It would be hard for the average believer not to have noticed the increasing number of (many of them very well known) people who used to claim Christ as their Savior that have apostatized lately. From “Bible bro” YouTubers to best-selling authors, from supposedly saved singers to post-Christian pastors, it seems there’s nothing the world loves more than a former professing Christian that declares they no longer believe in God.
And of course, these are the ones that hit the headlines, fill up newsfeeds and make big splashes. But there are many more “average-Joe” types that regularly declare the same on a daily basis all around the world. And if you’ve been in church for a while, I would guess you’ve seen it happen. Many believers experience it in their own home.
Perhaps it was a friend or family member from your church/youth group/Bible study who started coming less often until they finally stopped coming at all. Perhaps they just became disinterested, turned hostile, or eventually just became distant to anything associated with God, the church, or the Bible. And now, just like the ones we all hear about in the media, they declare they are an atheist.
I mean, on a basic, practical level, what happened?1 Answers in Genesis is a non-denominational ministry, so I’ll leave the aforementioned context up to you. But beyond that, let’s simply ask this question: What has to happen intellectually for someone who started with a profession of faith to declare atheism later ? What specifically do you have to believe to conclude that there is no God?
Many Christians would say that intellectual barriers aren’t the main reason people turn away from the faith, claiming it’s primarily a “hurt and heart” issue. But the fact is, many people have claimed it was intellectual barriers that caused them to reject belief in God, myself included. However, it’s true that many atheists who were once connected with a church often declare it was certain hurtful events that caused them to turn away from God.
Many times, those “hurts” related to a church’s stance on biblical standards regarding sexual ethics, marriage, or identity issues, and many also say they just couldn’t understand how a loving God could allow one of their loved ones to die tragically and so concluded he doesn’t exist. Whether sincere or self-serving, all of these stories have a “sin” component to them: either the sinful hurtfulness of others, the sin of turning away, or a tragedy caused by sin.
Regardless, once a person contemplates jettisoning their faith and embracing atheism, most understand they need a logical way to back up their beliefs to embrace their new worldview intellectually. Many times, these are the same beliefs that caused them to doubt Christianity in the first place. So logically, what would they be?
Although atheists as a group aren’t monolithic in their beliefs, and every one of these folks we read about or know personally has their own story, the journey from professing Christian to atheism must include specific intellectual components, unless the atheist just shuts down their thinking! All logically thinking atheists must believe the following three things:
Why? Well let’s start with number 1. Since all atheists must have a way of explaining how they came into existence without God, some form of evolution is a requirement for that belief system. Why number 2 (belief in millions of years)? Well, the story of “pond scum to people” evolution couldn’t have happened quickly, so belief in millions of years of earth history is also required for atheism. And of course, number 3: atheists obviously can’t take God’s Word as plainly written because it claims to be the revelation from God, who they profess doesn’t exist!
These are the “fundamentals” for the atheistic faith. But do you want to know what is truly spiritually terrifying? The average 13-year-old child from a Christian home that attends public school believes all three of those things by grade 8. That’s right, statistics show that the average 13-year-old from a Christian home already believes the fundamentals of the atheistic faith, and they are ripe for apostasy.
But they aren’t the only ones. Sadly, the vast majority of Bible scholars, Christian professors, authors, and influential pastors also believe at least two of these points and are standing somewhere along the slippery slope to unbelief, whether they realize it or not!
Christians who don’t accept Genesis as plainly written sometimes express face-palming embarrassment at “unsophisticated” Christians, like myself, who do. In their seeming bid for intellectual credibility among academics, they profess that in our modern scientific age, a belief in a plain reading of Genesis 1–11 (with a talking snake, literal Adam, young earth, global flood, etc.) is just too fantastic to believe. They often go even further, claiming it creates intellectual barriers and stumbling blocks in non-believers, impeding our witness and bringing shame on the gospel.
But what about the talking donkey in Numbers 22? What about floating axe-heads? What about water turning into wine? What about the miraculous healing of a crippled hand, the dead people that came back to life, and the virgin that gave birth in the Gospels? Secular “science” doesn’t support those either, so which other parts of the Bible should we be ashamed of? The fact is, for most Bible skeptics who are naturalists, when you tell them you sincerely believe a dead man came back to life, they already think you are crazy because they’ve accepted an atheistic, evolutionary view of life already. So compromising with evolutionary ideas only reinforces their view; it almost certainly won’t help them.
Answers in Genesis is often attacked by individual Christians or organizations who don’t hold to the biblical account of creation. They denigrate us as “alarmists” and attempt to paint us as “anti-intellectual and anti-science,” saying we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of the age of the earth and just concentrate on “the gospel.”
But think this through: all of the other stances on origins, such as theistic evolution, day-age theory, gap theory, framework hypothesis, progressive creationism, etc., involve accepting the idea of millions of years and/or evolution being true. And how does that relate to the three fundamental beliefs of atheists?
Well, because the Bible does not support belief in millions of years and actively teaches against it, Christians that accept it (step 2) can’t claim to believe in God’s Word as plainly written (step 3) yet accept that secular interpretations of science should dictate their exegesis of Scripture.
And as soon as a Christian accepts the first two requirements for atheism, they are now intellectually “open” to accepting step 1: biological evolution. After all, if they accept the naturalistic (historical, not observable) interpretations of scientific data in one area (geology), there is no logical reason not to accept such interpretations in other areas (biology).
Now of course, accepting these three conclusions doesn’t automatically result in apostasy. We know that due to blessed inconsistency, there are likely many professing Christians who believe in the story of evolution (and therefore satisfy all the intellectual requirements for atheism) yet are truly saved.
But of course, as we have all observed an increasingly rapid pace in which many professing Christians who have taken these three steps eventually become consistent in their thinking. Just read some of the testimonies of the many famous “former Christians” we’ve discussed, and you’ll see that in addition to any other excuse they might use to justify their conversion to atheism, they came to realize that if millions of years of evolution were true, they already have a way to explain all of existence without God, so why bother?
So we can conclude, although Christians who adhere to the fundamental beliefs of the atheistic faith might not always result in spiritual deadness, those who are spiritually dead that identify as atheists always have those three symptoms before they expire spiritually.
From an intellectual standpoint, belief in biblical authority (founded in an understanding of presuppositional apologetics and biblical creation) are some of the best immunizers to counteract the three fundamental beliefs of the atheistic worldview. Although the Lord’s ways are far higher than ours, and we may not have a full understanding of how all things work salvifically, Scripture is clear that we have a biblical mandate to have a reasoned defense of our faith (1 Peter 3:15) and that we should use that to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV).
An intellectual defense of the faith (apologetics) is actually more for the church than for the world, as it keeps believers from error. And far from being a hindrance to the gospel, it is actually one of the ways the Lord uses to win people to himself, as many have testified.