One of the frustrating things in the ongoing theism/atheism debate is that theism and especially Christianity is built on centuries of careful methodical thought, but the new materialism is based on sound bites, and those sound bites lack the context of a coherent belief system. They’re potshots at one system of belief (usually Christianity), not a developed system of belief unto itself.
To remedy this, there should be a well-written book that shows how open-minded inquiry, starting from scratch, gets one inexorably to theism. Well, here it is: Who Designed the Designer/A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence, by Michael Augros (Ignatius 2015).
Mind vs. Matter
We don’t look to God because we’re weak, pitiful, worms. Looking to God means acknowledging the Source of the strength we have inside. The source of our own strength comes most directly from upbringing, relationships, material resources, etc.; but all of those things in turn come from somewhere else ultimately. We can say it’s matter, which arose spontaneously and grew organically, but without purpose or direction. Or we can say it’s Mind, which is a primordial uncaused cause, but also a contemporaneous and active cause in our moment-by-moment affairs. It’s mind or matter; one or the other.
Augros does a good job of explaining that the question of mind vs. matter as the original, uncaused cause is important, but only the beginning of the inquiry. There is more to the question of existence than the debate between (a) the one-God-uncaused-cause at the beginning from nothing, vs. (b) the infinite regress of causes that is equivalent to saying there is no cause that is not material, temporal, and contingent. The question of causation is continuing, contemporaneous with our every act now. And if causation is of mind rather than matter, then we have an explanation for all that is left unexplained by materialism, including the overwhelming sense we have of purpose; of consciousness; of self-intentionality in our personal existence; of the undeniable presence of order and design in the universe and living things.
Christians should look at the position of atheists with a deep sense of loss for them. It’s as if they’ve truncated a part of their existence, that part accessible not to their senses, but to their imagination. I don’t mean “imagination” in the sense of fictional, of course. I mean it in the sense that the subject matter is by definition not accessible solely to the senses, but instead only to the mind.
If there’s only a brain, and no distinct mind, then all this fumbling about after a god or immaterial essence of some sort is only pointless groping around with our organic brains about this weird possibility, like someone feeling phantom pain in a severed limb. But if we have a mind and not just a physical brain, then that mind is searching for the unified Mind whence all came. That is the explanation for the existence of all religion, not the purely sociological theories popular now.
New Flat-Earth Society
The position of atheists is analogous to the position of flat-earthers before science confirmed that we live on a globe. Their senses tell them the earth is flat, so they conclude it’s flat. All that globe-talk is just theory that defies what is immediately accessible to the senses.
There is a reason that materialists make much of the wonders revealed by science. It’s not that those wonders wouldn’t exist without religion. Of course they would. So why is it thought to somehow replace religion? It’s because those wonders are all that’s left to feed the imagination. That hunger after what we can only imagine remains, after the death of religion, but now it must be fed only with material things.
So here’s what happens with each new scientific discovery. Instead of provoking us to awe for the Creator, it immediately becomes part of the mundane background noise. The awe we must have can only be sustained by the next as-yet-undiscovered material thing. We literally worship what we don’t know. What we discover of material reality never quenches the thirst of our soul.