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#32 Apatheism

November 26, 2007
Q

After just one visit to your fine site, I’m reasonably sure that I can demonstrate to the atheist that his position is untenable. However, I’ve recently come across a person that describes himself as an apatheist. After a little research, I find that all of my arguments that I can come up with will be responded by, “Your God’s not relevant, and it doesn’t matter to me.”

This guy may be a lost cause, however, he has a large following. How can I confidently present the case for God, anytime a discussion that touches Christianity or for that matter any other faith, on his site?

Thanks for your time.

Mike

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

This is the second time this week that I’ve heard someone use this solecism to describe his views on the existence of God. Must be the newest trend among unbelievers!

“Apatheism” (presumably from “apathy” + “theism”) characterizes people who just don’t care whether or not God exists.

As such, apatheism is not a truth claim and so can be neither true nor false. It asserts nothing and denies nothing. It is merely an attitude or a psychological state of indifference with respect to God’s existence.

It follows that the apatheist has nothing to offer by way of refutation of your arguments for God’s existence. In response to your case, he merely says, “I don’t care.” The soundness of your arguments remains unaffected by his lack of interest. So you can continue to present your arguments confidently, knowing that his apathy in no way calls into question the truth of your premisses or the validity of your inferences.

In fact, it would be interesting to see what your friend would say if you were to respond to his apatheism by saying, “I realize that you don’t care whether or not God exists. But do you think He does exist? Since it doesn’t matter to you, you can be totally objective. So what do you think? Is there a God?” He may reveal that he’s really an atheist or agnostic after all, and then you can ask him for his reasons for believing as he does.

On the other hand, if he merely continues to repeat that he just doesn’t care, say to him, “Hmm, that’s odd! Even most atheists recognize that God’s existence would make a tremendous difference to mankind. Why don’t you care?”

At this point he’s got to say something like your friend’s remark: “Your God’s not relevant, and it doesn’t matter to me.” Now this response is astonishing. To be relevant is to have practical consequences, to make a difference. To my mind anybody who thinks Christianity is irrelevant either is using the word “irrelevant” in an idiosyncratic sense or else, frankly, is just not a very deep thinker. (Of course, if Christianity is not true, then it’s not relevant. But then, presumably, the reason it doesn’t matter to him is not because it’s irrelevant but because it’s not true. But I find it bewildering that anyone could think that Christianity might be true and yet be irrelevant.) To the superficial person Christianity may not seem relevant because he never thinks to ask the deep questions about life.

So invite him to think about the question, “IF Christianity were true, what consequences would it have for your life? What difference would it make?” I think that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant to our lives. I’ve tried to deal with this question in my talks and writing on “The Absurdity of Life without God.” Let me therefore simply list six ways in which Christianity is relevant if true.

1. If Christianity is true, there is meaning to your life.
2. If Christianity is true, there are objective moral values and duties in life.
3. If Christianity is true, there is a purpose to your life.
4. If Christianity is true, there is hope for deliverance from the shortcomings of our finite existence, such as suffering, ageing, and death.
5. If Christianity is true, there is forgiveness for all the wrong things you have done.
6. If Christianity is true, you have the opportunity of a personal relationship with God and eternal happiness.

Given all these wonderful benefits, it seems to me utterly imperative to find out whether Christianity is true. But that imperative is incompatible with an attitude of apatheism.

The challenge of apatheism, then, is not philosophical but psychological. The question is how we can get folks interested in the question of God. By showing them the stark contrast in the respective consequences of atheism and of Christianity for human beings, we perhaps motivate them to take seriously the question of whether or not the biblical God exists.

But since the challenge of apatheism is psychological, the best strategy for dealing with it is not intellectual but relational. Become a true friend to the apatheist, show that you care for him as an end in himself, and in time your genuine love for him will probably be more effective than any rational apologetic you can give him. Remember: the challenge here is simply getting him to care about the question. That is more likely to occur as a result of your friendship than as a result of your arguments.

I strongly suspect that the self-styled apatheist is usually just a lazy atheist. He really thinks that there is no God but just can’t be bothered to justify his viewpoint. He doesn’t care because he thinks it isn’t true.

- William Lane Craig