Alan’s monthly letter for June 2011
Atheists like to fancy themselves as rational people. They claim they aren’t encumbered by holy books or divine doctrine. They’re free from the shackles of religious belief so they can follow the evidence where it leads. When a new scientific discovery is made, atheists claim they can welcome it without passion or prejudice. The only problem with this self-assessment is that it’s not entirely true.
Atheists also have sacred beliefs that are rarely, if ever, questioned. Evolution is one of them. They hold on to it with a degree of certainty that rivals religious dogma. Why? Because they have no choice. Let me explain.
Every person has a worldview, a set of beliefs about the universe, the meaning of life, the nature of human beings, and much more. Most worldviews attempt to explain how life arose on earth to give them greater credibility.
Christians base their origin account on the biblical data (although they also believe it is supported through extra-biblical evidence and reason). God supernaturally intervened to create plant and animal life.
Atheists, however, believe in naturalism, the belief that nature is all there is. There is no God, souls, or angels. Only physical things exist. Prior to the 19th century, atheists didn’t have a credible creation account. Then Charles Darwin published his landmark book, On the Origin of Species, and offered an explanation of biological origins without appealing to God. Atheists welcomed his theory because, at last, their worldview of naturalism had a believable story to explain how life arose.
Celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, reflecting on Darwin’s contribution to the worldview of naturalism, wrote, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Charles Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In other words, evolution filled in the creation gap of naturalism and bolstered the credibility of their worldview.
But this leads to a costly trade-off. Atheists no longer have the option to follow the evidence where it leads. If they accept naturalism as true, then they must believe evolution is also true. Why? There is no other option to explain how life arose. If there is no God and only physical things exist, then the only possible explanation for living things is a blind and physical process like evolution.
Atheists, then, will defend evolution to the death. It’s scientific dogma—unassailable. Don’t believe me? Ask an evolutionist what possible alternatives exist to evolution. They won’t have an answer because evolution is the only game in town.
It turns out that this is more than a fight over facts. It’s a war over an idea, the idea of naturalism. J. Gresham Machen, the late Presbyterian theologian, explained how to handle such ideas. He wrote:
False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of a nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.
Although evolution is a false idea, it’s the philosophy of naturalism that’s the root. Belief in naturalism drives belief in evolution. Simply providing evidence against evolution, then, won’t change an atheist’s mind. They’re not open to that possibility, no matter what science says about it. Atheists need evolution to be true. They have no other choice.
That’s why your support is so critical. Your partnership helps me train believers like yourself to confront the false ideas of this world and give atheists another choice.
Removing obstacles to the Gospel,