Tag Archives: Psychology of Atheism

Brian Auten posts book review of “The Faith of the Fatherless”

The book review is here on Apologetics 315.


Vitz begins by laying out his hypothesis and the underlying principle behind it. He proposes that “atheism of the strong or intense type is to a substantial degree generated by the peculiar psychological needs of its advocates.”2  He notes that the theory that God is merely a projection of one’s needs is a popular position, but “the psychological concepts used so effectively to interpret religion by those who reject God are double-edged swords that can also, indeed easily, be used to explain their unbelief.”3  He makes clear one of the underlying assumptions of his study: “First, I assume that the major barriers to belief in God are not rational but can be called, in a general sense, psychological.”4

The psychological angle that Vitz examines is the role and influence of one’s father in the formation of beliefs about God. The author notes that “Christianity is in many respects distinctive in its emphasis on God as loving Father.”5 Vitz points out that “Freud makes the simple and easily understandable claim that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible.”6 It is with this thesis in mind – the lack of a father plays a strong role in one’s psychological disposition towards rejecting God – that Vitz engages his case study comparing the lives of famous atheists and theists: “I have selected for study those who are historically famous as atheists. These are great thinkers, typically philosophers, whose rejection of God was central to their intellectual life and public positions.”7

Brian also cites Vitz explaining his own journey into atheism:

Just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I learned to think like a proper psychologist by putting on the right – that is, atheistic – ideas and attitudes. I wanted as few impediments to my professional career as it was possible.14

[…]In my own case, I now see that it was because of my social need to assimilate, my professional need to be accepted as part of the world of academic psychology, and my personal need for independence and an agreeable way of life that I chose to be an atheist. Hence, the intellectual basis for my atheism, like that of countless others, appears in retrospect to be much more of a shallow rationalization than an objective rationale.

I just ordered the book last week on Brian’s recommendation. You might also be interested in a lecture that Paul Vitz delivered on the psychological causes of atheism. (That link contains the MP3 file)

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MUST-READ: Book review of “If there’s a God, why are there atheists?”

Brian Auten has a new book review posted up at Apologetics 315.

The book is “If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?”, by theologian R.C. Sproul. R.C. Sproul is one of my favorite theologians. The book in question has a very, very special place in my heart, because I think that it is one of the major reasons why I was able to resist pernicious ideas like religious pluralism and postmodernism for so long. Once you put on the glasses of Romans 1 and see for the first time what man is really doing with respect to God, you can never see things the same again. I’ll say more about this at the end, but let’s see what Brian wrote first.

When I first saw Brian’s review come up, I had high hopes that he would write something so compelling and delightful that you would all rush out immediately and get a hold of this book right away.

And he did not disappoint!

The review

So often, you hear atheists complaining about religion is nothing but wish-fulfillment or some sort of crutch for people who are frightened by a variety of things. They think that God is invented to solve several problems. 1) how does the world work?, 2) is there meaning to suffering and evil?, 3) why should I be moral?, and 4) what will happen to me and my loved ones when I die?. On the atheistic view, God is just a crutch that people cling to out of weakness and ignorance. But is this really the case?

Sproul starts the book by investigating three atheists who sought to explain religious belief as a result of psychological factors.

Brian writes:

Before tackling the psychology of atheism, Sproul spends a chapter on the psychology of theism, from the perspective of Freud’s question “If there is no God, why is there religion?”11 What follows is an overview of various psychological explanations of theistic belief: Feuerbach’s “religion is a dream of the human mind.”12 Marx’s belief that religion is “due to the devious imagination of particular segment of mankind.”13 And Nietzche’s idea that “religion endures because weak men need it.”14 The author properly reiterates: “We must be careful to note that the above arguments can never be used as proof for the nonexistence of God. They can be useful for atheists who hear theists state that the only possible explanation for religion is the existence of God.”15 That being said, Sproul also reveals what these arguments presume:

Their arguments already presupposed the nonexistence of God. They were not dealing with the question, Is there a God? They were dealing with the question, Since there is no God, why is there religion?16

Sproul points out the weaknesses of each of these approaches and says “there are just as many arguments showing that unbelief has its roots in the psychological needs of man.”

