Ghosts for the Atheist
by Robert Velarde
In an essay responding to a debate on the existence of God, Dallas Willard uses the phrase, “ontologically haunted universe,” adding, “It is haunted by unnerving possibilities.”1 Willard suggests that a successful argument against atheism results in that worldview being ideologically haunted. Rather than merely reacting to atheism—or any sort of skepticism, for that matter— actively engaging in establishing a haunted universe in the world-view of the atheist is a critical component in making the case for Christian theism.
In the world of the occult or paranormal, a haunting refers to a recurring manifestation of a ghost, usually at a particular location such as a home or other building. Haunting can also mean to disturb or bother the sensibilities or mind. It is in the second sense that this article will provide “ghosts” for the atheist, not as occult phenomena, but as apologetic arguments intended to nudge atheists from their worldview in the direction of Christian theism by weaving cognitive tensions in the fabric of their view of reality. These tensions can fester, bothering atheists because their worldview becomes haunted by ideas that favor the existence of God.
The recent rise of the so-called new atheism and its associated overt hostility to religion, particularly Christianity, calls out for a rational Christian response rather than merely defensive posturing. While the temperamentally belligerent tone of much of the new atheism is disturbing, the arguments presented are anything but new. In fact, many of the arguments the new atheists present are of the traditional variety, albeit in the guise of antagonism rather than a cordial meeting of the minds determined to discover truth. As a result, many Christians are on the defensive. We are certainly called to defend the faith, but this does not mean always being reactionary, thus allowing atheists to set the tone and topic of discussion. We need to engage actively on our terms instead of theirs.
What figurative ghosts can Christian apologists provide to haunt the universe of the atheist? There are many, but I will briefly present ten, the first three being traditional natural theology arguments for the existence of God.
Ghost #1: Cosmology. If the universe had a beginning, and if everything that has a beginning has a cause, then what caused the universe? To state that the big bang caused it is not a sufficient answer, as the big bang, if accepted, is an event. But what caused the event? In short, this first ghost is a brief presentation of the Kalam cosmological argument.2 It argues that the best explanation for the origins of the universe is God.
Ghost #2: Design. Is the universe fine-tuned to support intelligent life? Is it designed? Does apparent design in the universe, both at a macroscopic and microscopic level, suggest chance or design? This is a brief presentation of one form of the teleological or design argument. It suggests that biological life and other factors, such as a seemingly biocentric universe, point to the reality of an intelligent designer behind the cosmos.
Ghost #3: Morality. Do moral standards exist? If so, where do they come from? If they are mere inventions of beings who themselves are the result of time and chance, then there are no real standards of right and wrong. The result is moral relativism or variations of a sort of social contract theory of ethics. Whatever the atheist explanation, it falls short of having ultimate and transcendent authority. If God exists, however, we have a real and transcendent standard of right and wrong…
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