Why is Atheism So Widespread?
Atheism means denying God’s existence, rejecting His commandments, avoiding religious reflection and seriousness, and considering oneself independent of Him. As such beliefs negate the concept of sin, people imagine that they can live as they please and thus begin to corrupt their hearts and minds. Atheism spreads because education is misused, young people are neglected, and schools defend and foster it.
Ignorance about the essentials of faith and religion is the primary cause of atheism. People whose minds, hearts, and souls are not directed toward the truth become vulnerable. Only God’s help and grace can save them. If a community does not counter this trend, its members’ hearts and minds open to deviation.
Atheism first manifests itself as a lack of interest in the principles of faith. Such people say this is a positive attitude, for it represents a desire for the mind’s independence and freedom of thought. As the demands of faith are strenuous, indifference turns toward what is easier. Seeking to avoid honest and serious reflection, it easily falls into neglect and then heedlessness, atheism, and even contempt for religion. Given this, atheism is not the result of sound reasoning, intuition or experience, or scientific truth, but of a lazy yet sometimes active and militant mood of not caring and of rebellion.
God’s countless manifestations testify that there is only One Creator and Governor who administers, directs, and sustains this universe. We may think of each manifestation as a letter or book from God to us, reflecting His Divine Attributes in a comprehensible way. These Attributes are seen everywhere in creation. However, some who do not understand these things correctly present nature, as well as it principles and relationships, in ways designed to make many people (especially the young) abandon true faith.
Does Science Support Atheism?
Much has been said and written about the natural world’s delicate balance and innumerable subtle harmonies. Such an order can be attributed only to the All-Mighty. Planets and stars move within an interrelated complexity of drifts and orbits that are infinitely more precise than anything we can design or make. If what we make is accepted as evidence of intelligent design, why is the far more vast and complicated universe considered an exception?
Nature resembles a huge factory of enormous generative power. Its working principles are astonishingly subtle and supple, yet firmly established in reassuring patterns and rhythms. From where does nature get these operating rules? Claims that nature is self-created are not convincing. Of course one of the operating rules is a measure of self-organizing power. But what is the origin of this rule?
Principles are non-essential attributes of a thing or being and, as such, are secondary and dependent on substance and essence. Attributes cannot exist before or independently of the compound or organism of which they are attributes. Thus if a plant demonstrates some self-organizing power by seeking light, moisture, and nutrients for its growth, it means that a limited self-organizing power has been embedded in its seed. Similarly, the principle of attraction in physics operates in and through existent masses, distances, and forces. To claim that such principles are the origin or source of existent things or beings is untenable. Just as untenable is the confidence with which such claims are asserted. To claim that this extraordinarily subtle and ordered universe is the outcome of haphazard coincidences is absurd, contradictory, and quite unscientific, for no evidence supports this claim.
As the result of long experiments and reflection, Muller declared that reason could not explain the origin of life.1 He established, on behalf of science and scientists, the absurdity of “coincidence” as a possible explanation. Similarly, after a 22-year series of studies, the Soviet Institute of Chemistry, under the chairmanship of Aleksandr Oparin, proved that the laws of chemistry and chemical reactions shed no light on the origin of life, and that science still has no answer to this question (2).
When these scientists acknowledged the limitations to human inquiry, they did so on behalf of all science and scientists. Yet such work has not undone the damage done by earlier, less careful scientists, who offered guesses as reliable scientific theory. Unfortunately, general attitudes and values continue to be shaped by such guesses instead of the realities established by better scientists.
For example, many textbooks and encyclopedias continue to present Darwin’s theory of evolution as fact instead of theory. Meanwhile, a growing number of scientists, particularly evolutionists, argue that Darwin’s theory is not a truly scientific theory. Many critics admit that we still have no idea how this evolution took place. While scientists and other experts have produced various ideas about probable causes and the actual process, the general public and less-informed scientists continue to believe in this theory.
Research projects and published studies cast doubt on evolution and seek to give a truer picture of nature as creation and our place in it. Works like Why Do We Believe in God? Help those who considered non-believers in evolution as rather odd people reconsider their opinion and reflect more wisely on the matter.
Given the fact that a sound, reliable understanding of the natural world leads to belief in a single, universal Creator, atheism has more to do with obstinacy, prejudice, and a refusal to give up illusions than with the mind’s independence or freedom of thought. Young people remain vulnerable, for they do not fully understand their behavior’s nature and consequences, their spiritual being and their resulting deep-seated spiritual needs, and the balance between material and non-material values that characterizes a total human existence. Thus they are easily deceived by outdated concepts presented as “scientific” truths, although scientists know (and have said) that they are no more than theories. This is why teaching and learning about the truth are more important today than other duties and obligations.
