BreakPoint: Many Atheists Aren’t So Sure

The Doubts of Doubters

Sometimes, holding on to faith in God can be hard. But then again, so can holding on to faith in no God.

One of the most persistent challenges of the Christian life is doubt. The most faithful, and spiritually mature believers experience it, especially in the midst of trials, temptations, or hard questions.

Every one of us occasionally wonders whether God is really there, whether Christ really rose from the dead, or whether we really are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That’s natural.

None other than John the Baptist, alone in Herod’s prison, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus responded, “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

But Christians aren’t the only ones who suffer from doubt. It turns out that unbelievers, atheists, and agnostics all experience nagging uncertainties as well.

A recent poll from Newman University and YouGov found that one in five British atheists and over a third of Canadian atheists agreed with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.”

Of the non-religious—those who aren’t explicitly atheists but don’t identify with any faith—34 percent in Britain and 37 percent in Canada agreed that evolution cannot explain the mind.* [Correction: “Of the non-religious as a whole—including atheists, agnostics, and the substantial group who simply don’t identify with any faith—34 percent in Britain and 37 percent in Canada agreed that evolution cannot explain the mind.”–editor’s note.]

Twelve percent of British atheists and an astonishing 31 percent of Canadian atheists even agreed with the statement, “Animals evolve over time but evolutionary science cannot explain the origins of human beings.”

Remember that atheists traditionally hold a naturalistic worldview. They believe that, as the late Carl Sagan put it, “the cosmos is all that is, all that was, and all that ever will be.” In other words, matter and energy are ultimate reality.

These respondents are also living in some of the world’s most secular societies. The famed “new atheists,” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have hailed from the U.K., where polls now show a majority of citizens identify as non-religious.

Yet nearly a third of them suffer from a persistent sense that unguided natural processes alone cannot explain the miracle of human beings, who are profoundly different from everything else in creation.

In his book, “The Reason for God,” Tim Keller invites skeptics to explore these suspicions. These folks, he writes, should “doubt their doubts,” reexamining their objections to Christianity and looking for the hidden beliefs underneath each.

For example, those who reject belief in spirits, angels, and God should ask themselves: If only matter exists, where does morality come from? Or what about our sense of self? If the mind is merely the byproduct of chemical reactions inside our skulls, how can it be trusted to accurately understand the natural world?

These kinds of doubts, argues Keller, can undermine doubt, itself, and lead skeptics to a new open-mindedness about God and the claims of Christianity.

As C. S. Lewis might say, atheists really can’t be too careful. He argues in “Mere Christianity” that it’s normal for believers to sense that the Christian faith looks “very improbable.” But these moods aren’t unique to believers. “When I was an atheist,” he confesses, “I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”

That’s why Lewis defined faith as “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” It’s also why Christians shouldn’t be afraid of reason or evidence. We should engage our doubts with confidence that our worldview—unlike the secular one—has the resources to explain both the natural and the supernatural aspects of the human experience.

In both cases, doubt—counterintuitively—can lead to faith.


Many Atheists Aren’t So Sure: The Doubts of Doubters

Christians have doubts; even atheists have doubts. But as Eric said, Christians don’t need to fear reason or evidence, nor should doubters. Check out the results of the YouGov survey by clicking on the link below.



Results of major new survey on evolution
  • Alexander Hall | | September 5, 2017
5 Ways to Doubt Your Doubts
  • Tim Keller | The Gospel Coalition | November 7, 2016
Mere Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis | HarperOne Publishing
The Reason for God
  • Tim Keller | Riverhead Books Publishing | August 2009

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  • Peter Mead

    I am so glad you do this column! I really like your columns, lots of great content and very encouraging. But wouldn’t you know I wouldn’t write in until I have a bone to pick… John the Baptist had no doubts about Jesus. Sending those two disciples off to question Jesus was the best way to send them on to Him. That’s the teaching in the Eastern Orthodox church.

