Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God/Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with various Scholars; ©{{{copyright}}}
Is there an innate knowledge of God in atheists, skeptics, and other opponents of Christianity?

Ed. note: This article is based upon the transcript from programs produced by the John Ankerberg Show. Additional material has been added for this print version.

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Is there an innate knowledge of God in atheists, skeptics, and other opponents of Christianity?

The truth is that even those whose personal philosophies have been intensely opposed to the Christian faith can’t escape God. Noted skeptical philosopher Bertrand Russell, the author of Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays, once wrote in a letter, “The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite.”[1] The occult psychologist Carl Jung, whose damage inflicted on Christianity is hard to calculate, wrote in his autobiography. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “I find that all my thoughts circle around God like the planets around the sun, and are as irresistibly attracted by Him. I would feel it to be the grossest sin if I were to oppose any resistance to this force.”[2] This is the same man who, grimly, said more than once, “They would have burned me as a heretic in the middle ages.”[3] Werner Erhard, whose est/The Forum seminars are subtly yet profoundly anti-Christian, recalls an experience with God concerning the sins he had committed against his family. In an apartment with a large window overlooking the ocean he recalls, “As I sat there I had a conversation with God. It was a holy experience; it had not the circumstances but the experience of holiness about it. I was literally forced to rise from my chair, and then forced to my knees. And I prayed for forgiveness.”[4]

Atheists, again, are certain there isn’t a God. One Buddhist makes a statement common in our culture, “We are not in God’s hands; we are in our own.”[5] But such convictions are really quite unwise since no atheist could exist for even a second longer apart from the preserving hand of God. Indeed, our moment-by-moment existence depends solely upon His goodness and upholding power, for He is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3) and “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). As the prophet Daniel told the pagan King Belshazzar, “[Y]ou have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven… But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified” (Daniel 5:23).

The simple fact is that atheist beliefs do not square with human perceptions. In The Tao of Psychology, Zen practitioner Jean Bolen, M.D., observes that we all, in some ways, “feel ourselves part of a divine, dynamic, interrelated universe.”[6]

Whether I am lying under the stars or sitting in Zazen meditating, or at peace in prayer, the intuitive knowledge that there is a patterned universe, or an underlying meaning to all experience, or a primal source, to which I am connected, always evokes a feeling of reverence. It is something known rather than thought about, so that explanatory words are inadequate.[7]

She also recalls,

I went to the mountains when I was a youngster and lay in my sleeping bag under the stars, seeing the vastness of the Milky Way above. What my eyes saw, my soul experienced. I felt a sense of reverence and awe at the boundlessness and beauty of the universe. It touched me. I felt God’s presence in the mountains, trees and immense sky.[8]

As an editorial in Reader’s Digest commented,

Walk out on a balmy August night, when meteors have streaking tracks overhead, and the belief will come unbidden that all of that splendor must reflect a reigning intelligence, that such intelligence will give evidence of its existence….[9]

In the daytime, we cannot see the stars, but we know they exist—we see them at night. Someone who lives in the heart of a big city, where light shines 24 hours a day might not believe there are stars because he has never seen them. Still, they would exist—as massive, awesome realities. Because we cannot yet see something (God), does not mean it (He) does not exist. At the final judgment, no one will doubt God’s existence in the slightest.

The Bible is also clear that all men know of God and that all men are “close” to God. In reference to the incarnation of Jesus Christ it says, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9). In Romans 1 we read:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18-21, emphasis added).

The term “since the creation of the world” includes all men and women who have ever lived. So Romans 1 must also be true for all atheists and skeptics. God doesn’t say He has placed a knowledge of Himself in everyone except atheists and skeptics. To illustrate, even the most famous atheist of the twentieth century, Jean-Paul Sartre, confessed the following in an interview just before his death, published in Harper’s magazine for February, 1984: “Even if one does not believe in God, there are elements of the idea of God that remain in us.”[10] Sartre goes on to state, even though he had supposedly been a convinced atheist from the age of eight or nine, that the structure of consciousness[11] and his own intuitive awareness and experience in life almost compelled him to accept the existence of God:

As for me, I don’t see myself as so much dust that has appeared in the world but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God. Naturally this is not a clear, exact idea that I set in motion every time I think of myself. It contradicts many of my other ideas; but it is there, floating vaguely. And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for wont of being able to think otherwise.[12]

Even as a leading atheist, Sartre could never escape God because he had not only been created, he had been created “in God’s image” (Genesis 1:26, 27). God had placed the knowledge of Himself directly into the being of Sartre. So, even though Sartre further stated, “This life owes nothing to God,” he actually knew that his atheism was a personal choice to ignore God, not proof that God didn’t exist.

And whether or not a person admits it, virtually everyone, atheists and skeptics included, at some point in life, searches for God or for something beyond themselves that will give meaning to life. Again, Sartre himself confessed, “God is silent and that I cannot deny; everything in myself calls for God and that I cannot forget.”[13] Thus, “in his philosophical writings, in his biographies, and in his plays, Sartre is definitely concerned with man’s relationship to God and to the realm of the holy.”[14]

Sartre thought God was “silent,” but of course. God isn’t silent at all. The learned Apostle Paul told the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens, Greece:

[God] himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” (Acts 17:25-28)

If everyone is the offspring of God, if God is not far from us, if we have our being in Him, if everyone is made in His image, and if God has “enlightened,” “clearly revealed,” and “made Himself known” to every person who ever lived, then God has hardly been “silent,” even apart from His personal revelation in the Bible. What this means is that a lot of skeptics know more than they’re saying.

