Romans 1:18-21 says that all people believe in God:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
1) It seems that there are people who are unbelievers. 2) Paul says that all people believe in God in Romans 1. Does not 1 in conjunction with 2 seem like a contradiction? In this post I will argue that there is no contradiction here.
I think the contradiction disappears when one understands the distinction between believing *in* and believing *that*. Believing *in* would be trusting in someone, this would be a non-propositional personal relationship. On the other hand, believing *that* would be believing that a certain proposition or state of affairs is true. So for example, when I say I believe that my girlfriend is watching I love Lucy at 12:35 am on Sunday, this is a example of believing that a proposition is true. But when I say I believe in my girlfriend to be faithful to me, this is a non-propositional trusting relationship I have. Thus, the distinction is between believing that and trusting in.
Clearly Romans 1 is teaching that all people believe *that* God exists but certainly it is not teaching us that unbelievers believe *in* God and have a relationship because this is something that is only true of a believer who has faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, it is clear that there is no contradiction here.
But there is another sort of problem that has been answered By Greg L. Bahnsen in his famous dissertation on the paradox of self deception. The problem is that atheists claim that they do not believe *that* God exists. In other words they reject that they believe the proposition that God exists. If they are right then this means the bible is unreasonable in what it says about unbelievers. But there is no reason for thinking this, as Bahnsen has argued they might be very well self-deceived. Here is what that possibly might look like. The unbeliever possibly believes:
P1: S believes that p is true
P2: S believes that he is not the kind of person to say that he believes that p is true.
Let us say that S would stand for subject or person; P would be the proposition that God exists. Thus, this shows us that there is no contradiction between what Romans 1 has to teach and what an atheist has to say. Because a atheist is self-deceived and from what I have shown from P1 and P2 in conjunction it seems that self-deception is certainly possible. But why would a unbeliever do this? Well perhaps it is because they hate God and the worst thing they could do to God in their mind is say that he does not exist. It is sort of like if I were to pretend that my father did not exist anymore, certainly this would be a hateful action I would perform in order to cause disrepute to my father. Likewise unbelievers do the very same thing, they hate God so they say that he does not exist. It is reasonable to think this, that unbelievers hate God because John says that they love the darkness:
John 3:19 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.
In light of this, it seems that Paul's teaching in Romans 1 is reasonable.