Being an atheist in the Bible belt of the southern US, I often feel like a fish out of water. Naturally, when people discover I'm not a Christian, they often try to convert me to their pond. I’m happy to engage but frequently get bombarded by an avalanche of regurgitated arguments - many of which are downright awful!
To make matters worse, my inbox is flooded with the ad nauseum parroting of the same misconceptions about atheists and atheism which betray a certain anti-atheist prejudice and perpetuate an unfortunately common pulpit-based denigration of us. The Christian understanding of atheists is all-too-often based on some abysmal stereotype and not on how we actually behave or on what most atheists actually believe.
In frustration, I thought I'd share and respond to 11 bad arguments and frustrating misconceptions that Christians regularly say to atheists. My goal isn't to bash, humiliate, or laugh at Christians, but rather to encourage better dialogue and hopefully elevate the conversation.
11. If You’re An Atheist, You Don’t Believe In Anything!
What a weird misunderstanding of atheism! So, if I don't believe in God, I can't believe in LITERALLY the existence of anything else? Apparently, being an atheist means that you need to be in a constant state of unknowable horror!
I believe in a lot of things. I believe in love, kindness, and compassion. I believe humanity can come together to overcome tremendous challenges, that human hands solve human problems, and that we should do what we can to minimize suffering and create a world of abundance where everyone can thrive.
I believe we can learn how the universe works and answer questions about our past, and that the scientific method is our best way of doing both those things. Trying to explain that atheism ≠ nihilism makes me chuckle every time.
10. Mao, Stalin, And Pol Pot Were Atheists!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians use this zinger. As if Christians fear that atheism is a gateway drug to genocide. It’s true, a few horrible dictators were atheists, but are those the only atheists you know? Because there have been countless millions of kind, philanthropic, loving, talented, innovative, wonderful atheists and agnostics just in the last century - many of whom you probably didn’t realize were atheists (most likely, including some of your family, co-workers, neighbors, and friends).
Most of us just aren’t public or vocal about it. Sure, there are terrible awful atheists too since Atheism says nothing about your moral, philosophical, or political beliefs. But atheism clearly doesn’t cause violent atrocities. Nor does religion prevent it. Remember that almost every war, massacre, genocide, inquisition, enslavement, and other atrocity committed before the 20th century was enacted by a religious person.
The only difference with the handful of more recent atheist dictators is not that they were more cruel or less moral than the religious tyrants of the past century, but rather that they had the tools and technology to perform such atrocities at scale. Let's also not forget that some of the loudest critics of these totalitarian Communist regimes were other atheists like Bertrand Russell, Victor Serge, and George freaking Orwell!
9. "The Fool Says In Their Heart There Is No God."
If you’re engaging with an atheist, debating God’s existence, or the validity of the Bible; don’t resort to this line. Whether you believe it’s true or not, it’s not even an argument. It’s an insult - an ad hominem attack - and is the church equivalent of saying, "Oh yeah, well you’re just an ugly poo poo head!"
Sure, it comes from the Bible (Psalm 14:1), but before you use this as your argument-ending trump card, perhaps you should first prove that the Bible is even reliable. Regardless, this comment is intellectually lazy. It’s not constructive, it’s tribalistic, and it contributes to the demonization and ostracizing of atheists which we already get in droves.
Oh, and if you’re a pastor and you say this, perhaps you should get some new, hopefully more constructive, material and try building bridges rather than denigrating an entire group of people just so you can smugly circle-jerk the choir (I’m looking at you John Hagee!).
8. If You Don’t Believe In God, What's Stopping You From Murdering/Raping Whoever You Want?
This one’s only slightly less on-the-nose than the last one and still betrays an underlying mistrust and hostile perception of atheists stemming from widespread societal denigration. But isn’t it exhausting being that pessimistic? What a horribly bleak and cynical outlook to have about the world - to think that everyone around you is dying to rape and slaughter, but the only thing stopping them isn’t God - it’s a belief in God!
That seems like a pretty fragile safeguard!
And if belief in God really prevented rape and murder, then why do so many Christian denominations and nearly every religion have major clergy sex abuse scandals? Meanwhile atheists make up 0.1% of the federal prison population. That said, here’s why I don’t rape and murder: I don’t want to! I actually care about those around me, and I don’t want to live in a place where atrocities are the norm or where there’s a high risk of that stuff happening to me and my loved ones.
And for the psychopaths and murderers out there: you know what’s a stronger incentive against crimes of this type than belief in God? An efficient criminal justice system!
7. You're Going To Hell; I'll Pray For You
...Smug, self-righteous, and passive aggressive with a thin veneer of feigned compassion... This one's the Christians-interacting-with-atheists version of the southern church lady’s, “Bless your heart.”
You realize atheists don’t believe in hell, right?