In Eternity in Their Hearts, Don Richardson provides many examples showing how the concept of one true supreme God has existed throughout history in hundreds of cultures around the world. For example, concerning the “Sky-god” among folk religionists he writes:

In hundreds of instances attested to by literally millions of folk religionists worldwide, the Sky-god does exactly what El Elyon [the biblical God] did through Melchizedek [to Abraham, in Genesis 14]. He cheerfully acknowledges the approaching messengers of Yahweh as His messengers! He takes pains to make it very clear—He Himself is none other than the very God those particular foreigners proclaim! This is surely a powerful extra-biblical evidence for the authenticity of the Bible as revelation from the one true and universal God! It is also, as we shall see later, the prime reason on the human level for the phenomenal acceptance Christianity has found among people of so many folk religions on this planet. In addition, Scripture after Scripture has testified down through the centuries that our God has not left Himself without witness—even apart from the preaching of the gospel (see Acts 14:16, 17). That witness—though different in kind and quality from the biblical witness itself is still a witness to Him!… If you belong to a tradition which has been teaching Christians for centuries that the rest of the world sits in total darkness and knows zilch about God, it becomes a little embarrassing to have to say, “We have been wrong. In actual fact, more than 90 percent of this world’s folk religions acknowledge at least the existence of God. Some even anticipate His redeeming concern for mankind.”
The Apostle John’s statement that the world lies in spiritual wickedness (see 1 John 5:19) needs to be coupled with the Apostle Paul’s acknowledgment that God has not left Himself without witness. For that witness has penetrated the wickedness to some degree almost everywhere!
As the Apostle John put it, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overpowered it” (John 1:5, footnote). John further specified the “light” he describes is the “true light that gives light to every man” (1:9).[15]

If all this is true, then everyone does know there is a God and they also know certain things about Him. Since God Himself has been their teacher, there is no possibility of failure. There are no atheists finally, in foxholes, crashing airplanes, operating rooms, or anywhere else.

Indeed, to suppress the truth that God has placed within each man only leads to varying degrees of neurosis. As the noted psychologist Rollo May wrote in The Art of Counseling, “I have been startled by the fact that practically every genuine atheist with whom I have dealt has exhibited unmistakable neurotic tendencies. How [do we] account for this curious fact?”[16] And, perhaps even more telling, according to Senior Pastor Jess Moody of the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, California, “Lie detector tests were administered to more than 25,000 people. One of the questions was, ‘Do you believe in God?’ In every case, when a person answered no, the lie detector said he was lying.”[17]

Man’s biggest folly is to ignore the God who is there (the God we all know is there), and to live our life as if He were irrelevant. It is folly because it is a kind of intuitive and intellectual madness, not to mention potentially dangerous. It’s like a man in a boat in the middle of the ocean saying, “There are no sharks” when he sees fins all around him. Because he is lost at sea, he has radioed for help and he sees a rescue boat on the horizon. His salvation is only a few hours away and yet he decides to go swimming.

Terrance Sweeney concluded his book with the following comment, “The overwhelming conclusion from the sum of the interviews is that God, or the One people refer to as God, is very much a part of human experience and consciousness.”[18] So, everyone believes in God. But if God exists and if there is only one true God, then how do we find Him?

Read Part 4


  1. In Robert Kastenbaum, Is There Life After Death? (NY: Prentice Hall, 1984), p. 9, citing Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol, 2 (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1968), pp. 95-96
  2. Aniela Jaffe (ed.), C. G. Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections (NY: Vintage, 1965), p. xi.
  3. Ibid.
  4. William Warren Bartley, III, Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man: The Founding of est (NY: Clarkson & Potter, Inc., 1978), p. 92.
  5. Seiko Times, October, 1982, p. 55.
  6. Jean Bolen, The Tao of Psychology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), p. 7.
  7. Ibid., p. 2, last emphasis added.
  8. Ibid., p. 1
  9. Editorial, Reader’s Digest, August, 1987, p. 117.
  10. Simone de Beauvoir, “A Conversation About Death and God,” Harper’s magazine, February 1984, p. 39.
  11. Ibid., p. 38
  12. Ibid., p. 39, emphasis added.
  13. Clark H. Pinnock, “Cultural Apologetics: An Evangelical Standpoint,” Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March, 1970, p. 61, citing Charles L. Glicksberg, Literature and Religion, p. 221.
  14. Haim Gordon, “Sartre’s Struggle Against the Holy,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (NY: Abingdon, 1967), Vol. 19 (1986), p. 95.
  15. Don Richardson, Eternity in their Hearts (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1981), pp. 53-54
  16. Rollo May, The Art of Counseling (NY: Abingdon, 1967), p. 215.
  17. Cited in Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1986. We could not confirm this research. Convinced philosophical atheists clearly could pass lie detector tests since these measure conviction of belief. But such results, if valid, show that many practical, as opposed to philosophical, atheists really aren’t so sure of their views.
  18. Sweeney, p. 203.


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