Why Atheism Fails: Rationality & Morality

Today I would like to talk about the relationship between faith and reason and I am going to show you how atheism fails to establish any justification for relying on rationality to create morality. Many atheists insist that morality comes from rationality. 

They say, You don’t need God. Just use your reason and you will find morality’. Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins claim that our understanding in neurosciences reached to a point that now  we can understand the origin of consciousness, of rationality and of morality. They base their criticisms of religion on the claim that it is irrational. They say, ‘religion is irrational. It can not give us morality. Science is rational and it can give us morality’.

Rationality in Religion 

     If you look into the history of Christian Church, you will see it was in dialogue with rationalism right from its birth. From Apostle Paul on Mars Hills in Athens down to Alvin Plantinga in our time, Christian faith has a rich history of engaging with with rationalism. Atheists claim that faith and reason are at loggerheads with each other.  But for thousands of years, Christian thinkers searched for answers to the most profound issues using both faith and reason. Among others, Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm, Peter Abelard, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham spent their whole careers in the exploration of faith and reason. There is no truth in the charge that Christians do not engage with rationalism. 

     In Matthew chapter 22:36, a lawyer approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, 

“Love the Lord your God

will all your heart and with all your soul

and with all your mind. This is the 

first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-37) 


Lord Jesus was repeating the Old Testament commandment given in Deuteronomy 6:4-5

‘Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, 

the LORD is one. 

Love the LORD your God with all 

your heart and with all your soul 

and with all your strength’ 

In Hebrew, it says, 

Sema Yisrael, Weahabta et 

Yahweh, Eloheka..

bekal lebabeka, 

ubekal napseka, 

ubekal meodeka. 


With all your heart, 

with all your soul 

and with all your strength. 


The word for soul is nephesh. 

Coming to Matthew 22, 

Lord Jesus says, 

Hole te kardia, 

Hole te psyche, 

Hole te dianoia 


Look at the Greek words here, 

Kardia means heart 

psyche means soul 

Dianoia means mind. 

     Please note here, the word for soul is psyche. That is the word from which we get psychology and psychiatry. Psychology literally means the study of the soul. The modern secular psychologists do not accept the existence of the soul. In the past, the purpose of psychology is to study about the soul, today, it’s purpose is to deny its very existence. A kind of oxymoron for modern psychology. Psychology is the study of the soul, which of course does not exist. 

     Christians believe that God prescribed morality through his commandments. We believe we have a body and a soul. Body is temporary, but the soul is eternal. Mind and soul are used interchangeably. Our mind is immaterial, our soul is immaterial. Atheists do not believe in soul, this body is everything. There is nothing immaterial in this material body. Everything comes out of matter, including our mind. 

How does mind influence our behavior? 

If we are just made up of matter, how can we make moral claims? 

     If we are just made up of atoms and molecules, how can we be certain about anything and how can we make truth claims? In the Christian tradition, the nature of human mind cannot be separated from the nature of God. We see that very clearly in the philosophy of Rene Descartes. 

     Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) was a French philosopher. He became the most important figure in the branch of philosophy called ‘philosophy of mind’. He famously said, ‘I think, therefore I am’. What can define our existence? You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, take a bath, eat your breakfast, go to work, spend time with your family and friends. That’s all good. Great experiences. But are they real? What if you are fooled by a bad demon? What if you are living in a computer simulation? Descartes did not know anything about computers, but he was concerned whether an evil demon feeding all those experiences into his mind. So, he sat down to go to the bottom of it all. I can’t trust my bed, my chair, my house, even my body, even my brain. I can only trust my ‘thinking’. Yes, I doubt all things. But doubting itself is a form of thinking. When I am doubting I am still thinking. God gave me this faculty of thinking. What if God is deceiving me to think these thoughts?


     Descartes said, ‘that is not possible, because God is supremely good’. Descartes’ argument goes like this: Given that God is supremely good, as my creator, he would not have created a being like myself with the faculty for thinking that could lead me into error and deception. Cogito ergo sum, ‘I think, therefore I am’:  ‘I am’ is the starting point for knowledge. My identity is the starting point for knowledge. Descrates says, “my perception of God is prior to my perception of myself”. 

