Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Atheist’s New Clothes

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”

Sometimes the Bible just hits the nail on the head.

You run into a lot of people who pride themselves in being atheists. They rattle on about how they are the only intellectual option … that every scientist is an atheist … that no one who has any sense would be anything else … and so on. Their smugness, their self-satisfaction, their certainty seem so great that the unprepared believer is often blown back on his heels.

Preening Fools

Often they say it in such a way that you would think they don’t even have to assert it or to prove anything. They say it like “The sky is blue” or “The earth is round”. It is a thing not to be doubted — so absolute that it simply admits of no other view.

The unprepared believer thinks, “If they are so confident, perhaps they know something I don’t.” Maybe he’s silenced, ashamed in the presence of their certainty, and unwilling to call upon himself the opprobrium of the terms they put upon anyone who holds another view.

Atheists consider themselves the intellectual emperors: but this “emperor” has no clothes … none at all. And the sooner we all realize it the sooner we can get beyond the smug posturing and get to real conversations based on reason, facts and evidence.

Am I just making a contrary posture, one just as strong and just as empty as that of the atheist? I assure you not. But unlike the atheists, I will happily supply good reasons why you should believe me.

Defining Atheism

Let us begin with this: What is atheism?

Well, etymologically, the word is composed of two simple parts: ‘a’, the Greek particle of negation; and ‘theos’, the general Greek term for “god”. The Greeks were polytheists, you see … they believed there could be more than one god. So someone who is an ‘a-theist’ is, by definition, someone who simply says, “No god”.

There are no gods. No Zeus, no Hermes, no Aphrodite … but also, presumably, no Thor, no Vishnu and no Allah. And, of course, no Yahweh, no God of the Jews and Christians. No gods, of any kind.

“Well,” we might ask our atheist friend, “when you say there are no gods, are you making a statement about what is true, or only about what you wish could be true?”

You could get two answers from this.

The Two Horns of Atheism

The atheist could respond, “I’m only stating what I wish were the case.” And that might well be true; but as you can see, it’s not much of a challenge to belief in God. After all, we might then ask, “Why do you wish it?” We might then get many answers, but wishes are free: if all the atheist is saying is, “I wish God did not exist,” then he or she is only making a statement about what he or she would like, not about what he or she thinks is really true.

I might wish the earth were flat; but wishing doesn’t make it so.

So most atheists don’t do that. They don’t say they’re “wishing” God did not exist, but that they “know” that he does not exist.

But here they’ve really put their foot in it. Because now they’ve invited the obvious question: “How do you know?”

Blowing the Second Horn

How could a person know if there is or is not a God? If atheists pride themselves on being rational and scientific, then they would have to have a set of reasons supported by evidence for their view. If they have none, then they would have to forfeit their position that they are being reasonable, and would have to go back to saying, “I just wish …”

Well, what would a good test for the existence of God look like? God is reported to be a Transcendent Being, one capable of creating the universe. According to scripture, he existed before all things, and all things have their being in him. That means that all things, even the laws of science itself, were his creations; so if he did exist, he would have to be beyond all those laws so as to create them. He would have to be, as we say, a “supernatural” Being.

The Bible tells us that he sees all, and can be everywhere at once — from the heights of the heavens to the depths of the seas. He also exists beyond time itself. But according to scripture, he is also not identical with his creation. Creation contains signs of his existence, it says, but creation is not him. So no amount of testing of the creation itself is going to allow us to get God into a beaker, between a pair of Vernier calipers, under the Bunsen burner, on a dissection table.

Testing for Non-Existence

So you might think that there could be no scientific test for the existence or non-existence of God. But that wouldn’t be right. There would be a test, but it would have to fit the proposed subject. That means that an appropriate test would have to do a number of things — it would have to go everywhere, to make sure God was not somewhere it had not yet looked. It would have to move in time, to make sure God was not real in the past or future, if not the present (immediate or long term). It would have to examine everything, to make sure that everything in the material universe and the spiritual realm (if such exists) was not God. And finally, when it had done all that, it could with conclusive confidence assert what it does in fact assert: “There is no God.”

But here’s the colossal irony of that: if a person had ever done all of that, it would no longer be true that there was no God. For if a being could do that test, it would itself be omnipresent (everywhere), and omniscient (all-knowing). In other words, that being would have to BE God. Anything less could not run the test.

So there now would be a God; and it would be the atheist himself.

Exalted Nonsense

Of course, that’s stupid. And it’s not only stupid but self-defeating. If the atheist wins, he loses. There is simply no way he could ever rationally claim to have run such a test.

