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Is Atheism Rational?

Updated on November 6, 2019
Bibowen profile image

Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 26 years.

Is Life Without God Meaningful?


Atheists are quick to accuse believers of engaging in “wishful thinking” saying, “You Christians are wishing for pie-in-the-sky.” He thinks that the believer is exercising faith, while he’s exercising reason. The problem with this vaunted and self-congratulatory view is that it’s a myth. Yes, It’s true that hope and belief are a vital part of the Christian experience. And it’s also true that unbelievers exercise reason. However, it’s just as true that believers utilize reason and that atheists conduct much of their life as an exercise of faith.

Having said that as a point of departure, let's assume that the atheist is right, that death signifies the end of human existence. I maintain that atheism takes from a man a reason to be rational. That is, the act of reason for the atheist is irrational.

In case you haven't noticed, the "New Atheists" are now the "Old Atheist"......and they're dying.
In case you haven't noticed, the "New Atheists" are now the "Old Atheist"......and they're dying. | Source


Because in order for your actions to be deemed "rational" you must have a justifiable reason for them, but Mr. Atheist has none. The best I’ve heard from atheists is that they exercise reason because…it’s “rational.”If you think about it, to exercise reason for reason’s sake, it kind of like being “good for goodness sake,” a mantra that (surprisingly) some atheists have latched onto recently. So, thank God, atheists don’t quote God; they just quote Santa.

The fact is that atheists engage in circular reasoning, the same kind they chastise Christians for exercising. The atheist holds to his belief in reason with the same tenacity as the Christian holds to his God. It’s not that the atheist does not exercise faith; he does. It’s merely a question of what his faith is in.

Another claim of faith for the atheist is that he believes in "science." This is equally irrational.


Because there’s no such “thing” as "science." “Science” is a concept, an abstraction that we use to generalize the whole of human activities that are directed toward investigating our world by empirical means. "Science" is not a causal agent; it can't do anything. How can an unefficacious agent be that in which an atheist places his confidence? So, when the atheist says, “I believe in science,” he's in essence saying, “I believe in a power that isn't a power,” which might be worse than believing in magic and more comical than believing in Santa.

Most atheists don’t recognize this because, like some of their theistic fellow travelers, they’re blinded by a kind of zealotry that keeps them from distinguishing between their assumptions and the real world, a condition that stunts their ability to question their own belief system.

But Mr. Atheist is also living in Pollyanna if he thinks he’s not also an inhabitant of the Land of Pie-in-the-Sky-By-and-By. The charge of “wishful thinking” by atheists against Christians is laughable because of the endless train of wishful thoughts that the atheist espouses daily. Even if atheism is true, then the atheist has taken a flight from reason in at least two ways. Make no mistake: these are beliefs. And they are irrational beliefs, affronts to reason and evidence.

The two beliefs are

  • The atheist believes that freedom awaits him when he dies
  • The atheist believes his life is meaningful

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Imagine two guys have jumped out of a stunt plane, tethered together, but had no parachute. They are wired up so that you can hear their conversations on the ground. As you listen to them talking and watch them falling, you hear them laughing and carrying on like they're having a party as the plummet toward the ground. You watch from a distance as their life comes to an end when they hit ground zero.

Would you laugh along with them as they were hurling toward the ground? If you have any humanity, you'd probably be gripped with horror and perhaps even cry for them. Either they were so stoned that they didn't know that they didn't have a parachute or they did know, but just wanted to console themselves with laughter before the end came.

It's equally pitiful to watch those that have no hope beyond this life to live their lives as if they are hopeful. For all their claims to rationality, most atheists don't think seriously about their condition. They simply make goals and enjoy the pleasures of life as they ignore the end. They are yucking it up as they approach the grave. Watching them, whether they are the serious student or the carefree life-of-the-party, is a sad spectacle. Whether erudite or Epicurean, it doesn't matter: they are both headed toward the grave and will be there in a moment in the light of enduring time.

