In a Christian worldview, is Satan the main force behind atheism? If so, how exactly does this occur? I'm intrigued by this conundrum because if Satan actively influences individuals to adopt atheism, he must achieve two objectives simultaneously:

  1. He (or his demonic agents) must intervene in the physical world somehow to convince a person to embrace atheism.
  2. He must execute this influence in a masterfully subtle manner, ensuring the individual remains completely unaware of the spiritual manipulation prompting their atheistic beliefs.

Think of notable atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, and notable agnostics, such as Carl Sagan. If Satan indeed played a role in shaping Dawkins' atheism and Sagan's agnosticism, this would suggest a sophisticated mastery of subliminal manipulation. Because both Dawkins and Sagan never acknowledged any Satanic influence behind their beliefs, and in fact, if they were presented with the hypothetical manipulation scenario I'm entertaining, they would likely dismiss it with a laugh, seeing it as nothing more than a far-fetched thought experiment.

How do Satan and his demons manipulate individuals into embracing atheism (or agnosticism) while remaining completely undetected? What are the mechanisms behind this imperceptible and subconscious manipulation, and is there a means within Christianity to unveil and expose this influence, bringing it to the individual's conscious awareness?

  • How does Satan entice any of us to commit any sin (atheism is one sin of many). Point being: I think this question could be more generalized. Or, is there a more subtle aspect in regards to atheism that I missed?
    – tnknepp
    Commented May 9 at 16:29
  • @tnknepp Being tempted to over-eat ice cream doesn't really seem that comparable to being tempted to find theistic arguments unconvincing. Atheist philosophers have written probably thousands of papers explaining why they find theistic arguments unconvincing, and I fail to see how the same process leading to the writing of those papers would apply to the case of people falling into the sin of over-eating ice cream.
    – Mark
    Commented May 9 at 17:01
  • Over-eating ice cream a sin? How dare you sir! ;) I'm trying to understand your question, but let's not forget that one sin will send you to Hell as fast as another. To my point, the mechanism through which the temptation is delivered must be the same regardless of what the prospective sin is, right?
    – tnknepp
    Commented May 9 at 17:24
  • Or, are you suggesting that Satan is the author that inspired the atheists' writings (similar to how the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of scripture) and you wonder how that works?
    – tnknepp
    Commented May 9 at 17:26
  • @tnknepp To my point, the mechanism through which the temptation is delivered must be the same regardless of what the prospective sin is, right? - I don't know. At least in the case of over-eating ice cream vs. writing atheistic philosophy papers (e.g. see this example), I don't see how it is obviously the case that the exact same procedure is followed. If you know the mechanism(s), and are knowledgeable enough in the matter to explain it, please by all means post an answer.
    – Mark
    Commented May 9 at 18:34

5 Answers 5


It seems that a main point of the question is, as the OP commented, "Atheists are not noticing it. I'm interested in the mechanisms that, according to Christianity, Satan is using behind the scenes to trick atheists into being atheists without them noticing that they are being tricked. And the other question (if you read the OP carefully) is whether there is a method in Christianity for an atheist to become consciously aware of this fact"

Having looked at a question asked by the OP in November last year, there are clues there as to why some of the answers here are not satisfying the OP. There seems to be an expectation that experience might be more important in coming to faith than in believing the gospel / God's truth. But if experience of God by atheists is said to be an unrealistic expectation as they don't have experience of his existence, nor of the existence of malevolent, deceptive, satanic beings, they've got themselves into a loop. (Or, maybe it's Satan that has caught them into this loop of his.) Do they seem to think that God ought to zap them with an experience, to win them round? Do they think that any god (of their imagining) is beholden to them to prove himself to them? And that would include any false god - like Satan. A supernatural experience, many think, whether from the throne of heaven, or the pit of hell, would make them believe in God and/or Satan. Would it really?

God has communicated with mankind, before rebellion against him started up, and thereafter, but God's way of communicating is all about hearing him, not seeing, or experiencing. It is whether one hears God's words (verbal to Adam, written to us) that determines whether God will become real to us. That applies just as much to atheists as to everyone else. So, here is the answer to the two queries of the OP as stated at the start:

Satan's Mechanism - his main one, that is. He demonstrated it in the garden of Eden, and it was so subtle that once the woman began to listen to his words, she was lured in; not to disbelieving God existed, however, but to believing an apparently beneficial 'voice' should be preferred over God's truly beneficial words. Then, when her words persuaded the man to act as she had done, both of them discovered that this was not a good, nor even a benign agency, but evil, and that death resulted from heeding his influence.

