In the book, Spiegel notes that many well-known atheists share the
experiences of having lost fathers when they were young, or have fathers that
were alcoholics, abusive or "defective" in some other way.
Among celebrity atheists, both Jodie Foster and George Carlin lost their
fathers when they were young. Spiegel also cites research by New York University
Psychology Professor Paul C. Vitz who found a significant link between
fatherlessness and atheism. In his book, "Faith of the Fatherless," Vitz lists
influential atheists who as children experienced the death of their fathers:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre. He also names
atheists such as Thomas Hobbes who had weak or abusive fathers. Spiegel notes
that Professor Daniel Dennett's father died in a plane crash when the boy was 5
and Christopher Hitchen's father was distant and his mother killed herself in a
suicide pact with a lover when Hitchens was 24 years old.
"This doesn't prove that every atheist necessarily is the product of bad
father relationships, or that's a necessary condition for atheism, but it's very
suggestive and I'd see it as one significant, causal influence," Spiegel says.
From the standpoint of scripture … the basic idea is that God – as our
heavenly father – is mirrored by our earthly father. And so when that
relationship is broken, it has a kind of psychological influence on our approach
to God."Exploring the "biblical diagnosis" of atheism, Spiegel argued it
involves a "hardening of the heart" (Ephesians 4:18) and the suppression of the
truth by wickedness (Romans 1:18). And although a broken relationship with one's
father is often involved in this process it's often combined with a form of
rebellion - resentment, hatred, vanity, unforgiveness or pride.
"The hardening of the atheistic mind-set occurs through cognitive malfunction
due to two principal causes," Spiegel wrote. "First, atheists suffer from
paradigm-induced blindness, as their worldview inhibits their ability to
recognize the reality of God that is manifest in creation. Second, atheists
suffer from damage to the sensus divinitatis, so their natural awareness of God
is severely impeded. Both of these mechanisms are aspects of the noetic effects
of sin. This combination of factors amounts to a deadly cognitive cocktail when
it comes to religious belief. However, thankfully, even the atheist is not
beyond reach of the redemptive power of God."