The Atheist Syndrome and the Suppression of Truth


Wishful Thinking and a Syndrome of Unbelief

John P. Koster, Jr., in his provocative book The Atheist Syndrome, convincingly demonstrates that a great many of the famous atheists had difficult or non-existent relationships with their earthly fathers. Thus, it appears that they attempted to take out their hurt and frustration on the heavenly Father by vigorously disbelieving in His existence. Koster documents that the ranting and raving of atheists such as Nietzsche, Freud, Huxley, Darwin, Ingersoll, Clarence Darrow, Hitler, and others were the result of an unhealthy relationship or lack of a relationship with their earthly fathers. This fueled their wishful thinking. Koster goes on to establish that these relationships led to mental illness in many of them, hence the “Atheist Syndrome.” Koster brings this point to our attention:

Materialists and atheists will, of course, be offended if we suggest that their heroes were actually insane, and their attack on God…was a deranged fantasy and not an explanation of scientific knowledge. But…Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud had many hallmarks of mental illness stamped on their personality. In point of fact, a careful study of their biographies in light of improved scientific knowledge may reveal not only that each man was mentally ill, but that each man suffered the same form of mental illness. It was this mental illness that led each of them to pervert science into an attack on God.7

Koster goes on to tell how the nineteenth-century Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley rebelled against God because he was “tormented and beaten in a religiously-oriented school.” Huxley and Freud revolted against the Almighty because they were “son-victims” and actually relieved their symptoms of mental illness by “raving against Christianity.” Huxley called his sedition against the Holy “crib-biting,” and this raving produced physical and mental wellness and improved digestion. For Huxley, raging war against God cheered him up and improved his health. Koster reports how Freud, so diseased that his flesh was putrefying and rotting away, the stench repelling even his faithful dog, still kept his pen in hand to “hammer away on his final book, Moses and Monotheism, a book that assaults the foundations of the Biblical faith.”

Koster observes some troubling similarities between these atheists that brought them to their worldview – Koster names the parallels “the Atheist Syndrome.” As Koster’s “big four” are Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud—all rigid anti-theists. Koster observes that the Atheist Syndrome is a three-step process. The emotional disorder begins in a childhood where the relationship with the future atheist’s father was truly bad, gone, or deceased. The second step of the Atheist Syndrome, he flees from his home in selected ways to become his own autonomous person. Thirdly, in the atheist’s life there is a growing psychosomatic illnesses that rule much of their lives.

Atheist Syndrome helps cause these atheists to grow up to begrudge and hate their fathers, and eventually projected that hatred towards their heavenly Father’s and their biological father’s religion. This bitterness and hatred became the driving force of their philosophy and work.

Regrettably, these atheistic concepts lead to horrendous consequences, and the bloodiest century in history in the 20th century. Koster shows the distressing truth that mass-murderers Lenin, Mau, and Stalin were predisposed and compelled by atheism to murder almost 100 million people in the name of atheism.

The truth seems to be, in fact, that the human spirit really is more powerful than the biochemistry of the brain.

Vitz on Atheism

Paul C. Vitz’s The Faith of the Fatherless demonstrates that, once children become “disappointed in or [lose] respect for [their] earthly father[s], belief in a heavenly father is impossible.”8 He goes on to reveal that all these famous atheists, from Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell, had either very troubled relationships with their fathers or no father at all in their lives. Hume’s father died when he was two years old, Russell’s when he was four, Sartre’s and Camus’ at one, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s when he was a young teen. H. G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Stalin, and Freud all had difficult and troubling relationships with their earthly fathers; this apparently was a vital aspect of what led them to reject their heavenly Father.

Vitz argues that the relationship children have with their fathers profoundly affects how they view God. Fathers who abandon or mistreat their kids tend to end up with children who deny the heavenly Father. So psychologist Paul Vitz discovered that the childhoods of more than a dozen of the world’s most influential atheists had terrible fathers or one’s who were gone. All these famous atheists have one thing in common: defective relationships father. These fathers of future atheist were feeble, abusive, or died when the children were young. Vitz points to Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher whose writings influenced everyone from Adolf Hitler to the Columbine killers. Nietzsche was extremely close to his dad, a Lutheran pastor who died of a brain disease when his son was 5. “Nietzsche often spoke positively of his father and of his death as a great loss which he never forgot,” Vitz says in his new book, “Faith of the Fatherless.” “But “he also saw him as weak and sickly.” It is not hard, Vitz observes, “to view Nietzsche’s rejection of God and Christianity as a rejection of the weakness of his father.” French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre also fits the defective father theory: His father died when Jean-Paul was a baby. “Jean-Paul was obsessed with fatherhood all his life,” Vitz says. “His father’s absence was such a painful reality that Jean-Paul spent a lifetime trying to deny the loss and build a philosophy in which the absence of a father and of God is the very starting place for the ‘good’ or ‘authentic’ life.” Sigmund Freud reviled his father, a frail man who was unable to support his family. Freud associated his father to the heavenly Father

Atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair hated her father—one time she attacked her father with a butcher knife. Voltaire, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Kate Millett–these intellectuals, too, were children of deceased, feeble, abusive, or absent fathers.

Atheism: Pilfered Essentials from Theism 

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created, that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. … And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Colossians 1:15-17).