However, once they had gone against God's clear instruction to them, they had to be banished from God's presence. That's what sin does, you see; Isaiah 59:2 addresses God's people, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God: your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." Read also 1 Samuel 15:23, where heeding God's instructions is better than sacrifice; that rebellion is as the sin of divination and, "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king."

Once more, this can hardly result in people becoming atheists, but once Satan has got them listening to his words, one of the first effects is that they cannot hear God's words. Once devoid of knowing, and believing God's words, they are on a downward slide that will lead to eternal alienation from God. But the subtlety of this regarding atheists is that not even Satan and his demons are atheists! They know there is one God - and shudder! (James 2:19) Of course, atheists will laugh at such words God has had recorded for our benefit, demanding proof of God first before they will deign to consider his written word. Well, it's Satan who is laughing up his sleeve at them!

God's way of Counteracting that - his main one, that is. He demonstrated it in the garden of Eden. Adam heard God's word, audibly, but because he did not obey the words of warning as to what source he must not go to, to live, he went to the wrong source (Satan) and died. This shows that hearing God's words requires acting in accordance with them. Had Adam done that, he would not have been prevented from partaking of the God-given source that gives life everlasting. And what is that source? The very words of God - that is the Tree of Life that was in the midst of the garden; freely given. Disbelieving and disobeying those words of life resulted in partaking of the words of death. The two of them sought to live by the wrong words, which they heeded, and so they became enslaved to sin and died. We find ourselves also dying, as the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we are all held in the satanic captivity of sin. Until, that is, God's remedy is applied: "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" as the rest of that verse explains.

Are atheists required to do anything different to the rest of us in order to experience God's personal salvation? No. As explained here in this book detailing the significance of the events in Eden:

"But the Tree of Life is in the midst of that place which is of God. 'There am I in the midst', if it be so. Each one has to do with each other one, through the One who is in the midst. Spiritual. Not of nature. Not in fleshly relationship. But through Him who is in the midst. Else, it is relationship in nature. Or worse, in the Serpent.

Life needs to be initiated, increased and sustained by the Tree of Life. And that Tree is in the very midst of the garden. Here it is... 'Of the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat'. These very words are the Tree of Life. The Word. The Word which was from the beginning. Eat that word. First. Thou art to eat of that which is freely given... to live. Turn away from that... and you die.

...Hear and live. Eat and live. Freely. For God is a Spirit. And can only be approached, and worshipped, in Spirit. He cannot be approached by that which is natural and of creation. It is not possible. To attempt it is to die. But word is required. Yet not the word that is mere knowledge...

The first utterance of the word of God shows how utterly essential it is for us to understand this primary concept. And this is what repentance is about, above all. Having another mind about this very matter. Else, we cannot progress to anything else. Hear. Eat. Live." Knowledge and Life, pp 17-18, Nigel Johnstone, Belmont, 2013 http://www.belmontpublications.co.uk

God calls us all to listen to him. Atheists are not listening because they only listen to that which is material, not spiritual words from their Maker. The words they listen to are whispers of lies from a different spiritual source. Any knowledge or experience they get is from that deadly source, which is so subtle, they have no idea of the source - Satan. That's why "Atheists are not noticing it" as you rightly pointed out. And the first part of the question is answered by "Satan's main tactic is to stop people listening to the words of God - and atheists are no different to anyone else in that regard."

Finally, the link below to an earlier question asked by the O.P. is not given to suggest a repeat question, for it absolutely is not, but is given to provide helpful background information (especially from some of the answers) to flag up a possible way of thinking that will act as an obstacle to grasping the extent of Satan's subtle effect on blinding the minds of those who say neither he (nor God) exists. In Christianity, does belief precede religious experience, or is it the other way around?


for God doth know that in the day of your eating of it—your eyes have been opened, and ye have been as God, knowing good and evil. - Genesis 3:5 YLT

Satan successfully deceived Eve and by that act did Adam disobey and introduce sin into the world. It is a disposition that every human being is born with: A disposition to usurp God's singular prerogative to distinguish between good and evil.

Atheism is nothing more than the ripened fruit of that fallen disposition of flesh.

If the Son of God had not lived, died, and risen there would be no flesh saved. If the Spirit of God were not at work in the world convincing of sin there would be no flesh saved. If the Word of God had not been written and safeguarded down through the millennia there would be no flesh saved.

The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of those who will believe. Most if not all of Satan's energy and attention is bent on interfering with this work of salvation. An atheist is no more or less lost than any other person who is not saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Humanity is already predisposed to reject God. Whether lost humanity manifests it's condition through atheism, false worship, or indifference; lost humanity is already lost and cultivating atheism (or anything else contrary to God) is probably best accomplished by opposing the Lord's work on behalf of believers.

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    and cultivating atheism is probably best accomplished by opposing the Lord's work on behalf of believers - Can you please describe how this works in more detail? And why do atheists fail to notice that this is what is actually going on? I'm pretty sure there must be lots of insightful details that could be unpacked, but your answer is way too brief and thus fails to accomplish that.
    – Mark
    Commented May 4 at 15:28
  • @Mark Why do atheists, who deny the existence of God, fail to notice Satan (whom they probably also deny the existence of) resisting God's work on behalf of believers? Is that really your question? Commented May 5 at 12:13
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    Why do atheists fail to notice that they are being tricked by Satan? That's my question.
    – Mark
    Commented May 5 at 12:44
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    @Mark They don't believe in Satan. Most deny any kind of spiritual realm at all. Hard to notice being tricked by a non-entity, I imagine. Whatever does happen is attributed to something natural by default. Commented May 5 at 12:47
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    @Mark Well then, the mechanism I've tried to outline in my answer is that he leaves them alone since they are, by nature, bent upon rejecting God and feeding their own intellects. The method in Christianity (the use of this term here is unpleasant because it sounds like a religious system) by which they may become aware is the proclamation of the gospel. Commented May 5 at 13:03

This answer is rather similar to Mike Borden's, especially in its conclusion that

Humanity is already predisposed to reject God[,] whether [it] manifests it's condition through atheism, false worship, or indifference[.]

However, here are some more points.

From OP:

In a Christian worldview, is Satan the main force behind atheism?

Satan is, certainly, not the only force behind atheism. 2 Peter 3:3-7 (the apostolic letters contained in the Bible are important sources of Christian teachings, and all of the references after this one are found there, unless otherwise indicated) says that there will be scoffers, who "walk by their own lusts" because they "voluntarily forget", showing an assumption that they have a certain agency regarding this attitude, with its corresponding responsibility.

However, in Christian teachings, there is a spiritual side to this conflict, too. In Ephesians 2:2, Paul says that Christians, too, "once walked ... according to ... the spirit of disobedience". He goes on to say that we all conducted ourselves among these sons of disobedience and were naturally children of wrath just like the others. In verse eight, he says that [Christians] have been saved through faith, which is a gift from God.

Again in 2 Peter 3:9, "the Lord is patient with us, not wanting anyone to die, but every one to come to repentance (where he or she can be saved).

About mind-matter interactions, there is a great number of theories, none of which is both complete and conclusive. Christians in general accept that there is a relation between mind and matter, but whether the mind causes people's behavior or is only and observer is sometimes disputed, without relation to Christianity. And so, the mechanisms proper by which Satan is supposed to intervene in people's minds is not mechanical at all, but spiritual. Christians understand that there is much more to the universe than what fits in naturalism's limits. Christians are not the only ones to believe this: many people believe that, as the little prince said, "One can only see well with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes."

As to why atheists fail to notice the work of Satan, it is usually because, as Sherlock Holmes would say: "you look, but you do not observe". After excluding certain possibilities, insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Dawkins does not believe that Satan exists; so he attributes Satan's actions in his mind to other causes.

From OP's explanatory comments:

...according to Christianity, there is hope of salvation for atheists, then surely there has to be an answer to this question of yours [how do Sagan and Dawkins stand a chance against Satan], right? Otherwise, atheists and agnostics like Dawkins and Sagan would truly be in a hopeless situation, because how are they supposed to out-smart an unknown and undetectable enemy who they have no idea is out-smarting them in the first place?

Christians teach that there is hope of salvation for Atheists (folks who don't believe in gods, or in a particular god) as well as for folks who believe in other gods and folks who don't know about gods in general. We advise them all that "The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people" (Titus 2:11), and that "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). If anyone will listen to this message, repenting and believing, he will not only have hope, he will in deed be saved.

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    After excluding certain possibilities, insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts - Interesting point. Would you mind developing this idea further? What sorts of facts are atheists overlooking in their theories? What data points are they not taking into account?
    – Mark
    Commented May 5 at 22:27
  • If anyone will listen to this message, repenting and believing, he will not only have hope, he will in deed be saved. In my experience talking with atheists and agnostics, they would likely take issue with the "believing" part (leading to a whole discussion on epistemology if the conversation progresses further).
    – Mark
    Commented May 5 at 22:32
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    About the data that atheists explain away, I think I can include some examples later. About taking issue with "believing" I have heard similar responses given, like the one you mention. But it is still christian teaching that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by God's word".
    – Conrado
    Commented May 5 at 23:21
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    I think I ought to emphasize that empirical evidence doesn't force conclusions about historical narratives... Rather, narratives shape the way that we interpret evidence; and so I can make evidence "say" more or less anything I like about people who have died, for example; but once I take a dogmatic position, it will of course limit the explanations that I will consider valid.
    – Conrado
    Commented May 5 at 23:34

Is Satan the main force behind atheism?

