Understanding Unbelief

Many Christians are mystified by the mindset of atheists and agnostics. For a number of years I have thought about the difference between believers and unbelievers and have come to several conclusions.

  1. Non-believers are generally unable or unwilling to accept the possibility of the supernatural. As Richard Dawkins has said, “My suggestion is that you won’t find any intelligent person who feels the need for the supernatural. What you will find is the need for a sense of transcendent wonder, which I share as well.” Most atheists will only accept what they can observe (“Seeing is believing”) or quantify in some way. That is why they base their worldview primarily upon scientific speculation.
  2. Closely allied to this point is the matter of faith itself. Even though it can be demonstrated that most atheists have faith in something, they would not call it that. . With many this faith is taken to the extreme and can aptly be termed “Scientism.” I like Shermer’s definition that it is “…a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science.” (Michael Shermer, The Shamans of Scientism,” Scientific American, 2002)

The fact that many eminent scientists (most notable recently: Francis Collins) are strong believers is largely ignored or inefficiently explained away.

3. Non-believers tend to place all believers in the same category. Seldom is the distinction made between various Christian believers. Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and the rest are seen as a group and the shortcomings of any one of them provides further reasons for unbelief. But it doesn’t stop there. The excesses and failings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and the rest provide further reasons for rejection of any kind of belief in the supernatural. In their view, all religions are superstitious nonsense. Indeed, as Peter Berkowitz has written in an article “The New New Atheism,” “…by treating all religion as one great evil pathology, today’s bestselling atheists suppress crucial distinctions between the forms of faith embraced by the vast majority of American citizens and the militant Islam that at this very moment is pledged to America’s destruction” (The New, New Atheism”).

4. Unbelievers tend to be ignorant of and about the Bible. Certainly, not all atheists are biblically ignorant…some of them are ex-clergymen who know the Bible well. On the other hand, I listened recently to a comedian who was debunking religion state that he could not put his trust in something written by bronze-age people who didn’t know why their women became pregnant. I was thinking, where did he come up with this? (Maybe he was just failing to be humorous.) Many wannabe skeptics simply parrot what they’ve heard or read somewhere else.

These four points need to be understood before trying to defend our faith or persuading atheists to abandon theirs. Trying to use the natural to prove the supernatural is probably not going to be successful since atheists have their own explanations for nature. The design you observe and deem intelligent, they conclude to be the product of billions of years of trial and error. To their mind, you are simply another superstitious, ignorant, intellectually-challenged sucker. You’re really no different from a Muslim, Hindu or animist. The story of Dan illustrates the opposite.

Several years ago, I immersed Dan (not his real name) into Christ. Dan had been an atheist all his adult life. He was a brilliant mathematician and his general knowledge (name a composer and he could tell you when he was born, his life story and all the music he had composed when and why) was vast and astounding. I had studied with his wife and, when she became a Christian, Dan came along to our Bible classes and assembly to see what it was all about. We struck up a friendship and eventually we began to talk about God and what it means to be a Christian.

One day Dan told me that he was now a believer and wanted to follow Christ. We studied a few times and he was immersed. How did that happen? What wise things did I say to persuade him out of unbelief to belief? I don’t have a clue! But, when he opened his thinking to consider the possibility of a supernatural designer-creator, it just seemed to make more sense than the alternative.

I want to mention again the website of the finest Christian apologist that I know of, John Clayton. Have a look at doesgodexist.org



Filed under Apologetics, Atheism/Theism, conversion, Culture Wars, morality, Religion, Science, Supernatural, Theism

3 responses to “Understanding Unbelief

  1. Samuel Skinner

    Hello. Let us see…

    1) You are refering to the idea known as empericalism. And yes, most rational atheists hold that about the world. See Occum’s Razor.

    2) You are talking about and strawmanning naturalism. Naturalism is the idea that there is no supernatural. At its most basic, it holds that claims of supernatural are inherently contradictory and that things that appear to violate the laws of physics are either misinterpreted or the laws of physics are wrong.

    It is not a faith- it is based on evidence. To this day no one has shown any concrete proof for the supernatural.

    Nice argument from authority (which is a logical fallacy). Also happens to be false- the proportion of scientists who are believers is LOWER than the general population and gets smaller the more prestigious the scientist is. Biology has the most atheists, and math the least.


    3 You just made the courtiers reply! Are you running down a list? Any way, the reason that atheists don’t go into detail is the same reason economists don’t go into detail when they attack communism. Communism has a huge number of varieties, but they all share common flaws. Religion has a huge amount of variety, but all share a common flaw.

    They all believe in God or faith. All of them.

    As for “judging based on results” that is ANOTHER fallacy- Islam’s truth or falcity is not based on its violence. And Islam is not dedicated to the destruction of the United States- it is dedicated to world wide conversion. Just like Christianity.

    As for “unlike the vast majority of Americans”… 30% of Americans fit into the Dominionist category.

    There are differances between the Christian facists and their Muslim opposites, but they are irrelevant to the truth value of their positions.

    4 George Carltin. And that isn’t ignorance of the bible, but history (he was trying to be funny). Technically he is accurate- they know birth is related to sex, but they don’t understand it at all. It wasn’t until the 19th century before they finally figured out that the sperm fertilized the eggs.

    As it is, most atheists know MORE about the bible than believers. Many have actually read it through and through, which amazingly many believers have not done!

    As for seeing design were others see natural processes, the word “optical illusion” comes to mind. That is why we require proof before we believe something. And guess what? Evolution has evidence and design does not. Perhaps you are refering to “fine tuning”? unfortunately this also is flawed- it assumes that life is the purpose of the universe.

    Both are arguments from ignorance- they declare design without bothering to look into the alternatives.

    You purswaded Dan, an atheist into Christianity? That is nice. And you have no idea why he converted? That is… odd. Most atheists can tell you why they deconverted, or why religion didn’t make sense to them.

    I can only assume that his conversion was for a non-rational reason. A warm fuzzy feeling, lonliness, an urge for purpose, etc. However, non-rational reasons are not valid arguments for truth.

    It is obvious that not all believers are idiots- they all aren’t fully rational. There is a differance. Intellgience is the ability to store knowledge, bring it out and correlate it. Rationality is the ability to look at your belief and ensure they are both logical and the premises are valid.

  2. I can easily accept the possibility of the supernatural. It is the fact that your supernatural beliefs told in Christianity have the same probability of a child’s belief in Santa or someone’s belief that Bigfoot is real. And most of us who don’t believe put you guys in different categories depending on what level of superstition you believe in.

    I’ve spent many years studying the Bible as both of my parents were ordained and we lived in the church. Reading the Bible is what made me not believe in it. It’s really a horrible, horrible book filled with pettiness, bigotry, racism, fear, and repression. Nothing that chocked full of hate could or would come from someone who could create a universe.

    My faith is in my ability to be a critical thinker, that is why I am an Atheist.

  3. Damián Gajardo

    About how to proof supernatural, just ask a mathematician to prove the existence of Love, and how much it weights?. is not visible, but it is there…not everything is “numbers”.

    Miracles exist.

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