For part 1 of this two-part series, go here.

From a psychological perspective, Spiegel argues that broken/absent father relationships can be a contributing factor in a persons’ rejection of God’s existence.  He bases this, in part, from Sigmund Freud’s own psychological analysis that belief in God is a projection of one’s desire for a cosmic version of their earthly father, and, in part, from the research of ex-atheist Paul C. Vitz published in Faith of the Fatherless.  Spiegel argues that just as a good relationship with one’s father may contribute to belief in a Cosmic Father, likewise, the lack of a relationship, or a bad relationship with one’s father may contribute to one’s disbelief in a Cosmic Father.  Spiegel cites David Hume, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus as examples of atheists who experienced the death of their father at a young age.  He also cites Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Ludwig Feuerback, Samuel Butler, Sigmund Freud, H. G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Albert Ellis as examples of atheist who had a weak or abusive father (abandonment, neglect, bitter relationship).  Contrast these individuals to well-known theists who had good relationships with their father: Blaise Pascal, George Berkeley, Joseph Butler, Thomas Reid, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Friedrich Schleiermacher, John Henry Newman, Alexis de Tocqueville, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Buber, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Abraham Heschel.

Spiegel takes this a step further by examining the moral life of famous atheists, showing the connection between immorality and unbelief.  Some atheists, such as Aldous Huxley, are quite honest about the connection:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do… For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”[1]

Philosopher Mortimer Adler confessed something similar.  An atheist until his eighties, Adler admitted that he rejected religion because it “would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for. … The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person.”[2]

Considering the fact that the causes of atheism are non-rational in nature (moral rebellion, paternal relationship, psychological factors, volitional dispositions), and considering the fact that such factors interfere with our ability to reason properly about spiritual and moral matters, Spiegel offers little hope that apologetic arguments will persuade most atheists.  After all, if intellectual concerns are not the real reason for their rejection of God, intellectual arguments will not persuade them to change their mind.  Self-deception runs deep.

In the way of personal analysis, I must say I enjoyed Spiegel’s book.  I think he offered a solid Biblical analysis of atheism, and some interesting psychological data to consider as well.  I would only disagree with Spiegel in two minor areas.  First, while I fully admit that atheism is not the result of intellectual skepticism alone, I disagree that intellectual skepticism plays no part in the path to atheism.  Too many theists have reluctantly given up their faith after being introduced to anti-theistic arguments.  While the arguments may not be sound, these individuals found them persuasive.  Given their commitment to intellectual integrity, they felt forced by their knowledge of these supposed defeaters to abandon theism.  These are what I call “reluctant atheists.”  While they may be few in number, they do exist.

There are also individuals who have experienced some sort of evil in their lives, and eventually come to reject the existence of God out of anger, pain, and their inability to reconcile the existence of a loving God with the evil they experienced.  Their hurt and confusion leads them to deny God’s existence, not moral rebellion per se.  These are what I call “wounded atheists.”  Granted, many of these individuals are atheists in confession only.  While they call themselves atheists, and say they do not believe in God, they cannot silence their deepest intuitions that God exists.  Denying the existence of God helps them make sense of the evil they have experienced, but deep down they know God is real.  I think this helps explain why such individuals are often so angry at a Being they claim doesn’t exist!

Second, but related to the first, I think apologetics are fare more effective in converting atheists than Spiegel admits.  Intellectual arguments are unlikely to convince those whose atheism is motivated by moral and volitional rebellion, but they can be quite effective in converting reluctant atheists and wounded atheists.  Apologetics helps remove the intellectual barriers that keep them from confessing what they know to be true: God exists.

[1] Aldous Huxley, “Confessions of a Professed Atheist,” Report: Perspective on the News, Vol. 3, June, 1966, p.19.

[2] Mortimer J. Adler, Philosophy at Large (New York: Macmillan, 1977), 316 as quoted in James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 85.