Psychology of Unbelief: Skepticism, Agnosticism and Atheism

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2008
Believing in God is a prerequisite for worshipping God. But, why is worship so important? Worship is important because we become like who we worship! What if we don’t believe in God and therefore don’t worship Him? In that case, we need to be careful, for atheism can be very hazardous to your health!

 

Introduction

Psalm 14:1 – “The fool says in his heart, There is no God.”
Psalms 19:1 – “The heavens declare the glory of God…”

One day an atheist appeared before the court and complained to the judge that he was being discriminated against. He said, “You have a holiday for Christians, Jews and Muslim, but not for atheists.” The judge replied, “You are mistaken, we have a special holiday just for atheists, April Fools Day.” Psalm 14:1 – “The fool says in his heart, There is no God.

Why is it foolish to be an atheist? Because, Psalms 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” The entire creation screams at the top of its lungs: there is an intelligent and powerful designer, the maker of the heaven and earth!

Believing in God is a prerequisite for worshipping God. But, why is worship so important? Worship is important because we become like who we worship! What if we don’t believe in God and therefore don’t worship Him? In that case, we need to be careful, for atheism can be very hazardous to your health!

Do you know what an atheist is? Someone who doesn’t believe in God. Guess what? God doesn’t believe in atheists! Paul, in Romans 1, three times ties mankind’s downward spiral into sin to a refusal to respond to the natural revelation of God’s existence and work of creation. Romans 1:21, 25, 28 says,

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…. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen…. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he [God] gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

Why does God say that such people are without excuse? Because in Romans 1:19-20, Paul says, “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.”

There is more than ample evidence for not only concluding that God exists, but also that He is the omnipotent God who is worthy of our ultimate love and loyalty. Therefore, we should honor Him as God and give thanks to Him!

In the absence of any belief in God, any belief or behavior seems permissible. Atheism, to its adherents, seems the most logical and reasonable of belief systems precisely because they have suppressed the truth about God through their own sinful living (Rom. 1:18). As Christians, we resonate with this explanation of atheism. But, we need to understand that there is a “new atheism” flexing its muscles in post-Christian America that is harmful to the spiritual health of individuals and harmful to the moral health of our culture.

During the last few years we’ve witnessed a rash of unbelief in books such as: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006) and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens (2007). Philip Pullman’s book, The Golden Compass, designed to rescue children from belief in God, was recently made into a movie with a sequel on the way. These new evangelists for the new atheism don’t just condemn belief in God; they condemn belief in God as not intellectually respectable or acceptable.

How new is the new atheism? “There is nothing new under the Sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Atheists are like the poor; it seems they have been with us always.

Explanation and Historical Background – Psalm 8:3; 10:4; 14:1

 

What does the Bible have to say about atheism? Denial of the existence of God, or atheism, is by no means novel. There were atheists back as far as the first millennium BC. David said that those who convince themselves there is no God despite the overwhelming evidence that there is a God, are outright fools! Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.

In the Old Testament, the discussion is more against practical atheism that ignores God’s laws and the consequences of breaking them more than against outright disbelief in the existence of God. Disbelief and skepticism have roots in ancient Greece and Rome, whose philosophers greatly influenced Western thinkers.

When did Christianity begin to lose favor in western civilization? It began after the Reformation during the Enlightenment (17th century) when: 1) Empiricists falsely charged that faith was incompatible with evidence; and 2) Rationalists falsely charged that faith was incompatible with reason.

By the 18th century, the study of all nature, including human nature, was brought under the scientific model. Law, Morality and religion were all discussed and evaluated in terms of science. Unbelievers were outright antagonistic toward Christianity in particular and all religion in general.

The 19th century philosopher Frederick Nietzsche was the one who penned the infamous line, “God is dead.” By the end of the 19th century, atheism became prominent among the intelligentsia – the intellectual elite. Unfortunately, today too many college professors deceived by the secular humanists worldview.

In the 20th century, with the rise of Communism in Russia and China, belief in God was repressed. By the 1960’s nearly 50% of the world’s population was under the anti-religious communist rule. Those of you who know your world history would recognize the historical fact that: the most brutal dictators responsible for the most deaths in the 20th century were all atheists.

Did you know that there are four different kinds of atheists?

  1. Those who are confident that God doesn’t exist (hard core atheists). Atheists are foolish, without excuse and will eventually answer to their Maker.
  2. Those who doubt God’s existence but are unsure (agnostics). How can there be any doubt when all of creation screams God’s existence?
  3. Those who profess God’s existence but act as if He doesn’t exist (practical atheists). Are those who live like atheists any better off than those who are atheists?
  4. Those angry or disappointed with God (angry theists); i.e., Ted Turner. How can you be angry with someone who doesn’t exist?

