The Plausibility of the Suppression Hypothesis (Or, Why It is Reasonable to Believe that Culpable Unbelief is Just Rebellion Against God)

NOTE:  So this post contains the ‘big project’ that I was working on. In essence, it is the additional portion of the “Lack-of-Belief Atheism Has the First Burden of Proof” essay where I stated that there is evidence to render plausible the idea that unbelievers actually do believe in God’s existence but merely suppress that belief for moral and/or psychological reasons (or, in other words, the Suppression Hypothesis).

Now, this 12,000 word essay is not for the faint of heart–once I got started, I could not stop–but for anyone who is interested in the Suppression Hypothesis, I think that this essay marshals one of the best cases that the Suppression Hypothesis is a very plausible and reasonable to believe in.

So, here it is:

Additional Note on the ‘Suppression Hypothesis’: Evidence Supporting the Claim that it is Plausible to Contend that Atheists Might Actually Believe in God and yet Suppress that Belief.

In this essay, it was claimed that there are certain points which do indeed render plausible the idea that self-professed unbelievers with properly functioning cognitive faculties actually do believe in God’s existence but that they are suppressing that belief for moral and/or psychological reasons. Now, in speaking of this so-called ‘Suppression Hypothesis’, it must be clear that, as stated, only unbelievers who are neurologically typical are being addressed. After all, atheism may, in large part, be caused by cognitive faculties which are not functioning properly or typically; for example, there is evidence to suggest that atheism is linked to autism given that high-functioning autistic people are more likely to be unbelievers than believers (see “Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism” by Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Caitlin Fox Murphy, Tessa Velazquez, and Patrick McNamara for details (http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/proceedings/2011/papers/0782/paper0782.pdf) as well as “Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God” by Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais, and Kali H. Trzesniewski (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0036880)). And so, for such individuals, the Suppression Hypothesis would not necessarily apply, although it still might. Nevertheless, when speaking of the Suppression Hypothesis in this work, such people, given their atypical cognitive faculties, are not taken to be suppressing the truth for moral and/or psychological reasons as is claimed to be the case with neurologically typical individuals.

At the same time, note that much of the evidence presented below is actually rather weak, and this is due in large part to the lack of detailed research that has been done into the causes of unbelief. Nevertheless, since the only goal of the points below is to show that the Suppression Hypothesis is plausible, non-ad-hoc, and that it has an ‘air-of-reality’ to it—a legal term meaning that the hypothesis is based on some type of evidentiary foundation—then the points below are more than sufficient to establish that claim, even though they are not sufficient to establish the Suppression Hypothesis outright.

Now, with all this said, let us look at the various points that support the hypothesis under consideration.

Point One: Mechanism and Motive

The first point to note about the Suppression Hypothesis concerns the general fact that the psychological mechanisms by which an unbeliever would go about suppressing belief in God are well-known. Consider, for example, the psychological defensive mechanisms of denial, repression, and suppression—defensive mechanisms for which a great deal of psychological research can be found. And Kendra Cherry—in a 3rd of October 2016 updated article titled “18 Common Defense Mechanisms Used for Anxiety”, which was written for the website ‘verywell.com’—provides a good lay-man’s summary of the aforementioned defensive mechanisms when she writes the following:

[QUOTE] Denial is probably one of the best-known defense mechanisms, used often to describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth (i.e. “He’s in denial.”). Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring. …Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness. In many cases, there might be overwhelming evidence that something is true, yet the person will continue to deny its existence or truth because it is too uncomfortable to face.

Repression is another well-known defense mechanism. Repression acts to keep information out of conscious awareness. However, these memories don’t just disappear; they continue to influence our behavior. For example, a person who has repressed memories of abuse suffered as a child may later have difficulty forming relationships. Sometimes we do this consciously by forcing the unwanted information out of our awareness, which is known as suppression. In most cases, however, this removal of anxiety-provoking memories from our awareness is believed to occur unconsciously. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://www.verywell.com/defense-mechanisms-2795960%5D

So, such psychological defensive mechanisms as denial, repression, and suppression would clearly provide a means by which an unbeliever could suppress the truth about God overtly while ultimately knowing that God exists. And in light of some of the soon-to-be articulated findings which show that the behavioral reactions of unbelievers betray their verbal claims, it is very interesting to note that, as mentioned above, one trait of repression is that repressed memories still influence a person’s behavior whether they want them to or not.

Now, the above points provide us with some plausible psychological mechanisms by which an unbeliever could suppress belief in the divine, but there are also plausible motives that exist which could drive the use of these defensive mechanisms. For example—and as will be seen below—some atheists do not want God to exist; they desire that he does not exist. Thus, wish-fulfillment could serve as a plausible driver of God denial. Additionally, the desire to be morally free and without guilt could also drive a desire to deny the existence of a God who imposes moral rules on humanity. Also, anger or wrath at God—anger stemming from a variety of reasons, such as pride or viewing God as being responsible for a traumatic event, etc.—could motivate a sort of emotional atheism, where a person, for psychological reasons, eventually comes to deny God’s existence rather than maintaining the psychologically tiring stance of being constantly angry at God; in some ways, this is like a child who is angry at his father and who thus rebelliously walks around the house acting as if his father did not exist, but knowing all the while that he does. And so anger at God is another plausible motivator for suppression of belief in God. Next, fear of the supernatural and divine punishment could plausibly drive unbelievers to deny that such supernatural entities and divine punishment exist; indeed, if a supernatural realm of angels, demons, and gods exist, it would not be surprising if a small subset of the human population was simply too fearful to accept this reality and thus suppressed the truth of it in order to defend their psyches from a reality that they simply could not psychologically handle. In some ways, this would be like what psychologists and military personnel used to call “Hysterical Blindness”, where the horrors of war caused some men to become “blind” as a psychological defensive mechanism even though there was nothing physically wrong with their vision. So fear, wish-fulfillment, anger, and moral freedom could all be plausible motivators for individuals with properly functioning cognitive faculties to become unbelievers and suppress the truth about the divine. At the same time, narcissism is another potential psychological driver which could motivate an overt atheism with a suppressed theism underneath. Indeed, for a narcissist, the existence of a being infinitely more powerful, more intelligent, more skilled, and worthy of worship—with the narcissist being little more a babe compared to this being—would be a hard fact to bear, and thus it is quite plausible that the narcissist would suppress any knowledge that such a being exists in order to protect his narcissistic self-image from harm; furthermore, the narcissist would even have a secondary psychological bonus in embracing atheism given that the unbelieving narcissist could then believe himself more “rational” and “intelligent” than the vast majority of “religious rubes”, while also believing himself to be among the smartest beings in the known universe. Such an ego boost would no doubt be very attractive to such an individual. (In fact, as an interesting side-note, it would be fascinating to study whether the rise of atheism amongst younger people is linked and/or caused by the fact that today’s youth are significantly more narcissistic than past generations. For details, see Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell’s book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement, or, for a brief summary, note Twenge’s 8th of May 2009 article in Psychology Today titled “Is There an Epidemic of Narcissism Today? Meet the most narcissistic generation ever” (http://web.archive.org/web/20170202083243/https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissism-epidemic/200905/is-there-epidemic-narcissism-today) as well as her 12th of August 2013 Psychology Today article titled “How Dare You Say Narcissism is Increasing? All of the evidence that’s fit to print” (http://web.archive.org/web/20160925192150/https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissism-epidemic/201308/how-dare-you-say-narcissism-is-increasing)).

And so, as the first point, and as a primer for the points to come, it is important to note that not only do clear psychological mechanisms exist to account for how unbelievers could suppress the truth about God, but there are also plausible reasons for why unbelievers might do so.

