I have always been a curious person. I love to ask questions. What things work, how they work, and why they work. Math and the sciences had a great appeal to me in school. I always interacted with the teacher or professor. I was always trying to make connections among different pieces of knowledge that I was being taught. As I got older, if someone told me something, I liked to know how they obtained that knowledge and how it related to other knowledge I already had.
This continues even today. As a result, I’ve never been one to not challenge someone who I suspected was giving me wrong information. But I don’t challenge just for the sake of challenging. I challenge in order to find the correct connections among facts. I challenge so that I may discover the truth.
What is Off Limits In Atheism?
The Culture of “Questions Not Allowed”
Many atheists pride themselves in being “open minded” and willing to address any question or challenge that someone will bring to them. However, many in the atheist community get extremely uncomfortable when certain questions arise. They even try to stifle the person asking. Its not that the question cannot be asked of the atheist worldview, its just that atheists prefer not to struggle with certain questions or challenges.
Being someone who is extremely interested in science, I see a lot of information and stories about the topic of biological evolution. This is a “hot-button” issue to bring up with most scientists (especially biologists). This is where we find the challenge that culturally is “off limits”. One is not allowed to question whether or not biological evolution took place. The only question allowed is “how”. However, even the “how” questions have their tolerance level. If a “how” question begins to show that biological evolution may not have actually taken place, the questioning is immediately shut down (or attempted to be).
Another challenge is related to science but is actually a philosophy of knowledge. The claim is that science is the only source of knowledge. It is rarely taken as a serious question when I ask an atheist if science really is the only source of knowledge. Most of the time, the reaction is a dismissal or an assertion that anything else just produces superstition. One should never question whether science is the only source of knowledge because it just is.
These are not the only two; more do exist that atheists try to keep people from asking. It could be that the atheist does not understand how to make his worldview make sense in light of the challenge or question; or it could be that they know that the question truly is not allowed in atheism.
The Reality of Questions Not Allowed
One of the great “advantages” that atheism has over any religion is the idea that the individual is sovereign over their own lives. They determine the purpose for their lives; they determine what is worth doing and being and what is not. They place value on what they want to place value on. What they believe is right is right, and what they believe is wrong is wrong. They are ultimately responsible to no one except themselves. They are completely autonymous.
There is no “ultimate purpose” for anyone’s lives in atheism. If there is “purpose”, that means that there is a “purposer”. A “purposer” must possess a mind to ascribe purpose. The only “minds” (really “brains”) in atheism are the individuals’. There is no mind that is outside the universe or over all other minds to ascribe an ultimate purpose.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the difference between “how” and “why” questions. The key that is important here is to recognize that “why” questions are questions of purpose- ultimate purpose. In a debate that featured William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins (in debate teams) a few years back, Dawkins (quoting atheist Peter Atkins) claimed that asking “why” questions was just “silly” (32:50). His contention was that there is no ultimate purpose for anything in the world because a god does not exist. Dawkins was describing the type of questions that are off limits to the atheist: any question that begins with the word “why”.
Imagine the delight that brings to a person who likes to ask questions…I’m being sarcastic, of course. A lot of times, the “why” questions don’t even come from some deep philosophical issue that was discovered, they arise from experience of life. The very existence of pain and suffering compel us to ask the “why” questions in an effort to discover the ultimate purpose of, not just our suffering, but the suffering of others. Our drive to find such answers is due to the fact that we feel a great emptiness without knowing that there is a purpose, even if we don’t understand the details.
If this drive cannot be fulfilled, then its existence must be explained in terms of survival. My first inclination is to point out that if such a desire cannot be fulfilled, the discovery that it could not be fulfilled would not last long in the collective knowledge of humanity. There are two reasons I have for this: the first is that such a realization is a demotivator, not a motivator. Demotivation and depression are intrinsically connected. Depression tends to not lead to the desire to survive, much less thrive. The second reason is that supposedly, evolution will produce a brain that believes things that accurately reflect reality. So either, Dawkins is wrong, and there is ultimate purpose, or evolution does not necessarily produce brains that will believe what is true about reality. But if that is the case, then atheism is also wrong.
If atheism is the true worldview, then “why” questions are off limits. Also, if atheism is the true worldview, then we should never have discovered that “why” questions are off limits. We did discover that “why” questions are off limits, so that makes atheism, false? But if atheism is false, did we really discover that “why” questions are off limits? Perhaps we merely concluded that “why” questions are off limits because we incorrectly assumed atheism was correct when we began the investigation.
Atheism definitely places questions of purpose off limits. But does Christianity also have questions that are off limits? Next month we will look at that possibility.