The Gospel Coalition

[Note: This is the third article in an occasional series on apologetics and worldview analysis.]

I've shaken my fist in anger at stalled cars, storm clouds, and incompetent meterologists. I've even, on one terrible day that included a dead alternator, a blaring blaring tornado-warning siren, and a horrifically wrong weather forecast, cursed all three at once. I've fumed at furniture, cussed at crossing guards, and held a grudge against Gun Barrel City, Texas. I've been mad at just about anything you can imagine.

Except unicorns. I've never been angry at unicorns.

It's unlikely you've ever been angry at unicorns either. We can become incensed by objects and creatures both animate and inanimate. We can even, in a limited sense, be bothered by the fanciful characters in books and dreams. But creatures like unicorns that don't exist — that we truly believe not to exist — tend not to raise our ire. We certainly don't blame the one-horned creatures for our problems.

Angry-at-GodThe one social group that takes exception to this rule is atheists. As C.S. Lewis once testified, "I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world." Lewis' experience is not uncommon among atheists. Many claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, they tend to be the people most angry at him.

In 2011 a set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of that 2011 study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.
At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as "atheist/agnostic" or "none/unsure" reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God's existence, an idea consistent with social science's previous clinical findings on "emotional atheism."
Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God's existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God's existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but also give them a reason to cling to their disbelief.

I've argued elsewhere that, according to the Christian tradition, atheism is a form of self-imposed intellectual dysfunction, a lack of epistemic virtue, or — to borrow a term from the Catholic tradition — a case of vincible ignorance.

Vincible ignorance is intentional suppression of knowledge that is within an individual's control and for which he is responsible before God. In Romans, Paul is clear that atheism is a case of vincible ignorance: "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." Acknowledging the existence of God is just the beginning — we must also recognize several of his divine attributes. Atheists who deny this reality are, as Paul said, without excuse. They are vincibly ignorant.

Recognizing this fact, however, does not mean that the cause of this self-imposed dysfunction has been understood. While I firmly believe all forms of atheism are instances of both vincible ignorance and an obstinacy of will, I've sometimes mistakenly assumed it to be a purely intellectual failing — a matter of the head, not the heart. I've begun to appreciate, though, how much the emotional response to pain and suffering can push a person to an atheistic worldview.

Most pastors would find my epiphany to be both obvious and overdue. But I suspect I'm not the only amateur apologist who has been blinded to this truth. As a general rule, those of us engaged in Christian apologists tend to prefer the philosophical to the pastoral, the crisp structure of logical argument to the messiness of human emotion. We often favor the quick-witted response that dismisses the problem of evil rather than patient empathy, which consoles atheists that we too are perplexed by suffering.

Many atheists do, of course, proceed to their denial of God based solely on rational justifications. That is why evidentialist and philosophical approaches to apologetics will always be necessary. But I'm beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many Christians realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks.

Other Posts in This Series:

Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?


Naming Your Turtles


Comments:

The Atheist Sounding Board

March 19, 2014 at 03:38 AM

[…] away a person’s agency.  It’s basically saying that to be an atheist, you have to be hurt and angry.  There certainly couldn’t be perfectly logical reasons someone might be an atheist. […]

Matthias

January 21, 2014 at 08:49 AM

Make no mistake, Matt. Even the most anarchic of atheists is still responsible to the state to which he belongs. God didn't just create Christians, you know.

Matt

January 20, 2014 at 11:51 PM

I suggest replicating the study, with all subjects being Christian. Then instead of stating "God" in the questions, state "Allah". I'm sure you'll get the same result. PS. If you read this article from an atheist point of view the line "Vincible ignorance is intentional suppression of knowledge that is within an individual's control and for which he is responsible..." describes religious people perfectly. The only difference is that atheists are responsible to themselves, Christians are responsible "before God"

Kathryn

January 20, 2014 at 10:47 PM

Will the praying community here plead on my behalf? I need to be saved, bit feel such pride and resistance to God; and anger. Please pray He will draw me and help me receive!

Angry

January 18, 2014 at 11:50 PM

[…] More here. […]

Phil

January 17, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Well Phil then you are ignoring where morality comes from in the first place then.

