Dialogue: Bad Fathers as a Prime Cause of Atheism

Dialogue: Bad Fathers as a Prime Cause of Atheism February 24, 2019

with Deacon Steven D. Greydanus (words in blue)

[sarcastic]  Teach your children that all atheists are atheists because they hate God and Christians and besides they had a bad relationship with their father.

The bad father —> atheist argument cannot be dismissed so easily, as there is a lot of historical evidence for it, that I have noted (Dr. Paul Vitz’s argument). The same often holds in cases of homosexual children, but we are not allowed to say that anymore. It’s very un-PC, you see. But it is significant evidence nonetheless.

The problem with Vitz’s thesis, at least in the forms I’ve seen it advanced, is that (as atheist critics persuasively argue) it’s been advanced anecdotally rather than rigorously. For example, a list of people people with “bad or absent fathers” could easily include Pope St. John Paul II and Mother Teresa, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Edith Stein, Mother Angelica, and others. 

I’m open to Vitz’s thesis but I’d need to see it backed up with real analysis. 

Vitz’s stuff may be anecdotal, but I don’t think that means it’s worthless. It’s simply not rigorous in the scientific sense.

Atheists have argued for centuries that we invent God, Who is a sort of “super-daddy in the sky” etc. Or they argues that Christians believe in Christianity only because they were raised by Christian parents and not because of any solid reasons. If they feel at liberty to do that, then at least rhetorically, I think it’s goose and gander: so we show how a bad father relationship can possibly be a big indicator of future atheism. We turn the “parent” / family background argument back on them. 

This would suggest that atheism is often quite as irrational (and not based on evidence beyond happenstance and background) as they claim Christian belief is, and as inadequate fundamentalist-type / anti-intellectual Christianity often sadly is.

We know for sure that many people view God in the direct light of their relationship with their parents (e.g., a woman may have been sexually abused by her father, and thus understandably has difficulty conceiving of a loving caring Father-God). It all seems perfectly plausible to me. It just doesn’t have the rigor of a controlled scientific study with 10,000 subjects, etc. I suspect (or guess) that such a study would show a disproportionate correlation.

I don’t say Vitz’s thesis is worthless. It’s an interesting hypothesis. But your goose-and-gander argument makes my point for me: You and I are rightly dismissive of the atheist jibe about “super-daddy in the sky,” and Vitz’s theory is just as easy for atheists to dismiss. If it can be backed up with data, that would, of course, be interesting.

Anecdotal / historical data is still data of some sort. It’s just not scientifically rigorous at the highest level. It’s incorrect to say that he has brought no data to bear on the question at all. Maybe there are some actual scientific studies that back up what he’s saying. Prima facie, the hypothesis makes perfect sense to me.


Photo credit: ZeeNBee (5-10-17) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]


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