ATHEISM

ATHEISM

© 2010, by Ruth Lee. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, ‘Atheism’ is defined as a disbelief in the existence of deity (God or a supreme being) or the doctrine that there is no deity.  Atheism is from the Greek, ‘a’ – without – and ‘theos’ – god.  Throughout history and in the days of Jesus, there were people who believed in God and those who did not.  More formally, there seem to be difficulties in determining the history of atheism due to its definition[1].  Historians who use a more narrow definition of atheism argue that atheism seems to have existed prior to the 17th century.  Others, who use a more modern definition, argue that atheism was not encountered in the West prior to the 17th century[1].  Despite the challenge, this article will examine some of the more popular reasons for atheism and attempt to challenge them.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) explores atheism in detail and defines atheists as people who believe that God or any spiritual being is a man-made construct, of myths and legends, or who believe that this concept is not meaningful[2].  According to the information provided by BBC, atheists do not use God to explain the reality of the universe and believe that human beings can develop suitable moral codes to live by without the assistance of God or Scriptures.  Atheists can follow the same moral code as individuals who believe in a spiritual being, but they come to the decision of what is good or bad without any help from the idea of God[2].

People are atheists for many reasons; the more common ones include: insufficient evidence, the presence of evil, belief in God is not necessary, Christianity contributed to harm towards others, or simply that God is meaningless.

Insufficient Evidence

Many individuals are atheists because they believe that there is no dependable evidence that God exists.  There is an argument that ‘a person should only believe in things for which they have good evidence.’[1]  The popular presumption is to assume that God does not exist until it can be proven otherwise.

Logically, in the same way, there is no evidence in support of atheism, and there are no logical proofs that God does not exist.  Therefore, for someone to believe that there is no God is to hold that belief by faith.  It is virtually impossible to prove a negative.  Also, to believe that there is no dependable evidence that God exists is not a logical position to hold since this belief requires that the person know all possible evidences for God’s existence.  To say that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God still does not reject the possibility of His existence[4].

Evidence for the existence of God can be found in the Bible.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

God’s existence is also evident in the earth and all creation within it.

The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Day unto day utters speech,

And night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2)

With the support of science, it is only logical to conclude that such marvellous designs must have involved a great designer.  For example, if the Earth were considerably closer or farther away from the sun, it would not be capable of supporting much of the life it currently does.  If the elements in our atmosphere were even a few percentage points different, nearly every living thing on earth would die[3].  A final argument can be found in testimonies from people today of the presence of a genuine relationship with God.  For many, evidence that God exists can be found in a sense of His Presence; they know God’s love, sense His leading, and experience God in events that have occurred in their lives.  Everyone has a sense of right and wrong.  Murder, lying, stealing, and immorality are almost universally rejected.  A question to think about is: Where did this sense of right and wrong come from if not from a holy God?

Belief in a God Is Not Necessary

Many atheists argue that everything in the universe can be adequately explained without using God as part of the equation; therefore, there is no purpose in believing that God exists[2].  First of all, it is important to consider whether everything in the universe can indeed be explained in an acceptable way without God being a part of the equation.  Second of all, just because something can be explained in an acceptable way, it does not necessarily make it true.  In every area of life, we must find out what is true and then align our lives to that reality.  For example, we don’t invent a speed limit; we learn what it is and then abide by it, or we pay a penalty.  The reality is that truth is what it is, with or without our points of view or our ability to reason against.  Just as this is true in the ordinary aspects of life, this is also the same for spiritual things[5].

The fact that someone can argue that everything in the universe can be explained in an acceptable way doesn’t make God less real.  Therefore, the important question to ask is whether it is more logical to include God as part of the equation in the explanation of the universe.  If the truth is that God exists, then there is significant purpose in believing.  Finally, according to the Bible, if it is true that God exists, it is necessary to believe in Jesus in order to enter into heaven,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

The Presence of Evil

For many, atheism is the result of the view that there cannot be a God because the world is such a bad place.  These individuals feel that the existence of evil seems inconsistent with the existence of a God who is good and can do all things [2].  They believe that bad things are happening in the world because:

  1. God is unwilling to prevent evil, in which case He is not good
  2. God doesn’t know about evil, in which case He does not know everything
  3. God can’t prevent evil, in which case He is not all powerful
  4. Some combination of the above

As a result, there is no God since there cannot be a spiritual being that is completely good, knows everything, and is all powerful[2].

