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Articles - God

Articles concerning the existence of God.

Atheism—Our Greatest Foe—And How to Deal with It

SOME INTRODUCTORY MATTERS

  1.  The problem and its importance. In Romans 1:18-20, Paul made clear that the “everlasting power and divinity” of God “are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made.” He further explained that, as a consequence of rejecting that evidence, even though the rejecters professed themselves to be wise, they actually “became fools” and began to worship what had been created rather than the Creator (Romans 1:21-23). In greater detail Paul then explained the consequences of rejecting God. In the remaining verses of the first chapter of Romans, three times Paul says that God “gave them up.” (1) He “gave them up . . . unto uncleanness” (1:24). (2) He “gave them up unto vile passions” (1:26). (3) He “gave them up unto a reprobate mind” (1:28). A careful study of Romans 1:18-32 will enlighten the student as to the terrible consequences of rejecting God. As we survey the situation in our own world, we can see the same results (moral and spiritual degeneration) from the same action (rejection of God).

   Presently many Christians are very naïve about the danger (to the cause of Christ) of skepticism both in our own nation and around the world. But every Christian should be easily alerted to this great danger by coming to realize just how widespread skepticism is today. For example, atheism is a fundamental element of Marxist Communism, which is now the dominant power in nations which comprise approximately one-half of the world’s population. Marxism is militantly anti-God and anti-religion. The devotees of Marxism hold that it provides an all-round criticism of any and all religion and shows ways and means of ridding the world of it. In the light of this fact, it is fearful to realize that not only is Marxism completely dominant in such nations as Russia and China, but clearly gaining followers in such “religious” nations as Italy, France, and Portugal.

   Further, Marxism apparently has a considerable number of followers here in America. And, other philosophies which are widely taught and accepted in our own nation are either atheistic or agnostic. I doubt that there is a philosophy department in a state college or university in the United States which could not be described accurately as either atheistic or agnostic in its basic thrust (i.e. in relation to the God of the Bible). The theory of atheistic evolution is presently being taught not as a mere theory but as an established fact not only in our state colleges and universities but also in our public schools.

   2.   Some crucial distinctions. When “God” has been understood to mean “the supreme personal Being, distinct from the world and creator of the world,” then (1) the atheist says, “I know that God does not exist,” (2) the agnostic says, “Neither I nor anyone else can know whether God exists,” and (3) the theist says, “I know that God does exist.”

   Both the atheist and the theist hold that sufficient evidence is available to men to warrant a deduction (concerning the existence of God) which has cognitive status.

   It must be borne in mind that each of these three basic views occupies a definite position and that the burden of proof (in regard to a specific view) is upon the shoulders of each respective exponent of that view.

   It this article we are concerned basically with the atheist. More specifically, we are to deal with the question, “How can Christians best deal with atheists?” While there are many important points which we will not have time to discuss here, I do want to set forth at least briefly, some of the things that Christians can do in dealing with atheists.

PART I--TO DEAL ADEQUATELY WITH ATHEISTS, WE MUST (WHILE WE ARE IN THE NEGATIVE ROLE), MAKE CLEAR THE FAILURE OF HIS EFFORTS TO ESTABLISH HIS OWN AFFIRMATIVE CASE.

   Among the things we can show are the following.

   I. He cannot prove his basic proposition. The basic proposition (affirmation) of the atheist is “I know that God does not exist.”

1.         In this connection Christians must be zealous not to allow the atheist to forget (or shunt to the background) the fact that he claims to KNOW that God does not exist. This claim is quite distinct from that of claiming (as do some agnostics) that the evidence available to man warrants the deduction that “it is merely more probable that God does not exist than that He does exist.” The claim of the atheist is much stronger than that of the agnostic, and Christians must be careful not to allow the atheist to escape his responsibility by letting him “get away” with arguing as if he had a lesser responsibility.

2.         Thus, the atheist must be pressed by Christians to present the SOUND ARGUMENT the conclusion of which is, “I know that God does not exist.” He must not be allowed to make his strong affirmation of knowledge of the non-existence of God and be allowed to “get off” with trying to prove some lesser claim. He must not be allowed to evade his responsibility to present a sound argument!