     In the Christian philosophy of mind, the identify of God is prior to my own identify.   Cartesian Dualism was born from that thinking. Today secularists kick and scream against dualism. They cry out, there is no dualism, it is all matter, just one matter. But Dualism is here to stay. Recently Duke University was fined $112.5 million dollars by the U.S.government. The scientists from this university were submitting bogus datato win federal research grants. Science does not tell us, ‘Do not falsify your research data to get a grant’. 

     In Ten Commandments, the last commandment is against covetousness. ‘Thou shall not covet…’ Do not go after things that do not belong to you. When the scientist falsify his or her data to get a federal grant, that is covetousness, that is dishonesty, that is a falsehood. And no scientific experiment teach us that covetousness is immoral.  

    Of course, atheists contend that everything in the universe is matter, or a derivative from the matter. 

There is nothing beside matter.

That includes human mind. 

That brings us to a very important question: 

If the human mind is a product of matter, why is it important? 

Many atheists have asked that very question. Let us bring in our friend Nietzsche.     

     Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) was a German philosopher. His life was between 1844 and 1900. He famously said, ‘God is dead’. He went on to say because God is dead, there is no reason to impose reason on the universe and human behavior. Nietzsche embraced Darwinism, and said, ‘Because we are human animals, we should live by animal passions. By deluding ourselves about the rational order, we are actually suppressing our animal passions. Nietzsche railed against Christianity as the cornerstone of this rational order because it brought us what he called ‘slave morality’. The universe is a place of irrational disorder. It is not operating according to rational laws.’ 


     Nietzsche was the first Western philosopher since Socrates to deny the essential rationality of the universe. Nietzsche has a point. If there is no God, and this ‘rationality mess’ came from Christianity, why bother about rationality? You see the point. In Christianity, you are a rational being created by a rational God and you ought to live rationally, you ought to love God with your soul and mind. If atheism is true, there is no justification for imposing rationality on human animals. Nietzsche’s war against rationality powerfully played out in psychology. That is what B.F.Skinner did. 

     Skinner was an American philosopher and psychologist. He was raised in a Christian home, and of all places, while in Sunday school, he became an atheist. The Russian atheist Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936) tremendously influenced Skinner. Pavlov is famous

for his experiments on dogs. 

Ring the bell, and feed the dog. 

Ring the bell, and feed the dog. 

Ring the bell, and feed the dog. 

Soon once you ring the bell, the dog salivates, it expects food from you.  Animals are just a collection of reflexes. Skinner applied that research to human beings. He said, ‘human animals are no different from dogs. We are just a collection of neurons, synapses and their reflexes’. In 1971, Skinner published a book titled Beyond Freedom and Dignity. By Dignity, Skinner meant the moral autonomy of the individual. Skinner argued that because we are determined, because we are just a collection of neuronal reflexes, words like freedom, free will, morality do not make any sense. In fact, we should move beyond such concepts. Note the title of the book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Skinner was influenced by Nietzsche’s similarly titled book Beyond Good and Evil.  


     In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche claimed that human beings are driven by passions and impulses, there is no such thing as a universal morality for all human beings. Because we are driven by impulses, we should get past the words like good and evil. Skinner was making similar arguments. Because we are driven by reflexes, we should get past the words like freedom and moral autonomy. In fact, freedom became a hindrance. Skinner made to Time magazine’s 1971 cover story with the headline, We Can’t Afford Freedom. 

    In Skinner’s psychology, mind is irrelevant. Mind has no place. For some atheists, mind has a place. For other atheists, mind has no place. In atheistic worldview, mind becomes optional. So, without God, there is no justification to impose rationality and its universality on human beings. Without God, there is no justification to give central 

place to mind in our moral theory. Rationality requires free will. We say, ‘don’t go by emotions, don’t go by your passions, use reason’. If you don’t have free will, what’s the point of rationality? You are determined anyway. So, it is self-defeating to argue for 

moral reasoning when you believe in determinism. 

     Both Nietzsche and Skinner saw that contradiction and came out of it. They chose determinism and denied any moral reasoning in human behavior. 

