Reasons to Believe

Believers and Unbelievers, Part 1 (of 3)

In this brief series of articles I would like to accomplish three things. First (in Part 1), I will identify how believers (biblical theists) and unbelievers (atheists or skeptical nontheists) typically explain why people come to believe in God’s existence. Second (in Part 2), I will identify how both groups also typically explain why people reject God’s existence. Third (in Part 3), I will offer some ways to test the two sets of belief systems. I will endeavor to be fair in describing both sides even though I am obviously a Christian theist by conviction.

Believers on Belief

Biblical theists (particularly Jews and Christians) typically believe in God’s existence on the basis of what they call revelation (God has unveiled himself). This revelation usually takes two forms:

  1. General Revelation: God has disclosed his existence to humans through the created order, the human conscience, and through divine providence.

  2. Special Revelation: God has disclosed his existence to humans through unique supernatural acts, events, and words that have been inscripturated (described and explained in the Bible).

For example, thoughtful theists see God’s existence as the best explanation for such features as the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, abstract entities such as math, logic, and propositions, objective and prescriptive moral values, and the miraculous events reported in the Bible. God’s existence is then logically inferred as the best explanation for these compelling characteristics.

Some biblical theists even believe that God has created human beings with an innate awareness of God’s existence (sensus divinitatis). Therefore people may have both cognitive and intuitive reasons for believing in God.

Unbelievers on Belief

Since unbelievers typically reject the idea of a rational basis for people coming to believe in God, they usually seek to explain belief on other grounds. Some unbelievers argue that belief in God results from psychological factors such as the need to cope with fear and the uncertainties of life through falsely projecting a comforting divine father image. Some atheists in the past and in the present have insisted that belief in God results from mental illness or a type of strange mind virus. Others assert that religious beliefs are based upon the uncritical acceptance of cultural stories and myths that have been passed on through the centuries to explain purely natural events. Still others believe that naturalistic evolution has caused false positives so that belief in God (in some stage in human evolution) served to provide survival advantages.

Since unbelievers conclude that belief in God is not based upon rational considerations (such as facts, evidence, and reasons), they typically look to explain the phenomenon along the lines of nonrational or even irrational factors (psychological, sociological, and/or evolutionary theories).

In conclusion it seems appropriate to say that believers think God created man while unbelievers think man created God.

For more on the question of God’s existence see my two books, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth Claims to the Worldview Test (Baker, 2007), and Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Baker, 2004).


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Subjects: Atheism, General Apologetics , Naturalism

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.