What is Atheism? A simple enough question you might think, but even word itself is in the process of undergoing a redefinition. There are people that are trying to expand the word to incorporate different views, like Verificationism and Agnosticism. It is important that we start with this issue and by defining our terms, as this blurring of the lines is significant and may go in part to show why Atheism appears to be on the rise.
So, what is the correct way to define Atheism? Put simply, an Atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of God, or gods. We reach that definition by simply following the rules of plain English. We can explain it like this: A capital “A” is symmetrical, but a capital “E” is asymmetrical, that is it is the opposite of symmetrical. A person who believes in the existence of God, or gods is a Theist; a person who does NOT believe in the existence of God, or gods is an Atheist. That is the meaning of those words. However, Atheists have long been pushing to revise this definition. Atheist Stephen Roberts (speaking of monotheists in general) said, “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer gods than you do.” This is a telling statement and it lifts the lid on the Atheist worldview for a number of reasons.
· It shows that Roberts has no appreciation of the difference between the gods of ancient mythology; who were sometimes created beings, often limited to appearing in one place at one time, imperfect in knowledge, localised in power; and the God of Christianity: Creator of everything, God of everything, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, spaceless, timeless and immaterial.
· It also shows that Roberts views the history of religion as an evolutionary process; finally resulting in the highest evolutionary state, the abandonment of all gods, in other words, Atheism. This is an argument we will look at in more detail, later on.
|The Ascent of Man.|
In order to understand Atheism, we have to have to comprehend, not only how the Atheist sees the world, but also, how intertwined with the Theory of Evolution it is. To an Atheist, Evolution is not just a theory of biological Science; in fact I’ve never met an Atheist that thinks it is a theory! Evolution, to an atheist, is scientific fact. It is also the Psychological and Philosophical framework through which he views the world. That being the case, the Atheist sees him, or herself as being superior, in an evolutionary sense, to those who hold to traditional, religious views of the world. They see an evolutionary parallel to religion, that given enough time the majority of reasonable, intelligent people will dispense with belief in the one God, just as they dispensed with a belief in “the gods,” and ultimately accept that there is no God. Throughout this presentation I will repudiate that delusion.
But how “evolved” is Atheism? Has man truly arrived at this position after years of critical thinking? Has the history of religion been progressing towards Atheism and has the abandonment of religious belief been happening chronologically? These are questions that are actually quite easy to answer, in light of historical evidence. I once asked an Atheist if he was aware that all the founding members of The Royal Society (one of the oldest Scientific Academies) were all Bible believing Christians. His response was, “well, they would have been at THAT time.” His assumption being, that at one time everybody in England was a Bible believing Christian. Again, historically, it is quite easy to refute such a statement, which I will do as we go on.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (KJV)
As we will see, Atheism is far from new.
A Brief History of Atheistic Thought
· At about 570-270 B.C. Greek philosophers like Xenophanes, Epicurus and Lucretius start to expound, what today might be regarded as atheistic ideas.
· By 106 B.C. a man called Marcus Tullius Cicero was born. He believed that there was no need for man to be controlled by gods and designed his own moral framework.
· Then, just as Humanistic Philosophy is becoming more widespread, more popular, we encounter someone called Jesus of Nazareth!
· Christ and the early church have an enormous impact on the Middle-East and Europe. God’s timing is perfect, since Greek, the language of the New Testament is spoken throughout the near Middle-Eastern regions at this time, enabling the message of salvation to spread very quickly. Yet following this, we start to see a resurgence of Greek philosophical thought; particularly Plato and Aristotle and this has quite an influence on people like Thomas Aquinas a Roman Catholic Theologian and philosopher in the 13th Century.
· The church starts to move away from Biblical foundations and incorporate more humanistic thought, as a result, it becomes weaker. The Renaissance, although not an atheistic movement, introduced doubt about absolute truth, just like the serpent in the garden of Eden,”Yea, hath God said?”
