What Is Wrong With Being An Atheist?

What Is Wrong With Being An Atheist?

February 1st, 1981 @ 10:50 AM

Psalm 14:1

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Psalm 14:1

2-1-81    10:50 a.m.

And no less do we rejoice in the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled What Is Wrong With Being An Atheist?  In our long series on the great doctrines of the Bible, we are in the section on theology proper, on the theology of God.  And in the midst of that section is this sermon entitled What Is Wrong With Being An Atheist? 

If you will turn in your Bible to Psalm number 14 – the first verse is repeated in Psalm 53 – Psalm chapter 14, Psalm number 14: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  And the fifty-third Psalm repeats that same observation: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  It is one of the strangest phenomena that you could ever discover; that in the Bible, from beginning to ending, there is never any argument, any defense, any presentation, any forensic discussion concerning the existence, and the reality, and the being of God; never!  God is just presented, and that’s all.  “In the beginning God…” [Genesis 1:1], the Old Covenant starts off; the New Covenant begins in the same way: “In the beginning was the Logos,” the reason, the activity, the manifestation of God by whom He created all things.  “And that Logos was made flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” [John 1:1, 14, 17].  Never any defense, never any argument; just the avowal and the presentation of the might, and the wonder, and the glory, and the presence of God.  The only exception to that is the brief, almost contemptuous castigation and characterization of the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.”

In the presentation of God in the Bible, it’s just, “Here He is.  Look at Him.  Hear Him” [Matthew 17:5].  You have a kind of an instance like that when a man introduces the president of the United States.  The more insignificant and Lilliputian a man is, the longer is the necessity of his laborious introduction.  But when you present the president of the United States, it is always this: “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.”  That’s the way the Bible presents God.  No argument for His existence, no defense of His reality, no long, endless elaboration of whether He is or not; just “This is God!”

Well, as with you, I’ve turned over in my heart why it is that there is never an elaboration of the existence of God in the Bible; never any argument for His being; just this observation: “The fool says that He isn’t.”  So I’ve turned over in my mind why it is that there are no forensic discussions, elaborated apologies in the Bible defending the reality of God.  And as I study it, turn it over in my mind, these things to me are reasonably apparent why it is that God says: “It is just the fool that says in his heart, There is no God.”

Number one: the questions of the fool are inane and irrelevant.  They are ludicrous.  They are sometimes silly.  In the ancient Athenian world was a glorious, tremendous thinker and philosopher by the name of Plato.  He taught in the academy.  They called it the academy.  There Plato gathered his students; and I can see Plato as he stands there before those students, surrounded by the great masterpieces, the scrolls he had written, those Socratic dialogues, that incomparable piece of literature, The Republic.

Or I think, in the same ancient Athens, Aristotle standing in the Lyceum, his school, and his students, his pupils before him, and Aristotle is surrounded by the tremendous masterpieces, the scrolls he has written.  Physics and metaphysics, what is tangible; metaphysics, what is beyond what a man can touch, the tangible.  And I can see, in that ancient Athenian world, Zeno standing on the stoa speaking to his pupils, whom they call Stoics, and he is surrounded by the masterpieces of literature, the scrolls on fortitude.  And as Plato stands there in the midst of his masterpieces, a student stands up in the academy and says, “Do you exist?”  Or as Aristotle stands in the midst of the Lyceum, and one of his student’s stands up and looks at Aristotle in the midst of his great masterpieces and says, “Do you exist?”  Or as Zeno teaches on the stoa, and one of his Stoics stand up and looks at Zeno and says, “Do you exist?”  The fool!

I think of Raphael.  Raphael must have been one of the most beautiful of men; his face, his figure, his countenance was beautiful – his spirit, gentle and kind.  Everyone loved and admired Raphael, and he was one of the most gifted of all the painters of all time.  He built his home next to St. Peters, and there he had fifty students, fifty pupils.  And I can imagine Raphael standing in the midst of those tremendous masterpieces, The Coronation of the Virgin, The Adoration of the Magi, the Sistine Madonna, and I could think of one of those pupils standing up and looking at Raphael in the midst of his tremendous masterpieces and ask, “Do you exist?”  Or Rembrandt building his home on Breestraat in Amsterdam, surrounded by those tremendous masterpieces – Israel, Jacob blessing the two sons of Joseph, John the Baptist, Plato studying the bust of Homer – and then one of his pupils stands up and looks at Rembrandt and asks, “Do you exist?  Are you real?  Do you live?”  Or I could think of Thomas Alva Edison in the vast laboratory built for him in West Orange, New Jersey, and the incomparable inventor standing in the midst of his inventions – the electric light, the battery, the phonograph, a thousand others that bless our daily lives – and one of his pupils stands up and asks, “Edison, do you exist?”

