Do Atheists Exist?

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If an atheist exists, then God must also exist. To understand this maddening and confusing statement we must first examine whether God exists. If he exists then we can breathe a sigh of relief and conclude that atheists also exist.

Whether God exists or not depends on whether anything exists. The question is not whether God exists, but the more fundamental question of “why is there anything at all?” We see that there are things that exist. There are trees and animals and human beings and rock and plants and there are atheists too. But do they really exist? Yes and no. They are here now, but they will not be here forever. All the things we see (including the atheists) are mutable. They change. The tree you see here now will probably not exist a thousand years from now. The atheist you see here and now will not be here seventy five years from now. He may not be here five minutes from now should he have an unfortunate encounter with a bus. In the long view, all the things that exist around us are ephemeral. They will eventually cease to exist. They will be no more. They will be dust. They will be deceased. Since they will one day be dust, how can we say that they really do exist at all?

If they exist–even for a time–then there must be some other quality to their existence that enables them to exist. Something must be holding them up. What is it that causes them to exist even for the short time of their lives? You might call this mysterious something “Life”.  To include even inanimate things the philosophers have termed it ‘essence’ which is distinct from ‘existence’. Essence is the fact of a thing’s existence. Essence is the fact of the thing’s “Being.” Since all the things we see–like atheists–are mutable we conclude that they cannot be the source of this ‘essence’. There must be some greater source for “Being” which is not mutable, and does not cease to exist, for that which ceases to exist cannot itself be the source of existence. The Christian mystics call this the “ground of all Being”. The philosopher Thomas Aquinas calls it ipsum esse substantens.  According to the Jewish religious tradition this “Ground of All Being” revealed himself to Moses in the story in the Old Testament with the Hebrew name “Jahweh” or the Tetragrammaton JHVH–the translation of the sacred name is “I AM”.

Christians therefore conclude that because atheists exist God also exists.

I am happy to accept that those who cannot or will not accept the existence of God may debate this philosophical explanation. They’ll probably bluster about ‘logical fallacies’ and so forth. That’s fine. Furthermore, I’m happy to concede that it is simply a philosophical explanation. It’s not a watertight “proof” for God’s existence. Why would God provide a binding proof of his existence? That would be to force people to believe in him. He’s not a bully. Besides, there’s no love in that. So this is not a “proof”, but it is evidence (like the other “proofs”) that belief in God is not unreasonable.

This “Ground of All Being” is not the end of the story, but the beginning. Whether this YHVH-Yahweh is a personal God, whether he answers prayer and does miracles and is in fact a Trinity of Three Persons united in one Godhead and whether the second person of the Trinity became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and died on the cross to redeem the human race–all that is another matter entirely.

 

  • http://lesfemmes-blogspot.com Mary Ann Kreitzer

    Ah…metaphysics…but we all know that the essence of all things is the primordial soup which explains why there are so many different creatures. It was alphabet soup, although since the Darwinists say we all came from reptiles perhaps it began as turtle soup and changed as things fell into the pool. Although where did the things come from? Hmm…think I need another cup of coffee. This is too deep for Monday morning.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    Going back in the anthropological history of our ancestors we can see a time before they had enough abstract thinking to project a mind with intention into objects or “sprints.” We don’t know when that capability evolved, but cave drawings of tens of thousands of years ago do give the impression that some of that was present then. Going back a million or two years we don’t see that in any artifacts, and going back 10 million years to a time when our branch had not yet split off from other primates, we can be reasonably sure that no such “theory of mind” existed at all. So, far enough back, all our ancestors were atheists.

    The process of brain evolution that gave us abstract thinking, also gave us the ability to project “personhood” into the waters, wind and stars. Finding out what really makes the waters, wind and stars has pushed some of us to project further into the untestable to keep our supernatural ideas going.

  • http://www.brandonvogt.com Brandon Vogt

    As Chesterton says, “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

  • James Brown

    Hmm. If there were no God, I guess there wouldn’t be any theists either, so . . . .

    “Christians therefore conclude that because atheists exist God also exists.”
    Bottom line, if someone does not believe that something exists, then that something *has* to exist?