What awaits the atheist is not freedom, but slavery.
What awaits the atheist is not freedom, but slavery. | Source

The Atheist Believes that Freedom Awaits Him When He Dies

Anyone who has grown old or who has watched others grow old knows that the march to old age is not one of emancipation. Slowly a man is robbed of his strength, both physical and mental. That which a man considers his “self” may want to remain strong and vital as he gets older; but he will be overpowered by nature as it takes its course on both him and every other living thing. The atheist may console himself that what is happening to him is also happening to everyone else: “After all, I’m just going the way of all flesh, right”? But that does not alleviate his slavery.

Make no mistake about it, what awaits the atheist is the grave. And with the grave comes enslavement. Atheists live with a Pollyanna idea that they will be free once they die—free from their pain, suffering and the sorrows of this life. But, how is it freedom to be entombed and to have no exercise of your will? Who is more free— someone in a permanent vegetative state or someone like yourself? To believe that you are free when you die is just wishful thinking.

Yes, it's exactly that--slavery. The loss of the will. What the atheist values the most is taken from him. His power of reason is gone; the pleasure that comes from physical experience, gone. What awaits him is a prison from which he will never escape. His being unaware of, his slavery, like the man in a permanent vegetative staet, is irrelevant.

Of course, Mr. Atheist has been told by other atheist bright lights brighter than him that, in the face of death, life is futility. Still, he continues on his merry way, whistling his way through the graveyard, and calling death “freedom.” But like the man said, “sayin it’s so doesn’t make it so.”

Furthermore, the atheist is powerless to save those dearest to him from this fate. Say it’s his family. He and his entire family, his children and their children, their lives—all of them—will end. They also face nonexistence. All of his protestations against slavery are vapid. They make no more sense than the lunatic rants echoing from the padded cell. All his hopes for his children, all his efforts to advance them, to give them a good life are futile. His work, his wishes, even his victories will come to nothing. To say that all of his efforts are puny would be to grant them notoriety. Against the stretch of enduring time, the sum of his life will be reduced to futility.

Of course, he may console himself that both he and others will fight valiantly in the face of death, which he will not surrender. But a man that fights against a foe that cannot be defeated is a lunatic and he is still more loony if he knows that the foe cannot be defeated. Yes, if there were some chance of victory, a resistance might be justified. But how can we commend a man who wages war against the unbeatable foe? The atheist will not win the battle against the undertaker and if he stops for a couple of minutes to think about it, he knows it.

Imagine a single man on a seashore trying to stop a tidal wave headed straight for him by holding up his hand to stop it.
Imagine a single man on a seashore trying to stop a tidal wave headed straight for him by holding up his hand to stop it. | Source

Just Imagine...

Imagine a solitary man standing on the seashore. As he looks out, he sees the coming tidal wave. There, on the shore, in utter defiance to the coming surge, he plants his feet in the sand and thrusts out his hand to stop the wave.

If we could watch this event from the distance, we would probably feel sorry for him. We might even laugh at his audacity as the wave swallows him and carries him along, tumbling, completely unaffected by his defiance.

But, I don’t think we’d admire him.

For all his protestations against enslavement, all his rantings against the tyranny of religion, the drivel about “progress” and “science”—the atheist’s efforts are wasted. In the end, slavery wins. The tomb wins. Death wins.

Atheists don't have time to think about whether their lives are meaningful. They're too busy snatching Bibles from little schoolgirls.
Atheists don't have time to think about whether their lives are meaningful. They're too busy snatching Bibles from little schoolgirls. | Source

Atheists Live Their Lives as if They’re Meaningful

Most atheists live their lives as if they’re meaningful. They go to work, associate with friends as if they’re unaware of the fate that awaits them. One day (if they’re right), they and all their close friends and family will be gone. And they have nothing to await them but the dark prison of oblivion. In case you haven’t noticed, the “new atheists” are getting old. Of course, many of them will console themselves with platitudes like “my life made a difference.”

But who are we kidding? Who's now grasping at pie-in-the-sky? One day, the atheist will be gone. Some atheists might grasp for a fleeting immortality by doing something that will be remembered by others. So, Hitchens creates the persona of the “notorious atheist” who goes to his grave, shaking his fist at the Kingdom of Heaven….

Big deal…

Hitchens might be remembered for a time as will men of comparative exceptional accomplishment and achievement as will the other brightest of the “brights.” But eventually, even they will be gone and forgotten. Their little world doesn’t stand a chance against the heat death that awaits our universe. All their efforts, all their desires, their aspirations for a better life—all gone. Against the backdrop of an eternal future, their efforts can only be counted as nothing.

