Christianity and Atheism
Choose Your Strangeness
This is a time of year when strange-sounding doctrines of the Christian faith are on holiday display. In fact, they are sung by pop stars past and present on radio stations and over shopping mall sound systems. And Christmas gives some materialist atheists occasion to ridicule the silly gullibility of Christians to believe such things.
The Strange Christian Story
It’s true: The Christmas story is humanly strange. A young Palestinian virgin miraculously conceives a boy-child whose Father is God, the Creator of the universe. This boy-child is born in ironic ignominy, yet heralded by a miracle star and angelic hosts, greeted by shepherds and Persian astrologers, and hunted by a homicidally paranoid king.
The strangeness continues through Jesus’s sinless life, miraculous public ministry, his betrayal and horrible crucifixion, and then his resurrection from the dead. This is followed by his ascension after he affirms his promise to return and commissions his small band of followers to preach his gospel throughout the world. His followers carry out this commission and launch the most influential and multi-ethnic religious faith the world has ever seen.
Christianity forms a coherent belief system, but it admittedly sounds foolish to non-believers (1 Corinthians 1:23–25). And atheists are like, seriously?
Atheists Believe Strange Things Too
But to be fair, atheists also embrace wildly far-fetched, strange beliefs of their own.
To be an atheist is almost certainly to be a materialist (i.e. only matter and laws that govern matter exist). And materialists also believe in a miraculous conception and birth — of the universe. They eschew the term “miraculous,” since miracles “don’t happen.” But call it what you wish, they believe at some point in the ancient past the universe (or universes) was born without a parent(s). This wasn’t merely a virgin birth — the universe gave birth to itself, completely unintentionally.
Perhaps the universe was born from nothing, which is quite a thing to believe. In the beginning, Nothing created the heavens and the earth. However many billions of years you tack on to it, the impossibility of existence coming from non-existence does not become more possible. Such a doctrine makes the incarnation tame in comparison.
Atheists often point to the existence of evil as a conundrum for Christians. But the existence of existence is a bigger conundrum for atheists. The origin of evil presents God-sized questions. But still, nothing producing something is far more improbable than something going bad.
Atheists might cry foul. There could have been something that existed that caused the universal Genesis which they just don’t know about yet. Okay, so some non-intelligent, non-living thing eternally existed and somehow unintentionally exploded into everything that exists resulting in our contemplating this right now. That too is quite a thing to believe. If that doesn’t sound at least as improbable as God existing and undertaking the plan of human redemption that we call Christianity, we really haven’t thought it through.
Materialists like to think that science is on their side. But materialistic triumphalism, which gained steam in the later 19th Century, was waning by the mid-20th Century. For a while, scientific discoveries seemed to support materialistic answers to questions of origins. But as the 20th century progressed, science did not prove to be the reliable ally materialists thought it was.
For instance, science revealed that all the combined factors required for organic life to survive anywhere in the universe must be so precisely fine-tuned that the mathematical probability of this occurring randomly is for all intents and purposes impossible.
And that’s just the beginning of the improbabilities. Once the factors for life’s survival are impossibly in place, then begin the impossibilities of life actually emerging, then impossibly surviving, and then managing, with no guiding intelligence, to impossibly evolve into an organism as complex as a human.
For Darwinian materialists, Mount Improbable just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
This has forced some materialists to hypothesize multiverses in order to cope with the probability problem. The multiverse theory, of which there is no scientific evidence whatsoever, postulates that potentially billions of universes exist, most of them likely barren of any life. But, provided that sufficient billions of universes emerge, one of them is bound to get the statistically very, very, very, very improbable (to put it very mildly) formula just right and bingo! ours happens to be the lucky (or unlucky) winner of the multi-cosmic lottery!
It begins to sound quite foolish. And I’m like, seriously? This is metaphysical Darwinism. Perhaps we should call it desperate Darwinism.
If someone does not wish to believe in God, so be it. They are free to believe as they choose. But let’s not have any condescending talk about religious people’s gullibility to believe strange, far-fetched things.
Choose Your Strangeness
Existence is a very strange phenomenon. Regardless of how we believe the universe or we ourselves came into being, it was, by any account, stranger than any fiction we’ve conceived. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
And the strange Christian doctrines of the Incarnation, miracles, atonement, and resurrection are really only silly if one concedes the premise that there is no God. But this is a premise that neither scientific evidence nor any other objective indicator gives us any clear reason to concede. Rather, if there is a God, such doctrines are eminently reasonable.
Materialism, on the other hand, while also a coherent belief system, requires us to suppress our reason in order to assign meaninglessness to essentially all that makes human life meaningful. All that essentially makes life worth living are illusions created by our non-intelligent genes in order to avoid natural selection’s ruthless knife. Materialists must embrace the belief that reality is ultimately absurd, and that’s very, very hard to believe. When humans really believe that, the result is often not good. It is far more likely to spawn nihilism, depression, and even suicidal despair. Materialism is not a good match for the human, dare I say it, soul. I suggest there is a clue to note here.
The strange Christian story we celebrate at Christmas turns out to align far better with the human condition and experience. It’s themes of good and evil, of purpose, providence, sacrificial love, justice, mercy, grace, redemption, forgiveness, and immortality resonate deeply within us. And we find them woven into all the greatest, most beloved stories humans ever tell. I suggest there is a clue to note here.
Materialists can assert that the Christian story is just wish fulfillment. But if it was merely that, it seems unlikely that the strange elements would have been incorporated, being unnecessary stumbling blocks to believability.
And the strangeness of the Christian story differs from the strangeness of materialism. Materialism has the alien strangeness of cold, hard, wild statistical impossibility. Christianity’s strangeness has the idiosyncratic markers of personality — as if the strange elements were intentionally designed, but not in ways humans would have thought to design them. In fact, once we understand them, we discover that these strange elements match what we most desperately need and we begin to see the power and wisdom in them (1 Corinthians 1:24).
The strange Christmas story offers us “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). The strange materialism story offers us bad news of a great hopelessness that will be for all the universes.
So choose your strangeness. And choose carefully, for much hangs on the choice. I say, choose great joy.