"Probably"

February 02, 2009

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  So tout 800 British bus billboards, funded by the British Humanist Association and the pope of atheism, Richard Dawkins.  The atheistic campaign, which notably did not have the courage to exclude the word “probably,” weighed the evidence and concluded that society in all probability couldn’t handle the bald proposition “There is no God.”  But as The New York Times writer Ruth Gledhill noted in her January 6, 2009 article, campaign organizers were shocked by the influx of resources to their campaign, as they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few days.

The British Humanist Association should have contacted the Apostle Paul.  He could have told them ahead of time how much they were about to undershoot their billboard campaign.  They simply underestimated the capacity of the human heart to fund the suppression of the knowledge of God. Providing the atheist profile, Paul doesn’t mingle with probabilities (Romans 1:25): “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” In the subsequent verses, he unfolds the inescapable connections of heart, will, and mind, billboarding how the willingness to deny God is no mere probability.

Oh, to do fundraising work for atheism!  The persuasion of the cause is already built in to the heart.  No slick slogans necessary.  The motivation for supporting the anti-God cause is pervasive, dominant, and undying.  No billboards required.  Accordingly, purse strings are loosed not only in economic prosperity, but also in economic depression, when mounting anger against the denied God fuels generosity.  While Romans 1 guarantees the success of atheistic development drives, it also explains why fund-raising for a Christian theistic organization like Westminster is always a matter of trust in God. 

Evidently, the British Humanist Association lacked faith in its agnostic and atheistic constituency.  Whatever the case, as indicated by the “probability” insertion, either politics won over principle, or billboard readers are gaining an unintended glimpse into the skepticism of the atheists about their atheism. But the winsome facade of probability simply doesn’t do justice to the dogmatic commitments of the human heart, nor does it effectively masquerade the stark duplicity of its promised results.  Of course, how dare atheists act dogmatically about their dogma?  That’s what Christian theists do.  The morally superior method of elevating doubt is obviously far more loving, a sure formula for eliminating worry and promoting enjoyment.  Really?

By contrast, think about the dogmatism of Christian theism.  Its message is, well, honest; it is realist.  Created in God’s image, you have dignity.  But sin warped all that.  Now you are bad, very bad. The Creator God is perfect and all-powerful.  You, the sinful creature, face the almighty and just Creator. You have before you a real dilemma; no probable problem here. 

But we have yet to exhaust the unremitting Christian dogma.  This same Almighty God is also the merciful One who through the work of his own Son, forgives sinners, even the darkest, the most improbable ones.  We have here a certain God, a certain creation, in a certain world.  This certain creation has committed certain sin, but by faith receives certain forgiveness from the One against whom he has certainly sinned.  It is in this certainty that we find the very basis for the obliteration of worry and the certainty of enjoyment.  Permanently.  Certainly.

In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins confesses, “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.”  He and others propose various intellectual arguments for their atheist claims. I admit that many fundamentalist responses to atheism fail to do justice to the intellectual rigor employed by the likes of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. However, their intellectual arguments are addressed copiously, not by thoughtless anti-intellectualism, but by genuine, self-conscious reasoning – a redeemed, creaturely reasoning that leads certainly to peace.  Numerous apologists have carefully addressed atheistic argumentation, and any attempts to dismiss Christian theism by attacking unthinking fundamentalism is fundamentally unthinking.  

My point here, however, is different, and concerns the cruelty and duplicity of probability.  At a time in history when perceived personal security is plummeting at sonic speed, the atheist/humanist campaign sound bites lack not only the candor about their own presuppositions, they also lack the basic human decency to acknowledge that the promised carefree life is only within the realm of possibility. 

Note the flow of thought on the bus billboards.  After asserting, “There is probably no God,” the billboards move to an unflinching exhortation: “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  The authors probably see neither the failure in logic nor their failure in human decency, and certainly don’t want to admit it.  To be fair, inherent skepticism cannot produce more than a likelihood of happiness, but the inference in the injunction to stop worrying and enjoy your life presupposes that probability-based atheism, that is, skeptical skepticism, frees the human heart from the tyrannical bondage of certainty.  And joyous freedom, according to UK bus ads, is the guaranteed by-product of such probable atheism.

Does that sound remotely reasonable?  Hardly.  The fact is, probability sound bites wed to promises of peace are simply disingenuous.  Does the British Humanist Association or any other atheist for that matter want to acknowledge that?  Probably not.

David B. Garner, v.p. of advancement and assoc. prof. of syst. theol.