Philosophy

Finding Truth: Free-Loading Atheists

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 05/15/2015

This week, we’re discussing the chapter “Free-Loading Atheists” in Nancy Pearcey’s Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes, which covers the fifth of five principles for evaluating worldviews: “Replace the Idol: Make the Case for Christianity” (see links to the previous posts below).

We’ve come to the final principle in Nancy Pearcey’s Romans-1-based method of apologetics: Make the case for Christianity. After you determine how a person’s worldview doesn’t match reality, and how it contradicts itself, how do you move from there to making a case for Christianity in a way that’s relevant and compelling to that particular individual? Pearcey says, look for ways in which that person is living as if Christianity is true, accepting and acting on ideas his own worldview doesn’t support:

[W]e can get started by identifying those elements that people smuggle in from a Christian worldview. They are showing us where their own worldviews break down and, at the same time, what they find most appealing about Christianity. These provide strategic starting points for framing a biblical worldview attuned to the questions of our day. (p. 221)

As I’ve noted before, Pearcey’s approach leans heavily on the idea that the Christian worldview is appealing, not to mention necessary:

The fact that everyone has to function as though Christianity is true opens a creative opportunity for addressing the secular world. Christianity provides the basis for the way humans can’t help behaving anyway. In making the case for a biblical worldview, a strategic place to start is by showing that it alone gives a basis for the ways we all have to function, no matter which worldview we hold. (p. 224)

It should give us confidence to know that the words and actions of those we’re trying to reach reveal that they recognize (even if not consciously) that aspects of the Christian worldview are appealing and necessary. Pearcey offered quotes from atheists who “recognize the limitations and failures of their own worldview.” Their limitations are our opportunities to explain how Christianity succeeds where other worldviews fail:

In the summer of 2013, a beer company sparked controversy when it released an advertisement for Independence Day that deleted the crucial words “by their Creator.” The ad said, “They are endowed with certain unalienable rights.” (Endowed by whom?) The advertisement is emblematic of what many secularists do: They borrow ideals like equality and rights from a biblical worldview but cut them off from their source in the Creator. They are free-loaders. Christians should reclaim those noble ideals, making the case that they are logically supported only by a biblical worldview. (p. 226)

It’s this “free-loading” that we have to call them on. They’re living as if the Christian ideas of human rights, the scientific enterprise, consciousness, moral and scientific knowledge, even spirituality, worship services, salvation, and God make sense in a atheistic materialist worldview. We need to help them squarely face the implications of their own worldview and recognize that these things only rightly belong in Christianity. Do they want them? They can’t have them without the God of Christianity; it’s all or nothing. They must choose.

I thought the descriptions of how some scientists have spiritualized evolution (e.g., by postulating an evolving, pantheistic-type mind) were fascinating. This drive on the part of atheists to find other ways to fill what they’ve lost by rejecting Christianity, again, reveals the appeal and necessity of the Christian worldview:

What drives religious variants of evolution is a sense that there must be more to reality than the flat, one-dimensional vision offered by materialism. Evolutionists are reaching out for higher dimensions to answer the human longing for greater meaning to life. Those longings are one more expression of general revelation. They are signposts to the biblical God. (p. 241)

What ideas are people trying to illegitimately borrow from the Christian worldview? What ideas are missed when they’re gone? Pearcey answers this question according to what she experienced after giving up Christianity as a student, saying, “I was acutely aware of what I had lost”:

  • I had known that my life had a purpose.
  • I had known that my actions had a significance that would last into eternity.
  • I had known that the final reality behind all temporal realities is Love.
  • I had accepted the existence of an objective moral standard.
  • I had known that God himself spoke to the human race through Scripture... When I embraced agnosticism, however, the heavens were closed. I was locked in my own mind, limited to my own tiny slot in the immensity of time and space... [I]t was impossible to know any transcendent or timeless truths. Indeed, it might be impossible to know any truth at all.

Pearcey’s personal story explains her whole approach: She has known what it’s like to lose—and then try to live without—aspects of reality that we all need and desire; and knowing the lack of them, she can see their beauty with more clarity. She doesn’t want us to take these things for granted. We need to show people the God from whom they come.

When someone rejects God, Pearcey says to ask the question, “If there is no God, what then? What do you think is true, and how would you support it?” This is what she asked of a student, in order to encourage that student to examine the consequences of her change in worldview:

As she began to study the alternatives, she realized that giving up Christianity was not a matter of merely deleting a few files of doctrine from her mind. Christianity is an entire worldview that undergirds many of the great ideals of Western culture, from justice to equality to universal human rights—ideals that the teenager did not want to give up. (p. 249)

What did you think of this chapter? If you’ve had any conversations as a result of what you’ve learned from this book (or these posts), I’d love to hear about it. Leave your comments below, and read “How Critical Thinking Saves Faith” for next Friday. Next week is the final week!

(In this chapter, Pearcey mentions C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress. If you like Finding Truth, you’ll surely like that book, as well. I don’t know how long this deal will last, but today the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99, and you can add the audio version for only $3.99 more.)

Posts in this series:

Twitter: #STRread, #FindingTruth

Articles mentioned in this chapter (see links in the post above for more):

  • The Atheist Delusion by John Gray—“[T]he idea of free will that informs liberal notions of personal autonomy is biblical in origin (think of the Genesis story). The belief that exercising free will is part of being human is a legacy of faith, and like most varieties of atheism today, [atheist author Philip] Pullman’s is a derivative of Christianity... Nietzsche... did not assume any connection between atheism and liberal values—on the contrary, he viewed liberal values as an offspring of Christianity and condemned them partly for that reason. In contrast, evangelical atheists have positioned themselves as defenders of liberal freedoms—rarely inquiring where these freedoms have come from, and never allowing that religion may have had a part in creating them.
  • A Free Man’s Worship by Bertrand Russell—“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”