Reasons to Believe

Believers and Unbelievers, Part 2 (of 3)

In Part 1 of this series I briefly attempted to explore how both believers (biblical theists) and nonbelievers (atheists or skeptical nontheists) attempt to explain how some people come to believe in God’s existence. I stated that thoughtful believers ground their beliefs in God in both rational and nonrational (not to be confused with irrational) considerations. However, unbelievers typically attempt to explain belief in God’s existence in terms of nonrational or irrational factors (see Part 1).

In this second installment I will briefly explore how believers and unbelievers attempt to explain why some people reject belief in God. In Part 3 of this series I will then offer some suggestions on how these two sets of beliefs about God can be appropriately evaluated.

Unbelievers on Unbelief

Thoughtful unbelievers usually attempt to ground their unbelief in the view that clear and convincing evidence for God’s existence is blatantly lacking. Unbelievers think that the realities found in life and in the world are best explained in terms of purely natural events and factors. Many unbelievers are also doubtful about, or completely dismissal of, God’s existence based upon the perceived problem of evil (evil is viewed as being inconsistent with the biblical God’s attributes of omnipotence and omnibenevolence). These same people who reject belief in God usually also view the miraculous stories of the Bible as reflecting myth, legend, and superstition. In summary, unbelievers find an alleged insufficiency of evidence for God and they believe that the God of biblical theism seems incompatible with life’s experiences (namely pain, suffering, and evil).

Believers on Unbelief

Reflective believers usually assert that the rejection of belief in God on the part of unbelievers is rooted in nonrational and even irrational factors. From a biblical viewpoint, unbelief flows from human pride, autonomy, and a desire to dodge one’s moral responsibility before their Creator. Unbelievers are then viewed as first rejecting God for nonrational reasons and then (often without being conscious of it) pursuing alleged rational factors to excuse their autonomous unbelief. Believers ultimately attempt to explain unbelief in terms of human sin and rebellion. In summary, unbelievers allegedly set their will against God based on moral and spiritual considerations, and then go looking for rational considerations to justify (at least in their mind) their unbelief.

Philosopher Ronald H. Nash has stated that there is a difference between “arguments” on one hand and “persuasion” on the other. It’s interesting that believers and unbelievers often view each other as affirming their beliefs based largely upon nonrational factors (usually fear or pride).

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.