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.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.