Here Barker tries to downplay a huge question of which has confronted humanity through the ages. If God does not exist then what purpose is there to life? This is not a trivial question at all, in fact, it is a question that entire worldviews have orientated themselves around. Why do you think atheists try to ground purpose in this world? (On atheism purpose and meaning is essentially relegated to mere subjective preferences. Thus there is no such thing as any objective meaning for an atheist) Or, why do they try so hard to ground moral values in this world? Precisely because they cannot ground it in God since on their worldview God does not exist. Entire books have been penned by atheists in response to these overt dilemmas (for example, Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape or Peter Watson’s The Age of Nothing). In short the way one views God’s existence, or non-existence, will entirely dictate a worldview.
In fact, Barker is evidently quite comfortable in his claim that purpose does not exist. In a debate with a Christian (James White) he boldly proclaims that “There is no purpose to life, and we should not want there to be a purpose to life because if there was that would cheapen life” (1). Former atheist Philip Vander Elst articulates Barker’s point well:
“According to atheism, human beings and all their thinking processes are simply the accidental by-products of the mindless movement of atoms within an undesigned, random, and purposeless universe. How then can we attach any ultimate meaning or truth to our thoughts and feelings, including our sense of justice? They have, on this view, no more validity or significance than the sound of the wind in the trees” (2).
But the odd thing is that Barker (and just about every atheist) lives his life in total contradiction to this claim he himself evidently made. Barker believes that his very own words, ideas, opinions, views have meaning. He obviously believes that it is purposeful to promote his atheism in attempt to expose the mass delusions of religious worldviews, or he wouldn’t have decided to debate James White. Barker, like most of his atheist comrades, is just full of contradictions – even to claim that no purpose exists is essentially to make a purposeful statement! Thus, Mike Robinson is quite correct in his view that when God is rejected “the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the a priori conditions for knowledge and meaningful experience” (3). I could hardly disagree.
Further, that Barker draws the analogy of being a slave if God exists is not accurate. That is not the biblical message at all. Sure, human beings are dependent on God and are in submission to him but that does not make them slaves. And to believe that it does runs contrary to God’s revelation since human slavery is not what God wills. If one is to reject God’s gift of salvation in Jesus’ atoning death then God grants them the desired eternal separation from him. In this way God clearly respects human freewill to believe or disbelieve in him.
But the irony here is that Barker simply switches masters. Either God is one’s master or the universe is. Take God out of the equation, as Barker has, then one simply lives for illusory experiences that the universe provides. But what purpose does the master universe give Barker? To which the atheist William Provine can answer:
“There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either” (4).
That is the hopeless reality for Barker. But, on the other hand, I’d contend that if God does really exist then human life has purpose. If the Christian god exists then our actions have eternal consequences, and what evil or good we do here on Earth will not be ignored; we are accountable. Thus if one acts in service to God such an act is permanent; it takes on eternal significance. If God exists then we also have good grounds for grounding human value and dignity (because we are made in God’s image), morality (the ability to ground moral claims that aren’t based on subjective tastes but rather on a transcendent all-encompassing standard/law), freewill (we are not merely moist robots whose actions are completely determined by the laws of physics), and rationality (for it was God, not the non-rational physical forces of nature, that endowed us with the ability to reason). If God exists then we ourselves have reason to exist because God wills that we exist. Former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi, in one such interview, says:
“A universe without a god would by necessity be a place without absolute morals, without ultimate hope, without true meaning, without altruistic love, and without inherent value. It would be a chaotic and ruthless system of despair. By contrast, a theistic world allows for morality, hope, meaning, love and value” (5).
It is this hopeless worldview the atheist must embrace if he is to be consistent. It is no good trying to deny or dodge the importance of such a question like Barker tries to do here. It is likewise no good for Barker to accuse God of being a slave master yet at the very same time find himself submitting to an indifferent, ominous, purposeless universe; which is essentially what he has done.
1. Debate: The Triune God of Scripture Lives. Available.
2. Elst, P. From Atheism to Christianity: a Personal Journey. Available.
3. Robinson, M. When Obvious Proof is Purposely Missed: The Willful Blindness of Atheists. Available.
4. Provine, W. 1994. Origins Research. p. 9.
5. Rogers, J. 2014. Five Questions With a Former Muslim Who Converted to Christianity. Available.