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If There's a God Why Are There Atheists?: Why Atheists Believe in Unbelief Paperback – April 6, 2018
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About the Author
R.C. Sproul (1939 – 2017) was founder of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian discipleship organization located near Orlando, Florida. He was also co-pastor of Saint Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Florida, the first president of Reformation Bible College, and the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. His radio program, Renewing Your Mind, is still broadcast daily on hundreds of radio stations around the world and can also be heard online. Dr. Sproul contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, spoke at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and wrote more than 100 books, including The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, and Everyone's a Theologian.
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Sproul begins by defining terms as any good philosopher would do. He demonstrates that humans are incurably religious, but that during the enlightenment, several intellectual trends tried to kill God. He moves on to discuss "reasons for disagreement about objective truth", which include epistimological errors, formal errors in reasoning, factual errors in empirical reasoning, and psychological prejudice that distorts conclusions. I have argued in the past that one of the failings of the modern academy is a lack of sophistication in logic. I confess that my own doctoral training was woefully inadequate in this regard. Unfortunately, this lack of philosophical sophistication is combined with a strong scientism and academic arrogance among many today, leading to faulty conclusions about the way things are. Therefore, a discussion of these potential errors is welcomed in this book. I think psychological prejudices are particularly worth discussing because so many moderns assume others may be prejudiced in their viewpoints while they remain aloof in their objectivity.
He then briefly lays out the arguments against religion put forward by Freud, Marx, Feuerbach, and Nietzsche as well as addresses their limitations even more briefly. All of this provides a grounding for the second part of the book that addresses the psychology of unbelief. This second part of the book is where the reader really begins to understand the "psychology of unbelief". Sproul first discusses the psychology of Romans 1. He notes, "the New Testament maintains that unbelief is generated not so much by intellectual causes as by moral and psychological ones" (p. 57). Using more Freudian concepts, Sproul demonstrates that it is human nature to engage in repression of God and substitution of God with idols.
According to Sproul, humans are incapable of bearing God's holiness, so our tendency is to flee from his presence. He shows this through several biblical examples--Peter and Isaiah for example. He also discusses the concept of nakedness and how we seek to avoid revealing ourselves to others and to God. However, I think the argument regarding the human quest for autonomy was the most compelling. Humans do not want to submit to anyone or anything else, yet they fail to realize that they are always slaves to something. Nietzsche, who was one the strongest proponents for rejecting the Christian God in favor of complete freedom ended up insane.
On the whole, this is a useful, albeit brief, treatment of the psychology of unbelief. Sproul demonstrates the human defenses that contribute to our rejection of God. At the end, he writes, "There is no dispute with Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx on the issue of man's ability to create a god according to his own psychological desire or need. This is precisely what biblical Christianity asserts is the case." Yet, will these creations arrive at the God of Christianity?"
The author opens the book by defining the issues in clear terms. He speaks of the varieties of theism as well as the different approaches to atheism. Presented with the same physical world, people can come to vastly different conclusions. Therefore, Sproul looks behind the facts themselves to the motives present within the human heart. There are psychological and sociological reasons why one person might gravitate toward theism and another toward atheism. Some claim that theists merely desire an outside being to exist for reasons of comfort and purpose. Yet on the opposite side, atheists might fear being exposed before a holy and righteous God and thus cling tightly to unbelief. It is these underlying assumptions made by atheists that the author highlights to show how clear evidence of a creator can be suppressed at all costs.
The book is an interesting introduction to the topics raised, but is not an in depth study. Originally published years ago, this book has been revised and re-released. Still, its content is still just as relevant as it was decades ago. It challenges readers to understand their preconceived notions and look anew at the physical world as evidence for God's existence.