  • hwclark

    As a Christian, I never have any doubt that God exists. He may not be the God you subscribe to, but there is no reason to doubt his existence. The whole universe operates in a manner that it must, to exist. This Earth and all of it’s inhabitants are one very complicated operation, where everything does it’s job, to sustain the whole. Something this complicated does not exist because of happenstance. Everything that exists, is based upon opposition. If you have good you have evil. If you have high, you also have low. That is simply the way God made everything. That being the case, it is safe to assume that if there is eternal life, then there is also eternal death. If you have believers, then there has to be unbelievers.If God exists everywhere, then I have to believe that he exists in every molecule of everything that exists. If he withdraws, then those molecules will no longer exist. With that in mind, if one is in God’s presence, then that person will exist eternally. Therefore a means of salvation needs to be available to mankind. I can’t safely say that the whole of scripture is truth, because I don’t even know who compiled it, let alone who may have actually written it. No one was around except the creator, when everything was made. We are left with several writings that claim to be the story of the beginning, and all of them sound like make believe, when compared with the natural laws that control everything that we can see, and understand. The fact is, that God could have used whatever method he wanted to, but today, we only see him working within the laws of physics. I think he probably is the laws of physics, and he will always operate in that manner. There may be a lot more to those laws then what we understand at present.

    • Scott

      Have you read Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God?” I think you might like it… I did. He is the doctor/scientist who led the Human Genome Project.

      • hwclark

        I quickly read a review of Mr. Collins’ book, and that particular person seemed to think Collins was a believer in evolution. I cannot wholeheartedly subscribe to that as the way God created life on the planet, but neither can I totally subscribe to the Genesis account either. I have no choice in believing in God, and the known facts about Jesus simply refute anything opposed to his position. I have spent a lifetime studying this subject, and I suppose the scriptures present just about as good of a way of it happening as anything else. I simply do not believe in a 6-24 hr. days when it comes to creation. The description written in Genesis about the flood, is seriously lacking in intelligence. There are so many places where the writing runs afoul of critical thinking. The description of the Earth and the heavens, are describing a Dome instead of what we know actually exists. It sounds like a description coming from someone who has no idea of how the Earth works. When you come right down to it, I have landed somewhere in the middle of the argument. I see the total acceptance of the scriptures as extremely problematic, but I also cannot find enough proof to support evolution. It is enough for me, that God did it all someway.

        • Scott

          Fair enough… I thought the book was an interesting read and Collins does a good job of connecting evolution to the bible. If you are interested, it is worth your scrutiny. : – )

          • Daniel

            One things to me that stands out is that after God finished his works of Creation, he certified them as Good, or Very Good after he created man. Evolution requires two key ingredients, time and death – death is not good – in order for higher life forms to come into existence. Death is result of Sin and there was no sin committed until after Adam disobeyed Gods only instruction – do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat you will surely die -, being deceived by the serpent as he manipulated Gods Word. So how could we or anything be a result time and death, when sin led to death? If this is not the case then why do we need our savior Jesus the Christ in order to remove our sin and give us eternal life? If there was no first Adam, then why would we need the last Adam?

            Further, Jesus himself repeatedly testified to the validity of Genesis, such as the Flood account when describing the last days “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark” Matthew 36-38. Even if my fallible human mind thinks up strange things as it often does, I need to reground myself on what the Word of God says, after all who am I to question it?

          • Scott

            “Even if my fallible human mind thinks up strange things as it often does, I need to reground myself on what the Word of God says, after all who am I to question it?”

            I think this is it right here… God did not intend for us to understand His ways. It is folly to question Him. He does give us clues within His creation however and also gives us the capacity to see them. I do not know how God created humans, nor I do not pretend to understand all his teaching in the Bible. Many theologians have argued over such things… I focus my attention on Jesus and what He says to me through scripture. God’s works are so far beyond us, so I keep my mind open to the fact that we may still be discovering new ways in which He is communicating His creation to us. Let us not forget Galileo and how some people in the church reacted to his discoveries… anyway, if you read Francis Collins book you might find it interesting.

    • gladys1071

      your thoughts are very interesting. I have my own struggles with understanding God, i think he is too big for us to be able to grasp him I think we get a glimpse of who he is in Jesus, but all we get is a glimpse. God is a mystery in a lot of ways, and his ways are higher than ours and our small human minds cannot fathom his ways.

      I lean to a more universalist belief, i have the hope that God will reconcile ALL of humanity to himself. I think there is a lot of mystery to God and his ways and find scripture to be NOT the whole story. I have a wider hope for all of humanity as oppose to being divided between believers and unbelievers. I think one day EVERYONE will come to belief and stand face to face with our creator and all of our answers will be answered.