Likewise, I guess all those Godless northern Europeans, western Euoropens, and Asians are also just ignoring where morality comes from. It is a mystery why they even bother acting morally at all.

You also did not present proof that there are any moral godless societies....

Did you see above where I provided a link that broke down what percentage of the population in a country believed in God? Seems pretty solid evidence on my part that there are countries where a majority of the people don't believe in God.

...or what their definition (or yours) of moral may be.

You were the one who provided the dystopian universe that results when there is no God to ground morality. I am saying that doesn't happen.

Phil

January 17, 2014 at 12:43 PM

Huh? Your link just shows that sex-trafficking is a problem in Japan (it doesn't even say that it is more of a problem there than in other countries). How is this even relevant?

Moreover, here's a link that shows Christians here in the U.S. are actually less moral than those who are religiously unaffiliated.

Torture in the Christian world

http://www.patrolmag.com/2009/04/30/david-sessions/christians-more-likely-to-support-torture/

Or maybe Christians just know that God supports torture, and so sometimes it is ok? (objectively speaking).

Melody

January 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Sex trafficking in your moral world

http://worldjusticeproject.org/blog/sex-trafficking-japan

Melody

January 17, 2014 at 11:42 AM

Well Phil then you are ignoring where morality comes from in the first place then.

You also did not present proof that there are any moral godless societies or what their definition (or yours) of moral may be.

Earl

January 17, 2014 at 10:19 PM

People who think Christians are so bad at being Christians and so hypocritical are actually saying that they'd be better Christians than Christians. If you think about it, that is a very odd thing to say as an atheist. It is also a condescending and judgemental thing to say; so with that attitude, the atheist is no different than the Christian he calls condescending and judgemental.

Phil

January 17, 2014 at 08:25 AM

Your point is that, without a belief in God there is no basis for morality, and thus "anything goes."

My point is that we can look to actual societies where most of the people don't believe in God, and find that the people in those societies are still moral. It is not true that "anything goes."

From this I conclude that it is not necessary to have a belief in God in order to be moral.

[…] You can read the rest of Carter’s insights at When Atheists Are Angry with God. […]

sean samis

January 16, 2014 at 10:53 AM

Melody;

Your comment (Jan 14 to Torin93) relied on examples of conduct between humans, so my earlier reply was similarly limited.

Now you introduce a new topic: conduct among non-human animals and between humans and animals. Any moral code considering these things must deal with the fact of necessity: the lion hunts the deer because it must. Humans eat because they must. You suggest we should only eat plants, but by what logical or moral rule would plant life be unprotected? Life is life.

Even moral codes under religious regimes had to cope with the fact of necessity; any workable non-religious moral regime would need to do the same thing. Is killing animals for their meat less moral than vegetarianism? Depends; converting range-land to farm-land usually requires killing “vermin”; native animals whose normal activities disrupt farming but which ranching tolerates. So unless one IS ABLE to raise their own vegetables without harming the environment, some animal and plant life will die to feed us.

The moral calculus for vegetarianism is full of uncertainty. So, until those uncertainties are resolved, it is not immoral to eat meat; due to the necessity to eat an adequate diet. It is immoral to cause animals unnecessary suffering, but eating their meat is not immoral.

BTW, I think the word you wanted to use would be vegan; a stricter form of vegetarianism.

It is interesting that you, under your “superior” religious moral system regard me as “nobody”. How shameful, I repudiate your moral code. We are all somebody, even strangers.

My desire to live, and that desire by others has nothing to do with evolution, and everything to do with moral conduct. Humans live in communities; they thrive and succeed in communities. They always have.

Equity (or fairness) is one of the keys to our success as a social species. Fairness is not meaningless, it is an attribute of every workable moral code. Your anarchic moralities are not just horrific, they are impractical; human communities which might adopt them would fail quickly; or quickly reject them. And those horrific, anarchic moralities are not mandated nor supported by evolution.

Your claims about evolution are uninformed. Evolution does not mandate any particular moral attitude; it does not mandate that persons be “allowed” to kill other persons on a whim. It does not mandate that only the “strongest people should be the ones that get to reproduce”. It does not mandate that if you “have a wimpy whiny child that doesn't get along with the group then you should be allowed to get rid of him too so he doesn't take away from precious resources”. It does not mandate that we have no “laws about killing people”. Evolution neither mandates these things nor argues for their acceptance. You are strawmanning.

sean s.

