Breaking Down the ‘We’re all Atheists’ Objection

Introduction 

Several months ago, I went to a local “religious freedom” rally here in Fredericksburg. The rally was commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Freedom amendment, with a parade from downtown to the Religious Freedom monument and included a host of speakers. The keynote speaker was William J. Murray, the son of the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Marching in the parade there were a handful of groups, including a local Musim group and three humanist/atheist groups seeking a presence here in “the Burg.”

After the event, I made my way over to the representatives from the local Coalition of Reason and struck up a conversation with a man by the name of “Glen.” Glen was a  representative for the Fredericksburg Coalition of Reason, who was more than happy to share why he became an atheist from Methodism in the 70′s.  All it took was my question on where reason came from, and we were off and rolling for the next 40-45 minutes on a street corner overshadowed by a church.

He had a lot of “pet arguments” for why people of faith were delusional, but it was a favorite atheist “gauntlet” which surfaced during our conversation that I would like to share in this post. Many of us are familiar with the statement from atheists: “We’re all atheists, we just go one ‘god’ further than you.”  What I would like to do is give a response to this objection, knowing that there may be other ways to do so. My hopes to show how this “gauntlet” is really a distraction from getting to the real issues on one’s rejection of the Judeo Christian God.

What about atheism and theism?

Whenever we find ourselves in a conversation with one professing to be an atheist, it is important clarify terms like faith, and in this case the definition of atheism. According to the break down of the word atheism, the “a” is an alpha privative denoting negation, or meaning “no.”  Put the alpha (“a)  of negation with the word, “theos” meaning God or god, and you have the formal definition of atheism. So the word “atheism” (no God/gods) is the belief that denies the existence of God or a supernatural being.[1] There is nothing new here for many of us.

We cannot stop here though. The word, “God” is often misconstrued in conversations with atheists as well. Many atheists think of “God” being a cosmic gum ball  machine, or an old man sitting up in the clouds ready to punish or reward for our bad or good deeds or even something else. If God were any of these, I would not believe in that kind of God either. So when we talk about God, we are talking about the God who exists as being, the personal, transcendent, moral,  timeless (eternal), immaterial or spaceless, Uncaused First Cause and Designer of the universe.

A theist is one who believes in the existence of God. Of course there are different kinds of theists, who  believe differently about the nature and the existence of God. Allow me a quick illustration using monotheism.

Theists who believe in the God of the Bible (Yahweh) could be called ‘Christian theists’ or  ‘Jewish  theists.’ However Islamic monotheism is different in that the Muslim believes that “God” (Allah) is personal, transcendent, timeless, and the one who is the First uncaused Cause of the universe. Islamic mono-theism is different from Judeo Christian monotheism in the understanding of how “God” interacts and intervenes with the creation. With reference to God’s interaction with His creation, Christian theism is providential, where Islamic monotheism is fatalistic (kismet). Space does not allow me to elaborate on this further you can read a post on my blog for more information.

Atheists redefine atheism by saying “we’re all atheists”

Atheism over the years has gotten some “bad press,” especially before 9/11, so some atheists have tried to redefine or defang the meaning of “atheism,” calling it a “lack of belief.” So the statement is a smoke screen for the real definition and “a card” for seeking an unfair  advantage in a conversation with a person of faith. But it is not a very good “card” to play. Why?

Since the atheist does not believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Islam or any of the deities of the polytheistic and pantheistic religions, the statement made by the atheist, thatwe’re all atheists,” seeks to put the theistic person of faith in the same position of belief as the atheist. The atheist follows this up with, “we’re just an atheist to one more God than you.” This “one more God” is the Judeo Christian God of the Bible.

But in their faulty attempt to level the playing field, it is really becomes a dishonest and shifty tactic that is easily dissectible.

Let me see if I can do clean job in dissecting it for us.  There are some pretty good reasons for what makes a coherent worldview. Those reasons give a clear understanding for rejecting the other religions’ views, including atheism. Just because there are good reasons for not believing  religion x, that does not make be an atheist to religion x. Why? Because the reasons for believing religion x prove to be inconsistent logically, metaphysically, and existentially, as well as biblically.

Now applying this, as a Christian theist, I don’t believe in the nature and interpretation of Islam’s “Allah” but that does not make me an atheist. There are some major differences between the God of the Bible and the Islamic interpretation of God. There is also a different understanding of the God of the Bible, opposed to the understanding of the pantheon of over 300 million deities in Hinduism, as well as the two major traditions of Buddhism.  Those understandings of God versus the other deities are worlds apart from each other. But just because they are different and I do not agree with them does not make me an atheist to them. Nor does it make me an atheist in the purest sense of the word.

So this statement made by the atheist is really a smokescreen that dissolves  when confronted with the truth. Those who follow one of those religions is based upon the fact that God has placed something in every person to seek truth in hopes that they will cry out to the true God and Creator. Speaking on quantitative terms here, all of the great world religions are merely a reflection of man not being able to find God, and that it is God who seeks us and shows us our need for Him. God in Christ is revealed not just the Bible, but also in history, evidenced by an empty grave.

Conclusion.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned my atheistic conversant,”Glen.”  Glen and I spent an almost an hour in cordial conversation. When he “threw down” this objection that “we’re all atheists, and I am just atheistic to one more God than you.”  I cordially pointed to the weakness of his assertion. This opened the door for me to press him for the real reasons for why he was an atheist, and address his objections. At the end of the conversation we said our good byes, and shared information with the hopes of a future discussion at the local Starbucks or Blackstones.

Disbelieving in Allah, Brahman, Buddha, Shakti or any of the deities out there, does not make us atheistic to them. We would have to unwind the definition of “belief” if we wanted to go deeper into this subject. But Glen, like many atheists are “atheistic” to the Judeo Christian God. So when someone tries to press you or I with “we’re all atheists,” clear the smoke away from this gauntlet and press the unbeliever to the reasons why they deny the God of the Bible. Stay cordial and pray for them as you converse with them, and leave the results to our Lord.

Hopefully the impression you make with them in your cordiality and your knowledge about the truth of the Christian faith will put the stone in their shoe to further the conversation and quite possible see the truth and respond accordingly.

Note

[1] See the definition at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/.

On Behalf of Demea: Hume’s Problem of Evil

Pain Pauls blogEpicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered.” Said Philo, David Hume’s skeptical character, in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”(D 10.25)

In part 10 and 11 of the Dialogues, Hume explored the traditional problem of evil. He, quo Philo, argued that given the occurrence of pain and suffering, an omnicompetent Deity, believed by Cleanthes and Demea, cannot exist. The existence of instances of pain and suffering is logically incompatible with the existence of such a Deity.

Philo expounded more,

Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to them (D 10.34)

Demea, Hume’s unbending and inflexible standard orthodox-theist character, offered a response to meet Epicurus’ old questions. This article explored Demea’s response and argued that it does shake the solidity of the classical problem of evil. [Read more...]