    Makes no sense to me.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Try again

  • John M.

    This makes as much sense as saying “If there are Christians that don’t believe in Zeus, then Zeus must exist.” Not a very ingenious argument, is it?

  • DKeane

    “There must be some greater source for “Being” which is not mutable, and does not cease to exist, for that which ceases to exist cannot itself be the source of existence.”

    Bold face assertions like this (without any evidence) are the reason I am an atheist.

    • Ted Seeber

      So you don’t think you exist?

      • Dkeane

        Nothing to add to the conversation but a wittyish reply that completely misses the point I was trying to make? I would like to know how just because the author says something, it makes it somehow true.

  • Selah

    A former evangelical , an Anglican priest ,and now a Catholic priest ! Why ???
    Seems like a downward spiral to me.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      That’s what I like about the atheists who comment here. So many of them are so upbeat, positive, witty and affirming!

  • Susan

    What Mr. Longenecker seems to be saying is that the fact that anything exists means that Yahweh must exist.

    Let’s grant (although he has not demonstrated it) that this is true. How does “Being” become “a Being”? How does that “Being” become Yahweh? According to Jewish religious tradition this “ground of all being” revealed HIMself to Moses. But according to Jewish religious tradition, a lot of things happened that don’t seem to have happened at all. Adam and Eve, for instance. The flood. The exodus. The tower of Babel. That’s the trouble with revelation. Humans are good at making things up.

    >I am happy to accept that those who cannot or will not accept the existence of God may debate this philosophical explanation.

    Have you considered the possibility that this has nothing to do with the inability or unwillingness of people to accept the existence of Yahweh and everything to do with them not being convinced by this philosophical explanation, that for this reason they might debate it?

    >They’ll probably bluster about ‘logical fallacies’ and so forth.

    The nature of “philosophical explanations” is that they should be scrutinized for logical fallacies. If you are trying to use philosophy to prove Yahweh, it seems disingenuous to suggest that subjecting that argument to ordinary standards is “blustering”.

  • Michael

    Because Santa Claus deniers exist, Santa Claus also exists. It makes perfect sense.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Or you could read the post, try to understand it and make an informed and thoughtful comment.

      • Grazzly

        Sounds like he understood it just fine. Seems to me that you don’t understand your own ludicrous article.

  • Corylus

    Oh dear.

    Now I fear for the agnostics. (Pesky types can never make their minds up!) Are they thus consigned to oblivion? Also, what of those atheists who call themselves “atheists” when making an ontological point, but “agnostics” when making an epistemological one? Do they sometimes exist and sometimes not: compelled; not to non-existence; but instead constant “uncertainty”?

    What a fate.

    Mind you, most agnostics (as well as atheists) have times in which they act in a way that indicates that they have taken a stand, so maybe we need not worry for them over-much. To be an “actor” entails existence after all. No. We need only truly fear for the existence of those who NEVER give any thought to religious propositions (too busy eating and breeding etc.).

    Well …

    From this it seems we can declare that those “authentic atheists” that you were worried about are figments indeed. Good news, Mr Longenecker! You need tremble no longer.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Or you could read beyond the headline, try to understand the post and make a thoughtful comment.

  • Corylus

    Mr Longenecker, that WAS a thoughtful comment.

    I was using satire to show that a false premiss implies any conclusion.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Oh.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    If Aquinas were around today there can be no doubt he would have been very interested in what we have found out about the nature of the Universe, its origin, and especially how we evolved from it.

    From what we have learned through the careful application of the Scientific Method we can see that all existence around us arises from the basic operation of the Universe. So what makes the Universe, itself, exist? The closest we have yet come to an answer to that question is presented by Lawrence Krauss in his book “A Universe from Nothing.” That answer is that our Universe is here because nothing is unstable on the quantum level, and without evidence of action of any intentional “being,” a universe like ours will eventually happen.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      That’s called creation ex nihilo. It’s part of Christian theology.

    • Ted Seeber

      How can you have stability from randomness?

      • Niemand

        Google “brownian motion”.