· Skepticism and unbelief begin to spread across Europe with the help of people like Niccolo Machiavelli, who inspires the synonym “Old Nick,” as a term for the devil.
· In fact Hugh Latimer, a well-known Christian reformer and subsequent Protestant martyr in the 1500s warns King Edward VI that many Englishmen have stopped believing in the existence of heaven and hell.
· We have an evangelical revival taking place in the 1700s with people like Jonathan Edwards going back to Bible basics, thousands getting saved and yet John Wesley remarks, that there had never been “a more wicked and godless generation than this.”
· In the 1800s Charles Darwin questions the Biblical account of creation and Freidrich Nietsche announces that “God is dead.”Yet, we also see, again, thousands coming to Christ through the preaching of D.L. Moody, William Booth and others.
So it can be seen that far from being something new, or something that has evolved, something that has been the result of progressive thinking; Atheism has always been around. Even before the birth of Christ and has been accepted by some and rejected by others.
Job, in chapter 42:3 of the book that bears his name says to God,”… Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”
There is no room in Atheism for things that men “know not.” There is an expectation that man may (eventually) will know ALL things. This is part of the conflict that it has with Christianity. The Atheist sees himself as knowledgeable, intelligent, well informed, wise; whereas the Bible simply calls him “the fool.”
One of the selling points of Atheism is that it is for the intelligentsia, the educated, the discerning and prudent; certainly not for “the fool.” There are high profile atheist personalities like Professor Richard Dawkins; Scientists, Philosophers, Academics and so on. But the majority of Atheists are not Scientists, they are not Philosophers; they are Shop Assistants, Bus Drivers, Plumbers, Nurses; they are Mr and Mrs Average: Average education, average knowledge about the world around them. They are more likely to have watched a David Attenborough programme on Evolution, than to have actually read a book like Darwin’s “Origin of Species.” Is it intelligent and prudent to risk the whole of one’s eternity on a book that one has never read? In fact when it comes to Eternal things, Atheists are generally ignorant. Now I don’t mean that as a term of abuse, I am not name calling, or suggesting that Christians have a higher level of IQ than atheists, but what I am saying is that Atheism thrives on ignorance: Ignorance of the Bible, ignorance of Christian Theology, ignorance of Church History, ignorance of World History. Books like Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not great” and Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” work by lumping all Christian denominations and sects, however disparate together; all monotheistic religions, suggesting that they are all basically the same. Catholics and Protestants simply become “Christians.” This is so that Christianity as a whole, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Calvinists, Arminians etc. can be found guilty of perpetrating “religious” atrocities like the Crusades. This position is intellectually and historically dishonest. It ignores the historical fact that the Roman Catholic church, in the time of Henry VIII and Mary I, martyred as many, if not more, Bible believing Christians than anybody else in the world. It is a position that refuses to recognize that Islam and Christianity are mutually exclusive and therefore fundamentally incompatible. To suggest that the three that I have just mentioned are in some way on the same side is wilful ignorance, or worse, it is deliberate falsehood!
These books are not intellectual, or academic books. They are often rhetorical, and gung-ho! Sometimes resorting to prose, they are aimed at the emotions, rather than the head.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is a quote from a book called “In Defence of Atheism” by Michael Onfray, published in 2006. Chapter 5 entitled (ironically enough) On Christian Ignorance, page 52. “…believers and churchgoers, often undereducated, informed only by the crumbs of information they are fed by the Clergy. Sunday Mass has never glittered as a place of reflection…” he says.
