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The Negative Implications of Atheism13 min read

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Denis Diderot

Intellectual atheism has it roots in the the late 1700’s, where courageous thinkers like Baron d’Holbach and Denis Diderot first began to outline their arguments for a godless universe, with considerable pushback from deists and Christians, who dominated the intellectual scene.

Diderot and Holbach primarily focused on advocating for atheism and secularism, emphasizing the importance of reason, science, and humanism in understanding the world and guiding ethical behavior. Of course, the Deists like Francis Bacon were also advocating for the same things, and humanism itself had grown out of the previous Christian humanism movement led by great thinkers like Erasmus.

What they neglected was the need to be critical of atheism, and like the later and arguably greater atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, grapple with the negative implications of atheism, such as the existential crisis precipitated by the decline of religious belief and the logical implications of atheism such as nihilism and subjective morality.

Modern atheists, in my experience, seem to shy away from such honesty and intellectual self-awareness as well. So I thought I’d summarize the negative logical implications of atheism, and its isolation from the rest of knowledge and reality.

1. How atheists avoid being self-critical

One of my criticisms of many atheists is that they fail to think through the implications of atheism, showing an entire lack of intellectual curiosity or rigor in evaluating such a belief. They usually take one of two tactics.

1.1 Hiding in Personal Atheism

The first dodge is to retreat to a reductionist personal atheism. That is, they claim that their atheism is “merely a lack of faith in God.” Such a claim about their subjective mental state means that they are not making an objective claim about the existence of God, just their personal lack of belief. And since they are not making an objective claim, they don’t have to defend or be critical of it.

To a certain extent, they are really just proclaiming agnosticism with respect to the objective existence of God, and rightly claiming that it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God. But their mistake, even with such a conservative claim, is that they then use this reductionist definition to avoid examining the logical implications of such a belief or reality. “My definition means just that, there are no other implications.”

1.2 Hiding in the Burden of Proof

Some of the bolder atheists will profess philosophical atheism,1 claiming that it is objectively true that God does not exist. However, they will often claim that since they are claiming a negative, they have no burden of proof – only the theist who is making the positive claim has such a burden. I have argued otherwise in Does Atheism Carry a Burden of Proof?

More importantly, though, is that such atheists fail to be intellectually critical of atheism as an idea. Like the personal atheists, they may claim a simplistic, limited “mere lack of belief” stance, or rely on the “no required burden of proof argument.”

Even though they claim that this is an objective truth, they often don’t seem to have considered that such an assumption has clear logical implications, and these need to be evaluated for their verity using such typical methods as logic, pragmatics, and integration with other systems of science and knowledge, including the physical and biological sciences, anthropology and psychology, philosophy of law, justice and government, and morals and ethics.

To propose that their important assumption is true while not trying to integrate it with the other knowledge atheists have is an intellectual failure. And in this abstention, they fail to demonstrate the rigor and responsibility expected of those who make such philosophical claims.

2. The Potential Negative Implications of Atheism

The following are the nearly certain logical and historical implications of atheism. Thinking atheists can argue these, but to ignore them is a mistake.

2.1 Lack of Cosmic Justice

The denial of an ultimate divine judge or an afterlife where justice is served could be seen as removing any guarantee of cosmic justice or accountability for immoral actions in this life. Atheists may confess that this is “just reality,” but such a view leads away from acts of forgiveness based on the belief in ultimate justice, and certainly supports the view that we ought to take justice into our own hands, and that we have no consequences for doing evil if not caught.

This does not mean that atheism is untrue, but it is a logical viewpoint resulting from atheism, which could count against it if we are evaluating atheism using pragmatic outcomes.

2.2 Reduction of Human Value

Without a divine source of a hierarchy of value, philosophical atheism may reduce the inherent value and dignity of human life, treating it as merely a product of random natural processes. In addition, we have witnessed that atheistic Darwinism had led logically to eugenics and racism, considering black Africans as more ape-like (and so less-evolved and perhaps not even fully human).

Atheists may argue that this is an abuse of Darwinism, but atheism’s materialistic and subjective morality has no way to really argue for either human rights, nor the value of humans over animals or plants. By comparison, Christianity’s basic unit of value is the free individual, and this led to the Lockean presumption that a limited government needed a long list of protected individual rights that required protection from the society and government.

2.3 Erosion of Hope and Inspiration

Certainly, the lack of a foundation for meaning (above) is a risk under atheism, a foundation which theism provides. Along with the loss of meaning, atheism removes the perspective that faith and hope provide for great works of service: the recompense for doing good motivates great works of sacrifice beyond what one might pursue if they believed that no reward for privations was coming. Again, this does not disprove atheism, but it is one of the logical impacts of such a belief.

2.4 Undermining of Social Cohesion

Certain religious traditions and belief systems have historically played a role in providing shared values, traditions, and social cohesion. Atheism struggles to provide any kind of community, though it has been attempted through secular churches and social organizations. But a lack of any well-developed system of values and practices may not develop a strong cohesion or attendance.

2.5 Loss of Objective Meaning and Purpose

Theists and Christian philosophers who have examined the human condition have concluded, among other things, that the highest happiness and contentment that humans can have is in experiencing and becoming good, that is, virtuous. And because God is the ultimate good, the ultimate happiness is to experience God and become like Him. The following quotes capture this reality:

True happiness flows from the possession of wisdom and virtue and not from the possession of external goods. (Aristotle,  Politics)

Happiness is the reward of virtue. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 5, Art. 3)

One’s virtue is all that one truly has, because it is not imperiled by the vicissitudes of fortune. (Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy)

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. (Westminster Catechism)

The highest good of the mind is the knowledge of God, and the highest virtue of the mind is to know God. (Benedict De Spinoza, Ethics)

Atheism not only removes this ultimate source of happiness, it may be removing any objective source of meaning, and purpose becomes purely subjective, leading to potential existential crises or nihilism. Philosophical atheism may struggle to provide an objective basis for inherent meaning or purpose in the universe.

2.6 Moral Relativism Inexorably Leading to Autocracy

Objective morals must be grounded in a referent outside of human opinion – an authority that has the right and power to command duties and consequences. This grounding is typically called moral ontology. Atheism removes this referent, and fails to establish a new one, though attempts have been done to ground morals in desirism or Kantian ethics, but they all boil down to epistemology, not ontology. In the end, the most logical outcome of atheism is subjective moralism.

This is probably one of the most dangerous, if not heinous realities of atheism that has predictable and destructive results. In both logic and history, there is a nearly inevitable progression from national atheism (as opposed to individual atheism) to autocracy which goes like this:

1. Moral Relativism: If philosophical atheism leads to a rejection of objective moral truths or divine moral edicts, it could foster a form of moral relativism where moral values and principles are seen as purely subjective and culturally relative.

2. Subjectivism in Ethics: With moral relativism, ethical frameworks become based on individual or communal preferences, desires, and subjective assessments of well-being or utility.

3. Utilitarianism and Consequentialism: In the absence of objective moral foundations, ethical theories like utilitarianism and consequentialism, which focus on maximizing aggregate happiness or well-being for the greatest number, typically gain prominence. They appear to be both qualitatively and quantitatively correct. But they begin the drift away from individual rights.

4. State-Defined Morality: If ethical principles are seen as subjective and based on maximizing utility, and God is removed as any kind of moral authority, the state or governing authority typically claims the power to define and enforce a unified moral code based on its interpretation of what constitutes the “greater good” or maximizes utility for society.

5. Concentration of Power: With the state determining and enforcing a utilitarian moral code, and with no other declaration of individual rights or limitations on state power (typical under atheist “republics”), power becomes concentrated in the hands of those who control the definition of “well-being” and “utility.” This often leads to the suppression of individual rights and freedoms in the name of maximizing the “greater good” as defined by the state.

6. Authoritarianism: In all known historical cases, this concentration of power and state-defined morality in atheist regimes paves the way for authoritarianism that justifies oppressive policies, human rights violations, or even atrocities under the guise of maximizing utility or serving the “greater good” as they define it.

This pattern has happened under every single nation that uses atheism as one of its pillars – in China alone, atheistic communism killed over 100 million of it’s own citizens. This progression is not inevitable, but it is predictable and logical.  And from observation, seems close to inevitable.

However, many philosophical atheists and secular ethicists have developed frameworks for objective moral reasoning and individual rights without relying on religious or divine sources. But the potential dangers of moral relativism and the importance of establishing well-reasoned, objective moral foundations that safeguard individual autonomy and prevent the concentration of power in the hands of the state or any authority claiming to define morality solely based on subjective utility calculations are real historical and current dangers.


The assumption of atheism has genuine, logical implications and dangers that have manifested clearly in history, including the lowering of human value, eugenics, racism (though those are based not only on subjective moralism and the reduction of the human value intrinsic to atheism, but on Darwinism), and the inevitable slide to autocracy and justification of cruelty.

Atheists have attempted to ameliorate these weaknesses by tying their wagons to humanism, but atheism’s subjective moralism makes such an association incongruent and ill-fitting. Atheism has to borrow its ethics from Christianity to survive. The Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer observed that secularist atheists must essentially borrow their morals and ethics, since their stance does not produce any, and may be counter to sound ethics and morals.

The secularists have no real answers to ethical questions. All they can do is to borrow; to borrow from the theistic base of the Christian consensus which exists and which they have inherited. Thus in areas of art and music, in literature and in culture as a whole, the Christian consensus has been so strong that the secularist has been able to live off the ethical and cultural capital provided by the Christian consensus. But the humanist is doing so in an unsatisfactory way.” (Schaeffer, Escape from Reason)

  1. Atheism and Agnosticism ([]