Melody

January 16, 2014 at 07:09 PM

Sean you really can't comprehend that you mix in religion with all your reasoning of what is fair and what will happen to me if I do whatever I want. You cannot have it both ways.

And quit implying that I'm the one that wants to be boss of the universe just because I ran with the atheistic premise that there is no god. It was to make the point that none of you have thought it through. And you are right. It was pointless.

Thank you for the conversation but you will have to continue it with Phil.

Melody

January 16, 2014 at 07:03 PM

Huffington post as the measurer of moral? Seriously I'm not clicking on that. You have information? Then you tell it. Then go ahead and tell me how they have no crime, no sex trafficking, ect. There is no such place or we would all be living there.

SLIMJIM

January 16, 2014 at 04:10 AM

Thank you for pointing to these studies, and a good point you make about being angry against someone that one denies exists

sean samis

January 16, 2014 at 03:28 PM

Melody,

Perhaps under your version of “moral reasoning no one is anyone” but not under mine. I may not have convinced you yet, but you have not convinced me either; we may have to leave it at that.

If I live in your world then I can do what I want to who I want because my preferences matter just as much as yours.” That’s true even under the most stringent religious code, but unless you are an idiot, you know that what you do to others, others will do to you. Does that sound familiar? You don’t need gods to find the Golden Rule.

Any person smarter than a box of rocks (and I assume you are much smarter than that!) knows that acting without regard to the interests of others is dangerous because “what goes around comes around”. Some persons may think they are strong enough or smart enough to do what they want, but that’s true even under the most stringent religious code. Fairness exists because consequences and self-interest must coexist.

When everyone is the center of their own universe then what I want trumps what you want.” True again, unless you remember that I and others can get back at you, so you want to consider our wants before you do something we will make you regret. As they taught me in the Navy; you cannot make someone do something, but you can make them regret that they didn’t. The same thing goes for avoiding something; no one can force you but they can make you regret.

That seems to be the thing you are forgetting: consequences. Even without religious morals, consequences exist. The radical, anarchic individualist in you can get away with whatever you want only if you are a hermit. Put yourself in a community and you’ll very quickly discover your limits.

Bad news Melody, you already live in this “pretend universe” (tho’ it’s not mine.)

sean s.

Melody

January 16, 2014 at 01:57 PM

No Sean

Under our God you are somebody. Under your moral reasoning no one is anyone. You haven't convinced me that you are anybody under yours. If I live in your world then I can do what I want to who I want because my preferences matter just as much as yours. Fair doesn't exist. When everyone is the center of their own universe then what I want trumps what you want.

I would say it's a good thing we don't live in your pretend universe.

Phil

January 15, 2014 at 12:54 PM

I am not sure what is up with my comments, as they are not appearing (while others are). I will try this one again:

This article poorly understands/explains what is going on here. (Although, in the author's defense, so does the underlying CNN article.) Both seemed "tickled" by the idea that atheists are more angry at God than theists--and clearly use that as the hook to get you to read the article.

However, if you actually try to understand what questions the studies asked, how people answered the questions, and what conclusions can reasonably be drawn--then you are left with the much more limited conclusion that "some people who self identify as agnostics (or "atheist/agnostic") also express negative emotions toward God." At least I think that is the conclusion.

Trying to really understand what is happening in these studies takes time (and frankly, isn't easy.) The small amount of time I have spent trying to figure this out has not yielded much, except for what I linked to above. There is surprisingly little online about this (although maybe I did the wrong searches/couldn't find any Journal articles that I could read).

As near as I can figure out, the survey asked people to self identify (including "atheist/agnostic"). And the survey also asked several questions about God. Some people chose to identify as atheistic/agnostic, but nevertheless answered questions about God (trying to find those actual questions has proved impossible--which gives me pause.)

So, the group that self identified as atheist/agnostic, and yet still answered questions about God, was more "angry" at God. Is this a surprise to anyone? It seems like it shouldn't be. If you have feelings about God, but you don't identify in that moment as a Christian/believer, surely your feelings aren't positive?

