Why You Don’t Ever Have to Apologize to an Atheist

In her interview with marathon swimmer Diana Nyad — the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage — Oprah Winfrey said she believed in something greater than herself but did not go so far as to say that she believed in a personal god.

Nyad said that she was an atheist but found herself “in awe” of the cosmos. Oprah could not understand how someone who could be so awestruck by the vastness and beauty of the cosmos could not believe in a god-like entity.

“I don’t call you an atheist, then,” Winfrey said. “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery — that is what God is . . .  God is not the bearded guy in the sky.” Oprah is as confused as Nyad as this exchange shows:

“I think you can be an atheist who doesn’t believe in an overarching being who created all of this and sees over it,” Nyad said. “But there’s spirituality because we human beings, and we animals, and maybe even we plants, but certainly the ocean and the moon and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.”

Winfrey agreed: “Well, I believe that and feel that so deeply. It’s why every time I enter my yard or leave, I say, ‘Hello trees!’”

Contrary to all her protestations, Nyad is not an atheist. “So to me,” Nyad told Oprah, “my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.” Nyad has her own version of religion. All so-called atheists transfer their belief in the God they truly know and suppress (Rom 1:18–23; cf. Ps. 14:1) to a belief system of their own making: “For they exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (1:25).

This confused and bizarre exchange outraged atheists. They want an apology from Oprah for denigrating their belief system. They’re offended. How can globs electrically charged globs of matter that will one day return to the ground and become “dust in the wind” be offended? The elements of the Periodic Table are not offended when they’re used to make a destructive atomic weapon or a batch of methamphetamine.

The elements that make up the human body aren’t offended at anything. How can the combination of some of those elements express “awe” and “love” as Nyad claims for her brand of religion?

For an atheist, humans, animals, and plants are nothing but matter and electricity. Of course, no atheist actually lives consistently within the confines of the materialist belief system, no matter how hard he tries. Lester Frank Ward argues that “nature has neither feeling nor will, neither consciousness nor intelligence,”1 and yet he wrote this sentence to be understood, and in doing so exhibited an intelligence that matter alone does not exhibit.

Even atheist high priest Richard Dawkins can’t live consistently with his atheist assumptions:

“All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation. And it’s exactly this feeling of spine-shivering awe — almost worship this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide.”

This is not science; it’s religion.

Atheists need to get consistent with what they say they believe. Matter and electricity can’t be offended. There is no need to apologize to them. Atheism means never having to say you’re sorry.

  1. Lester Frank Ward, Dynamic Sociology; or Applied Social Science, as Based Upon Statistical and the Less Complex Sciences, 2 vols. (New York: Appleton, [1883] 1907, 2:12. Quoted in Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, rev. ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), 298. []
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