The fool hath said in his heart: “God, You don’t exist!”  And yet, the Lord stands there before us, talking, walking, living, speaking, commanding, abjuring, pleading, blessing.  And He stands in the midst of His great masterpieces – “The very heavens declare the glory of God: Day unto day, the whole earth shows His marvelous handiwork” [Psalm 19:1] – and the fool asks, “Do You exist?”  What is wrong with being an atheist?  His questions are irrelevant, and impertinent, and sometimes insulting.  The great Francis Bacon, the greatest essayist of England, wrote a little sentence: “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism,” a little philosophy, “But depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to God.”

I want you to listen; I want you to listen to one of the shrewdest things I have ever read in my life.  It was written by John Foster, born in 1717, about an atheist:

The wonder turns on the great process by which a man could grow to the immense intelligence that can know there is no God.  This intelligence involves the very attributes of deity Himself.  For unless the man is omnipresent, in some place where he is not, there may be God.  If he does not know absolutely every agent in the universe, the one that he does not know may be God.  If he is not himself the chief agent in the universe and does not know what is so, that which is so, may be God.  If he is not in absolute possession of all the propositions that constitute universal truth, the one which he lacks may be that there is God.  If he cannot with certainty assign the cause of all that he perceives to exist, the cause that he may not know may be God.  If he does not know everything that has been done in the immeasurable ages of the past, the thing that he may not know in the immeasurable ages of the past could be God. Thus, unless he knows all things – that is, precludes another deity by being one himself – he cannot know that the being whose existence he rejects does not exist.

That guy was smart!  Let me say it another way, which may not be as smart but it sure does avow it: one of those fellows came up to a little boy and said, “Son, I’ll give you this big red apple if you’ll tell me where God is.”  And the little boy immediately replied, “Sir, mister, I’ll give you a whole barrel of them if you show me where He ain’t.”

Why does God say, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,” and then dismisses it?  The first thing that came to my heart as I thought: the questions of the fool are irrelevant.  They are inane.  The second thing that came to my heart: the speculations, the diatribes, the discussions, the affirmations, the forensics of the atheist are empty and sterile; they are vapid and void. One of the tremendous recurring and resounding notes in the Bible you’ll find in Psalm 111:10, in Proverbs 1:7, in Proverbs 9:10, and you know it so well: “The beginning of wisdom is,” you have it translated, “the fear of the Lord”; the beginning of wisdom is the reverential awe of God; the beginning of wisdom, the bowing before the great omnipotent Creator – that’s where it starts.

The fool in his avowals are sterile and empty.  One of these seniors in college said to a freshman who had just enrolled – he said to him, “What would you think if in ten minutes I gave you arguments that simply annihilate God?”  And the freshman replied, he said, “Sir, I would think the same thing as if a gnat were to climb up the side of Pike’s Peak and say, `Watch me in ten minutes pulverize this mountain with my left hind foot.'”  The arguments of the atheist are sterile and void.

A hop-toad and a green lizard in West Texas were watching an express train go hurling by, and the hop-toad said, “You know, they tell me that somebody made that train.  What idiocy!  It made itself.”  And the green lizard said, “You know, they tell me there is an engineer that drives that train.  What inanity!  It drives itself.”  And a red ant overheard their talking, and he climbed up on the top of a spike, and he said, “They tell me there is a president of this railroad system.  If there is, I defy him to come and strike me dead!”  God said, “The fool. Why should I take time to strike him dead?”

It’s a remarkable thing when you read the arguments of the atheists – the humanists, we call them today.  That’s a beautiful, nice, academic word for them: “the humanists.”  It’s a remarkable thing when you read them.  Never ever do they give an intelligent answer to the great mystery of the cosmos around us.  Never ever do they give an intelligent answer to the meaning of a man’s life and work in this earth.