Without God, apically one cannot make sense of anything, even the very question of God’s existence. In the words of the old folk slogan, “It doesn’t take a doctor of veterinary medicine to know when a dead skunk is on the road.” Only with theism as the substratum for existence can we make sense out of the world. To allege that God does not exist requires God to exist to make the allegation. Greg Bahnsen exhibits this truth with the following illustration:

A person [who] argues that air doesn’t exist will, all the while, breathe the air while he is arguing; yet, if what he said were true, he couldn’t breathe at all. The theory that air doesn’t exist would mean that you wouldn’t be breathing. He could say you must be wrong about that because I’m arguing that air doesn’t exist, and I am breathing. In reality, continuing to breathe disproves his theory, because he cannot account for his breathing. If he were right that air doesn’t exist, it would be impossible to breathe.9

When you ask the atheist, “Where do the unchanging laws of truth come from?” he will lack an ultimate answer with explanatory clout. The laws of logic are not material; they do not consist of atoms and molecules. The strict materialistic atheist attempts to demonstrate that only material substances exist in the universe, and when he uses immaterial logic he is countering his own position.

The Transcendental Condition

The true and living God exists and this allows us to account for the intricate and distinct interdependence of particulars in the united cosmos. That is one reason Anslem maintained, “I believe in order that I may understand.”

Van Til employed the following illustration: “We cannot prove the existence of the beams underneath the floor if by proof you mean that they must be ascertainable in a way that we can see the chairs and the tables of the room. But the very idea of the floor as a support for the tables and chairs requires the idea of beams underneath. But, there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus, there is absolute certain proof for the existence of God…Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christianity to account for their own accomplishments.”10 In the end, no one can make sense of anything in the world without presupposing the existence of God. The person who denies the existence of God makes use of the laws of reason to articulate his disbelief, yet he is absent a consistent justification for his use of them.

Anyone attempting to escape the truth that God exists falls into a trap. This point is well made in Van Til’s illustration of a man made of water, who is trying to climb out of the ocean by means of a ladder made of water. The man cannot get out of the water; nothing is left for him to stand on. In the same way, without God, one cannot make sense of anything. The atheist has nothing to stand on, climb, or grip. The transcendent God provides the necessary precondition for logic, science, morality, etc., in which case those who oppose the faith are reduced to absurdity.11

Moral Absolutes Originate in God

Without God, in principle, murdering someone would just be the displacement of the atoms of the murder victim to another form. The victim is just a non-survivor. There is nothing wrong with adding water to dirt and making mud or raking leaves and tossing them into a fire; the atoms of the dirt and the leaves just take on different forms. The murder victim, if only made up of physical atoms, would simply be changed into another form. Dirt, leaves, and a human being are in the long term, under the materialist worldview, all the similar. The famous atheist and libertine Bertrand Russell, in his unconvincing book Why I’m Not A Christian, mused: “The world I should wish to see would be one freed from the virulence of group hostilities and capable of realizing happiness for all.” The question I would ask the former atheist, who died in 1972 (death makes one an instant theist), is: Why? Why should the world pursue that? The atheist has no ultimate justification for affirming moral realism as well as unchanging “oughts.”

Moral laws are immaterial unchanging realities (a feature of some approaches to moral realism) that presuppose an immaterial unchanging God who has the wisdom adjoined with authority to decree and enact them. Without God as the moral lawgiver, there cannot be unchanging immaterial moral laws. A holy, wise, and good God is the personal truth condition for true, eternal, immaterial, and irreducible realities called moral laws. Rigid materialistic atheism cannot account for irreducible immaterial entities that are to incessantly govern human behavior.

Without a sovereign God issuing laws that are based on His perfect character, one has no definitive motivation to obey the law simply because obedience is morally good. Leave God out of the picture and one only obeys the law because of the fear of possible penal sanction and civil punishment. When the civil authorities are not looking, one can steal, lie, and cheat with impunity. It is essential that there be a sovereign God with universal reach to obey out of goodness to please the One who sees all. We have strong motivation to follow laws, when no one is looking, if the laws are intrinsically good and come from a good, all-seeing God, a God who commands humanity to love Him by obeying His commandments (John 15). When you take away the character and authority of God to enact laws, you are not absolutely obliged to obey them out of mere virtue and rightness.

Moral Law and Truth

Most individuals acknowledge some system of moral norms (for the uncommon few who try to deny moral obligations, see the argument below). Here is a simple syllogism:

1. If theism is true, then we have an objective immutable foundation for objective immutable moral standards and obligations.

2. If theism is false, then we do not have an objective immutable foundation for objective immutable moral standards and obligations.

3. There are objective immutable moral values and obligations (e.g. the prohibition to murder babies for fun; the prohibition to launch a massive nuclear attack to kill all life).

4. Therefore theism is true.

Ultimately atheism just does not ground objective moral standards that most people uphold. With theism we plainly have an objective immutable foundation for an objective immutable moral standard.

If atheism is correct, then there is no unchanging footing for the affirmation of unchanging objective moral values; and there is no ground for unchanging objective moral obligations for the reason that there exists no transcendent unchanging moral lawmaker. Therefore atheism is deprived of an adequate ontic foundation to provide unchanging objective moral standards and obligations (atheism rests upon the solitary material cosmos; the material cosmos is in constant flux, it is always changing and devoid of universal authority; God is unchanging and has universal reach).

If one denies that moral absolutes exist, one would be faced with the awkward problem of morally demanding that others “ought” to affirm the denial against an absolute moral law. Thus the denial itself becomes an absolute moral law. If one does not have to affirm the denial absolutely, then it is not universally and absolutely true, and thus it is false in some places at some intervals. The attempt to deny absolute moral law in selected ways affirms it (for more see my book There Are Moral Absolutes at: