Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Why do famous atheists believe that God does not exist?

Here’s a lecture by New York University professor Paul Vitz to explain a connection between atheism and fatherlessness:

Here’s an article by Paul Copan (related to the lecture) which points out how father presence/absence and father quality affects belief and disbelief in God.


Seventh, the attempt to psychologize believers applies more readily to the hardened atheist.It is interesting that while atheists and skeptics often psychoanalyze the religious believer, they regularly fail to psychoanalyze their ownrejection of God. Why are believers subject to such scrutiny and not atheists? Remember another feature of Freud’s psychoanalysis — namely, an underlying resentment that desires to kill the father figure.

Why presume atheism is the rational, psychologically sound, and default position while theism is somehow psychologically deficient? New York University psychology professor Paul Vitz turns the tables on such thinking. He essentially says, “Let’s look into the lives of leading atheists and skeptics in the past. What do they have in common?” The result is interesting: virtually all of these leading figures lacked a positive fatherly role model — or had no father at all.11

Let’s look at some of them.

  • Voltaire(1694–1778): This biting critic of religion, though not an atheist, strongly rejected his father and rejected his birth name of Francois-Marie Arouet.
  • David Hume(1711–76): The father of this Scottish skeptic died when Hume was only 2 years old. Hume’s biographers mention no relatives or family friends who could have served as father figures.
  • Baron d’Holbach(1723–89): This French atheist became an orphan at age 13 and lived with his uncle.
  • Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72): At age 13, his father left his family and took up living with another woman in a different town.
  • Karl Marx(1818–83): Marx’s father, a Jew, converted to being a Lutheran under pressure — not out of any religious conviction. Marx, therefore, did not respect his father.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche(1844–1900): He was 4 when he lost his father.
  • Sigmund Freud(1856–1939): His father, Jacob, was a great disappointment to him; his father was passive and weak. Freud also mentioned that his father was a sexual pervert and that his children suffered for it.
  • Bertrand Russell(1872–1970): His father died when he was 4.
  • Albert Camus(1913–60): His father died when he was 1 year old, and in his autobiographical novel The First Man, his father is the central figure preoccupation of his work.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre(1905–80): The famous existentialist’s father died before he was born.12
  • Madeleine Murray-O’Hair (1919–95): She hated her father and even tried to kill him with a butcher knife.
  • We could throw in a few more prominent contemporary atheists not mentioned by Vitz with similar childhood challenges:
  • Daniel Dennett (1942–): His father died when he was 5 years of age and had little influence on Dennett.13
  • Christopher Hitchens (1949–): His father (“the Commander”) was a good man, according to Hitchens, but he and Hitchens “didn’t hold much converse.” Once having “a respectful distance,” their relationship took on a “definite coolness” with an “occasional thaw.” Hitchens adds: “I am rather barren of paternal recollections.”14
  • Richard Dawkins (1941–): Though encouraged by his parents to study science, he mentions being molested as a child — no insignificant event, though Dawkins dismisses it as merely embarrassing.15

Moreover, Vitz’s study notes how many prominent theists in the past — such as Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer — have had in common a loving, caring father in their lives.16

Here are some corrections to the list:

1) Voltaire was not an atheist but a deist who rejected claims of the Bible’s inspiration, like Paine. Voltaire’s aphorism, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to the atheistic clique of d’Holbach, Grimm, and others.

2) David Hume’s religious views remain uncertain. He never said he was an atheist. A gentle skeptic suits him more.

3) Bertrand Russell was an agnostic.

Not only is there that anecdotal evidence of a psychological explanation for atheism, but there is also statistical evidence.


In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goesupfrom 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

[...]In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.

Basically, anyone who doesn’t have a benevolent, involved father is going to have an enormously difficult time believing that moral boundaries set by an authority are for the benefit of the person who is being bounded. The best way to make moral boundaries stick is to see that they apply to the person making the boundaries as well – and that these moral boundaries are rational, evidentially-grounded and not arbitrary.

By the way, isn’t it interesting to note that Barack Obama also grew up fatherless and has issues with God and morality.


