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As we continue our topical study concerning man's knowledge of God, in this article we will discuss those who reject this knowledge.
"...[W]hat may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20)
"The fool says in his heart, `There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1)
Despite the overwhelming evidence for an intelligent Creator, some choose to claim that there is no God. Such people are commonly called atheists. The word atheist is derived from Greek roots: a, meaning "without"; theos, meaning God. Given this, I would expand the definition of atheist to include anyone who lives without a relationship with the True and Living God. Falling under this definition, there are four categories of atheists: (1) those who openly deny the fact that God exists (dogmatic atheists); (2) those who have an incorrect view of God (conceptual atheists); (3) those who maintain that we cannot know God, and so maintain ignorance concerning the knowledge of God (agnostics); (4) those who, though sometimes acknowleging the existence of God, live their lives as if there is no God (practical atheists). In this article, we will discuss each of these categories.
When most people think of atheism, they think of dogmatic atheism. A dogmatic atheist is one who openly and unequivocally denies the existence of God. Dogmatic atheism is atheism in its purest form: denying all agency of God, attributing none of His great works to Him; denying the evidence of an intelligent God, exalting chance as the all-powerful creator; denying evidence of a first cause of the universe, tacitly affirming that all came from nothing; denying an absolute morality, affirming their own right to decide what is right and wrong; denying accountability to God, choosing to be accountable to only their own whims; denying the soul and the spirit, claiming the body is all; denying existence after death, believing that life in this world is all; denying purpose, living for this world; denying all hope, embracing the present; denying Christ, choosing death. As such, the dogmatic atheist is a master of denial.
Dogmatic atheists claim allegiance to reason, yet they ignore the overwhelming evidence that the universe had a beginning, and that it shall have an end. They deny the proofs of God, but offer no logical alternatives. They deny that the effect was caused, that the design was designed, claiming only that all is here because it came about. They embrace the absurd notion that the human soul and mind created itself from primordial gunk. "Such unproved theories would not be tolerated in any field of investigation other than that wherein the darkness of the natural mind is demonstrated in its inability to receive the things of God."[Footnote #3]
The prevailing philosophy of dogmatic atheists is materialism. The belief of materialists is that all is matter and there is nothing that cannot be explained in terms a physical properties and forces. And so, according to materialists, our thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. are all physical properties, mere firings of nerves. We have no soul; our ability to reason, rather than elevating man above other life forms, is merely an extension of animal instincts.
Materialism, however, goes against evidence and logic. We have self-awareness, self-consciousness, a sense that our soul is separate from our body. We have free will, a conscience, and imagination. We appreciate and enjoy art and music. We can theorize on science, religion and philosophy. These things cannot be explained materialistically. In fact, the philosophers who espouse materialism, disprove their own theory by being able to philosophize!
For some reason, materialism has been embraced by the scientific community. The scientists who reject materialism must remain "in the closet" (so to speak), or face the possibility of being ostracized by their peers. By embracing materialism, scientists have made a human philosophy the basis of their scientific enquiry. In doing so, they have cast aside impartiality and have sought to explain the world in terms of this philosophy, rather than view their scientific data objectively.
An example of this is the promulgation of the theory of atheistic evolution. Evolution is a theory that is not supported by evidence, but it is the best theory that the materialist can devise.[Footnote #4] The only explanation for the prevalent acceptance of the theory of evolution among scientists is the prevalent belief in materialism among scientists. They assume first that there is no God, and devise scientific theories with this mistaken assumption as their basis. Who says that evolutionists have no faith? Belief in evolution, and materialistic philosophy for that matter, takes great faith. "Through the operation of physical forces this fire-mist goes to work, forms itself into worlds and sets them in the harmony of the heavens, just as if directed by an omniscient mind. For our own world, as probably for many others, it provides the conditions suited to living beings, originates life in the many forms which swim in the waters, fly in the air, roam in forest and field. A wonderful ascent is this, but a mere starting compared with the culmination. In the process of evolution this fire-mist mounts to the grade of man and invests itself with the high powers of personality. Now it legislates in the wisdom of Moses, sings in the psalmody of David, reasons in the philosophy of Plato, frames the heavens in the science of Newton, preaches in the power of Paul, and crowns all human life and achievement with the divine life of the Christ. All this is in the assumption of naturalistic evolution."[Footnote #5]
Atheism goes against the basic fiber of man's intuition. Atheism goes against the universal testimony of mankind, the innate testimony of one's own conscience, and the natural testimony of all of creation. As David stated, "The fool says in his heart, `There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1). The "fool" spoken of here abuses his God-given intelligence and reasoning abilities, and uses them to rationalize that there is no God.
Atheism is not natural. One must "become" an atheist. All have an innate knowledge of God. Children readily embrace a belief in God, because a belief in God is rational and natural, especially to the innocent. Even atheists have an innate knowledge of God, but they have suppressed it, for "they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God." (Rom. 1:28). They suppress their knowledge of God because they want to ignore God's moral absolute: they do not want to be accountable to God for their actions.
