Atheism is a belief that is growing exponentially in our country, and our world, today.  It is a belief that states that there is no God.  In fact atheism “literally means ‘without God’ and can be divided into either strong or weak types[1].”  Those strong types say there is no God and are not open to the possibility of it without evidence to sway their opinion.  There are others who are open to the possibility is they hear a strong argument for the case.  These individuals most often fall into agnosticism rather than atheism.

Either way atheism has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.  In fact they are now advertising to gain adherents to their belief.  Atheists, such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation, are spending millions of dollars in advertising to convince the public that something does not exist.    In the past atheists respected the beliefs of Christians and other religions, but that seems to be a bygone era.  Christianity is under attack, and this assault is being led by prominent members known as the four horseman.  Scott Hahn states, “The Four Horseman-Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Denner-have assumed the leadership of a growing Anglo-American movement, releasing volley after volley of bestsellers and DVDs into the Christian culture[2].”

 

The major worldview of atheists, and particularly secular humanists, is that human reason is the pinnacle of all thought and morals.  We are the highest form of life on earth and evolved from other species.  Since there is no God the goal of life is to be happy and productive in the world.  Since the meaning of life is self-determined it can vary greatly from person to person.  Morals also vary among each person and are determined by reason and one’s cultural norms.  Absolute morals do not exist because they may vary widely among individuals, but norms such as stealing, murder, rape, and child molestation are looked on as evil.  In atheism everyone is good and there is no reason to have a god who says everyone is inherently evil.  There is evil in the world because we fail to look after each other.  These objections will be categorized into the following three questions: Why is there evil in the world?  From where do we derive our morals and are there moral absolutes? Does God exist?

The intent of this paper is to provide a summary, and review, of the atheistic worldview.  The four questions, which are listed above, are often presented by atheists and will be answered from a Christian perspective.  When it comes to discussing the faith with atheists it is important to do so in love.  Too often Christians break down and say that anyone who is an atheist is stupid.  This is not the way to go.  As the old saying goes, we can catch more bees with honey instead of vinegar.    Proverbs 15:1 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger[3].”

 

 

WHY IS THERE EVIL IN THE WORLD?

When atheists express their disapproval of theism one of two things are normally brought up.  They may say things like there is no God because there is no evidence to support his existence, or there is no God because a good God would not allow evil things to happen.  This section of this essay will deal with the problem of evil while evidence for God will be dealt with later.

To deny that evil exists would be to make a mockery of our God given intellect and ability to reason.  All we have to do is turn on the evening news to see this play out in almost every segment of the broadcast.  J.S. Feinburg writes, “One wants to know if religion has belief in a God who does evil or fails to do good[4].”  The argument states that if God is a good God why are there wars, disease, and the like?  From a Christian perspective there are right ways and wrong ways to answer this question.  A bad answer is to say the very popular phrase “God works in mysterious ways.”  To believers there is a lot of truth to this statement, but we must remember that we are talking with someone who does not have a belief in the existence of God.  In his book Answering Atheism Trent Horn states, “No serious theist believes that God desires the suffering of people on Earth just so he can watch them suffer.  Rather, God uses the suffering in our lives because he desires the greater good that can come from such suffering[5].”

 

Another way to approach the subject is to ask what evil is.  Evil can be distinguished into two parts.  There is moral evil which is someone reacting against what is good. Then there is natural evil which is when bad effects flow from morally good or non-moral causes[6]. So moral evil is anything that is against God.  That would include acts such as murder, rape, torture, cheating, stealing, and lying.  Natural evil is caused by the choices of people.  So the question must be asked to the atheist?  Which evil should we get rid of because we can’t pick and choose which evils should stay?  If God were to eliminate all evil in the world then the human race would cease to exist.

Moral and natural evils cannot be attributed to God because he did not create them.  The choices we make have a type of ripple effect that we may not be able to comprehend at the time of the act.  In fact the final effect may not be apparent for a couple hundred years.  The famed theologian Norman Geisler states, “For human being are made in God’s image, which includes the possession of free will[7].”

However if God’s creation chose to do evil is he not responsible for it?  Human beings are not robots that God built with a predetermined program.  Everything that the person did was done of his own free will and accord.  If we did not have free will then the good things that are done would have no meaning.  The charity displayed to the less fortunate, teaching, being a loving parent, and just being nice will be the norm and nothing special.  Yes there is evil in the world and we must do our best to make it less and less.  However there is much more good in the world than evil and that is a credit to the creator.  Augustine put it best when he wrote, “For a runaway horse is better than a stone that stays in the right place only because it has no movement or perception of its own; and in the same way, a creature that sins by free will is more excellent than one that does not sin only because it has no free will[8].”

 

FROM WHERE DO WE DERIVE MORALS?

