Do atheists secretly believe in God?
I genuinely do not know where my conclusions will end up on this topic. I do believe it is very significant, though, so I am wanting to research it and address it. On the one hand some believers in God say that it is self evident to everybody that lives that God exists. On the other hand I see atheists that otherwise seem to be honest say that they really don’t believe God exists.
How I approach a conversation with an atheist is greatly affected based on this question. I have assembled and considered several arguments for God’s existence. This would seem to be very unimportant endeavor if everybody already believe in the existence of God. I tend to take people’s word for it when they say they don’t believe in God and on similar issues. Unless I have better evidence to show and they are not telling the truth I usually assume they are. The Bible would be sufficient proof against general non-belief, so let’s see what the Bible says on the topic.
The first verse to look at is Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who search for me find me.” What can this verse mean if everybody already knows God exists. If those that search for God find him, then isn’t it true that those that don’t search for God don’t find him.
Similarly, Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” Again, if He is not sought with your whole heart then He won’t be found. If He is not found He will not be believed.
Matthew 7:7-8 says “Keep asking and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be open to you. For everyone who asks receive, and the one who searches finds, and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Does the asking and speaking relate to the knowledge of God? If so, God is known by our desire and effort to know Him. It is our job to press in, and God is faithful to answer each inquiry and seeking soul. Conversely, the one that doesn’t ask, seek, or knock will not get a response.
This is certainly a common enough theme to be made clear in the Bible. But does this speaking and knocking relate to the personal knowing of God and not so much a general acknowledgement of God? Probably not, Daniel 11:39 says that the people that acknowledge God will be rewarded. Of course implying that it is possible to not acknowledge God. Is there a deeper type of suppression than acknowledgement? Can you suppress the knowledge of something without being aware that you are suppressing it? I think so. But does the fact that you are suppressing it mean that you secretly believe it? I don’t think so. For instance, there is more I could know about evolution. As of now I don’t believe in evolution. It is possible that if I spent the next 10 years in hard research of evolution that I might come to believe in it. Since there is more I could know if I spent more time in research, does that mean that I secretly believe it? No.
In John 15:21 Jesus is talking about the persecutions that his disciples will face. The people do the persecutions and hateful acts against believers because they don’t know the one who sent Jesus. They don’t know the Father. What does it mean by know? Does this mean a personal knowing or a general knowledge of? If you have a general knowledge of God then you must know something about the Father. The problem is people have such false concepts of God that really speak nothing about who God really is, therefore they don’t know him.
If it’s true that all people have some knowledge of God, as in knowing He exists, then wouldn’t Jesus attest to something like that. Instead, he said things like “they don’t know the one who sent me” and “you’re of your father, the devil.” Did Jesus ever say that all people are aware of the Father’s existence?
Let’s see if there’s some verses that support the idea that all people have an awareness of God’s existence. First in Jeremiah 31:34 it says “No longer will each person teach his neighbors or his relatives by saying, ‘Know the Lord.’ All of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” declares the Lord”. This verse, however, is clearly talking about the saved, the ones who have their sins blotted out by the Lord. So even this verse goes on to prove the point that the saved are the ones that know God.
I heard a preacher use Psalm 14:1:
Godless fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
This verse was supposed to be proof that all men are theists, some just act like they aren’t. What? Where is the sound reasoning in that conclusion? In fact, if they said it in there heart, can there be a deeper part of the person that could say it? Is there a deeper part of the person than the heart that is saying that they secretly believe in God? No. That would be like saying that the believer that believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead can secretly not believe this. This indicates “there is no God” is the actual belief of the fool. It might be convenient for the (lazy) apologist to say that all people really believe there is a God since we don’t want to address the barriers to their faith, but I don’t see justification for that here.
The best verse that I can think of to make the point that all people do have some kind of knowledge of God is in Romans Chapter 1, verse 19 says “What can be known about God is clear to them because He has made it clear to them.” this passage is talking about natural theology, which is coming to a knowledge of things about God based on the things accessible to every person- this includes intuitively and through physical creation. By these things a person can come to a knowledge of God, albeit a basic general knowledge. Then verse 21 says “They knew God but did not praise and thank him for being God”. It is apparent to me is this passage is talking about unbelievers, yet it says these people knew God. Notice how it doesn’t say that they currently know God. In what way could they have known God? Probably in the general way that verse 19 was talking about. What happened to this general knowledge of God? Verse 28 clarifies what happened: “because they thought it was worthless to acknowledge God, God allowed their own immoral minds to control them.” Is it possible that God literally allows them to disbelieve that he exists entirely? Maybe this is what happens when somebody, say, grows up going to church having somewhat of an awareness of who God is and then refusing to yield any part of their life over to God. Rather than the person playing games with God, treating Him as some petty side item, God completely gives them over to an immoral mind so that they will not blur the line between knowing God and living as though he did not exist. If a person is more concerned with living the life of pleasure then submitting to God, then God can give that person over to a depraved mind that will begin to refuse to acknowledge His existence all together.
I wonder what would happen if I interviewed 100 atheists to get a feel for whether their disbelief is genuine. I wonder how many would have come from a background of believing in God. I would guess most of them. After all, to disbelieve something you have to have the concept of what that thing is. Atheists have a concept of the God that they disbelieve in. I wonder where this concept comes from, I wonder if it’s an accurate concept at all. Again, I have a concept of what evolution is in order to reject the theory. This does not mean that since I have a concept of it that I cannot deny its reality. Similarly, I believe the atheists have a concept of what we mean by God, but this obviously does not indicate that they believe in the concept.
Romans 1:18 is the only place in the Bible that uses the word suppress in the translation I was looking at. I don’t think the evidence is strong enough to say that all people have an awareness of the existence of God. I think I still take people’s word for it when they say that they don’t think that God exists. God’s existence can be known by anyone that is willing to seek. He can be found either through logic and thinking or by personal encounter. The latter is what God desires. There is some darkened minds and some suppression of truth going on that can be changed, but until then I think their disbelief is not a hoax.
What do you think?