If this vital task is not taken up, we may be unable to rectify the situation later on. Some of those evil consequences are with us already. We, this unlucky generation, are deprived of good teachers—teachers possessing inner unity and harmony of mind and heart, self-knowledge in their deepest thoughts and feelings, a desire to teach others, and a willingness to suffer to promote others’ happiness and welfare. We hope such noble-minded teachers will arise to rescue people from their current moral and spiritual suffering.
If this can be done, present and future generations will acquire the necessary stability in their thinking and reasoning about life’s great questions. They will be able to resist the lure of false beliefs and illusions, and thereby be saved from the anxiety of constantly doubting the nature and purpose of their lives. They will be immunized, at least partially, against atheism and its attendant self-centered and neurotic behaviors. Atheism is caused by a lack of knowledge and learning, an inability to synthesize one’s inner and outer life, and is the result of an undernourished heart and soul. People cling to what they know, and resist what they do not know—or at least try to remain uninterested and unconcerned.
The mass media continually presents ideas, lifestyles, and character types that encourage self-indulgence and self-abandonment. Such messages encourage young people to become punks or whatever the latest craze is; to seek immediate gratification and pleasure; and to prefer triviality and banality, loudness and
vulgarity to cultivating their minds.
People quickly adopt ways considered exciting and attractive. What they do not know becomes even more strange and alien, and eventually a matter of total indifference. Thus we have to find effective ways of introducing young people to the deeper ways of religious life, ways that lead toward tranquility and light, and away from anxiety and darkness.
Young people are excitable and susceptible. They crave limitless freedom and have countless unsatisfied appetites and desires. Their overly generous hearts and minds cause imbalance and disharmony, which can lead them toward atheism. They prefer immediate pleasure, however slight or brief, to the misery and distress that come in the wake of indulgence. They jump at the pleasures and enjoyments that Satan displays to them, and so prepare their own calamity. They fly to the fire of atheism just as moths are drawn to light.
While ignorance and unfed hearts and souls increase, materialism and carnality gradually subvert the desire for truth and annul any nobility of purpose. This is what happened with Faust.3 This man, who desired extraordinary powers to do whatever he wished for a limited period, sold his soul cheaply to Mephistopheles, Satan’s agent. He then wasted these powers by pursuing trivial pleasures instead of serving humanity.
When the soul is dead, the heart dies, compassion disappears, and the mind and reason become so confused that people become helpless victims of their own whims or current fads. Those who indulge in carnal and sensual passions will suffer crises and change direction continually, applaud every new fashion in thought as if it were the truth, and swing from one ideology to another—from confusion to doubt and back again. Faith, a steady sense of duty, or a patient and enduring heart will not attract them.
Nor will they find any merit in moral education, self-discipline, contemplation, the soul’s improvement, or strengthening their morals and manners. Wholly addicted to triviality and self-indulgence, they will deny our ancestors’ achievement and remain willfully ignorant of what real culture and civilization can make possible: a balance between spirituality and sanity, between virtue and happiness.
As not everyone can be saved, we should focus on educating those young people who have not yet been overtaken by the worst habits. We must teach them the fundamental principles of the system upon which we depend and to which our existence belongs. We must lead them to a systematic, straight, and honest way of thinking. If we cannot, we will see our community or nation continue to sink into moral and spiritual corruption.
An additional cause of atheism is the deliberate rejection of all constraints and prohibitions. This tendency entered Muslim societies from Western Europe via a degenerate form of existentialism (mainly French) that replaced traditional values and formal religious education with absolute individual freedom. The theory was that the individual would (and could) mature and develop into a noble, moral being through personal experience.
This theory has never produced sane, caring, and compassionate people. All it has done is intensify misery and selfishness by isolating individuals from their families, traditions, and their selves. Its adherents cultivate no morals or tastes and do not try to find the truth, for all they are interested in is their own shallow private life. In short, they simply survive from moment to moment in the illusory hope of one day finding happiness.
These few reflections do not cover the whole subject. Yet I hope that future guides, teachers, and leaders with discernment and foresight will consider them when trying to stop the spread of deviation and atheism. I have presented a brief insight, with the prayer that some people may be alerted to the truth, conquer the self, and regain the means to do what is good.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
FAQ on Atheism
- Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin (d. 1980): Russian biochemist noted for his studies on the origin of life from chemical matter. By drawing on the insights of chemistry, he extended the Darwinian theory of evolution backward in time to explain how simple organic and inorganic materials might have combined into complex organic compounds and how the latter might have formed the primordial organism. (www.britannica.com)
- Hermann Joseph Muller (d. 1967): American geneticist best remembered for his demonstration that mutations and hereditary changes can be caused by X rays striking the genes and chromosomes of living cells. His discovery of artificially induced mutations in genes had far-reaching consequences, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1946. (www.britannica.com)
- Written by Goethe (d. 1832), this classic work is the story of a person’s spiritual journey and self-discovery.