Yes, and no. Ultimately, the "main force" is human rebelliousness... but Satan, in his desire to interfere with God's plan, surely does everything possible to help that along.

Scripture teaches that, ultimately, humans are rebellious by nature, wanting to be our own gods, and resisting the proper authority of the True God. By nature, we love what is Evil and hate what is Good (John 3:19). One who properly acknowledges God must acknowledge this, and must acknowledge God's proper Authority over their lives. This is contrary to human nature, and the way one avoids these objectionable actions is by denying that God exists. Scripture teaches that this is a willful process (Romans 1:18).

Moreover, God Himself knows who is unreachable, and, so that their guilt might be plain, will Himself act to harden the hearts of unbelievers (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) and to weaken their consciences (Romans 1:24-32)... and these, in turn, also encourage others. It's important to understand, here, that we are speaking of people who had already rejected God, but surely God knows those who will accept Him and those who won't. Therefore, it should not be surprising that He arranges for those who were already condemned to be condemned utterly. When they stand before their Maker and all pretensions are stripped bare, those who rejected God will not be able to claim that their faults are minor.

Scripture also teaches that those without God are twisted in their reasoning (Ephesians 4:17-18), and that their "wisdom" is in fact folly (Romans 1:21-22).

[Satan] (or his demonic agents) must intervene in the physical world somehow to convince a person to embrace atheism.

I don't see how this is necessary. Mankind Fell because Eve listened to Satan's words, when he asked "Did God really say...?", causing her to doubt, and to believe that she could usurp God's prerogative of judging between Good and Evil. This same question, and the same technique of sowing doubt, continues to be the adversary's most potent weapon. Atheists doubt that God Created them, or that God even exists. Satan doesn't need to intervene physically to sow such doubts; indeed, that would be counterproductive, as causing disbelief in the spiritual seems to be one of his most effective weapons!

[Satan] must execute this influence in a masterfully subtle manner, ensuring the individual remains completely unaware of the spiritual manipulation prompting their atheistic beliefs.

Perhaps, but as others have noted, it's hard to notice what one rejects. In fact, observer bias is a well known effect. Add to this what Scripture says about the faulty reasoning ability of unbelievers, and it's not hard to see how atheists can be extremely resilient to challenges to their worldview.

How do Satan and his demons manipulate individuals into embracing atheism (or agnosticism) while remaining completely undetected? What are the mechanisms behind this imperceptible and subconscious manipulation?

(Honestly, this should probably be a separate Question, but...)

Certainly, Scripture says that the [spiritual] forces opposed by God have the ability to directly speak to humans. What's less clear is how obvious this action needs to be; the stereotypical notion of a disembodied voice seems plausible, but what about an overheard snippet of conversation, or a chance encounter with a seemingly normal person (actually a demon in disguise) that says something influential? Remember, we've established previously that it's in the adversary's (current) best interests to act with covertly rather than overtly, and here we have at least a few possibilities for influence that are both inconspicuous and don't require the ability to reach directly into one's head.

However, many believe that such "direct" influence is possible. This article, for instance, goes into some detail including the citation of several passages of Scripture. It isn't hard to imagine such manipulation being carried out carefully and with enough subtlety so as to not be noticed, especially when the manipulation aligns with the recipient's own desire to deny God.

As already suggested, however, one of the adversary's most potent weapons is peer pressure. How simple to stir up anger in a person with the intent of causing them to lash out at the perceived "foolishness" of another who is doubting the "orthodoxy" of atheism! Does Satan even need to get involved? Just look around! The pressure to conform to the material worldview is everywhere, and, to one unaware of the spiritual battle happening "behind the scenes", the source seems to be merely other humans.

Is there a means within Christianity to unveil and expose this influence, bringing it to the individual's conscious awareness?

I would say the best defense is to immerse one's self in Scripture. The first and most important step is to understand that a) there is a spiritual realm, and b) there is a battle being waged there over men's souls. (I use "men" in the historic, inclusive sense, of course.) To some extent, I am not qualified to answer, as I feel confident I am not myself aware of all the influence to which I am subject. On the other hand, armed with the intellectual knowledge that the spiritual battle exists, I find myself suspecting spiritual influence whenever I see humans acting against God's Will. Thus, I think the best answer I can give is to try to be receptive to what God says... and that is the true challenge of Christianity. It isn't a problem with a simple solution. However, the best tool we are given is God's Word, in the form of Scripture, and second to that, the Church. Try, too, to be mindful that Scripture is the only sure source of Truth; all else is tainted by man's ideas. Try, when reading the Word, to set aside your preconceptions about what is true and what is false.

