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Why Did God Create Atheists?

If God is real, and religious believers can perceive him... why is anyone an atheist?

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And then, of course, we have the niggling little problem of self-deception and rationalization.

The human mind is very prone to believing what it already believes. It's very prone to believing what it's been prompted to believe. And it's very prone to believing what it wants to believe. Rationalization is a deeply hard-wired part of how the human mind works, and while it's a surprisingly important part -- among other things, it enables us to get on with our lives without being totally paralyzed -- it's something we always need to keep in mind when we're deciding if the things we believe are really true.

So if the only way to believe something is to try really, really hard? If what it takes to believe something is to "open your heart" -- i.e., to put yourself in a state of suggestibility and wishful thinking?

That's not a very good sign that this something is true.

Quite the contrary.

If we care about whether the things we believe are true -- if we want to be sure that we're not just fooling ourselves into believing what we already believe or what we want to believe -- then the times we're trying really hard to convince ourselves of something? Those are exactly the times we should be most skeptical. That's not when we should be opening our hearts. That's when we should be on our guard.

The reality for me, and the reality for a whole lot of atheists? I am open to my mind being changed. Heck, I used to be a believer. I used to be more than just open to the idea of God -- I used to believe in God. (Or something that I was willing to call God.) In fact, it was my willingness to change my mind, my openness to reconsidering new possibilities, that led me to let go of my religious beliefs in the first place. And if someone can give me some really good reasons to change my mind back again, I will.

But "You just have to open your heart" is not a good reason. It's an unfalsifiable argument -- nothing I do can prove that I'm sincerely open to the God hypothesis. Its goalposts can be moved forever -- no matter how carefully I've considered religion, people can argue that I need to consider it just a little more. And it's basically a defense of wishful thinking as some sort of positive virtue. (Besides, nobody's ever given me a good reason why I should open my heart to their particular god: why I should open my heart to Jesus instead of to Allah, or Ganesh, or the Goddess, or that blue peacock god some people worship in northern Iraq.)

"You just haven't opened your heart" is clearly a terrible explanation for why God would allow atheists to exist.

Are there any better ones?

I Love You Just The Way You Are

There is another religious response to the puzzling question of why there are atheists. And unlike the unfalsifiable, goalpost-moving, "let's treat people like pariahs for wanting to be careful that the things they believe are true" hostility of "You haven't opened your hearts," it's a response that typically comes from more progressive, tolerant, pluralistic believers.

It's this: "God doesn't care if you're an atheist."

"As long as you're a good person," this idea goes, "as long as you love other people and try to do right by them, God's fine with you. God doesn't need your worship or your praise, or even your faith. God loves atheists, too. He doesn't care whether you believe in him."

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