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NEW ARTICLE: Life Without God: The Implications of Atheism (Part 2 of 5)

 

No ultimate value

Life Without God part 2.jpgWhat is the difference
between a human and a chocolate bunny? This is a serious question.  According
to many atheists who adopt a naturalistic worldview, everything that exists is
essentially a rearrangement of matter, or at least based on blind,
non-conscious physical processes and causes.

If this is true, then does it really matter?

If I were to pick up a hammer and smash a chocolate
bunny and then I did the same to myself, according to naturalism there would be
no real difference.  The pieces of chocolate and the pieces of my skull would
just be rearrangements of the same stuff: cold, lifeless matter.

The typical response to this argument includes the
following statements: “we have feelings”, “we are alive”, “we feel pain”, “we
have an identity” and “we’re human!” According to naturalism these responses
are still just reduced to rearrangements of matter, or to be more precise,
neuro-chemical happenings in one’s brain.  In reality everything we feel, say
or do can be reduced to the basic constituents of matter, or at least some type
of physical process.  Therefore, this sentimentalism is unjustified if one is
an atheist, because everything, including feelings, emotions or even the sense
of value, is just based on matter and cold physical processes and causes.

Returning to our original question: What is the
difference between a human being and a chocolate bunny?
 The answer,
according to the atheist perspective, is that there is no real difference.  Any
difference is just an illusion—there is no ultimate value.  If everything is
based on matter and prior physical causes and processes, then nothing has real
value.  Unless, of course, one argues that what matters is matter itself.  Even
if that were true, how could we appreciate the difference between one
arrangement of matter and another? Could one argue that the more complex
something is, the more value it has? But why would that be of any value?
Remember, according to atheism nothing has been purposefully designed or
created.  It is all based on cold, random and non-conscious physical processes
and causes.

The good news is that the atheists who adopt this
perspective do not follow through with the rational implications of their
beliefs.  If they did, it would be depressing.  The reason that they attribute
ultimate value to our existence is because their innate dispositions, which
have been created by God, have an affinity to recognise God and the truth of
our existence.

From an Islamic point of view God has placed an innate
disposition within us to acknowledge our worth, and to recognise fundamental moral and ethical truths
This disposition is called the fitrah in Islamic thought.  Our
claim of ultimate value is justified because God created us with a profound
purpose, and preferred us to most of His creation.  We have value because the
One who created us has given us value.

“Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of
Adam… and favoured them far above most of Our creation.” (Quran 17:70)

“Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose.”
(Quran 3:191) 

Islam values the good and those who accept the truth.  It
contrasts those who obey God and thereby do good, and those who are defiantly
disobedient, and thereby do evil:

“Then is one who was a believer like one who was defiantly
disobedient? They are not equal.” (Quran 32:18) 

Since naturalism rejects the hereafter and any form of
Divine justice, it rewards the criminal and the peacemaker with the same end:
death.  We all meet the same fate.  So what ultimate value do the lives of
Hitler or Martin Luther King Jr.  really have? If their ends are the same, then
what real value does atheism give us? Not much at all.

However, in Islam, the ultimate end of those who worship
God and are compassionate, honest, just, kind and forgiving is contrasted with
the end of those who persist with their evil.  The abode of the good is eternal
bliss and the abode of the evil is Divine alienation.  This alienation is a
consequence of consciously denying God’s mercy and guidance, which inevitably
results in spiritual anguish and torment.  Clearly, Islam gives us ultimate
value.  However, under atheism, value cannot be rationally justified except as
an illusion in our heads.

Despite the force of this argument, some atheists still
object.  One of their objections involves the following question: Why
does God give us ultimate value?
 The answer is simple.   God created
and transcends the universe, and He has unlimited knowledge and wisdom.  His
names include The-Knowing and The-Wise.  Therefore, what He values is universal
and objective.  Another way of looking at it is by understanding that God is
the maximally perfect Being, which means He is free from any deficiency and
flaw.  Therefore, it follows that what He values will be objective and
ultimate, because this objectivity is a feature of His perfection.

Another objection argues that even if we were to accept
that God gives us ultimate value, it would still be subjective, as it would be
subject to His perspective.  This contention is premised on a misunderstanding
of what subjectivity means.  It applies to an individual’s limited mind and/or
feelings.  However, God’s perspective is based on unlimited knowledge and
wisdom.  He knows everything; we do not.  The classical scholar Ibn Kathir
states that God has the totality of wisdom and knowledge; we have its
particulars.  In other words: God has the picture, we merely have a pixel.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor of Islamic studies at
George Washington University, provides an apt summary of the concept of human
rights and dignity—which ultimately refer to value—in the absence of God:

“Before speaking of human responsibilities or rights,
one must answer the basic religious and philosophical question, ‘What does it
mean to be human?’ In today’s world everyone speaks of human rights and the
sacred character of human life, and many secularists even claim that they are
true champions of human rights as against those who accept various religious
worldviews.  But strangely enough, often those same champions of humanity
believe that human beings are nothing more than evolved apes, who in turn
evolved from lower life forms and ultimately from various compounds of
molecules.  If the human being is nothing but the result of ‘blind forces’
acting upon the original cosmic soup of molecules, then is not the very
statement of the sacredness of human life intellectually meaningless and
nothing but a hollow sentimental expression?  Is not human dignity nothing more
than a conveniently contrived notion without basis in reality? And if we are
nothing but highly organized inanimate particles, what is the basis for claims
to ‘human rights’? These basic questions know no geographic boundaries and are
asked by thinking people everywhere.”[1]

We have value, but what value does the world have?

If I were to put you in a room with all your favourite
games, gadgets, friends, loved ones, food and drink, but you knew that in five
minutes you, the world and everything in it would be destroyed, what value
would your possessions have? They wouldn’t have any at all.  However, what is
five minutes or 657,000 hours (equivalent to 75 years)? It is mere time.  Just
because we may live for 75 years does not make a difference.  In the atheist
worldview it will all be destroyed and forgotten.  This is also true for Islam. 
Everything will be annihilated.  So in reality the world intrinsically has no
value; it is ephemeral, transient and short-lived.  Nonetheless, from an
Islamic perspective the world has value because it is an abode for getting close
to God, good deeds and worship, which lead to eternal paradise.  So it is not
all doom and gloom.  We are not on a sinking ship.  If we do the right thing,
we can gain God’s forgiveness and approval.

“There is terrible punishment in the next life as well as
forgiveness and approval from God; so race for your Lord’s forgiveness….” (Quran
57:2-21)


Footnotes:

[1]
Nasr, S.  H.  (2004).  The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity.  New
York: HarperSanFrancisco, p.  275.

 

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