3.         Somewhat parenthetically, and yet very importantly, it must be noted that it is FALSE PHILOSOPHY—not SCIENCE—which constitutes the atheistic challenge to Christianity. I grant that many natural scientists (biologists, biochemists, paleontologists, geologists, et al.) are either atheistic or agnostic in their basic viewpoint. I further grant that many people—including some of our own brethren—hold that natural science is the source of practically all skepticism. Nevertheless, I want to kindly point out that physical science, as science, has nothing to say about the question of God. I don’t have the time to explain the matter here, but please note, my brethren, that philosophers—not scientists—constitute the basic challengers (at the point of skepticism) of Christianity. If a naturalist scientist challenges Christianity, be assured that he must at least try to function as a philosopher (leaving his role as a scientist) in order to claim to know that God does not exist! The question of the existence of God is not a scientific problem—it is a philosophical and/or revelational problem!

4.         Since the atheist claims to have knowledge that God does not exist, Christians must press him as to how he is claiming to have gained that knowledge. Since the atheist cannot—and he will admit that such is the case—by some direct observation (some visual, auditory, etc., experience) of the physical world simply “see” that God does not exist, his basic claim implies that he has used his powers of reason to deduce that conclusion (that God does not exist) from some evidence. This means that he must have deduced his conclusions either (1) from some mere concept and/or (2) from some empirical observation. At least some leading atheists claim both concept and observation as “evidence” for their conclusion.
       As to concept, they hold that the concept of God is coherent and, therefore, they claim, it follows that no such being exists. While there are many complicated and technical things to be said about this, in effect this amounts to their saying, “I don’t know what ‘God’ means.” The word “God” is non-sensical, they say. But in saying such they manifest inconsistency. If they do not know what “God” means, then they cannot know whether God exists. In fact, atheists admit that understanding of concepts is logically prior to questioning either existence or non-existence. To illustrate this point, let it be supposed that someone were to say to me, “Do you know whether a ‘glugklach’ exists?” I could not truthfully answer “yes” or “no.” Why not? Simply because I do not know what, if anything, a “glugklach” is even supposed to be. However, let it be supposed that I later learned that “glugklach” is only another name for a felt-point writing pen (a type which I often use). Then I could truthfully answer, “Yes, I know that a ‘glugklach’ exists, because I have one in my hand.” But let us insist that the atheist cannot have it both ways in regard to the matter of the existence of God. [1] He can’t claim in one moment that he does not know what “God” means and then in another moment claim that he does know what “God” means and that God does not exist. The truth of the matter is: (1) the atheist does know what “God” means (all atheists use the term almost constantly) and (2) the term “God” (as used by Christian theists) is not self-contradictory.[2]
               Perhaps more specifically, atheists claim that the biblical concept of God is self-contradictory. But they cannot sustain their claim. They cannot name one attribute of God which is contradictory of any other attribute of God. They do try to show that inner incompatibility is involved by referring to the existence of “evil.” But, in doing so, they (as atheists) are guilty of either self-contradiction or triviality.[3]

5.         The cruciality of this specific point. If the atheist can persuade people that there is no God (or even to doubt seriously that there is), then those so persuaded cannot be saved from their sins (Hebrews 11:6). If one does not know that God exists, then he cannot know that the Bible is the word of God. If one cannot know that the Bible is the word of God, then he cannot know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If one cannot know that Jesus Christ is the son of God, then he cannot be saved (John 8:32; 17:3; 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). In short, if men cannot know that God is, then Christianity is a farce, and all Christians are sadly misguided! Every Christian should regard himself as a soldier in the army of Christ, ready to prepare himself to meet this great challenge and then, as a brave soldier, to do His will, meeting the enemy on every front (2 Timothy 2:3; Ephesians 6:10ff; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15). We need preachers who are trained to meet the enemies of Christ’s army with “the sword of the Spirit,” the word of God (Ephesians 6:17)—not mere “cheerleaders” who do not even understand the issues we face. Preachers who claim that men cannot know that God exists weaken the case for Christianity in the eyes of the world.