I think this is mostly because that group still believes in God (as the survey itself showed--they still had some God belief as measured on a 10 point scale, and not just a binary Yes/No scale.)

The study then compares--not ALL atheists/agnostics against ALL theists--but ONLY those atheists/agnostics who answered questions about God against theists who answered questions about God. And, guess what? That group of atheists has more negative views on God. I would hope so. :)

Again, there was simply no comparison between people who said they were atheist/agnostic and did not answer questions about God. Was that the vast majority of people who identified as atheist/agnostic? Or a small portion? I couldn't find the answer.

In the end, all we know is that some people who self-identify as atheist/agnostic nevertheless do have some belief about God, and those individuals are more likely to be angry at God (for whatever reason). Whether this is 5 percent of people who self identify as atheist/agnostic or 80 percent I have no idea.

But instead, the story is spun that "Atheists are more angry at God than theists. Look at those inconsistent atheists--even they know God exists."

sean samis

January 15, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Melody, I cannot answer for Torin93, but your representations of evolution and rational behavior are wildly wrong.

There is no rational for killing another person being wrong if you stick to evolution without religion.” Of course there is: I don’t want to be murdered and I cannot expect others to behave better than I do. Short of a compelling need, murder is wrong with or without religion.

If I want your husband and I can kill you to get him then I should be allowed to do that.” Nonsense, there’s no reason to allow this behavior and every reason to prohibit it (see above).

The strongest people should be the ones that get to reproduce.” Nonsense. Evolutionary fitness is not about being the strongest, so evolution does not support your claim. Everyone wants to be able to reproduce, no one wants to be prohibited from reproduction, so there’s no rational reason to bar anyone short of a compelling need.

I’m going to stop there; the rest of your claims are similarly uninformed about evolution.

sean s.

Melody

January 15, 2014 at 09:30 PM

So you are a pacifist vegetarian?

Animals kill each other all the time. It isn't wrong. They just do it. If we are not spiritual beings then we are just animals. Just because you don't want to be murdered doesn't mean there is any reason to let you live. A rabbit wants to live, fights to live but if a hawk wants to eat him, game over.

There is absolutely no reason for your desire for "fairness" to mean anything to me. Why should it? You are nobody. Somebody could make you gone in an instant and according to your belief nothing about you would matter anymore. Well except where to plant you. So why should your opinion on what is fair matter?

My claims are uninformed about evolution? Just because you say something doesn't make it true. You did nothing to explain your position or why my view of who should get to live was wrong. You provided no argument whatsoever. All you told me was your desire to live. What does that have to do with evolution?

Phil

January 15, 2014 at 08:51 AM

And yet, somehow, societies that don't believe in God are still moral.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/belief-in-god-uchicago-report_n_1463379.html

Phil

January 15, 2014 at 08:36 AM

There are two authors here. 1) The author of this blog post (Joe Carter) and 2) The author of the studies (an academic--Julie Exline).

I agree that "conflicted unbelievers" are not really atheists. But it is hard to know given the lack of the journal articles/study questions/results, etc.

Phil

January 15, 2014 at 08:25 AM

This article poorly understands/explains what is going on here. (Although, in the author's defense, so does the underlying CNN article.) Both seemed "tickled" by the idea that atheists are more angry at God than theists--and clearly use that as the hook to get you to read the article.

However, if you actually try to understand what questions the studies asked, how people answered the questions, and what conclusions can reasonably be drawn--then you are left with the much more limited conclusion that "some people who self identify as agnostics (or "atheist/agnostic") also express negative emotions toward God." At least I think that is the conclusion.

Trying to really understand what is happening in these studies takes time (and frankly, isn't easy.) The small amount of time I have spent trying to figure this out has not yielded much, except for what I linked to above. There is surprisingly little online about this (although maybe I did the wrong searches/couldn't find any Journal articles that I could read).

As near as I can figure out, the survey asked people to self identify (including "atheist/agnostic"). And the survey also asked several questions about God. Some people chose to identify as atheistic/agnostic, but nevertheless answered questions about God (trying to find those actual questions has proved impossible--which gives me pause.)

