When Psalm 14:1 Says Atheists Are "Fools" This Can Be Easily Refuted.

Psalm 14:1 says: "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good."

My claim is that once we correctly understand this verse we can easily refute it.

Taking his cue from John Calvin, Jim West (i.e. Where's Waldo?) ignorantly set off a Blog war among Bibliobloggers by claiming this verse means that:
Atheism is insanity. Hence, there’s no more point in arguing with (or even discussing things with) an atheist than there is in walking into an insane asylum and attempting to carry on a lucid conversation with persons utterly devoid of the gift of lucidity. Link
I claim Psalm 14:1 is about morality, that it says an atheist is an immoral person, not an insane one. And I reject that was well. I also argue this correct interpretation is easily proven false.

The first person to weigh in on this matter is Christian scholar Matt Flanagan who said:
John I have studied the word fool, here in fact, and you are quite right, fool has a moral and not an intellectual sense.
Okay so far?

In that link Matt says:
A fool here is not someone who is imprudent but someone who is positively wicked. The text speaks of those who commit “abominable deeds;” the idea is that such a person is morally corrupt, someone who rejects doing good, someone who is committed to evil.
Soooo, then Dr. Flannagan, we’re agreed. Jim West is ignorant, and so was Calvin!

As to the immoral charge this is not true of atheists. You see, this is not about having a basis for morality. It’s a charge against the behavior of people who do not believe in God. The passage claims that we are in fact immoral and even wicked people--that we do not live according to moral “wisdom.” This is about our behavior not our beliefs, for it's speaking about the behavioral consequences of our not believing.

I would think this discussion alone should end any pretensions about an inerrant Bible. One lone ethical atheist destroys such a notion, for what he believes is not the issue, his behavior is. Even if the atheist is inconsistent in his behavior, as Christians might want to claim, that too is irrelevant. It's about his behavior. And Psalm 14:1 says we behave immorally (characteristics like murderer, rapist, someone who defrauds others, violent, lawless, etc).

One lone ethical atheist destroys such a notion. And although I'm not claiming to be something I'm not, I'll put my behavior up against most Christian's behavior.

In any case, all it takes is one lone ethical atheist to refute this passage in the Bible. That being said, good behaving atheists number in the millions.


Anonymous said...

John, read the passage again; it says the fool says in his heart their is no God. Not the fool says with his lips or with his mouth that there is no God. I would apply this passage to closet Atheists, or those who go to church but don't believe a word that is said from the pulpit. Like Isiah 29:13 says: The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;...

Badger3k said...

Interesting idea GINW - especially since the pagans (and early Jews) had their religion be about behaviors, not really belief. From what I have read, the Greek and Roman religion was about making sacrifices (etc) - for morality, they went with philosophers. I may be completely wrong on that, not having gone into further research yet, but if it is correct, then Paul (or whoever wrote it) could have been arguing for a belief system and decrying such standard behavior - which is related with the shift of morality being coopted by religion.

Unknown said...

"And Psalm 14:1 says we behave immorally (characteristics like murderer, rapist, someone who defrauds others, violent, lawless, etc)."

It's telling that the exact same characteristics can also be applied to the monstrous Yahweh. We are all very fortunate that such a foul being does not exist.

nearenough said...

It's easy to dismiss "God." You never hear from the "God" directly. Every single thing ever attributed to that alleged being comes from some human. Every moral precept, every absolute behavioral injunction comes from a priest who made it up. The "God" never makes an appearance. Even if it did, we would see nothing more than an image of a human, which is to say not any more believable than the pretenders we have been suffering for centuries.

DM said...





to see how the NEW ATHEIST MOVEMENT has been annihilated...

Exploring the Unknowable said...

When I first started listening to the likes of Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens and other such vociferously strident opponents of unsupported faith, the response of the believers always astonished me. They always cried foul. I watched a video not too long ago where a Christian was referring to Harris' book, A Letter to a Christian Nation as being entirely anti-Christian (duh) and that it was attacking those of the Christian faith.

Now, after reading the book, the former statement is absolutely true, and at times the latter statement may be also be true. The Christian feels that this is unfair, because the Christian faith is just a set of beliefs that does not interfere with the atheist, and this kind of propaganda could lead to hatred of Christians and marginalization of their populace in our society.