And if you believe in a just and loving God, do you really believe that such a deity would create an eternal punishment for finite mistakes? That's, by definition, an unjust punishment. What exactly did I do to make you think that I deserve torture forever? Doubting? Asking questions? Looking behind the curtain? Wouldn’t a good god actually appreciate an atheist’s sincere and honest search for truth far more than the smug self-righteousness of a pompous trumpeting pastor?
Oh well. Doesn’t matter. Because I’ve got you praying for me. How incredibly noble of you to talk God out of his perfect plan of burning me alive forever. Or were you just praying that I’d conform to the straight and narrow path which you deem acceptable because you can't stand the though of others not believing exactly as you do?
6. I Don't Have Enough FAITH To Be An Atheist.
There are some things that we all have to believe on faith. For example, that the laws of physics are constant. Philosophically speaking, past observations don’t guarantee future predictions, they just tell us that every time we’ve observed it, the universe always has behaved in a consistent fashion.
But we all more or less share this belief!
And so far, doing so has proven to be the most efficient way to go about our lives. If you didn’t believe that things like gravity were consistent, then you’d be just as likely to try floating out a ten-story window as you would be to take the elevator down. Beyond that baseline level of faith, most theists go a step further and start making all kinds of extraordinary and supernatural claims.
Some of these are easy to disprove and have been - like Noah’s flood, Adam and Eve, and a 6000 year old earth. Others, like the existence of a non-interactive universe-creating deity, are unfalsifiable and remain neither proven nor disproven. But we know how our planet, sun, and galaxy formed naturally, we have a ton of the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to the emergence and evolution of life on earth, and just look at how many natural phenomena used to be attributed to the supernatural that turned out not to be supernatural!
As an atheist, I try to go where the evidence points.
I don’t believe in God, but I don’t claim to know for sure. The Christian on the other hand takes the extra leap of faith, believing extraordinary/supernatural claims without sufficient evidence and often in the face of it.
5. If Man Came From Monkeys, Why Are There Still Monkeys?
Upon hearing this one, my guy reaction is to either split technical hairs or give the snarky atheist comeback, “Well if Americans came from England, why are there still English people?” But I’m going to assume that this is an honest question, stemming from genuine misunderstanding of evolution, and isn't just a religious "gotcha!" I think what’s really being asked is, “If humans evolved superior survival traits compared to monkeys, isn’t evolution about the survival of the fittest? As one begins to dominate, wouldn’t the others die off?”
But you can have millions of species all coexisting and branching off from each other as long as each has a high enough rate of reproduction. Some species will evolve extremely slowly because they already fit their environment really well and have few evolutionary pressures. Others will evolve quicker. And sometimes, groups from one species will break off and migrate to somewhere with more evolutionary pressure leading them to evolve in very different ways than the species they branched off from.
How do we know this?
Well, aside from actually observing evolution in action (especially in organisms with fast reproduction cycles like bacteria & insects). In the case of humans, we can trace genetic mutations and changes over time by analyzing our DNA, the DNA of other primates, and that of our ancestors to measure relatedness and determine where in the past we converged. We can date bones and study the anatomical differences of the skeletal remains of various transitional species over time in various locations around the globe. Put this all together, and you actually find that we didn’t come from modern monkeys, but we do share a common ancestor with them.
Isn't science awesome!?
I actually don't find this misconception as annoying as most of the others in this list, because most young earth creationists were deprived of a decent science education. It’s not their fault that their parents put them in a private or homeschool religious environment and failed to teach them anything more than a strawman of evolution. So, assuming this one is an honest question, and not a dishonest, “Gotcha!” Then I welcome it and encourage further curiosity and exploration on the topic.
4. You Just Want To Sin/You're Going Through A Phase/You're Just Mad At God.
It’s incredibly rude to assume someone's motives, reasons, and beliefs, but this is also incredibly ignorant, because none of these are descriptions of actual atheists. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, not someone who’s mad at one. I might get mad at the harm caused by religion, but I can’t be mad at a God I genuinely don’t believe in.
I sincerely used to believe God was real, and now I really, honestly, truly don’t. And if I did but was simply running away from God to sin or going through a rebellious phase, then by definition, I wouldn’t be an atheist. Can atheists not even exist in your reality? And this might blow your mind, but my day to day lifestyle and the amount I “sinned” really didn’t change from before to after I left my faith. It’s not like I stormed out of the church and rushed off to sacrifice and eat babies in drug-fueled Satanic orgies!
...although, I am a little less judgmental towards gay people now.
Oh, and this “phase” has been going on for nearly a decade for me! I live every day with sincerity. I’m very happy, and I have no reason to revert back. I get that some Christians do leave the church because they’re upset at God or simply have an incompatible lifestyle, but by definition, that’s not an atheist - it's an angry or frustrated Christian. If you’re a Christian reading this, I encourage you to expand your friend group and get to know some actual atheists.
