The other day blogger Wintery Knight wrote an article in support of R.C. Sproul’s book If there’s a God, why are there atheists? According to Sproul, atheism is (always) the product of sinful rebellion. In short, atheists refuse to submit to the revelation that God has provided to them.
Sproul is among the foremost defenders of the “Rebellion Thesis” that attributes all instances of atheism to rebellion against God. In Is the Atheist My Neighbor? I cite an example where Sproul describes being invited to speak to a university group of atheists. After laying out his arguments for God’s existence, Sproul then concludes:
“I’m giving you arguments for the existence of God, but I feel like I’m carrying coals to Newcastle because I have to tell you that I do not have to prove to you that God exists, because I think you already know it. Your problem is not that you do not know that God exists; your problem is that you despise the God whom you know exists. Your problem is not intellectual; it is moral—you hate God.”
I don’t know if Wintery Knight would be on board with this practice of haranguing one’s host (i.e. the atheist university group), but he does accept the Rebellion Thesis. In support, Wintery Knight cites Romans 1:18-23, he lists several arguments he’s defended for God’s existence, and he cites a survey he conducted which purports to provide evidence for systemic rebellion among atheists.
As usual, this is abominably weak “evidence” for a thesis as ambitious as the claim that every single instance of atheism is the result of sinful rebellion. To start with, Wintery Knight’s “survey” consisted of interviewing some friends who are atheists over lunch and then collating the data. That’s akin to somebody concluding that “All immigrants are lazy” after he takes a few immigrant friends out for lunch.
As for Wintery Knight’s list of theistic arguments, they may well provide a basis to believe rationally that God exists. But do they provide a basis to conclude that every instance of atheism is borne of immoral rebellion? The very suggestion is absurd.
So once again, we find ourselves left with the Rebellion Thesis resting on a single citation from Romans 1. And with that, I’ll defer to the comment I posted at Wintery Knight’s blog which I have reproduced below:
I have no doubt that there are many atheists who don’t want there to be a God. But is it the case that all atheists don’t want there to be a God? Your survey data is far too weak to support such a bold claim.
As for Romans 1, the text is part of a sweeping argument (Romans 1-3) which aims to establish the general culpability of all human beings. I would suggest that anytime a text which is focused on establishing the universal sinfulness of human beings is used to target an outgroup (in this case, atheists) that something has gone awry with the exegesis.
The formation of Christian doctrine doesn’t come simply by citing a chosen list of biblical verses. It also includes careful reflection on Wissenschaft, i.e. the cumulative learning of the age, as one crafts an emerging theological understanding in dialogue with the collected wisdom of the age.
And so, for example, today the man who cites Joshua 10:13 as evidence for geocentrism whilst dismissing as irrelevant the scientific evidence for heliocentrism shows himself more enamored of his current doctrinal constructions than complex reality.
And so it is with this citation of Romans 1:18-23. Those who triumphantly cite it as evidence that every single person who rejects the proposition “God exists” is in rebellion against God effectively dismiss as irrelevant the staggering complexity of real people in real life situations.
Consider just one of those people. Bob Jyono was a pious Catholic who discovered that his daughter was repeatedly raped by a Catholic priest in his home over six years. Torn apart by the agonizing thought that God silently stood by while his daughter was victimized as well as his own mind-numbing pain and guilt, Jyono eventually came to call himself an atheist.
Is Jyono just angry with God? Or is he really an atheist? And if he is an atheist, is it simply the result of sinful rebellion? Do you really think a couple surveys and a citation of Romans 1 is sufficient to answer all those questions for this single individual, let alone every instance of disbelief everywhere?
In the last couple weeks I have seen two vigorous defenses of the Rebellion Thesis. First we have Greg Koukl, and now Wintery Knight (with an affable nod to R.C. Sproul).
I continue to be amazed at the extraordinarily weak evidence proffered for this striking thesis. And while I don’t relish using the label “bigotry”, I find that it fits in these cases. “Bigotry” is characterized by an irrational and intransigent intolerance of a creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. When Christians categorically deride all atheists without exception as evincing sinful rebellion in virtue of failing to affirm the proposition “God exists”, and they persist in doing so based on such grossly inadequate evidence as Greg Koukl and Wintery Knight provide, then it seems to me they are culpable of bigotry.