Point Two – The Desire to Avoid God:

The second point—which is linked to the first—stems from the fact that certain unbelievers have admitted that they do indeed have a desire to deny the existence of God. For example, in a rather famous quote, unbeliever and philosopher Thomas Nagel, on pages 130 and 131 in his book The Last Word, stated the following:

[QUOTE] In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehood. I am talking about something much deeper — namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that… My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Or consider this quote from Aldous Huxley, which comes from his book Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization:

[QUOTE] For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://archive.org/stream/endsandmeans035237mbp/endsandmeans035237mbp_djvu.txt%5D

And consider also this quote from Huxley from the same work:

[QUOTE] Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Thus, the point here is to show that some unbelievers admit that they possess a desire to deny that God exists. They dislike the idea of God, and so might be motivated to deny His existence regardless of what the evidence shows. Note as well that in the first Huxley quote, Huxley admits that his reason for embracing a philosophy of meaninglessness—a philosophy which God’s existence would obviously interfere with—stems, in part, from Huxley’s desire to be sexually free, which is in large part the reason that Romans 1 states that unbelievers deny God. And so the congruity between that statement and Romans 1 is interesting.

Finally, consider atheist Luke Muehlhauser, author of the once quite popular ‘commonsenseatheism.com’ website. In a 31st of May 2009 blog post titled “Atheist Philosophers Don’t Want God to Exist”—which was accessed on the 5th of February 2017—Muehlhauser writes the following:

[QUOTE] Theists often claim that atheists reject God because they don’t want him to exist. Of course, this is no argument for God. And, however many atheists are biased by their hope that God doesn’t exist, there are far more believers who are biased by their hope that God does exist. But I think theists are right. There are many atheists who reject God because they don’t want him to exist. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Muehlhauser then tries to support his above claim by drawing a parallel between this topic and the fact that many unbelievers argue for moral realism because they want moral realism to be true even though—in Muehlhauser’s view—the arguments for moral realism are as bad as those for theism. Thus, Muehlhauser concludes his post as follows:

[QUOTE] My point is that many atheists reject bad theistic arguments, but deploy similarly flawed arguments to defend their own brand of moral realism. I think this might be because they hope God doesn’t exist, but they also hope moral values do exist. It’s clear to most of us why we’d like moral values to exist. But why do atheists hope that God does not exist? Here are some possible reasons:

–        Religion is typically against moral and intellectual progress, since “the whole truth” was supposedly revealed many centuries ago.

–        The idea of a cosmic dictator who convicts you of thoughtcrime is distasteful.

–        Atheists want to be free to do what they like, without observing a long list of arbitrary commands from a big powerful guy in the sky.

–        If God exists, it seems he must be unfathomably malicious, considering all the pointless suffering he inflicts upon or allows in humans and other animals. [UNQUOTE, http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=995%5D

So here is an atheist who argues that, in his opinion, numerous unbelievers do not want God to exist; and Muehlhauser also admits that unbelievers could have the aforementioned motives as a cause of their desire for atheism to be true (and it is interesting to note that some of the motives which Muehlhauser mentions are very similar to the motives noted in Point One).

Point Three – Unbelievers Believe in God:

The third point to note comes from the interesting fact that a non-negligible chunk of self-described atheists and agnostics, when surveyed, admit to believing that God exists, a fact which would be in line with the hypothesis that atheists know that God exists and yet outwardly deny that that is the case.

So, in a 24th of June 2008 New York Times article by Neela Banerjee titled “Survey Shows US Religious Tolerance”—which was accessed on the 31st of January 2017—Banerjee summarized the results from the ‘US Religious Landscape Survey’ by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and found that “…70 percent of the unaffiliated said they believed in God, including one of every five people [21%] who identified themselves as atheist and more than half of those who identified as agnostic.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/us/24religion.html?_r=1&ref=us&oref=slogin). And when broken down, the data for that report, taken in 2007, showed that 8% of atheists and 17% of agnostics said they were absolutely certain that God or a Universal Spirits existed, 7% of atheists and 23% of agnostics were fairly certain that such a being existed, and 6% of atheists and 15% of agnostics were not at all or not too certain that God or a Universal Spirit existed (see the chart “Declining Share of Americans Express Absolutely Certain Belief in God” in the “Belief in God” section of chapter one of the November 3, 2015 Pew Research Center report titled US Public Becoming Less Religious, which was accessed on the 3rd of February 2017 (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/chapter-1-importance-of-religion-and-religious-beliefs/))

But these interesting results do not end there, for in a 9th of October 2012 Pew Research Center document titled “‘Nones’ on the Rise / Religion and the Unaffiliated”, and in the section titled “Belief in God”—which was accessed on the 31st of January 2017— it was found that:

[QUOTE] … religiously unaffiliated are less likely than the general public as a whole to believe in God. However, there are stark differences in this regard between the unaffiliated who identify themselves as atheist or agnostic and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Among the “nothing in particulars,” about eight-in-ten (81%) say they believe in God or a universal spirit – and a plurality of those who believe in God say they are “absolutely certain” about this belief. In addition, about four-in-ten atheists and agnostics (including 14% of atheists and 56% of agnostics) say they believe in God or a universal spirit. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

And when the results were broken down, of the 38% of atheists and agnostics who had a belief in God or a Universal Spirit, 9% were absolutely certain that God or a Universal Spirit exists, 15% were fairly certain of it, and 14% were not too certain or not at all certain that God or a Universal Spirit exists (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise-religion/).

And finally, a 2015 Pew Research Center report showed that 8% of atheists and 45% of agnostics had some type of belief that God or a Universal Spirit existed. And when broken down, the data for that report, taken in 2014, showed that 2% of atheists and 7% of agnostics said they were absolutely certain that God or a Universal Spirits existed, 3% of atheists and 20% of agnostics were fairly certain that God or a Universal Spirit existed, and 2% of atheists and 18% of agnostics were not at all or not too certain that God or a Universal Spirit existed (see the chart “Declining Share of Americas Express Absolutely Certain Belief in God” in the “Belief in God” section of chapter one of the November 3, 2015 Pew Research Center report titled US Public Becoming Less Religious, which was accessed on the 3rd of February 2017 (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/chapter-1-importance-of-religion-and-religious-beliefs/))

Now, although there could be other factors that cause such unbelievers to claim that they actually believe in God and/or a Universal Spirit, and although further research would need to be done into this matter, the fact remains that a good portion of self-described unbelievers actually do admit to believing in God and/or a Universal Spirit. And the fact that these results repeat over the years also shows that this is not merely a one-time anomaly. Thus, these results are both consistent with and even supportive of the hypothesis that unbelievers actually do believe in God even though they normally would not admit that this is the case.

Point Four – Discrepancies Between Words and Behaviors:

The fourth interesting point to note is that when discussing the issue of God, the bodily reaction of unbelievers seems not to match what they are verbally saying. Indeed, in a report titled “Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things”, the researchers summarized their results as follows:

[QUOTE] We examined whether atheists exhibit evidence of emotional arousal when they dare God to cause harm to themselves and their intimates. In Study 1, the participants (16 atheists, 13 religious individuals) read aloud 36 statements of three different types: God, offensive, and neutral. In Study 2 (N = 19 atheists), 10 new stimulus statements were included in which atheists wished for negative events to occur. The atheists did not think the God statements were as unpleasant as the religious participants did in their verbal reports. However, the skin conductance level showed that asking God to do awful things was equally stressful to atheists as it was to religious people and that atheists were more affected by God statements than by wish or offensive statements. The results imply that atheists’ attitudes toward God are ambivalent in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, see “Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things” by Marjaana Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki, and Tommi Makkonen, in The International Journal For The Psychology Of Religion Vol. 24 , Iss. 2, 2014, and which was accessed on the 2nd of February 2017, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10508619.2013.771991 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marjaana_Lindeman/publication/271670348_Atheists_Become_Emotionally_Aroused_When_Daring_God_to_Do_Terrible_Things/links/54d5bf100cf2970e4e6576b8/Atheists-Become-Emotionally-Aroused-When-Daring-God-to-Do-Terrible-Things.pdf?origin=publication_detail%5D

Now, although such experiments always need to be taken with a grain of salt, and though such a result is not clear evidence of the hypothesis that unbelievers actually do believe in God but suppress that belief—and indeed, the researchers mention that such a conclusion cannot be established on the basis of their experiment—the results are nevertheless suggestive of this hypothesis and so it is a very interesting result in light of the Suppression Hypothesis; and this is especially the case when it is remembered that repressed memories may still manifest themselves in a person’s behavioral response to a certain situation, which could be what is occurring in the above situation with the atheists from this study.