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

        Ted, that is a good question. At the quantum level most events that happen cancel each other out. Ones that don’t can add up to something we can detect on our level. We know quite a bit about what patterns have stability over what range of time. The best examples are subatomic particles that are only stable for very short times. Some patterns of these will form atoms that last a long time (strong pattern integrity) but some are unstable on a very statically predictable time scale so we can use their decay as a tool to date evidence (such as ¹⁴C). Experiments show that the proton has pattern integrity so strong as to last for something beyond tens of billions of years. How much more? Can’t tell, yet.

  • UsingReason

    “So this is not a “proof”, but it is evidence (like the other “proofs”) that belief in God is not unreasonable.”

    Sorry, I must keep blacking out when you present the evidence in your article because I am not seeing any. Unless you mean to say that philosophical word games are now evidence? Ok; because Atheists exist Kali exists, and Ra, and Bakuba exist because I, an Atheist, exist. Please provide the reason why if someone wo does not believe in any gods exists, your version of god exists. Also include your definition of Life, essence and Being; that is only the beginning of the unfounded premises in this short article.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      This is not a proof or evidence. It is an explanation to show that belief in God is not unreasonable.

      • UsingReason

        I’ll just repeat:

        Please provide the reason why if someone who does not believe in any gods exists, your version of god exists.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      for more on essence, existence and so forth go here: http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/godtalk.html

  • Baron Scarpia

    Since all the things we see–like atheists–are mutable we conclude that they cannot be the source of this ‘essence’.

    How do you get from one to the other?

    There must be some greater source for “Being” which is not mutable, and does not cease to exist, for that which ceases to exist cannot itself be the source of existence.

    What does ‘greater’ mean? Why can’t something that one day will cease to exist be the source of existence?

    Christians therefore conclude that because atheists exist God also exists.

    Hold the horses! How do you get from ‘there is a source of existence’ to ‘god exists’?

    I am happy to accept that those who cannot or will not accept the existence of God may debate this philosophical explanation. They’ll probably bluster about ‘logical fallacies’ and so forth.

    Or it could be that the explanation isn’t a terribly good one.

    It’s not a watertight “proof” for God’s existence.

    We’re not actually asking for one, by the way. That’s the reason why we dissected the argument from design so much. If it worked, it would still not be a logical proof because it’s based on deduction. But it would be evidence, and that’s why we took it seriously once upon a time.

  • Hein

    If this is what counts as evidence, then religion is truly doomed.

    We see that there are things that exist. There are trees and animals and human beings and rock and plants and there are atheists too. But do they really exist? Yes and no. They are here now, but they will not be here forever. All the things we see (including the atheists) are mutable.

    If they exist–even for a time–then there must be some other quality to their existence that enables them to exist. Something must be holding them up. What is it that causes them to exist even for the short time of their lives?

    Just like the ancient philosophers, you attach far too much significance to the solid objects you observe around you. The ancients had an excuse though, they didn’t know any better and had no way of knowing better. You, on the other hand, could have visited your local library and picked up a book on physics.

    In the last century and a half, scientists have made great strides in figuring out what the objects we observe consist of, what it is that enables them to exist, what is “holding them up”. We now know that trees, animals, rocks, plants, human beings (I find it interesting that you distinguish between human beings and atheists), etc. all consist of matter/energy (two forms of the same thing) in the form of sub-atomic particles held together by weak and strong nuclear forces and electromagnetic forces to form atoms, molecules and crystals which (held together by electromagnetic forces and gravity) constitute all the solid objects (and liquids and gasses) we observe in the universe.

    As any high school physics student can tell you, matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed. All the matter/energy that exists in the universe today has existed as long as the universe has existed and will continue to exist as long as the universe exist. Thus, the only ‘things’ that can be meaningfully be said to be eternal are matter/energy and space-time itself. There is no need for any gods here.