Given my definition of "atheist" as one who is "without God" (that is, without the True and Living God), I include those who have a wrong concept of God in the category of atheist. This form of atheism is far more prevalent than dogmatic atheism. Far more people have a radically wrong concept of God than deny His existence altogether. Certainly, all of us (myself included) fall short in our knowledge of God and thus, we all, to some extent, have a wrong concept of God. However, there are those whose concept of God is wildly wrong and patently contrary to the way He has revealed Himself. These I would term conceptual atheists. More precisely, I would define a conceptual atheist as one who denies that God is a single, all-powerful, all-knowing, self-conscious God (God is not merely a "force"), the Creator and Lord of the universe.
Paul describes conceptual atheists: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:21-23). In essence, conceptual atheists, though knowing God through His revelation to them, choose not to worship Him, but choose rather to devise a God that agrees with their lifestyle. They minimize God and recreate Him in their own image. They say, "I want God to be how I choose."
One of the most common forms of conceptual atheism is pantheism. The philosophy of pantheism says that all is God and God is all. Pantheism is idolatry taken to extremes, for everything is God. Today, we see forms of pantheism in Hinduism, New Age thought and various Native American religions. Pantheism flies in the face of reason and observable evidence. Pantheism breaks down all distinctions and claims that all is one, all is God. However, we have an awareness of being separate and distinct from one another. Also, we certainly are separate and distinct from animals, rocks and plants. Pantheism denies that God is a self-conscious, intelligent being, rather He is a phenomenon that encompasses everything. Since God is everything, there is no distinction between good and evil, in fact, there is no good or evil for all is one. This, of course, is absurd. Pantheism simply is an attempt by men to skirt accountability to God for their sin by making God a participant in sin (since God is all). Essentially, "all is God" is just another way of saying there is no God.
There are many other forms of conceptual atheism. Many religions redefine God into many gods (polytheism), as Paul said, they "exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:23). By making man-made images into "gods", man limits God so as not to be limited by Him. This is common to all forms of atheism: man seeks through atheism to avoid being accountable to God.
Agnosticism is the belief that man cannot know whether God exists or not, and so, agnostics choose to remain ignorant. Because they believe that God cannot or does not reveal Himself, they use their agnosticism as an excuse not to seek Him. In my opinion, agnosticism is not a logical position. If there is a God who created the heavens and the earth, certainly He is able to make Himself known to His creation. In fact, it would be strange if God went to the trouble to create us, and then chose not to reveal Himself to us. And, as we have seen in previous articles in this series, He has revealed Himself to us. Agnostics choose to remain ignorant concerning God and choose to ignore God's manifestation of Himself to us. "It were, indeed, a strange defence for man to pretend that he has no ears to hear the truth, while dumb creatures have voices loud enough to declare it; to allege that he is unable to see that which creatures without eyes demonstrate; to excuse himself on the ground of weakness of mind, while all creatures without reason are able to teach."[Footnote #6] By their purposeful ignorance, agnostics slight their God-given intelligence and ability to reason.
Paul spoke directly to the agnostics of his day in Athens. They had erected an altar with the inscription: "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD" (Acts 17:23). He concluded his address to them by stating: "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). God used to "overlook" agnostical ignorance, but now He has revealed Himself through the clear revelation of Jesus Christ. Claiming, as agnostics do, that God cannot be known is just another way to try to dodge accountability to God. However, God has made it clear, by "raising [Christ] from the dead", that He exists and that the world is accountable to Him.
God will reveal Himself to all who seek Him. Christ said: "Seek and you will find" (Matt. 7:7). The agnostic, however, chooses not to seek Him. "Agnosticism is better expressed by the phrase, `I will not believe,' than by the phrase, `I cannot believe'"[Footnote #7]
The fourth type of atheism is practical atheism. A practical atheist is a man who, though he may acknowledge the existence of God, does not live his life as though God exists. Paul described practical atheists in his letter to Titus: "They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him" (Titus 1:16). Unfortunately, we all slip into practical atheism, to some extent, at one time or another. "All sin is founded in a secret atheism."[Footnote #8] How could we sin if the knowledge of God were strong in our mind? If we had a strong sense that God is watching us and that we are accountable for our actions, we would be much less prone to sin. We do sin, though, and with each sin, we slight God, just as an atheist. "We deny His sovereignty when we violate His laws; we disgrace His holiness when we cast our filth before His face; we disparage His wisdom when we set up another rule as the guide of our actions than that law He hath fixed; we slight His sufficiency when we prefer a satisfaction in sin before a happiness in Him alone; and His goodness, when we judge it not strong enough to attract us to Him."[Footnote #9]
Although we all at times exhibit practical atheism, I would not label all sinners as practical atheists. There are those who choose to live their lives largely ignoring the existence of God. These I would term practical atheists. Many practical atheists claim a belief in God, many even attend church, but they do not worship God from the heart. "A sense of God in the heart would burst out in the life; where there is no reverence of God in the life, it is easily concluded there is less in the heart."[Footnote #10]
In a sense, practical atheism is a purer form of atheism than dogmatic atheism. "A practical denial of God is worse than a verbal, because deeds have usually more of deliberation than words; words may be the fruit of passion, but a set of evil actions are the fruit and evidence of a predominant evil principle in the heart."[Footnote #11] Ironically, practical atheists do much more harm to the church than dogmatic atheists, because of the hypocrisy of many practical atheists. "The wound religion receives from hypocrites is far more dangerous and incurable than that inflicted on it by the open and scandalous sinner. For religion is never brought into question by the enormous vices of an infamous person; all see and all abhor his sin. But when a man shall have his mouth full of piety and his hands full of wickedness, when he shall speak Scripture and live devilism, profess strictly and walk loosely, this lays a grievous stumbling-block in the way of others; and tempts them to think that all religion is but mockery, and that the professors of it are but hypocrites."[Footnote #12]
Practical atheists are, so to speak, trying to have their cake and eat it too. They think that their acknowledgement of God is enough. They give their minds to God, but not their hearts, not their lives. They acknowledge the existence of God but do not serve Him. They acknowledge Him as Creator, but not as Lord. This is a dangerous form of atheism because many practical atheists have convinced themselves that they are pleasing God by their intellectual acknowledgement, and so they think that they will escape judgment. However, many will be devastated when they find that, on judgment day, Christ says to them: "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers" (Matt. 7:23).