Point Five – God Stresses Unbelievers:

Just like the study above, another study noted that thinking about God relieved stress for believers but caused stress for unbelievers. Indeed, in a 5th of August 2010 article titled “Thinking About God Calms Believers, Stresses Atheists”, on the ‘livescience.com’ website—and which was accessed on the 3rd of February 2017—article author Rick Nauert states the following:

[QUOTE] Researchers have determined that thinking about God can help relieve anxiety associated with making mistakes. However, the finding only holds for people who believe in a God.

The researchers measured brain waves for a particular kind of distress response while participants made mistakes on a test.

The results showed that when people were primed to think about religion and God, either consciously or unconsciously, brain activity decreases in areas consistent with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is associated with a number of things, including regulating bodily states of arousal and alerting us when things are going wrong.

Interestingly, atheists reacted differently. When they were unconsciously primed with God-related ideas, their ACC increased its activity. The researchers suggest that for religious people, thinking about God may provide a way of ordering the world and explaining apparently random events and thus reduce their feelings of distress.

In contrast, for atheists, thoughts of God may contradict the meaning systems they embrace and thus cause them more distress.

Atheists shouldn’t despair, though. “We think this can occur with any meaning system that provides structure and helps people understand their world.” Maybe atheists would do better if they were primed to think about their own beliefs, he says. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://www.livescience.com/8434-thinking-god-calms-believers-stresses-atheists.html%5D

Now, this study does not seem to provide much support for the Suppression Hypothesis, and the researchers even admit that there could be relatively benign reasons that account for their result among their atheist sample. However, when these results are considered in light of a parallel situation, the importance of the above result becomes a bit more apparent. And what this parallel situation is, is the following: note that I do not, for example, believe in Santa Claus or Allah, and so I have no stress—at least none that I experience—when I am told that Santa Claus knows that I have been bad and that I will receive no presents from him for Christmas. And the same lack of stress exists when I am told that Allah will punish me for not being a Muslim. Thus, in these circumstances, I experience no stress. Atheists, however, do experience distress at the thought of God; and yet, since it is so often said that for atheists, God is no more real than Santa Claus, then one would expect atheists not to experience any distress at the idea of God. So it is interesting that they do indeed experience such distress. Now, in fairness, even this analogical argument suffers from its own weaknesses, but the fact remains that the idea that atheists suffer distress at the thought of God is not only a finding which deserves further research, but it is also a finding that it quite consistent and even expected by the Suppression Hypothesis.

Point Six – God Angers Unbelievers:

Another fascinating study which is relevant to the Suppression Hypothesis deals with the anger that certain unbelievers feel towards God. Indeed, in an essay titled “Anger Toward God: A New Frontier in Forgiveness Research”—an essay which forms chapter six of the 2005 Routledge book Handbook of Forgiveness, edited by Everett L. Worthington, Jr.— authors Julie Juola Exline and Alyce Martin note the following:

[QUOTE] We are particularly interested in the issue of whether anger toward God might lead to decreased belief in God’s existence. Our interest was piqued by an early study of anger toward God among undergraduates (Exline et al., 1999), which revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward God than believers. At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalysis of a second dataset (Exline, Fisher, Rose, & Kampani, 2004; Kampani & Exline, 2002) revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation. Further analyses identified a group of conflicted believers (or slipping believers), all of whom had previously believed that God exists (or might exist) but no longer believed at the time of the study. When compared with believers, these individuals reported more anger toward God. These findings raised the question of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea in line with Novotni and Petersen’s (2001) clinical descriptions of emotional atheism.

Studies of traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. … Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger towards God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence. Furthermore, when we looked only at those who showed some drop in belief, belief was least likely to recover for those who reported that they were angry toward God and had chosen to turn away from God. In addition, an open-ended question revealed that 9% of those who had resolved negative feelings stated that they had done so be deciding not to believe in God (Exline, 2002a). Because these data were based on retrospective reports rather than longitudinal analysis, they should be interpreted with caution. Yet they raise the possibility that anger towards God—and subsequent decisions to withdraw—may lead to reduced belief in God’s existence. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

So, from this research, not only does it appear that anger is a motivator for atheism, but certain unbelievers admitted that they resolved their anger at God by deciding not to believe in God, a fact which is consistent with the Suppression Hypothesis and would be expected by it. It is also interesting that those people who were angry at God were the least likely to recover their belief in God in the future.

Now, in addition to the above, the researchers, in the same essay, also noted a fascinating point about the link between anger at God and a sense of narcissistic entitlement, the later of which was another possible motivator that was considered for the Suppression Hypothesis. Here is the relevant quote:

[QUOTE] Anger toward God may be especially characteristic of a specific group of individuals: those with an inflated, narcissistic sense of entitlement. High-entitlement persons believe that they merit special treatment, and they are highly invested in collecting on the debts they believe others owe them (e.g. Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline & Bushman, 2004; Emmons, 1987). Because of its link with narcissism, entitlement also implies a desire to “save face” and a reluctance to compromise personal pride. … In a recent study focused on anger toward God, entitlement predicted greater negative emotion toward God and more negative attributions about God’s intentions; it decreased belief in God when negative emotions did occur (Exline & Bushman, 2004). High-entitlement individuals were especially sensitive to the issue of being repaid. If they believe that God had repaid them (even partially) for their suffering, they tended to report a positive impact of the event on their bond with God. If they did not feel repaid, they tended to report a negative impact. Being repaid was less crucial for those scoring lower on entitlement. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

So not only does anger appear to motivate unbelief in certain individuals, but it is also made worse by a feeling of entitlement. And as was noted in Point One, a feeling of entitlement is on the rise with the modern generation, thus showing a possible reason for the rise of atheism in our present age in the West.

Finally, note that the researchers’ findings were also supported by more recent research that they did. For example, Dr. Sanjay Gupta—in a 1st of January 2011 ‘CNN.com’ article titled “Anger at God common, even among atheists”—reports on Exline’s new findings in the field of anger and atheism. Gupta writes:

[QUOTE] …people get angry at God all the time, especially about everyday disappointments, finds a new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It’s not just religious folks, either. People unaffiliated with organized religion, atheists and agnostics also report anger toward God either in the past, or anger focused on a hypothetical image – that is, what they imagined God might be like – said lead study author Julie Exline, Case Western Reserve University psychologist. In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals.And younger people tend to be angrier at God than older people, Exline said. She says some of the reasons she’s seen people the angriest at God include rejection from preferred colleges and sports injuries preventing high schoolers from competing. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/01/anger-at-god-common-even-among-atheists/%5D

So it truly is fascinating to note that unbelievers are more angry at God than believers are, thus showing that anger—and especially anger coupled with narcissism—may indeed be a powerful motivator for something like ‘emotional atheism’ and the Suppression Hypothesis.

Point Seven – Death and the Unconscious Move Towards Religion:

Yet another study needs to be looked at, this one dealing with unbelievers’ subconscious reaction to thinking about religion and death. Indeed, in a 2nd of April 2012 article titled “Death anxiety increases atheists’ unconscious belief in God”, which was accessed on the 3rd of February 2017, the website ‘Science Daily’ reports the following:

[QUOTE]  New University of Otago research suggests that when non-religious people think about their own death they become more consciously skeptical about religion, but unconsciously grow more receptive to religious belief.

In three studies, which involved 265 university students in total, religious and nonreligious participants were randomly assigned to “death priming” and control groups. Priming involved asking participants to write about their own death or, in the control condition, about watching TV. In the first study, researchers found that death-primed religious participants consciously reported greater belief in religious entities than similar participants who had not been death-primed. Non-religious participants who had been primed showed the opposite effect: they reported greater disbelief than their fellow non-religious participants in the control condition. Study co-author Associate Professor Jamin Halberstadt says these results fit with the theory that fear of death prompts people to defend their own worldview, regardless of whether it is a religious or non-religious one. “However, when we studied people’s unconscious beliefs in the two later experiments, a different picture emerged. While death-priming made religious participants more certain about the reality of religious entities, non-religious participants showed less confidence in their disbelief,” Associate Professor Halberstadt says. The techniques used to study unconscious beliefs include measuring the speed with which participants can affirm or deny the existence of God and other religious entities. After being primed by thoughts of death, religious participants were faster to press a button to affirm God’s existence, but non-religious participants were slower to press a button denying God’s existence. “These findings may help solve part of the puzzle of why religion is such a persistent and pervasive feature of society. Fear of death is a near-universal human experience and religious beliefs are suspected to play an important psychological role in warding off this anxiety. As we now show, these beliefs operate at both a conscious and unconscious level, allowing even avowed atheists to unconsciously take advantage of them.” [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402094322.htm%5D

Now, on the one hand, this study is obviously compatible with the often-heard idea that religious belief is borne out of a fear of death and that religious belief is thus a form of coping mechanism to deal with the anxiety caused by death. But, on the other hand, these findings are also supportive of the hypothesis that unbelievers suppress the religious beliefs that they actually do possess by overtly denying them and yet subconsciously being open to them; a sort of overt and vehement denial coupled with a behavioral response which betrays what they are saying they believe, just as was the case in the earlier studies where unbelievers had unconscious behavioral reactions which appeared to be at odds with their verbal statements. In fact, this study is consistent with both the aforementioned hypotheses being true at the same time, for it is possible that religious belief is motivated by a fear of death and that the Suppression Hypothesis is also true. Either way, the critical point here is that, once again, when it comes to the issue of God, there appears to be a disconnect between what the unbelievers are saying, and how their body is responding, which is the very result that would be expected if unbelievers were using the defensive mechanisms of denial and suppression in order to continually suppress a belief in God that they actually do have deep within their being.

Point Eight – Atheists Do Not Exist:

Another point to note in reference to the Suppression Hypothesis concerns the rather bold claim that atheists might not even exist. Seriously! For in the 7th of July 2014 article “Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke”,  which was accessed on the 3rd of February 2017, and which was on the ‘Science 2.0’ website, article author Nury Vittachi writes the following:

[QUOTE]  While militant atheists like Richard Dawkins may be convinced God doesn’t exist, God, if he is around, may be amused to find that atheists might not exist. Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged. While this idea may seem outlandish—after all, it seems easy to decide not to believe in God—evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself. Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone. This line of thought has led to some scientists claiming that “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think,” says Graham Lawton, an avowed atheist himself, writing in the New Scientist. “They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since we are born believers, not atheists, scientists say. Humans are pattern-seekers from birth, with a belief in karma, or cosmic justice, as our default setting. “A slew of cognitive traits predisposes us to faith,” writes Pascal Boyer in Nature, the science journal, adding that people “are only aware of some of their religious ideas”.

“From childhood, people form enduring, stable and important relationships with fictional characters, imaginary friends, deceased relatives, unseen heroes and fantasized mates,” says Boyer of Washington University, himself an atheist. This feeling of having an awareness of another consciousness might simply be the way our natural operating system works. These findings may go a long way to explaining a series of puzzles in recent social science studies. In the United States, 38% of people who identified themselves as atheist or agnostic went on to claim to believe in a God or a Higher Power (Pew Forum, “Religion and the Unaffiliated”, 2012). While the UK is often defined as an irreligious place, a recent survey by Theos, a think tank, found that very few people—only 13 per cent of adults—agreed with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”. For the vast majority of us, unseen realities are very present. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://www.science20.com/writer_on_the_edge/blog/scientists_discover_that_atheists_might_not_exist_and_thats_not_a_joke-139982%5D

And supporting the idea that human beings are hard-wired for religious belief, the writings of psychologist Justin Barrett can also be considered. Indeed, Barrett, in such works as Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief and Why Would Anyone Believe in God? forcefully argues that children enter the world with a powerful and preinstalled propensity for religious and supernatural-types beliefs, including belief in deities, all of which are based on a child’s cognitive make-up. Thus, children, and by extension human beings in general, are, in some way, naturally wired to lean towards belief in deities and supernatural entities as they develop. Consequently, these points again help to support the idea that religious and even theistic belief is natural, hard to eradicate, and even sub-conscious.

So, the idea that atheism is “impossible” due to the normal cognitive make-up of a human being helps to support the idea that if a neurologically-typical individual does not believe in God, then this disbelieve will be, in an important sense, false, and will be more of a suppression of his natural and ‘impossible-to-eradicate’ theistic belief than outright and complete disbelieve. Now, such a result may not hold for people who have malfunctioning or non-typical cognitive faculties—such as those unbelievers with high-functioning autism—but it would do so for the neurologically typical. And so, such results once again provide some support for the truth of the Suppression Hypothesis.

Point Nine – OK with Deism, Not OK with Theism:

Throughout this author’s experience debating with a great number of unbelievers, one of the most striking things that has been noted is that many unbelievers do not have a personal or emotional problem with deism—the view that a God-like being exists but does not interact with the universe or with humanity—whereas such unbelievers do indeed have a major problem with theism. And, in the context of the Suppression Hypothesis, the reason that this fact is so interesting is because the main difference between a deistic God and a theistic one is that the theistic God is concerned with human affairs and moral behaviors, whereas the deistic God is not. And if, as the Suppression Hypothesis claims, unbelievers suppress their knowledge of God due, at least in part, for moral reasons—such as for moral liberation—then it would be expected that unbelievers would have a great deal of problems with a theistic God, but be quite comfortable with the existence of a deistic one. And, as stated, that is what this author has often found. But don’t just take my word for it, consider Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, in chapter two of his book The God Delusion, in the section on “Monotheism”, writes the following:

[QUOTE] Compared with the Old Testament’s psychotic delinquent, the deist God of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment is an altogether grander being: worthy of his cosmic creation, loftily unconcerned with human affairs, sublimely aloof from our private thoughts and hopes, caring nothing for our messy sins or mumbled contritions. The deist God is a physicist to end all physics, the alpha and omega of mathematicians, the apotheosis of designers; a hyper-engineer who set up the laws and constants of the universe, fine-tuned them with exquisite precision and foreknowledge, detonated what we would now call the hot big bang, retired and was never heard from again. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

One almost gets the impression that Dawkins is excited about this deistic God, whereas he definitely hates the theistic one! But, more importantly, when it comes to deism, note what Dawkins focuses on: namely, the fact that, unlike a theistic God, this particular deistic God leaves humans, and their sins, alone.