On the other hand, it is a remarkable thing how that it is with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of the soul, that we penetrate into the deep, everlasting truth and mysteries of God and His creation.  The apostle Paul wrote of that in Romans 1:19-20: “That which may be known of God is manifest; for God hath showed it unto us.  For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,” isn’t that a contradiction in words?  “The invisible things are clearly seen”; if a thing is invisible, it’s not seen.  The apostle says, “The invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are; even the eternal power of the Godhead.”

When you look at that contradiction in terms, then you begin to understand the great truth of the world around you.  For there are invisible and unseen laws and powers that govern gravity, motion, physics, chemistry, dynamics, thermodynamics, biology over and beyond what our outward eyes see are great, invisible truths that guide and mold and control them.  And the man who is able to see with the eyes of his soul, with the eyes of faith, finds the secret of the universe in matter, or in mind, or in heart, or in soul, or in life, and it leads him to God.

I say the answers, the discussions, the metaphysics of the atheist are empty and sterile.  It’s kind of like drinking at a mirage that never quenches thirst.  It’s sort of like eating food of fancy that never satisfies hunger.  It’s like reading a book that has no meaning.  It’s like building a house without a plan.  It’s like running a train without an engineer.  It’s like living a life without purpose and without meaning.  God says, “It is a fool who says there is no God.”

Number three, as I think of that characterization – “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1] – not only are his questions irrelevant, and not only are his discussions vapid and void, but third: his character is bankrupt.  When I study the Bible preparing this message, I don’t know why, but the first time I realized that when Paul, in the third chapter of Romans, is presenting the truth of the depravity of humanity fallen – our minds are fallen, our emotions are fallen, our wills are fallen, our desires are fallen, our lives are fallen, we belong to a fallen race – when Paul is presenting that in the third chapter of the Book of Romans, he quotes this psalm; this is the psalm that he quotes [Romans 3:10-12].  What apparently God is saying to us, and according to the apostle Paul, is expounding it: when a man denies God, he floods the earth with evil and wickedness.  Isn’t that strange?  The incontrovertible and unalterable and irrevocable truth inevitably follows after when a people deny God, wickedness, wrong flood the land.  Character and God go together, and when a man leaves God out of his life and denies the existence of God, character rots.

Do you remember – I’m sure many of you do – when a television station in this city and a radio station in this city said, “We want you to come down here to the studio and debate Madalyn Murray O’Hair,” the most famous feminist atheist in America?  My people in this church said, “Pastor, don’t you do that.”  Well, it’s just one of those aberrations of pastoral response; I went down there and did it anyway. Well, went down there on that night; for four hours we were to debate.  And the first thing they did – they had another room, an anteroom from the studio, and in that anteroom they had the thing jammed full of reporters, and they were there from all over creation – and they took me and her, her and me, into the reporter’s room and sat us down at the front.  And so the man who was emceeing the evening, he said, “Now you reporters may now ask them any questions you desire.”  So a young fellow jumped up – he was the reporter from the Houston Chronicle – and he asked a question.  It lit her fuse!  It set fire to her shuck!  It hammered on her detonation cap; she blew up!  Oh, she turned vitriolic and livid! You know what the question was?  That young fellow from the Houston Chronicle turned to me, the first question, and he said, “Dr. Criswell, do you feel that you have stooped to condescend to debate that atheist sitting by you over there?”  Oh, she hit the ceiling!  It made her furious; I never had to answer.  I was going to answer nice.  Oh, I think that that’s so nice; I never got a word in.  She just took off.

So when we started into the debate, she was livid.  Oh, that woman was furious!  Well, because of the arrangement of the studio and the guests that were there, why, we had to sit close together.  I was seated by about three or four inches from her.  Well, in the four hours, why, there were commercials every fifteen minutes, and whenever those commercials would come along, she would talk to me throughout those commercials.  I can’t quote in mixed company what that critter said.  I grew up in the country.  I don’t know whether but that I would blush if I said what she told me all through that time in the outhouse.  A lot of you don’t live in the country; oh, it was a new experience to me.

And then last August, I read in the Dallas Morning News:

William Murray, son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, says miracles have happened in his life since he denounced atheism and gave his life to God.  Sixteen-year-old Murray was the plaintiff in his mother’s three year court battle that began in 1963, and resulted in the United States Supreme Court decision to ban state-mandated prayer in public schools.  He stunned the Christian community last month when he said he was born again into the Christian faith and made a public apology for his role in his mother’s suit.  “I began searching for meaning in my life, thinking surely there is something else beside this.  My self-search for communion and meaning brought me to my knees, and since then, there have been miracles in my life.  Alcohol has vanished.”