6.         In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must KNOW what he cannot KNOW. To make clear that the atheist cannot prove his own basic proposition, Christians must show that, in order to prove his proposition, he (the atheist) must know what he cannot know! I will have time here to merely list—not to discuss—some of these points:

(1)       In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that the physical universe has always existed. It is obviously true that if it were ever the case that nothing existed, then nothing would exist now. But, since something exists now (I know that I, at least, exist), then it has never been the case that nothing existed. So, if the atheist cannot prove that the physical universe has existed forever, then he must admit that God exists. This is the case because only God could create the universe. To know that his basic proposition is true, the atheist must know to be true what is false. Thus, his case falls.[4]

(2)       In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that the universe is self-existent (non-contingent, necessary). Since the constituent elements of the universe are contingent it is obvious that the universe as a whole cannot be non-contingent (self-existent, necessary). To know that his basic proposition is true, the atheist must know to be true what is false. Thus, his case falls. It reduces to absurdity.

(3)       In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that life has come from that which was non-living. Since the atheist contends (a) that matter has always existed and (b) that life has not always existed, he is forced to the conclusion that life has come from that which is non-living. This is an insurmountable barrier for the atheist; he cannot know that all beings now living had their origin from that which had never lived at all.[5]

(4)       To know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that the order and adjustment in such things as the human body itself and the environment in which it lives do not imply design and, thus, the intelligent, powerful, benevolent Designer (God). Of course, the atheist knows that spacecraft which can (1) carry men to the moon and back and (2) carry instruments to a “soft-landing” on Mars (after a journey of months) and send back messages to Earth exhibit such order and adjustment as to imply that they were planned and brought into being by intelligence.[6]

(5)       In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that beings which have consciousness originated from that which not only had no consciousness but also had no life. Since the atheist claims that knowledge comes only from that which had no consciousness, logically he should admit that his case for atheism falls: he does not know that God does not exist.

(6)       In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that beings which possess reproductive systems as complex as that possessed by human beings originated—by blind, non-intelligent, non-purposive physical forces—from non-living things possessing no such system. Since the atheist claims to know that man can come to knowledge only by empirical experience (observation) and since he had never experienced a living being with a complex reproductive system coming from that which was dead and did not possess such system, then he cannot know that God does not exist.[7]

(7)       In order to know that God does not exist, the atheist must first know that human beings now living have evolved from lower (non-human) beings. But his entire case fails because he cannot know this. It is obvious that a strong disjunction is involved: either (a) atheism is true (which entails that human beings owe their origin to evolution from lower [non-human] forms of life by the non-intelligent, non-purposive forces of purely physical nature), or (b) theism is true (which entails that human beings owe their origin to the miraculous creative act of God). If atheism is true, then human beings evolved from non-human beings. If the atheist claims that human beings evolved from non-human beings, then he is faced with the impossible task of answering this question, “Which was first on Earth: (a) a woman, or (b) a baby?” Why is this an impossible task for the atheist? Because if he answers, “A woman was on Earth before a human baby was,” then he is saying that the first woman on Earth was never a baby, and the atheist has no way of knowing this. He claims to know what he absolutely cannot know. Thus, the atheist cannot prove his basic proposition; he cannot know that God does not exist.[8]

(8)       There are numbers of other matters which the atheist must first know before he can know that God does not exist, but lack of space precludes our discussing them here. But, after all, there is no real need to do so, since even one of the foregoing seven items is sufficient to prove the point we are here making: the atheist cannot prove his own basic proposition—he cannot know that God does not exist!

   But there is still more evidence (of a different sort) which constitutes proof that the atheist cannot establish his case. That evidence will now be set forth.

   II.  To Deal adequately with atheists, Christians must show that the case for atheism is self-contradictory and, thus false. Even atheists admit the truth that any doctrine (teaching) which entails self-contradiction is a false one. Thus, if it can be shown that atheism itself involves a self-contradiction, then atheists should admit that atheism is false. Set into a precise logical argument, the matter looks like this.

1.  If atheism involves self-contradiction, then atheism is false.

2.  Atheism does involve a logical contradiction.

3.  Therefore, atheism is false.

   Since every doctrine which involves self-contradiction is itself false, it is obvious that the first premise is true. Therefore, if the second premise can be shown to be true, then the conclusion (atheism is false) must be true. So, I will now show that atheism involves not merely one but a number of logical contradictions. Each of these will involve both explicit and implicit propositions.

1.         The atheist affirms that he knows (proposition no. 1): “men can have no knowledge except from empirical experience.” Yet, since he cannot learn (come to knowledge of) proposition no. 1 by empirical experience (there is no sensation or combination of sensations which teach such), by implication he also affirms (proposition no. 2): “It is false to say that men can have no knowledge except from empirical experience.” Proposition no. 2 is the contradictory of proposition no. 1. Yet the atheist affirms both of them. Atheism is false because it involves a logical contradiction.

2.         The atheist affirms that he knows (proposition no. 3): “Real (objective) evil exists: therefore, it is impossible for God to exist.” Yet, since he also claims (a) that nothing exists except molecules in motion (matter) and (b) that all living beings exist strictly as the result of the action of blind, non-intelligent, non-purposive, non-moral, non-spiritual forces, he holds (by implication): (proposition no. 4): “It is false to say that real (objective) evil exists.” Proposition no. 4 is the contradictory of proposition no. 3. Yet the atheist affirms both of them. Atheism is false because it involves a logical contradiction.

3.         The atheist affirms that he knows (proposition no. 5): “Nothing exists except ‘molecules in motion’ (Matter).” Yet, the atheist, in holding that man has at least some sort of freedom of will (else why would he ever ague his case with others) also affirms (proposition no. 6): “It is false to say that nothing exists except matter.” If nothing exists except matter, then men cannot react (to situations which confront him) by the exercise of freedom of will; his can only be a physical reaction to a physical stimuli. Atheism is false, because it involves self-contradiction.

4.         The atheist affirms (proposition no. 7): “Causal efficacy is objectively real,” so he will have “a prayer” (to use his facetious terminology) in his effort to refute the miracle of special revelation. Yet, the atheist also affirms (proposition no. 8): “It is false to say that causal efficacy is objectively real,” so that he will have “a prayer” in his efforts to refute the traditional arguments for the existence of God (which entail causality as a constituent element). Atheism is false because it involves self-contradiction.

5.         Since the atheist affirms (proposition no. 9): “There was a period of time during which there were beings which were neither human nor non-human,” he must also affirm, “It is possible for a given existent to neither have nor not have property X.” (He says this in “a prayerful effort” to avoid being destroyed by the question of the origin of man.) In reply to the question, “which was first on Earth, (a) a woman, or (b) a baby?” he replies, “I can’t answer that because there was a period of time during which there were beings which were neither human nor non-human.” Yet, the atheist also admits that the law of excluded middle (proposition no. 10): “Every existent either has property X or it does not have property X.” Atheism is false because it involves self-contradiction.

6.         In addition to the five already set forth, there are a number of other logical contradictions which are involved in atheism. Lack of time prevents their being discussed here.

PART II—TO DEAL ADEQUATELY WITH ATHEISTS, WE MUST SHOW THAT THEIR EFFORTS TO UNDERMINE THE CASE FOR THEISM FAILS.

I.  We must expose his inconsistent allowances and demands. By this I mean that the atheist (1) allows for himself what he will not allow the theist, and (2) makes demands of theists which he does not make of himself.

1.         He allows for himself what he will not allow the theist. There are a number of points which should be discussed relative to this matter, but here we must confine our discussion to a single point.

        In his effort to establish (prove) his own proposition (that he knows that God does not exist), the atheist allows himself to deduce from the fact that the state of affairs which is the world includes evil as an actual existent the non-existence of God. In doing so, he implies the prior proposition that it is at least a possible valid move from an actually existing state of affairs which one experiences to knowledge of a state of affairs which one has never experienced. Yet, when the theist claims that it is a valid move to deduce the existence of God from the fact that contingent beings exist, the atheist cries that the very basic thrust of such a move is invalid. On the one hand, he admits that real (objective) moral wrong has occurred (Nazis). On the other hand, he denies real (objective) wrong.

         Christians must strongly point out that the atheist cannot accept (use) in his own case what he rejects in his efforts to undermine the case for theism. In his own case he reasons from empirical fact (“evil”) to the conclusion that the class of things which transcends the universe is an empty class.[9]

2.     He demands of theists what he does not demand of himself. The atheist bases his own case on what he calls “the Stratonician Presumption,” which denies the existence of any being (1) which transcends the physical universe and/or (2) which brought the physical universe (including man) into existence. He rightly demands of the theist that he not base his case on any such foolish presumption while he does not make the same demand of himself. It is crucial for the Christian to remember that the atheist claims to know that God does not exist. This means that the atheist must first know (i.e. prior to knowing that God does not exist) that he must know that the universe is eternal and was not created by God. But this he cannot know. His “Stratonician Presumption” will not do. He wrongly allows himself to build his case for atheism on a mere presumption and then rightly disallows the theist to build his case on a presumption.

