Can a person be born an atheist?

Question
Can a person be born an atheist?
Answer

No one is born as an atheist or even an agnostic. Atheism is not a passive lack of belief, but an active denial of the existence of God. Since it is an active false faith it is developed over time. Therefore, a person cannot born as an atheist.

When one is born they are born with General Revelation that God exists (Rom 1:19-20). The Belgic Confession, article 2 states:

We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

General Revelation is a universal witness. So, all men everywhere have an awareness of God.

There two types of General Revelation: (1) Immediate and (2) Mediate. Immediate General Revelation means that God actually implants a General Revelation of himself in every man. All men everywhere have an innate sense that God exists (Rom 2:14-15; cf. Isa 44:9-20; Acts 14:8-19 ). John Calvin in his Institutes of Christian Religion describes Immediate General Revelation, saying:

There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity [divinitatis sensum]. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty (I.3.1).

However, not only does God implant in each and every man Immediate General Revelation, but he also continues to reveal himself in his creation, nature, and by his works (Psa 19:1-2; Acts 14:17). The is his Mediate General Revelation; or information received by secondary sources. Mediate General Revelation is all around us and witnesses to us each and everyday of God's existence. From the existence of the stars in the heavens to the miracle and complexity of the human eye, Mediate General Revelation exists for God's glory and to make himself known to his creation.

So no man is born an atheist. Every man has a General Revelation that God exists. Only a fool denies the existence of God who has made himself so fully known (Psa 14:1; 53:1).

Note: General Revelation is insufficient in and of itself to redeem a person. General Revelation is enough to condemn all, but regenerate none. General Revelation reveals that God created us and even sustains us, but it does not show us the way of salvation, Jesus Christ, his Cross. This takes Special Revelation (Eph 2:20; Heb 1:1-2, et. al.). You must be born again (John 3:1-8).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).