3. Atheism Is Also A Religion, But It's Man-Made
Almost every time I hear this, it’s said as though religion is a bad thing… by religious people! The implication is that if religion is bad, then atheism needs to go down with that ship. But do you really want to undertake that suicide mission? Atheism by itself has no creeds. It has no core doctrines, no traditions or rituals, and no prayers/chants. There are no sacred atheist idols, icons, or relics. We don't gather in godless cathedrals or churches to raise our hands in worship of nothingness. We have no deities, no holy books, and best of all: no dogma.
If atheism is a religion, then not boning is a sex position!
Sure, "atheism" is something you could put in the "religion" textbox of a questionnaire. So I can see how that might be a source of confusion. But it’s more akin to answering the question “Favorite Sport,” on a form, with the answer, "none." On the upside, when I hear someone use this one, it’s kinda funny watching them bumble into this self-burn.
2. Wouldn’t You Rather Believe Just In Case Hell Is Real?
That’s called Pascal’s wager. I did an entire video on it, but you realize it’s not a binary choice of God or no God. There are countless millions of possible deities. The odds of you choosing the wrong one, are enormous. What if by doing so, you piss off the right one, while the sincere, “I don’t know.” of an atheist would've been far less likely to upset her. Furthermore, unless you're indoctrinated into a belief from childhood, most gods are obviously man-made, and we know that hell is man-made (I did a video on that too).
Religious beliefs are not without substantial cost.
In addition to the horrible and harmful ideas perpetuated because of religion (eg. anti-LGBT bigotry, sexism, judgmental purity culture, abysmal sex education, supremacist ideologies/tribalism, pseudoscientific beliefs, etc.), how many people treat this planet with utter disregard and view their own life as a transient trial run - simply focusing on the life to come. This mindset carries a tremendous risk of wasted potential and missed opportunities. And think of how much time, hard work, and money people spend on religions which would be a waste if the religion wasn't true. In this last example, think of the billions of hours and dollars wasted - limited resources that could better utilized elsewhere.
If this life is all you have, wasting it on religion is all the more pricey!
Finally, we can’t choose to believe something that we don’t believe. We can lie and say we do, but a god would see right through us. Why not just be honest?
1. You Were Never A True Christian.
This is one of the most presumptive and obnoxious statements I hear, so I have to give it the number one spot!
To most people saying this, I guarantee you, I was more of a Christian than you were. I was dedicated as a baby in the church, raised on the mission field, and baptized at 7. I never missed a Sunday service, I had quiet times and devotions every morning, I literally studied Greek words and roots in elementary school to get a better understanding of the Bible! I asked God into my heart and accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and savior. I genuinely believed with all my heart and had the same holy spirit experiences as other Christians.
Still not convinced?
I memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) by age 10, attended monthly prayer and worship potlucks and annual missions conferences, and I was raised on Abeka and Bob Jones (Christian homeschool material) as well as on Focus on the Family's propaganda. I believe the Bible was the inerrant word of God and everything in it was true. I learned about church history and read countless missionary biographies. Missionaries who faced persecution were my super heroes.
I was literally willing to die for the cause of the Gospel!
Of my own volition, I attended a private Christian university in Texas for my Freshman year where I had chapel every morning, group devotions, and where I took a course in Biblical studies. I became a church camp counselor for two summers, I joined a Christian fraternity, and I was a youth pastor and worship leader for a summer when I was 21. In fact, I learned guitar in order to play worship songs! And I wrote my own songs and poems to God. Finally, I did a semester mission trip in Kazakhstan before slowly realizing that everything I knew about God and the Bible was wrong - a journey which I've detailed extensively on my YouTube channel.
Like Paul after the Damascus road, I considered all of this as loss (Philippians 3:8), compared to the joy of pursuing the truth and figuring out how the world actually works!
I value my integrity and I wanted to go where the truth led, so as hard as it was, as plugged in as I was, and as invested as I'd become... I left my faith. It was the honest thing to do. I genuinely believed then, and I genuinely don't now.
To those claiming I was never a "true Christian," is the thought that people like me exist so threatening to your fragile faith that you can't even accept that I'm real? This last one is frustratingly invalidating and extremely presumptive. You don't know me or my journey. After all the years of my life - the literal blood, sweat, tears, tithes, and prayers I've poured wholeheartedly into my faith - you don't have the right to revoke my ex-Christian card!
Look, we all say dumb things sometimes. Atheists spout dumb stuff too (all the time), and my goal isn’t to mock Christians or act superior. I’m just done hearing these god-awful arguments and (often prejudice-perpetuating) misconceptions which I propose should go the way of the dodo. If you want to see how these arguments stack up in a tier list, you should check out my video below where I rank them from S tier to F tier.
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Dare to be Curious, But don’t drink the Koolaid!