Post-Reality Continued: How Atheism Would Destroy All That Is Truly Human

Atheists say God is some strange human delusion. It's even stranger how they can think everything human is an illusion.

By Tom Gilson Published on March 30, 2023

I couldn’t believe my ears. A man stood up during Q&A at a Christian/atheist debate, and asked the atheist if he really meant what he’d written in his last book: That no sentence ever written or spoken means anything.

The atheist professor answered yes.

Unbelievable? Maybe. But true.

He even expanded on his answer, quoting two paragraphs from the book. “Neither spoken sentences nor silent ones in thought express statements,” he said. “They aren’t about anything. That goes for every sentence in this book. It’s not about anything.” He owned up to using words and sentences anyway, but only because that’s the method for getting his ideology planted in other people’s brains.

He quoted that from his chapter titled, “The Brain Does Everything Without Thinking About Anything At All.” That’s exactly what this atheist philosopher, Dr. Alex Rosenberg, believes. Not figuratively, either. Literally. He is firmly convinced there is no such thing as thinking about anything.

I’ve been writing here lately about the Western world’s slippage into post-reality, showing how everything from virtual reality to transgenderism tells us we’ve come to discard the reality we’ve been given, in favor of some other reality we’d rather have. What you’re about to see here is potentially more disturbing than that: Atheist thinkers who would cast away every shred of the reality known as humanness.

Thinking Is Unreal, Thinks the Atheist

I witnessed that debate live online, and when it came to that question and answer, I was floored. I was sure I’d heard it wrong. You can see it for yourself, though, and hear the exact wording, cued to the moment it happened. (Disregard the camera’s first few idle moments.)

As for me, I went immediately to my Kindle and downloaded the book he’d quoted from, to find out for myself if it meant what thought it meant.

Turns out it did.

Rosenberg is a materialist atheist, meaning he is convinced nothing exists in reality except atoms, molecules, fields, forces, natural law, etc., the sorts of things scientists study, especially physicists and chemists. Other flavors of atheism exist, but in our world today this is far and away the most common. (It’s also the version I have in mind when I say “atheism” or “atheist” here.)

Why You Can’t Think About What He Wrote, and Neither Could He

When Rosenberg says all reality is purely physical, he’s talking about our brains, too. Your skull is crammed full of stuff than only do the things that physical stuff can do. And physical stuff can’t think. More to Rosenberg’s point, physical stuff can’t be “about” anything, so you can’t think about anything. Anything. Period

I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not misrepresenting him, either. He sees the brain being very much like a rock, except no, in the ways that matter it’s exactly like a rock. A rock can be on a mountain, or next to a mountain, or buried under it. But a rock can’t be “about” the mountain. The mountain might be around the rock, completely surrounding it, but it can’t be “about” the rock.

“Aboutness” doesn’t mean being nearby in any sense. It’s not a physical relationship, it’s a meaning relationship. It would be like saying, “This mountain isn’t just on top of the rock. Somehow it means something about the rock.” And I’m talking the mountain itself doing this meaning, not you or me deriving some meaning from what we see there. Mountains simply cannot do that. Physical objects in general can’t do it.

But now we run into the problem Rosenberg wants us to work against. Suppose you think the thought, “The Eiffel Tower is in Paris.” If your brain is purely physical — nothing but molecules and electrochemical reactions between them — then that physical stuff inside your skull has the same problem the mountain has. Its physical stuff can’t be “about Paris,” any more than the mountain can be about the rock. Your very physical brain doesn’t have the ability to be “about” anything at all.

If it seems outrageous, don’t blame me. He said it, not me. Go get Rosenberg’s book as I did, and see for yourself.

Why It Makes a Little Sense While Making No Sense At All

If it seems irrational, don’t blame me for that, either. Get ready for a twist instead. A very surprising one. Because if you look strictly at the flow of its logic, it isn’t irrational. If you start where he does and follow the logic from there, you’ll find it is indeed the only path the logic can rationally follow. C.S. Lewis shows something very much like this in chapter 3 of Miracles.