But Dawkins is not the only one who holds such a view. For example, the author of the ‘Atheism and the City’ website, in a 19th of October 2013 blog post titled “A Few Thoughts on Deism”—which was access on the 2nd of February 2017—writes the following:

[QUOTE] I’ve been reading up on deism recently over on the site deism.com. … One can certainly be an intelligent, rational thinker and be a deist. In fact, I think of all the people who believe in god, deists are the most rational. The furthest I could ever be pushed towards the direction of theism, is deism. Given what I know, I don’t think I could ever be a theist. But it is possible that I could be a deist. It’s also possible that I could live comfortably as an atheist in a world filled with deists. I wouldn’t even have a big problem myself with the idea of deism being true. A deistic god is a god who let’s you grow and learn on your own. It doesn’t command you or forbid you to do anything. It’s not concerned with micromanaging every aspect of your life. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/10/a-few-thoughts-on-deism.html%5D

Again, notice that the atheist author admits that he would not have a problem with deism if it were true, and the reason for that is because, as the author says, a deistic God does not command or forbid anything. And just to point out the difference in this author’s attitude between deism and a more robust religious view, in a 13th of October 2015 post titled “An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (Chapter 3 Getting Medieval)”, the author, in the first paragraph of his post, admits that there’s “…something about serious Catholics that I really don’t lie” and that he has “…always hated Catholicism” (http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2015/10/an-atheist-reviews-last-superstition.html). So the difference in attitude between his views concerning a robust religious view—one with moral obligations—and deism is striking (although it must also be noted that the author might have a specific hatred towards Catholicism that he does not possess for other robust religions).

And so, in the end, it is both an interesting and a telling point that certain unbelievers are quite fine with deism, but have serious problems with theism, for again, such a result would be quite expected if unbelievers were suppressing the truth of God’s existence in unrighteousness.

Point Ten – Unbelievers are Politically Liberal:

Connected to the idea that morality—or rather freedom from morality—is a main motivator for unbelief, it is also interesting to note the strong correlation between atheism and political viewpoints which could be classified as socially, and hence morally, liberal. For example, as was reported in Point 3 of the Pew Research Center’s June 1st, 2016 web-article “10 Facts About Atheists”—which was accessed on the 1st of August 2016—only one-in-ten of self-identified US atheists count themselves as conservative while about two-thirds of atheists identify as Democrats or lean in that direction; and a majority of atheists, at 56%, call themselves political liberals. Additionally, the same web-article notes that 92% of atheists favor same-sex marriage and 87% support legal abortion (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/01/10-facts-about-atheists/). And even atheists themselves, such as Austin Cline in his ‘atheism.about.com’ article “Atheists & Agnostics in America Tend to be Politically Liberal”, accessed on the 1st of August 2016, admit that there is good statistical evidence that atheists and agnostics have strong liberal tendencies (http://atheism.about.com/od/Atheist-Agnostic-Belief-Survey/a/Atheists-Agnostics-America-Politically-Liberal.htm). In fact, Cline, in the same article, notes that a 2005 Harris Interactive poll of US adults showed that atheists and agnostics routinely held much more permissive attitudes about social issues when compared to the general population, let alone when compared to religious conservatives. For example, at the time of the poll, 90% of atheists and agnostics said they supported abortion rights while only 63% of the general population did; and while 63% of the general population supported abstinence from sex before marriage, only 31% of atheists and agnostics did.

So even in politics there seems to be a solid correlation between atheism and certain positive beliefs which are generally opposed to traditional morality. Now, while it is difficult to know if the liberal morality came first, and then the atheism, or if the atheism led to a more liberal morality, it is nevertheless telling that what would be considered traditional moral positions are rejected by so many atheists, even though atheism—as many atheists themselves claim—is allegedly nothing more than just a lack-of-belief about God. Indeed, it is interesting that the traditional moral viewpoint is rejected by such a wide margin of atheists, even though there is technically nothing that would necessitate that this be the case given that atheism is allegedly nothing more than a lack-of-belief about God’s existence (unless, of course, atheism is, in practice, much more than just a lack-of-belief). And yet, such a rejection of traditional morality would be fully expected if atheists, as per the Suppression Hypothesis, were rejecting belief in God and religion for moral reasons rather than evidentiary ones; by contrast, if atheists were, on average, more morally traditional than conservative religious believers, then this would be entirely shocking and unexpected given the Suppression Hypothesis. And so, while further study could be pursued to determine whether atheism leads to moral liberalism or vis versa (or neither), the fact that atheists are so liberal in their social and moral positions is something that is not at all surprising given the hypothesis that atheists reject God for moral reasons.

And a final point that is particularly interesting is to note is that homosexual, bisexual, and transgender individuals are much more likely to identify as atheists than the populace at large. Indeed, in Chapter 6 of the 13th of June 2013 Pew Research Center report titled “A Survey of LGBT Americans”—which was accessed on the 8th of February 2017—the report’s author notes that 48% of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender Americans describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no religious affiliation, compared to only 20% of the general population; indeed, 17% of this demographic count themselves as atheist or agnostics compared to only 6% of the general population (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2013/06/SDT_LGBT-Americans_06-2013.pdf). At the same time, the report also notes that homosexual, bisexual, and transgender individuals who do have a religious affiliation generally attend worship services less frequently and attach less important to religion in their lives when compared to those in the general public who are religiously affiliated. Now, many homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgenders say they feel unwelcome in religious communities, and that could account for the high rate of unbelief amongst this demographic when compared to the general population. However, it is also fascinating to note that the Suppression Hypothesis appears to specifically mention engaging in homosexual acts as being one of the main indicators and/or driving factors for the suppression of belief in God (Romans 1:24-28). And since there is no necessary connection between being a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender and a lack of belief in God, then, in the context of the Suppression Hypothesis, it is very interesting that individuals who fit into this demographic are substantially less religious than the general population. At the very least, further study in this area is warranted.

Point Eleven – Unbelievers in Their Own Words:

Another interesting point in support of the Suppression Hypothesis is that some unbelievers themselves admit critical aspects of that hypothesis. For example, unbeliever Dianna Narciso, in her essay “The Honesty of Atheism”, which is found in the 2007 book Everything You Know About God is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion (edited by Russ Kirk), writes the following:

[QUOTE] In a 2003 Harris Poll, four percent of those calling themselves atheist/agnostic claimed to be absolutely certain there is a god. I have conversed with a few former “Christians in rebellion.” They claimed they knew all along that God existed, but they were either angry with him or just didn’t want to live by his rules, so refused to worship him. They called this “atheism” once they returned to the flock. (This attitude would explain why so many people claim atheists know God exists and are only angry at him or want to lead licentious lives, as people often project their own failings onto others.) Whether or not that unexpected four percent in the Harris poll was due to rebellious believers, functionally neurotic atheists, people using a strange definition of agnosticism, or people accidentally giving the wrong answer, we’ll never know. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Now the above evidence that “atheists” knew that God existed is admittedly weak given the number of problems with it, such as that it is hearsay, likely comes from a small self-selected sample, and so on. Nevertheless, the fact is that Narciso—who has no known motive to lie in this case—has indeed had personal experience with certain individuals who had claimed to be atheists while still internally believing in God; this, therefore, is still some evidence in support of Suppression Hypothesis. And even if, as Narciso says, these were just “Christians in rebellion”, the point is that they were individuals who overtly identified themselves as atheists but who still knew that God existed, which is precisely what the Suppression Hypothesis claims occurs with people who have properly functioning cognitive faculties.

