Why do some people not believe in God?

An analysis of the common causes of atheism. (H/T The Poached Egg)


Most atheists would have us think they arrived at their view through cool, rational inquiry. But are other factors involved? Consider the candid remarks of contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel: “I want atheism to be true …. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right about my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” Could Nagel’s attitude—albeit in a more subtle form—actually be common among atheists?

[…]The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it “would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person.”

Historian Paul Johnson’s fascinating if disturbing book Intellectuals exposed this pattern in the lives of some of the most celebrated thinkers in the modern period, including Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, and Sartre. In their private (and often public) lives, these Western intellectual stars were moral wrecks.

[…]As children of the Enlightenment, we tend to heavily emphasize the impact of belief on behavior. But it also works the other way around. Our conduct affects the way we think. On the positive side, as Scripture’s wisdom literature tells us, obedience and humility lead to insight and understanding. Negatively, as we indulge in immoral behavior, our judgment will be skewed.

[…]External factors may also hamper the natural awareness of God and contribute to a descent into atheism. In his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, New York University psychologist Paul Vitz, a onetime atheist, examines the lives of the major atheists of the modern period, including Hobbes, Hume, Voltaire, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Russell, and Freud. He found they had something in common: a broken relationship with their father. Whether by death, departure, abuse, or some other factor, the father relationships of all these well-known atheists were defective. Vitz also examined the lives of prominent theists during the same period (Pascal, Reid, Burke, Berkeley, Paley, Wilberforce, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Newman, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, among others). In every case, he found a good relationship with the father or at least a strong father figure.

One more quick quote on the argument that immorality leads to an atheistic worldview:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantegous to themselves… For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” — Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937

This rejection of morality is widely acknowledged by prominent atheists as being a selling point of atheism. People become atheists because they know that atheism will free them from having to do anything simply because it’s “good”.

Consider these prominent atheists:

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins)

And it works in reverse. When I was a young man, one of my reasons for becoming a Christian was precisely because I did not want to be like atheists. I could plainly see the harm they were causing others with their rejection of prescriptive morality, and when I put that together with the cosmological argument and the Big Bang theory, which I learned about in grade 1, the case was sealed. It helped that I had not done anything really wrong at that time, or it would have been harder for me to accept that I was guilty. The more bad stuff you are into, the harder it is to accept that you are wrong, and to turn away from it. Some clean-living atheists are going to have no problem being fair with the evidence. – switching to Christianity would be much easier for them to do.

As for his second point, consider this article that talks about how important fathers are in passing along religious convictions to children.


In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

That is why I find it so odd that so many “Christians” insist on voting more and more wealth redistribution from rich to poor. The more that government programs are seen as a replacement from the protecting, providing and moral/spiritual leading that fathers do in the home, the more atheists we are going to be producing. Fathers are vital for passing on spiritual and moral convictions to children. Fathers are the ones who show that setting moral boundaries is a way to love someone – that love is not incompatible with rules. It is very important that young people see that it is loving for a person in authority to set up rules and boundaries – and that there are reasons for those rules. It’s very similar to the way that boys raised by single mothers are aggressively sexually – because they haven’t seen men loving their wives up close, and getting respect and approval for that love. And girls raised fatherless are similar – they haven’t seen men loving their wives up close, so they aren’t in a position to judge men and hold them accountable. The family is needed to model all kinds of good behaviors at a pre-cognitive level.

You can order Jim Spiegel’s book “The Making of an Atheist” here from Amazon:

And you can also read a sample chapter for free here.

2 thoughts on “Why do some people not believe in God?”

  1. I found some interesting quotations a while back that I then posted on my own blog under the title, “The Intelligent Design Debate. Here is one of the most telling and it also explains the reason behind atheism:

    Sir Julian Huxley, the grand nephew of Thomas Huxley, was in his day–probably the worlds most prestigious evolutionists was being interviewed on a National Public Television station. He was asked, “Why do you suppose that so many scientists accepted evolution so quickly?”

    This is what he replied: “I suppose the reason we leaped at The Origin Of the Species (Darwin’s book)was because the idea of a God interfered with our sexual mores.”

    From the horses mouth to our ears.


  2. Good post. There are a lot of reasons for people holding onto unbelief. The Bible actually tells us in Romans that people really know there is a God, but they reject Him. You’re right that people often do so to justify their bad behaviour as ok. People do it to justify blatant sin, but this can even happen among people who live pretty decent lives – even religious people. They can want to pretend that they are good enough, that they don’t need grace. In essence they believe in a works-based approach to salvation: they make the grade themselves by their good works. Often they like to think that God gets a good deal when he has them on the team. Sometimes it is harder for religious people to accept that they are wrong. The drug addict knows his life is a mess, but the outwardly upright guy can find his more subtle sins harder to face up to. So it’s not always harder to come to Christ if one has messed up really badly. In fact, sometimes God lets people experience where their sin leads them so that they finally see the futility and destructiveness of it all.


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