Don’t bother trying to make sense of it, not unless you really need that headache. Besides, I’m about to hand you an even worse atheism-induced stomachache to go with it.

Indeed, the logic in Rosenberg’s book is really quite admirable. Philosophers would say it this way: “The premises of atheism entail this conclusion.” That is, if you start with atheism, the conclusion becomes logically necessary.

It does get a tad bit messy at the end, of course, when it takes you to the point of thinking it’s impossible to think about anything. So a sane philosopher would say, “Atheism entails this conclusion, therefore there’s something seriously wrong with atheism.”

C.S. Lewis, being considerably more sane, declared it good reason to reject atheism. Because it’s obviously — and hopelessly — self-contradictory. Forget the authorities Rosenberg invokes in that video. It’s still rationally impossible, or dare I even say insane?

If You Think That’s Bad …

Don’t bother trying to make sense of it, then, not unless you really need that headache. Besides, I’m about to hand you an even worse atheism-induced stomachache to go with it. Rosenberg doesn’t just do fatal violence to thinking. He stabs a knife in the heart of humanness itself. Because if all of human thinking is unreal, how can humanness itself be real?

But now it’s time I tell you the name of this book of his. He calls it The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. He means it: Here’s your reality, including, thinking is just an illusion. Now you see why I say we’re looking at post-reality here.

He’s not alone in it, either. I’ve spent a hot minute on Rosenberg here because he’s a great live example, but many others stand with him, trying to make illusions out of all that’s most human about us.

Worser and Worser

Sam Harris, one of the founders of New Atheism, is one of many who say it’s a mechanistic universe and humans are part of the machine, so therefore we have no free will. You cannot choose either to or not to do anything. You think you do, but it’s an illusion.

Atheist philosophers Paul and Patricia Churchland are quite convinced that consciousness is an illusion, too. Daniel Dennett, (another former New Atheist star) takes a long way round toward getting there but in the end he agrees, or close enough.

Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.

Right and wrong aren’t real, says atheist philosopher Michael Ruse. Morality is a hoax, which evolution foists upon us to get us doing what’s needed to survive and reproduce in our various tribes.

Even your selfhood goes on the physicalist chopping block. You think you’re you? Sorry, that’s an illusion, too. Consider the axe: “I’ve had the same axe now for decades,” said the farmer. “I’ve replaced the handle four times, and twice I’ve had to put a new head on it, but it’s still the same axe, the only one I’ve ever owned.” Maybe what’s true of the axe is true of the farmer — and of you, too. If your physical parts get completely replaced, day by day, year by year, how can “you” be the same “you” that “you” were last year?

These are Not Kooks on the Fringe

Not every atheist thinker agrees with all this, but on the other hand, these are mainstream atheist thinkers, not kooks on the fringe, and there are many who go along with them.

So this isn’t just some Christian’s sour evaluation of atheism. It comes from some of the best of their own thinkers. (You can reach similar conclusions following the logic of naturalistic evolution, by the way, but I won’t take time for that here.)

They deny human reality with their words, but their own humanness refuses to go along with it.

Now, on a most important, most human level, this is all just theoretical. In practice — in the daily business of living life — everyone still thinks, decides, makes choices and moral judgments, and does so quite consciously. They deny human reality with their words, but their own humanness refuses to go along with it.

But That Doesn’t Mean They Have to Be So Wrong

It’s sad. I have thoughts yet to come on why they would try, but the fact is, there’s no need to declare reality so mechanistically physical, and everything human just an illusion, not with God at reality’s eternal core. He decides, He acts, He thinks. That’s what Reality is really like, from eternity to eternity. And God made humans in His image, so we can do the same. We do it on a human scale, of course, but it’s still real, just as God Himself is real. No illusion required.

It’s funny, in a way. So many atheists jeer at Christians for believing in what they call a “magic invisible sky-daddy God.” They say God is some strange human delusion. I say it’s even stranger how they can think everything human is an illusion.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

Miracles in the Making
Susie Larson
More from The Stream
Connect with Us