    I am sure someone will be tempted to respond to this saying “Aha, but how did the universe or space-time or matter/energy come into existence?” Let me just pre-empt those god-of-the-gaps arguments from ignorance by admitting that I do not know. I am not a physicist, but I understand that some of the most brilliant minds of our time are working on finding answers to these questions. I can assure you however, that the answers will not be found in your favourite compendium of bronze-age myths.

    • Ted Seeber

      And that side is answered here:
      http://www.amazon.com/New-Proofs-Existence-God-Contributions/dp/0802863833

      Turns out physics *does* point to an existence for God, from a certain interpretation.

      • Heinrich Kruger

        That doesn’t prove anything. I could link to several books that say the exact opposite. Besides, even if physics did point to the existence of a god, you still wouldn’t have any evidence that your particular version of god is the correct one and that all other religions got it wrong.

  • Matthew the Wayfarer

    wow, didn’t know you became a ‘low church Anglican’ MISTER Longnecker. Susan & Corylus must really hate you or they hate properly appointed titles. Wonder if they call doctors, dentists and optometrists “MISTER” as well.
    Actually athiests don’t exist because if you listen to all of their arguments saying nothing they are so sure of themselves that they must be GODS themselves. They always make me laugh. Don’t know why you bother with them – I don’t.

    • Corylus

      Mr Wayfarer,

      “Wow, didn’t know you had become a ‘low church Anglican’. Mister Longenecker. Susan and Corylus must really hate you or they hate properly appointed titles.”

      Well spotted. Let me explain. First of all, I hate no one on here. Secondly, I used the term “Mr” because my mother taught me manners – I never a first name only without having been given either explicit, or strongly implied, permission. I am a guest on here.

      Why not “Fr” then? Well, people can avoid that one for several reasons.

      These might include:-

      a) Taking on board Matthew 23:9;
      b) they might have a commitment to truth that requires making valid statements as much as possible. For example, I have a father, one that is not Mr Longenecker (heh! Well, I hope not anyway!);
      c) they might dislike propping up patriarchal terminology without question. Maybe they feel that the assumption of paternity/masculinity in powerful positions should not go unquestioned;
      d) other reasons not stated;
      e) a comibination of one or more of the above.

      I will leave you to guess how I feel about all of these. Susan can speak for herself, of course.

      “Wonder if they call Doctors, Dentists and optometrists “MISTER” as we’ll.

      I’m British. In the UK dentists and opticians do not get title “Dr” as a matter of course. In these cases I use Mr, Mrs or Ms as appriopriate. For those people with PhDs, DPhils or MDs or MBBS I use the term “Dr” as a reflection of the degree(s) they have been awarded.

      Surgeons of my acquaintance get called Mr or Ms though. In the UK they are not called Dr. This is an entertaining throwback to times when proper physicians never got their hands bloody due to only lower class tradesmen working with their hands (butchers in practice). NB if you we’re to make the point that this last one is a silly distinction I would very much agree with you! They are attached to it, however, and work hard to be called Mr or Ms.

  • http://www.know7things.com/ Chris Smith

    When I talk to people who are skeptics, agnostics or atheists, I say this: People who define reality based on what science has revealed and what can be detected with the five senses face three big barriers to understanding reality. First, science is always adding new knowledge and correcting previous mistakes. If you use science to define reality, it’s like saying DNA didn’t exist—or DNA wasn’t real—until humans were smart enough to figure it out in the 1950s. That sounds a lot more like magic and superstition than religion does.

    Second, if you say that reality is defined only by what’s accessible to your five senses—your eyes, ears, skin, tongue and nose—then how do you if your interpretation of reality is any more accurate than an animal’s interpretation of reality? The five senses that cats and dogs use to interpret reality are the same five senses that humans use to interpret reality.

    Third, even if you say that humans are a lot more intelligent than animals, you still have to deal with the fact that there are a lot of very intelligent people out there who are very out of touch with reality. http://www.know7things.com/god.html

    • Dkeane

      On your first point, if you claim DNA is real without evidence, you are making it up and is no better than revelation. Yes science is sometimes revised and especially the most recent cutting edge hypothesis that do not have a large body of observation to back them up should be given less weight than Germ Theory. So while DNA did exist before we figured out, we should just state that we don’t know how the process works, rather than ‘magic’ did it.