There is so much wrong with this short quote that it is hard to know where to start. “Often undereducated” how does he know? Has he spoken to the multitudes of people that attend church in the western hemisphere? Does he have the details of their academic qualifications in front of him? “Often undereducated” how often? What are the figures? Who did the survey? When was he privy to this information? It is clearly an embarrassing, prejudiced and ludicrous generalisation! “Informed only by the crumbs of information they are fed by the Clergy.” Well, is Michael Onfray not aware that there are congregations, like the Brethren, that do not even have a Clergy? Once again, how does he know that this is the only information they “are fed?” They may read books, surf the internet, visit libraries, learn informally from Christian friends, learn from relatives, Christian work colleagues, they may listen to Podcasts, watch DVDs, read Christian magazines, go to conferences, sign up for distance learning from Theological Bible Colleges, read commentaries, or study the Bible itself! How is Michael Onfray able to speak so knowingly about things that are unknown? Did you notice, by the way, how “Christian Ignorance,” suddenly became Roman Catholic Ignorance, as he shifts focus to the “Sunday Mass?” The very concept of the mass is an offence to Protestants, but this does not discourage Michael Onfray from planting them in the same bed, covering them over so you cannot see whether they are apples or oranges!
He claims that the Mass is, apparently, somewhere that “has never glittered as a place for reflection.” Once again, how does he know? Is he some kind of modern-day Gnostic? How does Michael Onfray know what people are reflecting on, or not reflecting on, in the Mass? Martin Luther reflected enough during the Mass to examine the true meaning of righteousness, a reflection that ultimately changed the church and the world, through the Reformation. That’s some reflection?
We live in an age where many young people are becoming atheists and are convinced of their intellectual superiority over Christians. To quote an internet atheist, T.J. Kirk “You are stupid!” he says. Fortunately, bold assertion is not the end of the argument. It is after this, that many young Atheists start to struggle. They are not conversant with Biblical theology, even a basic Sunday school level of understanding is a rare thing as society becomes more secularized. I remember an American Evangelist friend, saying that he had just witnessed to a college student who thought the Bible was written by King James!
Dr William Lane Craig, a respected Christian debater and Research Professor at Talbot School of Theology, has received many emails and messages from Richard Dawkins’ fans. When asked to characterize them generally, he described them as “unsophisticated, inept, sophomoric; they cannot think logically, uninformed, silly, ignorant and the result of an education system that has been dumbed-down.” These are not simply insults; they are conclusions that we can provide evidence for by examining the more popular forms of Atheist argumentation.
The inability to think logically is manifest from one of the more widely used Atheist arguments against the existence of God. It is known as The Genetic Argument and goes something like this:
The Genetic Argument
“The only reason you are a Christian is because you were born in the west, in a (quote) “Christian country.” If you had been born in Saudi Arabia, you would have been a Muslim, if you had been born in Scandinavia at the time of the Vikings, you would have believed in Thor, if you had lived in Ancient Greece you would have believed in Zeus and Apollo etc.”
This is what is known in philosophical circles as a Genetic Fallacy. The fact that someone may become a Christian because of cultural, geographical or social influences, in no way disproves the existence of God! People become Christians for all different reasons. People change their religion, people brought up in a religious family, may become Atheists, people brought up in an Atheist family may become Christians; none of this has any bearing on whether God exists.
The Evolution of Religion Argument
The Evolution of Religion Argument, which we touched on earlier, is a mantra we will encounter again and again in Atheism. It would go something like this: Mankind used to believe in a pantheon of Gods, then that belief evolved into Monotheism and soon it will become a belief in no gods… But wait a moment. Is that really true? Did everyone used to believe in a pantheon of gods? The ancient Hebrew Shema says,”Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” Conversely, Mormonism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, came out of a culture of American Evangelical Christian Monotheism and devolved into the most pantheistic religion (and in fact one of the fastest growing) in the world! In fact it is the Bible that presents the truth about religious history.
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man (as we see in Greek and Roman mythology), and to birds, and fourfooted beasts (as we see in African and Native American Indian Mythology), and creeping things, (as we see in elements of Egyptian Mythology.)” Romans 1:22-23 (KJV)
The truth is that man began with a belief in one God and because of sin, that belief has degenerated at various times and in various places into a belief in many gods and eventually, when all godly wisdom is abandoned and the heart hardened against the conscience, the result is a belief in no God.
Also, if religion is evolving, why do pantheistic religions and monotheistic religions exist simultaneously, alongside Atheism? On closer inspection, many of these arguments simply do not bare intelligent scrutiny.