So... read the Scripture, pray, repent, read the Scripture, accept the Sacraments, surround yourself with like-minded believers, and read the Scripture. In other words, be the best Christian you can be.

  • Thanks Matthew for the answer. Would you like to say something about my last sub-question: "What are the mechanisms behind this imperceptible and subconscious manipulation, and is there a means within Christianity to unveil and expose this influence, bringing it to the individual's conscious awareness?"?
    – Mark
    Commented May 9 at 1:12
  • In other words: how can an atheist become aware of the deception, and break free from it?
    – Mark
    Commented May 9 at 1:13
  • @Mark, done. Though you're making this broad enough that you should maybe be asking such things as separate Questions...
    – Matthew
    Commented May 9 at 15:18
  • A closely related question that may be of interest: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/101933/61679
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 3 at 9:56

Hidden. The first point to be made is that humans are intentionally kept in the dark about most events that transpire in the spiritual world. In the Book of Job, Satan is mentioned only in the prologue, in a scene far removed from Job and his life. At no point in his debates with his friends is a supernatural agent blamed for the trials afflicting Job and other innocents in the world. At no point in His speech does God point the finger at Satan. Despite this complete ignorance, Job by faith resists and overcomes the actions of his adversary. The only reason we know of Satan's involvement is that the author was given insight by God into this piece of the larger picture. The conclusion is that detailed knowledge of Satan, his powers and modes of operation is not necessary for us to know in order to be victorious. The Bible does give us some information that is helpful for us when it comes to resisting his evil machinations.

Permission. The first of Satan's actions against anyone is to ask permission from God. He does this in Job 1 & 2, and again in the gospels, when Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31).

Dreams. God can speak to us through our dreams and so can Satan. In Job 4:12-21, Eliphaz recounts a dream that he thinks is from God but is really from an evil spirit. "A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up..." In my late twenties I was tormented by apocalyptic dreams that I thought were from God. Praying with my pastor and reading Psalms and Isaiah delivered me from them. They were very convincing...

Lies, Fear, and Pleasure. If you compare the temptation of Jesus to his Parable of the Soils, you will see the three primary modes of attack employed by Satan. He tricks us with lies (the bird swooping in to snatch the seed), terrifies us with persecution or hardship, or leads us astray by pleasures and worries (the thorns and thistles of the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things).

The Weather. The devil is called in Ephesians 2:2 "the prince of the power of the air". We don't fully know what that means, but in Job, his children were killed by a tornado after Satan received permission to afflict Job. One must conclude that he from time to time is given control over the weather. This is one tool he uses to inflict fear.

Mental Illness. We do not know how much of mental illness is caused by evil spirits and how much is natural, caused by chemical imbalances from another origin. The Bible tells stories of people who were afflicted by evil spirits, then cured when Jesus or the apostles cast the spirits out. Some mentally ill people hear voices or see hallucinations. Some of those voices and visions are the action of Satan or the spirits under his authority, thus another way that he communicates to them. Modern people, having been given a naturalistic explanation for all mental illness, can now discount such afflictions as being caused by Satan.

Science. The principal tool that Satan uses to deceive is modern science. Many scientists deliberately seek theories that can be used to discredit religion. They slant research in that direction and discard data points that disagree with their biases. They have now created a massive, interlocking worldview that is difficult to dislodge.

Education. Our educational systems, originally built by Christians, have been mostly hijacked by the enemies of Christ. This is a major tool used by Satan to spread his influence.

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    ""the prince of the power of the air". We don't fully know what that means," — One interpretation is that Satan effectively broadcasts evil ideas (like radio signals) which are received by our brains. One must therefore always be on guard against one's doubts and urges and question where they originate. (During the Millennium, this broadcasting will be shut down for a thousand years.) Commented May 4 at 12:45
  • @RayButterworth - interesting idea, but it is too late for some of us. I personally believe that the Millennial Kingdom has come and gone, beginning in 380 AD with the Edict of Thessalonica and ending in 1380 AD, with Satan unbound and driving the Ottoman Empire to conquer Byzantium... "ruling the nations with a rod of iron" in Revelation meant the church's supremacy over Rome, the empire of iron from Daniel 2. Commented May 4 at 20:49
  • Wow! You believe anti-christ, the beast, and the false prophet are already come and gone? Commented May 5 at 12:55

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