The only problem is, Christian belief is predicated on the Christian viewing atheists as lowly as the Christian feels Harris views the Christian. Verses like the one posted above are as clear as possible that, according to Christian theology, atheists, especially vocal atheists, are the most vile form of evil on the planet. But there is no public outcry about this. If a Christian were to affirm that all Asians who were stumbling blocks to believers should have millstones hung around their necks in the depths of the sea, this would certainly not be tolerated, but replace the word Asians with atheists, and it's fair game. Why is this?

Because it is part of their faith, and as such, is beyond reproach. Christians repeatedly claim to love their neighbors, but if they view them as all patently evil and foolish, how can they love and respect their neighbors at all? The double standard is striking and coupled with any belief of eternal damnation, creates for a rather awkward set of beliefs for a Christian who has to openly co-mingle with atheists on a daily basis.

It's hard to swallow that someone would unashamedly associate with another whom they believe to be as evil and deserving of punishment as say Hitler, but according to the Bible, unbelief is the greatest offense against God, and so therefore, Hitler, quite possibly a Christian, might actually be closer to God than I am, and therefore in God's eyes, I would be grossly more evil and vile.

So, then, this type of verse may actually be one of the most vitriolic forms of hate speech ever promulgated by the human race, but is cleverly packaged into a religious belief, and therefore many are reticent to criticize it. Well, I certainly am not, and plan to bring it up quite forcefully when I meet with an old friend who is a Christian, later this week, because I want to know if he holds true to his Scripturally bound belief to consider me a vile serpent, unworthy of life and liberty, deserving of eternal punishment.

Overall, Christians don't act this way toward atheists, which is possibly a point that shows they don't truly believe in Christianity, but as Dan Dennett posits; they simply believe in belief.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

This is strange - I'm surprised that no one ( not even a Christian) mentioned that Jesus advised not to call anyone a fool. Shees.....how foolish!

Breckmin said...

While it is true that "nbl" means "decadent one" in the Hebrew,
this is still evasive to what it actually means to be decadent. We also need to employ "scriptura scripturum interpretator" with verses like Proverbs 1: 7. Here the Hebrew word is "auilim" and is plural.

This whole argument regarding a "fool" is evasive to logical reasons as to WHY it is foolish to deny their is a Creator. It is much "wiser" to talk about all of the logical reasons and evidences for the Creator...based on scientific observation (for instance). Yes it is indeed foolish to believe that Information can emerge without Intelligence, or that complex mechanical working systems can form without Intelligence or that IF-THEN algorithmic programming can come about without a Programmer. Yes it is foolish to believe in an adult fairy tale without a viable scientific observation to demonstrate an origination for a template of information. There are many things we can point to that demonstrate foolishness. The fact that the Psalms and Proverbs corroborates the principle still leaves many questions as to how someone would find wisdom (through deduction). This needs to be explained as well.

Anonymous said...

Point of logic here: The Bible declared that all fools are atheists,(if that is what was intended), not all atheists are fools.

Breckmin said...

"I'm surprised that no one ( not even a Christian) mentioned that Jesus advised not to call anyone a fool."

Different words used in two different languages, for one. Just because they end up with the same word in the English does not mean they are diametrically opposed in the original languages that they are written in. In Matthew 5: 22 - "raka" is a term for "empty" or the dynamic equivalent of "empty head" and it isn't even a koine Greek origin..it is Aramaic in its derivation....so there is no contradiction.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

This was written, "That being said, good behaving atheists number in the millions."

How would one go about "proving" that??

Mark Plus said...

I consider Psalm 14:1 an ironically true statement, but not in the sense christians want to read into it. The fool says in his heart, there is no god, because even a fool can see the untenability of theism.

Paul also writes an ironic truth in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, etc. won't inherit "the kingdom of god" because nobody will; this "kingdom" doesn't exist.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hi Mark - I am presuming you are a former Christian. If I am correct, I am wondering how you were instructed to interpret various passages in the Bible. For instance, the lame man by the pool - what was the message supposed to be in that story? And also, the children in the market crying out to one another - what was your understanding of that parable??

No pressure to respond, but I hope you will consider doing so. I am asking this because the 'seed of the Pharisees' corrupts the 'gospel' to sound like the 'badpel' and it shows up in the way ppl interpret Jesus's words.

