A significant contradiction embedded in many forms of modern atheism is that atheism itself is often, explicitly or implicitly, a battle against the Christian God. Despite claims to the contrary, many of the argumentsand much of the emotional forceof atheists are aimed precisely at disproving the existence of the God of Christians. This is a rather glaring contradiction in the atheist message, and may implicitly point to the God who is so vehemently denied. Carl Olson probes this soft spot in the reasoning of atheist thinkers.
By the year 2000 we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God. - Gloria Steinem, still hopeful feminist
Regardless of the varieties of atheism, most atheists we meet on the street, in the workplace or at a secular university share a common rejection of a god or gods, almost always the Christian God. Austin Cline, who hosts an atheist Web site, says Christians need to realize atheism is a rejection of all gods, not just the Christian God. He claims Christians also tend to make the serious error of focusing only on the specific god in which they believe, failing to recognize the fact that atheists dont focus on that god. (Austin Cline, What is Atheism? www.about.com, Agnosticism/Atheism homepage).
Yet in reality, this doesnt appear to be the case. Most atheists are definitely anti-Christian and focus on the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
G.K. Chesterton, who regularly battled with atheists such as George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, defined atheism as a negative which relies upon the positive it rejects: Atheism is the supreme example of a simple faith. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement by which the atheist lives, is an atmosphere of thrilled and shuttering theism, and not of atheism at all; it is an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial.
If there were not God, there would be no atheists (G.K. Chesterton, Where All Roads Lead, Collected Works, Vol. 3 [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990], p. 37-38).
This sort of rebellious spirit was summed up by Margaret Sanger, the American freethinker who pioneered birth control rights and whose motto was No gods, no masters.
Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, once said I dont believe in God because I dont believe in Mother Goose. This view of God as a myth and a childrens fairy taleon the same level as Santa Claus and unicornsis held by most atheists. Yet they dont explain why it is that no sane adults believe in unicorns or Santa Claus, but hundreds of millions of sane adults do still believe in God.
Madalyn Murray OHair, whose impact on American views of God can hardly be underestimated, wrote that the Atheist position is that the traditionalist historical concepts of god [sic are quite fallacious and that the notion of some super power is not now susceptible of proof by existing scientific methods or by the accumulation of knowledge presently accessible to man. Therefore, Atheists live as if there were no god, no efficacy in prayer, and no life after death. We are free from theism. (OHair, www.infidels.org). Yes, free from, but where does that freedom ultimately lead? It leads to an elevation, even a worship, of man, as the Catechism states: Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history (CCC, n. 2124).
There are a couple of popular arguments used by atheists in attacking God, sometimes used in unison.
One is that the idea of an all-powerful and all-loving God is inherently contradictory, especially in light of rational reason and the existence of evil in the world. George Smith, a popular atheist leader, declared, You simply cannot intelligibly discuss, much less prove, the existence of an unknowable creature. Its philosophically nonsense. The concept itself is meaningless. (George Smith, How to Defend Atheism, www.infidels.org).
However, Smiths remark is not accurate. We can prove the existence of an unknown, even if its inner nature remains a mystery to us. For example, in the natural realm no one has ever seen atoms, but we believe they exist. The existence of evil and suffering, according to apologists such as St. Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis, is the most difficult problem for the Christian to address. It requires understanding the nature of evilit is not a thing, but a lack of goodand the reality of mans free will.
Another argument against God is that He is violent and cruel. How else to describe a Being who has condemned so many to eternal torment even though they didnt know He existed?
Kevin, the founder and president of the Freethinkers and Atheists Society in the city I reside in, is especially adamant about Gods cruel nature. In a letter to me he wrote, It must be comforting thinking that youre going to heaven where you can look down at the billions of souls screaming and writhing in pain as their eyes melt out of their sockets over and over again, their flesh constantly consumed by flame for all of eternity, but never dying; all this courtesy of your all-compassionate and loving friend jesus [sic]. ... Do you find this condemnation the act of a moral god? Eternal pain and torture for some simple transitory human foible, the capability for which he personally designed into you? If your god were real, Id throw him in jail for the rest of eternity. What Hitler did is nothing compared to what your supposed god does every day.
This is a supposedly all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful being. Why would such a creature bother creating an entire system where the vast majority of his creation will spend all eternity burning in flames?
In my reply to Kevin, I noted that his intensely emotional description of God left me with little doubt about one thing: he apparently believes God exists! How else to explain his furious hatred? Can someone really hate a non-entity that much?
Both of these arguments are based in flawed understandings of the Christian view of God, suffering, evil, and hell. They are also rooted in the kind of condescending arrogance so common among atheist intellectuals, such as the famous British mathematician Bertrand Russell, author of Why I Am Not A Christian. He claimed that what really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. (Quoted in Why Bertrand Russell Was Not A Christian by Rev. Ralph A. Smith, http://www.berith.com/English/BR0013.html).
He added it might also be because of the wish for safety, the sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. This sort of profundity is also exhibited in this common retort from atheists: If God made everything, then who made God? Well, if God is the First Cause, then no one could have made Him, otherwise He wouldnt have been first. Ironically, some people who ask this question are perfectly content to point to Darwinian evolution or the Big Bang to explain the material world without ever explaining who or what started those events. In other words, those who claim to be the most rational and logical often do not rationally or logically follow their own arguments to their proper conclusions, a significant and fatal weakness.
Copyright © 2000 Carl E. Olson.
Originally published in the July/August 1999 issue of Envoy magazine, a bimonthly journal of Catholic apologetics and evangelization. Visit their Web site at www.envoymagazine.com.