And let’s say the atheist is right; let’s say there’s no God.

So what?

Let’s say that Chris was right and all religions—all of them—are dangerous, that the real monster of history isn’t some snarling Communist, like Stalin, but was really that Albanian nun in Calcutta. Let’s say that the idea of historical progress is right, and that religion is destined to be left on the cutting floor of social advancement….


One day, the books of Dawkins, Hitchens and the fellas will be the dust that settles on the cover of someone's Bible. Their scientism will seem just as backward to future dwellers as those medical practices that used leeches for healing.

If you think about it, the idea of social advancement is self refuting. If atheists are discarding old doctrines in the name of progress, then social progress is just an idea that serves as a mere stepping stone to greater enlightenment. So, the idea of social progress isn’t really “true”; it’s just another doctrine to discard for a higher truth later.

So, the idea of social progress can’t be true; it refutes itself. That is, if it’s true, it’s false, which is nonsense.

So, what do most atheists do upon thinking through their fate? Many don’t think about it. They’re too busy trying to cover up crosses on public property, snatch New Testaments from the kiddies in primary school, or (now) erect atheist monuments that we can all sit on. The few that do reflect on the plight of the universe and our world in it for very long are going to have mental problems, like Nietzsche. Such is the case in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The protagonist, Raskolnikov, a very bright student, contemplates such questions: What if there is no God, no right and wrong? What if social mores don’t bind us? This man, without malice and without apparent motive, kills an old woman. But, he is tormented by his conscience as if there’s some moral standard, a standard that he tries to refute throughout the novel.

In the end, the atheist's proclamation that life is meaningful is an illusion. It’s no wonder that the dominant characteristic of many atheists is that they are (or were) angry: Madelyn Murray O’Hara, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, just to name a few.

Nonexistence. That’s the best the atheist can expect: a life without meaning to be quickly snuffed out in a moment. His destiny is the grave. For all the protestations of the atheist, death will get the last bite and will hold him throughout time.

Of course, if the atheist is right, nihilism is the best he can hope for. If he’s wrong and God exists, a God that will judge him against a perfect standard, a God that sent him a Savior, a Savior that he arrogantly rejected, then the picture I have painted of the atheist’s demise is a stroll in the park compared to the destiny that awaits him.

Is There an Afterlife?

© 2013 William R Bowen Jr


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    • Bibowen profile imageAUTHOR

      William R Bowen Jr 

      22 months ago from New Bern, NC

      Johnny Waz,

      If I won the argument, it wasn't for beating up on dead atheists. You are conflating atheism with science. If the two have anything to do with each other, it's by coincidence. Finally, the important elements that give modern science its salutary effect come out of medieval Christendom. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Johnny Waz 

      22 months ago

      Shame on you for picking on a dead man . Is that the only way you think you can win an argument ? Scientists in the in the Middle Ages had to hide from the church for fear of burning at the stake. Scientists do reason in circles to a degree but they , unlike religious people , have the good sense to start asking cogent logical questions .

    • Muses on Life profile image

      Samantha Lim 

      6 years ago

      A thought-provoking read.

    • Bibowen profile imageAUTHOR

      William R Bowen Jr 

      7 years ago from New Bern, NC

      Johnnycomelately, death gets the last bite if atheism is true. But even if atheism is right, so what? You're dead. You lose. You may have fought bravely, overcome great obstacles, but without some point of reference, your actions lack meaning, unless you believe that tying a lantern to the masthead and steering by it will get you somewhere.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Titen-Sxull, that is brilliant. It answers all the arguments of Bibowen in a way that I would have found difficulty. I had the feeling that what he was saying was in some way just ...not on. But it was difficult to tease out the reasons. You have stated them for me, thank you.

      "For all the protestations of the theist, death will get the last bite." Simply by removing an "a" from the original sentence says all it needs to say, for me.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      You bring up some fantastic points in your article and in the comments section. Great perspective!

    • Bibowen profile imageAUTHOR

      William R Bowen Jr 

      7 years ago from New Bern, NC

      AKA-DJ, thank you for checking in and the kind remarks.