So, 1. Without God, rationality has no justification. 

  1. Without God, rationality cannot derive objective values. 

     Here, let me introduce you to David Hume. He was a Scottish philosopher. His life was between 1711 and 1776. He became an atheist and railed against God but he saw the limitations of reason. In his work, A Treatise of Human Nature, in Book III, Part 1, Section 1,he starts with the heading, ‘Moral distinctions not derived from reason’ Reason alone cannot make moral distinctions. He wrote, 

“‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer

the destruction of the whole world

to the scratching of my finger.”


What is more important to you? The world or your own finger? 

Reason does not tell you what is more valuable. It is a value judgment. 

    Recently a mechanic who works for American Airlines tampered with the navigation system on a flight from Miami to Bahamas. He obstructed a tube underneath the cockpit with foam. Reportedly he was upset because he was not paid overpay for his services. What is valuable? Your paycheck or the lives of hundreds of passengers on that flight? It depends on what you value. Reason does not inform you which is more important. 

    Chandrayan -2 headed to failure. India’s mission to the moon. We were all excited. After United States, Russia, and China, India will be the fourth nation to send a mission to the moon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Bangalore to celebrate

this great achievement.  But a last minute glitch ruined the mission. Just 2 miles over

the surface of the moon, the communications from the lander were lost. Everyone was 

disappointed. ISRO chairman Dr.Sivan described it as ‘15 minutes of terror’. 

     Over 16,000 scientists working for months and months round the clock…all that hard work did not achieve the successful moon landing. Dr.Sivan, this great scientist,  broke into tears. We are rational beings, but we are also emotional beings. Prime Minister Modi went to him, shook his hand, hugged him and comforted him. Everyone was moved by this gesture. These scientists go through a lot of pressure from national leaders. 

     Hitler killed many scientists for not achieving the desired results. When Russia was in competition with the United States, Stalin would warn his scientists: If you fail, I will kill you. Because my prestige, the prestige of the Soviet Union more important than your lives. What is more important? Reaching the moon or comforting a scientist who is heart broken? Reason does not tell you. It is a value judgment. 


     Harriet Beecher Stowe: She was an American abolitionist and author. She was the daughter of a pastor. She wrote the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When it was published in 1852, it fueled anti-slavery sentiment in millions of people. Soon America would plunge into a Civil War to end the slavery. There is a story which says when President Lincoln met Stowe, he told her, ‘Little lady, you started the war’. In her argument against slavery, Stowe connected Christian faith, rationality and morality to human emotions. Stowe wrote these powerful words.  Please listen carefully. 

“Northern men, northern mothers, 

northern Christians, have something more

to do than denounce their brethren at the 

South; they have to look to the evil

among themselves. But, what can any

individual do? 


Of that, every individual

can judge. There is one thing that every

individual can do, –they can see to it 

that_they feel right_. An atmosphere of

sympathetic influence encircles every 

human being; and the man or woman 


who_feels_strongly, healthily and justly, 

on the great interests of humanity, 

is a constant benefactor to the human race. 

See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! 


Are they in harmony with the sympathies 

of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted

by the sophistries of worldly policy?’


Your sympathies…are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? 

These words encapsulate Christian view of morality. Stowe is asking people, We have enslaved millions of people for our comfort and profit. But, See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! 

    Atheists ask us to see our sympathies in the matter, materialism. But Stowe asked us to see whether our sympathies are in harmony with the sympathies of Christ. She used three profound words: they feel right. 

    Moral reasoning connects us to our emotions. Lord Jesus told to 

Love the Lord your God

will all your heart and with all your soul

and with all your mind. 

Our heart, 

Our soul, 

Our mind 

the heart: the center of emotions

the soul: the center of morality

the mind: the center of intelligence 

they come together in a loving 

fellowship with God. 

They have coherence and correspondence to God, our  Creator and Lord. May God bless these words. 


Prayer: “Dear Lord Jesus, help us to love you with all our heart, our soul and our mind. Help the unbelievers to see you as their God, Lord and Savior from their sins. In your precious name, we pray, Amen.”