Not a Rhetorical Trick

rhettty rickThe Origin of the Assertion

If there is one thing that presuppositionalists have become known for, it is their assertion that “Atheists do not exist.” While the assertion is well known, however, the reasons for the assertion are typically not known by professing atheists. Some have argued that the assertion is nothing more than a cheap rhetorical trick. The complaint runs something like this:

“Christian apologists say ‘Atheists don’t exist’ in order to halt further conversation about the reasons why there actually are atheists. By making the claim, these apologists are refusing to engage, running away from critically assessing their own beliefs, etc…”

Now, in all fairness, I can agree that some professing Christians behave in this manner. Not everyone is a critical thinker, so there are some among Christians who approach serious conversations about the existence or non-existence of atheists in an unreflective manner.

However, not all Christians are this way. Moreover, not all Christians assert that “Atheists don’t exist” in order to put the kibosh on a conversation beyond their intellectual capacities. Believe it or not, there is a biblical reason why the assertion is made by presuppositionalist apologists and biblically literate, biblically faithful Christians. What is that reason? Scripture reveals to us that there are no atheists in Romans 1:18-23:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The words of scripture inform as to the nature of man: Man is the image of God. The words of scripture, likewise, inform us as to the nature of fallen man: He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. This is why Christians say atheists don’t exist. God himself tells us that there are no atheists.

Disambiguating the Assertion

A common response to the claim that atheists do not exist is the rhetorical question: But what about me? The person who responds this way is confusing a number of issues. Firstly, the knowledge of God, as Paul states in Romans 1:18-23, is being suppressed. The knowledge of God that man is created with is being silenced by man. Secondly, the suppressed knowledge of God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” resurfaces in man’s worship of creation. Thirdly, therefore, fallen man attributes to creation the attributes only possessed by the One True God. Nancy Pearce describes this at some length in her book Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes. She writes:

An idol is anything in the created order that is put in the place of God. […] Those who do not honor the transcendent God beyond the cosmos must make a divinity out of some power or principle immanent within the cosmos. What about matter? Is matter part of the created order? Sure it is. Thus the philosophy of materialism qualifies as an idol. It claims that matter is the ultimate reality—the uncreated first cause of everything else. It denies the existence of anything beyond the material world, such as soul, spirit, mind, or God. It urges us to set our minds “on things that are on earth,” not on things above (Col. 3:2).

[…] What about reason? Can it be an idol? Certainly. The philosophy of rationalism puts human reason in the place of God as the source and standard of all truth. […] Rationalism refuses to accept any source of truth beyond human reason, such as information communicated by the Creator. It is dogmatic in worshipping the idol of “unaided” or “autonomous” human reason .

This explains why the Bible does not contrast Christianity with atheism but with idolatry. […] Humans have a tendency to look to some power or principle or person to make sense of life and give it meaning. And that constitutes their de facto religion, whether they use theological language or not.

[23-24]

In stating that atheists do not exist, therefore, we are not denying that there are persons who refuse to worship the only true Triune God. Furthermore, we are not denying that they may identify themselves as not believing in any form of deity, and in particular the Triune Yahweh. Rather, we are asserting that all men have an innate knowledge of God that they suppress by placing some created thing/aspect of creation in the place of God. The rhetorical question asked by the atheist, in other words, misses the point. Sure, John Doe may self identify as an atheist, but he, in practice, contradicts his claims to being an atheist.

As atheism predicates divine attributes of the created order, as a whole or in part, it is a form of creature/creation worship. When we assert that atheists don’t exist, therefore, we are saying that there exists no individual who does not predicate divine attributes of either God or his created order. We don’t make the assertion because we are afraid of critical engagement – at least not all of us. I surely don’t, and neither do my presuppositionalist friends.

-h.

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12 thoughts on “Not a Rhetorical Trick

  1. Godless Cranium says:

    So they’re making stuff up because their ancient book tells them so. There are people who don’t believe in a deity and have good reasons not to believe. They should stop pretending they have an innate knowledge of this deity and believe them when they say they’re atheists and don’t believe in a deity.

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          • Godless Cranium says:

            Has a baby informed you that it knew god?

            Why are you being silly? Of course you were told god exists. Thats why there are several different gods throughout history and in fifferent time periods. People cut off from civilization often dont have gods but might brlieve in spirits etc. If someobe telks you they’re an atheist and don’t believe in your deity, try believing them. Just like I believe you if you say you believe in your god.

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            • Hiram says:

              If you read the post, then you would know that I accept that people call themselves atheists. I get that they don’t believe in God as articulated by the Bible. But by predicating infinity, omnipresence, self causation, and sovereignty over time and the creatures in time to a created thing (say matter or energy) the atheist is divinizing creation. In other words, committing idolatry. This is why I signed you didn’t read what I wrote. You are not addressing what I wrote about.

              But if you want to claim that you were born without the knowledge of God, you need to justify the claim. This is why I asked you the question. I’m not being silly, I’m trying to interact.

              -h.

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              • Godless Cranium says:

                You’re the one making the claim. Who predicated anything and why would they have this knowledge in the first place. Being an atheist merely means you lack belief in a deity. Nothing more.

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              • Hiram says:

                Right. If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in a Creator of the cosmos. If you don’t believe in a Creator of the cosmos, then you believe that the cosmos is the product of matter over time, or it has always existed in one form or another.

                If you believe that the cosmos has always existed, you believe that the cosmos is eternal. Eternality is a divine attribute.

                If you believe that the cosmos came to be over time, then matter is ontologically prior to all things, subsists in all things, and is, therefore, everywhere at once. That is called omnipresence. OMniprsence is a divine attribute.

                Do the Logic.

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