               Both the atheist and the theist face the same tasks: (a) establishing his own case by sound argument and (b) refuting the case of his opponent by showing that this basic argument is not sound, i.e. that it involves an invalid argument and/or false premise(s).

II.  We must show that the atheist cannot undermine the proof of God’s existence.

   Man can rightly conclude both the existence and attributes of God (His everlasting power and divinity) by perceiving the things that are made (man himself and the physical universe in which he lives) and reasoning correctly therefrom (Psalm 19:1-5; 139:14-15; Acts 14:12-17; Romans 1:18-21). No man can properly evaluate himself, plant life, animal life, and the physical universe in which he lives without deducing that God exists. This is the truth of the matter in a general way, but there yet remains the question as to how this is done in specific ways. While it is certainly the case there is one basic argument for the existence of God (the total evidence warrants the deduction that God exists), it is also the case that specific elements of that one basic argument can be presented as separate arguments (although we are under no obligation to do so). The specific argument which I wish to mention are the cosmological, the teleological, the moral, and the biblical. I do not have the time to argue them in detail, but I will at least explain the basic thrust of each.

   The basic thrust of perhaps the most easily understood form of cosmological argument is deduction from contingency to necessity. It might be set up in a simplified way as follows: if a contingent being exists, then the absolutely necessary being (God) exists; I (a contingent being) exist; therefore, God exists.

   The force of this argument will be seen with just a little thought. If only one thing existed this thing (being), since nothing else would exist to have caused it, would be self-existent (not caused by anything else). If only two things (beings) existed one of them would have to be self-existent (non-contingent, necessary). Thus, if even one contingent being exists, then the absolutely necessary being (God) exists.

   The basic thrust of the teleological argument is deduction from order and adjustment to design and, in turn, from design to Designer (God). Since it is quite obvious that order and adjustment do exist, it is equally clear that God exists.

   The basic thrust of the moral argument is deduction from the objectivity of right and wrong to the ultimate Good (God) by which real right and wrong are determined. Even atheists, at least in their most reflective moments, admit that the murder (by Hitler) of six million Jewish men, women, and children was objectively wrong. But if there is no God, then the murder of those Jewish children was no more wrong than killing millions of cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, fleas, or the things which cause such dreaded diseases as bubonic plague, etc. No atheist can be consistent: on the one hand, he claims that the existence of real (objective) evil proves that God does not exist, but, on the other hand, by denying the existence of God (the ultimate Good), by implication, he denies that there could even be real (objective) evil.

   The basic thrust of what I am calling “the biblical argument,” [10] is from the properties of the Bible (as objective evidence) to the truth that God exists. Care must be taken by the theist at this point not to be guilty of circular reasoning, i.e. one must not “reason” so as to be saying, “I know that God exists merely because the Bible says so, and I know the Bible can be trusted to tell the truth about the existence of God because it is the word of God.” This would be like arguing: (1) “I know that proposition A is true, because I first knew that proposition B is true.” And (2) “I know that proposition B is true because I first knew that proposition A is true.” Here we use the Bible as objective evidence and, determining that it has certain properties, we see that the existence of God is implied by those properties.

CONCLUSION

   Again, it must be emphasized that in this article only the “hem of the garment” has been touched, both in consideration of the arguments used by atheists and those used by theists. But it is clear that, by using the suggestions set out, one can refute the atheist and clearly establish the truth that the God of the Bible does exist. The case for atheism is self-contradictory and, thus, false. The case for theism is sound—its basic argument is valid and the premises thereof are true. God does exist—and we can know that He does!

Thomas B. Warren, Ph.D.
(1920-2000)
This article was first published July 1977.

 

END NOTES:

[1]For a detailed discussion of these arguments see The Warren-Flew Debate (Thomas B. Warren and Antony G. N. Flew).

[2] The biblical view of God is beautifully harmonious, not self-contradictory.

[3] This will be explained in more detail in the book on which I am working.

[4] See discussion of this point in The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] A study of the Law of Excluded Middle is pertinent at this point. See Lionel Ruby, Logic, An Introduction.

[9] See my full treatment of this matter in my book, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?

[10] The biblical argument for the existence of God will be set forth in detail in a separate book by Thomas B. Warren, to be published soon. . . .