A group of atheists in north London have been creating some buzz lately by meeting for church—“atheist church,” as many are referring to it. I find it extremely interesting that people who don’t want to have God still find a need to have “church.” Is it a step-down program? Or maybe a step-up program? I suppose time will tell.
In the words of the “master of ceremonies” Sanderson Jones, atheist church is “part foot stomping show, part atheist church, all celebration of life.” One recent Sunday morning their theme was wonder, and the “Sunday Assembly” consisted of a reading from Alice in Wonderland, as well as singing (Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, and Nina Simone’s Ain’t Got No). There was a power point presentation on the origins of the theory of antimatter. Then they bowed their heads for two minutes of contemplation about the miracle of life. Jones finished with a talk about how his mother’s death prompted him to make the most out of his life since it goes by quickly and there is nothing when it’s over. It sounds to me like they were doing okay (relatively speaking), but they finished with a whimper.
And that seems to be the problem with an atheistic approach—there’s usually quite a flurry up front but inevitably it ends with a shrug of the shoulders and a few empty words. In an interview afterwards, Jones said they wanted to focus on wonder because atheists are often criticized for not having an appreciation of it. Fair enough. But if you take God out of the equation and replace Him with science (as is usually the case), it seems to me that you’ve undermined your position. Whether the subject is antimatter or the lilies of the field, a scientific explanation is good as far as it goes—it just doesn’t go far enough to get to the heart of wonder.
Take the lilies of the field (something I’m more conversant with than antimatter theory). Science speaks to us about cellular reproduction and photosynthesis. This explains the How. Plants are able to take light energy and convert it into chemical energy. But shouldn’t we also ask the question, Why? In other words, plants use photosynthesis but why does that mechanism work? Why is the world set up in such a way so that life is carbon based? Understanding how it works is good, but it leaves totally unaddressed the deeper question of why it works this way.
While science can explain much in regard to the mechanics of the universe, it is faith that points us to its Creator. Why do the lilies of the field grow as they do? That’s the way God designed them! And while we currently may not understand exactly why He chose carbon based life forms, we do know it is in keeping with His holy purposes of creating a world that meets man’s needs. God is the Wonder behind the why.
Recognizing this throws opens the door to appreciating the wonders of our universe. After all, to speak of “celebrating life” is really just another way of saying we’re thankful for it, isn’t it? And if we’re thankful—who is it we’re thankful to?
Odds & Ends