Recently, my family and I heard a radio talk that was addressing atheism as a worldview and specifically challenging the notion that science—that is, the hard sciences—are ground firmly held by naturalism (a synonym for atheism). We were listening to Ravi Zacharias’ radio show, “Let My People Think” on our way to church, but we came into the program a few minutes late; so I never did hear what this guest speaker’s name was, but he spoke with a cool-sounding Scottish brogue.
I thank the Lord that we were able to discuss the message for a few minutes before we got out of the car. This was important because, although this brother made some really good points, there were a couple of serious and central problems underlying his message.
I appreciated how well he argued against the idea that the Bible—and therefore, the Christian faith—is actually at odds with the disciplines of science. He is right to say that the two are not at war with one another. But I wish he had done a better job of identifying the true war. He said the real war is between two worldviews, namely the worldviews of atheism and theism. This is where I see trouble.
Allow me to show two big problems that come with a focus on a great battle between the worldviews of theism and atheism.
Problem #1: The Bible does not talk this way.
The Bible has very little, if anything at all, to say about atheism. When we read the Scriptures, we do not find them expressing great concern about atheism. In fact, I think, we do not find them even acknowledging atheism as a real position.
It is true that in Psalms 10, 14 and 53 David writes about the fool who says in his heart “there is no God.” But in context, it turns out that he is not describing a philosophical naturalism of the sort we are used to hearing from in our place and time; in other words, the psalms are not (merely) addressing the atheism of people like Bertrand Russell or Richard Dawkins, etc. Rather, he is warning against a practical or functional atheism. He describes people who live their lives as if there were no God. Such a class would include philosophical naturalists, of course; but it would include far more people who, although they would say they believe in God, live as if they didn’t. The psalmist does not bother to differentiate between an outright claim to disbelieve in the existence of God and a lived out denial of God’s relevance in life. It is all foolishness to him.
On the other hand, the apostle Paul writes something that definitely, if indirectly, says something about philosophical atheism. He says that it doesn’t exist. Take a listen…
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
— Romans 1:18-21
It is not a stretch at all to say that Paul denies the existence of atheism here. Both within themselves and through the creation all around them, all people are aware of God’s existence. However, they are clever creatures and have the capacity to fool themselves in all sorts of ways, including getting themselves to believe that they do not believe in God. But deep down they know better. As the apostle puts it here, they “suppress the truth.” Indeed, many who call themselves atheists are very intelligent people, despite the fact that they verbally deny the existence of the true Source of their minds.
So there you have it. God doesn’t believe in the existence of atheists.
More importantly, whenever the Scripture gets near to addressing the subject of atheism, whether philosophical or functional, it always speaks of it in terms of wickedness and foolishness. It is the latter aspect that I want to point out here. It seems to me that Christians and Christian apologists make a mistake in paying so much serious attention to atheism. The Bible mostly ignores it or, at most, thinks it utterly silly. Nowhere does the biblical text bother to make an argument for the existence of God because it is too busy dealing with real issues.
N.B.— I want to be careful and clear about something here. I do not mean to say that Christians should treat with disrespect those who espouse atheism. Not at all! Atheists are human beings made in the image of God, whether or not they want to acknowledge Him. As such, they must be treated with love and respect. But there is a difference between the atheist, whom we love, and the idea of atheism, which is just foolishness. Again, it is the worldview of atheism which I am suggesting should be viewed as laughable, while people who call themselves atheists should be loved and respected.
Problem #2: The lines are drawn in the wrong place.
To say that the real war is between the worldviews of theism and atheism, is to make another mistake. For it suggests that the goal—or at least one major goal—is to win the day for theism. But this draws the battle lines in the wrong place. If I help my friend move from atheism to mere theism, have I really helped him at all? I don’t think so. More likely, I have just helped him switch from one form of idolatry to another.
The real war is between Christ and all other gods. And what is behind all other gods is always the same thing—the idol of the self. It makes little difference whether my self-worshiping idolatry takes the form of Islam, Buddhism, Watchtower theology, naturalistic atheism—or even the dressing of evangelical Christianity. In the end, the only question that matters is whether I will bow the knee before Christ or continue to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (I confess that I actually do both, but that is a subject for another post.)
In my relationships with non-Christians, I am not interested in representing or making arguments for theism. I want to represent and be a living argument for Christ. I do not do this very well, I’m afraid. But in my heart it is what I truly want to do.