The term “atheist” derives from two Greek components—a negative prefix, a, which signifies “no,” “not,” or “without,” and the noun theos, “God.” A kindred form of the term is found in Ephesians 2:12, where Paul notes that pagan Gentiles were “without God” (atheos), i.e., without a relationship with the Lord.
In considering the meaning of the term, it must be noted that the word has some flexibility.
- In its broadest sense, atheism repudiates belief in any sort of deity transcendent to man. “Matter” is all there is.
- In a more limited aspect, one may contend: “I believe in my own kind of ‘God,’ but I do not believe in the ‘God’ of the Bible.” The “deist” falls into this category. In reality, however, this is a form of atheism.
- One may be a theoretical theist, but a practical atheist. That is, he claims to believe in the God of the Scriptures, but he lives as though there is no God.
Atheism has been aptly called “the fool’s religion.” That descriptive is not meant to be insensitively harsh; rather, it is an affirmation of stark reality. “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Atheism is “religious,” and it is “foolish.” Note the following.
First, the English word “religion” enjoys considerable elasticity. Professor Vergilius Ferm, who was head of the Department of Philosophy at The College of Wooster, noted that one may be “religious” and “not believe in god (in any conventional sense)” (1945, 647).
A number of atheistic organizations have incorporated as “religious” entities in recent years in order to secure tax-exempt status. In July of 1999, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (Madison, Wisconsin) conducted a national mini-convention in San Francisco (about 150 people showed up). The meeting was punctuated with fervent services—the congregation waved their hands in the air, and sung hymns (like “Nothing Fails Like Faith”). A Bay Area journalist wrote a piece about the debacle under the title, “Nonbelievers keep their faith alive.”
Second, the descriptive, “fool,” is an apt characterization of the atheist. In Psalm 14:1 the Hebrew term nabal describes one who is “spiritually senseless,” as well as the person who is characterized by “moral depravity, spiritual irresponsibility, and social insensitivity” (cf. Isaiah 32:6) (Pfeiffer, et al., 1999, 628; Douglas, 1974, 433).
Atheists are not guided by reason. In his opening remarks to the saints in Rome, Paul refers to the heathen Romans as those who “refused to have God in their knowledge” (1:28). He refers to them as “vain” (empty) in their “reasonings,” “senseless” in heart, “fools” who have rejected wisdom (vv. 21-22), and “without understanding” (v. 31).
Disbelief in God is the epitome of intellectual irresponsibility. In this article I will discuss atheism from three vantage points—its motives, its irrationality, and the utter void it brings to the lives of its adherents.
Atheism arises out of human rebellion. After citing the arrogant claim, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1), the psalmist provides the motive behind the infidelity: “they are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none that does good” (see 14:2ff).
Derek Kidner has well noted:
“The assertion, ‘There is no God,’ is in fact treated in Scripture not as a sincere if misguided conviction, but as an irresponsible gesture of defiance. In the context of Psalm 10:4 it is expounded as a gamble against moral sanctions; in Job 21:7-15 as impatience of authority; in Romans 1:18ff. as intellectual and moral suicide” (1973, 79).
This base disposition may be illustrated amply from a sampling of modern atheistic writings. Bertrand Russell
- who affirmed: “I see no reason ... to believe in any sort of God”- subsequently wrote: “Outside human desires there is no moral standard” (1957, 33, 62).
Atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre declared: “Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist.” He further stated that without God there are no “values” that can “legitimize our behavior” (1961, 485). He went so far as to affirm: “We can never do evil” (1966, 279).
In his popular book, The Meaning of Evolution, the late Professor George G. Simpson of Harvard, a militant opponent of Christianity, sought to find some rationale for morality. In a chapter titled, “The Ethics of Knowledge and of Responsibility,” Simpson revealed more than he intended when he declared: “Man has risen, not fallen” (emphasis added).
Supposedly, then, humanity is free to evolve its own code of ethics; Simpson denied there is any “absolute ethical criterion” to which men need to yield (1949, 309ff). Man is his own god!
It is hardly difficult to see the self-centered motive that underlies the creed of atheism.
Atheism’s Irrational Tenets of “Faith”
While atheism boasts of its “rational” approach to the major issues of existence, actually, this ideology is woefully barren of logical procedure. Consider the following:
“Thou shalt not believe in causation.”
Atheism’s creed flies in the face of the fundamental law of science—the law of causation. One writer, James Gillis, expressed it quaintly.
“Only in Atheism does the spring rise higher than the source, the effect exists without the cause, life comes from a stone, blood from a turnip, a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and a Beethoven Symphony from a kitten’s walk across the keys.”
In logic there is a maxim which affirms that “every effect must have an adequate cause.” Since the Universe exists, the question that challenges the thinking person is this: What was the “cause?” Whence came the “matter” of which the Universe is constituted? The philosophy of unbelief has suggested two possibilities.
The Universe is eternal.
The idea that the Universe has always existed is out of vogue today—even with most skeptics. Robert Jastrow, a professed agnostic, has argued (upon the basis of scientific data, e.g., the Second Law of Thermodynamics) that “modern science denies an eternal existence to the Universe, either in the past or in the future” (1977, 15).
The Universe created itself from nothing!
Others have postulated that the Universe created itself from nothing. Professor Victor Stenger described it in this way: “[T]he universe is probably the result of a random quantum fluctuation in a spaceless, timeless void.” (1987, 26-27).
That meaningless assemblage of words is the nearest thing to a literary “black hole” one could imagine (so dense, no light can escape).
First, if there was ever a time when nothing existed, nothing would exist today—for nothing produces nothing but nothingness!
