Implications Of Atheism
Before we start, it is once again helpful to turn to cosmology in order to get things into the correct perspective. Remember from what I discussed about the Big Bang (in my cosmological argument) that the universe is constantly expanding at an increasing rate. Since the density of matter within the universe is insufficient to halt the expansion, the universe will continue to expand into eternity. As the universe expands, the matter within it will continue to be spread out and energy will be dispersed, this is referred to as the cosmic expansion of the universe. This process will continue indefinitely as the different galaxies slowly drift further and further apart. Ultimately, the stars will run out of usable energy and collapse upon themselves to form black holes. Just like a flashlight that is running out of batteries, the universe will lose all forms of usable energy and descend into an absolute cold and darkness.
Every planet, star, solar system and galaxy will be reduced to nothing but dead husks floating through space. In this state, the universe will be unable to support any life whatsoever, and all the life that use to inhabit it will have been long dead. This is called the heat death of the universe, and although it will not happen for a very long time, it is nonetheless unavoidable. So where does this leave the human race? Well, frankly, it leaves us with our inescapable doom. No matter how technologically advanced we become, no matter how "enlightened" our minds may be at the time, humanity will die. Death is written throughout the structure of our universe. The aggregate of our existence, all the wars, religions, and history of our people will be as if it never happened.
It will also be helpful here to understand what modern day humanism is about. Humanism is defined as "the doctrine emphasizing a person's capacity for self-realization through reason". It is important to note here, however, that modern day humanism is also about seeking that self-realization while completely removing any divine influence and being free from religion. Humanists will often declare that they have a "love" for their fellow man; that they feel a deep sense of brotherhood from within and for the human race. Most of the time, they can be recognized by their adherence to doctrines such as ultimate truth being subjective, or the importance of freedom from religion. While humanism is not contradictory or ironic by itself, it is when it is coupled with atheism that problems arise. According to atheism, when someone dies they simply cease to exist. Just as you can't remember anything before you were born, so too will you be unable to think after your dead. This has several important implications that most atheists never seem to fully realize. First, it means that from a subjective point of view, your life and everything you do in it really has no ultimate meaning. This is true because it will be (to you at least) as if you never existed, you simply won't feel or remember or know anything of the life you lived. Here one will often protest that it doesn't matter about you as an individual, but how you helped the social evolution of man as a whole and how humanity benefited from your existence. This is where the second and more important issue arises. Remember the ultimate fate of the universe? Well, that means that everyone will die at some point. There is no escaping the fact that eventually we will not be able to inhabit a dead universe. Pascal has eloquently captured this somber fact.
I observe the terrifying immensity of the universe which surrounds me, and find myself limited to but one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am set down here rather than elsewhere, nor why the brief period appointed to my life is assigned to me at this moment rather than another in all the eternity that has come before me and will come after me. On all sides I behold nothing but the infinite, in which I am a mere atom, a passing shadow that returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I understand least of all is this very death which I cannot escape. - Blaise Pascal
So...everyone dies. What then? Well it should become clear by now. It is the horror of the modern man, since he ends in nothing, he is nothing. With everyone dead, no one is left to remember anything and it is all as if it never happened. It is here that all life becomes ultimately meaningless. Were you a Stalin? A Hitler? A saint? Well guess what, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how much you helped your fellow man, or how much you harmed him... because it's as if it never happened! Not only does this cold reality remove meaning from life, but also value and purpose. As we are merely chance results from random chemical reactions, we have no special purpose. We are not entitled to any more of a special treatment or difference than some rock on a hillside of a distant planet. We really don't matter. Some see a type of poetic beauty in the fact that we know our doom and persist anyway, but then again most people don't have a clue about the future heat death of our universe. This is where I find humanism to be extremely ironic, they cherish and hold dear the very thing that is ultimately meaningless according to their worldview.
As for the atheist, he is left in a cold and terrible place. Realizing their predicament, atheists such as Rue, Dawkins and Russell have come to the conclusion that one must believe what is referred to as a "noble lie" if he wishes to live happily within an atheistic worldview. A good example of a noble lie would be to live for the betterment of mankind in spite of the fact that you will one day die. As Schaeffer puts it,
A noble lie is one that deceives us, tricks us, compels us beyond self-interest, beyond ego, beyond family, nation and race.
Sound familiar to Humanism? Unfortunately, a noble lie works like a placebo. It only works as long as you don't know it's there. Ironically, the "noble lie" cannot solve the human predicament for anyone who has come to see that predicament. These noble lies can be seen in many more places than you would at first imagine. For example, take Richard Dawkins. Although he holds fervently to evolutionary biology and atheism, he also campaigns against discrimination of homosexuals and the religious indoctrination of children. So, what he is really saying is that although he thinks things like sexual discrimination are wrong, he doesn't believe they are REALLY wrong. As explained in the moral argument, atheists have no foundation upon which to base objective wrong and right. So here Dawkins is deceiving himself, with a noble lie, into thinking that what he is doing actually has meaning and purpose. Another example was Bertrand Russell, who was an outspoken social critic and atheist. When questioned about why he feels so strongly about these issues, he replied that his views were "incredible...I do not know the solution."
So after all this is said and done, what does it imply? Simply that we must have both God and immortality if life is to mean anything at all. Those who view the world without these two aspects are subject to a choice. Either they can live happily, but not consistently with the truth, in which case their ignorance is their bliss. Or they can live consistently with the truth, but never feel true happiness. Those who view the world with these two aspects may live both happily and consistently.