So, the group that self identified as atheist/agnostic, and yet still answered questions about God, was more "angry" at God. Is this a surprise to anyone? It seems like it shouldn't be. If you have feelings about God, but you don't identify in that moment as a Christian/believer, surely your feelings aren't positive?

I think this is mostly because that group still believes in God (as the survey itself showed--they still had some God belief as measured on a 10 point scale, and not just a Yes/No "scale.")

The study then compares--not ALL atheists/agnostics against ALL theists--but ONLY those atheists/agnostics who answered questions about God against theists who answered questions about God. And, guess what? That group of atheists has more negative views on God. I would hope so. :)

Again, there was simply no comparison between people who said they were atheist/agnostic and did not answer questions about God. Was that the vast majority of people who identified as atheist/agnostic? Or a small portion? I couldn't find the answer.

In the end, all we know is that some people who self-identify as atheist/agnostic nevertheless do have some belief about God, and those individuals are more likely to be angry at God (for whatever reason). Whether this is 5 percent of people who self identify as atheist/agnostic or 80 percent I have no idea.

But instead, the story is spun that "Atheists are more angry at God than theists. Look at those inconsistent atheists--even they know God exists."

[…] When Atheists Are Angry at God (The Gospel Coalition) […]

Brian

January 15, 2014 at 07:19 AM

I guess the article focuses on ex-believers who have become non-believers in the Christian God (the obvious contradiction that one can be angry at something one doesn't believe in makes good diction but no sense). There are millions of non-believers who have never been exposed to this god and per definition are atheists. Thus they have never been angry at any god whatsoever. I am an atheist/humanist ex Christian but became thus due to research I did over many years...anger was never an issue, neither was disappointment or disillusionment. If anything I was angry (and still am) at how easily man sacrifices his/her mind to the metaphysical,and thus denies reality. So in summary, the article misses the mark for millions of atheists and certainly for me.

Worldview | HeadHeartHand Blog

January 15, 2014 at 05:16 AM

[…] Why Atheists Are Angry at God Joe Carter’s series series on apologetics and worldview analysis looks at the strange phenomena of why so many atheists are so angry with the God they don’t believe exists. […]

sean samis

January 15, 2014 at 02:23 PM

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

sean s.

[…] 4.) When Atheists Are Angry at God […]

Barry

January 14, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Given the construct of the first sentence, its declaration seems highly implausible.

Koos Luerre

January 14, 2014 at 12:45 AM

I have no more animosity towards god than I do towards Mickey Mouse. Of course, if Mickey’s fanatical followers started making laws, and altering school curricula based on their delusions, I’d have a very real problem with that.

minda

January 14, 2014 at 12:17 PM

I wonder if guilt is also what pushes one toward atheism. A person grows up in a Christian home and is taught what God's Word says about things such as sexuality. Then the person grows up and makes choices that are against God's Word. It is easier to say there really is no God and thus no basis for a moral code and no one to be responsible to than to admit sin and repent.

Dennis Arashiro

January 14, 2014 at 10:20 PM

The author doesn't seem to consider the possibility that an obstinacy of will can mark theists as well. He does not see the intentional suppression of knowledge that is within one's control and can be found among theists. If he believes that only atheists have those traits, perhaps he is exhibiting them.

Melody

January 14, 2014 at 09:59 PM

Torin93 do you believe murder is wrong? There is no rational for killing another person being wrong if you stick to evolution without religion. If I want your husband and I can kill you to get him then I should be allowed to do that. The strongest people should be the ones that get to reproduce. If I have a wimpy whiny child that doesn't get along with the group then I should be allowed to get rid of him too so he doesn't take away from precious resources. Then I can try to have another one to replace him.
We certainly wouldn't have any fat Americans either. Everyone would be busy staying in shape so that someone wouldn't be able to over take them. Then again the person with the best sharp shooting skills could be as fat as they want but they would have to sit facing the door all the time. I guess without laws about killing people it would probably lead to some serious paranoia. Then you have to wonder if 'survival of the fittest' would actually happen or if it would be the person with a balance of mental illness that would win out instead.

Oh well I guess I went on a tangent. Just some thoughts...
If you take it far enough you can start to imagine just how bad it could get and why a God would get disgusted and just drown everyone.

