Hearing outspoken unbelievers proclaim that meaning and morality aren’t accidents is about as jarring as hearing David Attenborough proclaim that the world’s most amazing creatures are accidents. There is an inability of atheists to let go of the transcendent. In his book, “Miracles,” C.S. Lewis wrote about the passionate moral activism of a famous atheist of his day, H.G. Wells. Moments after men like Wells admit that good and evil are illusions, Lewis said, “you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, to revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race.”
Nature documentaries like the BBC’s “Planet Earth,” “Blue Planet,” and most recently, “A Perfect Planet,” are amazing masterpieces of modern videography, displaying creation in detail and majesty. Every creature soaring through the sky, or streaking through the deep, or thundering over the savannah exhibits power, beauty, and unmistakable purpose. David Attenborough’s grandfatherly narration and Hans Zimmer’s moving musical scores only add to the childlike awe these films induce.
All of which makes it even more odd when Attenborough declares that all of this glory lacks purpose, or that it arose by chance and natural selection, and that none of it bears witness to any meaning or Mind beyond itself.
A recent article on atheism, also from across the pond, reminded me of this contradiction. In The Guardian, Harriet Sherwood described a new project from the University of Kent that seeks to discover whether disbelieving in God makes people less spiritual overall. According to the project’s authors, atheism “doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena.” Nor do unbelievers lack for a sense of purpose, despite “lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to [in] the universe,”
In the article, Sherwood profiled several unbelievers, from an agnostic to a “free thinker” to Positivist pastor and Satanic priest (who makes it clear he doesn’t believe in a literal Satan). All of them insist that life can be deeply meaningful and even moral without God.