Logicians say that one of the surest ways to detect an unsound belief is when it cannot even keep faith with the terms it requires of itself. Atheism’s like that: it’s a belief for fools — if they assert that they have it on evidence.

But if they don’t have their atheism as a belief held on adequate evidence, what do they have? A wish again? Or is it a belief held on insufficient evidence? Yes, it is precisely that. It is a petulant statement of “I want it to be so”, founded either on mere personal preference or on a modicum of the necessary evidence in the universe.

A belief held on only part of the evidence is not entirely a wrong way to go. We do that all the time. In fact, except within a closed system of manageable size, all scientific experiments are of this kind: a belief held probabilistically, based on only a part of the possible evidence — like a conclusion based on running 100 tests, when the possible number of tests could be infinite.

The Claim of Categorical Proof

For scientific purposes, that’s not bad. Anyway, it’s how things work, and we’re stuck with it. Usually we can narrow the probabilities sufficiently to make reasonable final guesses. But what sound science never does is to pretend it’s got all the evidence when it has only part. And it certainly never makes categorical claims, claims to have absolute proof, when it does not have the required quantity of evidence. Philosophers of Science call this “scientific modesty”: it’s the virtue of never saying more than you actually know.

But the atheist claims to have categorical proof. He or she does not say, “I think there’s no God,” he says, “No God.” Period. There’s none. Zero. Nada. If he or she does not say that, then he or she is no longer an atheist at all, but rather an agnostic — a term which means “unknowing one” (Greek: ‘a’ + ‘gnosis’), one who does not know for sure, but who guesses or estimates.

The upshot of this is as follows: it is rationally possible to doubt the existence of God if one wishes (i.e., to be agnostic) but it is never rationally possible to be an atheist.

Atheism is inherently foolish. It is a statement on the intellectual level of a man who says he is a turnip.

The Dawkins Defection

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Hear the man they call “the world’s most famous atheist” back away quickly from being called that. For all his bluster, Richard Dawkins is smart enough to realize that if he is called an “atheist”, he will lose every debate right away. He will immediately be pinned as unscientific and irrational, just as soon as his conversation partners ask for his evidence. So he ducks that: he goes with “atheist” when he’s talking to people he suspects won’t call him on it, but then switches to “strong agnostic” (here, a 6.9 out of 7) when he’s worried about getting cornered.

Don’t let the bluster of atheists fool you. They’re acting irrationally. Really, if they were honest, they’d all just say, “I’m an agnostic.” Like Dawkins, they might say, “I’m a strong agnostic, strongly convinced God probably doesn’t exist,” but they would never call themselves atheists. Ever.

Still, Dawkins et al. think that perhaps “strong agnosticism” might be a defensible position. In a future post, let’s consider whether that move will save them. But for now, you can just take the word of God from Psalm 14:

Only a fool has ever said, “No God”.


  1. Quite right, most intellectuals who argue against Christian or Muslim faith specifically or religion in general admit readily that there is no proof for "No God"

  2. Agreed, Russ. And if you check my next post on atheism, coming shortly, I'll even point out why the business of trying to prove "no God" is far, far more problematic than trying to prove there IS one.

    See if you like that when it comes out. It's titled, "Head to Head". That is, unless Tom changes the title.

  3. Great point about the one who goes everywhere and knows everything being God. But one issue I have with the dilemma is that I'm not trying to prove that God is hidden inside the universe somewhere. By definition, God has to be unlimited by the universe in order to be infinite, otherwise an infinite being inside the universe would fill up the universe. If God were hidden inside the universe somewhere, that would make him a demigod.

    1. I'd just say you're right -- by definition, God (if we mean by that term the Christian God), is above and beyond the universe. He is the Cause for it, the Originator of it, not some creature within it. Right on.

      Now, perhaps it would be surprising if we saw absolutely no possible evidence of a Creator within the universe ... say, if there were no marks of order and design in nature at all. We would wonder why a Creator would make such a place; but since we ourselves are beings constituted by order, and living within a universe governed by laws, that objection is well covered by the observable order in the universe. Even Dawkins admits that belief in God is a winsome empirical hypothesis -- he just insists it's an incorrect one (though without reason, it would seem).

      But all that just makes the atheist's claim of "knowing" the non-existence of God all the more foolish. If God were within the universe, then to go looking by empirical methods might be sensible; and the atheist's failure to find evidence he's willing to recognize might have some modicum of relevance to the question. But if, as we believe, God is beyond all that, then there is absolutely nothing revealed to us by the atheist's empirical test, even if there were one he could do!

      Either way, the idea of empirically testing for God would be the atheist's only basis of pretending that he has a knowledge claim. So that's surely a problem for him, but none at all for us.