But such self-admittances do not end there, for there are other unbelievers who admit to parts of the Suppression Hypothesis, such as that they reject belief in God due to moral reasons. For example, in response to a 9th of October 2015 blog post by Edward Feser titled “Walter Mitty atheism” on the ‘edwardfeser.blogspot.com’ website, commentator Eric MacDonald—a former New Atheist and former Anglican priest—made the following comment at 5:21 pm on the 10th of October 2015:

[QUOTE] Professor Feser (or Ed, if I may?) Thank you so much for your warm welcome. As you say, there are still points of disagreement between us, but one thing that we do not disagree about is the sloppiness of the New Atheism, a sloppiness that I once illustrated in some of my own dismissive language about religion. (I have in fact taken down all my posts, except a few that were published within the last year or so. I have saved them as an archive, and reading them I often find myself very ashamed of my haste to judgement on occasion, and my simple lack of judgement in others!) Of course, I never accepted the scientistic approach to epistemological issues, and that was undoubtedly the breaking point for me, the fact that the New Atheists are so hopeless at doing philosophy, even though they put on airs of such authority when they try. My atheism (which is modulating quite quickly into something else) was a response of anger towards what I still think of as the rather unyielding absolutism of much Christian morality. This is where our differences would become significantly more strained, though I hope that we could discuss them (should the occasion arise) in a spirit of charity and reason. But it is very nice to be welcomed so warmly to your pages! Peace, Eric [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/10/walter-mitty-atheism.html?showComment=1444522901815#c8363022695571021002%5D

So here we see an individual’s atheism being motivated by anger towards the Christian moral code, which is something that the Suppression Hypothesis would predict. And similar to this last comment, note that in the comments section of the ‘dangerousidea.blogspot.com’ website, in response to a 10th of September 2015 blog post titled “10 Questions for Materialist Atheists”, commentator John Moore wrote the following in a comment (the first one) that he made on the 10th of September 2015 at 7:07 pm:

[QUOTE] I don’t have any logically persuasive argument about God’s existence or non-existence. I refuse to believe in God as a kind of rebellion against religious authority. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=10584495&postID=7969756093933420205&bpli=1%5D

So here is the Suppression Hypothesis clearly articulated: a refusal to believe in God due to a rebellion against the very religious authority that ultimately traces back to God.

But again, there is more. For example, in Chapter 5 of the 2013 Ignatius Press edition of his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, author and psychologist Paul C. Vitz—who, in his book, has his own theory about atheism being linked to having a defective father and having poor parental attachment—recounts how his own former atheism was largely caused by 1) the social pressure to fit in to with the secular academic psychologist community, and 2) a personal infatuation with being an autonomous self, and 3) a desire to have personal convenience and not have to engage in the hard task of being a serious believer. And on his ‘Mail Online’ blog, in a 27th of July 2015 post titled “Groan. An Atheist writes…”—accessed on the 8th of February 2017—former atheist Peter Hitchens admits that hedonism and a desire to behave any way that he wanted was one of his motives for embracing atheism (http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/07/groan-an-atheist-writes.html).

Finally, note that in a 6th of June 2013 article for The Atlantic titled “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity”—accessed on the 9th of February 2017—the article’s author Larry Alex Taunton reports on the results of a study he helped to conduct where a nationwide campaign was launched to interview college students from atheist groups in order to allow them to freely and without judgement tell the interviewers of their journey to unbelief. And the findings were very interesting. In particular, consider the following:

[QUOTE] With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. This phenomenon was most powerfully exhibited in Meredith. She explained in detail how her study of anthropology had led her to atheism. When the conversation turned to her family, however, she spoke of an emotionally abusive father:

“It was when he died that I became an atheist,” she said.

I could see no obvious connection between her father’s death and her unbelief. Was it because she loved her abusive father — abused children often do love their parents — and she was angry with God for his death? “No,” Meredith explained. “I was terrified by the thought that he could still be alive somewhere.”

Rebecca, now a student at Clark University in Boston, bore similar childhood scars. When the state intervened and removed her from her home (her mother had attempted suicide), Rebecca prayed that God would let her return to her family. “He didn’t answer,” she said. “So I figured he must not be real.” After a moment’s reflection, she appended her remarks: “Either that, or maybe he is [real] and he’s just trying to teach me something.” [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/?single_page=true%5D

And these particular answers are especially fascinating in light of the point made earlier that psychologist Paul C. Vitz argues that atheism grows out of problems with a defective father and issues of parental attachment and caring. Either way though, the point is that very often, when you dig deeply enough, it is possible to find individuals who admit that they either knew that God existed even as they called themselves atheists, or, at the very least, they admit that issues of morality and personal freedom were critical motivators for their unbelief. And all of this is consistent with, and points to, the Suppression Hypothesis.

Point Twelve – The Age of Conversion:

Given that the Suppression Hypothesis claims that unbelievers with properly functioning cognitive faculties reject belief in God primarily for moral and/or psychological reasons—in essence, they rebel against God and His commands—it is thus also relevant to note that the testimonial evidence from numerous unbelievers suggests that they became unbelievers in their teenage years. For example, in the previously mentioned 6th of June 2013 article for The Atlantic titled “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity”, the article’s author Larry Alex Taunton also notes the following:

[QUOTE] One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/?single_page=true%5D

Next, note that atheist Jerry Coyne, author of the popular blog ‘Why Evolution is True’, became an atheist at the age of seventeen while listening to a Beatles album and having a brief “experience” that can almost be described as mystical (see page 2 of the Chicago Tribune’s 20th of January 2008 article titled “The New Theology” by Jeremy Manier (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-01-20/features/0801120310_1_atheists-till-evolution/2)). And in the same article, it notes that Richard Dawkins became an atheist at the age of fifteen. And speaking of Dawkins, in a Telegraph article written on the 9th of August 2013 dealing with Dawkins, and titled “Come in, Agent Dawkins, your job is done”, the article’s author Matthew Norman admits that he became a devout atheist at the age of nine (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10233530/Come-in-Agent-Dawkins-your-job-is-done.html). Additionally, note that Christopher Hitchens, in an interview with ‘CBC.ca’, admitted that his move towards resisting religion began around the age of nine and also that he was more of an anti-theist than an atheist, which meant that Hitchens did not just not believe in God, but that he was relieved that there was no evidence for God (see the ‘cbc.ca’ article, written by Andre Mayer on the 14th of May 2007, titled “Nothing sacred: Journalist and provocateur Christopher Hitchens picks a fight with God” (https://web.archive.org/web/20070516100646/http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/nothing_sacred.html)). And many more such teenage ‘de-conversion’ stories could be found. Furthermore, in addition to embracing unbelief in the teenage years, there are also numerous stories of former believers embracing unbelief within the first few years of college or university.

So what is the point of noting that many unbelievers seem to become unbelievers in their younger years? Well, first, it is meant to point out the obvious: namely, that a child of nine years old, or even a first-year college student, is not exactly well-versed in all the arguments for and against the existence of God, and so while an embrace of atheism that occurs in the teenage years is not necessarily irrational, it is without a doubt not wholly rational either given the person’s full lack of knowledge concerning the very issue under consideration. Furthermore, individuals in their mentally formative years are only beginning to form the ability to reason abstractly and to think inferentially, so their ability, at that age, to properly process all the rational arguments for and against something like the existence of God is merely in its infancy. But this point is obvious to anyone who has been around children and teens.

The more important reason for pointing out that a great deal of atheism seems to come about in a person’s younger years stems from the fact that that is the time when a person is most likely to rebel against authority. For example, in a Psychology Today article posted on the 6th of December 2009 titled “Rebel with a Cause: Rebellion in Adolescence”, the article’s author Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D. points out that there are two types of rebellion: rebellion against socially fitting in and rebellion against adult authority, with the young person asserting their individuality and independence from the norms of authority; Pickhardt also notes that this rebelliousness can last, in different forms, from the age of nine to the age of twenty-three (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/200912/rebel-cause-rebellion-in-adolescence). And yet since the Suppression Hypothesis argues that unbelief is, at least in part, a sort of rebelliousness against the commands and edicts of God, then the correlation between the age at which many people become unbelievers and the fact that these ages are the main ages of rebelliousness is a telling fact that it is not at all surprising given the Suppression Hypothesis.

