On Approaching Atheism

The below piece is a translation and summary of a lecture given by the contemporary Saudi Shī’a scholar and polemicist, Shaykh Aḥmad Salmān al-Aḥmadī, on the topic of how to approach and dispute with atheists.1

Among the challenges facing religious thought today is the overshadowing of atheism into our societies and youth. We see that atheists have begun to exert influence through a variety of strategies; they are no longer limiting themselves to writing critiques, but have now begun to infiltrate the media, movies, cartoons, etc. As a result of this inundation, many have begun to drown in the sea of doubt or at least have become tainted to some degree by the pervasive influence. The following will discuss the reasoning employed by atheists and how to develop a methodology to be able to rebut their various stratagems. Firstly, it should be stated that it is imperative for our youth to study logic (al-manṭiq) in order to be able to properly analyze their claims and dissect them. In this juncture, we will open the discussion with some principles of logical analysis, methodological remarks, and finally conclude with examples of questions for atheists and examples of disputation.

A. A Logical Methodology for Disputation

As is discussed in logic, whenever we want to discuss any knowledge claim, we have three different steps through which we dissect the issue and discuss its validity:

  • Plausibility Analysis (At-Taḥlīl Ath-Thubūtī): the most elementary step is discussing whether the initial premises are logical and whether they are plausible and sound. As an example of this type of analysis, we may consider the discussion of the existence of partners to God, which is an illogical proposition from a rational perspective: God by definition is needless and therefore for Him to have a partner would contradict His perfection.
  • Corroborational Analysis (At-Taḥlīl Al-Ithbātī): the second step is confirming whether the premises under question are compatible with external reality. For instance, consider the theory in physical sciences regarding multiple universes; some physicists discuss how it is a rational proposition and may help to resolve some of the outstanding unanswered questions in physics; however, this is just a thubūtī discussion. Can any external evidence be provided to substantiate this claim? If not, then it is not corroborated by external reality and might as well be relegated to pure conjecture.
  • Consequential Analysis (Taḥlīl Al-Lawāzim wa al-Āthār): the final step relies upon the examination of the consequents of said knowledge claim. If the repercussions of a claim are categorically invalid, then this implies that the original claim itself is invalid. This is called in logic al-qiyās al-istithnā’ī (law of the contrapositive). This is in fact the method of Qur’ānic argumentation against the existence of partners to God, as the verse states: “If there had been in them [the heavens and the Earth] any gods except Allah, they would both have certainly been in a state of disorder” (21:22). In other words, the Qur’ān makes the argument that since the universe is not in chaos, then it follows that there is only One Creator.

When we want to compare two separate theories or knowledge claims, we ought to examine each one on these respective levels: if we analyze one theory from the viewpoint of plausibility analysis, for instance, then we ought to examine the other theory from the same logical level of analysis as well. Most atheists—when they approach religion—don’t dispute with us based on plausibility or corroborational analysis. Rather they attack religion at the level of consequential analysis.

They surmise there is no benefit in discussion on the first two levels because theological precepts in themselves are abstract and do not affect influence in the real world. Consider the supposed Middle Age myth that the moon was made of cheese; they state that the belief in God is the same. It makes no difference in our real-world to them what God is or what his attributes are, and they do not care to discuss that with believers. Instead, they argue with theists based on consequential analysis. The repercussions of religious belief are quite wide-reaching and thus allow them plenty of ammunition with which to assail us.

Unfortunately, when we theists argue with them, we engage them primarily on the basis of plausibility analysis: is atheism rational and are its premises logical? By doing so, we are ourselves limiting our rebuttal to a very narrow range of logical concepts and propositions while allowing them to run free with a wide repertoire of consequential objections. They could virtually attack us on nearly every chapter of jurisprudence (fiqh) while we are stuck discussing arguments of causality! As such, we are allowing them to narrow down their horizon of defense against us while maximizing their horizon of attack.

It is therefore imperative for us to identify the objection we bring or the one we aim to present in this framework: through doing this, we keep the plane of argumentation symmetric.

B. A Consequential Analysis of Atheism

We intend therefore to analyze atheism with a consequential lens; naturally there are many objections that could be brought forth, but we will suffice with a handful presented as questions for thought. One of the consequents of atheism is viewing the human being as a merely biological entity that evolved over thousands of years; from a non-theistic standpoint, there is no essential difference between a human being and animals except the degree of evolutionary development. The contentions we could raise with this contextualization are as follows:

  1. Consequents on the Level of the Individual (Al-Lawāzim al-Fardīyah)
    1. What is the basis or justification for establishing human rights?
    2. As discussed by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama: why do we favor human beings and grant them extra privileges while other living beings are not given the same?2
    3. What about bacteria and parasites? How come we deem it ethically sound to experiment on them in laboratories if they have the same right to life as we do?
    4. If humans merit rights on the basis of their evolutionary advantage, what about those individuals with disabilities or intellectual impairments? Should they be granted equal rights to humans of sound mind and body?
    5. From a Darwinian standpoint, men are more evolutionarily fit than women. Do women therefore deserve less rights?

  2. Consequents on the Level of the Society (Al-Lawāzim al-Ijtimā’īyah):
    1. Can atheism substantiate the existence of values such as justice, truth, loyalty, and altruism within the human psyche?
    2. What would bind an atheist to maintain any semblance of moral virtue if he had no belief in God or the Hereafter? Of note, even the prominent critic of religion Voltaire has noted he desires to marry a woman who believes in God, as this would encourage her to obey ethical principles. John Locke in his “Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689 AD) notes that atheists should not assume public office, as they cannot be trusted to act ethically.3
    3. From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality should not be allowed as it does not allow for further proliferation of the species. Hence what is the basis for its allowance in the context of an atheist epistemology?

C. Analysis of A Common Consequential Objection Against Religion

We would like to conclude this discussion with a brief framework for addressing consequential objections raised by atheists against religion. One of the common objections made against religion is that it “encourages violence.” The methodology to dissect this argument is summarized as follows, but can be extended to the rebuttal of any number of other objections:

  1. Analytical Response (Al-Jawāb al-Ḥallī): A key principle is to determine whether the consequent that the atheist has identified is accidental (‘araḍī) or essential (dhātī). When properly analyzed, every objection against religion is in fact accidental. That is to say: the consequents are actually the result of individuals’ misunderstanding religious precepts or values rather than truly the consequents of religion/theism. Thus, for instance, terrorists misappropriate the concept of jihād to wreak havoc in society due to a presupposed agenda that is imposed on religion. In this case, the consequent is not essential to religion but rather accidental: as a result of individual’s preconceived notions or interests of adherents, whether these be economic, political, or social.

  2. Refutational Response (Al-Jawāb an-Naqḍī): Many of the consequents of atheism are in fact essential in nature, meaning they stem from a true lack of a proper epistemology. This can be used to our advantage to expose the weaknesses of their belief structure. Indeed, the lack of recognition of God or the Hereafter is anathema to personal and societal structure. In the case of “violence,” for instance, clear examples of atheism leading to violent consequents exist in the Human Zoo of the 19th century and Hitler’s genocide in the 1940s, which were both based on social Darwinism and Aryan doctrine—direct products of atheism.


  1. The full lecture can be found at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQJLJjoEzOE
  2. Cf. “The End of History and the Last Man,” by Francis Fukuyama, Penguin Books 1992
  3. Here is the passage in question from Locke’s work: “Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated.”