The Blog of Jack Holloway

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Atheist Materialism, the New Calvinism?

It has often been said that the new atheists are a lot like fundamentalist Christians because of their literal reading of Scripture, their all-or-nothing attitude in which if one thing in the Bible is errant then it all has to be fallacious, and their either-or approach to a lot of Christian issues (i.e. the problem of evil, genocide in the Bible, etc.). There are other reasons, but that's not what this blog is about. This blog is about a similarity between atheist materialism and Calvinism that has caused me to abhor the former almost as much as I abhor the latter. The similarity is fatalism.

In Calvinism, everything that happens in life is God's will. God predetermined everything as part of a meticulous plan. Thus, everything we do has been predestined since the beginning of time (or since the fall, depending on what kind of Calvinist you are). In this, humans have no free will. Yes, many Calvinists try to explain how free will and predestination aren't mutually exclusive, but their attempts will forever fall short because a predestined act can never be considered a free act. It's a blatant contradiction, and every attempt I have seen to say that it's not has failed to convince me. I don't think there's any way around it: Calvinism implies a rejection of free will.

In atheist materialism, everything is a by-product of evolution. I read an article recently that said the recent beard fad is a cause of evolution. I have also heard that women are drawn to "bad boys" because they will do whatever it takes to survive, and women are naturally drawn to men with whom they are most likely to survive. Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock says that men are naturally promiscuous because of evolution. Leonardo Dicaprio explains the greed of people like Jordan Belfort with evolution.

This evolutionary understanding of the world also implies a rejection of free will  (Richard Dawkins has admitted this). To me, any worldview that rejects free will is meaningless, because it means rejecting how we experience the world, and our experience of the world is what really determines our reality. As Lesslie Newbigin says, "All arguments designed to show that free will is an illusion break down into absurdity . . . [for nothing should be accepted] which simply denies our daily experience."(1)

Whereas in Calvinism everything that happens is God's will, to atheist materialists everything that happens is, in a sense, evolution's 'will'. So, the two worldviews inevitably share some of the same problems--the rejection of free will, the problem of evil, the denial of experience, et al. One of the biggest problems both worldviews pose is the lack of sufficient grounds to affirm moral responsibility. In Calvinism, God determined long ago everything that would occur in the world. So when Jordan Belfort snorts cocaine, punches his wife, takes their child into his car and speeds out of the garage so fast that he crashes into a brick fence, a Calvinist can't really claim that he is morally responsible. Before he did it, it was God's will that he do it, so he had no other choice. Likewise, if evolution is determining the course of the universe, then Belfort was merely following his natural evolutionary inclination. In both of these worldviews, moral responsibility for one's actions cannot be affirmed.

What makes the case for atheist materialism worse is that there can be no standard for morality at all. Every atheist materialist knows this is true. It's a problem, they say, with which we will just have to keep wrestling. So not only do they have no standard for morality, but they have no way to affirm moral responsibility. They already acknowledge that one cannot objectively claim that anything is immoral, so when Belfort punches his wife and risks getting his daughter hurt or even killed, atheist materialists can't actually claim that his actions are wrong or evil, nor can they ascribe moral responsibility to Belfort for his actions.

For these reasons and others (see my other blogs on atheist materialism here and here), I think atheist materialism is a wholly insufficient worldview, as it shares some of the major flaws of Calvinism. There's an old joke, "What does a Calvinist say after he falls down some stairs? 'Thank God that's over!'" Well now we know that joke also applies to atheist materialism.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1989), 69.


  1. Baloney. Don't make this harder than it is. God either exists or does not. If god is only in the minds of men then every faith-based world view is deluded. Yet as faith demonstrates every day relative to contentment delusion is a near meaningless concept if one is happy. Happy is OK if that is a life goal and you are not bothered about living that life totally deluded. Materialists see the deafening clamor of randomness and chance where faith sees miracles and truth. Yet science can never be a religion because it is only a method. Man is using the great lever of science methodically to shed light into the dim corners of human existence and produce genuine miracles in discovery that uncover absolute truths and not just the garden variety and faith-based personal convictions of human hope, love and yearning, which are in turn meaningless relative to absolute truth.

  2. its not a matter of absolute truth. it is a matter of a persons views on their existance. if they believe everything they do is already predetermined then any remorse or inclination to do otherwise is removed. whereas if they believe it is their responsibility to decide they will instead be obligated within their own minds to take responsibility for their actions. so absolute truth in the case of this arguement is irrelevant, it is what the individual believes to be true that will determine their response

  3. I think you hit on something very important. There's a thing in quantum mechanics called nonrealism. It follows from the Kochen-Specker theorem, the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment, and the violations of Leggett's and Bell's inequalities. Basically, it states that physical objects have no definite traits independent of our choice of observation. It's not just that they exist as waves or something when we're not looking. Whether they will exhibit more "wave-like" behavior or more particle like behavior depends on what aspects of the system we choose to observe- and our sequences of observation matter more than the sequences of measurements made by devices. This means that the physical world is in essence, illusory, not fully there when you're not looking- just as objects in a dream aren't fully there while you're not looking. So this supports idealism vastly more than neutral monism or materialism. There is, however, a "loophole" for the atheists. This loophole, present in all the theories, is not nonlocality (the idea that relativity can be violated), because these experiments actually control for that, and field theory implies exact locality. The loophole is that the universe would have to be tricking the experimenters into getting results that look like they contradict materialism, while they actually don't. In other words, the universe would have to completely conspire against the experimenters by pure coincidence, and the experimenters would have to not have free will. As of now, this is the only materialist escape route available after considering the experimental data. At the same time, this also obliterates free will completely, since the Conway-Kochen free will theorem implies quantum nonrealism must be true to have free will. This also obliterates science by suggesting that what we experimentally observe isn't actually the way things really are. Furthermore, all these experiments must end up as either unbelievable coincidences, or be orchestrated by some super intellect to test the atheists faith in materialism! One can clearly see the similarities between this and the Calvinist God, especially of the YEC variety, where all the dinosaur bones just miraculously happen to appear to be millions of years old, despite being put there less than 6000 years ago. So there's one more similarity between Calvinism and atheist materialism to add: cosmic conspiracies or "coincidences" that "only appear" to obliterate your worldview.

  4. You really don't get Science, do you?

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