The arguments presented above, which attempt to explain why bad things happen in the world, are faulty.  There is no logic in the conclusion that there are bad things happening in the world because God is unwilling to prevent evil.  God may be unwilling to prevent evil, but it is happening because humans choose to commit sin.  Even if the argument that God is unwilling to prevent evil was true, it still does not prove that God is not good.  There is also no logical reason or support to conclude that God does not know about evil or that He cannot prevent evil from happening.  It is not possible for human beings to know the mind of God.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways,

And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Most importantly, the view that there cannot be a God because the world is such a bad place is flawed.  This is based on the assumption that God is the cause of all bad things in the world.  God does allow pain and suffering, but God’s goodness cannot be attacked because He allows an act that appears cruel to us.  While it is not possible to know His reasoning in every circumstance, we do know a few reasons for why God allows pain and suffering:

  1. To carry out just punishment
  2. To bring about a greater good
  3. To exhibit His attributes

Suffering is a result of sin in the world, which is the result of Adam’s free choice and the effect of sin upon his descendants and the world.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned … (Romans 5:12)

The Bible illustrates a God who is just, righteous, holy, forgiving, gracious, and a multitude of other attributes.  Therefore, if someone were to decide on a specific and very narrow aspect of God’s character and then build an entire argument upon that, the argument is not representative of the actual character and actions of God[2].  For example, God is righteous.  He stated that He will punish those who are unrighteous:

“I will punish the world for its evil,

And the wicked for their iniquity …” (Isaiah 13:11a)

We can see from the Bible that God has the ability to punish.

God can prevent suffering, but He assures us that “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

So even suffering is part of the “all things” that God is using to accomplish His good purposes.  His plan is perfect, His character is flawless, and those who trust Him will not be disappointed.[3]

As a result, suffering is the result of human sin.  The reality is that the world is not the way it was when God first created it, and because of that, all are susceptible to the effects of sin in the world.

Atheists can continue to ask why one person suffers and another does not and why catastrophes happen to some and not to others.  It is because sin is in the world[4].  According to God’s Words, the Lord will return and cleanse this world of all sin and all suffering.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

A Lot of Harm

Atheists believe that religion contributes to oppression and that Christianity has contributed to a lot of harm committed towards others[2].  For example, the Crusades have provided some of the most frequent arguments against the Christian faith.

The specific Crusades to restore Christian control of the Holy Land were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291.  It can be questioned whether most of the people involved in the Crusades were truly Christians, even though they claimed to be.  The Crusades were attempts in the 11th through 13th centuries A.D. to regain land in the Middle East that had been occupied by Muslims.  Many people were forced to “convert” to Christianity.  If they refused, they were put to death[3].

The attempt to use this argument as a reason for disbelief in God is faulty.  An important point to understand is that many of the actions that took place in the Crusades were completely opposing to everything the Christian faith stands for.  Another point to keep in mind is that Christianity is not the only religion with a violent past.  Using this argument as a basis for atheism means that such an important decision is based on the unreliable actions of human beings rather than on the evidence of God’s existence.  Trying to blame all of Christianity for the Crusades is comparable to blaming all Muslims for Islamic terrorism.

God Is Meaningless

Some atheists think that religious language, for example, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, doesn’t mean anything at all; therefore, there is no point in determining whether God exists[2].

Ecclesiastes is a book in the Bible that is written from the narrator’s perspective and reveals the depression that results from seeking happiness in worldly things.  This book gives people a chance to see the world through the eyes of a very wise person who is trying to find meaning in temporary, human things.[3]  Almost all forms of worldly pleasure are explored by the narrator, and none of it gives him a sense of meaning:

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.

I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure,

For my heart rejoiced in all my labor;

And this was my reward from all my labor.

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done

And on the labor in which I had toiled;

And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.

There was no profit under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

In the end, the narrator comes to realize that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning.  He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and in the end worthless without God.

The narrator advises readers to focus on an eternal God instead of temporary pleasure.  In the Bible, it is also written that

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

God is not meaningless, but rather everything else is.  It is ultimately a matter of the heart and encouragement can be found in what God has promised:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)


Endnotes

[1] Watts, F.N. “History of Modern Atheism.” Investigating Atheism. University of Cambridge, 2009. Posted at http://www.investigatingatheism.info/history.html

[2] “Reasons people choose atheism.” BBC. Posted on October 22, 2009. At http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/beliefs/reasons_1.shtml

[3] “Does God exist?” Posted on Got Questions at http://www.gotquestions.org/Does-God-exist.html

[4] Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, https://carm.org/

[5] Mittleberg, Mark. Your Faith Path. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2008, pg. 16-17

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