Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The atheist and the shopping trolley

I just received some mail from a very courageous atheist who unfortunately forgot to give his name or address. He (we shall assume my correspondent was male) didn't have anything particularly meaningful to say, but he did include the following joke:

What is the difference between a religious person and a shopping trolley?
A shopping trolley sometimes has a mind of its own!

There are one or two things about this joke that I do find funny, but not funny in a ha ha sense. You see, I have no doubt that the person who wrote to me considers himself to be a real free thinker, but I have major doubts that he has ever seriously thought about or addressed the arguments and evidence for the existence of God. But there's something a lot more foundational than his (admittedly presumed) blind unbelief.

We know that a shopping trolley only appears at times to have a mind of its own - it doesn't really. It is a 100% physical thing, and its actions are therefore 100% determined by the physical composition of the trolley and the external influences upon it. Thus a shopping trolley's behaviour is entirely determined and it has absolutely no free will. But if atheism is true then the exact same can be said about human beings. If atheism is true then we have no soul or mind or will, we are just 100% physical entities, operating in a completely deterministic way.

This means there can be nothing praiseworthy - the man who wrote to me isn't an atheist because he is a courageous, robust thinker. No, it's just that that particular collection of chemicals produces an atheist when placed in that particular environment with those particular external influences.

It means too there can be nothing blameworthy - this atheist can't be blamed for his cowardly behaviour or his juvenile manner - it's just the way that mix of molecules reacts in the conditions he finds himself in.

In an atheistic universe, what is the difference between a shopping trolley and a human? None really. But if we return to reality we know that humans do have free will, we do have a mind, we do think about things and make choices. That fits within a Christian worldview in which we are made in the image of a personal God. It doesn't fit within an atheistic worldview. So please, use your God-given mind and think about this, and bow your rebel will to the God we have sinned against, and receive His forgiveness through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ.