Faith Misguided: Mysticism

Faith Misguided: Mysticism1

By Brad Anderson

[amazonify]080245643X[/amazonify] Mysticism, while it may sound spooky or mysterious, has nothing to do with ghosts, phantoms, or magic. Mysticism is a significant aspect of many religions. Even Fundamentalists are involved in mysticism. What is it?

Mysticism is hard to define. We are not talking about the occult or cultic false religions. Nor are we talking about oriental religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism, although those religions do embrace aspects of mysticism. Further, mysticism is not the same as a mystery.

There are two aspects to mysticism: 1) a personal experience; 2) some kind of knowledge that arises from the experience.

A personal, inner, subjective experience is the primary aspect of mysticism.

A mystical experience is primarily emotional, not intellectual; feeling rather than knowing. While something external may trigger the personal experience, the mystical experience itself is internal and private. An experience is not mystical if it includes public, objective aspects. For example, Paul’s experience of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus was not a mystical experience. The men who were with Paul saw the light and heard the sound of Jesus’ voice. So this was not purely an inner, subjective experience.

A mystical experience gives the person some form of knowledge. As a result of the experience, the person understands or knows something he did not know prior to it.

The force of such an experience may be so overwhelming that the person’s entire life is changed by it. However, one may not be able to put such an experience into words. It’s too personal and emotional for others to understand.

E.g., Andrea Yates drown her children because she thought she heard the voice of God telling her to do it.  In such cases, a supposedly mystical experience led to certain knowledge.

Summary: Mysticism has a deep trust in personal, inner, emotional, life-changing, intense feelings, experiences, and impressions. These experiences provide knowledge. One is a mystic if he has such experiences and gains knowledge through them.

How does mysticism work? The following points are typical.

  • The mystic makes decisions based in inner feelings and impressions that he interprets to be the voice or leading of God.
  • God communicates to man directly, not through logical concepts, but through one “knowing” or “seeing” God. Mystics typically wait for God to “break through” and “speak” to them during prayer.
  • The mystic is open to new revelation to be received internally, through feelings and impressions, rather than by Scripture. The mystic claims that God has revealed information to him. God (the Holy Spirit or Jesus) is the source of the experience.

Illus.: Author and leadership guru John Maxwell tells the story of his Sunday school teacher telling him that God had revealed to him that John and several classmates would be preachers, and it happened that way.

  • “Being spiritual” equals having inner impressions and feelings, and obeying them.
  • The mystic claims to gain insight and knowledge through the experience that is unavailable through Scripture alone.
  • Mystics find their experience so compelling that they are confident that what they learn through the experience is true. They “just know” without being able to say why and without being willing to discuss or defend their knowledge.
  • Mystical experiences tend to be authoritative and not open to judgement or evaluation. The mystical experience convinces the mystic in such a way and to such a degree that he simply cannot doubt its value and the correctness of what he believes the experience “says.”
  • Religion is primarily a matter of the feelings, not of the mind, and faith is an emotional state. One experiences and knows with his heart, not his head.

Unfortunately, mysticism is alive and well within the ranks of Christianity. All theological positions within Christianity (i.e., Catholic, Orthodox, liberal, evangelical, fundamental) include mystics within them. What drives mysticism within Christianity? Why is it appealing?

Many Christians are tired of stale, dry, unemotional worship. They long for a dynamic, exciting, personal, intimate relationship with God. They long to know that God is with them, that he cares for them, and that he has a message for them. They also desire an inner sense of peace and assurance that often accompanies mystical experiences. They want to be sure that God is really there–they want to feel God, to sense his presence in a tangible way. Mysticism gives them that assurance.

What about Fundamentalist mysticism? What are some examples of the above points? “God told me…” “Let the Lord speak to your heart.” “Missing heaven by 18 inches.” “I knew the Lord wanted me to do this.”

While mysticism may be appealing to some, there are many dangerous and unbiblical aspects of mysticism.

The Dangers of Mysticism:

  1. Mystics Test Truth by Inner, Subjective Impressions Rather than by Scripture, Logic, or Common Sense.

Perhaps the greatest danger mysticism presents for Chris­tians lies in the way mystics approach the Scriptures. For the mystic, one’s own inner emotional experiences become the test of truth rather than the Bible. The Bible and sound doctrine takes a back seat to experience.

Those who believe they are receiving new revelation directly from God seldom expend the effort to properly interpret and apply biblical truth. In their hunger for powerful personal experiences, mystics are in peril of neglecting the proper use and interpretation of the Bible.

What standard do we use to measure truth? An experience or the Word of God? The standard must be the Scriptures. How do we determine the content of our faith and the way that we practice our faith? Through experiences? No, through obedience to the Bible. The Bible is the final criterion of truth and the standard by which truth-claims are tested in all areas.

If the Scriptures are complete, then the mystic’s claim to new revelation is invalid. All we need to know is already directly contained in the Word, is implied by what the Word says, or is revealed through general revelation. To claim further revelation is to deny the sufficiency and completeness of what has been given.

Believing something to be so does not make it so. One does not mentally create truth. Truth is not private and subjective. Christians must bow to the truth contained in Scriptures, not the “truth” of an experience.

Mystics are often beyond the reach of reason because they are convinced that their experiences are true. Mystical claims are impossible to evaluate. Mystics often make claims but refuse to defend them or even entertain the notion that their experience was not what they think it was.

Christianity is a rational, logical faith. We are to love God with our minds (Mt 22:37). By revealing himself through the written Word, God has committed himself to using rational concepts as a tool for revelation, thereby making human reason absolutely necessary. God speaks to man’s mind through the Bible, not directly to his emotions. Understanding God’s Word may stimulate emotions, but God never bypasses the intellect to stimulate the emotions. Yet mysticism downplays rational thought and substitutes experiences and feelings as a tool for gaining knowledge.

  1. The Christian Faith Becomes the Pursuit of New and Exciting Experiences.

Mystics typically seek new and exciting experiences. How one feels becomes more important than what he believes or how he behaves. The goal becomes experiencing an emotional feeling rather than obedience or maturity. But the “high” of an emotional experience is temporary, leaving the individual longing for another experience.

Mystical experiences can be manufactured and manipulated. Skilled speakers can influence a crowd to be receptive to various suggestions. If the crowd is expecting a certain experience, one can employ various methods to make it happen. Such experiences are actually just psychological mind games, not true supernatural events. It’s common for churches to create an atmosphere that is designed evoke an emotional response. A church may set a certain tone through music, art, sound, and even architecture in order to produce a religious feeling in those who attend.

  1. Mysticism Creates a False “Head-Verses-Heart” Distinction

Mysticism draws a distinction between two kinds of so-called knowledge, “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” Mystics think there are two distinctly different kinds of knowing—intellectual and spiritual. Spiritual knowing has little to do with the mind or logic, but rather is a matter of the heart, that is, of the emotions or intuition.

The Bible, however, knows nothing of this kind of non-intellectual knowing. When it speaks of knowing information, it means precisely that objective grasping of truth by the mind. Christians must not neglect this kind of knowledge as unimportant or unspiritual. Logic and rational thought are the necessary foundation for faith.

The Bible does not separate the intellect from the emotions. Man is a unified, integrated creation, the combination of his intellect, emotion, and will. Thus to suggest that one “knows” something emotionally (heart knowledge) without also knowing it intellectually (head knowledge) is unbiblical. The truth of a claim must be settled by the use of rational means, not by considering how we “feel about it.” 2

  1. Mysticism Allows for Logical Absurdity and Theological Error.

Since experience takes precedence over logic, mystics commonly believe two contradictory ideas at the same time. The mystic can and often does hold totally contradictory positions. Mysticism blurs the line between truth and falsehood.

For example, someone may stand up in a service and proclaim, “The Lord has told me that he wants our church to go forward with a building project.” The next person may stand and say, “The Lord has spoken to me. He does not want us to begin a building project.” The statements are contradictory, yet if each person had a mystical experience, both statements are considered to be valid.

Mysticism makes people much more open to false teaching and error. Mystics tend to focus on the oneness of God, and thus question the doctrine of the Trinity. They often see God, and especially the Holy Spirit, as a force rather than a person. Because mystics are open to new revelation, they are also open to unorthodox and unbiblical ideas.

Doctrine is secondary to experience. Mystics believe that experience is validating. That is, God must be pleased with anyone who has a (supposedly) supernatural experience. Also, common experiences tend to unify people of diverse and contradictory theological positions. For example, the Charismatic movement began in Protestant churches but spread to Roman Catholic churches even though there is much doctrinal disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. Doctrine doesn’t matter if you have an experience.

  1. Mysticism Redefines Christianity.

For mystics, the spiritual life is seen primarily in subjective, psychological terms rather than objective, be­havioral ones. Religion is a feeling rather than a set of beliefs. Further, the goals of prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, and so forth, are thought to be personal, psychological satisfaction. In other words, the goal of the Christian life for a mystic is self-centered rather than God-centered. The goal is enjoying an experience rather than glorifying God.

However, the Scripture does not place the emphasis on our feelings, but rather on the truth and our recognition of, and assent to, that truth. The attention is not on the amount of faith we have, but on God’s faithfulness. The emphasis is not on our feelings about God but on our obedience to him.

One is not spiritual just because he enjoys mystical experiences. Spirituality is not emotionalism. Biblical spirituality means to be under the control of the Holy Spirit to such an extent that maturity and holy living is the result. Not only is the spiritual life one of moral purity, but it also exhibits the fruit of the Spirit (Eph 5:9; Gal 5:22-23). To be under God’s control is to act in accord with his direction as given in his Word, all parts of our being functioning as he created them to function. This means that spiritual people seek all the necessary information, evaluat­ing it according to the principles revealed in God’s Word, with a deep desire to know the truth. The decisions and judgments of spiritual people will be based on God’s Word, not their feelings. Their emotions will respond to the truth, motivating them to carry out the wise decisions that their Spirit-controlled wills have made.

The Antidote to mysticism: biblical rationality

Rationality refers to the ability to understand and think according to the rules of logic. Christianity is based on the assertion that all knowledge of God begins with God’s revelation. The ultimate source of truth is God Himself. Since this is so, the standard by which truth is judged is God’s revelation. Therefore, if the result of human reasoning stands in opposition to the Bible, the results of such reasoning must be rejected.

Rationality is not the same as rationalism. Rationalism puts its faith in the mind of man to figure all things out. Anything beyond reason is rejected, including the miraculous events described in the Bible. Rationality is simply the recognition that God communicates to man via his Word, and one understands the Word via his mind, not his “gut.”

We are not suggesting an emotionless faith. If there is no feeling of joy, no sense of peace, no shame or sorrow for sin, no thank­fulness for God’s great salvation, no wonder at God’s love, no humility and awe at the recognition of who God is, then it is doubtful that we understand God’s truths. However, emotion should be the result of understanding the truth of God’s Word, not the result of an impression or personal experience.

When we make feelings the means of gaining knowledge, or when we make them a test of truth, or when we come to see them as the reality itself, then our emotions be­come misdirected. The rejection of mysticism is not the denial of proper emotions. Instead, it is the assertion that reason, not emotion, is the tool for grasping and test­ing truth.

Valid Forms of Subjective Experience (Rom 8:14-17)

We should recognize that some forms of personal or subjective communion can and should occur between God and the believing soul. This communion takes different shapes.

  1. The inner witness of the Spirit: that internal testimony from the Spirit which persuades us of the truth of Scripture. “The Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaim what had been divinely commanded.” (Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.4)
  2. Illumination: the Spirit’s work that enables us to grasp the significance for the Scriptures for our own lives. Eph 1:18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
  3. Assurance: The Spirit’s work within our spirit that produces assurance of salvation. How this is done we cannot fully understand, any more than we can understand the mode in which he produces any other effect in our mind.
  4. The fruit of the Spirit: Feelings such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility and self-control may be the result of the Holy Spirit’s operation within the life of the believer.
  5. Comfort: Since the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, we may sense this ministry from time to time.

All of these constitute ways of knowing God personally and experientially, rather than merely abstractly. They do not involve the revelation of new truth in that they do not communicate anything to us that we didn’t know cognitively already. Hence, we would not call this kind of experience mystical.

What does it mean to be “led by the Spirit”? Promptings/feeling/hunches/senses? No. See the contexts of Rom 8:14f and Gal 5:18f. The sense seems to be 1) confidence that you are truly saved because of the ministry of the HS in your life; 2) evidence of the fruit of the Spirit operative in your life; 3) it seems to be virtually synonymous with walking/living in the Spirit, which is essentially yieldedness to the HS, i.e., obedience. Being “led” is being submissive/obedient to God. There’s nothing in the contexts of “led by the Spirit” to suggest any direct revelation, promptings, feelings, senses, etc.

Conclusion: Mysticism presents many grave dangers to biblical Christianity. It replaces the Bible with experience. It leaves one open to false teaching and irrational thinking. Dangers for Christians are magnified by the fact that we live in an age when mysticism is rapidly gaining favor in secular society. Because secular mysticism is popular, a Christianized mysticism is more attractive than is true Christianity to the world we are trying to reach. If we are to be effective in presenting a clear picture of the gospel, of the nature of our God and Father, and of his expectations for mankind, we must rid our­selves of this counterfeit spirituality that Satan has so subtly developed in the church.

However, we must not “throw out the baby with the bath water.” The pious heart yearns for a close, personal, experiential relationship with God through Christ. But the mysticism as defined above is not the answer.

1 Some of this material is based on Arthur L. Johnson’s work Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Moody, 1988). Some of it is from Dr. Kevin Bauder, Central Baptist Seminary, Minneapolis, MN.

2 This is not to suggest that the validity of the Bible’s truth claims be judged by the mind of man.

Lesson 8: Further Considerations of Atheism

Lesson 8: Further Considerations

Thus far in this series, we’ve defined atheism, looked at the biblical data, examined the history and claims of atheism, and suggested ways Christians can respond to atheistic assertions. We’ve also examined how atheism uses science to buttress its claims and why atheism cannot explain morality. In this chapter, we’ll consider a couple of final issues that are related to the debate.

  1. Atheism and tyranny
    1. Atheists spend much time and effort attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular for its record of oppression, corruption, and violence. They boldly assert that atheism would improve the world, ridding it of violence, war, racism, oppression, abuse and corruption. Does the evidence back up such a claim? Now that atheism has been a significant worldview for over two centuries, we should be able to evaluate the achievements of atheism and see what happens when atheism becomes the dominant viewpoint in a culture.
    2. Events of the twentieth century prove that atheism as a worldview is far more violent, oppressive and corrupting than any religion ever was. The common opinion that atheists would never carry out crimes in the name of atheism is simply not true. The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension, or discrimination is naïve and false. Atheism as a philosophy of life (or of death, really) is directly linked to all manner of abuse.
      1. As noted earlier, Karl Marx famously asserted that religion was the “opium of the people” that kept the working class ignorant and powerless. Marx and his ilk are responsible for setting out the blueprint of atheistic communism,1 which swept over much of the world in the twentieth century. Untold millions were persecuted or were killed under Marxist communism. Marxism is an explicitly atheist ideology that advocates the annihilation of religion through violent means. History shows that societies that adopt Marxism are normally violent, oppressive, and intolerant.
      2. Atheism was a central component of the Soviet Union’s official ideology, and communists enforced atheist policies by destroying churches and murdering members of the clergy and professing believers. Most communist regimes have been strongly anti-religious, suggesting that their atheism is essential, not merely incidental, to their ideology.2
      3. Lenin regarded the elimination of religion as central to the socialist revolution in the USSR, and he put measures in place designed to eradicate religious beliefs through the “protracted use of violence.” Lenin held that religion made the middle and lower classes docile and easy to exploit economically. In order for his communist revolution to take place, such people would have to be stripped of their religious beliefs.
      4. Soviet authorities systematically destroyed and eliminated the vast majority of churches and priests during the period 1918-41. This violence and repression was undertaken in pursuit of an atheistic agenda—the elimination of religion. Joseph Stalin, an immodest, ruthless “despot of grotesque proportions”3 once said, “You know, they are fooling us, there is no God… all this talk about God is sheer nonsense.” Stalin’s atheism was an essential component of his violent, oppressive regime.
      5. Hitler hated Christianity and tolerated a weakened form of it in Germany only so he could use it for his own purposes. Hitler was rabidly anti-religious and considered Christianity to be a scourge and a disease. He wanted to destroy Christianity in Germany. He saw Christian values like equality and compassion as weaknesses. Hitler’s leading advisors—Goebbels, Himmler, and Bormann—were atheists who sought to eradicate religious influence in Germany. Hitler was a great admirer of Darwin and Nietzsche, both of whom provided him with the philosophical justification for his murderous schemes.

“I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…. We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence—imperious, relentless and cruel.” Adolph Hitler

      1. What is the outcome when people feel free to cast off the bonds of traditional religious prohibitions, sanctions, and fear of divine judgment? The Holocaust of WWII is a good example. Those who ran the gas chambers at Auschwitz and the other death camps had to rid themselves of traditional religious limitations in order to pursue their “final solution.”
      2. The Chinese leader Mao Zedong (Tse-Tong) maintained a hostile attitude toward religion, which was seen as backward and superstitious. Under Mao’s iron-fisted rule, houses of worship, including temples, mosques, and churches, were converted into non-religious buildings for secular use. Mao is personally responsible for the deaths of about 50 million people.
      3. Atheistic writers typically attempt to blame other factors than atheism for the abuses of these famous atheists. They claim that atheism as a worldview was not responsible for such bad behavior, it was communism or Marxism. But atheism is a central element in Marxist communism. It’s no accident or coincidence that guilt for the worst forms of abuse lays at the feet of atheists. Atheists are directly responsible for the deaths of perhaps 100 million people in the twentieth century. No religion has been responsible for nearly as much mayhem as atheists have been.4

Nietzsche argued that with the “death of God,” people would now put their faith in barbaric “brotherhoods with the aim of robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers.”5 He foresaw the rise of Nazism and other tyrannical groups. He also predicted that the 20th century would be the bloodiest in human history because western civilization had lost its moral moorings. He was right.

Christian writer Dinesh D’Souza states, “The crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated through [an arrogant] ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values. … Who can deny that Stalin and Mao, not to mention Pol Pot and a host of others, all committed atrocities in the name of a Communist ideology that was explicitly atheistic? Who can dispute that they did their bloody deeds by claiming to be establishing a ‘new man’ and a religion-free utopia? These were mass murders performed with atheism as a central part of their ideological inspiration, they were not mass murders done by people who simply happened to be atheist…. It’s time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the main source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the worst mass murders in history.”6

Atheism has rivers of blood on its hands. Religion must admit its own failures, but it is responsible for nowhere near the suffering brought on by atheism. Atheism and associated ideas (Marxism, Darwinism) has motivated the murder of millions.

  1. Atheism and the benefits of Christianity
    1. One of atheism’s primary claims is that religion in general and Christianity in particular is guilty of great crimes against humanity. Religion has been a blight on the human race, and the sooner it fades away the better.
    2. Atheists typically ignore all the beneficial things Christianity has produced or influenced. Examples:7
      1. Christianity dignified the ordinary person. Greek and Roman philosophy exalted the wealthy, the powerful, and the influential. In contrast, Christianity taught that common people can have rich, meaningful lives. Human dignity and equality is a Christian idea8 which was responsible for ending slavery and for fostering representative democracy. The sanctity of human life is firmly rooted in the Bible. The dignity and value of women is a biblical value absent from many societies. Christianity elevated the status of women, giving them moral equality with men. Most human rights so valued in western society are rooted in the Christian idea of human equality.
      2. Christianity dignified marriage and family. Many societies downplay the family. Plato proposed an abolition of marriage and suggested that the state take over the raising of children. Homosexuality was very common in Greek and Roman society, as was pedophilia. Christianity exalts heterosexual, monogamous, committed love and compassionate care of children and the elderly. Family life is central to satisfaction in life and strengthens society. Such values are essentially Christian, not secular.
      3. Christianity produced the “rule of law.” The idea of justice and uniform rules applying to all people is rooted in the Bible. “Lex Rex” – the law is king. Kings are not above the law; they, too, must obey it.
      4. Christianity brought forth the idea that a ruler is a servant of the people. The idea that the leader serves his people by attending to their needs is a Christian one.
      5. Christianity is responsible for the concept of separation of powers and checks and balances within a government. Limited, representative government and the separation of church and state are NT ideas.
      6. Christianity emphasizes freedom of religion. Although some professing Christian organizations have forced obedience and even conversions (e.g., RCC), the NT knows nothing of constraining faith. Tolerance and freedom of conscience are Christian ideas.
      7. Christianity set the stage for capitalism. The Bible teaches that men are inherently selfish and will do what is in their own best interests. Customers will flock to businesses that meet their needs or wants. Market competition produces abundance. Giving the customer what he wants is the key to success in business.
      8. Christianity gave rise to the Protestant work ethic. Hard work, cooperation, honesty, fairness—these are all biblical ideas without which America would never have become a world power.
      9. Christianity’s emphasis on compassionate care for the weak has changed society for the better. The Greeks and Romans often turned a blind eye to suffering, especially when those suffering were unknown or unrelated. Christianity demands that we love our neighbors, even those we don’t know, even those hostile toward us. Christians have long been known for their acts of charity supporting the poor, widows and orphans, and the sick. Christians built the first hospitals and established the first aid organizations (Red Cross, YMCA).
      10. Christianity influenced the great works of western art. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Titian, Handel, Mozart, Bach, Shakespeare—all either professed Christianity or worked within a Christian worldview.

1 It is true that communism as an ideal is not necessarily atheistic. Some Christians have advocated various forms of communism. But the form of communism advocated by Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others was clearly atheistic. Atheism was a necessary aspect of their political ambitions.

2 Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?

3 Malcolm Muggeridge called Stalin “that murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin.” Zacharias, Real Face of Atheism.

4 The notorious Spanish Inquisition (1476 to 1834) was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 5000 people at most (although many more were arrested and persecuted; only about 1-2% of those arrested were killed). The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 sent only about twenty supposed witches to their deaths. Taken together, so-called Christians (mostly of the RCC) are responsible for the deaths of about 200,000 people over the last 500 years. This amounts to about 1% of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler, and Mao combined. Other religions, particularly Islam, are responsible for many more deaths, but nowhere near the number associated with atheistic regimes.

5 Quoted in McGrath, Twilight of Atheism, 262.

6 What’s So Great About Christianity?

7 Many of these ideas are brought out in D’Souza’s book What’s So Great About Christianity?

8 Nietzsche thought the concept of equality before God as a “crazy” idea. He invented the notion of the “over-man” and encouraged the strong to overpower the weak. Hitler used this idea to justify his murderous schemes.

Lesson 7: Atheism and Morality

Lesson 7: Atheism and Morality

One of the major weaknesses of atheism is its inability to adequately explain morality or provide a solid basis for it. Atheists reject Christian morality but have no satisfying alternative with which to replace it. Their attempts at explaining the origins of morality fall flat. Atheists really can have nothing to say regarding morality, yet they claim a higher form of morality than religion provides.

In this lesson we’ll examine what atheism says about morality and discover how weak the atheistic moral claims are.

  1. Atheism has an evolutionary explanation for the rise of human morality.

    1. Humans, as social animals, have always lived in tribes or communal groups, and in this context, various rules for behavior evolved. Evolution has equipped humans with nervous systems biased in favor of social, rather than antisocial, behaviors. Man learned that cooperation is more beneficial than pure selfishness; cooperation with others naturally improves your life. Social customs (morals) naturally evolved.1 These customs benefited both the group and the individual. In time, religion developed and adopted many of these common rules. But they are no more than mere human inventions.

    2. Atheistic morality should be consistent with what is found in nature—survival of the fittest. This is the type of morality Nietzsche advocated: strive to fulfill one’s own desires, affirm your animal passions, and impose your strong will over those who are weak. Any goal is acceptable as long as one pursues it with energy, resolution, and power. Christian virtues like compassion, pity, and generosity are unbearably repulsive from this viewpoint. The strong survive while the weak are eradicated. According to Richard Dawkins, the universe is characterized by “blind, pitiless indifference.” Atheist morality should follow suit. In a meaningless, amoral universe, good and evil have no meaning.

  2. Atheistic morality is rooted in the self and in society, not in God.

    1. Humans are perfectly capable of determining what is good or bad, helpful or hurtful, without consulting a supposed deity. The morality of a situation is determined by considering the rewards and disadvantages of an act. Self-interest drives the process. Whatever increases one’s chances of experiencing pleasure is “good”; whatever decreases such chances is “bad.” Morality is simply a strategy one employs for his own long-term benefit. One must reconnect to his inner voice and so recover his essential goodness. One’s inner feelings set the standard of “ought.”

    2. It is enslaving and demeaning for humans to submit to some kind of deity for moral instruction. Mankind can develop standards of morality without consulting any so-called God. Each individual must forge his own moral standards in conjunction with the rest of society.

    3. Beyond individual morality, humans living in community determine their own cultural standards of morality. Society makes rules and laws that regulate human behavior and these standards reflect a commonly held morality. As times change, morality will change. We should not expect a set standard across cultures or times.

    4. Atheists are often decent, friendly people. They typically do not completely repudiate morality. Atheists see morality, not as a set of divinely-given commands, but as a set of man-made of suggestions forged through personal or group experience. The atheist objection is not to morality in general, but to absolute, universal, objective, God-given morality. Morality, they say, is relative, not absolute. We might call it “secular” morality or self-determining morality.

    5. Atheists typically point to the fact that religious people have not lived up to even a low level of morality. Those who claim to follow God are guilty of all manner of ethical violations: enslavement, rape, murder, oppression, discrimination, etc. This shows what happens when people think that God is the source of their morality. With God’s endorsement, they feel free to do whatever heinous thing they want (e.g., abuses associated with the Crusades, Muslim terrorism, etc.).

    6. Atheists seem particularly interested in denying Christian morality when it comes to human intimacy. They desire to throw off all restraints and gratify their every lust, and they don’t want any moral scruples standing in their way. If man is but an animal, there can be no moral restraints on human relationships. Man must be free to follow his instincts, wherever that may lead. Many people gravitate toward atheism because they endorse its views of sex, promiscuity, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, homosexuality, divorce, and the like. The sanctity of human life is an illusion for the atheist.

  3. Christian responses:

    1. Like anyone else, atheists know that God exists (Rom 1:19-20), have “the law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15), and have a conscience, which means that they have a basic capacity to discern right from wrong, good from evil. Atheists “suppress” this knowledge (Rom 1:18), but they are still accountable for it. One’s conscience may be “defiled” (Titus 1:15) or “seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2), and thus inoperative or insensitive. Those who repeatedly violate their conscience can silence its gentle voice. The only way for an atheist to have a clear conscience is to deny God’s existence.

    2. The atheistic assumption that the inner self or society are proper bases for morality is flawed. The inner depths of human nature is deeply sinful and cannot determine the “ought-ness” of any action. The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). Even “good” acts may be motivated by selfishness (cf. Isa 64:6). Society is equally unable to provide valid guidelines for morality. Some societies, like the ancient Assyrians, the Romans, or more recently, the Nazi regime in Germany, were barbaric and brutal. Thus, neither the self nor society provide suitable bases for determining morality.

    3. Self-interest will prevent some atheists from participating in certain behaviors. Crime usually does not pay, so it makes practical sense to behave in ways that keep oneself out of trouble. Thus, morality reduces to self-preservation. The only reason to be moral is that it keeps one out of trouble and makes life easier.

    4. Atheistic morality is liable to change at any time to incorporate changes in taste or mood. There can be no sense of absolute or transcendent morality. The basis of morality is the shifting sands of personal or group opinion. Morality is always variable and evolving, never stationary or set. Nothing in an atheistic worldview allows one to judge the “good” or “evil” of any particular act.

    5. The real reason atheists hate Christian morality is that it inhibits their behavior and labels it as “sinful.” The reason many atheists are drawn to deny the existence of any God is to avoid having to answer in the next life for their lack of moral restraint in this one. They want to avoid accountability for their actions. The idea that there is no God releases them from traditional moral restraints and grants them freedom to engage in any behavior without guilt. In this way, atheism is the true “opium of the people” in that it tricks unbelievers into thinking that their behavior has no lasting consequences; it blinds them to the reality of the situation and allows them to live a morally corrupt, but guilt-free, life.

    6. Christian morality, like most traditional forms of morality, is based on a written code—the Bible. The best example of this code is found in the Ten Commandments, the most famous list of do’s and don’ts in history. This code is objective—the truth of it does not depend on how anyone feels about it or even if anyone obeys it. God’s moral code is true in and of itself.

    7. The very moral values that atheists typically support—freedom, human dignity, equality of the sexes, etc.—are actually the legacy of Christianity, not of atheism or of other religions. Non-Christian nations and religions do not value or even tolerate such ideas. Political ideology that atheists enjoy, like representative democracy, is rooted in Christianity. Without Christianity, these values would be rare or non-existent. Those who reject Christianity should not claim these values as their own.

Nietzsche: When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole. It stands or falls with faith in God.

    1. Those who, in the name of Christ, have acted immorally contradicted the message and method of the gospel. All humans have fallen short of the moral law. People are sinful. We must look beyond the behavior of flawed human beings. The real evaluation of the truth of a faith depends upon looking at Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). Followers of Christ often come short of the pattern He set. By contrast, those who do evil under the guise of atheism are in perfect harmony with that philosophy. There can be no moral restrictions for an atheist. Even the most wicked, corrupt, despicable person does not contradict the principles of atheism.

    2. Evolution does not provide a satisfactory process for how morality arose in humans. If man is an animal, why does he alone have a sense of right and wrong? How can evolution explain the kind of morality that has no genetic benefit? Why do virtually all human cultures recognize moral standards? Atheists commonly assert that the universe has no purpose, no evil and no good in it. How then can one judge that anything is evil or good? Atheists have no logical basis for morality and offer no means of determining moral choices, other than self-interest. There can be no morality for those who say we live in an amoral universe. Neither atheism nor Darwinism has any explanation for purely disinterested altruism, such as when a stranger risks his life for a fellow stranger.

    3. Atheists really should be determinists. If the universe functions purely according to natural laws, then everything is governed by those laws, and whatever happens must happen. Each person is merely a collection of physical materials running a program, like a living computer. If that is true, then words like ought have no meaning. Materialism provides no means of deciding between one choice and another and no way of determining the morality of any situation. Our whole vocabulary of praise and blame, admiration and contempt, approval or disapproval can have no meaning if the atheists are right.

    4. While atheists may claim that they are just as moral as religious people, an evaluation of the lives of prominent atheists shows that atheism often leads to immorality. Atheists have just as many “bad apples” among them as religious people do. Atheist writers like Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre motivated others to engage in heinous acts of barbarity. Since they deny traditional morality, they often engage in behaviors normally considered to be immoral. Christianity, on the other hand, normally leads to higher levels of morality for those who adopt it. In fact, high levels of immorality contradict a Christian profession. High levels of immorality are common for atheists because they have no absolute moral standards.

    5. Atheism is not really an intellectual revolt against the claims of religion; it’s a moral revolt against the standards of Christian morality. Atheists simply do not want to feel guilty for their wicked behavior.

“If God is not, everything is permitted.” Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

D’Souza: Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. … This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheists seek to get rid of the moral judgment by getting rid of the judge.

1 Frank R. Zindler, “Ethics Without Gods” The Probing Mind, Feb 1985. ethics.html

Lesson 6: Atheism and Science

Lesson 6: Atheism and Science

One of atheism’s strongest claims is that science has eliminated the need for people to believe in God. Today, the “assured results of science” give us a natural explanation for virtually all phenomena; everything that occurs has a natural explanation. Thus, no “gaps” are left for God to fill in, according to atheists. “God is dead” because He is no longer needed.

This lesson will examine some atheistic claims related to science and how Christians have replied to such claims.

  1. Historically, science and Christianity have enjoyed a constructive relationship.

    1. Many of the great scientists of the Enlightenment era were professing Christians, e.g., Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Bacon, Pasteur, Maxwell, Planck, etc.1 A good number of early scientists were also clergymen (e.g., Mendel was a monk). Many of the great names in science saw no contradiction between faith and reason.

    2. The early scientists in western civilization were attempting to understand the universe because they believed an orderly God created it, and man, because he was made in the image of God, was able to understand it. Christianity set the stage for scientific progress. Without a Christian worldview, there is no particular reason to believe that the universe makes sense or that humans have the capacity to understand it.

    3. Science arose in the West, in a Christian civilization, because Christianity emphasized the importance of reason. The university system arose in Christian Europe in the middle ages, offering teaching in both theology and the sciences. Many of America’s first colleges and universities began as Christian institutions. Christians invented modern science.

  1. Since the Enlightenment, natural sciences were seen as liberators of humanity from the oppression of traditional religious thought and structures, particularly the RCC.

    1. Thomas Huxley: “[Darwinism] occupies a position of complete and irreconcilable antagonism toward that vigorous and consistent enemy of the highest intellectual, moral and social life of mankind—the Catholic Church.”

    2. Religion, and the Roman Catholic form of Christianity in particular, was seen as the opponent of learning and scientific advancement. Historically, the Church was the dominant voice in Western culture. After the Enlightenment, culture took a more secular turn, forcing religious ideas out of the public arena and into the realm of private affairs.

    3. Science, mathematics and other “hard” sciences were provable and their results certain. Religion lacks such certainty. One may be free to hold any religious ideas he wants, but he should not consider them to be “true” in the same sense that science is true.

    4. Science works better than religion. In the past, we might pray for someone’s healing. Today, science has developed treatments that can actually save lives. Science offers liberation from bondage to a superstitious and oppressive past.

  1. Atheism and scientific “proof”

    1. Atheists boldly assert that they require proof before they’ll believe anything. Science is based on evidence and proof; faith is belief without proof. Atheists claim that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” We are under an absolute obligation to believe only what may be rigorously demonstrated by the strictest criteria of truth. Belief must be warranted. (William Clifford)

    2. However, scientists find themselves having to believe some things they know will later be shown to be wrong. History shows a pattern of the abandonment of previous theories as better approaches emerge. History also shows a reluctance to believe new theories. For example, many astronomers did not believe in the Big Bang theory when it was first published, although it is now almost universally held as true today. Einstein’s theory of relativity was widely criticized until proven by experimentation. Einstein himself did not believe that the universe was expanding and offered a theory to disprove it, which turned out to be wrong. The “steady-state” theory of the universe was commonly held by scientists until the 1960s. Another example: geocentrism vs. heliocentrism. Thus “proof” can often lead to believing untrue things.

    3. The natural sciences offer what they believe to be the best possible explanation of things, but are perfectly prepared to abandon or modify this in the light of additional information. It is simply not true that scientist believe theories because they have been “proved.” They believe them because they represent the best explanation of what may be observed.2

    4. Ironically, atheism cannot prove the assertion that it is wrong to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. What proves that statement? It’s a statement of opinion, not of fact. Further, atheism itself cannot withstand that level of proof; it cannot be demonstrated to be true. And atheism cannot prove that God does not exist. Agnostic writer Thomas “Darwin’s bulldog” Huxley admitted that it is impossible to arrive at any degree of certainty when it comes to the existence or non-existence of God.

  1. Atheism and Darwinism

Scientists usually maintain one of two viewpoints regarding religion: compatibility or incompatibility.

    1. Some strongly assert that religion is simply incompatible with science. For them, real scientists must be atheists. Those scientists who retain any commitment to religious belief simply cannot mean it; they must be joking or perhaps are temporarily insane. Evolutionary theory leads inevitably to a godless, purposeless world. All life can be understood entirely in natural and material terms. Evolution demands atheism in this view.

      1. The natural sciences, and especially evolutionary biology, represent an “intellectual superhighway” to atheism. In the mind of some atheistic propagandists, science is the supreme champion of atheism. Evolution is the “engine” of atheism.

      2. Richard Dawkins has argued consistently and vigorously for an atheistic worldview through an appeal to the natural sciences, especially evolutionary biology. Science, Dawkins asserts, proves things; it establishes its theories with certainty. Religion, on the other hand, deliberately asserts falsehoods that mislead, seduce, and oppress people. Science is free of the main vice of religion, which is faith, belief without proof.

      3. Before Darwin, people thought that the evident design in nature pointed to a designer. Darwin asserted that the appearance of design can arise naturally through the pressures of chance and survival. Natural selection is the “blind watchmaker.” It provides atheists with an alternative explanation for how the complexities of nature arose.

Carl Sagan: As science advances, there seems to be less and less for God to do…. Whatever it is we cannot explain is attributed to God…. And then after a while, we explain it, and so that’s no longer God’s realm.”

      1. Darwinian evolution insists that the universe has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. For Darwinism, everything is accidental. Darwin destroyed the credibility of Christianity for many atheists.

      2. French atheist and philosopher Jacques Monod offers the following:

Change arises by chance and is propagated by necessity. It is utterly impossible to speak of “purpose” within the biological world. Evolutionary theory demands that we realize that our own existence is an accident…. The natural sciences disclose a purposeless world, in which we must create our own values and beliefs. Nature has nothing to offer us as a guide….Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he has emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor his duty.

      1. Those who oppose the assured results of evolutionary science on the basis of the Book of Genesis are intolerant, backward, and ignorant fools who stand outside the mainstream of American culture.

      2. Science is the only reliable tool that we posses to understand the world. It has no limits. We may not know some things now—but we will in the future. It’s just a matter of time. Science will explain everything.

      3. Science has disproved God, wrecked faith in God. Atheism is the only option for the serious, progressive, thinking person. Religious belief should be relegated to the scrap heap of history. Science and religion cannot coexist. If one is true, the other must be false.

    1. For some, religion is compatible with science. Atheists commonly deny that one can be both a scientist and a believer in any religion, and especially not in Christianity. However, many scientists are professing Christians, and many hold other religious views.

      1. Some scientists deny that science has anything to say about religion. For example, Stephen Jay Gould,3 one of the most popular advocates of evolution, denied that science and religion are contradictory. “Science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists…. Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism.” Science can work only with naturalistic explanations; it can neither affirm nor deny the existence of God.

      2. According to a poll of scientists conducted in 1916 and repeated in 1996, about 40% of scientists admit some form of personal religious belief.4 Surprisingly, no significant reduction in religious belief among scientists has occurred in the twentieth century. Statistics contradict the idea that science and religion are incompatible, at least in the minds of many scientists.

      3. There is no consensus in the scientific community regarding the place of religion in the life of the scientist. Some Darwinians are theists and others are not. There is no valid means of settling the issue on scientific grounds. The theory of evolution does not necessarily lead to or require atheism. The suggestion that the Darwinian theory of evolution is necessarily atheistic goes way beyond the competency of the natural sciences and strays into territory where the scientific method cannot be applied.

      4. Why are so many scientists religious? Because the world can be interpreted in a number of different ways—atheist, deist, Christian, etc. Nature is open to many different interpretations, but it does not demand to be interpreted in any of these.

  1. Christian responses to Darwinism

Christians have responded to the claims of Darwinian evolution in the same two ways that science responds to religion: compatibility or incompatibility.

    1. Some Christians hold that Christianity can import the findings of evolution into the Christian system. Evolution, they suggest, is the means by which God guided his creation to its present state. They see no necessary contradiction between evolution and the Bible. Of course, this requires a major reinterpretation of large segments of the Scriptures. But some are willing to modify their doctrine to accommodate the “assured” findings of science.

      1. For example, distinguished American botanist Asa Gray (1810-88) believed it was perfectly possible to reconcile evolutionary theory with faith. Instead of seeing God as the creator of fixed species, Gray pictured God as the designing power behind evolutionary change. Even renowned biblical scholars like B.B. Warfield (Princeton Seminary) and J.I. Packer (Regent Seminary) seemed to accommodate evolutionary ideas into their theology. Many professing Christians hold this view and it is taught at many evangelical colleges and seminaries. It is the official position of the RCC and even many Protestant denominations.

      2. Some Christians hold that Darwinism has no bearing on the existence or nature of God. If Darwinians choose to pontificate on matters of religion, they stray beyond the straight and narrow way of the scientific method, and end up in the philosophical badlands. The natural sciences may lead some away from God and others to god. But to say that they must do one or the other is to move beyond the legitimate scope of the scientific method.5

      3. The relationship between science and religion is a complicated one, but it is historically incorrect to say that science and faith are at war, in this view.

    2. Some Christians hold that Christianity cannot import the findings of evolution into the Christian system. There exists a permanent, essential conflict between the natural sciences and religion. Science is at war with religion. Oddly enough, both conservative Christians and staunchly atheistic scientist hold this same opinion—science and religion are at war, both viewpoints cannot be correct, and one or the other must be proved to be wrong.

      1. The implications of Darwinian evolution sent shock waves throughout Christendom when Darwin first published his ideas. The assertion that humans evolved by natural selection from the animal world lay the axe at the very root of religious belief. Darwinian Theory represents a frontal attack on Christianity, and Christians must respond by disproving Darwinism. There is little doubt that the theory of evolution provided a massive thrust for ousting God from the paradigm of origin and existence.6

      2. One of the first to defend traditional Christian teaching on origins was William Paley (1742-1805), who wrote several works defending the Genesis account. Paley’s primary argument centered on intelligent design.7 He’s responsible for the famous “watch-maker” argument—nature was like a sophisticated mechanism, and such mechanisms require an intelligent designer and creator. Paley produced an immense array of observations, from the intricacy of the human eye to the arrangements of the seasons, which pointed to the entire biological world’s having been planned by a benevolent deity. Each aspect of the natural world seems to have been designed for its specific purpose. More than that; they interlocked with one another, as if the entire assembly appeared to have been put together with a definite purpose in mind.8

A recent argument along the same lines is called the Anthropic Principle. Scientists have observed that the fundamental constants of physics and chemistry are just right or fine-tuned to allow the universe and life at we know it to exist. The Anthropic Principle says that the seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common—these are precisely the values needed for human life. The universe gives the appearance that it was designed to support life on earth.9 For example, if the force of gravity, the forces holding atoms together, or the ratios between electromagnetism and gravity were any different, human life would not have been possible.10 The universe is specially and finely tuned for life because it is the creation of a Creator who wills that it should be so. Atheists, of course, have creative ways of denying the implications of the Anthropic Principle.11

      1. Darwin himself initially found Paley’s design arguments very persuasive, but he eventually rejected them. Paley argued that God had made everything in its present form, perfectly, without any evidence of change or development. Darwin’s study of nature led him to a different understanding of how biological life developed and changed. It became clear to Darwin that the foundations of Paley’s arguments for the existence of God had been shattered.

      2. Darwin wavered between agnosticism and atheism.12 But it seems unlikely that his rejection of Christianity had much to do with his theory of natural selection. Rather, he had a visceral distaste for the “damnable doctrine” of the eternal punishment of unbelievers. Many in the Victorian era (mid-1800s) rejected Christianity for the same reason—they hated the “fire-and-brimstone” preaching popular among evangelicals at that time. Further, the tragic death of his daughter wrecked his belief in divine providence.

      3. Other arguments brought by Christians seeking to defend the biblical account of creation:13

        1. The cosmological argument considers the fact that every known thing in the universe has a cause. Therefore, it reasons, the universe itself must also have a cause, and the cause of such a great universe can only be God.

        2. The ontological argument begins with the idea of God, who is defined as a being “greater than which nothing can be imagined.” It then argues that the characteristic of existence must belong to such a being, since it is greater to exist than not to exist.? ?

        3. The moral argument begins from man’s sense of right and wrong, and of the need for justice to be done, and argues that there must be a God who is the source of right and wrong and who will someday mete out justice to all people.

  1. Atheistic responses to Christian claims

Atheists are well acquainted with Christian arguments against Darwinism, and they have responded to typical arguments Christians use to defend the Genesis account of creation and to counter Darwinism.

    1. The teleological (design) argument: Responding to Paley’s watch-maker argument, Dawkins asserts that the appearance of design can arise naturally within the evolutionary process. Natural selection is the blind watchmaker. Given enough time, even the most sophisticated systems will arise naturally. Further, there is no “watch” as creationists commonly think of nature. Instead, the species arose out of struggle for survival, with only those best adapted moving ahead. Nothing in nature is perfectly formed; everything shows evidence of imperfection, mistakes, and dead ends. Even things that seem to be irreducibly complex, like the human eye or flagella, developed slowly over vast amounts of time. Evolutionists totally disavow any idea of design or purpose in nature.

    2. The cosmological argument: Atheists assert that if all things had a cause, then God Himself must have a cause. Of course, Christians deny this, believing that God is the great un-caused cause. Causation applies only to effects; all effects must have a cause. God is not an effect and thus does not need a cause. Further, God’s existence is not limited to this universe; God is spirit, not physical. Atheists typically maintain that matter is eternal, or that the singularity of the Big Bang arose spontaneously, out of nothing, simply popping into existence. Many scientists refuse to speculate as to where the singularity came from or why it came to be. It just did. In effect they must affirm exactly what the Bible teaches—creation ex nihilo.

It’s worth noting that earlier atheists denied that the universe had a beginning. The “steady-state” approach posited that the universe was eternal, thus not needing a beginning. An eternal universe needs no creator. Scientists today universally acknowledge the Big Bang, and thus they must admit that the universe had a beginning. It is certainly an effect that calls for a cause, and that cannot be denied. If they deny it, they must affirm that at least one thing that had a beginning did not have a cause, which is absurd.

    1. The ontological argument: Atheists typically dismiss this argument as irrational.

    2. The moral argument: Atheists argue that morality is nothing more than a human invention that became necessary as tribes of humans came into close contact. Commonly agreed upon moral standards helped the species to survive. Atheists adopt their own forms of morality based on what they think will be most beneficial to them and to society. They deny the idea that morality depends upon the existence of God. They are just as moral, if not more so, than many professing Christians, in their opinion. (more on the weaknesses of atheistic morality in the next lesson)

Conclusion: We must acknowledge that both Christianity and atheism are systems of belief that require faith (Heb 11:6). Both atheism and Christian faith lie beyond absolute proof. Christians don’t believe the claims of atheism, and atheists don’t believe the claims of Christianity because neither is able to absolutely prove their case.

Everyone has the same facts with which to work. Christians approach the facts with a biblical worldview, and many scientists approach the facts with a secular, anti-biblical worldview. It is no wonder, then, that Christians and atheistic scientist reach different conclusions.

We must admit that science presents great challenges to those who believe the Bible. Atheists contend that science debunks the Bible, while Christians assert that the Bible discredits junk science. If the Bible is true, there should be no contradiction between it and any other source of truth. Atheists overstep when they allege that science and religion are incompatible. On the other hand, theists may write off science too quickly without considering how science and the Bible may be able to coordinate. In any case, where scientific pronouncements and the Bible truly contradict, we must maintain our loyalty to God and His Word. Scientific theories come and go, but God’s Word is eternal, unchanging, and forever “settled in heaven” (Ps 119:89).

1 This is not to assert that such men were all orthodox, conservative believers. All professed Christianity, but some were quite eccentric in their beliefs (e.g., Newton denied the Trinity). Nevertheless, they all espoused a Christian worldview.

2 McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism.

3 Gould described himself as an agnostic leaning toward atheism.

4 About 40% admit no belief, and about 20% are agnostic.

5 McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism.

6 Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism.

7 The teleological (design) argument focuses on the evidence of harmony, order, and design in the universe, and argues that its design gives evidence of an intelligent purpose (the Greek word telos, means “end” or “goal” or “purpose”). Since the universe appears to be designed with a purpose, there must be an intelligent and purposeful God who created it to function this way. Grudem, Systematic Theology.

8 McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism.


10 One example: the value defining how firmly atomic nuclei bind together is .007. If this number were .006 or .008, humans could not exist. See Martin Rees’ book Just Six Numbers for a fascinating discussion.

11 For example, some suggest that many universes may exist, and we just happen to inhabit one in which the laws of physics allowed mankind to evolve. Other universes may be different if they have a different set of laws.

12 There is no truth to the legend that Darwin recanted the theory of evolution on his death bed.

13 Grudem, Systematic Theology.

Lesson 5: Christian Responses to Atheism

Lesson 5: Christian Responses to Atheism

In the last lesson, we looked at several common claims made by atheists.

In this lesson we’ll evaluate some of these assertions.

  1. Faith in God is contrary to reason

    1. We must admit that some religions have little connection to rationality. Some religions make statements that are clearly unreasonable and even ridiculous. For example, Hinduism asserts that the world rests upon an elephant and the elephant rests upon a tortoise. Zen Buddhism suggests one should listen for the sound of “one hand clapping.” Many religions include mystical, contradictory, nonsensical elements. Reason or logic has little or no place in many faiths.

    2. Christianity appeals to man’s reason; it claims to make sense and does make sense. The system of Christian thought is logical, consistent, and non-contradictory. God calls his people to “reason together” (Isa 1:18). Reason is not essential to many religions, but it is essential to Christianity.

    3. Atheists commonly allege that the miraculous accounts in the Bible prove it to be an irrational book. However, if God is who He portrays Himself to be in the Bible, miracles are within reason. An omnipotent God has the capacity to do anything He wishes to do, including bypassing or ignoring the laws of nature. Miracles may be remarkable, but they are not irrational.

    4. Religious beliefs are based on historical facts: creation, Abraham and his family, the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, David, Jerusalem, Babylon, etc. Thousands of connections exist between religious statements and historical facts. The most significant historical fact for Christianity is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If this event did not occur, then Christianity has no validity whatsoever.

    5. If religion is contrary to reason, it is remarkable that nearly half of all scientists hold personal religious views.

  1. Humanity does better without religion.

    1. Again, we must admit that some religions have caused greater suffering than they have provided comfort for humanity. Even some forms of Christianity have been and continue to be sources of persecution in some cases. These cases are well known and nobody denies them.

    2. However, Christianity in particular has been the source of incredible benefit to mankind. Many religions, and Christianity in particular, require good works as part of the exercise of that religion. It would be impossible to estimate the millions of good things done on a daily basis by people who are seeking to love their neighbors in the name of Christ. Further, many groups see helping those in need as part of their religious duty. Hospitals, rescue missions, soup kitchens, prison ministries, family ministries, substance abuse programs—all of these and hundreds more are rooted in religious ideas.

    3. Current research has shown that religious belief often aids human life in various ways. In many polls, the happiest, most satisfied people are those who hold religious beliefs. According to a 2007 Gallop poll, at least 6 in 10 Americans who attend church services every week say they are very satisfied with their personal lives and are very happy.1 Many people would confirm that their religious practices make their lives better.

    4. Thinking in evolutionary terms, religion must play some role in survival since nearly all humans have been religious. History shows that religious belief was present very early on in virtually all human civilizations. Since the fittest survive, perhaps religious belief gives believers an advantage over unbelievers. If so, then on a purely practical basis, religion is beneficial for mankind.

  1. Religion is evil and makes people evil. Belief in God is the basis of all sorts of terrible things.

    1. Atheists have no basis to make such a judgment. How can a person with no moral foundation call anything “evil”? If morality is nothing more than human opinion, then “evil” to one person may be “good” to another. Who is to say that oppression, corruption and violence is “bad”? How does an atheist make such a judgment? He cannot. Without some reference to God, there can be no way of judging whether any act is “good” or “evil.”

Atheists claim that they don’t want to be restrained by religious, traditional morality. Yet they still evaluate human behavior in terms of “good” and “evil.” This is self-contradictory and proves atheism to be irrational.

    1. Evolution teaches the survival of the fittest and the strongest. Why should anyone be criticized for asserting his strength over others? What value is there in weakness for an evolutionist? The weak, frail, unproductive or unwanted members of society should be eliminated for the benefit of mankind according to an evolutionary viewpoint. The struggle of the strong against the weak is normal.

    2. From an atheistic point of view, the “terrible things” that occur in society (e.g., war, abuse, racism, violence, etc.) should be seen as natural behavior for human animals. Complaining about such things is inconsistent with their atheism.

  1. There is no particular need for God.

    1. The Bible asserts that people often live without any concern for God; they sense no need for God. The Bible also refers to those who live wicked lives, yet seem to enjoy life and receive no judgment for their evil actions—read Psalm 73:2-14.

Ps 10:4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.

    1. It is evident that many people do sense a need for God—over half the world’s citizens are monotheists. The vast majority of humans would admit a need for God, and many of them would affirm that life is meaningless without God.

    2. Western society is swiftly moving away from the confident statements of modernity and is increasingly embracing a post-modern vision that embraces the divine, the mysterious, the other-worldly. People are finding little satisfaction and meaning in a clinical, scientific viewpoint that reduces humanity to mere chemical reactions.

    3. Evolution and science provide little comfort for those enduring the trials of life. During times of crises, even those professing atheism may admit a need for someone beyond themselves.

  1. Atheism is freeing, liberating.

Ps 2:3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

    1. Religions certainly do impose restrictions upon their followers. Religions typically include many commands to keep and duties to observe. Some people find such requirements and restrictions burdensome and seek to be free of them.

    2. Jesus asserted that his yoke was easy and his burden was light (Mt 11:30). But he also said that his followers would have to give up everything to follow him (Lk 14:33). The Christian life is not only difficult; it is impossible without the grace and mercy of God.

    3. True freedom is found in following Christ obediently. Sin is enslaving (Prov 5:22; John 8:34; Rom 6:16). Ask a drunk or a crack addict or someone with STD’s if he is really free. Many sinful behaviors result in bondage, not freedom. In contrast, becoming a servant of Christ is a path to freedom.

    4. What atheists really want is the freedom to follow their own depraved desires without criticism or judgment. They want to be free of the restrictions typically imposed by Christian values. Yet they don’t want to be free of all morality, just those rules they don’t like.

    5. Christians who think of their faith as a restricting “ball-and-chain” need revival!

  1. No convincing evidence for God’s existence exists.

    1. The Bible asserts that atheists are willfully ignorant of God. They suppress the knowledge of God, exchange the knowledge of God for a lie, and end up worshipping the creature (themselves or “nature”) instead of the Creator (Rom 1:18f).

    2. There is no lack of evidence pointing to God’s existence for those who are open to the idea (Ps 19:1-3; Rom 1:19-20). A denial of this fact is evidence that one is spiritually blind (2 Cor 4:4) and “fleshly” (1 Cor 2:14).

    3. According to the NT, Jesus did many miracles, yet even those who observed such miracles were not necessarily convinced that Jesus was whom he claimed to be. One might wonder what an atheist would consider adequate proof or convincing evidence.

    4. Evidence is over-rated. We believe many things without “sufficient” evidence. If we believed only in those things for which we had a high degree of evidence, we would believe in very little. Further what proof exists that we can believe only when we have sufficient evidence? It’s a self-defeating argument. A person may be rational in holding beliefs even if he cannot provide “adequate” proof for that belief. Proof is not required for belief to be rational.2

    5. Many people have converted to Christianity based on the evidence. Some who set out to disprove Christianity have been led to adopt it based on the evidence supporting it. Examples: Frank Morison, C.S. Lewis, Lew Wallace

    6. Evidence is not really the problem for atheists; hatred for God is. The atheist philosopher Nietzsche expressed the true reason people reject Christianity: “If one were to prove this God of the Christians to us, we should be even less able to believe in him. . . . It is our preference that decides against Christianity, not arguments.”

  1. Religious teachings are repugnant.

    1. We must admit that many religious beliefs are repugnant. Things believed by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others are repelling to Christians. Pseudo-Christian cults teach many ideas that genuine Christians find repugnant.

    2. Christianity is a received faith; Christians do not make it up as they go along. If the Bible presents an accurate picture of God, then we have to take Him as we find Him. We are not free to make God in our image. As creatures, we have no right or capacity to stand in judgment of our Creator. Further, the ways of God are ultimately beyond our comprehension (Isa 55:8-9; Rom 11:33-35).

    3. The doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked is certainly a repulsive idea if you are among the wicked. Even saved people do not find it a comforting thought. However, the justice and righteousness of God demand that sin be condemned and judged. God would be unjust if he did not reward obedience and judge sin.

    4. The Bible expects unbelievers to consider Christians doctrine to be “foolish” (Acts 17:32; 1 Cor 1:18-24; 2 Thes 2:10). A hostile reception to biblical claims is the norm.

    5. Atheism has no capacity or right to make moral judgments about religious ideas. Any such statements by atheists are no more than mere opinion.

  1. Religion is divisive.

    1. Religion does result in the creation of in-groups and out-groups, the “saved” and the “unsaved,” orthodox and heretics, faithful and infidels. Jesus stated that he would create divisions (Mk 10:34-36), so we should expect nothing less.

    2. Division over ideas is inevitable. One could equally say that atheism is divisive. Any opinion has the capacity to divide.

    3. True Christianity is tolerant of other religions. Unlike some religions (e.g., Islam), Christians do not force conversion to Christianity. Some branches of Christianity have been guilty of forced conversions in the past (e.g., the RCC), but genuine Christians have not. Toleration of other faiths does not imply recognition of them as valid or legitimate. Atheists enjoy living in free, tolerant nations because freedom and tolerance are Christian ideas.

  1. Religion has no good explanation for the presence of evil.

    1. Christians have long admitted that the problem of evil is a significant one, not one that can be easily dismissed or explained away. But a religious viewpoint is the only way to approach the problem seriously.

    2. Atheists have no business talking about “evil.” They have no capacity to judge good or evil because they have no foundation for morality. Without such a foundation, all they have is personal opinion and cultural perspective.

    3. From an evolutionary point of view, much of the “evil” an atheist complains about can be explained as the struggle for the survival of the fittest, which should be expected. Why should that be considered “evil”?

    4. God is sovereign and has the right to do with His creatures as He sees fit. He is not subject to human judgment; on the contrary, our judgment is subject to His Word. We can be assured, despite our circumstances, of God’s good character—God is holy, just and good. On that matter God’s Word is clear. God expects us to trust Him, not doubt His good intentions. The very nature of faith is to persevere despite unanswered questions. God’s Word encourages us to hold on tightly to God’s promises and not to be overcome with doubt.3

  1. Science has removed the “need” for God.

We’ll take an entire lesson to consider the relationship between science and religion.

Conclusion: Atheists are making the same claims they have made for the past several centuries, and Christians are providing some of the same answers. Atheists are not satisfied with the answers Christianity provides in the same way that Christians are not moved by the claims or counter-arguments of atheists. Ultimately, this is a spiritual struggle. Only the power of God can cut through the blindness and hatred of an atheist’s heart.


2 Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict (Zondervan, 1992).

3 John Frame, Apologetics for the Glory of God.

Lesson 4: The Claims of Atheism

Lesson 4: The Claims of Atheism

Prepare to be offended and challenged. When we start looking at the claims of atheism, we find that critics and skeptics are sharp-tongued and severe in their claims against religion in general and against Christianity in particular.

Before we look at the claims of atheism, we should be aware of several facts: 1) Some of their criticisms are based in reality. Many things done by Christians, in the name of Christ, or by so-called Christian organizations have been immoral and indecent (e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition). Christendom is guilty of much sin, as are other forms of religious belief. If we evaluate religion in general, we find much to criticize, both historically and currently (e.g., Muslim radicals). 2) Atheists tend to present Christianity and other faiths in the worst possible light. They often point to the worst, rare examples of bad behavior and treat them as if they were normal and representative of the religion. This leads to an unrealistic picture of the faith in question. 3) Atheists tend to ignore or downplay the positive contributions religion has made. 4) Atheists often lump all religions together, asserting, for example, that Islam is no different than Christianity, or that Roman Catholicism is the same as Protestantism. They typically paint with a very broad brush, suggesting that the failures and excesses of one form of religion are equally true of all the other forms of religion. Thus, we should be aware that many of their criticisms lack genuine support.

With these things in mind, let’s examine several common atheistic claims.

  1. Faith in God is contrary to reason

    1. Richard Dawkins: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. . . . Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.”

God is a delusion—a “psychotic delinquent” invented by mad, deluded people,…a belief that is not grounded in evidence…. Faith is blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence, … it’s a process of non-thinking. It is evil precisely because it requires no justification, and brooks no argument.

    1. Religion denies reality. Bertrand Russell: “Man is the product of causes which had no pre-vision of the end they were achieving; … his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; … [nothing] can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; … The whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…. Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

    2. Belief in God is utterly irrational belief—like believing in a teapot orbiting the sun.

    3. Religious faith contains no genuine truth. All religious statements are either total myth or are simply opinion. For example, the statement “Jesus is the Savior” cannot be proven; it is mere opinion, a statement of hope, perhaps, but not of fact.

    4. When faced with the evidence of science, religious people typically retreat into irrationality or declare the matter to be a mystery, beyond human understanding.

  1. Humanity does better without religion.

    1. Humanity is able to solve its own problems without leaning on the “crutch” of religion. Reason holds the key to human success and achievement. The French atheist Baron d’Holbach claimed that if reason is cultivated, there will be no need for God. Marx taught that communism would eliminate man’s dependence on the idea of God. Freud argued that religion encouraged unhealthy and dysfunctional outlooks on life. Religious faith is a negative factor in personal development. Man must be freed of religious illusions so he can pursue a more meaningful existence.

    2. Elimination of belief in God would lead to a more peaceful and stable world. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” includes the lyrics “imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try/ No hell below us, above us only sky.” By eliminating religious, political, social and economic differences, humanity would finally be able to achieve unity. Once religion had been eradicated, there would be only a “brotherhood of man” with nothing left “to kill or die for.”

    3. The elimination of religion would foster peace and prosperity. Tensions and violence would be eradicated with the removal of religion. Since religion is the problem, its disappearance will be to the general benefit of civilization.

    4. Atheism offers hope—the hope of a better future and the possibility of being involved in bringing this future about. Atheism offers humanity the possibility of transforming itself, starting all over again without the encumbrance of outmoded ideas inherited from a distant past.

  1. Religion is evil and makes people evil. Belief in God is the basis of all sorts of terrible things.

    1. Religion is the cause of much oppression, corruption, and violence in the world. As Christopher Hitchins asserts, organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” The God that the Jews believed in back in OT times is a psychotic child abuser.

    2. The God of the Bible is a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

    3. Religion leads to violence and is anti-science. Believers are really perverted, degenerate and unthinking. Religious people are a bunch of hypocrites.

    4. Religion stopped people from doing things that were fun, useful, and productive.

    5. Various religious practices are eccentric, pointless, or harmful.

    6. Religion hinders scientific discovery (e.g., Galileo). Religion teaches ideas that are false, such as young-earth creation, the possibility of miracles, life after death, angels and demons, etc.

    7. [Religious believers are] deranged, deluded, deceived and deceiving, any intellectual capacity having been warped and through having been hijacked by an infectious, malignant God virus.

  1. There is no particular need for God.

    1. Atheists typically lead happy, meaningful lives without the unnecessary belief in God. Religion serves no purpose for them; it holds no attraction. On the contrary, religious belief is especially repulsive to many people.

    2. The natural world provides a satisfying alternative to God. Nature becomes almost divine in its own right. Nature was responsible for “creating” man, so any reverence or worship a person might want to express can be directed toward nature.

    3. The laws of nature can explain every phenomenon; there is no need for God when all things that occur have a natural explanation.

    4. Man must display courage in the face of an uncaring, dark, meaningless universe. He must make what he can of his own life without relying on God.

    5. Once religion gets out of the way, mankind can see how to solve its own problems. Man has the capacity to make life what he wants it to be. He is fully responsible for himself and has all the resources needed to solve every problem.

    6. Religion has failed. Atheists may harbor bitter hatred for religion because of previous personal experiences (e.g., abuse, neglect, scorn, discrimination). What propels people toward atheism is above all a sense of revulsion against the excesses and failures of organized religion.

  1. Atheism is freeing, liberating.

    1. In the past, organized religion prevented people from following their natural instincts and inclinations. It heaped guilt on those behaving in perfectly natural ways. It limited people from fully expressing their humanity.

    2. The idea of atheism liberates people from the stifling social customs and morals of the day, and allows society to break free from its meaningless traditions. Atheism offers a break from the religious past. It is exciting and daring because it breaks traditional social taboos.

    3. Atheism destroys the myth of the gods and thus enables humanity to step outside the arbitrary limits placed upon it by religious bigots. Abolishing the idea of God allows mankind the freedom to pursue whatever ideas and behaviors it desires.

    4. Religious indoctrination limits and restricts; atheism frees, ending the boredom of religious training and opening new options.

    5. Atheism is different. Where religions oppress, atheism liberates. The first step to authentic human existence is to throw off the outdated and destructive idea of God.

    6. Atheism offers visions of a larger freedom, allowing humanity to throw aside its chains and enter a new and glorious phase in their history.

David Mills: “Virtually all of the atheist I’ve know have been dynamic, highly optimistic men and women who enjoyed life to the hilt, particularly because they were liberated from the morbid, guilt-ridden, religious ball-and-chain around their necks. By contrast, I’ve known scores of Christians who led very unfulfilling lives, praying endlessly for ‘miracles’ that never occurred or waiting pitifully for Jesus’ oft-delayed second coming.”

  1. No convincing evidence for God’s existence exists.

    1. There simply is no compelling, convincing evidence for God’s existence. On the basis of the empirical evidence of the world and the rational resources at his disposal, belief in God is not a necessary conclusion.

    2. There is no intellectual obligation to believe in God. An informed mind cannot reach a reliable conclusion on the existence of God on the basis of available evidence.

    3. The “default setting” for mankind should be atheism. One should believe in God only on the basis of credible evidence, and such evidence is lacking.

When Bertrand Russell was asked how he would reply if God questioned why he didn’t believe, Russell replied that he would tell God, “Not enough evidence God. Not enough evidence.”

  1. Religious teachings are repugnant.

    1. The most fundamental criticisms directed against Christianity have to do with the moral character of God and often focus specifically on the issues of judgment and eternal punishment (i.e., hell). For example, Darwin admits that his rejection of Christianity was not based so much on evolution as it was based on the idea of the eternal punishment of the wicked.

    2. Atheism is a powerful protest against morally and intellectually inferior visions of reality. Religious ideas and values are at least inferior to, and possibly irreconcilable with, the best moral standards and ideals of human culture.

    3. Religious teachings (i.e., doctrines) are often beyond belief. The idea that God inhabited a human body, that Jesus was this God incarnate, that he lived a perfect life, died for sinners, and rose again, and that one can be forgiven for sin by faith—all of this is unbelievable. The idea that God knows all things and somehow keeps track of people’s behaviors and will reward or punish them is ridiculous. Accounts of the miraculous come from pre-scientific, ignorant minds. Religious ideas like these are mere myth, probably lifted from previous religions or legends.

    4. Many biblical accounts are morally repulsive: God killing the first born children in Egypt; God killing a whole generation of Israelites in the desert; the Israelites killing the inhabitants of Canaan; animal sacrifices; the imprecatory psalms; capital punishment for homosexuals and disobedient children; etc.

    5. Religion is a source of overwhelming guilt and anxiety. You have this unbelievably nosy voyeur in the sky, allegedly watching your every move and monitoring all your private thoughts. If God detects any “sin” in your life, then He threatens to roast you eternally in a fiery torture chamber. This belief is hardly comforting.1

  1. Religion is divisive.

    1. Religion encourages the formation and maintenance of in-groups and out-groups, the “saved” and the “unsaved,” orthodox and heretics, faithful and infidels. Such divisions cause war, persecution, and much needless suffering. Removing religion is essential if this form of social demarcation and discrimination is to be defeated.

    2. It’s unreasonable to believe that only one religion is exclusively true. It would mean that billions of religious people from every other religious faith are wrong today and have been wrong throughout the centuries. Those who think they have the truth will be intolerant of those who won’t accept it. If one group has political power, it will often persecute opposing groups (e.g., the RCC in the Middle Ages).

    3. Christian Fundamentalism instead teaches an unhealthy (and unethical) religious prejudice and hostility toward individuals of diverse opinion and background.

  1. Religion has no good explanation for the presence of evil.

    1. One of the most powerful arguments against theism is the presence of evil in the world. If one true, powerful, good God actually exists, then he would either prevent or reverse the forces of evil. But evil is present and nothing seems to be stopping it. Evil seems to have no purpose; it occurs to both good and bad. So God must not exist, or he is not good, or he is not powerful.

    2. If God is really out there, then why does he seem to hide himself? Why doesn’t he just show up to debunk the false religions and end all the controversy? It would be easy for God to demonstrate his existence or to verify the “true” faith. The fact that no God has done so is proof that no God exists.

  1. Science has removed the “need” for God.

    1. Humanity is religious only to the degree that it is ignorant of science. As science has progressed over the last few centuries, religion has become less and less plausible. Today, because science can explain virtually all phenomena, religion is no longer necessary. Religious myths have no place in modern society.

    2. Only scientific investigation yields truth; only what is testable in a laboratory can be considered true. Science deals in matters of fact, while religion stays merely in the realm of faith. Religion is never a matter of objective fact but merely subjective taste, opinion, and hope. Religious opinions should never be presented as factual or true.

    3. Informed minds have rejected the idea of God, and only the pre-scientific, unquestioning, antiquated, or simple-minded have succumbed to this belief, through fear or ignorance.

    4. Science has incontrovertibly proven that the Book of Genesis is utter mythology.

Richard Feynman, noble prize winning physicist: “God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore.”

Carl Sagan: “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

Conclusion: Advocates of atheism make some bold claims that most religious people would find offensive and challenging. Many of them we can write off as invalid, while others may cause us to pause and think. Future lessons will seek to answer these claims.

1 David Mills, Atheist Universe.

Lesson 3: The History of Atheism

Lesson 3: The History of Atheism1

To understand a cultural movement, it is often helpful to trace its history, and so we now turn to a brief overview of the history of atheism. One might assume that atheistic ideas would extend back to the remotest parts of human history, but such is not the case. In the ancient world, atheism was virtually unheard of. Everyone believed in a god of some sort. Many lived as if they did not believe in the god or gods they professed, but few indeed would have denied belief in any god. Yet in our time, atheism is a common worldview.

How did the remarkable and monumental reversal occur? History tells us.

  1. Cultural conditions

    1. Conditions in Western Europe before the French Revolution

      1. In 17th century Western Europe, belief in God had become a deeply embedded aspect of European culture, with the institution of the church widely seen as a stabilizing influence on the region. However, the Reformation brought an end to Roman Catholic dominion over the entire region and other forms of Christian expression became popular.

      2. The Reformers and many others reacted strongly against the power, influence, and wealth of the Roman Church, which had become an agent of oppression and exploitation. While the Reformers urged a return to the NT model, others saw Christianity as holding back social, intellectual, and political progress. For some, the best way to undermine the church was to attack the ideas on which the church was based, undermine the credibility of its teachings.

      3. The 18th century (1700s) was an age of revolution. Many saw religion as the enemy of progress, lending a spurious divine authority to the traditions of the past and the corrupt monarchies that depended on them for what little credibility they possessed.

      4. This era is often called the Age of Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) because of the adoption of rationalism and humanism and the application of the scientific method to all things. It was an age of immense scientific advance. Belief in natural law and universal order promoted a scientific approach to political and scientific issues, and gave rise to a sense of human progress.2 The Enlightenment marked the beginning of the modern era (“modernity”3) and set the stage for atheism to gain influence. The dawning of the Enlightenment marked the beginning of the demise of Christianity as the leading cultural influence in Western civilization.

    2. Modern atheism can be traced back to the French Revolution.

      1. If any event signals the dawn of the golden age of atheism in the West, it is the French Revolution of 1789. The Revolution in France was a political upheaval that ended the monarchy and severely weakened the Roman Catholic Church there. There was good reason for hostility toward the crown and the church in France. The aristocracy lived in luxury while the peasants suffered grinding poverty. The Church was corrupt and supported the monarchy. The middle class was heavily and unfairly taxed to support the excesses of both the government and the church. A widespread rebellion against the aristocracy and the church was inevitable. The middle class was intent on destroying both. Since the church supported the monarchy, the church would have to go, too. The wisdom of the day was as simple as it was powerful: eliminate God, and a new future would dawn. Atheism was seen as a liberator capable of overthrowing both the monarchy and the church.

      2. French writers began asserting the idea that one could understand nature by reason and experience, without God. Everything could be accounted for on purely materialist grounds. Belief in God is the product of a misguided human imagination, not the rigorous scientific application of the scientific method. Science liberates humanity from false ideas of supernatural powers or beings. Ignorance of nature gives birth to the idea of God. The “god” for the French became humanism.

Quoting D’Holbach: An atheist is someone who destroys human [fantasies] in order call people back to nature, experience and reason.

      1. Without the restraining influence of the idea of God, anything was possible, including the creation of a new society, liberated from the oppressive rule of monarchy and church.

Diderot: “France would not be free until the last of its kings had been strangled with the entrails of its last priest.”

      1. Some French writers attempted to make belief in God invulnerable to skeptical assault. Rene Descartes set out to demonstrate the existence of God with certainty. Instead of basing his argument on religious experience, Descartes founded his beliefs on philosophy and natural science. Few found his arguments compelling.

      2. Atheism did not become a significant force in British life in the eighteenth century. France and Germany were the centers of atheistic philosophy.

  1. Leading figures advocating atheism

The intellectual foundations for atheism extend back to a handful of influential writers. Ideas originally limited to a small elite gradually percolated downward and outward into society as a whole. Eventually, they became accepted and familiar. Intellectuals became the “secular priesthood” preaching atheism.

    1. In France

      1. In 1748, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie published a work asserting that human happiness depends upon the triumph of atheism, which alone can liberate humanity from tyranny, war, and oppression—all of which have religious roots.

      2. Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet) (1694-1778) is often first on the list of French skeptics to blame for spreading atheism, but he was not really an atheist. Voltaire was a bold critic of the church and a proponent of “natural” religion, but was also strongly defended the idea of a supreme being, who was inadequately and falsely represented by the religions of the world, especially the French Catholic church. Voltaire was joined by many genuine atheists in his denunciation of the church, but Voltaire himself was not an atheist. Voltaire, for all his many savage criticisms of the French religious establishment of his day, did not himself espouse atheism.

      3. Denis Diderot (1713-84) was an influential spokesman for atheism who taught that the principle of everything is creative nature, matter in its self-activity, eternally productive of all change and all design. He said that religions have made the world ugly with their murderous wars and endless dogmatic controversies.

      4. Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789). In 1761 D’Holbach began his written attacks on theologians and religious power. D’Holbach taught that most of man’s woes stemmed from religion. “Ignorance and fear,” he claimed, “are the two hinges of all religion.” He taught that morals were quite possible without religion: “Let … reason be cultivated … and there will be no need of opposing to the passions such a feeble barrier as the fear of the gods.”4

      5. The Marquis de Sade argued (from an insane asylum) that belief in God is just repressive superstition. Obedience to natural desire is what is really important. The first stage of enlightenment is rejection of God. Religion is the barrier preventing humanity from enjoying its vices. Abandoning faith in God is the first step to enjoying life. There is no life to come; only a life in the present, which we ought to enjoy as much as possible. The idea of God is an outmoded superstition that merely gets in the way of enjoying life to the full. Atheism makes sexual experimentation legitimate and interesting.

    2. In Germany and Austria

      1. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72), the “father” of European atheism: religion is a human construction

        1. Feuerbach, who started out as a theology student, argued that Christianity trivializes death by diverting believers from their actual relations with other persons and with the natural world around them. Authentic human existence is godless and limited to this life.

        2. Feuerbach followed the philosopher Hegel in teaching that humanity invented the idea of God as a consolation and distraction from the sorrow of the world. God was a human creation. Humanity existed alone; it had brought the notion of God into being as a misguided means of comforting itself during life’s dark and shadowy journey. God was but a “dream of the human soul,” a pure invention, the product of a human mind.

        3. Religion is not a God-given set of ideas but a human construction. Religion tells us nothing about God and everything about ourselves. The idea of God was a dream and the church the perpetuator of this delusion.

      2. Karl Marx (1818-83): religion is the “opium of the people”

        1. Marx was a materialist, one who believes that the world consists only of matter, without spiritual dimensions. Further, Marx believed that every aspect of human life and thought is determined by social and economic factors. Ideas and values are determined by the material realities of life. People’s social and economic conditions determine what they think. The idea of God is a human attempt to cope with the harshness of material life and the pain resulting from social and economic privation.

        2. Religion has no real independent existence, but is merely a symptom of something more real, namely, the material world. God is simply a projection of human concern. Theology is nothing more than a human creation of purely social forces. Religion is a human creation in response to the alienation experienced through the process of production. “Humans make religion.” It is a comfort that enables people to tolerate their economic alienation. Religion is merely the result of certain social and economic conditions. When communism is instituted, religion will vanish.

        3. Religion provides an illusion of happiness. To enjoy true happiness, one must give up the illusion. Religion provides the justification for the status quo; it lends authority to the upper classes to oppress the poor. Religion will die naturally when communism is imposed.

        4. Famous quote from Marx: Religion is the “sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.”

      1. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): religion is “neurosis”

        1. Freud taught that it is natural for humanity not to believe in God. Religion, not atheism, is what needs to be explained. “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.”

        2. Religious ideas are “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. … We shall tell ourselves that it would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent Providence, and if there were a moral order in the universe and an afterlife; but it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.”

        3. Freud became a psychoanalyst precisely because he was an atheist. He believed religion posed a threat to the advance of the Enlightenment and the natural sciences. Freud’s approach to religion rests upon the perceived need to explain why anyone would wish to take the extraordinary step of believing in God, when there is obviously no God to believe in.

        4. “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.”

        5. Religion is a “neurosis” civilized individuals must pass through on their way from childhood to maturity.

        6. Psychoanalysis has made us familiar with the intimate connection between the father-complex and belief in God; it has shown us that a personal God is, psychologically, nothing other than an exalted father, and it brings us evidence of how young people lose their religious beliefs as soon as their father’s authority breaks down.

        7. Belief in a personal God is little more than an infantile delusion. Religion is wishful thinking. God is to be seen as a wish fulfillment, arising from repressed, unconscious infantile longings for protection and security. Religious beliefs owe their origins to a childlike feeling of helplessness, which arises in response to external dangers, internal impulses, and a fear of death.

      2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): “God is dead”

        1. Nietzsche said that belief in the Christian God had become virtually indefensible in modern Western society. The primary emphasis of Nietzsche’s mature writings is that “belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable.” Western culture had not ceased to believe in God on account of unassailable philosophical reasons, but because it shifted mood. God is gradually being eliminated from modern culture. Whether this is right or wrong, good or bad, it is happening. Western culture has ceased to find belief in God plausible.

        2. Nietzsche despised religion in general, and Christianity in particular, with unbridled fury. He said, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which o means are too venomous, too underhanded, too underground, and too petty.” Nietzsche was the most imaginative and articulate modern spokesman for atheism. He philosophically and ideologically swayed the twentieth-century mind.5

        3. Nietzsche spent the last eleven years of his life insane.

  1. Recent history of atheism6

Within the last few decades, several writers who advocate atheism have come into prominence. Here are a few you should be familiar with:

    1. Anthony Flew: As a professor of philosophy at Oxford and other universities, Flew was a leading proponent of atheism and humanism. Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. However, in 2004, Flew changed his views and became a deist, believing in an “inactive, inoffensive” god. Some believe Flew’s change of mind was due to a serious mental decline accompanying his old age.

    2. Richard Dawkins: This twice-divorced British biologist and Oxford scholar has sold millions of books advocating evolution and atheism. He has also been active in the popular media as an outspoken voice for atheism and against creationism and Christianity. Dawkins has been labeled “Darwin’s Rottweiler” because of his devotion to Darwinian evolution and his hostility toward biblical creationism. He’s also been called “the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell.” Dawkins’ book The God Delusion had sold over 1.5 million copies and been translated to 31 languages.

    3. Christopher Hitchins: This author, journalist and political activist is noted for his wit, scholarship, and abrasive personality. His 2007 book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything asserts, among other things, that organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.” He’s a popular speaker on the lecture circuit and frequently debates theologians and creationists.

    4. Other notable proponents of atheism (in no particular order)

      1. John Dewey, atheistic American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer

      2. Sam Harris, author and scientist, argues that religious fundamentalism is dangerous and theologically unsound.

      3. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, wrote that human reason is wholly inadequate to make any assumptions about the divine.

      4. Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, believed all religions led to the “exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.”

      5. H.L. Mencken, American journalist and satirist who famously ridiculed those who believed the Genesis account of creation at the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial.

      6. Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and mathematician, maintained that religion is little more than superstition and, despite any positive effects that religion might have, it is largely harmful to people. He believed religions impede knowledge, foster fear and dependency, and are responsible for much of the war, oppression, and misery that have beset the world.

      7. John Lennon, singer/songwriter, famously sang “and no religion too” in his song “Imagine.” Lennon commented that the song was “an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song, but because it’s sugar-coated, it’s accepted.”

As a result of Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and the rest, society’s thinking about religion did an about face, starting with the Enlightenment and extending to the current era. Earlier generations regarded the existence of God as a natural and fundamental aspect of humanity. After these and others,7 atheism became natural and religious belief something to be explained away. God was the product of social and psychological factors. The idea of God was a mere invention, useful in consoling weak and foolish souls who were naïve enough to believe it. God was nothing more than an illusion, created by fearful minds to console themselves in the face of the immensity and meaninglessness of the universe. The idea of God, in their view, was a source of evil in the world, an idea to be destroyed.

Interestingly, in spite of the fact that many of the leading voices in education, philosophy, science, arts and letters, and media advocate atheism or are hostile toward organized religion, the majority of people in the world are religious, while the vast minority would describe themselves as atheists or unbelievers. Americans in particular are confirmed theists, with over 80% of them describing themselves as Christian. Still, the skeptics and critics are having an impact in Western civilization, where secularism is gaining ground.

1 Much of the material in this lesson comes from Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism.

2 The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 269.

3 Modernity is defined as “a confident, [optimistic] movement, convinced of the supreme ability of human reason to understand the world and hence to master and control it.” McGrath, Twilight, 218. The current age is often labeled “post-modern” because western culture has moved beyond the ideals of modernism.


5 Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism, 25.

6 Most of this information comes from

7 One of the leading figures associated with the rise of atheism is Charles Darwin, popularizer of natural evolution. We’ll discuss his contributions to atheism in another lesson.

Lesson 2: Biblical Data

Atheism: Lesson 2: Biblical Data

What does the Bible have to say about those who deny the existence of God? Surprisingly, not very much. Genuine atheism was a very uncommon belief, and few in biblical times adopted such a position. Much more common was the worship of many gods (polytheism) or the worship of a particular regional or ethnic “god” (henotheism—choosing one “god” out of many). True atheism has become common only within the last several centuries (we’ll discuss the history of atheism in the next lesson).

What does the Bible teach regarding God’s existence and those who deny it?

