed up because there is a way they were designed to be. Our moral compass is something we have from being created in God’s image, which is why we cannot avoid—whether as an atheist or theist—speaking in moral terms. We know there is an “ought,” when it comes to morality, and a designer is the only logical explanation for that.
The inability to be consistent within one’s worldview is a good indicator that the worldview in question is not an accurate description of reality. The planet, and humans really are messed up, and an honest atheist will admit as much. What they will lack in the end, is any logical reason to believe such a thing. Maybe, just maybe, there really is a way things are supposed to be. Perhaps it’s no accident at all we feel the way we do.