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Why do atheists debate?

| Monday, August 30, 2021

“Why do atheists debate in the first place?” I found myself wondering one otherwise unmemorable day. The question stopped me in my tracks. I was utterly stupefied that, despite my countless hours of listening to debates on God’s existence on YouTube, I never seriously asked myself this question until now.

If you had asked me several months before that point, I probably would’ve thought it a silly question. “Because they want to find out what’s true! Why else?” The same generosity would not be given by many today when asked about the theist or the Christian, of course. This helps us understand how many today see atheism: as a place for the cool-minded thinker, for the balanced and reasonable truth-seeker. That is what atheism claims to be about.

But what I came to realize, and what I want to communicate to you, is that this is anything but the truth. Atheism, when we truly understand it, stands for none of these things. It is not about seeking truth. Indeed, it would be accurate to say that atheism is wholly apathetic to truth-seeking. To ask questions, to debate, to desire to know the truth, then, is to cease to become an atheist.

Why do I say this? Let’s think about it. Atheism asserts that we’re the fluke accident of a mindless, unguided process. God did not create us. There was no designing plan, so we lack any objective purpose or point to our lives. Therefore there can be no real, objective or binding moral duties, nor is there any objective good or evil, because these things can only exist if we have an objective purpose by which to base these values and moral judgments. The universe doesn’t care at all what we do — as if there was anything out there to care at all! We are, then, accountable only to ourselves. If we have no purpose, how can anyone tell you how to run your life? If a person, a government or everyone else on earth says you are doing something evil, so what? It’s just your opinion against theirs. As if being good actually mattered in a world without purpose.

So why, I ask, must we be committed to the truth? Why does believing the truth even matter? Atheism can give no meaningful response. Some might suggest that it matters because society is more successful when it adheres to the truth, but this is not a satisfactory answer. The objection rests on success being a good thing, but it’s not under atheism. Nothing is. Even the spontaneous destruction of the planet or entire universe at this very moment could not really be said to be bad under atheism (unfortunate in our eyes, but not actually wrong or bad or even unfortunate in reality).

Understanding this logic, the atheist is trapped. If nothing is truly good or evil, if we have no purpose in the first place, then no counterargument can be made against my conclusion, for how can one defend truth-seeking when there’s no purpose by which you can tell people to do, well, anything? If we can call nothing truly good or evil, how can the atheist act like truth-seeking is an objectively good thing by arguing that God does not exist? They can’t. Under atheism, believing the truth deserves no more respect and appreciation than knowingly believing a lie and both receive only the apathetic shrug of a cold, purposeless world. It is, then, quite unimportant what we, a mere conglomeration of bouncing atoms and chemical reactions, believe. Truth doesn’t matter. Even realizing that truth doesn’t matter doesn’t matter.

Put differently, truth and believing the truth does not matter under atheism because nothing matters in the first place. That’s why there’s a strange irony whenever someone proclaims, “This world is meaningless!” because they assume their discovery is meaningful, that they are the better for knowing this and others will be better off knowing this truth too. They are, in other words, assuming God exists to say He doesn’t. The moment we talk meaningfully about anything, we are actually testifying to God’s existence.

This brings us to a very remarkable conclusion: There are no real atheists. People, perhaps you, reader, say there is no God and insist to others that they believe there is no God and no ultimate purpose. But do you not see that when you say this, you are assuming that humans have a purpose, which can only be given to us by God, and that it matters what we do and believe, suggesting that one Day we will be held accountable by a Supreme Judge for what we have done on earth? All day long God’s existence is plain to us. We operate our lives under the assumption that He exists. We know that we have a purpose, that some things are evil and good not just because we or our society thinks so, but because it objectively is. We believe having the right opinions and beliefs is important. We behold the beauty of the earth and the majesty of the night sky and know we are more than mere atoms colliding. Never once in your entire life have you truly believed that God does not exist. You may say He doesn’t exist with your mouth, but your actions and the beliefs of your heart and mind show that you really don’t believe what you say.

The Bible says that God’s existence is “clearly perceived” and “plain to” all, so that we “are without excuse,” but that men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” about God and His wrath against our sinfulness (Romans 1:18-20). This exposes the blackness of our hearts, that we would, in the midst of such a clear revelation, clench our teeth and refuse to bow before Him. It’s a strange thing when we realize that our opposition to God is not because of any intellectual argument or reasonable skepticism but because we are utterly opposed to His commands and thus He Himself. But we must realize it. Pray to God that He would give you eyes to see it. Why? Because you have a purpose, because truth matters and, more importantly, because your soul matters.

Andrew Sveda is a junior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science with a supplementary major in theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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