Monday, April 12, 2010

Atheism: Philospher Explores Causes

With atheists having lately taken on a more "in- your- face" tactic with people of faith, it seems that Atheism has launched an all-out assault on religion.  Last month I shared an article about radical atheist author Christopher Hitchens and his Christian brother Peter.  I thought of him as I stumbled upon this article about James S. Spiegel, a Christian philosopher, who explores the causes of atheism.

From The Christian Post (emphasis added) --
Christian Philosopher Explores Causes of Atheism

James S. Spiegel has an uncomfortable thesis to propose.

He contends: Religious skepticism is, at bottom, a moral problem.

A professor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Spiegel has written a 130-page book, The Making of an Atheist, in response to the New Atheists. But unlike the numerous responses that have emerged from Christian apologists, Spiegel's book focuses on the moral-psychological roots of atheism.

While atheists insist that their foundational reason for rejecting God is the problem of evil or the scientific irrelevance of the supernatural, the Christian philosopher says the argument is "only a ruse" or "a conceptual smoke screen to mask the real issue – personal rebellion."

"The rejection of God is a matter of will, not of intellect," he asserts.

"Atheism is not the result of objective assessment of evidence, but of stubborn disobedience; it does not arise from the careful application of reason but from willful rebellion. Atheism is the suppression of truth by wickedness, the cognitive consequence of immorality.

"In short, it is sin that is the mother or unbelief."

God has made His existence plain from creation – from the unimaginable vastness of the universe to the complex micro-universe of individual cells, Spiegel notes. Human consciousness, moral truths, miraculous occurrences and fulfilled biblical prophecies are also evidence of the reality of God.

But atheists reject that, or as Spiegel put it, "miss the divine import of any one of these aspects of God's creation" and to do so is "to flout reason itself."

This suggests that other factors give rise to the denial of God, he notes. In other words, something other than the quest for truth drives the atheist.

Drawing from Scripture, Spiegel says the atheist's problem is rebellion against the plain truth of God, as clearly revealed in nature. The rebellion is prompted by immorality, and immoral behavior or sin corrupts cognition.

The author explained to EPS, "There is a phenomenon that I call 'paradigm-induced blindness,' where a person's false worldview prevents them from seeing truths which would otherwise be obvious. Additionally, a person's sinful indulgences have a way of deadening their natural awareness of God or, as John Calvin calls it, the sensus divinitatis. And the more this innate sense of the divine is squelched, the more resistant a person will be to evidence for God."

Spiegel, who converted to Christianity in 1980, has witnessed the pattern among several of his friends. Their path from Christianity to atheism involved: moral slippage (such as infidelity, resentment or unforgiveness); followed by withdrawal from contact with fellow believers; followed by growing doubts about their faith, accompanied by continued indulgence in the respective sin; and culminating in a conscious rejection of God.

Examining the psychology of atheism, Spiegel cites Paul C. Vitz who revealed a link between atheism and fatherlessness.

"Human beings were made in God's image, and the father-child relationship mirrors that of humans as God's 'offspring,'" Spiegel states. "We unconsciously (and often consciously, depending on one's worldview) conceive of God after the pattern of our earthly father."

"However, when one's earthly father is defective, whether because of death, abandonment, or abuse, this necessarily impacts one's thinking about God."

Some of the atheists whose fathers died include David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche. Those with abusive or weak fathers include Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire and Sigmund Freud. Among the New Atheists, Daniel Dennett's father died when Dennett was five years old and Christopher Hitchens' father appears to have been very distant. Hitchens had confessed that he doesn't remember "a thing about him."

As for Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, there is very little information available regarding their relationships with their fathers.

"It appears that the psychological fallout from a defective father must be combined with rebellion – a persistent immoral response of some sort, such as resentment, hatred, vanity, unforgiveness, or abject pride. And when that rebellion is deep or protracted enough, atheism results," Spiegel explains.

In essence, "atheists ultimately choose not to believe in God," the author maintains, and "this choice does not occur in a psychological vacuum."

The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief was released in February.


  1. Essentially, this author is saying that Atheists make a conscious choice to deny or reject God. However, this is not an accurate way of describing the atheist point of view. It implies that atheists know that God exists but are pretending he does not. By definition, an atheist believes that no gods exist. So God has no existence to deny. It would be like me asking you why you deny the Tooth Fairy.

    Belief is not a choice. Could you choose not to believe in God? Then what makes you think an atheist is choosing that?

    Dave w


  2. "However, when one's earthly father is defective, whether because of death, abandonment, or abuse, this necessarily impacts one's thinking about God."

    Interesting methodology: note that a handful of famous atheists had abusive or absent fathers and conclude that this is a major root of atheism.

    But is this enlightening concerning the cause of atheism? Absent or abusive fathers are, after all, not exactly a rare phenomenon. We can expect many examples of them among members of any belief system.

    Surely any person actually interested in finding out the truth about the issue, rather than just hunting for an excuse to dismiss atheists, would have to address such an obvious problem with this claim?

  3. Those having hallucinations or otherwise having inexplicable experiences are entirely convinced the content of those experiences is real. There can be no denying the fact of the experience, however, one's internal experience is insufficient to declare external reality and thus win others over to one's thinking, feeling or belief. I can tell you the cupcake is delicious but it is entirely appropriate you remain reasonably skeptical regarding my claim until you too can taste it. It is inappropriate for you to declare with absolute certainty "the cupcake is delicious" without the fact of tasting it for yourself and, even then, you may not like that particular kind of cupcake. Whether one likes it or dislikes it in the end, an absolute conclusion is only appropriate from personal experience and not solely based on the experiences of another. Granted, with a cupcake, there's little reason not to believe you. Believing or not believing has no substantial consequence to you. On such a weighty issue as the nature of all things - to include oneself - there is a great deal to lose if one casually accepts without seriously questioning or buys into every unsubstantiated claim to come along - even if a very old one.

    As for morality or ethics or values, everyone of us has them. Belief in the supernatural and in gods, goddesses, angels, demons, fairies, karma, etc. is unnecessary to the task of forming values. Many species other than mankind know what is good and what is bad for themselves and for others of their kind in many contexts and can consciously choose one option over another. Human morality isn't the only possible morality and, certainly, the morality of the typical theist is hardly the only morality and hardly the best choice among all values possible to a human being.

  4. Good post. I enjoyed reading it. I actually came to this conclusion myself a while ago. I believe it goes beyond atheism however, and that the father "represents" God to the child, and tends to determine how the child sees God, even as a Christian.

    In reply to those who have commented here...

    The bible says there are no true atheists. "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God". Everyone can see God in His creation. Willfully denying Him doesn't change that. Otherwise, please explain why atheists are so vehement in denying Him? Do you rant and rage about Santa Claus or the tooth fairy? Do you pursue Muslims and Hindus with the same rabid interest as you do Christians?

    Neglectful or abusive fathers do not have absolute control over the minds of their children. Atheism requires rebellion and some serious mental acrobatics to deny what is there for all the world to see. Consequently, there are some who come away from those relationships, not as atheists, but as Christians who believe that God is distant, uncaring, or cruel. "The Monster on the mountain" as it were, instead of the loving Father who desires a close relationship with His children.

    As for the cupcake analogy... it is not a question of how the cupcake tastes. The point atheists deny is that your cupcake even exists. As you hold it in your hand, and eat it, and offer them a bite, the atheist says you are imagining you are eating it. There are indeed many moralities... but when you accept that there in no *wrong* morality, you must needs accept the morality of the sociopathic murderer that would love to kill you and your family. Can you see his morality as wrong, if so, why only his? Without God, who gets to decide which person's morals is right or wrong?


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