AttyFAM

January 14, 2014 at 09:42 PM

Yes, "conflicted unbelievers", what the author of the article calls "emotional atheists" are not atheists at all. They are people who believe in God and are disappointed in what they attribute to God. So just like a child may say "You are not my mother anymore", so such people claim - falsely - to be atheists.

But when the author chooses to insult serious atheists by saying "[A]theism is a form of self-imposed intellectual dysfunction, a lack of epistemic virtue, or — to borrow a term from the Catholic tradition — a case of vincible ignorance" he goes too far.

A sincere atheist, or agnostic for that matter, has probably examined the world more carefully than a theist, especially a theist who still believes in a personal god, even in the face of our current scientific knowledge (hardly "vincible ignorance") that we are just one of many species on a very small planet orbiting a minor sun in one remote wing of a small galaxy, one galaxy of many hundreds of billions of galaxies.

Belief in a personal god demands a small world view, one where humanity and earth are the center of all the concerns of this divinity. Awe at our insignificance is inconsistent with a belief system - religion - that in fact is egocentric, that constantly puffs up our own importance in the vast universe.

Torin93

January 14, 2014 at 05:34 PM

Atheist are angry at god, because they don't believe in a god or gods. An of course even Christian are Atheists to some extent, they don't believe in the Gods.
What Atheist are angry at are self righteous Christians who want to impose their morality on everyone. If your god is so great, you don't need to defend him by imposing moral law as the Christian Right tries to do. Of course, I love the Politics of the Christian Right, their the ones driving the young away for Christianity in to the NONES camp.

sean samis

January 14, 2014 at 03:23 PM

I am a disbeliever; some tell me this makes me an atheist. For the sake of argument, that’s OK. I am not angry at any god and have not yet suffered a big, tragic loss; my faith died essentially due to the silence of gods (if any exist).

Joe Carter tells me that my non-belief is an “instance of both vincible ignorance and an obstinacy of will”.

I’ll give him the “obstinacy of will”; I’m not going to believe in gods without good reason and so far no one’s provided one. I also think THAT charge is an example of Joe’sobstinacy of will”; he thinks he’s found the truth, and when he fails to convince he puts the blame on the non-believer and not on the failings of his persuasion.

Which brings me to “vincible ignorance”. I’m not going to criticize Paul who wrote almost 2,000 years ago; gods made sense then when there was so much about the world humans didn’t understand. But in the 21st century we know that we don’t need gods to explain the natural world.

So my “ignorance” of gods (if any god exists) must be laid at the feet of whatever gods exist; what human can find what gods choose to hide? If there are no gods, then disbelief is sound; if some gods exist, ignorance is sound also because those gods hide.

Joe has no reasons that would persuade a non-believer to change their position. My “ignorance” may be “vincible”, but not by any argument Joe or anyone else has ever tried.

sean s.

Mike De Fleuriot

January 14, 2014 at 01:01 PM

You do realise that theists like the author of this article need people to believe that atheist are angry with the gods, because that would mean he has a group of thinking adults who in fact are acknowledging his gods. In other words, by creating this strawman, he gets to say, look even atheists still believe in gods. Just a pity that he is wrong, because atheism only works when the atheist gets to define what the position of the atheist is. Otherwise, fake Scots start to climb around the argument.

Mark Zellner

January 13, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Joe, I tend to appreciate a lot of your articles and insight. This is one of your most helpful to me. The intro metaphor of unicorns hooked me right away, especially as I know several atheists who fit the bill.

Nathan Evans

January 13, 2014 at 12:02 PM

This is a great article. I have one observation: I think even intellectual atheism stems from emotional considerations. The emotional consideration is different; It's the old temptation your kindergarten teacher warned about: peer pressure. In our day and age, it is considered intellectual suicide to believe in the God of the Bible, and your typical intellectual atheist is an aspiring scientist or academic, or at least wants to fit in that crowd. The supposedly intelligent people have decided believing in God is childish at best and downright dishonest at worst, so they malign believers' intellect. To someone who prizes what other people think about their intellectual beliefs, this can be a very effective emotional factor.

