It's Not Easy To Be an Atheist

In his book, When God Goes to Starbucks, Paul Coppan notes that there is plenty of evidence we, as human beings, have a disposition to believe in some type of deity or spiritual reality. Thus, he says, if someone wants to overcome this predisposition to believe in God and be an atheist, it may be necessary to make some intentional choices in order to avoid being a “default theist.”

First, the aspiring atheist should sequester him/herself in urban settings and avoid the majesty, power, and beauty of nature. The Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies display his craftsmanship.” One may “understand” that the “northern lights” which seem to be dancing across the sky on a clear night are the result of solar activity, but when actually viewing them it is hard to avoid the thought that they point to something far more magnificent than our sun. Mountains, lakes, streams, trees, and wildflowers all have ways of planting questions in an atheist’s mind:  Is everything merely a cosmic accident? Could this all have “just happened?” Or, is there an “intelligent designer” behind the marvelous phenomena of nature? Those types of questions challenge an atheistic “faith.”

Second, someone who does not want to believe in God should avoid spending time with religious believers and taking their experiences seriously. Human beings have vivid imaginations. The fact someone claims to have an encounter with God, doesn’t mean it actually happened.  However, when people living at many different times and in many different places all report a similar experience, intellectual honesty requires investigation of those reports. A plausible alternative explanation needs to be identified to these being genuine God encounters. If that does not seem feasible, ignoring people who claim to have had those experiences may be an atheist’s safest choice.

Third, one who wants to maintain his/her atheism should avoid urgent or life-threatening situations. During those times people are tempted to call upon a supernatural outside agent for help. There seems to be very few atheists in battlefield foxholes or in classrooms during final tests.  Situations in which humans are vulnerable and powerless are also occasions when people tend to turn to a deity.  During a drought, farmers with little religious inclination often start praying for rain. Of course, it is not easy to make sure one never encounters these type of situations, but they are fertile ground for theism to grow.

Fourth, a person wanting to avoid theism should hole up in a university-like setting, where atheists tend to congregate. They do so, not because they are more intelligent than theists, but because this setting allows for greater energy devoted to explaining away God’s existence than most. When theistic thoughts start to seep into one’s mind, it is helpful to have others around who will serve as a reminder that, even though arguments in favor of atheism are often shallow and self-refuting, “cool people” just don’t believe in God.

No friends, being an atheist isn’t easy. I am also convinced any effort to maintain atheism is unwise, because theism is really a much better choice. Belief in God, especially the God described in the Bible, provides a foundation for an individual to experience purpose, meaning, love, and hope. And there is every reason to believe this God actually does exist.
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Dan Erickson