Is Belief in God Just Wishful Thinking?

The late Stephen Hawking was one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history. He was also a well-known atheist and a best-selling author. In the last book that he wrote, Hawking claimed that belief in God and in an afterlife were just “wishful thinking.”1 Is Hawking right, or is it atheism that is based on wishful thinking?

Before I answer this crucial question, we need to understand what wishful thinking is and why it affects us. Wishful thinking involves thinking and believing what we want to think and believe even though our beliefs are not logical and are not supported by solid evidence. We can struggle with thinking and believing what we want to think and believe about ourselves, God, and our world. In other words, wishful thinking can strongly influence our worldview. It can cause us to misunderstand who we are, who God is or isn’t, and what the world is like.

We can all fall into the trap of wishful thinking. Why? We are all susceptible to engaging in wishful thinking because of our strong emotional attachments to our beliefs. We may feel too busy to take the time to evaluate our beliefs. In addition, our postmodern world encourages us to be attracted to what is irrational, contradictory, and emotionally appealing. We also want to be our own boss. We want to make our own rules and have our own moral standards. We want the freedom to believe what is comfortable and convenient for us so that we can live our lives how we want to live them. We all tend to struggle with wishful thinking, and we can all easily believe what we want to believe. We tend to resist changing our beliefs and lifestyles unless we regard such changes as essential to our emotional and spiritual well-being.

Hawking never regarded believing in God as necessary for the way that he wanted to live his life. He even admitted that his denial of God’s existence was affected by his preference to not believe in a divine Being. In the last book he authored before passing away, he writes: “Well, I suppose it’s possible that I’ve upset someone up there, but I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way, by the laws of nature.”2 Hawking also admits that his atheistic worldview might be influenced by wishful thinking. Considering the possibility of God existing, he states: “We are each free to believe what we want and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God.”3

The truth is that atheism is much more likely to be motivated by wishful thinking than theism is to be motivated by it. Why? All of us would prefer to believe that God will not hold us accountable and would never punish us for not believing in Him or living for Him. Moreover, it’s difficult to understand why someone would want to believe in hell—a place of eternal punishment. It’s much easier to understand why someone would not want to believe in such a terrible place.4

Like Stephen Hawking, many other atheists don’t want to have someone telling them how they should live their lives. They don’t want to be held accountable to anyone for how they choose to live. Many atheists realize that there is not enough evidence to justify their beliefs, but they refuse to even consider believing in God because they don’t want to believe in Him. Countless atheists are committed to their antisupernatural bias even though this commitment defies common sense. Richard Lewontin, an atheist and a former professor of zoology and biology at Harvard University, makes it clear that he and other atheists are committed to atheism even though it goes against common sense. Why? They don’t want to allow God to tell them how to live.5

Atheism is based on wishful thinking rather than on solid evidence. It is irrational, and it isn’t true. In order for atheism to be true, it would need to be intellectually satisfying, emotionally appealing, and theologically sound. Atheism is somewhat emotionally appealing because it seeks to answer why there is so much pain, suffering, and evil in the world. It points out that the suffering in this world could be explained by suggesting that God doesn’t really exist. However, atheism is neither intellectually satisfying nor theologically sound. There is simply not enough evidence for atheism for it to be a credible worldview.

Unlike atheism, belief in God (i.e., theism) is based on solid evidence. In chapter 4 of my book The Life Changer, I clearly describe three excellent arguments for God’s existence. I also explain how suffering is compatible with God’s existence, and I offer many examples of leading scientists who have believed in God.

Taking the time to examine the truthfulness our own beliefs is both helpful and crucial if we want to live an abundant life characterized by joy, peace, and a sense of purpose. Whether you believe in God or don’t currently believe in Him, I encourage you to read my book The Life Changer so that you can know how to evaluate your worldview and enjoy the abundant life that God wants you to enjoy.

  1. Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions (New York: Bantam Books, 2018), 38. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., 26. ↩︎
  3. Ibid., 38. ↩︎
  4. Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), 10. ↩︎
  5. Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, 31. See also Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review, January 9, 1997, accessed May 24, 2024, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/ billions-and-billions-of-demons/. ↩︎

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