An Atheist’s Argument for Atheism
COMMENTARY: Atheism is not only the failure to believe in God, but the failure to believe in one’s self.
Before C.S. Lewis became one of the world's most convincing apologists for Christianity, he was a confirmed atheist. In his book The Problem of Pain, he reflects on his previous thoughts as an atheist. If anyone were to ask him, he writes, “Why do you not believe in God? He would have said, something like:
“Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies that move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one of them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believe that life and happiness were more than a byproduct to the power that made the universe.”
The error in Lewis’ thinking here is a confusion between quantity and quality. No amount of quantity can produce anything of quality. Six monkeys jumping up and down on a typewriter for millions of years, will not reproduce Hamlet or anything of beauty.
It took Johannes Brahms 10 years to produce his first symphony. Its performance time is one hour. Ten years consists of 87,600 hours. Yet, one cannot dismiss Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 because it was mostly time spent and not beauty produced.
The floor of a sculptor’s workshop may be littered with marble chips while his masterpiece has hardly begun. The amount of chips on the floor, however, despite the fact that they greatly outweigh the statue, does not suggest that the artist is primarily interested in compiling them.
The fact that the universe is mostly space does not mean that human life is an accidental byproduct in a production that is supposed to be mainly space. Science without philosophy can be misleading. It is not unreasonable to say that human life is the very purpose of the universe and all that is not life provides the stage upon which it exists. Life in any form, in order to evolve, needs the sun, the moon and the stars. A motion picture may be years in the making and require the combined efforts of a producer, director, script writer, a cast of characters and innumerable other contributors. The product is the reason for the production, though it is on a smaller scale.
It might be said that human life is so rich and complex, that it requires eons of time and a universe as vast as this one to produce it. In addition, because human life represents a quality that cannot be produced by mere quantity, a superior being, such as God, must be brought into the picture. Time and space set the stage. Life itself, requires the Hand of God.
Existentialist philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev has pointed out that the human face is something that seems to shine through from another world. Dostoevsky avers that the laughter of children is a gift from heaven. Love and beauty find their way into the universe from a different realm. It is not that we reach for the stars, but beyond them.
Arguments for atheism are usually mired in the realm of the quantitative. Quantity is measurable; quality transcends measurement.
Atheism is not only the failure to believe in God, but the failure to believe in one’s self. For we all possess a quality whose origin cannot lie in mere matter. The universe is vast in comparison with man, but man is the “reed,” to cite Pascal, that can think. He is, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, an “immortal diamond.”