      You have answered your second point with the third.

      Yes I agree, there are a lot of intelligent people who are out of touch with reality. Some of them have even commented on this article.

  • Lynda

    To posit randomness as the cause of the coming in to existence of the known Universe, our galaxy, our planet, life and especially human life is to posit something highly improbable on any known relevant statistical measure. On the other hand all those relevant statistical probability measures point to an Intelligence and Intention (that we call God). Fr Robert J Spitzer’s books, e.g. “New Proofs for the Existence of God, Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, are very useful collation of these relevant properties whose statistical probability of occurring randomly can be measured to a degree that reason tells us it is not reasonable or responsible to accept anything other than a Creator as a provisional hypothesis. I’d also recommend Anthony Flew’s, There is a God, How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, to see how an honest philosopher with a default atheist position was convinced of the unreasonableness of that position.

    • Dkeane

      Are you a statistician or astrophysicist?

    • flora

      “…not reasonable or responsible to accept anything other than a Creator as a provisional hypothesis.”

      Why do we need to be so lazy. You do not find scientits putting forward “provisional hypothesis” and then stopping all research to prove the point or simply accepting that having said it that it must be true.

      The worst thing being about this argument is that god is not a hypothesis, it is a guessed answer to a hypothesis (philosophical proposition actually).

      “New Proofs for the Existence of God…”

      I would just like to point out that if you ever prove god it will become part of the natural universe not a supernatural entity or it will vanish in a puff of logic. Proof of god would undo the very thing being proposed.

      “World’s Most Notorious Atheist”

      I got a laugh from that on more than one occasion. One atheist (?) became a christian, who cares, people make mistakes every day. He is simply wrong or and maybe the case is that there is just more money in religion than atheism (as I understand it, he did make a considerable sum of money on the deal).

  • Steve S

    It seems many people are convinced that reality (that which is “real” or “true” or “has existence” if you will) is limited to that which is accessible to the five senses (and any tools that expand our senses). “Provide the evidence!” seems to be presented as the impenetrable rallying cry of triumphant atheists. However, isn’t this a self-defeating principle ultimately? What is the empirical, measurable “evidence” that all reality must be empirically observable and measurable? I would argue that there is no empirical evidence that empirical evidence is the final arbiter of truth and reality. Therefore, this is a FAITH statement. This is a first principle that cannot be demonstrated with empirical evidence, and I therefore call it what it is: a starting point not “based” on anything prior to itself. The difference between myself and a person who bases his/her worldview on this first principle of empiricism/scientific materialism is that I readily admit that my first principles are unprovable according to the methods available to science. My problem with many atheists, therefore, is not their beliefs or lack thereof. It’s that they are fundamentally dishonest.

    As a sort of case study in this “ownership of one’s first principles”: physicists are reaching the edge of “natural” explanations of the origins of the cosmos, hence, the emergence of “multiverse theory”. Since the existence of the multiverse is, by definition, unprovable in any empirical way, then it is no less a statement of “faith” than when a Christian says that God created the universe “ex nihilo”. That’s ok, your “faith” is different from mine. Just own it.

  • Severaspeciesof

    “Why would God provide a binding proof of his existence?”
    Actually, according to most religions, God does… eventually.
    “That would be to force people to believe in him.”
    Now again, in most religions, isn’t that what will happen eventually?
    “He’s not a bully. Besides, there’s no love in that.” That’s right… my mother and father never forced me to believe in them, so they must have really loved me for that very reason, and I, them… So once one is in heaven, there should still be a way of God not forcing his existence onto us, so God could still love us plus we would be loving God back because God is showing it’s love by not forcing us to believe in it’s existence, even though it will be obvious to everyone in heaven…

  • Lynda

    Specific persons developed the principles of what is generally known as “the scientific method” for enquiring into certain aspects of the natural world. This mode of enquiry developed out of already well-established intellectual disciplines, particularly theology (Catholic theology for the most part). Of course, many of the earliest groundbreaking “scientists” were Catholic priests and theologians and philosophers. But then Catholic academics developed the type of institutes of higher learning that corresponds to the modern understanding of what a university is.