  • Daniel

    Excellent article. Evolution is at the very roots of the secular (Atheistic) movement. While we continually argue with society on the various issues that are different forms of immorality, it just goes on and on like a sparring match. The real issue we as church should be confronting is re-establishing the Authority of the Word of God, starting with Genesis. Are we created in the image of God, for an eternal purpose with immeasurable value or just the meaningless result of chance with no real purpose? Do we have objective moral truths or do we just have subjective moral truths? Objective moral truths can only come from superior moral law giver (God) but man and women will only ever be able to offer there subjective opinions. As a church we even need to shy away as presenting God’s Words as our own opinion, and start proclaiming it to be the Word of God, the ultimate authority.

    We need to show Evolution for what is is. Adam Sedwick (Evolutionist) on the reason why the theory of evolution was created: ‘From first to last it is a dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked up … . And why is this done? For no other reason, I am sure, except to make us independent of a Creator.’

    The tale of Evolution continues to change to fit mans perceptions, but the Word of God never changes. When Job was questioning God about the troubles he was facing, how did God answer him? Not how he had expected I’m sure, see Job 38-41, God showed Job that his knowledge on matters does not measure next to Gods.

  • Scott

    “therefore no matter what any human fallible mind presents to me I can not accept.”

    What about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians? Just kidding Daniel. : – ) I know what you mean and I would not presume to tell you that you must accept anything I or any other human mind conceives. At the end of the day, you and I might agree that Christ is risen and we can fall humbly at His feet and rejoice.

    I will agree that I was not so open to Francis’ idea at first and I would not say that I completely agree with everything he says in his book… but after reading it, I realized that Francis is a believer just as you and I are. God is so much bigger than me and much of the Bible is not meant to be taken literally (as Francis explains in his book) so I have not closed my mind to something God might be showing us. I also believe God is not bound to our physical limitations and is capable of working outside of space and time. The very nature of the Trinity suggests this. He is three “persons” in one and that is inconceivable to us as humans. CS Lewis explained it quite well when he likened the Trinity to the three dimensions. In the first dimension you can draw a line. In the second dimension you can add lines to make a figure like a square and in the third you can take that square and make a cube. Humans are stuck in the first dimension where God operates in all three. The illustration CS Lewis used was more thorough than mine, but I hope you get my point.

    All this is of very little consequence to God, as we cannot operate outside of our metaphorical first dimension. So if He chooses to enlighten us, than so be it. : – )

  • HpO

    True, that, brothers Eric Metaxas & G. Shane Morris -“Unbelievers, atheists, and agnostics all experience nagging uncertainties”. But that’s because nothing in their worldview, which is “holding on to [no] faith in … God” (not “holding on to faith in no God”), exists JUST YET that can scientifically “explain the existence of human consciousness … the mind … the origins of human beings” and why “human beings … are profoundly different from everything else”. Not to be optimistic for them, but I’ll bet they’ll have their scientific explanation sooner or later.

    So, until then – rush rush – how can we help our atheistic friends out? Tell them to “doubt their doubts” so as to “undermine doubt itself’? – which only provokes them to come back at us with, Yeah, right, like you theists become that way because your nonexisting deity tells you to believe your beliefs so as not to undermine theistic beliefs? Bad idea, this, then, brother Tim Keller. I hear you, but I don’t like what I’m hearing either.

    So, failing that, what, then, are we to do? Just go ahead and assure them anyway, that “doubt – counterintuitively – can lead to faith”? You’ve got to be kidding me. Or didn’t you guys hear what the Master said?

    “And Jesus answered … ‘Have FAITH in God. Truly I say to you, whoever … does not DOUBT in his heart, but BELIEVES that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, BELIEVE that you have received them, and they will be granted you.'” (Mark 11:22-24)

  • Manthisisstupid

    I have no doubt there are no magical fairies or the easter bunny or the tooth fairy or god. Each one is just as unreal as the next. I dont need to believe in this nonsense to get on with my life.

    • Scott

      I would agree on all counts with God as the exception. There is more than enough evidence pointing to His existence.