Is God a delusion?
Question: "Is God a delusion?"
Answer: Richard Dawkins is the world’s chief apostle for atheism and has been Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University since 1996. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, he labels God and belief in God as delusions. Dawkins is a gifted writer, and his position at the leading university in the English-speaking world gives him great prestige in intellectual, cultural, and political circles. His atheism is fierce. The jacket of The God Delusion calls the God of the Old Testament “a sex-obsessed tyrant” and the deistic god of the 18th century Enlightenment a “more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker.” Belief in God, says Dawkins, subverts science and knowledge, breeds ignorance, foments bigotry, and abuses children. All this happens for the simple reason that God is a delusion. Not only are “fundamentalists” unintelligent for “know[ing] they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book,” but even moderation in faith, says Dawkins, “fosters fanaticism.”
There are plenty of intelligent answers to Dawkins’ contentions about life, history, science, ethics, and God, as well as to his general crusade against all things religious and, particularly, all things Christian. But what does the Bible say about people like Dawkins and the arguments he proposes? The Bible is just as firm as Dawkins in its assertions about God and man. Psalm 14:1-3, for example, says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Fools who deny the existence of God are corrupt and vile, and so are their deeds. Because their understanding is also corrupt, “they do not seek after God.” Note that the Bible and Dawkins are directly opposed to one another. Dawkins says there is no God, and people who believe in Him do terrible things. The Bible says there is a God, and it is rather the people who deny Him who do terrible things. Further, the apostle Paul declares that the reason people who deny God can gain and maintain such large followings, as Dawkins has, is that the human race in general is lost in sin and self-delusion and seek after those whose rhetoric reflects the same. Those who deny God follow eagerly after Dawkins and his ilk because they have hatred for God in common (2 Timothy 4:3).
The Bible sees the denial of God as the true delusion, and this delusion extends to the atheist’s view of humanity as “good,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. A sober assessment of human beings recognizes that we lie, cheat, steal, lust, complain, become embittered and resentful, envy, hate, forget, and are careless, ruthless, disrespectful, and loveless. Not only do we do all these things on a daily and hourly basis, but we do them naturally from our birth. This is what God’s Word means when it says, “There is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:3). This does not mean we never do anything positive, like obeying our parents or giving money to a church or charity. It means that we are so obviously sinful that it is silly to call human beings “good.” Nobody teaches children to lie; they do it naturally. Nobody teaches teenage boys to lust; they do it naturally. Nobody teaches the employee to resent his boss or spread malicious gossip about the coworker with whom he is competing for a promotion; he does these things naturally. Nobody teaches the wife to unjustly criticize and complain about her husband, or the husband to neglect and condescend to his wife; both do these things naturally. Yet in the sixth chapter of The God Delusion, entitled “The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?”, Dawkins explains why human beings are good—based on nothing more than his own opinion—despite the fact that there is no God who defines what is good. Again, Dawkins not only directly opposes the Bible’s teaching but he denies what is obvious to even the most casual observer of human nature and behavior.
At the same time, Dawkins titles his ninth chapter “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion.” There he reports replying to a question about clergy sexual abuse by saying, “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place” (p. 317). Human beings are good, says Dawkins, and even the sexual abuse they perpetrate is better than a religion which tells them they are not good. How he explains the desire for “good” men—priests or otherwise—to abuse children sexually in the first place is a mystery. The Bible, however, does explain it. Men do evil because their hearts are evil (Matthew 12:35), and unless they are made new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), they will continue to do evil because it is their natural inclination.
The apostle Paul explains the function of law (to convict of sin) and the salvation from sin—that has come to the world in Jesus Christ. “But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?...There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:5-6, 10-11). The Bible here is saying that it is not the psychological abuse we suffer from religion that makes human beings, including some pastors and priests, do evil things like abuse children. Rather, it is our inherent sin nature that makes us do these things, and it is our insufficient attention to God, to Jesus, to Christian truth, and to the Bible’s teaching that causes this behavior to continue even where religious activity and institutions are present. It is not that the idea of God has caused us psychological damage; it is that we are born psychologically damaged, with a natural inclination toward what is evil, and we ignore and reject God, who is the only source of salvation from our sin and psychological damage. Even though we may intellectually accept the idea of God’s existence, when we ignore Him and reject His Word, we are as good as saying He is a delusion.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “delusion” as follows: “Something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated; a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also, the abnormal state marked by such beliefs.” The last clause is significant: intellectual and moral delusion have permanent effects on the mind and heart. Believing lies causes the mind to begin to operate abnormally and to exist in a state that is not healthy and perhaps even dangerous, both for itself and for others. This is what the Bible calls “sin,” and a core element of our sin is our delusion that God does not exist.
It should be stated clearly here, given how often atheism presents and promotes itself under the banner of science, that science is not to blame for atheism or any other symptom of human sinfulness. In fact, many great scientists of the past were Christians, believing Jesus Christ to be the representative of God on earth, the same God who made the heavens and the earth and established the laws by which the natural world operates and which scientists investigate. Most of the "giants" of modern science and most founders of hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and every other kind of charity that has humanized and softened a world made inhumane and hard by human sinfulness, were Christians. They pursued rational understanding of the cosmos because they believed God, who has a mind, had created the cosmos according to the principles of rational and mathematical operation that govern the human mind, which is designed in the image of God’s mind.
Belief in God is thus no delusion. It is inherently and fundamentally rational. It is the source of true wisdom regarding why human beings do evil things so often and so naturally, why we can work so hard to be good and still fail, and why Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ is the spiritual hope for mankind. It also explains why people who believe in Jesus Christ have done so much not only to remedy the effects in this world of human sin, but to scientifically understand this world and to organize and publish the principles of science.
Recommended Resources: God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible edited by William Lane Craig & Chad Meister and Logos Bible Software.
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Is God a delusion?