At any rate, I hope to hear back from you on this.

T said...


I've noticied something that I've found peculiar in myself. During the first couple years after my deconversion I loved getting into these debates. I continue to love reading your site, but I find myself impatient my Christian friends when they quote a scripture, such as this. Proper exegesis of the Bible is all nonsense, when trying to make the claim that the Bible should considered the words of a god. Anyway, I do appreciate your efforts and I'm glad someone else is tireless in their efforts to spread the truth!

Anonymous said...

Actually, the passage says "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God" not "Everyone who has said in his heart, There is not God, is a fool."

If you translate nabal as vile person rather than fool, to show the moral relation in the meaning, you still get the same "The vile person has said in his heart, There is no God" not "Everyone who has said in his heart, There is not God, is a vile person."

Exploring the Unknowable said...

I love this line of reasoning:
"The fool has said in his heart, There is no God" not "Everyone who has said in his heart, There is not God, is a fool."

Do we really need to dig through the Scriptures and point all the instances where, unequivocally, God calls unbelievers evil and vile and deserving of his wrath. I mean, let's not act like God just waxes poetic about unbelievers throughout the Sciptures and John cherry picked this passage out of context, trying to prove an otherwise unsubstantiated point.

Remember, in Romans, it says there is no one good, not one, so there you have it. If you are alive, you are evil, but, of course Christians have the leading of the Holy Spirit, so they are being sanctified and already forgiven. It follows, if you are not a Christian, you are still of the group referred to in Romans; those that are NO GOOD.

And all this business about what the Hebrew says and what the Greek says, and what the Aramaic says and what the Latin says....Very few Christians know this stuff, or even care to know it. Therefore, when we call out the Scriptures in its current translation, we are right to rebut what is actually in the English translation, because this is what most people we refer it to would be familiar with. Also, it almost goes without saying that if the English translation of the Bible gives a contradictory meaning to a passage than what would have been understood in the original language, that really takes a lot of the air out of the "inspired, inerrant, authoritative, Word of God" balloon.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Anthony in response to this, "Also, it almost goes without saying that if the English translation of the Bible gives a contradictory meaning to a passage than what would have been understood in the original language, that really takes a lot of the air out of the "inspired, inerrant, authoritative, Word of God" balloon."

There is meaning that transcends the diversity of various languages - I believe Jesus was attempting to intervene on the process of ppl standing by and harshly judging others and name calling, especially if they are not willing to help the 'fools'out.

Samphire said...


Yes it is indeed foolish to believe that Information can emerge without Intelligence, or that complex mechanical working systems can form without Intelligence or that IF-THEN algorithmic programming can come about without a Programmer.

I would agree with you if science was postulating that intelligence poofed into existence (see creationism) but it doesn't.

What the biological record shows is a gamut of intelligence from simple unintelligent viruses, through sentient bacteria to socially organised animals such as ants and bees all the way up to highly intelligent societies such as dolphins, whales, apes and chimps. Oh, and out-of-control human groupings of various descriptions.

Paleontology shows the same progression though time as current biology shows in the present snapshot of time. We have a continuum of increase in intelligence through time. No miracles to be seen. No deistic interference with natural processes.

As for algorithmic programming you are some way behind the times:


has a host of links on the subject.

Doubtless you will argue that such programs require an intelligence to set them going which is true but only because electrons don't have natural affinities for other electrons. But life is made of chemicals and chemicals do have affinities. It is a law of nature.

Madeleine said...

Try reading Calvin next time. His commentaries are online.

Also you might want to read this, Matt's response: John Loftus on Calvin, Matthew Flannagan and Psalm 14

Anonymous said...

A person who has genuine intellectual questions or objections about God's existence is not the biblical (or psalmists) definition of a fool.

Such a person is in better standing with God than one who has foolish "heart" or emotional resistance.


Samphire said...

"Such a person is in better standing with God than one who has foolish "heart" or emotional resistance."

Hey, KevinH, that's wonderful news. But how do you know that?

Anonymous said...

Hey, KevinH, that's wonderful news. But how do you know that?

KH> It would be an internal consideration. Being that the Scriptures contain the passage in question, then the Scriptures can inform us on the passage.

