Monday, April 09, 2012


Atheism (part 1 of 2): Denying the Undeniable

By Laurence B. Brown, MD

“Life’s greatest tragedy is to lose God and not to miss
--F.W. Norwood

Atheists might assert that they don’t acknowledge the existence of
God, but the view of some Christians and all Muslims is that at some level even
the confirmed Atheist affirms God’s presence. The innate but neglected
awareness of God typically surfaces in Atheist consciousness only in times of
severe stress, as exemplified by the World War II quote “There are no Atheists
in a fox-hole.”[1]
Undeniably there are
times -- whether during the agonizing days of a lingering illness, the seemingly
eternal moments of a violent and humiliating mugging, or the split second of
anticipating the impact of an imminent car crash -- when all mankind recognize
the reality of human fragility and the lack of human control over destiny. Who
does a person beseech for help in such circumstances other than The Creator?
Such moments of desperation should remind every person, from the religious
scholar to the professed Atheist, of the dependence of mankind upon a reality
far greater than our own meager human selves. A reality far greater in
knowledge, power, will, majesty and glory.
In such moments of
distress, when all human efforts have failed and no element of material
existence can be foreseen to provide comfort or rescue, Whom else will a person
instinctively call upon? In such moments of trial, how many stress-induced
appeals are made to God, complete with promises of lifelong fidelity? Yet, how
few are kept?
No doubt, the day of
greatest affliction will be the Day of Judgement, and a person would be
unfortunate to be in the position of acknowledging the existence of God for the
first time on that day. The English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
spoke of the irony of the distressed human appeal in The Cry of the
“And lips say “God be pitiful,”
Who ne’er said, “God be praised.”
The thoughtful Atheist,
full of skepticism but fearful of the possibility of the existence of God and a
Day of Judgement, may wish to consider the ‘prayer of the skeptic,’ as
“O Lord--if there is a Lord,
Save my soul--if I have a soul.”[2]
In the face of skepticism
blocking belief, how can a person go wrong with the above prayer? Should
Atheists remain upon disbelief, they will be no worse off than before; should
belief follow a sincere appeal, Thomas Jefferson had the following to say:
“If you find reason to believe there is a God, a
consciousness that you are acting under His eye, and that He approves you, will
be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a
happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it…”[3]
The suggestion can be
made that if an individual doesn’t see the evidence of God in the magnificence
of His creation, they would be well advised to take another look. As Francis
Bacon is noted to have commented, “I had rather believe all the fables in the
legend, and the Talmud, and the alcoran (i.e. the Quran), than that this
universal frame is without a mind.”[4] He went on to comment, “God never
wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.”[5] Worthy of contemplation is the
fact that even the lowest elements of God’s creation, though perhaps ordinary
works in His terms, are miracles in ours. Take the example of as tiny an animal
as a spider. Does anybody really believe that such an extraordinarily intricate
creature evolved from primordial soup? Just one of these little miracles can
produce up to seven different kinds of silk, some as thin as the wavelength of
visible light, but stronger than steel. Silks range from the elastic, sticky
strands for entrapment to the non-adhesive drag-lines and frame threads, to the
silk for wrapping prey, making the egg sac, etc. The spider can, on demand, not
only manufacture its personal choice of the seven silks, but reabsorb, breakdown
and remanufacture--self-recycling from the component elements. And this is only
one small facet of the miracle of the spider.
And yet, mankind elevates
itself to the heights of arrogance. A moment’s reflection should incline human
hearts to humility. Look at a building and a person thinks of the architect, at
a sculpture and a person instantly comprehends an artist. But examine the
elegant intricacies of creation, from the complexity and balance of nuclear
particle physics to the uncharted vastness of space, and a person conceives
of…nothing? Surrounded by a world of synchronous complexities, we as mankind
cannot even assemble the wing of a gnat. And yet the entire World and all the
Universe exists in a state of perfect orchestration as a product of random
accidents which molded cosmic chaos into balanced perfection? Some vote chance,
others, creation.
[1] N.Y. Times. 13 Apr 1944.
Cummings: Sermon on Bataan, The Philippines.
[2] Renan, Joseph E. Prayer of a
[3] Parke, David B. p. 67.
[4] Bacon, Francis. Atheism.
p. 16.
[5] Bacon, Francis. Atheism.
p. 16.