      Titen, you have written a lot here and I thank you for your thoroughness. I can't respond to everything that you said, but I would like to give some response.

      As for your point about circular reasoning, that’s my point. Both must exercise faith in some basic things: the reality of other minds, that I exist and am not just Spock’s-brain-in-a-box or something. As for your point that we have learned nothing from belief in God, it’s hard to believe you could make such a statement. Modern science was birthed in medieval Christendom.

      As for the claim that I was inconsistent about the points of science and reason, I don’t think I was. Both reason and science (which many atheists use interchangeably) are usually the highest claims to authority by atheists, that in which he places his faith. As for “reason,’ it’s a process that we exercise, albeit a limited one; as for “science,” it serves as a rubric, but it’s not efficacious.

      As for your point that neither dying nor living for eternity are appealing, I’ll take my chances on the latter. It’s hard to believe that you fail to consider possibilities outside your limited frame of experience. It’s not hard to imagine the joy of eternal life and hold to the belief that it would be even greater than I imagine.

      Second, I’m not sure what you think is the real-world difference between “acceptance” and “belief.” In fact, you admit that science is predicated on assumptions when you chastise my accusation of atheistic circular reasoning. Assumptions, if you are cognizant of them, are held by believing in them.

      When I say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” and “I accept Him as Savior,” those two go together. For you to say, “I accept rigorously tested scientific theories, facts and concepts” is to say that you believe them. This contradicts your position that atheism is not dogmatic. Mere disagreement between atheists is not evidence that atheists are not doctrinaire just as disagreement among evangelical Christians is not a sign that they are not dogmatic.

      Also, I stick with the claim that death is slavery to the atheist. If you think about what slavery is, then you have to conclude this. To be enslaved is to have your will robbed of you and to be under the control of someone (or something) else. I’m surprised that as a materialist, you would use the phrase “nonexistence” because your body still exists even after death. A car does not “cease to exist” because it no longer functions. As a materialist (if you are one), you have to believe that your body simply no longer functions and that what you essentially are is what is what you see in the casket.

    • aka-dj profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      First hub I've read in months!

      Good job.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image


      7 years ago from back in the lab again

      “The fact is that atheists engage in circular reasoning”

      Unless you want to claim Global Skepticism or the impossibility of knowledge its a moot point. Logic works because it is demonstrated to so. You may as well argue against any of the logical absolutes/axioms. In order to get ANYWHERE intellectually you have to make SOME base assumptions. This may seem unsound however these assumptions are axiomatic, meaning their negation is impossible. For example the law of identity, A = A, a thing is itself. This is obviously true and to argue against it is to be nonsensical.

      “The atheist holds to his belief in reason with the same tenacity as the Christian holds to his God”

      Except that God and reason are two completely different things. Reason is the ability to apply logic and thought to better understand. It's not a being or an object of any kind. At any rate reason has been demonstrated to actually work to gain us a better understanding of the world, while the God concept has not allowed us to better understand anything.

      “"Science" is not a causal agent; it can't do anything”

      So let me get this straight. An atheist CAN have faith in reason, but can't in science? You've just contradicted yourself. By this logic an atheist can't have faith in EITHER reason or science because neither are causal agents, instead they are descriptions of abstract things. Reason is the ability or power to apply logic and rational thinking while science is a method for uncovering empirical truth about the natural world. Neither, by your own logic, are things we can have religious faith in.

      “So, when the atheist says, “I believe in science,” he's in essence saying, “I believe in a power that isn't a power,” which maybe worse than believing in Santa.”

      I agree that the statement “I believe in science” is stupid. Science does not require belief. Atheists do not need to insert a belief in substitution for religious beliefs. The statement “I accept rigorously tested scientific theories, facts and concepts” would be much more accurate.

      “To believe that you are free when you die is just wishful thinking.”

      I agree. People will be free from pain and suffering when they are dead, in the sense that they will also be free of joy and the ability to experience anything at all. Non-existence isn't freedom, but then it isn't enslavement either, it's non-existence.

      “This may be true for the believer, but it cannot be true for the atheist, for in the end, what awaits him is slavery.”