  1. The Bible assumes God’s existence; it does not attempt to prove it.
    1. The opening words of the Bible state the existence of God: “In the beginning, God created…”
      1. The Bible begins and ends with the assertion and assumption of God’s existence. It simply declares to man what he already knows in his heart—that God is. The Bible has no formal arguments or proofs for God’s existence (although there is abundant biblical proof of His existence).1
      2. The existence of God is based on revealed truth. God has revealed Himself “at sundry times and in divers manners” (Heb1:1). He has spoken through the prophets to the “fathers” and most revealingly through his Son, Jesus Christ. Without direct revelation, mankind would know very little about God.
      3. God holds man responsible to believe what God has revealed. Skeptics may claim that if God exists, He has not provided enough evidence to prove his existence (a common argument). However, the amount of revelation God has provided is enough to make man accountable and responsible to believe. Claims of ignorance of God due to lack of evidence will not hold up in God’s court of law.

Note: Philosophical arguments or proofs for God’s existence began with Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher of the 13th century. His ideas were rediscovered and popularized in the 18th century by various Protestant teachers. The idea behind the proofs is that one can reason his way independently to a knowledge of the existence of the true God apart from special revelation and/or regeneration.

Aquinas proposed “five ways” by which one could arrive at a true knowledge of God apart from the Bible or special revelation. All of these are still being used to “prove” the existence of God today.

1. From motion to an “Unmoved Mover.”

2. From a contingent being to a “Necessary Being.”

3. From degrees of perfection to a “Most Perfect Being.”

4. From effects to a “First Cause.”

5. From design to a “Designer.”

Basing our faith in God on such proofs is not wise, because if it can be shown that the proofs/arguments are weak, the entire foundation for faith is shaken if not totally devastated. While abundant evidence for God’s existence does exist, we do not base our faith on philosophical proofs but on Scripture.

    1. Although the Bible does not present arguments proving God’s existence, at certain points God demonstrated his existence and power to a skeptical audience. Often such proof was miraculous in nature.
      1. Moses with Pharaoh (Ex 4:4)
      2. Elisha with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)
      3. The retreat of the sundial as a sign to Hezekiah (Isa 38:7-8)
      4. Various experiences with Jesus: raising the dead, walking on water, calming the storm, healings, etc. The ultimate miracle was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. John says that these miracles were designed to convince people that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 20:31).
      5. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9)

A word of caution regarding miracles as proofs of God’s existence: In the Bible we find a variety of responses to miracles. Sometimes the miracle results in a mass conversion (e.g., Elijah with the prophets of Baal—the people cried out, “The LORD, he is God;” Jesus’ appearance to Thomas after the resurrection elicited the response, “My Lord and my God.”). However, in the NT, we find that Jesus’ enemies were not convinced by miracles (e.g., after the resurrection of Lazarus, the Jewish authorities did not deny the miracle; they sought to kill both Jesus and Lazarus). The apostles did “notable” miracles, which the Jewish authorities admitted, but that did not convince them of anything; they retained their hostile attitude toward the early Christians (see Acts 4). Further, remember that Satan himself has the power to do counterfeit signs and wonders (2 Thes 2:9). Thus, even if skeptics experience genuine miracles, it would not necessarily convince them of anything.2

Atheists typically reject any kind of miraculous activity as proof for God with the following arguments:

  1. Until the modern era, anything out of the ordinary or not understood was attributed to the gods/God. Even today, unusual events are called “miraculous.” However, such events have a natural explanation, as all events do. Science is able to explain virtually all phenomena, leaving very few “gaps” for God to inhabit. Even a remarkable, unexplainable event should not be taken as a sign of God’s existence but simply as an anomaly, a freak of nature with an entirely natural explanation. E.g., natural explanations for resurrection claims.
  2. Biblical miracles should not be taken seriously. They are the evidence of pre-scientific understanding. So-called miracles are either pure myth or the suppositions of an unscientific mind. The Bible includes many myths, legends, and fables to heighten or strengthen the reputations of the characters, who also likely never really existed. E.g., Noah, Samson.
  1. The Bible teaches that atheism is foolish and wicked.
    1. Absolute atheism

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.

    1. Practical atheism

Ps 10:3-4 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, [whom] the LORD abhorreth. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.

In both cases, wickedness is directly associated with atheism. It is the wicked person who first curses and renounces the Lord and then in pride repeatedly thinks “there is no God.” Sin, not lack of proof, leads people to think irrationally and to deny God’s existence.

  1. The Bible gives several reasons for unbelief.
    1. Foolishness (Ps 14:1)
    2. Sin (Ps 10:3-4; John 16:9; Rom 1:19-26): A desire for freedom to fulfill any physical appetite often leads to a rejection of God. For many, God represents a cosmic kill-joy, the ultimate party-pooper. In order to pursue guiltless pleasure, the concept of God must be destroyed.
    3. Blindness (Rom 11:25; 2 Cor 4:4)
    4. Hardheartedness (1 Tim 4:2)
    5. Ignorance (1 Cor 2:8; 1 Tim 1:13)
    6. Spiritual deadness (Eph 2:1)
    7. Satanic or demonic influence (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 1 Pet 5:8)
    8. Being “natural” (1 Cor 2:14) or “carnal” (Rom 8:6-8)

Mt 13:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

  1. The Bible teaches that all people know that God exists.

Ps 19:1-4a The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Isa 40:26 Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

Rom 1:19-25 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Ro 2:15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another

    1. The Bible teaches that all persons everywhere, whether they admit it or not, have a deep, inner sense that God exists, that they are his creatures, and that he is their Creator. Paul asserts that God has shown information about himself to mankind. Even Gentile unbelievers “knew God” but did not honor him as God or give thanks to him (Rom 1:21), as they should have done. Wicked unbelievers have exchanged the truth about God for a lie, implying that they actively or willfully rejected some truth about God’s existence and character that they knew. 3
    2. Sin will cause people to deny their knowledge of God: Paul speaks of those who “by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18). They knew God, suppressed this knowledge, exchanged the truth for a lie, and worshipped the creature rather than the creator. What knowledge of God people have they normally corrupt.
    3. General revelation is information about God that is available to all people generally. Any human capable of rational thought has access to knowledge about God.
      1. The means of general revelation:
        1. Creation – “things which are made” (Rom 1:20).
          1. Every created thing says something about its Creator. Mankind in particular, being made in the “image and likeness” of God, displays characteristics of his Creator. Such an incredibly intricate, skillful, communicative living creature could only have been created by an infinite, all-wise Creator.
          2. David tells us that the natural world tells of God’s glory. Nature “speaks” and pours forth knowledge of the Creator. Such information is available to all and extends to the ends of the earth (Ps 19:1-4). To look upward into the sky by day or by night is to see sun, moon, and stars, sky and clouds, all continually declaring by their existence and beauty and greatness that a powerful and wise Creator has made them and sustains them in their order.

Ps 8:3-4 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

          1. The “rains and fruitful seasons” as well as the “food and gladness” that all people experience and benefit from are also said by Barnabas and Paul to be witnesses to God (Acts 14:17).

Quoting Grudem: “Everything that exists gives evidence of God’s existence. For those who have eyes to see and evaluate the evidence correctly, every leaf on every tree, every blade of grass, every star in the sky, and every other part of creation all cry out continuously, “God made me! God made me! God made me!” If our hearts and minds were not so blinded by sin, it would be impossible for us to look closely at a leaf from any tree and say, “No one created this: it just happened.” The beauty of a snowflake, the majestic power of a thunderstorm, the skill of a honeybee, the refreshing taste of cold water, the incredible abilities of the human hand—all these and thousands of other aspects of creation simply could not have come into existence apart from the activity of an all-powerful and all-wise Creator.”

        1. Conscience – “the law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15); an internal sense of right and wrong.

Note: Morality is an issue that atheists have a hard time explaining. Without a Law-giver, there can be no unchanging standards of morality. In such a case, all moral standards come down to mere human opinion and invention. If mankind is just another animal trying to survive, no moral restraints can be imposed on him.

      1. The message of general revelation:
        1. God exists.
        2. God is good.
        3. God is powerful.
        4. Men should thank God and worship Him.
      1. The “moment” (significance) of general revelation:
        1. Those who know God through general revelation and suppress and corrupt this knowledge are “without excuse” (Rom 1:20). God holds them accountable for what information they have.
        2. Instead of thanking God and seeking to know him, they exchange the truth for a lie and start worshipping the creation rather than the creator. The primary object of worship for atheists is man himself, and in particular, oneself.
        3. Thus, even for those who never hear the name of Jesus, they have enough information about God to be held accountable.
  1. The Bible teaches that some people have access to more specific information about God.
    1. Special revelation is that information that God has revealed about Himself to a select person or group. This information usually becomes public and is broadly published so many people have access to it. The Bible is special revelation, given originally to select individuals and groups, but now broadly available to almost anyone who cares to read it or listen to it.
    2. Special revelation reveals much more about God than general revelation does. We cannot know much about God’s attributes and will without special revelation.
    3. Salvation depends on receiving special revelation.

Ro 10:13-14 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?… So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

  1. The Bible teaches that belief in God is a matter of faith.

Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

    1. Faith is based on general revelation (God’s works).
    2. Faith is based on special revelation (i.e., Scripture—God’s Word).
    3. For those who are correctly evaluating the evidence, everything in Scripture and everything in nature proves clearly that God exists and that he is the powerful and wise Creator that Scripture describes him to be. Therefore, when we believe that God exists, we are basing our belief not on some blind hope apart from any evidence, but on an overwhelming amount of reliable evidence from God’s words and God’s works. It is a characteristic of true faith that it is a confidence based on reliable evidence, and faith in the existence of God shares this characteristic. Furthermore, these evidences can all be seen as valid proofs for the existence of God, even though some people reject them. This does not mean that the evidence is invalid in itself, only that those who reject the evidence are evaluating it wrongly.
    4. God must enable us to be persuaded or we would never believe in him. Man is by nature blind and spiritually dead, totally unresponsive and hostile to God. It is only through the gospel message and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that a person may be saved (John 16:8-11; Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:21). Human wisdom will never result in the true knowledge of God. We are dependent upon God to remove the blindness and irrationality caused by sin and to enable us to evaluate the evidence rightly, believe what Scripture says, and come to saving faith in Christ.4
    5. Evidence, proofs, and arguments can be effective in leading someone to faith in Christ. Ultimately, however, no one is saved simply by being convinced by the evidence. The Holy Spirit must convict one of his sin and his need to trust Christ as Savior. God is the One who “gives the increase.”

Conclusion: The Bible’s teaching on atheism is clear: God has provided ample revelation of himself, both generally and specifically. All people have access to this information. Men who naturally hate the idea of God suppress this knowledge and refuse to acknowledge God’s existence and right to govern them. Sin and a desire to live without moral restraints motivate atheism, not a lack of evidence that God exists. Atheists, of course, would deny all of these claims because they deny the inspiration of the Bible.

1 Rolland McCune, Systematic Theology I Class Notes, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

2 In most cases, biblical miracles are accompanied by an authoritative commentary on the meaning or purpose of the event. Without a prophetic or apostolic explanation, even miraculous events can be misunderstood or written off as flukes of nature, mere coincidence.

3Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 141.

4 Grudem, 144.

Lesson 1: Introduction and Definitions

Lesson 1: Introduction and Definitions


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.


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.




Lesson 1: Introduction and Definitions

Lesson 2: Biblical Data

Lesson 3: History of Atheism

Lesson 4: Claims of Atheism

Lesson 5: Christian Responses to Atheism

Lesson 6: Atheism and Science

Lesson 7: Atheism and Morality

Lesson 8: Further Considerations

The following resources were helpful in preparing this material. Some of the language in the lessons comes directly from these sources. Asterisks mark books that were especially helpful and are recommended reading.

Kenneth Boa, No God at All: Western Humanism and the New Atheism.

Francis S. Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press/Simon and Schuster, 2006).

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

*Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great about Christianity? (Washington DC: Regnery, 2007)

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2004).

J. Hampton Keathley, Evidence For God’s Existence (accessed Nov 2007).

*Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York: Galille/Double Day, 2006).

*Alister and Joanna McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007).

David Mills, Atheist Universe (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2006).

Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers (Basic Books: 2000)

*Ravi Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004).

Others as noted

Brad Anderson, 2007-2008.