An atheist is generally defined as a person who denies the existence of God or a higher power. Some have suggested certain people are born atheists, meaning we all have some innate predisposition against faith in God or that faith in God is somehow unnatural.
There are several ways to answer the claim that everyone is born an atheist, depending on what is meant by the term atheist. The first and simplest answer is that we cannot be “born” atheists because atheism entails certain spiritual and intellectual decisions that newborns are incapable of making.
In the strictest sense, a child can’t be “born” an atheist or an agnostic or a Christian any more than he can be “born” a Republican or a Democrat. Saying one is born an atheist is an example of a category error, i.e., the application of labels to something that has no properties in that category. Another example of a category error would be discussing the smell of different colors. An atheist has made a moral, philosophical, intellectual and/or spiritual decision regarding the existence of God. Infants obviously cannot have made any such decision, so trying to label them as atheists or non-atheists is a mistake in logic.
Saying children are “born” atheists, meaning that they do not believe in God, is to simply misdefine both belief and atheism. Despite what some claim, atheism is not a passive lack of commitment; rather, it is an active denial of the existence of God. Those who lack the knowledge to decide the question of God’s existence are “soft agnostics,” not “atheists.” Further, newborns also don’t “believe” in whales, algebra, or Abraham Lincoln, so what an infant “believes” has very little to do with what is real.
What about adults who do not believe? Are they “born atheists”? Are they in some way predisposed to reject faith in God? Ecclesiastes 3:11 notes that God “has also set eternity in the human heart.” What does this mean? Every person has a longing or desire for something beyond this world. The very idea that we can imagine an eternity shows there is an innate desire or interest in something or someone beyond this life. According to the Bible, people are not born atheists but are born with a desire for something transcending this life.
Everyone worships something or someone, whether it is God, false gods and goddesses, other people, themselves, or things in this world. This innate desire for worship also provides evidence that people are not born lacking faith, but seeking someone to worship. In other words, people are created to worship. More importantly, they know God exists: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
A more interesting thought than how many people are born atheists is how very few die atheists. We are born with a near-total lack of knowledge or information. Yet life experiences and other evidence lead the overwhelming majority of mankind to some belief in the divine. The only cultures where non-belief is significant are those where religion has been overtly suppressed, again emphasizing how natural and normal it is for man to believe in God. That we all lack positive belief in God at birth is unavoidable, but that almost all of us find that belief before we die is undeniable.