The Old “You’d Have to be God to Know There is No God” Objection

Layman at Answers in Genesis repeats the myth that atheism is self-refuting because it requires knowledge that only God could have. In his words:

To say there is no God is to say you have enough knowledge to know there is no God. But an atheist can never have enough knowledge to be certain there is no God. He would have to know everything, because if there is something outside his area of knowledge, that something could include God. An atheist would have to be everywhere in and out of the universe all at one time, because if there is anywhere he cannot be, God could be there.

No atheist can claim total knowledge, therefore atheism is self–refuting, because knowing everything and being everywhere is to be like God. Since no one can prove ‘there is no God’, the question becomes irrelevant and so does atheism. Thus, Creation cannot be ruled out as a potential alternative.


We don’t mind if someone makes this objection to atheism, but we do mind when he doesn’t even bother to acknowledge obvious rebuttals to this objection, much less respond to those rebuttals. I responded to this objection over a decade ago, as have others. As the editor of the “Call for Papers” page for the Secular Web, I issued a challenge to anyone who thinks atheism requires omniscience to submit a response to my article or any of the others on the Secular Web which address this objection. To my knowledge, this challenge has never been answered.

Religious Experience – Recognizing God
Rape them Atheists!
Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 5
Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 4
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Keith Parsons

    At the end of Albert Camus's The Plague he says (paraphrased) that the plague never dies. It may lie dormant for years or decades, but eventually it will awaken and send its rats into an unsuspecting city.

    The same holds for really bad arguments. No matter how many times they have been smashed, shattered, dissected, exploded,and relegated to the outer darkness, they reform and return, sometimes in slightly mutated form, to plague rationality again.

    There are certain untruths that have a perennial appeal, and even appear to many as obvious. How many times have we heard that you cannot prove a negative. (Immediately after writing this I double checked and confirmed to my own satisfaction that there is no elephant in my office.) It is easy to dismiss the proponents of such hackneyed foolishness as sophomoric, but it is a really interesting question to ask why some claims are ineradicable, though a moment's thought should be enough to disabuse us of them. Thinking is a painful process and a moment is a long time, Bertrand Russell observed. However, I think that more than simple laziness is needed to explain the perennial popularity of some instances of bad reasoning.

    Likewise, some questions seem eternally compelling, even to philosophers, though there really is no rational motivation for them at all. Consider: "Why is there something instead of nothing" The completely adequate answer to this is "Why not???" Yet the question refuses to go away. Howcome?

  • Angra Mainyu

    Yes, despite sufficient counterarguments by Jeffery and others, it seems this particular belief continues, even among philosophers.

    For instance:

    Yet, in context, we can see that also Christianity – purely for example – persists, even among very intelligent people, and even though counterarguments are abundant and decisive.

    Why does that happen?

    Those are interesting questions for further research in human psychology.

    In some cases (just speculating), it may have to do with the relevance of certain sets of beliefs for the social relations of some (many) people holding them – including the importance of having strongly defended a belief for a long time, investing time and resources, and the perceived negative impact on their reputation and social status of recognizing it's not true (I'm not suggesting anything deliberate).

    In other case, it may be due to human cognitive biases.

    Yet in other cases, it may be a combination of both.

  • seedster

    It seems to me also that the argument used by many Christians is a weak one. It is also an argument that is not used by anyone in the Scriptures. In fact, I am arguing that the very refutation of this argument helps the Christian cause. I say this because Christians, that is Christians who treasure and believe the Scriptures, do not have faith because of empirical evidence proving the existence of God. The Scriptures teach that faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). It is not the role of the Christian to destroy arguments against God simply because they are to defend true empirical evidence, it is because the glory of God is their central concern. I guess the real reason that I am writing this is to say that this argument does not discredit true and right Christian faith.

  • Steven Carr

    'No atheist can claim total knowledge…'


    Atheists know about everything.

    They know that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

    How did atheists know that everything that begins to exist has a cause if they don't know about everything?