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Pastor Matt discusses his past experiences as an atheist – part 2

Here’s another post from Pastor Matt that I think offers some more helpful insight into how we should approach young people with Christianity. The point of this post is that relationships matter.


When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard.  He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation.  He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church.  But he never asked a single question about me personally.  I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.

[...]Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel.  I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.”  I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight.  The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you.  I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.

I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian.  I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own.  I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me.  I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ.  I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow.  I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.

I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships.  I needed  knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable.  You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job.  All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this.  It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?

I think that I do my best work away from the blog when I take on atheists or new Christians or Christians who want to grow one on one and focus on them for long periods of time. Sometimes, it’s talking to them on Skype. Sometimes, it’s rewards for doing well in school or in their Christian lives. But all the best work is done one on one. That’s when you really get a chance to get to know people and to care about them.

I think the most important thing you can tell a young Christian is to focus less on mere following of the rules. I always ask them more about making a plan for their lives that achieves something amazing for God’s kingdom, while still not breaking any of the rules. The following the rules is not the key thing to focus on. The key thing here is your relationship with God. So you should find out what needs doing, and just do it. If it’s intelligent design research, then do it. If it’s finding early NT manuscripts, then do it. If it’s working for the ADF defending religious liberty at the Supreme Court, then do it. If it’s becoming a Christian professor at a secular university, then do it. If it’s debating an atheist cosmologist, then do it. If it’s promoting the free market system which alleviates poverty, then do it. If it’s protecting democratic countries from aggression by being a soldier, then do it. Stop making Christianity a dull prison, and start making it a blank canvas for a masterpiece.

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Pastor Matt discusses his past experiences as an atheist – part 1

Don’t worry, he was an atheist then, and now he’s pastor Matt, thanks to God’s grace.

This post Pastor Matt talks about why he was once an atheist.


I am sometimes asked, by both skeptics and believers alike, why I was once an atheist and what convinced me to become a Christian.  I will answer the latter in another post but let me deal with the former now.

I am a “PK” or “preacher’s kid.”  My father served as the founding pastor of the largest church in southern Ohio.  It is a non-denominational, evangelical congregation that grew very quickly.

As a PK, I was privy to a lot of “inside information” and it was not encouraging.  I learned men and women who sang hymns with passion and shouted “Amen!” with gusto during the sermon were cheating on their spouse or on their taxes.

By the time I was a teenager I understood why those who called themselves Christians lived secret lives–they wanted to believe but really didn’t.  I understood because I became one of them.

I was an active member of an ’80′s evangelical youth group.  So, I rocked out to Stryper, had comedian Pat Hurley tapes and volunteered for the children’s ministry, which consisted of videotaping episodes of Superbook and The Flying House for the kids.  However, I actually seriously doubted if God even existed.

I was struggling with the normal sins of a teenager and begged for help in prayer.  I also petitioned God on a regular basis to feel His presence but that didn’t happen either.

I eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity simply didn’t work.  I declared myself an atheist at age fifteen and remained an unbeliever for the next ten years.

I ran away from home at age fifteen as well eventually making my way to Hollywood.  During those days I partied like it was 1999 (until 1997) and like Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying decades before, I came to not even want God to be real because even the possibility interfered with my desire to create my own morality.

Christianity is not something where you just profess it and suddenly you are automatically perfect. You get the gift of eternal life immediately by faith in Christ, but becoming more like Christ takes time. It’s easier to act consistently with the teachings of Christ if you have spent the time studying, practicing and growing as a Christian. You shouldn’t expect perfect behavior on day one – that is crazy. You should expect that as your beliefs become more solid, then your outward actions will change naturally. And often what you hear at home and in the church is not the best for finding truth through investigation and debate.

It would be terrible to have to put out “good” actions when you never settled the questions of what is true and how are we going to apply what is true in our own decisions. Sometimes, I think that young Christians face too much pressure to appear to be perfect when no one has been willing to help them work through the grounding for the behaviors they are expected to display. And I think a lot of the behaviors they are expected to display are either not important or not Biblical. Behaving like a  Christian should be natural – it should proceed from free inquiry, not dogmatism.

