Atheists usually think that, in the faith vs. atheism debate, they have logic on their sides. They sometimes make this claim in subtle ways, like calling the debate “faith vs. reason,” even though philosophers and logicians have been showing for a thousand years how reasonable faith is, at least for people who want to reason. Not everyone does. I do not set myself up to judge the merits of those who choose not to reason. But I do call out those who just assume they are more reasonable than others, without taking the trouble to test the assumption. My atheist friend, I am talking to you.
The commonest piece of illogic in the atheist’s intellectual inventory is the following:
If no God exists, then there will be evil and pain.
There is evil and pain.
Therefore, no God exists.
In logic, this argument involves an old mistake, familiar to logicians since ancient times. It goes by the fancy name of affirming the consequent. A particular cause might have a particular effect, but that particular effect could also occur in other circumstances because of quite unrelated causes. Here’s another illustration.
If Bob doesn’t earn a college degree, he will work as a waiter.
Bob is a waiter.
Therefore, Bob didn’t earn a college degree.
The fallacy is obvious here. The logic fails because the poor condition of Bob’s career prospects could be caused by other factors. Maybe when he was in college he focused his energies on drinking beer. So, even though he got a useful degree in a meaningful field — philosophy, for instance — he didn’t develop good life skills.
So the presence of evil doesn’t prove the absence of God. It could result from other causes. And Christianity teaches that it does result from another cause: the fact of free will.
The logical problem arises when we get overly eager in combining causes and effects. When we see one thing following another, we can jump to the conclusion that they always go together, and only those two things go together.
If you walk past a house and see a beautiful garden in the yard, then you know someone is tending the garden. But if you go home and start digging and planting, you aren’t guaranteed to have the same results. If you walk past a house where a couple is having a serious argument, you will hear shouting. But if you hear shouting as you walk past a house, that’s not proof of a serious argument. The people inside might be sports fans watching their team make critical mistakes and lose an important game.
The absence of God causes life to be empty and meaningless. But your experience of emptiness and meaninglessness doesn’t prove that God is absent from the entire universe. Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place. Maybe you’re not looking at all.
And by the way, the absence of God DOES cause life to be empty and meaningless. Atheists like to refute that point by saying that they can create their own meaning. But mere force of will won’t create meaning, any more than it will create a meal on an empty plate. If you say, “I create my own meaning,” then all you’re doing is making an arbitrary choice. But the whole point of a meaningful life is that it isn’t arbitrary.
And meaning, by definition, comes with a goodness and value that compels people to pursue it. If you invent your own meaning, then your choice can’t be defended against the contrary choices of Hitler, or Mao, or even the guy down the street who gets drunk and beats up his wife.
Atheism stops making sense as soon as you start taking it seriously. Which is why very few atheists do take it seriously, thank God. For examples of what happens to people who do take it seriously, read a biography of Stalin, or Mao, or Nietzsche.
So, for the sake of the civilized world, we should be glad that atheists usually are not thinking the whole thing through. But, my atheist friend, for the sake of your soul and your sanity: I challenge you to examine your unbelief and see what underlies it. I’ll bet there is an untested “if-then” argument that’s gotten stuck in your head somewhere along the way. It’s time to shake it out.
I’m not trying to prove that atheism is illogical. I am trying to prove that, notwithstanding the claims and assumptions of most atheists, atheism is not the kind of thing that can be justified solely with logic. Neither is religion. Neither is life. If you want to make sense of things, you need something more than logic. The blunt and painful fact is: you need Jesus Christ. A crowd of assumptions will tell you that’s not so, and you can weed them out with logic. Logic will help you, right up to the point where you have to choose, either atheism or faith. But logic won’t choose for you.