  • Francis

    “I’d also recommend Anthony Flew’s, There is a God, How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, to see how an honest philosopher with a default atheist position was convinced of the unreasonableness of that position.”

    There is a problem with this statement. It is indicative of a larger problem presenting itself here. There is an underlying dishonesty to the arguments presented. If not that, then a willful ignorance.

    It would seem that Anthony Flew was a man with diminished mental capacity who was taken advantage of by those who felt justified in lying for Jesus.
    From an article by Mark Oppenheimer in the New York Times we have this:
    “As he himself conceded, he had not written his book.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/magazine/04Flew-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

  • Tom in South Jersey

    I’ve had atheists explain to me the concepts of a near infinite ever expanding universe, along with multiple parallel universes and other fascinating ideas, such as string theory. I’ve been told cool concepts such as there are a number of other copies of myself out there living vastly different, and sometimes, similar lives. I loved Stargate SG1, especially when the team would end up confused with some parallel universe. I’ve been told with a straight face, that with such a large universe, or multiverse, anything is not only possible, but likely to exist.

    That just convinces me ever more so that God must exist. Oh but that is stretching things a bit too far??

    • flora

      Don’t you find it odd that atheists are required to use science but you never do? If you don’t personally think science is relevant to your god why do you think an atheist should? An atheist doesn’t need science to dispel god as a proposition, science is just an interesting and supportive system for discovering the truth of a proposition. Science has since it’s founding dispelled many unscientific arguments used for the god proposition but atheism and science are two very separate entities.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Comments on this post are now closed

  • Sherry

    Atheists exist because humans who invent stupid myths exist. As long as there are humans with imaginations who believe in silly myths, there will be sane humans who don’t believe their delusions. Therefore only humans exist who dispute other humans with a delusional disorder, like you have it seems. Definitely not proof of your god, only proof of your delusion.

  • http://greenleegazette.com/ James L. Greenlee

    Even if one could prove that there MUST be a “higher power” (for the sake of argument), it would be a HUGE leap to assert that your own personal favorite deity is the correct one. Proof of a creator would not be proof of the Christian God.

  • Flora

    This is possibly the worst piece of reasoning I have ever read.

    This
    is not so much logical fallacy as loading. You begged the question and
    loaded the answer with god and nihilism, assuming god was the default
    and atheists were nihilist. You and I know nihilism is a failed argument
    not worthy of consideration as I do and we can simply put it aside and
    assume we exist to have this conversation. As an atheist I take a
    different path to you in argument, I look at both propositions, god or
    no god, equally. I don’t assume no god, I weigh up your argument for god
    (knowing you do so “without evidence”) and that against and decide
    which has a more robust position (knowing nobody can “not prove” god).
    We have to work in the purely philosophical because neither side can
    provide evidence making evidence a null point the same as nihilism.

    Using
    the purely philosophical means, nothing has moved me to theism and you
    are certainly not putting forward a good case. Your case is in fact
    weaker given it is knowingly dishonest.

    Yes I said dishonest. You finish by pointing out people will try to show you
    have made “logical fallacy” and you try to crush argument by discredit
    anyone who does so prior to their arrival at the scene of your crime. This
    makes you knowingly dishonest. You are saying for all to see that you know that you have made a
    logical fallacy but you wish to protect it by discrediting descenting
    voices.

    If you expect me to believe you, don’t lie to me. Oddly
    enough lying to me puts any argument you put forward in the future on a
    less credible footing.

  • Lawrence Mckechnie

    The Christian belief is quite specific; it goes beyond a feeling or a vague spirituality. What is evidence? Good question? Is there any reason why we should fall in love, for example? Yes, there are biological factors, however isn’t there something about love which goes beyond the biological? Isn’t there a mystery to life which points to the existence of a creator. For me, we cannot understand humanity properly without the inclusion of God who identified with humanity. But, beyond that, isn’t it conceivable that there is a purpose behind life, a purpose which goes beyond the biological?


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