Scientism and the “Chance of the Gaps” argument.
Atheists often find fault with the argumentation of Christians, by asserting that when Christians can’t find evidence for something, or an explanation that is based on material evidence, they just say,”God did it!” This is the so-called “God of the Gaps” Argument. Yet, Atheists maybe guilty of hypocrisy if they apply this criticism. If when they are challenged by the mysteries of creation they say “it happened by chance” are they not saying “chance did it!” They are guilty of a “Chance of the Gaps Argument.”
To believe that Science has all the answers, even when there is no physical evidence to support the hypothesis, is nothing less than the exercising of faith, not in God but in Science – hence we get the word “Scientism.”
The term scientism is used to:
Indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims. Using Science in contexts where science might not apply, such as when the topic is perceived to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. It would also include an excessive deference to claims made by scientists, or an uncritical eagerness to accept any result described as scientific.
The Evidence of Absence Argument
Some Atheists have stated that one cannot prove the non-existence of a thing. Yet, this is a logically incorrect statement. We can prove that there are no square circles, no married bachelors, no Theist Atheists. As Christian Cosmologist Martin Rees put it, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” No Atheist has ever been able to prove that God does not exist.
The idea that the world is becoming Atheist and leaving behind a belief in God is certainly not supported by the demographics. So let’s talk facts:
In the 2011 Census, 14.1 million people, about a quarter of the entire population (25%) of England and Wales, said they had no religion. This was after a strenuous campaign by The British Humanist Society to get people to tick the “No Religion” box. So that still leaves three-quarters of the population who are not ready to rule out the existence of God.
According to a 2011 Gallup poll, more than 9 out of 10 Americans said "yes" when asked the basic question "Do you believe in God?"
According to The World Factbook in 2010,”atheists comprise an estimated 2.01%... of the world population. In fact there has been an increase in people defining themselves as having a belief in God, particularly in Eastern European countries, due to the collapse of Communism. There is a growing freedom of expression and belief that shows that people, even people brought up in a mandatory atheistic political system, are still searching for God.
If Atheism is not the choice of the majority of people across the globe (and clearly, and demographically, it is not), if Atheism has not proved that God does not exist, if the conclusion of Atheism is not based on irrefutable evidence, then what is it based on? In a word, it is based on faith. It is based on a belief system that sees the world in a particular way. It is evangelistic in its approach to those who do not share that belief system; in short it is a religion, or at the very least, a kind of cult. The object of its worship just happens to be man.
Now, perhaps you think I have gone too far in saying that? Think again.
In January 2013, Stand-up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the first “Sunday Assembly” in North London as they "both wanted to do something like church but without God."
“The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrates life… Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one…all the best bits of church…and awesome pop songs!”(Sunday Assembly website.)
Atheists gather together, sing songs, support charities and listen to readings and talks. In Brighton there is an Atheist who goes out Street Preaching. It is, exactly as they say, a church without God; a religion that worships man. That is idolatry and all idolaters will have their place in the lake of fire. (Revelation 21:8)
Until Christians realise that this is what Atheism is, they will waste many hours debating and arguing and trying to convince Atheists through the application of logic and reason. It won’t work. Atheism does not respond to logic and reason, that’s why the Bible calls the Atheist a fool. They protest that they do not see any evidence for the existence of God, but they do; Romans 1:19 says “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them.” In fact in verse 20 it says, “they are without excuse.” Any belief system that replaces God with someone, or something else is idolatrous, it is spiritual and devilish; that is the source. There is a spirit behind it that has blinded the eyes of their minds. There is a strong man as Jesus puts it in Luke 11:21-22 and the armour in which he trusts, is peoples’ scepticism, ignorance and pride. If we are to plunder and spoil his goods, then we must prayerfully approach Atheists with an understanding that what is needed is the Gospel, for it alone is “the power of God unto salvation.”
Copyright 2014 © Paul Jennings.