      It cannot be true for either. For the believer must live forever without reprieve from life. What awaits the atheist is non-existence but for the believer there is an eternity, a never-ending life. Neither idea is very attractive to say the least but then we should accept the one that is most likely to be true. And everything we've ever learned about death suggests it to be the end. Everything we've ever learned about any after-life suggests it to be an anthropocentric myth.

      “Furthermore, he’s powerless to save whatever is dear to him.”

      The same is applicable to the Christian after-life. Once your family members are damned to Hell there is no saving them. Most depictions of Hell, and indeed some verses of scripture, suggest that those who go to Heaven can look down upon those in Hell. So Christians must spend an eternity bowing before the monster who is burning their loved ones in Hell and are impotent against his eternally pointless wrath.

      “the atheist’s efforts are wasted. In the end, slavery wins. The tomb wins. Death wins.”

      Entropy wins in the end. That doesn't mean the human race can't achieve great things and even, in some form, conquer death. What you're arguing for is some kind of defeatist nihilistic attitude as though atheists are akin to a religious person attempting to stave off an inevitable apocalypse. To put things in perspective the Earth is 4 billion years old, the sun has several billion years of fuel left and the proposed heat death of the Universe is trillions of years away. That's the apocalypse we are facing.

      Each man's individual end is just a fact of biology but that does not stop a man from learning, from enjoying, from changing the world around him. Why must everything to believers be so absolute? Why must every life's meaning be COSMIC in significance or else it has no meaning at all?

      “So, the idea of social progress can’t be true; it refutes itself. That is, if it’s true, it’s false, which is nonsense.”

      I'm afraid I don't follow your logic at all. You admit that social progress is a stepping stone to greater enlightenment so how, then, is it self-refuting? Is greater enlightenment not a noble or achievable goal?

      “They’re too busy trying to cover up crosses on public property, snatch New Testaments from the kiddies in primary school, or (now) erect atheist monuments that we can all sit on.”

      Good one. Except I've been an atheist since 2009 and have never engaged in any of these behaviors. I also disagree with the placement of the atheist monument and have a hub about how much I disagreed with the attempts to remove the “Ground Zero Cross”. You're generalizing to be funny here I imagine so I won't be too hard on you for it but please understand that atheism has no dogma and atheists disagree with each other frequently on a myriad of subjects.

      “a life without meaning to be quickly snuffed out in a moment.”

      Again I cannot understand why a finite life implies a meaningless one. Please explain to me why theists believe that for meaning to be truly meaningful it must be absolute or cosmic?

      To put it another way let us assume that Christianity is true. If so than most things in a persons life, even in a Christian's life, become rendered meaningless. Playing catch with your son may be a meaningful past-time to a lot of people, they derive satisfaction from teaching and playing with the new generation especially their own offspring. But that act has no bearing on your eternal fate WHETHER OR NOT there is an after-life. The Christian's final destination will not be decided by whether he plays catch with his son. He will not be denied eternal bliss on whether he went to his daughter's piano recital or not AND yet these things are arguably MEANINGFUL.

      The only things that have meaning would therefore be things that affect whether the person is destined for Heaven or Hell and all other actions and involvements in their life would be meaningless.

      Also, after the Armageddon and the judgment of all human kind there can be no meaning to life. Life becomes eternal bliss for some and eternal torment for others with no true purpose for any action they may take. If you are in Heaven you are trapped there worshiping God for all eternity. You are already there living in the eternal purpose that God created you for, the meaning is OVER, it has been achieved, and everything from here on out is pointless. Your life will stretch on forever and in an infinite stream of life there can be NO VALUE. There are NO QUANTITIES TO MEASURE IN ETERNITY.

      So, then, I would argue that, theist or atheist, there can be no objective, cosmic, or absolute meaning. And why should there be? Why need there be? It would devalue that which we find truly meaningful, our relationships, our passions, our aspirations. Value is derived from SCARCITY, from having a finite amount of something. That's simple economics. Having an infinite amount of life devalues it. But having a finite life makes every moment precious. What you do tomorrow may be just a drop in the bucket of the endless stream of cosmic cause and effect but to expect your life and your actions to have Cosmic significance is the height of hubris.


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