Lesson 1: Introduction and Definitions

Lesson 1: Introduction and Definitions

Introduction:

On August 7, 1961, the twenty-six-year-old pilot Major Gherman Titov became the second Soviet cosmonaut to orbit the earth and return safely, climaxing a monumental feat for humankind. Sometime later, speaking at the World’s Fair and savoring his moment of glory, he recounted his experience. Affirming the official Soviet position of atheism, he boldly stated that, on his excursion into space, he hadn’t seen God. Upon hearing of this exuberant argument from silence, someone quipped, “Had he stepped out of his spacesuit he would have.”1

Major Titov’s experience can be brushed aside as irrelevant to the question of God’s existence, but the issue he raises is a significant one. The most fundamental and essential question humans can ask is, “Does God exist?” Has God created man, or has man created God? Is God only a psychological necessity to man, a “crutch” to help him make sense of his world, or does God have objective, independent existence? Is God responsible for man, or man responsible for God?


Why are these important questions to ask? Because more consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question. Nothing has a more direct bearing on the moral choices made by individuals or the purposes pursued by societies than belief or disbelief in God. Personal and national destinies are inextricably bound to this issue.

If God exists, then a certain set of consequences come into play—there is ultimate meaning and purpose to your life, there is a difference between right and wrong, and choices you make now not only affect you here but in eternity. On the other hand, if there is no God, a different set of consequences pertain—your life ultimately means nothing, morality is a human invention, and there is no existence after death. It doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe—your destiny is dust.2 Obviously, those who adopt a theistic worldview will have fundamental disagreements with those who take an atheistic point of view, resulting in a struggle for dominance. This struggle moves the events of history.

Atheism seems to be gaining ground as a legitimate worldview in Western culture. Much of Europe has already adopted an atheistic point of view, and atheism is becoming more prominent in the US as Christian influence wanes. Books supporting atheism abound, often appearing at the top of the best sellers lists. Atheistic propaganda is common in the media, and many influential figures espouse atheism. Ideas have consequences, and atheism is an idea that Christians cannot afford to ignore.

The purpose of this series of lessons is to define and examine atheism from a Christian perspective. We are not out to prove God’s existence, but to examine and evaluate atheistic claims. We’ll start with some important definitions.

Definitions:

Theist: someone who believes that a personal God created the universe and is active in it, although not part of creation. Major theistic religions are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Theists believe God made all.

Pantheist: someone who believes in an impersonal God that literally is the universe. Pantheists believe that God is everything that exists. Major pantheistic religions are Hinduism, some forms of Buddhism, and many forms of the “New Age” Movement. Pantheists believe God is all.

Atheist: someone who does not believe in any type of God. Everything has always existed and no one made it. Atheists believe no God at all.3

Atheism is open and positive denial of the existence of God. The word atheism comes from a (a prefix meaning “not”) + theos (the Greek word for “God”). An atheist is one who believes “no god” of any sort exists. The word does not refer to a mere ignorance of God, but applies to one who considers himself informed on the claims and evidence for the existence of God and who emphatically denies them.

There are three types of atheist, practically speaking: 4

  1. The Absolute Atheist. This is one who denies the absolute existence of God. Here is the person who argues and says “I have examined all the facts as to the existence of God and I deny them as proving His existence.”

Ps 14:1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

Quote: It is a perfectly acceptable philosophical position to dismiss the god idea as being self-evidently ridiculous.…Christians instantly disregard the Greek gods as being figments of an overactive imagination, and so I view the Christian god in the same way. … I am an atheist because no more evidence supports the Christian god than supports the Greek or Roman gods. There is no evidence that God—as portrayed by any religion—exists.5

Many scientists are atheists. A 1998 study in Nature revealed that, of the membership of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, only 7% of its leading scientist believed in a personal God (in any form) and even fewer in the religious theories of “Creation Science” or “Intelligent Design.”

Absolute atheism is a minority viewpoint both historically and currently. According to a recent (2005) survey, only fourteen percent of the world’s population would categorize themselves as nonbelievers in any religion. In many countries, atheism accounts for a very small minority of the populace—perhaps only one or two percent. In other places, like China, unbelievers constitute up to half of the population. But worldwide, believers outnumber unbelievers almost everywhere.6

  1. The Providential Atheist. This is the person who simply doubts the existence of God, but firmly denies His providential dealings and the care of God for the things of this world. However, this person in effect denies the being of God for he strips Him of His omnipotence, wisdom, mercy, justice and righteousness. Why? Because of their desire to be uncontrolled in their behaviors. This kind of atheist is sometimes called a Deist. He denies God because he wants freedom from any responsibility for his sin. He is like the person who does not want to come to the light because his deeds are evil (John 3:19-20).

  2. The Practical Atheist. By this we refer to a secret or partial atheism which is present in the majority of the world. These do not actually deny the being of God, but by their actions and lifestyle, by their evil and neglect of God, or by the denial of certain aspects and rights of His divine and sovereign rule over them, they deny Him and act as though there were no God. Even people who profess to be religious may be practical atheists in their daily living.

Titus 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

If the existence of God makes little or no impact upon the experiences of everyday life, then God may as well not exist.