Also note another interesting correlation the appears to support the Suppression Hypothesis: namely, the correlation between an emotional-and-less-than-rational-brain and the age during which many individuals embrace unbelief. Indeed, on the ‘BBC.co.uk’ site, in the ‘Science: Human Body and Mind’ Section, a 17th of September 2014 article titled “Teenage emotions: Teenage rebellion” notes the following:

[QUOTE] There is one other reason why teenagers might rebel. Scientists have used advanced scanning methods to study the changes that occur in the adolescent brain. Much to their surprise, they have discovered that the brain continues to develop and grow well into the teenage years. This might explain a teenager’s risk-taking behaviour. It has emerged that the emotional region of the brain develops to maturity ahead of the part of the brain that controls rational thought. In other words, teenagers have well-developed emotions and feelings but have still not acquired the ability to think things through. When they act impulsively, and do the kind of dangerous things an adult would avoid, their brain’s late development might be to blame. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/articles/emotions/teenagers/rebellion.shtml%5D

So again, it is a very interested and telling correlation that many individuals embrace atheism at a time when they are borne to rebellion against authority and when their brains are more emotional then rational, a fact which is, once again, entirely expected on the Suppression Hypothesis, but is rather surprising on the ‘atheist-as-just-a-rational-evidence-seeking-individual’ position.

 

Point Thirteen – Unbelievers Would Not Accept God Even if True:

In addition to the fact that certain of unbelievers admit to some aspect of the Suppression Hypothesis, there is also anecdotal evidence which points to the fact that for certain unbelievers, even if they had evidence that proved the truth of theism—or more specifically Christian theism—they nevertheless would not submit to such a deity. For example, on his blog ‘WinteryKinght.com’, in a 13th of May 2009 blog post titled “Interview with the Atheist, Part 2: The Answers”—accessed on the 8th of February 2017—Wintery Knight, who is the blog author and a Christian, posted the answers to an informal, and admittedly unscientific, survey which he did with ten atheists, agnostics, and Unitarians. Some of the questions and answers were very interesting, but the main one to focus on is the following:

[QUOTE] Question 12: Would you follow (and how would you follow) Jesus at the point where it became clear to you that Christianity was true? (NO: 7) (YES: 2)

[1] I have no idea

[2] I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me

[3] I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do

[4] I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.

[5] If I found there was no trickery? I’d have to change my mind wouldn’t I! Not really likely though is it?

[6] I would keep doing what I am doing now, acting morally. That’s what all religions want anyway. (In response to my triumphant scribbling, he realized he had fallen into a trap and changed his answer to the right answer) Oh, wait. I would try to try to find out what Jesus wanted and then try to do that.

[7] I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.

[8] I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values.  I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.

[9] He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://winteryknight.com/2009/05/13/interview-with-the-atheist-part-2-the-answers/%5D

And note that the results that Wintery Knight obtained are not unique. For example, on the ‘Well Spent Journey’ blog, the author Matt, in an 18th of March 2013 post titled “Atheist Survey Results (n=23)”—accessed on the 8th of February 2017—posted the results of his own unscientific survey with twenty-three self-reported unbelievers. And once again, the results are very interesting, for consider this question and the answers to it:

[QUOTE] 12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?

– Would follow (5)

– Wouldn’t follow (6)

– Might follow the teachings of Jesus, but that isn’t Christianity (2)

– It would depend on how this truth was revealed (3)

– Christianity can’t be true (3)

– No answer given (4)

[In the comments, Matt also posted these further responses to the above question]

– I don’t think that’s possible.

– This would depend on the manner in which such became known to me and what version of Christianity it was.

– Well, it depends. If I “learned that Christianity was true”, odds are I wouldn’t follow Jesus. I’d need some answers first.

– I don’t really know on this one.

– I’d probably talk to some of my friends I’ve met at uni who are quite religious and ask them. I know a couple who would be very supportive, and one who i know full well thinks in similar ways to me and would be able to talk me through things in a way i could resonate with. The hardest adjustment? praying. It seems weird, creepy and strange to me and i’d feel ridiculous doing it considering to me it seems like talking to yourself.

– I would give away my possessions to any who asked for them. I would then attempt to understand how the bible came to be so corrupted and to try to find the reality of Jesus’ teachings. Although for it to become clear to me that Christianity was true I would have to know that reality first and it be confirmed by some neutral party. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://wellspentjourney.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/atheist-survey-results-n23/%5D

Now again, these are entirely unscientific surveys, and so they are subject to a number of objections, but the results are interesting nonetheless, especially given that the majority of the respondents either dodged the question or admitted that even if the evidence for Christian theism was such that they were convinced that it was true, they would nevertheless still not follow it. In fact, certain respondents admitted that they would continue—or at least try to continue—to rebel against God and His moral commands, which is exactly what the Suppression Hypothesis claims is the motivator for God-denial. Now, admittedly, these unbelievers did not confess that they actually did believe in God, but through their admittance that they would not follow Christianity even if it was proven true to their satisfaction, these unbelievers have shown that their unbelief is motivated by more than simply evidentiary reasons; indeed, there is a strong psychological and moral component to their rejection of God, and this is, in large part, what the Suppression Hypothesis predicts, but it is not what the ‘follow-the-evidence-wherever-it-leads-rational-atheist’ hypothesis predicts. And so, the fact that some unbelievers, as noted above, admit that they would rebel against God even if they believed He existed, shows that their unbelief is motivated by more than mere evidentiary considerations, and it also renders quite plausible the idea that such unbelievers might suppress the reality that God does indeed exist as a way of shielding themselves from what they consider to be an unpleasant and undesirable fact.

  

Bonus – The Evidence from the Bible: 

The final point to consider in support of the Suppression Hypothesis comes from the Bible itself, which plausibly states that unbelievers do just that in Romans 1. Now, for a believer, such scriptural evidence will be powerful. For an unbeliever, such evidence will be extremely weak, and the reasons for the unbeliever’s dismissal of this evidence are understood. Nevertheless, even if considered weak, the Biblical evidence cannot be outright dismissed. Why? Because even if looked at as a non-inspired book, the Bible contains a great deal of wisdom and human experience in it. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul, as evidenced from his writings, was no moron. And so, given all this, the Bible, as a book containing claims about human nature and human experience cannot be entirely dismissed. And so the Biblical claim that unbelievers suppress the truth about God is a point of support for that hypothesis, even if it is only slight support.

Illumination of Other Interesting Points

Having presented a number of points in favor of the plausibility of the Suppression Hypothesis, it should also be noted that the Suppression Hypothesis can also help to illuminate certain other points that both this author and others have noticed about many unbelievers. For example, on his blog ‘edwardfeser.blogspot.com’, and in a 12th of July 2014 post titled “Clarke on the stock caricature of First Cause arguments”, blog author Edward Feser notes that certain unbelievers routinely straw-man the cosmological argument for God’s existence, and he also notes the fact their straw-manning was even noted back in the 1970s by other philosophers. Additionally, in this author’s experience, it has been noted that when discussing the issue of God or Christianity, unbelievers often employ a double-standard concerning how they use skepticism (a sort of selective hyper-skepticism); they also give great weigh to objections which are demonstrably weak, and which, in any other context, would be considered weak (one has only to look at Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion for a number of examples of this). Now, the reason that this is interesting, and the reason it is worth pointing out, is because many unbelievers are otherwise intelligent people, but when it comes to the issue of God, their clear thinking and sound reasoning often appears to go sideways—although no doubt many unbelievers would accuse theists of the same thing. However, the point is that if you apply the Suppression Hypothesis to this overall phenomenon, then the reason for this discrepancy between an unbeliever’s good reasoning about secular matters and bad reasoning about God-related issues becomes clearer, for the Suppression Hypothesis tells you that the unbeliever is not being rational about his unbelief, but rather he is rationalizing it, thus meaning that he is looking for any excuse to support his God-denying position. And so, when looked at through the lens of the Suppression Hypothesis, many otherwise hard to understand points about the behavior of unbelievers become illuminated.

