Look Around You (Exploring how Atheism and Christianity account for what really matters)

Is faith really just 'belief without evidence'?
Is faith really just ‘belief without evidence’?

Richard Dawkins famously said that faith is belief without evidence. That’s not how the Oxford English Dictionary would describe faith, but the phrase has stuck and so the idea that there is no evidence for God has memed its way through our culture. We’ve talked before about the difference between evidence and proof. Evidence is about looking at what’s in front of you, and deciding where it points, no matter how uncomfortable.

Today I want us to think about the things that really matter in life: love, hope, beauty, purpose. No matter who you are or what you believe, these are the things that count. Nobody lies on their deathbed and thinks, I wish I’d understood cosmology better or had a firmer grasp of Schroedinger’s Cat. What matters is this: was I loved? Did I experience beauty? Did I have hope? At the end, did my life contain some purpose – was it worth something? There are 2 major worldviews in the West – Atheism and Christianity – so let’s see how those 2 worldviews make sense of the above.

First up, the atheist. He’s a good guy, loves his friends and family, tries to live a moral life.

Love is one of those things that is as notable by its absence as by its presence. Now the atheist will of course believe in love, even though he has no basis for understanding it. Because Science has nothing to say about love; you can’t prove love scientifically and it isn’t necessary for evolution. The atheist might try and say that it’s just instinct, but ‘Survival of the Fittest’ is based on self-preservation, not self-sacrifice. So the Atheist will just have to acknowledge that the thing central to all relationships, the major subject of all artistic endeavour, is just a queer disinterested product of unguided evolution. How romantic!

And the Atheist won’t be able to explain hope, because if we are just molecules bumping chaotically into one another – if we are simply that – then there is no hope in the way we would like to understand it. The only hope we can really have is that those molecules will bump into one another in a randomly fortunate way…until they stop bumping into one another and we die.

The Atheist will be stuck when it comes to explaining beauty, too. Because you can’t prove beauty using Science. Yes, we all share that sense of awe when we see a beautiful sunset or the way the waves lap up on a Caribbean beach, but why do we experience it in the first place? Where does that totally erroneous sense of awe and wonder come from? We don’t actually need it.

Finally, our Atheist friend, when talking about purpose, will probably say something like, ‘Well, we make our own purpose.’ But why should we believe that? If the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and will end up as nothing, then where have we got this ridiculous idea of purpose from? Our only real objective purpose as a species is to bounce around for a few centuries until the sun burns us up. Anything else is just an overly-romanticised flight of fancy.

And all this might be true, but let’s allow the Christian to take a run-up…

He can say, well of course I know why you understand love, because the Bible says, ‘We love because He first loved us.’ And when you experience love for your wife, or your kids, or Ryan Gosling, you’re getting a tiny glimpse of how much God loves you.

And the Christian can confidently talk about why we experience beauty, because God created a beautiful world, and that sense of awe we feel at a snowy mountainscape or Rickie Lambert’s header against Scotland, these are traces of the awe and reverence we should have for our Creator.

And hope. Yes, we are molecules, the Christian will say, but we are not merely molecules. Hope is not a pipedream. That cross on calvary – there’s your hope! The empty tomb – he hasn’t gone to get milk. There is hope, not just that when you die you might go to heaven, but that now – here and now! – you can experience what Jesus calls ‘fullness of live’ through Him.

Finally, purpose. Sir John Templeton said, ‘Would it not be strange if a universe without purpose created human beings so obsessed with it?’ And the Christian can concur, and say that of course there is purpose beyond surviving for as long as you can or trying to make life as comfortable for yourself as possible. In God, through God, because of God, you have a purpose.

Now, the atheist might be right – all these things might be sheer chance. But what makes most sense? If we’re going to talk about evidence, where does the evidence of our own lives point? In the direction of blind chaotic nothingness, or towards God?