Saturday, April 6, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 1]

by Hiram R. Díaz III

§ I. Introduction:
There Are No Atheists

For centuries, many apologists have presented arguments in defense of the existence of God to men who self-identify as atheists. Yet the Scriptures are clear –
...what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.1
In addition to having had the sin and guilt of Adam imputed to himself, fallen man also incurs the wrath of God because he knows God is the Creator, Law-Giver, and Judge of all men, and yet refuses to honor God as God or give him thanks. Paul’s words here are universal and, therefore, exclude no person who ever has lived, is now living, or will ever live subsequent to the Fall.

There is no question about the matter – God reveals to us that there are no atheists. Instead, there are idolaters who have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”2 Rather than trusting the Word of God, the professed atheist trusts in his own word. Rather than obeying God’s moral law, the professed atheist establishes his own rule of conduct. Rather than working within the metaphysical framework revealed by God to man in his Word, the atheist constructs his own metaphysical framework in which he seeks to operate, free from the ontological and providential strictures placed upon him by God.

Psalms 14 and 53 are often cited as proof that the Scriptures recognize some men who are actually atheists, but these psalms do no such thing. Their shared opening line – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” – is a concise way of expressing the attitude of the unbeliever who thinks that the one true God will not bring his (i.e. the atheist’s) thoughts, words, and deeds into judgment. As Willem A. VanGemeren explains –
The word “fool” is synonymous with “wicked”...It reflects the wisdom tradition where the “fool” aggressively and intentionally flouts independence from God and his commandments... 
The denial of God is not an absolute denial of his existence. The pagans around Israel believed in many gods, and the impious in Israel did not rationalistically deny the historic and cultural links between the Lord and Israel. In their impudence fools disregard God’s expectations. God is not important in their lives. They shut off the affairs of this world from divine intervention and deny any personal accountability to God for their actions.3
No man is truly an atheist; rather, all men know God by means of direct revelation to them. What can be known of him has been made known to them by God. However, fallen men pervert the truth about him, ascribe divine attributes to his creation, and show themselves to be idolaters by worshiping the now divinized creation.

§ II. What is an Atheist?

Hence, the atheist is an idolater who replaces the Creator with the creature, imbuing the creation with divine attributes in one way or another. For instance, the materialist believes that matter is everywhere (i.e. omnipresent), the source of all potential and actual power (i.e. omnipotent), and the source of all knowledge and consciousness (i.e. omniscient). Matter is literally the alpha and the omega of all things. It is a se, seeing as it is not dependent on anything for its existence, but instead is the source of all that exists. Even the atheist’s moral code is dictated to him by the creation indirectly (as in the case of deriving one’s sense of right and wrong from observing animal social conduct) or directly (as in the case of issuing commands to others and oneself upon the basis of one’s perceived autonomous authority).

Atheism differs from other forms of idolatry, however, because its “unknown God” is neither a crude mythological deity whose attributes and actions are exaggerated human attributes and actions, nor is its “unknown God” personal and, therefore, an imitation of Yahweh. The “unknown God” of the atheists is an abstraction from both of these theological sources. For, on the one hand, the atheist believes that everything is ultimately physical; while, on the other hand, the atheist believes that the physical alpha and omega is elemental and knowable by means of abstraction. It is not this or that physical object perceptible to the senses that is the atheist’s god, it is the immanent physical ground of all derivative physical beings.

This is not, of course, how atheists would self-identify. Rather, contemporary atheists at the popular level define their position as “a lack of belief in gods.”4 Note that this definition does not speak to the objective state of affairs that obtains (i.e. whether or not God exists), as it is a description of an individual’s psychological state. Whereas “older dictionaries define[d] atheism as ‘a belief that there is no God,’”5 contemporary atheists will often argue that these older definitions are due to “theistic influences,”6 and that “without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read ‘there are no gods.’”7 However, this is not the case, as philosopher Paul Draper explains –
“Atheism” is typically defined in terms of “theism”. Theism, in turn, is best understood as a proposition—something that is either true or false. It is often defined as “the belief that God exists”, but here “belief” means “something believed”. It refers to the propositional content of belief, not to the attitude or psychological state of believing. This is why it makes sense to say that theism is true or false and to argue for or against theism. If, however, “atheism” is defined in terms of theism and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God, then it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists (more on this below). The “a-” in “atheism” must be understood as negation instead of absence, as “not” instead of “without”. Therefore, in philosophy at least, atheism should be construed as the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods).
This definition has the added virtue of making atheism a direct answer to one of the most important metaphysical questions in philosophy of religion, namely, “Is there a God?” There are only two possible direct answers to this question: “yes”, which is theism, and “no”, which is atheism.8
From this it follows that it is not incorrect to define atheism as the belief that God does not exist or, what is essentially the same thing, to define an atheist as one who assents to the proposition that God does not exist.

1 Rom 1:19-21.
2 Rom 1:23.
3 The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 267.
4 “What is an Atheist?,” American Atheists,, Accessed March 22, 2019.
5 ibid.
6 ibid.
7 ibid.
8 “Atheism and Agnosticism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, Accessed March 22, 2019.

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