Insights through Illusion for Daily Living

The Prodigal Atheist: Borrowing from God to Disbelieve in Him

Funny enough I was listening to a pastor preach on the parable of the Prodigal Son tonight. I noticed something in the story that I have never really thought of before. The younger son when leaving his father basically tells him that he’s better dead than alive. He tells his father he can’t wait for him to die, but rather wants his inheritance now.

Funny enough the father is a clear picture of God, and something I haven’t pieced together before is that the younger son is much like the atheist or naturalist who claims outrage at evil in the world, who clings to logical truths, yet doesn’t believe that God exists. They want the things that God has to offer. Justice, love, reason, morality, good, etc. but don’t want to grant that the source exists.

You say so what? The point is that the son wants all the riches of the father, yet wants nothing to do with him. In fact the son would live as if the father is dead. This is how the atheist cuts his own feet out from under himself. By showing outrage at injustice they are automatically asserting that there is some form of objective justice or morality. This however cannot come from a naturalistic worldview. After all science alone can only tell what is, not what ought to be. Therefore when the atheist makes a claim such as, “Slavery in the Bible is immoral” he has no ground to stand on. He has taken from the father the riches and things that benefit him, yet chooses to live as if the father is dead. On naturalism there is no basis for morality, for justice, for reason. Things just are.

So to say that something ought to be a certain way after all is just one higher primates molecules firing one way or another without any true dignity of humanity. However if the Father does exist…if He is alive, then all of these things have a purpose and a meaning.

Borrowing from theism to try and refute it is just like telling the father you want his riches, but want him dead.

16 responses

  1. I fully agree with your analysis Bryan. In fact, atheist philosopher and retired professor from the London School of Economics, John Gray echoes some of this in his book Straw Dogs. Essentially, he says that if naturalism is true, and if God does not exist, then humanism and chiefly the idea of free will are smuggled in from Christianity. He makes a case in the book that secular humanism as a sociological system is deeply flawed and bankrupt.

    Gray says, “Humanism is not science, but religion–the post Christian faith that humans can make a world better than any in which they have so far lived. In pre-Christian Europe it was taken for granted that the future would be like the past. Knowledge and invention might advance, but ethics would remain much the same. History was a series of cycles, with no overall meaning.”

    Gray goes on to say that,

    “Against this pagan view, Christians understood history as a story of sin and redemption. Humanism is the transformation of this Christian doctrine of salvation into a project of universal human emancipation.”

    He is onto something here. If you remove God from the equation, there is really no meaning in life. Dostoevsky says it brilliantly: If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permissible. If there is no God, there can be no objective morality. This is precisely what Nietzsche argued in the 19th Century. Gray agrees with this. Further he says that Humanism in a way takes captive ideas from Christianity and claims them for its own.

    Gray elaborates on this idea with this statement:
    “The prevailing secular worldview is a pastiche of current scientific orthodoxy and pious hopes. Darwin has shown that we are animals; but–as humanists never tire of preaching–how we live is ‘up to us.’ Unlike any other animal, we are told, we are free to live as we choose. yet the idea of free will does not come from science. its origins are in religion–not just any religion, but the Christian faith against which humanists rail so obsessively.”

    So, Gray accurately points out that the secular Humanist (atheist) who vehemently denies the absolute position of the Bible, takes the portions of the Bible that he agrees with, erases the name Christianity, and superimposes the term Humanism over top of it. This is where the idea of Humanism comes from. It isn’t science he says, but ultimately has roots in religion. It’s a dialectical synthesis of religious ideas and secular fulfillment.

    Another point worth making about the way we see the world is this: G.K. Chesterton talks in his essay, Whats Wrong With the World about what he calls the “Medical Mistake.” He says essentially, that in medicine, all doctors agree on what a healthy body looks like. The disagreement comes on what they consider a malady to be. He then goes on to say that in politics, you will hear politicians invoking medical terminology and saying things like, “The country is sick—I can make it better with my policies.” Here is the rub, he says. In social and political theory, we have the paradigm reversed. We agree on what a sick society looks like, but we disagree on what a well one looks like. He then goes on to say, in a hospital, you may see out of medical necessity, a man leave the hospital with one leg less, but never will you see out of a moment of “creative rapture” the hospital send him home with one leg more. The analogy used in social theory is wrong.