Atheism has dire results, for the atheist himself and also for society. First and foremost, the atheist himself will be judged and faces eternal punishment. He may live his life feeling that he is not accountable to God for his actions, but eventually he will be brought before God in judgment. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10). The atheist may deny God in this world, but he will not in the next, smarting under eternal punishment.
The atheist tries his best to suppress thoughts of eternal punishment. This is to his own detriment, even in this world. "If he fear no future punishment, he can never expect any future reward."[Footnote #13] Because he acknowledges only this life, the atheist has no hope for the next. What a dark prospect if our only hope is found in this world! Also, life without an intelligent Creator is a purposeless existence. The absence of a first cause implies an absence of a purpose. What ultimate purpose could a life hold if it ends in the grave?
Another dire result of atheism to the atheist himself is a slavery to sin and the desires of the flesh. The atheist, in rejecting God, throws off the easy yoke of Christ for heavy burden of a life of sin. The atheist convinces himself that he is free because he does not obey God or the dictates of his conscience. In doing so, he binds himself with the chains of sin.
Moreover, the atheist can never be satisfied. His life will never be fulfilling because the things of the world cannot satisfy. As Solomon put it: "All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing" (Eccl. 1:8). Christ, however, stated: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).
Atheism run rampant can infect society. We are beginning to see its effects in our society. Since, God is the author of moral law, when it is perceived that there is no God, morality naturally suffers. When men disregard accountability to God, conscience is ignored, crime increases, ethics die. We see today that, largely, litigation has replaced ethics as the correcting force in society. We do what we can get away with. Anything the lawyers say can win in court is, for us, ethical. A seventeenth century writer foresaw the type of society that a Godless environment would lead to: "A city of atheists would be a heap of confusion; there could be no ground of any commerce, when all the sacred bands of it in the consciences of men were snapt asunder, which are torn to pieces and utterly destroyed by denying the existence of God."[Footnote #14] He also foresaw the results when situational ethics rule, rather than God's absolute law: "[I]f the foundation be demolished, the whole superstructure must tumble down: a man might be a thief, a murderer, an adulterer, and could not in a strict sense be an offender."[Footnote #15] And so, today, because God's law is not heeded, we see murder accepted through abortion, and adultery approved of, even honored, among men.
The problem today is that there are too many so-called "seekers" who, like Pilate, ask the question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), and then do not wait around for the answer from the one who can give them the answer. They ask, "What is truth?", but they do not desire to hear the real answer. They ask, "What is truth?", but they are not seeking the truth, rather, they are seeking a philosophy of life that will accomodate their lifestyle.
So then, let us answer the question, "What is truth?": "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, ...He was buried, ...He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4) and "God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Heed this and seek no further.
Lord, may we accept the salvation that You offer us freely. May we listen to the truth and live our lives by it. Give us, by Your Spirit, a stronger faith in You, so that we might be light to those who are truly seeking the truth. We thank You for Your clear revelation of Yourself that You have given us through Your Word and through Your Son, in whose name we pray these things, Amen.
3. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, pg. 157.
4. For an excellent treatment on the lack of evidential support for the theory of evolution, read Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson (InterVarsity Press, 1991).
5. Miley, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, pg. 128.
6. Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Vol. I, pg. 62.
7. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, pg. 166.
8. Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. I, pg. 93.
9. Ibid., pg. 93.
10. Ibid., pg. 92.
11. Ibid., pg. 92.
12. Ezekiel Hopkins, cited in A Puritan Golden Treasury, ed. by I. D. E. Thomas, pg. 151.
13. Charnock, op. cit., pg. 79.
14. Ibid., pg. 78.
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