There we see wisdom and reason exhorted, Paul reasoning on Mars Hill among the philosophers, and Jesus dealing with doubt head-on, etc.

Again, it's a question internal to Christian theology.

Anonymous said...

Anthony, why are you attacking me for using strict grammar? You assume too much in assuming I was defending inerrancy. I was just pointing out that strictly speaking both sides are misinterpreting the line. It doesn't say all atheists are fools.

Exploring the Unknowable said...

The entirety of my post was not about you Beowulf2k8. My initial point was the unnecessary nature of your argument. Even if you completely and convincingly assured everyone that this particular passage does not state that all atheists are fools, it goes without saying the entire Bible makes it quite clear. You don't believe in God, you are quite evil and foolish (thus the need for salvation). Moreover, given that tone of the Scriptures, it is completely within reason, and I'd aruge, compulsory, to interpet this passage as saying, "Those who do not believe in God, are fools."

Your argument is as pointless as reading a scripture that said, "Those who know God, are saved.", and then pointing out that it doesn't say, "Those who are saved, know God." Of course it doesn't say that, but you can should assume the converse. Much like you should assume the converse in the above Scripture.

As far as my last comment about Biblical innerrancy, the thought never crossed my mind that you did or didn't believe in that ridiculous doctrine. The point was valid at the time, and I felt it needed to be included. If the meaning of a Scripture is lost over centuries due to translational errors or misunderstandings, then it's hard to believe an omnipotent God was overseeing the process. I always wondered why Biblical inerrantists (I probably just made that word up) made a big deal about the original manuscripts being without error. That doesn't strike me as taking any supernatural power to accomplish. No, the real supernatural feat would be to faithfully preserve the texts and their inherent meanings over thousands of years without one jot or tittle being lost, but of course that isn't the way things went down, is it?

Harry H. McCall said...

נבל בלבו אין אלהים (Hebrew)
εἶπεν ἄφρων ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ οὐκ εστιν θεός διέφθειραν (Greek / LXX)

Both texts represent an oracle against the polytheistic nations who have ignored Yahweh, treating His people with contempt while acting in a shameful manner toward Yahweh’s revealed religion.

The problem here is that uncertainly of the Hebrew has be totally read over and reinterpreted by the LXX Greek. Plus, neither the Greek (εἶπεν ἄφρων) nor the (נבל) have definite articles. As such, the text can only be translated “fool” only if the Hebrew נבל reflects the Greek ἄφρων which; it does not.

First, “ἄφρων” is a noun using the Alpha Primitive ‘α’ to negate the concept of both Greek nouns φρην; φρενος (thinking, understanding).

Comparatively, the Hebrew נבל is derived from the qal form meaning “to act disdainfully”.

The problem here is that the LXX word is based on the idea of intelligence while the Hebrew word is built on the concept of morals and ethics.

Secondly, while the Greek text does have the negative “οὐκ”, the Hebrew totally lacks “אל” which negates the phase. Compare this to the first commandment:
פני׃-על אחרים אלהים לך-יהיה לא as well as the use of “לא” in in the other negative so-called Ten Commandments. The use of אין as used in Psalm 14: 1 implies more of an absence of the gods (who really do exist) and NOT an denial of all gods. (I would challenge anyone to provide me with a Semitic text written before the Common Era that discuses a person or nation which has a total non-belief in any god / gods (atheism).)

Thirdly, θεός is singular and does not reflect the Hebrew אלהים which is plural. My point here is why translate “אלהים” as plural in the first commandment in Exodus 20:3 and singular here?!

Fourthly, ἐν καρδίᾳ does not equal בלבו as both καρδίᾳ (Heart) misses the Semitic לב which bowels or liver.

The best that can be said is that, in the Hebrew, a vile person (nation) says that there are no gods (plural) present while, in the Greek, a ἄφρων says that there is simply no god (Singular).

Simply but, the Hebrew text is totally no what one reads in the English text.

Albert said...

Interesting comments from both sides. I am amazing by the strident rebuttal from atheists. If you don't believe in the bible and the existence of God, why do you bother to respond? It is clear that all this so called atheist defense is attempt a assuage their conscience that says God exists. Read Romans 6.23. God bless you all.