He was a drunkard; became a drunkard.

“Four packages of cigarettes vanished.”

The minister to whom he went to make his confession of faith said to him he ought to make amends.  That’s one of the great doctrines in the Bible, is restitution.  If you wrong somebody and you get right with God, ask them to forgive you.


“He said, I ought to make amends.  So I got back to Texas to apologize for the hurt I have done, and having done that, I feel a relaxation of the burden I’ve carried through all of this involvement.”

That’s that eldest son Bill.  And I have here a long article in a national magazine recording the conversion of that wonderful boy.  I haven’t time to read it.

We’re talking about the bankruptcy of character that goes, that attends and inevitably follows atheism.  So let’s go back to her, Madalyn Murray O’Hair.  This is a national publication of an interview with her:

I describe myself as a sexual libertarian: I will engage in sexual activity with any consenting male any damn time I well please.  Sex is where you find it.  I have had five affairs,

– now that was some time ago; I don’t know how many since –

I’ve had five affairs, all of them real wing-dingers.  I have enjoyed every damn minute of it.  I think young people should be able to have their first sexual love affair whenever they feel like it.  In the case of most girls, this would be around 13 or 14; with most boys, around 15 or 16.  Whenever they want to try it, they should be allowed to go at it without supervision or restriction, in their parent’s bedroom, on the grass in a park, it doesn’t matter, anywhere.

That is atheism: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1].

My time’s gone.  I wanted to stop there to speak about relativism, situational ethics, but I don’t have time. I have to conclude.

These four things, that I think, why God said that: the questions of the atheists are inane, irrelevant; the metaphysics, the speculative words, the defensive words of the atheists are empty and sterile; the third one, the atheist is bankrupt in character, for character, morality, righteousness is always grounded in Almighty God – wrong is wrong, right is right, forever, because God says it’s so.  Now the last one: why does God say “It is the fool who says there is no God”?  His ultimate end, his decease, his death is always ignoble.  It is never towering to the heavens, never.

In 1899 there was organized in London, England, the Society for the Advancement of Atheism.  Every year since, and it still exists, they have an annual banquet.  And at one of their banquets in recent years, the president for the Society for the Advancement of Atheism stood up, and he made a toast, and in the toast he referred to the apostle Paul, and he did so cutely.  He said, “To the apostle Paul, who was blinded on the road to Damascus and stayed blind ever since.”  That was cute, they thought.  They guffawed and they laughed and they applauded until the president who made the toast was seen to totter and to fall.  When they went to his assistance, he was dead, and the banquet fell into confusion and disarray and dismay.  That’s why God says the man is a fool who denies the Lord, who denies the faith.  Then that would mean that man is blessed who gives his heart to God, who loves the Lord, who rears his children in the love and nurture of Christ Jesus.

O Lord, what a God-blessed opened door You have set before us.  May we stand together?  Our wonderful and wonderful Savior, who could but praise Thy infinitely precious name?  It’s a glory road, it’s a highway to heaven.  The communion and the fellowship is precious, to have the Lord by our sides is infinitely dear, and to serve Thee is the highest privilege God could accord us.  With the angels in glory to sing Thy praises, with the apostles to witness to Thy saving grace, and to serve Thee and to love Thee in life down to old age, and in death to see those angels “coming for to carry us home,” ah, Lord, how could our hearts ever contain the abounding praise and love we offer unto Thee?

And while our people pray and we stand before God naming you – a family, a couple, or just one somebody you: “Pastor, today we’ve decided for the Lord, coming to be baptized as God asked us to do,” coming to put your life in the church, as the Spirit shall make appeal, answer, and God bless you as you come.  Thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest.  In Thy wonderful and saving name, amen.

Down that stairway if you are in the balcony, down this aisle if you are in this press of people on the lower floor, our deacons are here, our ministers are here to welcome you; come, God bless you, angels attend you as you come, while we sing, while we sing.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Psalm 14:1


The atheists questions are inane and irrelevant about God’s existence

A.   Famous philosophers’,
artists’, scientists’ existence not questioned

B.   God presents Himself
talking, revealing, explaining, speaking, judging, persuading, wooing, living

Atheist’s speculations are empty and sterile

Atheist’s character is bankrupt

The end, the ultimate destiny of an atheist in ignoble