A lot of ink has been spilled over whether God exists. Within this context, some theists like to point out that "God has made it plain" that he exists, that "God's invisible qualities … have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20). They urge us to remember that the "heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Ps. 19:1). In a recent Christianity Today article, Jim Spiegel cites these passages and writes: "This naturally prompts the question: If the evidence for God is so abundant, then why are there atheists?"
Spiegel asserts that for many atheists, it's not "cool, rational inquiry" that led to their atheism. Rather, in many cases it's complex moral and psychological factors that produce atheism. For example, Spiegel points to research suggesting that some prominent atheists had broken, defective relationships with their fathers. Others live in perpetual disobedience and rebellion—resisting lifestyle changes required upon adopting theism. And still others confess that they just don't want there to be a God. Spiegel contends that immorality has cognitive consequences—it impedes one's ability to recognize that theism is true.
No doubt he's right. Surely some people accept atheism due in part to such powerful motivational factors. For some atheists, it's not merely a matter of evidence. Yet, as Spiegel grants, these motivational explanations don't hold for all atheists. Consider some of the personal essays found in Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, edited by Louise Antony. Some testify that their move from theism to atheism came at tremendous personal cost and required ...1