Melody

January 13, 2014 at 11:27 AM

I completely believed in God when I got angry and walked away. I blamed Him for every horribly mean Christian I came in contact with because I took it as His rejection of me. Why else would He fill my life with just those kind of people and not a single caring authentic Christian? Though I have come to grips with the fact that I have no business questioning God on the why of things especially in light of how much I screwed up my life by going down my own stubborn path. Judging Him for the sins of believers may have been my biggest sin.
To be completely honest I still wonder though what it meant. Why were there so many in my life back when I was young and had no one to lead me?
Strangely enough I have little patience for those that want to do the same thing, sit on a pity pot and shake their fist at God. Perhaps because I could have benefited from someone taking enough interest to challenge me with the truth? No one cared enough to though. They looked at my sinful life and concluded that I wasn't savable.

Phievalon

January 13, 2014 at 10:55 AM

Finding a creative way to communicate the irony of anger at an illusion or mythological being known as God was the impetus for this spoken word poetry piece from 2008. It's still a favorite.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eotw1kgLmRc

It has since been performed in poetry slams all over the country, including the venerable Green Mill where the Poetry Slam was invented, to generally appreciative audiences as in this clip where Marc Smith, the inventor of Slam (also known as Slam Pappi), comments favorably after a live performance in 2011.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uh8imSSl144

I think that engaging the listener with facts, logic, emotion, reason, etc in a holistic manner is one of the potential strengths of spoken word poetry. At least for poetry that isn't crafted for theological reflection and teaching but truly written with a skeptical or questioning audience in mind. Check out the Sacrificial Poet Project for a tiny band of poets who are following in the footsteps of the apostle Paul in Acts 17 by using open mic poetry as a bridge to proclaim the hope of the Gospel.
http://sacrificialpoetproject.org

Matthias

January 13, 2014 at 10:28 AM

But Kenton, wouldn't it make little sense to say that believers therefore have no excuse, who reject God and suppress that truth in unrighteousness? It is in fact the case that atheists beleive in God (though obviously not in an embracing way). They cannot help but to acknowledge God and his law, because it's written on their hearts, which is why their disposition toward God and His truth is that of "suppression." And it's on this very basis that they are "without excuse." Unless all men know God at least in this capacity, it would mean there are some men who do have an excuse. And that is incorrect.

Kirk

January 13, 2014 at 09:48 AM

Nice article. Alister McGrath in his recent (and very good) book mere apologetics touches on the issue of when to use evidential/philosophical arguments versus emotional/narrative arguments.

Kenton

January 13, 2014 at 09:42 AM

Except Romans 1-3 isn't directly describing non-theists but theists. More so, Romans 1-3 is addressing theists who are aware of the God of Israel. So the biggest arrogance is to take Romans 1:19-21 and suppose that atheists really do believe in the Christian God, but are simply rejecting Him. No, some eyes and hearts really are blind, and while we can say that most people are aware that there is something more than just the material (the universality of religion/belief is proof), we cannot say that everyone instinctively knows the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The truths about God that are evident, His power and nature, are seen clearly, yet He Himself is not known. The task of apologetics, then, should be to connect the dots between this "general revelation", which speaks only to the fact that there is a higher moral/legal authority that created all things, and "special revelation", the gospel which reveals the God from whom we are estranged due to our race's sins, and from whom we can only expect eternal wrath and death unless we believe on His Son as Lord who died for our sins and rose for our righteousness and life.

Matthias

January 13, 2014 at 09:42 AM

What I believe you're talking about, Curt, is doing evangelism along with apologetics. Lots of people do only want to do apologetics without giving a presentation of the gospel to follow it up - the other side of the coin, as it were. I think the distinction should be kept, and more people should do both.

I agree that unbelievers have a reason to be angry seeing believers do things that make God angry, but that's the difference. Unbelievers don't have God's anger in mind when they hold their own anger toward Christians. And we have to make clear that if every Christian were a hypocrite, it would nullify neither the truth of Christians' profession, nor the unbeliever's responsibility to repent and turn to God. In fact, an unbeliever's anger against hypocritical Christians only makes sense if what Christians profess is actually true, which turns out to be the point of the original post.

