Friday, May 20, 2005

Does Atheism Mean Freethinking?

Couldn’t help chuckling at a comment in a recent letter to the editor in our community weekly. It was written by a woman who is apparently an atheist, and at one point she blithely equated atheists with freethinkers. Three things strike me about that equation.

First, it is silly and unjust to assume, as is implied by this equation, that only atheists are free to think and all others (by process of elimination, that leaves theists) are not.

Second, it is oxymoronic for an atheist to claim to be a freethinker at all. For if there is no intelligent creator who brought the world into existence for certain plans and purposes, and if we are here only as a result of random, mindless processes, then our thoughts are anything but free. They are merely the result of random chemical processes which happen to occur in our brain pans. If our thoughts are nothing more than random and deterministic chemical reactions in a chaotic field of complex interactions, then they certainly cannot be called “free.”

Third, if there is no purposeful creator, then being a free thinker is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Those are ultimately meaningless categories in the absence of a moral God. So if one is an atheist, it is simply a vanity to tout himself/herself as a freethinker. In addition to being a self-refuting proposition, it is a distinction without a difference. It offers no advantage, because advantage implies purpose, and that is something that is lacking in a world with no purposeful creator.

Now, here is what would be required if one wanted to think freely. They would need a sovereign creator, because every effect requires a cause that is sufficient to account for it. The nature of the cause and effect relationship is such that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. So if there is an intelligent effect in the universe (and one cannot meaningfully deny that there is), then there must be an intelligent cause or creator.

In order for the effect to be able to think freely, the ultimate cause of that effect would also have to be capable of thinking freely — hence, it must be sovereign. For the effect to have the capacity to think and choose freely, not only must the cause be able to choose freely, it must also be willing to grant that attribute to the effect.

This, in fact, is what we find in the opening chapters of the Bible. God, a sovereign, purposeful, intelligent cause created man as an intelligent effect and gave him the capacity to speak, think and choose. What is more, the choices are real, and so are the consequences, whether they be pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad. For if the consequences are not real then neither are the choices.

That is what I suspect may be the sticking point for so-called “freethinkers” — that they desire the freedom to think and choose, but find the consequences of evil thoughts and wrong choices to be quite distasteful. But we cannot have freedom of thought or choice without the possibility of unpleasant outcomes.

God has given you the capacity to choose, and He invites you to come think His thoughts with Him.

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