Reviewed by: Roshan Shah
This book, by an Indian Catholic theologian, is one of the best critiques of atheism I’ve come across—not just for its many cogent arguments, but also for its engaging, down-to-earth style that makes it easily understandable even to a ‘lay’ readership, beyond the narrow confines of theologians and professional philosophers. Athappilly puts together a host of convincing arguments debunking atheist claims and in support the theistic position. Thus, among other things we learn that:
Apart from attacking theistic arguments for the existence of God, atheism hasn’t proven that God doesn’t exist. It has no evidence to prove its dogma that everything exists by ‘chance’. No atheist has come to hold that there is no God after having conclusively proven this claim or after having shown that everything owes its existence to sheer chance, as atheists insist.
That theists cannot rationally prove God’s existence doesn’t mean there is no God. The basic epistemological question here is that all things are not provable in the same way. It is improper to apply the methodology of proving a material reality to seek to prove God and then, when that test fails, to claim that God doesn’t exist. God is not a being among other beings, but, rather, the Being or the Ground of all being. God cannot be proven in the same way as material things can, but God has left enough signs in the universe for us to have faith that God exists.
The atheist conception of God as some material being among many others, that should subject to human observation if God is said to exist, is absurd. The atheist belief that the only realities that exist are material beings and objects and that non-material things are, by definition, non-existent is deeply flawed. In the case of the supernatural, atheists seek to measure non-material realities by material norms. By a priori denying any transcendental realities, atheism blocks itself from truth.
The atheist’s belief that everything came about by chance (and not by God) makes him also a believer (even if he may not admit to being so). The atheist demands convincing proofs for God from the believer in God but fails to provide similar proofs of his belief in the dogma that everything came about through chance.
The atheist’s belief that non-intelligent or mindless matter produced living beings that can reproduce and that this came about by chance is absurd, with no evidence to support it. Without recourse to an Intelligent Designer (i.e. God), it isn’t possible to convincingly account for the variety of life forms in the world and the remarkable design in the universe and in our own bodies.
Atheists don’t have any convincing answer to the fact that the discovery that the universe is not eternal but had a definite beginning points to proof of a Creator (God). Nor can atheists prove that high intelligence that is behind the astounding order and fine-tuning for life in the universe came about by chance. They cannot prove their irrational claim that mere chance or matter produced the laws of nature or the whole universe.
The claim of some atheists that the universe or life came out of nothing is absurd, for nothing cannot produce something. If it was nothing, it would remain so forever. Another claim—that living beings evolved out of dead matter—is equally absurd, because no convincing explanation can be provided of how this might have been possible.
One reason why some people choose to be atheists (or agnostics) is because if they accept the existence of God, they feel they can no longer be and do just as they please, such as leading a selfish and hedonistic life, with no care of being accountable to God and with no fear of punishment for sin.
Atheist critiques of God on the grounds of the existence of suffering and evil in the world, which they say an all-powerful and all-loving God should not have tolerated, can easily be rebutted. If God intervened every time to stop evil, human beings would no longer have free will, and that is not something that God wants. Further, the atheist critique ignores the issue of the afterlife and reward and punishment in that realm, in the context of which sufferings in this world can make sense.
The atheist criticism that faith in God is a kind of wish-fulfilment in the face of the sufferings in this world can equally be applied to atheism, for it wishes no Divine sanction against the evil that one might want to commit. Atheism can thus serve as a wish-fulfilment for a system that gives license to any evil deed provided it is undetected by others.
It is not likely that human dignity would be respected in an atheistic society because there is no basis for such dignity in atheism since atheism considers humans as mere products of blind evolution by mere chance and thus of no worth more than that conferred on them by a society that’s based on work or capital. In the materialist atheism, humans are only a means to an end, while in theism they are an end in themselves.
Atheism contains no inherent potential for any selfless engagement with this world. It provides no binding internal reason as to why people should be fair and just towards others. In an atheist system, there is no ideological conflict involved in committing offences against human dignity precisely because there is no internal basis for such dignity in this system.
It is ultimately impossible to be ethical without a transcendental reference going beyond the mundane realm. Merely appealing to human kindness is naive optimism. Without motivation based on faith in a love of God, goodness, mercy and justice, no sustainable ethics is possible. Atheism and other anti-transcendental ideologies cannot motivate people to offer their lives selflessly.
By denying God as Judge and the life hereafter, atheism encourages people to do evil.
Atheism’s claim that there’s no God who brought us into being leads to a life of despair. In the face of death, atheism offers no hope or consolation but only the belief that this is the ultimate end.
Atheism’s depressing worldview is in contrast to that of the theistic understanding where death is linked to the hope of being welcomed by a loving God and the possibility of a life of peace and fulfilment in the Hereafter. Unlike atheists, theists believe there’s Someone to accompany them in life and death, to pray to and thank for. They also have something to hope for after death. Their goal goes beyond the limits of this world, unlike atheists, who are left to themselves, their goal ending with death. While the futility and ephemeral nature of this world weighs heavy with the atheist, those who believe in a loving personal God are able to face this challenge and live in equanimity and composure.
By denying life after death, atheism chokes human beings with a mere this-worldly ideology of living for values that vanish with death forever, Humans are thus made into aimless wanderers without any absolute goal and future, with no destiny other than decay and decomposition.
This little book is packed with an immense amount of wisdom. As a Christian, the author uses specifically Christian references on occasion, but most of the book’s arguments can easily resonate with other theists too.
Name of the Book: The Delusion of Atheism
Author: Sebastian Athappilly
Published by: Dharmaram Publications, Bangalore
Price: Rs. 90