Atheism (part 2 of 2): A Question of

By Laurence B. Brown, MD

Most Atheist arguments
challenge the compatibility of an all-loving God with the perceived injustices
of life. The religious identify such challenges as reflecting an arrogance of
intellect -- being the assumption that we as mankind, an element of creation
ourselves, know better than God how His creation should be ordered -- coupled
with the failure to appreciate a larger design.
The fact that many of
mankind fail to make sense of certain aspects of this life should not dissuade
from belief in God. The duty of man is not to question or deny the attributes
or presence of God, and not to incline to arrogance through professing to be
able to do a better job, but rather to accept human station in this life and do
the best that can be done with what we’ve been given. By analogy, the fact that
a person does not like the way the boss does things at work, and fails to
understand the decisions he makes, does not negate his existence. Rather, each
person’s duty is to fulfill a job description in order to be paid and promoted.
Similarly, failure to grasp or approve of the way God orders creation does not
negate His existence. Rather, humankind should recognize with humility that,
unlike the workplace boss, who may be wrong, God by definition is of
absolute perfection, always right and never wrong. Humankind
should bow down to Him in willing submission and in recognition that failure to
understand His design on our part does not reflect error on His part. Rather,
He is The Lord and Master of Creation and we are not, He knows all and we do
not, He orders all affairs according to His perfect attributes, and we simply
remain His subjects, along for the ride of our lives.
The confused and
sensitive souls who encounter difficulty reconciling God’s existence with a
harsh and often painful life deserve sympathy and explanation. If a person
accepts the fact that God knows what He is doing and we don’t, he or she should
rest comfortable with the understanding that deep down things may not be what
they at first seem. Perhaps the wretched amongst humankind deserve their lot in
life for reasons unforeseen, and perhaps they suffer only a short worldly
existence to receive an eternal reward in the next life. Lest a person forget,
God granted the favorites of His creation (i.e. the prophets) the greatest
worldly gift of certainty, guidance and revelation; however, they suffered
greatly in worldly terms. In fact, the trials and tribulations of most people
pale in comparison to those of the prophets. So although many people do suffer
terribly, the message of hope is that the archetypes of God’s favorites, namely
the prophets, were deprived of the pleasures of this world in exchange for the
rewards of the hereafter. A person might well expect a comparable reward for
those who endure the trials and hardships of this life, while remaining
steadfast upon true belief.
Similarly, a person
cannot be faulted for expecting the disbelieving tyrants and oppressors to have
all the enjoyments of this world, but none of the hereafter. Some of the known
inmates of Hell spring to mind. Pharaoh, for example, lived a life of posh
magnificence to the point that he proclaimed himself to be the supreme god.
Most likely opinions changed when he broke wind. In any case, a person can
reasonably expect him to be somewhat dissatisfied with his toasty abode of the
moment, and the memories of his plush carpets, fine foods and scented
handmaidens to have lost their charm of consolation given the heat of the
Most people have had the
experience of ending a great day in a bad mood due to some sour
event at the conclusion of events. Nobody values a fine meal that ends in
divorce, a romantic interlude rewarded with AIDS, or a night of revelry capped
off by a brutal mugging or crippling car crash. How good could it have been?
Similarly, there is no joy in this life, no matter how great the ecstasy or how
long the duration, which is not instantly erased from memory by a 100% full body
burn. One side of one hand represents 1% of the total body surface area of a
human being, making a kitchen burn of a fraction of a fingertip count for less
than a thousandth of the total body surface area. Nonetheless, who doesn’t
forget absolutely every little, every big, everything during that
moment of painful thermal affliction? The agony of a whole-body burn,
especially if there is no relief -- no jumping back, no pulling away -- is
beyond the capacity of human imagination. The few who have survived such burns
agree. Not only does the torture of a total burn exceed the boundaries of human
imagination, but the agony of the experience surpasses the limits of language.
The horror can neither be adequately conveyed by the unfortunate of experience,
nor fully understood by those blessed to have escaped initiation. Certainly one
looooooong, eternal, full-body bath in fire can be expected to erase any
pleasant memories of the past, consistent with the conclusion that
“…the life of this world as
compared with the Hereafter is but a brief passing enjoyment.” (Quran 13:26)
With regard to the
subject of the present appendix[1], two elements of guiding
consciousness deserve consideration, the first being that deep down all people
have an innate knowledge of the presence of the Creator. Humankind may
intellectualize this awareness away in search of the conveniences and pleasures
of this world, but deep down, all mankind know the truth. What is more, God
knows that we know, and He alone can calculate the level of individual
rebellion and/or submission to Him.
The second element of
dawning spiritual awareness is simply to understand that there is seldom a free
lunch. Rarely does anybody get something for nothing. Should a man work for a
boss whom he does not understand or with whom he does not agree, in the end he
still has to do his job in order to get paid. Nobody goes to work (for long,
anyway) and does nothing more than saying, “I’m at work,” expecting a paycheck
to follow based on nothing more than unproductive attendance. Similarly,
humankind must satisfy a duty of servitude and worship to God if hoping to
receive His reward. After all, that is not only the purpose of life, it is our
job description. For that matter, Muslims claim that such is the job
description for both men and Jinn (plural for ‘spirits;’ singular ‘Jinn’ee,’
from which the Western word ‘genie’ is derived), for God conveys in the Holy
“And I have not created Jinns
and men, except that they should serve (worship) Me.” (Quran 51:56)
Many people question the
purpose of life, but the position of the faithful of many religions is exactly
that stated above – mankind exists for no other reason than to serve and worship
God. The proposal is that each and every element of creation exists to either
support or test mankind in the fulfillment of that duty. Unlike worldly
employment, a person can duck his or her responsibilities to God and be granted
a grace period. However, at the end of this probationary period called life,
accounts become due and payable, and such is certainly not the best time to find
one’s account ‘in the red.’
Francis Bacon provided a
wonderful closure to the topic of this appendix, stating, “They that deny a God
destroy man’s nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body;
and, if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble
creature.”[2] Should a person believe that
after a few million years something worthy of the barbecue will emerge from the
froth of Stanley Miller and Harold Urey’s primordial bouillabaisse, humankind
still has to account for that which we all feel within us—the soul or spirit.
Each and every element of mankind has one, and here is the metaphysical keystone
which separates man from animal.
Again, those who doubt
that which cannot be directly experienced may find excuse for denial of the
soul, but they will most likely find themselves to have scant company.
Furthermore, the discussion then moves into one of the nature of truth,
knowledge, and proof, which logically springboards into the next section, on
[1] This article is originally an
appendix to the book “The First and Final Commandment” by the same
[2] Bacon, Francis. Atheism. p.
Parts of This Article
(part 1 of 2): Denying the Undeniable

(part 2 of 2): A Question of Understanding

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