 

The Predictions of the Suppression Hypothesis

Now, in the end, the atheist can reverse all these points and argue that it is actually the religious believer who is motivated by fear, wish-fulfillment, and so on. In fact, the atheist often does argue this. And perhaps both atheist and theist alike are motivated by psychological drivers to believe what they believe. Nevertheless, whether atheists suppress the truth about God’s existence is ultimately an empirical question and it is one that should be tested more thoroughly in the future. At present, however, the evidence that we do have—as articulated above—is sufficient to achieve the aim of this essay: which is to show that the Suppression Hypothesis is plausible, non-ad-hoc, and has an air-of-reality to it, meaning that it has some evidentiary base. And this is, in the end, all that is required to put the burden onto the atheist concerning his need to prove that he—if he is a person with properly-functioning cognitive faculties—genuinely does not believe in God.

However, as a final point, it can be added that it is hoped that additional research into the Suppression Hypothesis will be done. And to that end, a few predictions can be made concerning what results should be expected if the Suppression Hypothesis is true. Thus, in the future, if the research is done, and if these predictions bear fruit, then we can be even more confident that the Suppression Hypothesis is actually what is occurring with unbelievers. So here are some predictions which should be expected if the Suppression Hypothesis is true:

Prediction 1: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that research would determine that the unbelief of the large majority of unbelievers with properly functioning cognitive faculties (essentially, neurologically-typical people who are unbelievers) is ultimately and primarily traceable back to some type of psychological, moral, and/or emotional reason for their unbelief.

Prediction 2: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that for the large majority of unbelievers who are not primarily motivated in their unbelief by psychological, moral, and/or emotional reasons—essentially, for wholly “rational” unbelievers—it will be shown that these unbelievers will be neurologically-atypical, and thus they will have some type of mental dysfunction, such as high-functioning autism or a narcissistic disorder.

Prediction 3: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that the large majority of unbelievers who are neurologically-typical but who also hold their unbelief for rational reasons will become believers at some point in their adult life.

Prediction 4: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that the large majority of neurologically-typical unbelievers become unbelievers during the time when their brain is not fully developed, is more emotional than rational, and when their personality is in a rebellious stage, thus meaning from approximately ten to twenty years of age; by contrast, most unbelievers who return to theistic belief would be expected to do so as mature adults who are better able to deal with their emotions and think rationally, thus meaning from approximately twenty-five years and above.

Prediction 5: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that when tested, the instinctive behavioral and bodily reactions of neurologically-typical unbelievers would be the opposite of what would be expected given their self-professed unbelief; thus, their bodies would react the same as the bodies of theistic believers would even though their verbal responses would be the opposite of how believers would reply to questions.

Prediction 6: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that a large majority of very recently converted neurologically-typical atheists would fail a polygraph exam if said polygraph exam tested the genuineness of their unbelief; in essence, in people who had recently become atheists, and thus verbally claimed to be atheists, the suppression of the truth of the existence of God would still be close enough to their conscious thought that they would fail a polygraph exam. And so while claiming to be atheists, a polygraph would show that they were lying about their unbelief.

Prediction 7: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that a large majority of neurologically-typical atheists, if properly surveyed, would show no emotional, moral, and/or psychological problem with deism being true, but they would show a major problem in all those areas with theism being true.

Prediction 8: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that at least some neurologically-typical unbelievers, whether in interviews or in surveys, would admit to actually believing that God exists even while overtly claiming to be atheists; in essence, they would admit to simply rebelling against God.

Prediction 9: Given the moral component of the Suppression Hypothesis, then if the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that individuals raised in highly liberal households would be more expected to be unbelievers, but also that neurologically-typical individuals who believed in God, but had adopted liberal social and moral values, would be more prone to unbelief; essentially, the embrace of non-traditional moral rules and values would be strongly correlated, and even causally-linked, to unbelief. Additionally, it would be expected that the few morally-traditional unbelievers that exist would look at theism much more favorably, and even desire theism to be true, then their unbelieving liberal counterparts, who would not wish for theism to be true and who would have disdain for theism.

Prediction 10: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that the large majority of neurologically-typical unbelievers, when asked, would either evade answering, or would answer negatively, to the question of if they would follow the moral commands and instructions of a theistic God—such as the Christian God—if that God’s existence was proven to their satisfaction.

Prediction 11: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that for the large majority of neurologically-typical unbelievers, when asked to think about God, the centers of their brain associated with dislike and disgust and fear would be activated to approximately the same degree as it would be for something else which the unbelievers knew existed but which they also disliked and feared; in essence, brain scans should show that the emotional elements of the brain are as active in neurologically-typical unbelievers when they think about God as the rational parts of their brain are.

Prediction 12: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that even the unbelievers who fit the category of neurologically-typical would nevertheless still possess higher amounts of autistic and narcissistic traits.

Prediction 13: If the Suppression Hypothesis is true, then it would be expected that for neurologically-typical unbelievers, the main moral complaint against theistic commands while revolve directly around those moral commands restricting hedonistic pursuits such as drug use or alcohol, but especially concerning sexual restrictions.

Now perhaps further predictions can be made concerning the Suppression Hypothesis, but these will suffice at present. And one can only hope that further research will be done to determine whether the evidence supports the Suppression Hypothesis or not.

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Anno Domini 2017 02 11

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

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8 thoughts on “The Plausibility of the Suppression Hypothesis (Or, Why It is Reasonable to Believe that Culpable Unbelief is Just Rebellion Against God)

    1. ???…I find it rather strange that determining whether or not the ‘Suppression Hypothesis’ is plausible and/or reasonable to believe in is considered “dehumanizing”. Sounds to me like you might simply be an individual who would rather not like to know the truth of this matter given that doing so might seriously challenge some of your preconceived notions.

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      1. I will, thank you.

        Should you, however, actually care to, you know, substantiate your first comment–like you should have done–rather than merely dropping it there without context, then perhaps there would have been something to actually interact with.

        Till then though, what else can be done except speculate. After all, as Hitchens said “What is asserted without evidence (your comment), can be dismissed without evidence (my comment).”

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  1. I haven’t read the whole piece but I find the very concept of “Culpable Unbelief” problematic. If I understand it correctly, it means that we are responsible for our beliefs (and unbeliefs). This would require that belief is a choice, which seems counter-intuitive. Our beliefs come from our convictions and I don’t see how these could be a matter of choice. For one thing, it would mean that our convictions are independent of things like facts, logic and arguments. If becoming convinced was under the control of our will, then we could literally decide to believe anything. We could convince ourselves that two plus two equals 8.5 or that New York City is situated in China. No facts or arguments would be able to sway us, because our beliefs wouldn’t be based on facts or arguments – they would simply be the result of an arbitrary decision. This is of course absurd, beliefs obviously don’t work that way.

    Another way we can know that belief is not a matter of choice is through the phenomenon of doubt. If our beliefs were under the control of our will, doubt could not exist. We would just decide what we believe and that would be that – we wouldn’t even have a word for doubt. It seems obvious to me that we cannot choose our beliefs, they’re the result of our biology and our life experiences. Consequently, we can’t be held responsible for what we believe.

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    1. No KR, culpable unbelief, or the Suppression Hypothesis if you will, means that unbelievers actually know that God exists but they suppress that unbelief for various psychological and/or moral reasons using a number of defensive mechanisms. Hence the unbelief is culpable because it is not really unbelief, but rather a suppressed belief.

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      1. Maybe we’re both missing each other’s point. My understanding is that “culpable” means “deserving blame”. If we deserve blame for our beliefs, then we’re obviously being held responsible for them. As I’ve explained, I don’t think we are free to choose what we believe and so it follows that I don’t think we can be held responsible for our beliefs and therefore cannot be culpable.

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