One of the biggest mistakes one could make when discussing morality with an atheist is assuming that since atheists do not believe in God, they therefore have no morals.  This is a common mistake and must be debunked.  One can be an atheist yet have high moral character.  The popular atheist website, askanatheist.org, had this to say. “While theists believe that god will punish them for immoral acts and reward them for moral acts, atheists have no motivation to be moral other than their own innate sense of morality. It is morality for its own sake, not out of fear for punishment or desire for reward[9].”  This is great, but there is a source from whence this moral character derives.

In the atheistic worldview morals derive from wanting to help humanity instead of a motivation for Heaven in the next life.  Popular atheists claim that goodness is embedded in all of us, and a lack of morality is caused by being selfish.  The claim is that our conscience is the barrier that keeps us from breaking regular moral norms.  However there are many among is that do not have the same moral standard.  In her book The Sociopath Next Door Martha Stout states, “It is estimated that one in every twenty-five people is a sociopath, or is someone who does not possess the normal empathy and conscience that other people have[10].”

The Christian would say that the conscience is a supernatural regulator of moral behavior.  Pope John Paul the II wrote, “St. Bonaventure said that conscience was like a herald who blew a loud trumpet to announce the king was coming[11].”  Basically a finite being, who is a product of chance, is unable to be the source of morality.  This is shown by the different standards of moral conduct present in today’s world.  When we compare these individual morality codes, it becomes very evident that the individual cannot be the cause[12].”

The Christian answer to this debate is that God has established a moral compass in all of us.  This is why we are able to make a determination between right and wrong even if we did not have the best parents.  His moral standard is contained in the Holy Bible for us to study and learn from.  There is no denying that there are moral people who are not Christians.  However the Christian worldview does not state that one must be a Christian to be moral.  It simply states that the moral code comes from something higher than ourselves and that must be God.

 

 

DOES GOD EXIST?

The atheistic arguments against God’s existence may be classified into two Groups.  Those two groups are priori arguments and posteriori arguments.  A priori arguments for atheism claim that there is some logical contradiction in the theistic conception of God, and so that it is impossible for such a being to exist.  A posteriori arguments for atheism claim that the world is other than it would be if God existed, and so conclude from it that there cannot be a God[13].  The posteriori arguments include such things as the problem of evil were dealt with in previous paragraphs.

Atheists commonly put forth a series of philosophical questions that, at least to them, disproved the existence of God.  One of the most popular is that of the paradox of the stone.  At its core the reasoning in this question created somewhat of a strawman argument.  The argument is the following:  Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?  Either he can or he can’t. If he can’t, the argument goes, then there is something that he cannot do, namely create the stone, and therefore he is not omnipotent. If he can, it continues, then there is also something that he cannot do, namely lift the stone, and therefore he is not omnipotent.  Either way, then, God is not omnipotent. A being that is not omnipotent, though, is not God. God, therefore, does not exist.

For this to be true the argument would have to prove that there is sufficient reason for something to exist.  This statement assumes that once the impossible is eliminated, in this case God, we just cannot say there is no explanation at all.  Alexander Pruss states, “This process of elimination forces us to accept even an unlikely explanation, because everything that exists must have an explanation[14].”

The Christian would then have to ask what God’s sufficient reason is.  To clarify the argument for sufficient reason does not say that everything must be proved by the existence of something else.  This would result in an endless circle of reasoning.  One of the premises of the argument is that something exists in itself or outside of itself.  In the case of God he is outside of space and time so our cognitive minds are not able to wrap our minds around that.  An analogy of stones around a campfire may be helpful in this case.  One may ask why those stones are warm, and of course they are warm because of the fire.  But why is the fire warm?  The answer is because that is the nature of fire, and if it was not warm it would not be fire[15].  The paradox of the stone, though entertaining, does not hold up to deductive and sufficient reasoning, and this must be denied as a plausible argument.

Another favorite argument is what atheists call the ever increasing diminishment of God.  God does not exists because deities have been replaced by new ones throughout history.  God is diminishing in popularity therefore he must not exist, and soon a new deity will emerge.  Alternet.org states, “This is what atheists call the “god of the gaps.” Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that’s what God is supposedly responsible for. Wherever the empty spaces are in our coloring book, that’s what gets filled in with the blue crayon called God[16].”

To be honest the “God of the Gaps” theory gets presented as a way to cover our own ignorance of the natural world[17].  The worldview of atheists is to look at the natural world and look for various reasons why things are the way they are.  They look for answers that favor naturalism even though divine intervention may be a much better explanation.

From an apologetics standpoint the Christian would be wise to have a basic knowledge of the natural world.  The origins of the universe is a good example to start with.  In the atheist worldview the universe came from nothing.  In this view God differs little from nothing so nothing still could have created the universe.  However this directly contradicts a basic law of physics which states that something is unable to come from nothing.  If nothing created the universe, “then it came from something that is indistinguishable from nothing at all[18].”