I. What Is the Challenge of the New Atheism?

How is the new atheism different from the old atheism? The new atheists are evangelistic – aggressively seeking to convert all who will listen to them. What gave rise to such atheistic zeal? Some people feel that the theory of Darwinian evolution is a scientific fact! They have a very simple way of disproving God’s existence:

  1. The Darwinian explanation of biological development is true, therefore:
  2. The Bible (in particular Genesis) can’t be true, therefore:
  3. God doesn’t exist and the Bible isn’t true!

For other atheists, it was the death and destruction of 9/11 motivated by a fanatical belief in God that convinced them: religion was the problem! They are convinced that Islam is extremely irrational and yet intent in world domination.

Many atheists have convinced themselves not only that on balance, religion does more harm than good, but also that, religion is the source of most of this world’s problems. They claim that religion has retarded human progress and the development of civilization. Some atheists say that belief in God is just wishful thinking or an unwarranted assumption without reasonable evidence.

Another characteristic of the new atheists is: they treat God’s existence as a scientific hypothesis. They say: if God exists, it must be demonstrated on the grounds of empirical observation. Ultimately one can’t prove the nonexistence of something. They say: there is no good reason to believe that God exists.

The cosmological argument along with the argument from design can be a compelling case for God’s existence. The universe is fined tuned to sustain life and nature as a whole shows evidence of an intelligent design. It is either due to blind chance or it is the work of a designer. A designer is more probable than chance and that designer is (the first cause) – God.

Another argument for God’s existence is the moral argument. What’s the source of general morality? The existence of the faculty of conscience (our innate sense of right and wrong) seems to be anchored outside ourselves. If God is not the source of morality then everything is morally relative and anything goes. That just doesn’t make much sense to most people.

The assumption at the heart of the new atheism is God is no longer needed because everything can be explained naturally, scientifically or empirically. What is unreasonable is ruling out the existence of anything but the natural world, such as God, before any honest investigation. But this is precisely what the new atheists do when confronted with the claims of Christ in the Bible.

Christianity claims that God revealed Himself by taking on human flesh and walked the earth as Jesus of Nazareth. He proved His deity by performing many miracles including the chief sign: His resurrection from the dead. All of Christ’s claims and the validity of Christianity rest on one historical event. This anchors the veracity of Christianity in empirical history (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Christianity is capable of being verified or falsified with historical evidence.

The new atheists are convinced the gospels aren’t true because they contain miracles and the new atheists do not believe that miracles are even possible. Why? Because they say everything can be “naturally” explained. Since naturalism rules out even the possibility of miracles, the gospels must be untrustworthy. They are rejected before they can ever be considered!

Regardless of how contemptible we may find the new atheism, we ignore it to our peril. They have an ambitious agenda and it is sure to proliferate in the years to come. We need to be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks, including atheists (1 Pet. 3:15).

II. How Can We Defend the Faith Against an Atheist?

The new atheists have accused Christianity of fearing science and empirical investigation. This accusation is laughable for nothing could be any further from the truth. The historical fact is that science was for the most part founded by Christians and based of biblical presuppositions. Christianity is not afraid of the scientific method or empirical data. Christianity is not opposed to any scientific fact although it may be opposed to some pseudo-scientific theories.

In defending the faith against atheists, it’s important to be Christ-centered. We should not allow the creation debate or the culture war to divert us from the centrality of the cross of Christ. The gospel can’t be reduced to scientific evidence about man’s origin nor should we substitute the church for Christ. The church doesn’t save; Jesus alone saves the helpless and hopeless sinner.

Dorothy Sayers: Christianity has compelled the mind of man not because it is the most cheering view of man’s existence, but because it is the truest to the facts. Christians have some very disconcerting bedfellows for we are told that even the Devil is a theist and that He and his minors at least tremble in that knowledge (Jas. 2:19b): “Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”

Luke said in Acts 1:3 that Christ, during His post resurrection ministry presented “many convincing proofs” regarding His true nature, identity and purpose. Ultimately all of us will have to confront the reality that God was in Christ and the door to eternity where salvation and life lie is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

III. Why Does God Not Believe in Atheists?

Do you know why God does not believe in atheists? Why? There are three reasons:

  1. God says we are without excuse if we reject His existence and power. Romans 1:19-20 says, “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.”
  2. If we don’t worship the one true God, we will worship a false god. Every one has an ultimate concern or an ultimate object of love and loyalty and whatever that is: is our god. We may not call it God, but it functions as a god. It was John Calvin who said that the human heart was an “idol factory”. For some people, rebellious independence or intellectual pride can be an idol.
  3. The third reason that God doesn’t believe is atheists is that long term, absolutely no one is an atheist, no matter how cynical and skeptical they had been during their lifetime. When people die and they meet their maker they’re ultimately forced to acknowledge God.

When Christ returns, “every knee shall bow to the name of Jesus, everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every one will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God, the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Amen!

(Credit: Modern Reformation: The New Atheism, vol. 17, # 2 March/April 2008)

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