Second, there are no scientific data that indicates matter has the ability to create itself. If such were the case, there ought to be some evidence of it; but the First Law of Thermodynamics argues that no matter is being created. Logically, then, one is driven to the conclusion that the Universe had a non-material commencement. But atheism casts logic aside and opts for a self-serving superstition.
“Thou shalt not observe order or design.”
Atheism cannot explain the order or design that is characteristic of our Universe.
Note that the very term, Uni -verse, suggests a mechanism of unity. The ancient Greeks called the Universe kosmos, which conveyed the basic meaning of “arrangement” or “order,” because they observed that the “world” was characterized by order.
The heavens are regulated by “ordinances” (cf. Job 38:33; Jeremiah 31:35). It hardly seems reasonable that this structured adornment is the result of a gigantic explosion (the mythical “big bang”), and yet that is precisely what skeptics believe.
If the Universe is characterized by design, it must have had a Designer, for it is a fundamental premise of “critical thinking” that design demands a designer.
Atheist professor Paul Ricci has conceded that if the Universe reveals “design,” there must have been a designer (1986, 190). Elsewhere I have argued the case for the “design” of the Universe in greater detail (Jackson, 2000).
The human body, with its integrated systems, e.g., bones, muscles, nerves, circulation, digestion, etc., eloquently testifies that the human being has been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Dr. William Beck, a skeptical professor at Harvard, authored a textbook on physiology which he called Human Design (1971). The title conceded more than the author intended. Is it reasonable to assume that Beck’s volume—a skillfully crafted conglomerate of paper, ink, cloth, glue, stitching, and a lengthy message conveyed by symbols—is testimony to intelligent design, but the author who produced the book is but an accidental “freak” of nature? What kind of reasoning is that? It is atheistic reasoning!
“Thou shalt not confess the true origin of life.”
Atheism cannot explain the presence of biological life upon our planet. That mysterious essence known as “life” is a fantastic phenomenon that baffles the most brilliant within the scientific community.
Atheists believe that life was “spontaneously [accidentally] generated,” though there is not a shred of scientific evidence to demonstrate that postulation. In fact the maxim, “life comes only from life,” is so firmly verified that the concept is called “the law of biogenesis.”
Professor Harold J. Morowitz of Yale University, a biophysicist, and a militant evolutionist, acknowledged that the probability of sufficient “chance fluctuations” of the components necessary to form a living cell are on the order of 1 in 10 to the 340th million power. That’s a one followed by 340 million zeros! (1968, 99).
This figure is beyond one’s ability to even fathom. If the Universe were 30 billion years old (which it is not), that would only be 10 to the 18th power seconds. The entire known Universe, from one end to the other, is only estimated to be about 10 to the 28th power in inches!
Atheism, however, thrusts aside all evidence and common sense, and speculates that conditions on the primitive earth must have been so radically different from what they now are, that life somehow could have “jump-started” itself. The truth is, since life does not have the ability to create itself, it must have been fashioned by an eternally living Cause. That Cause is God (cf. Acts 17:25).
“Thou shalt not blame anyone for immoral conduct.”
Atheism cannot explain the concept of morality and ethics. Why is there in man, a sense of the “right” and “wrong,” when no other biological creature upon the globe entertains an ethical sensitivity?
In his book, The Meaning of Evolution, Dr. George Simpson began chapter XVIII, titled, “The Search For An Ethic,” with the following words:
“Man is a moral animal. With the exception of a few peculiar beings who are felt to be as surely crippled as if the deformity were physical, all men make judgments of good or bad in ethics and morals.”
Later he concedes that man “is the only ethical animal” (1949, 309ff).
But how does one determine what is “right” and what is “wrong”? Simpson and his atheistic kinsmen do not have the remotest idea.
The skeptic’s creed book is Humanist Manifestos I and II. Therein this statement is made: “Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction” (1973, 17, emphasis original).
This affirmation is ludicrous on the very face of it. If man is “autonomous” (a term signifying “self-law”), then there could never be a “situation” in which he could do wrong. He is a “law unto himself” (cf. Romans 2:14).
And so we are left with this curious circumstance. According to atheism, raw matter somehow produced an ethical mind, which concocted a “rubber” code of ethics which every man can manipulate to justify his own conduct, because, in the final analysis, he is morally autonomous, and thus ethics are irrelevant anyhow! What a circuitous route that leads to nowhere!
The Void of Unbelief
Finally, one must sadly note this. There is a voidness of soul that is an abiding companion of atheism ever haunting its devotees as no physical malignancy ever could.
After the death of former “Beatle” George Harrison, news sources quoted him as saying (in those final days when he knew cancer was consuming his life): “When all has been said, there are only three questions that matter. Where did I come from? What is my purpose? And where am I going?”
Had he posited these intriguing inquires to an atheist, he would have drawn a perfect blank.
As noted above, the atheist knows absolutely nothing relative to his origin. Moreover, from the skeptical vantage point there really is no purpose in human existence.
Professor Simpson declared that man’s discoveries about the Universe have led him to the conclusion that there is neither “purpose” or “plan” in his being (1949, 345).
And it is for certain that atheism has no “hope” beyond a cold hole in the ground. When Pierre Curie was killed in a tragic accident, his illustrious wife, Marie, who had abandoned the faith of her younger years, could only view his corpse and wail, “It is the end of everything, everything, everything!” (1937, 249).
The Scottish skeptic David Hume described himself as being “in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty” (quoted in: Smith, 1945, 553).
And yet he once characterized his personal philosophical speculations as “cold and strained and ridiculous” (Brauer, 1971, 417).
Atheism is a bleak, worthless ideology. It robs the brain of reason, the conscience of moral guidance, the mind of tranquility, and the soul of hope.