Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Is Atheism? Part 3 (Can Atheists Have Purpose?)

Nick Peters continues his review.


While in a sense I do agree that to say there is purpose in the atheist universe is false, it is not the argument I’d use. I’d instead focus on an argument based on goodness, of which morality is an offshoot, and instead ask the atheist why he thinks X is good. I notice that atheists often have a hard time defining goodness while saying their system can produce it. Despite having said that, this is the question Krueger has raised so let’s look at what he says.

Krueger starts by saying that it’s not clear what Christians and other theists mean by the term. At this point, I have to wonder, “If this is unclear, then why are you writing about it?” Of course, most of us have seen that lack of knowledge is no reason for an atheist to not write on something.

Krueger also says the predestination robs life of purpose. He does at least state that not all Christians agree with predestination. Yet even if one does believe in it, Krueger does not give an argument thinking that if it was already determined before birth, there can be no purpose. Anyone I know who holds to such a view of predestination would simply say “the glory of God.” Krueger ends this section saying that if predestination is the case, then no theologian has ever shown how life could have meaning. It’s quite a strong claim. It’s also an amazing claim to make in light of the fact that he never cites or even names a theologian throughout the book and it would require him to have done exhaustive reading on the subject.

Next Krueger goes after the doctrine of original sin saying that many Christians promote the view that man is basically evil. This is not the same however as saying Christianity promotes this view and again, there are no sources given. I think man’s inclination to evil, but man is good ontologically in that he bears the image of God. It’s worth noting that Krueger also starts this section with loaded language by saying that because of this doctrine all people are condemned to eternal torture.

Ironically, he also goes after salvation by grace in one of the most bizarre looks at it I have ever seen. To start with, Krueger says on this view, one is saved not by works, but by God’s arbitrary decision, which has not been established, although some followers of predestination could hold to something similar. For Krueger, if you have done nothing to deserve salvation, why be moral? The answer is simple. Because one loves God and wants to promote His glory and that this is our correct nature as human beings to seek the good as the good and act accordingly.

Next, Krueger says that following God’s will does not bring purpose since this is slavery. This is assuming that slavery is understood as Krueger understands it, a major assumption. I have no problem saying I am a slave of Christ and I have great purpose in life as I wish to promote my master’s glory.

He also argues that God’s will cannot be determined. It is unclear what he means on this. If he means the sovereign will of God, then I agree. That cannot be known without word from God, such as in prophecy. If he means morality, that can be known to a degree, but even then there are still gray areas. Krueger again points to areas of disagreement as if this establishes a lack of truth. (Question. Does that mean then that areas of agreement should be taken as truth?) One wonders if when atheists disagree that that means atheism is false. We could say “But all atheists agree with macroevolution and that there is no God.” The answer could be “So what? Christians all agree that God exists and that Jesus rose physically from the dead, but they’re still wrong because they disagree on secondary issues.” The sword cuts both ways.

Finally, to close one part, Krueger says the theist cannot show that there is a God. This will of course be dealt with later.

Krueger next says that the purpose of life to some Christians is to avoid Hell. I agree this is not the purpose. I also wonder about some Christians who think the end goal is to get to Heaven as they understand it. Our purpose is the glory of God, the greatest good. Heaven is going to be the realization of that greatest good so that in that sense, Heaven is our goal. However, I see Heaven as being in the manifest presence of God exalting Him for all eternity and enjoying His love. Heaven is defined by God. Our end goal is not a place but a being, the being of God.

Krueger next says that many Greeks led purposeful lives without knowing that God exists, but this is just a misunderstanding along the lines of the moral argument. One does not need to know their purpose for them to have a purpose. One does not need to know the source of morality to know morality.

Krueger does get one thing right in this chapter saying “Whether or not there are no gods is an issue that should be decided on the basis of its truth, not on the basis of whether it is pleasant or useful to believe in gods.” I agree entirely. It would be nice if Krueger treated the question as seriously throughout the book.
Krueger also says that the question of the meaning of life is misleading. It assumes that all people have the same meaning. I agree we should avoid assumptions and it would be good to have them established. Krueger does not spend time interacting with them at all unfortunately. He just throws them out and leaves them for the reader to consider. That’s fine for a teacher in a classroom, but for one making an argument for his position, he needs to deal with them.

Krueger does give a definition in the next part for meaning when he says “Let us define a purpose of life as that part of life which productively shapes the course of one’s life and the selection of goals according to certain criteria.” This is too vague however. Is there any way one could argue on this definition alone that Hitler’s purpose was not to kill Jews for instance? This does boil down to relativism.

Krueger in fact on the very next page argues that “the aspect of creative, positive contribution can be found in any activity.” He quickly makes an exception for criminals, but why? What are they doing? They believe they are living productive lives and are doing so according to one’s criteria. The key word is productively. What does that mean? Productively for who? If it has to be productive for the whole, why should I care?

Krueger also says that an accomplished logician once told him that “the secret to happiness is to find something you liked doing and then find some way to get paid doing it.” Would the same work for a criminal? Krueger would obviously think otherwise, but then I could say to him “So what if I treated this statement of yours the exact same way you treated Jesus’s statements?”

I also believe Krueger gives a wake-up call for the church in saying that purpose
can often be difficult for some theists as they don’t want to change. It’s easier to sell Bibles an raise donations. Krueger has pinpointed a tendency in the church to just go to a worship service, sing a few hymns, listen to a sermon, and then think that you’re doing good. He is absolutely right in this. If we believe our purpose in life is the glory of God, we ought to be living like it is. That will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

On page 84, despite all Krueger has said, he says the meaning of life is what we choose to give it. Again, if that is the case, then we can put Hitler and criminals in the camp of following their meaning to life. Hitler’s meaning was to make the world a better place by eradicating all Jews. Who is Krueger to say he was wrong?

In conclusion, once again, Krueger doesn’t deliver. While there are points made, these are only incidental to his argument. The sad reality however is that so many churches are not fulfilling their purpose that the average Christian is unaware of how to answer Krueger. If we believe in purpose, let us live like it is so.

1 comment:

  1. Based on past research it seems the main purpose of atheists is to become criminals, half of prisoners in New Zealand professing no religious belief and all. (this at a time that atheists were crowing that one third of New Zealanders professed no religious belief)