Wow, could that really be true? What are the real reasons why people reject God? Does the Bible have anything to say about what those reasons are?

Brian cites Sproul’s contention:

The New Testament maintains that unbelief is generated not so much by intellectual causes as by moral and psychological ones. The problem is not that there is insufficient evidence to convince rational beings that there is a God, but that rational beings have a natural hostility to the being of God.

[…]Man’s desire is not that the omnipotent, personal Judeo-Christian God exist, but that He not exist.

In Romans 1:18-23, the apostle Paul explains what is really going on:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

By now, all my readers know the scientific, philosophical and historical arguments for Christian theism, and you’ve all seen the debates with William Lane Craig and other scholars. So you know that atheists never win these debates, and that not only logic but the entire physical universe, past, present and future, falsifies atheism. What, you don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.

When you ask Daniel Dennett how the universe came into being, he’ll say that it brought itself into being. When you ask Martin Rees what causes the fine-tuning, he’ll tell you about an unobservable multiverse. When you ask Richard Dawkins what created the simplest living cell, he’ll speculate about unobservable aliens in another galaxy – aliens that he knows a priori evolved by natural mechanisms. And so on, and so on. Christopher Hitchens’ entire case against God in his debates is “I don’t like him”. So something else is going on here.

Sproul explains why atheists have to oppose rational argumentation, as well as scientific and historical inquiry.

The cumulative effect of this knowledge that is clearly seen is to leave men ‘without excuse.’ Herein lies the basis of the universal guilt of man. No one can claim ignorance of the knowledge of God. No one can cite insufficient evidence for not believing in God. Though people are not persuaded by the evidence, this does not indicate an insufficiency in the evidence, but rather an insufficiency in man.

[…]The basic stages of man’s reaction to God can be formulated by means of the categories of trauma, repression, and substitution.

[…]If God exists, man cannot be a law unto himself. If God exists, man’s will-to-power is destined to run head-on into the will of God.

And this is the force that is animating atheists today. They get a little bit of knowledge in some obscure field. They don’t want to look stupid in front of their colleagues. They abandon their faith. Maybe there is a financial dimension to their apostasy, (e.g. – Bart Ehrman, Dan Barker). It’s not something they’ve looked into – it’s something they do because of psychological reasons. No atheist disbelieves in God on the evidence – there is no evidence. It’s all just feelings and desires. E.g. – the need to be seen as smart and compassionate.

The rest of the book review, and the book, deals with explaining in detail how atheists respond to an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator/Designer. I encourage you to click through and read the whole book review. You can read the review, and the book, and then investigate for yourself whether atheists really are like that. Two other books to pick up on this topic is Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce, both by C.S. Lewis. And dont forget my recent post on a new book coming out on this exact same topic.

I am really grateful to Brian for taking the time to pull explain the thesis of the book with such perfect quotes. By the way, I left out the best quote of all, but you have to go look through Brian’s review for that!

Note: Brian isn’t nearly as mean as I am, and he probably doesn’t go nearly as far as R.C. Sproul and I do. But I’m telling you this – TRY IT. Go and sit down with these atheists and ask them how they got to be that way. This also works on people from other religions. I’ve tried it on Postmodern relavist “Christians”, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Mormons. And don’t be mean to them, either. Just because I’m being mean now it doesn’t mean that I am being mean when I investigate other people’s worldviews.

My survey of atheists

By the way, did you all see my survey of atheists that I did a while back? It’s relevant because one of the questions I asked to my volunteers was “How you begin to follow Christ if it suddenly became clear to you that Christianity was objectively true?”. I got some very strange responses that dovetail nicely with Sproul’s book.

Here are a few of the responses:

  • I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me.
  • I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do.
  • I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
  • I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
  • I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values.  I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
  • He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.

This is all part of my series discussing whether morality is rationally grounded by atheism.

Yes, they really think like that! Just ask an atheist those questions and you’ll see how “objective” they really are. Ask them how much time they’ve put in to studying to see if these things are really true.

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