Agnostic: someone who is not sure whether God exists. He does not know (a + gnosis/knowledge). Thomas Huxley coined the term in 1869 to designate someone who recognized that the great questions of life lay beyond demonstration. “I invented the word ‘agnostic’ to denote people who, like myself, confess themselves to be hopelessly ignorant concerning a variety of matters, about which metaphysicians and theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, dogmatize with utmost confidence.” Agnostics typically live very secular lives. Atheism is a firmer or more fixed position than agnosticism. Atheists supposedly know beyond doubt that no god exists; agnostics don’t know for sure and generally are not interested in the topic.

Further refinement of the term atheism:

  • Atheism is protest—a protest against the social and personal injustices often linked with religion and certain of its ideas in the past, which are held to be old fashioned, oppressive, or irrational.

  • Atheism is the religion of the autonomous and rational human being, who believes that reason is able to uncover and express the deepest truths of the universe, from the mechanics of the rising of the sun to the nature and final destiny of humanity. There is a single, universal rationality, which human beings are able to identify and uncover through the appropriate use of rational reflection and scientific experimentation. The world can be fully understood and subsequently mastered using human rationality alone. Atheism is perfectly suited to this rational and logical worldview. It was the established religion of modernity.7

  • Atheism is a firm and principled commitment to the nonexistence of God, and the liberating impact of this belief. The very idea of God is declared to be outdated, enslaving, and a downright self-contradiction.8

  • On an atheistic understanding of things, there are no “spiritual” realities save those of our own making, arising from the circumstances of our social location and the secret dreams of our hearts.9 God is a purely man-made concept. No spiritual realities exist outside us. Natural explanations may be given of the origins of belief in God.

  • The word atheist can be extrapolated to mean a rejection of all supernatural beings and phenomena that are normally associated with the idea of God. Atheists do not believe in Heaven, Hell, devils, angels, miracles, holy ghosts, or rising from the dead.10

  • Atheism teaches that man is alone in the universe. Atheism therefore entails naturalism, the belief — as Carl Sagan famously put it, “The cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be.” For most atheists, atheism also entails secular humanism, the belief that human beings must determine their own purpose for life and must solve their own problems. For an atheist, the only alternative to some such humanism is nihilism, the belief that life has no purpose or meaning. While nihilism is a reasonable inference from atheism, most atheists resist nihilism and argue for what Antony Flew calls Atheistic Humanism: a positive philosophy of life that embraces life as meaningful despite the lack of any divinely created purpose for the human race. This is the philosophy of the Humanist Manifesto I (1933), the Humanist Manifesto II (1973), and the Secular Humanist Declaration (1980).11

  • Some atheists are not so positive in their assertion that no God exists. Some would define atheism as simply the lack or absence of belief in a God or gods. That is, an atheist does not necessarily deny the existence of a God, but simply has no belief in any particular God. Perhaps God does exist, but an atheist does not believe in him. Those who have never heard of the concept of God may be considered atheists, as are children who are too young to grasp the concept, in their view.

  • Atheists may talk about God, but they are speaking metaphorically or symbolically. For example, Einstein famously quipped, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Likewise, Harvard physicist and author Steven Hawking uses the word “God,” but empties the concept of any biblical, theistic meaning. “God” for such people is simply nature or the laws of nature. Any “God talk” from such people should not be taken as an affirmation of biblical theism.

  • Atheism is a vast and diverse empire embracing many kingdoms, each with its distinct identity, yet united by a common rejection of any divinities, supernatural powers, or transcendent realities limiting the development and achievements of humanity. Atheism comes in various forms, its spectrum of possibilities extending from a rather mild absence of belief in God or any supernatural beings to a decidedly more strident and rigorous rejection of any religious belief as manipulative, false, and enslaving. Atheism, in its modern sense, has come to mean the explicit denial of all spiritual powers and supernatural beings, or the demand for the elimination of the transcendent as an illusion…. Christianity, like all religions, was held to be deficient. Intellectually, its central ideas were ridiculous and untenable; socially, it was reactionary and oppressive. The time had come to break free of its clutches, once and for all.12

Although atheism is not currently a common point of view in the US, it is an influential one. As Christian influence in the West declines, atheism will no doubt gain ground. Christians should be aware of atheistic arguments and be able to give an answer to them (1 Pet 3:15).

1 Zacharias, 19.

2 Geisler and Turek, 20.

3 Geisler and Turek, 22-23.

4 Keathley.

5 Mills, 28.

6 In the US, 82% claim to be Christian, 2% are Muslim, 12% are unbelievers, and Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and others make up the rest. Worldwide, 33% claim Christianity, 21% claim Islam, 14% claim no religion, 13% are Hindu, 12% claim other religions, and 6% claim Buddhism. The worldwide average is 85.7% who claim some kind of religious belief. National Geographic, Dec 2007, citing the World Christian Database. Around 7% of the US population claims to be atheist—that’s about 14 million people.

7 McGrath, 221.

8 McGrath, 175.

9 McGrath, 188.

10 Mills, 26.

11 Boa.

12 McGrath, x.

Comments

  1. Latoya Detillier says:

    @indibabs122275 It’s not in your blood it’s in your crip:

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