Curt Day

January 13, 2014 at 08:38 AM

Our apologetics prepared for our conversations with the unbeliever must include the first 3 chapters of Romans rather than just Romans 1. You are correct about the observations made in Romans 1 about the unbeliever. However, Romans chapters 2 and 3 add additional information. In Romans 2 we learn that sometimes, those who are without God do what God's Word says simply by following their conscience while those who have God's Word fail to do so (Romans 2:14-16). In addition, sometimes the anger expressed by atheists toward God is due to how God's people misrepresent God to the world (Romans 2:23-24).

Finally, Romans 3 finishes Romans Chapters 1 and 2 by saying that no one is better than the other, that is that the one who has God is not better than the one who doesn't have God, because all sin (Romans 3:9 and this is implied by Romans 2:1). This last point is important for all of us who understand Romans 1 and how the atheist has traded in his/her knowledge of God for something else. That is because Romans 1 might spur pride and a spirit of superiority in the believer against the nonbeliever and such attitudes destroy whatever finely crafted apologetic we can fashion.

Thus a knowledge of our own sin and where the nonbeliever has surpassed us should be added to our philosophical and pastoral, which is a good addition, approaches to apologetics.

Phil

January 13, 2014 at 07:36 PM

This was helpful in understanding what is going on here (that is, How can an atheist be angry at God?):

http://www.apadivisions.org/division-36/publications/newsletters/religion/2003/12-issue.pdf

Specifically, page 5. This is about the same studies quoted above. The author (Julie Exline, same author quoted above) says there are 2 types of atheists:

One group was labeled simple unbelievers. These individuals
reported that they had never believed in God, and they seemed to have little or no emotion around the issue. They typically skipped questions that asked about emotions and attitudes toward God—presumably because they had never believed in God. There was also a second group of people whose pattern of responses indicated a past belief in God, followed by a decrease in belief over time. In contrast to the simple unbelievers, these participants usually did answer questions that asked about emotions and attitudes toward God. Even though many of them currently labeled themselves as atheist/agnostic, they had some past history of believing in God. Many also reported some current belief in God when beliefs were tapped using a 10-point scale (as opposed to a dichotomous category). We labeled this group conflicted unbelievers.

In subsequent analyses we compared both unbeliever groups with a group labeled believers. When compared to believers, conflicted unbelievers reported more negative feelings toward God, more
negative attributions about God’s intentions, fewer approach behaviors toward God, less sense of having been repaid by God, and less satisfaction with the outcome of the incident. (Note that we could not make comparisons with simple unbelievers because they did not answer the questions about feelings toward God.) Relative to believers, conflicted unbelievers reported more anxious/ambivalent and avoidant attachment. Conflicted unbelievers also reported lower self-esteem than believers or simple unbelievers. Although preliminary, these findings suggest that it is meaningful to assess feelings of anger toward God even among people who are not certain that they believe in God. They are also consistent with the notion that certain people may be psychologically predisposed to experience crises of faith (see also Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1997)

Phievalon

January 13, 2014 at 02:49 PM

I would also like to add a note that emotional Christianity is also far more common than many Christians care to realize. Not every believer has coherent reasons for their faith. But this separation of emotion from intellect for the sake of discussion is a bit like talking about 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom when we are really talking about water. In healthy people, both are present and influential. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, the lack of either makes us less fully human, not more so.

Phil

January 13, 2014 at 02:33 PM

This was helpful in understanding what is going on here (specifically, how can atheists be angry at god?), see page 5:

http://www.apadivisions.org/division-36/publications/newsletters/religion/2003/12-issue.pdf

In a nutshell, the author of the study (same author/study referenced here), divides atheists into 2 categories: "simple unbelievers" and "conflicted unbelievers." Simple unbelievers (people who never believed in God) "did not answer questions about their feelings toward God." But "conflicted unbelievers" (people with a past belief in God that decreased over time, and may have some current belief in God) reported more instances of being angry at God.

Truth Unites... and Divides

January 13, 2014 at 01:39 PM

Joe Carter: "But I'm beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many Christians realize."

Glad you came to that conclusion, Joe.

I've witnessed a lot of non-intellectual emotionalism from atheists in posts and comment threads. This often occurred when a closely held argument or position they held to justify their atheism was refuted, or at least shown to be intellectually incoherent.

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