The Christian worldview has this answer, and it is the logical conclusion to the question of origin.  If one looks at the evidence objectively, and without any preconceived notions, it is acceptable and reasonable to conclude that it is God who is the origin of everything.

CONCLUSION

1 Peter 3:15 states, ‘but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect[19].”  It is very easy to get frustrated when a passionate atheist is asking questions and not satisfied with our responses.  As scripture says we must always be ready to defend our faith, but we must do it with love.  Many of us were seeking for truth before we found the truth of Christianity.  For many in the atheist movement this is the case.  At that point in their life the conversation with us may have been the only Bible they ever read.

As demonstrated the Christian worldview has an answer for the tenants of atheism.  Quoting scripture will do no good when discussing God with an atheist because to them it is not inspired writing.  This is not to say that we should not use it because they Holy Spirit will use it to plant seeds.  To gain ground with this group we must also use the natural world and philosophy in our defense.

There are many arguments that were not touched on such as arguments for the resurrection and the ontological argument that will be beneficial.  In addition knowing these things will strengthen our own faith, and deepen our faith with Jesus Christ.  Atheists are not our enemy.  They are misguided brothers and sisters who need the truth shared with them in love.  We must adapt ourselves mentally to bring them the truth in baby steps.

[Please note that the subject of atheism is very broad.  This article covers some aspects, and there will be more parts to come.]

 

 

WORKS CITED

“Arguments for Atheism,” accessed October 3, 2014 January 01, 2014, http://www.existence-of-God.com.

“Do Atheists Have Morals?” askanatheist.org, accessed October 9, 2014, http://www.askanatheist.org/​morals.

“The Top 10 Reasons I Don’t Believe In God,” Greta Christina, march 8, 2012 October 8, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/​story.

1 Peter 3:15 (English Standard Version).

Dennett, Daniel. Breaking the Spell:  Religion as a Natural Phenomena. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2006.

Groothius, Douglas. Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2011.

Hahn, Scott, and Benjamin Wiker. Answering the New Atheism:  Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2008.

Hippo, St. Augustine Of. On Free Choice of the Will. Usa: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.

Horn, Trent. Answering Atheism:  How to Make the Case for God with Clarity and Logic. San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2013.

Paul, Pope John II. “Veritatis Splendor.” Papal Encyclical, Vatican City, VATICAN, January 01, 1993.

Proverbs 15:1 (New International Version).

Pruss, Alexander. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009.

Stout, Martha. The Sociopath Next Door. Colorado Springs, CO: Broadway Books, 2005.

W.h.mare. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

 

[1] Trent Horn, Answering Atheism:  How to Make the Case for God with Clarity and Logic (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2013), 17.

[2] Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, Answering the New Atheism:  Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2008), 1.

[3] Proverbs 15:1 (New International Version).

[4] W.h.mare, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 413.

[5] Trent Horn, Answering Atheism:  How to Make the Case for God with Clarity and Logic (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2013), 91.

[6] Trent Horn, Answering Atheism:  How to Make the Case for God with Clarity and Logic (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2013), 81.

[7] W.h.mare, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 470.

[8] St. Augustine of Hippo, On Free Choice of the Will (Usa: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993), 81.

[9] “Do Atheists Have Morals?” askanatheist.org, accessed October 9, 2014, http://www.askanatheist.org/​morals.

[10] Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door (Colorado Springs, CO: Broadway Books, 2005), 21.

[11] Pope John Paul II. “Veritatis Splendor” (papal Encyclical, Vatican City, VATICAN, January 01, 1993).

[12] Trent Horn, Answering Atheism:  How to Make the Case for God with Clarity and Logic (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2013), 195.

[13] “Arguments for Atheism,” accessed October 3, 2014 January 01, 2004, http://www.existence-of-God.com.

[14] Alexander Pruss, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009), 148.

[15] Trent Horn, Answering Atheism:  How to Make the Case for God with Clarity and Logic (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2013), 112.

[16] “The Top 10 Reasons I Don’t Believe In God,” Greta Christina, accessed October 8, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/​story.

[17] Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: Ivp Academic, 2011), 246.

[18] Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell:  Religion as a Natural Phenomena (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2006), 244.

[19] 1 Peter 3:15 (English Standard Version).

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One thought on “Where is God? A Brief Glimpse at Atheism

  1. I think something that helps deflate the helium for the revival of atheism are the arguments they put fourth. The so called “New Atheist” really present a basic and elementary view of who God is especially with statements such as “religion poisons everything” or making comparisons to Santa Clause to belief in God. When you hear these statements and their reasoning, you can’t help but be amazed by their rudimentary and frankly, half-witted, approach to denying God.

    Futhernore, you gave some amazing arguments for God’s existence. I think William Lane Craig presents an amazing Cosmological argument for the existence of the universe. It trips me up just thinking about it! Also, Gary Habermas, provides a great research based approach for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which the faith solely rests on according to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

    Great post and cited material! I Look forward to reading more.

    Like

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