    We have a warped understanding of what right is when it comes to humanity. We have humanity all messed up because we don’t understand the point of reference for right. I think this story from Luke 15 is a brilliant one to share with our lost friends.

    One of the most fascinating things about that story from Luke 15 I think is what happens in the pig pen. He is driven to the pig pen because he is hungry. Then his hunger (his belly growling) drives him to contrive a line of repentance in order to go back and EARN a place in his father’s house. This is his stomach talking. Much like Pharaoh false repentance with Moses.

    What I love though is that scene when the boy is still far off. The dad runs to meet him. He is no doubt wearing a long flowing robe. Men in this culture do not run. This was and still is disgraceful for a man. He humbled himself and made a fool of himself in the eyes of the community by showing his legs as he gathered up his garment to run. He greeted the boy with a kiss of reconciliation. The boy accepts the reconciliation and his contrived line of repentance changes-he stops it short. He realizes that the grace of the father is something he cannot earn it.

    The father has demonstrated a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Much like our Savior who emptied himself, becoming like a slave…even to death upon a cross.
    What a tremendous message for us to share with the lost.

    August 7, 2013 at 1:28 am

    • That’s what boggles my mind. The humanist thinks that humanism is the natural alternative, but I would argue that it simply all falls into Nihilism without God. To think that there is some inherent dignity to humanity is after all just specieism. On naturalism there is really no room at all for humanism. It’s a nice thing to comfort yourself with (also the claim atheists throw at Christians hmm) but it really is after all meaningless. Thanks for the killer reply man. I love it! Sorry to leave you hanging yesterday, but I had to run. I totally echo everything you said bro!

      August 7, 2013 at 1:53 am

  2. @Joesw0rld

    The two arguments here, presuppositionalist and moral, both fall due to a similar error. The failure to recognise the primacy of reality, upon which both God and morality are contingent.

    August 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    • Hey man thanks for the comments, however you have to build a case for that. I mean God by His own nature is not a contingent being. If He was he wouldn’t be God. This however is a post continent on the existence of God based on the arguments from Natural Theology not presuppositional apologetics.

      August 7, 2013 at 7:58 pm

  3. To be fair, God is only assumed to not be a contingent being because the argument for the existence of a creator requires him to be.

    The moral argument hinges on the belief that an external agent is required for a good nature (whether it be our nature or a more vaguely defined transcendent attribute of nature itself) then paradoxically provides the example disproving the rule–God himself who doesn’t require an external agent.

    August 18, 2013 at 1:10 am

    • Not at all. If He was in fact contingent then He wouldn’t be God after all. That is also a complete misrepresentation of the moral argument. What you have is a modified one sided Euthyphro argument.

      August 18, 2013 at 1:33 am

      • If incontingency is part of God’s definition, then I should rephrase to “God is only assumed to exist because the argument for the existence of a creator requires him to,” but that sounds like circular reasoning.

        How did I misrepresent the moral argument?

        August 18, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      • To be more fair, the moral argument one would have to have a grounding for objective morality on atheism. Of course that begs the question that objective morality exists, do you believe that?

        August 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    • The moral argument is not that an external agent is required for a good nature. Whose version of the moral argument is that? But rather that morality is grounded in the essence and nature of God.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

  4. As I thought, you think morality must be grounded by an external agent. You didn’t answer my question, in fact you reinforced my comment.

    I’ll be happy to answer your question after we clear this up.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    • What exactly is your question I don’t see one in your posts?

      August 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    • How can something be objective within a subjective materialistic universe? So then that leads me to believe that you do not affirm objective morality.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm

  5. My question was: How did I misrepresent the moral argument?

    If an awareness of what is good isn’t part of our nature, which is given to us by God, how do you think we know what good is? Objective or not?

    August 19, 2013 at 11:22 am

    • That seems to blur the epistemological question of morality (how we come to know morality) vs. the ontological question of morality (does objective morality exist) for something to be objective there is then by definition a standard of right and wrong.

      August 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    • Btw Grundy being that it is a Monday…happy birthday!

      August 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      • Thanks!

        August 20, 2013 at 1:35 am

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