Now I’m skipping a lot, but here is his advice for people who were in his situation:

I’ll get to my conversion later but keep in mind: (1) just because a person attends a church, even if they are a PK, that he or she truly comprehends the Gospel because I didn’t a full understanding; (2) pastors need to constantly remind their parishioners that sin is easy and living for Christ is difficult because believers are part of a cosmic struggle; (3) the spiritual disciplines are invaluable especially so for young people; and (4) there are many solid arguments for the existence of God and few for materialism and all Christians deserve to know them.

I’ve spent some time mentoring young Christians who had fallen away for some period of  time, and I always make a point of asking them why. Their answer is usually something like this: “I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care because no one else cared.” The first thing to do with a person who is rebelling is to get in there and start to ask them questions and get involved in helping them to succeed in their lives. People do bad things because they feel that no one cares. So you better start caring for these young people, whether they are smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, poor, rich, popular, unpopular – it doesn’t matter. They all have souls, and they were all made to know God. Get in there and be real with them before they make a mess of their lives.


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New study: methodology used by Southern Poverty Law Center to detect “hate groups” is flawed

An article from the Christian Post reports on a new study published by Dr. George Yancey, a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas.


The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hatewatch” fails to use objective criteria in determining which organizations should be labeled a “hate group,” George Yancey, professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, finds in a new study, “Watching the Watchers: The Neglect of Academic Analysis of Progressive Groups,” published in the January issue of the journal Academic Questions.

SPLC’s list dubiously lists Family Research Council as a hate group while ignoring anti-Christian groups that use similar rhetoric, which demonstrates that the list is more about mobilizing liberals than providing an objective source for hate groups, Yancey argues. SPLC has escaped critical analysis of its work in academia because of a liberal bias among academicians, the study additionally claims.

SPLC’s Hatewatch has become the definitive guide among some scholars, authors and media organizations to what is, or is not, a “hate group.” Conservatives have long criticized the list for labeling social conservative organizations, such as Family Research Council, as hate groups.

[...]According to SPLC, Yancey explains, FRC is a hate group because it intentionally makes hateful and untrue statements about the LGBT community, which can lead to violence even though FRC does not engage in violent actions. (Yancey noted the irony that while SPLC does not cite any examples of FRC-inspired violence, SPLC’s Hatewatch actually did incite violence in the case of Floyd Corkins.) To support this contention, SPLC notes that FRC reports on studies showing that the child molestation rate is higher among gays and same-sex parenting harms children, and quotes FRC President Tony Perkins saying that LGBT activists seek to “persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”

If this is the standard for labeling an organization a hate group, Yancey says, then the anti-Christian MRFF should also be on the list.

In a Huffington Post blog, Michael Weinstein, founder of MRFF, claimed that Christians will be responsible for ushering in “a blood-drenched, draconian era of persecutions, naturalistic militarism and superstitious theocracy.” And Weinstein has written books claiming that Christians are willing to use mass murder to bring about their goals.

“In these few comments Weinstein has violated some of the same norms SPLC used to designate FRC as a hate group. Weinstein is promoting a myth of Christian violence not substantiated by previous research and has attributed motives to conservative Christians that he cannot document,” Yancey contends.

Yancey does not argue that MRFF should be on Hatewatch, or that FRC should be off Hatewatch. Rather, he argues that if Hatewatch is to be an objective source for labeling hate groups, both groups should either be on the list or off the list.

One possible explanation for why SPLC does not include anti-Christian groups on Hatewatch, Yancey speculates, is that Hatewatch is a tool for mobilizing liberals, rather than an objective source of hate groups.

“As our society became more politically partisan, SPLC cemented its position as speaking for those with progressive political and social attitudes. Rather than developing into an objective clearinghouse for the identification of hatred – no matter where the source of that hatred may develop – SPLC has become a useful organization for progressives to legitimate their battle against conservatives. Since conservative Christians are categorized as opponents there is little, if any, incentive for SPLC to recognize hateful expressions against Christians, because doing so actually works against the social vested interest of the group,” he wrote.

