Sometimes, scientific materialism seems so perfectly suited to our life experiences, and seems to explain them all so well, that we might wonder, What do we need religion for? But the reason materialism seems to answer all our question is not that it has some fantastic inevitability. The reason is that we are only asking certain questions. We have hundreds of years of culture sitting on top of our questioning faculties, weighing them down, forcing our questions into the channels that lead to the materialist’s answers. We should break free. We need to ask the right questions.
Why do we long for meaning?
If we are nothing more than material, how do we live with integrity?
How can purely material causes produce people that believe in the spiritual?
The atheist’s answers to these questions vary, but they reduce to one of two alternatives:
Life is a cheat;
I refuse to answer because the question makes no sense.
These answers are profoundly unsatisfying, and, in this area, an unsatisfying answer is an invalid answer. The point came home to me years ago, reading an atheist book written by a professional philosopher, someone who ought to follow a line of reasoning wherever it leads. He had eloquently and exhaustively argued for life untethered from any particular point of view — impersonal, unspiritual, going nowhere. The argument was compelling. He then turned to the question of meaning. If the impersonal viewpoint was accurate, then life has no meaning. How, he asked, are we to reconcile ourselves to that? The startling answer: if life has no meaning, then it doesn’t matter that life has no meaning. Instantly, the spell was broken, and I laughed out loud. What nonsense! Only a professional philosopher could find that convincing. Everyone else knows that it matters profoundly. This line of reasoning led to an absurdity, so the reasoning was flawed.
You can’t avoid an invalid conclusion by re-defining the terms. That’s cheating. We need an understanding of life that accounts for things, not one that avoids the questions. The religious view is this kind of understanding.