August 01, 2019

The Claim That There Are No Atheists


Instead of answering atheists' arguments, some believers just deny that there is such a thing as atheism. On their view, everyone knows that there is a God, and so-called atheists simply block out that fact because they don't want there to be someone who makes moral demands on them. (As everyone knows, we atheists just want to be able to do whatever we feel like, morality be damned — which explains why we are always robbing banks and torturing puppies.) But what reasons are there for thinking this is the case? Several have been suggested.

One common argument states that no one can consistently live like an atheist. So-called atheists obey moral rules, for example, which they should have no reason to obey. For according to atheism, it is said, it is no better to be kind and help those in need than to be a serial rapist and murderer. Yet many so-called atheists speak out against injustices in the world, and in doing so reveal that they are not true heathens.

There are two basic problems with this line of thinking. First, that it is based on a misconception. Atheism doesn't imply there is no morality. One can lack belief in God and still believe in moral principles — and even in moral truths. And for those of us who do not accept the idea of moral truth — those of us who view morality as ultimately based on preferences and desires — it remains the case that we have those preferences, which we therefore have an interest in promoting. And that is enough.

The second problem is that, even if it were the case that atheists were being irrational in behaving morally, it wouldn't follow that they actually believe in God. It could just mean we are being irrational. So this argument cannot show that there are no atheists.

Similarly, there is the presuppositional argument put forward by such apologists as Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen. They held that not only morality, but science and even logic presuppose the existence of God. Thus, whenever atheists make scientific claims or even present any reasons for their views, they must already believe in God.

But again, not only is the claim that science and logic presuppose God false, even if it were true, it wouldn't prove that there are no atheists. Any atheist with logical and scientific views in that case would just be mistaken about their views not requiring the existence of God. They could nevertheless fail to believe in God.

Rather than appealing to morality and rationality, some theists just say that God reveals himself to all directly, so that “deep down” everyone knows about him. But one problem with this argument is that no one has been able to point to any good evidence that this is the case. Any psychological evidence that everyone actually believes is at best shaky. (There are atheists who argue on similar grounds that there are no true believers, and I find their view equally unconvincing.) Let's face it: it's just not easy to know what is going on in someone else's mind. What's more, there is evidence against the claim — and quite a bit of it. There is the fact that lots of individuals spend much of their time arguing in favor of atheism, for example. The psychological case would therefore have to be extremely strong to counter this opposing evidence, and it certainly doesn't appear to be. In addition, if God does reveal himself, then presumably he reveals himself as the biblical God, according to Christians making this argument. But then how can one explain competing religions? Hindus and Buddhists would also have to be in rebellion against the Christian God, yet they impose all kinds of different moral demands on themselves. And on this view, that makes no sense.

Finally, there is the view that God makes his existence evident by his creation of the world. As Romans 1:20 puts it, “his eternal power and divine nature... have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they [unbelievers] are without excuse.” But this is just a simplistic version of the design argument, an argument that has been refuted too many times to count. And even if the believer thinks that the argument holds up, the fact remains that it has been criticized by many — which implies that many of us do not think the world makes the existence of God evident.

There is an additional problem here as well. If the existence of a creator were obvious from the creation, then for anyone rebelling, belief in a creator who makes no moral demands on us — like the god of deism — would be a better alternative than atheism. After all, the Christian must admit that, even if the existence of a creator is made obvious by creation, the existence of the Christian God specifically — and thus, of the moral obligations he imposes — are not obvious (as, once again, the existence of many competing religions demonstrates). So why go to the extreme of denying the creator as opposed to simply denying those moral obligations?

It follows from all this that not one of the arguments for the non-existence of atheists is convincing in the least.



Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.

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