Yancey’s analysis of SPLC, though, is in service of a larger point. There is not enough critical analysis of liberal groups in academia, he argues, because too many in academia share the viewpoint of liberal groups.

“This is a critique of the social biases within academia that preclude critical analysis of progressive social groups,” Yancey wrote. “Such neglect serves academics with progressive, secular perspectives by allowing progressive, secular social groups to make claims of truth and objectivity. Such claims enhance the social power of these progressives. But this neglect damages any real scientific attempt to assess social and political factors in our society. Scrutiny directed at conservative and religious groups – and they should be scrutinized – while progressive organizations are given a pass creates a distorted understanding of reality. In doing this, social science scholars replace an objective examination of our society with a biased approach serving progressive social and political interests.”

Keep in mind that the SPLC materials are being used by government agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Army.

You might remember that I blogged before about George Yancey’s work on liberal bias in academia.

Related posts

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Dr. George Yancey lectures on anti-Christian bias in academia, and beyond

My good friend Wes posted this 28-minute lecture.

If you watch 5 minutes, then you’ll definitely stay and watch the whole thing. It’s fascinating.


Join Dr. George Yancey in an in depth discussion of the bias taking place within academia against religion in general, but more specifically Christianity. Within the discussion Dr.Yancey uses brief explanations of his previous book, Compromising Scholarship and many other excerpts of his past research as well as his forthcoming research to give us a new viewpoint on academia and religion.

I found a quick description of Dr. Yancey’s work in this New York Times article from July 2011.

It says:

Republican scholars are more likely than Democrats to end up working outside academia,as documented by Daniel Klein, an economist at George Mason University. Dr. Klein, who calls himself a classical liberal (a k a libertarian), says that the university promotes groupthink because its system of “departmental majoritarianism” empowers the dominant faction to keep hiring like-minded colleagues. And when a faculty committee is looking to hire or award tenure, political ideology seems to make a difference, according to a “collegiality survey” conducted by George Yancey.

Dr. Yancey, a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, asked more than 400 sociologists which nonacademic factors might influence their willingness to vote for hiring a new colleague. You might expect professors to at least claim to be immune to bias in academic hiring decisions.

But as Dr. Yancey reports in his new book, “Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education,” more than a quarter of the sociologists said they would be swayed favorably toward a Democrat or an A.C.L.U. member and unfavorably toward a Republican. About 40 percent said they would be less inclined to vote for hiring someone who belonged to the National Rifle Association or who was an evangelical. Similar results were obtained in a subsequent survey of professors in other social sciences and the humanities.

Dr. Yancey, who describes himself as a political independent with traditional Christian beliefs and progressive social values, advises nonliberal graduate students to be discreet during job interviews. “The information in this research,” he wrote, “indicates that revealing one’s political and religious conservatism will, on average, negatively influence about half of the search committee one is attempting to impress.”

Dr. Yancey’s research was a survey, not a field experiment, so it’s impossible to know how many of those academics who confessed to hypothetical bias would let it sway an actual decision. Perhaps they’d try to behave as impartially as the directors of graduate studies in Dr. Gross’s experiment.

The lecture is a real eye-opener. It turns out that in academia, you are likely to be viewed the same way as blacks were viewed by slave-owners, and Jews were viewed by Nazis. Stereotypes, ignorance and hatred abound.

We have a lot of work to do to correct these perceptions, and unfortunately nothing that Christians see and hear in church is likely to change this. Until we get serious about prodding our young people to think and achieve, this is what people on the secular left will think of us. Not because they really are smarter, but because we are not capable of pointing out the nonsense on their side of the aisle, e.g. – eternal universes, aliens seeding the Earth with life, fatherlessness is good for children, and so on. If we don’t study the evidence, then their stupidity will rule the day, and they are the ones who are entrenched in academia.

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