Recently a good friend of mine, Troy, has decided to go in the way of the Atheist worldview. Troy has a similar history to me growing up in the Pentecostal church and as of recently we’ve been working together for the last few years, are neighbours and we share chickens in his back yard. Naturally, when one of my friends goes in the way of some sort of intellectual inquiry, I jump in head first into the discussion. Generally I see very little need anymore to change someone’s mind, especially since I no longer see very much evidence for people’s belief to have any correlation to any action. Convincing him I am right aside, I have this need to be in constant dialogue (my wife calls this a problem) and always be pushing back, asking questions and digging deeper whenever someone will give me the chance. Sarnia is generally a tough city for much conversation that gets me excited. So over the last few months our inboxes have been filling up with large rants, arguments, pleas and evidence as to what is right, reasonable, logical, faithful etc.
It’s been a while since I’ve done any reading on the New Atheists, unless it’s following links from the Sarnia Skeptic (who has been more interested in railing against local psychics and homeopathic products lately). Their arguments are nothing new but there does seem to be a growing force of folks who can’t get enough of hearing over and over again about how bad religion is for the world. So this was a perfect time to jump into the cesspool of popular philosophy and fundamentalism. I say that with full understanding that the Christian contribution to it all is as large if not greater to the ongoing rhetoric, fallacies and hype surrounding this conversation. I may try and do some kind of review on some of the New Atheists books and thinking, but there is plenty of it out there, and it’s draining to just repeat the same things over and over again and feel like it’s nothing more than ships crossing in the night. So instead, I thought it would be better to jump into some of the Christian responses to the New Atheists and see how they were doing at responding, seeing as I’m a Christian and all.
I picked up True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism which is a book of essays from William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, along with Gilson, Weitnauer, John DePoe, Chuck Edwards, Matthew Flannagan, Peter Grice, Randy Hardman, David Marshall, Glenn Sunshine, David Wood, and Samuel Youngs.
Overall, it kind of felt like I was back in my intro to Philosophy class at Tyndale and I was learning the right way to argue people. The problem with this way of learning is that you are only ever hearing the arguments from the person that is telling you how to argue them. At school I remember going to one of my first classes and the professor said “if anyone ever says relativism is true, ask them if that statement is true.” And that was the end of that argument. Of course! How stupid people are for arguing for relativism. We didn’t engage in their thinking, why they came to their conclusions, their arguments for those conclusions or any of the initial premises or clarifications for what they were trying to say. This book was overwhelmingly one-sided in that it was kind of a primer of the New Atheist movement and then all the right ways to tell them how wrong they were. If I hadn’t read anything by the New Atheists I’d really think they were a bunch of idiots if this book was my only understanding of what they are saying.
I get that books can’t do everything and tackle every angle, but the problem with books like this is that most of the audience is going to be Christians who are never going to want to read New Atheist, or any secular skeptic’s material . So you end up having one side of the argument educating people on what both sides of the argument are saying. Most folks that pick up this book will not be interested in hearing the opposing side, they will just want to be encouraged that there is smart people looking out for them and giving right answers to all the naysayers that would ever suggest that God doesn’t exist. With that said, it just didn’t feel genuine. Some of the arguments were great, some of the arguments were horrendous, and others were honest attempts to try and defeat someone else’s logic.
With that said, I do think that some of the arguments did successfully point out some of the flaws within the atheist worldview. Many of the authors criticize the New Atheists for not looking at history, scriptures and religions honestly and rather pinpoint into their own interpretations of what they think something means, which is usually clouded by anger, misinformed history or a lack of research beyond a shallow initial reflex to an argument they don’t understand. Which if anything is true about New Atheists, that is it. But I really didn’t see that much difference in tactics from some of these authors, so it was kind of one step forward, one step back.
I found an excellent source of reviews of every single chapter in this book by a Christian turned Atheist, and well he’s smart and I liked his reviews for the most part. His name is Mike Doolittle and I feel that in some ways, after reading these reviews he’s kind of twin Atheist brother. That doesn’t really say much, but I’ll just let it stand because I always kind of wanted a twin brother who I could argue with every night. I point to these reviews because I think he does a decent job at pointing out a lot of the inconsistencies throughout the book that even the Christian should be aware of.
So now, just for some quotes that stood out to me, some that I found to say something of value to the argument that I think would help move the argument into a healthy direction for actually moving it forward and getting off the hamster wheel.
But Christianity obviously did not succeed because its first audiences were all gullible rubes who lapped up any supernatural claim.
— David Marshall
Defining these two worldviews shows us the root problem: naturalism and theism are at odds, not science and Christianity. Naturalism is intrinsically atheistic because it sees nothing outside the natural or material world. Here is what’s interesting about the foundational beliefs of naturalists: naturalists place enormous trust in nature’s order and their powers of reason, but their worldview ultimately undermines any basis for such confidence. Science is only possible if the world is ordered and if we can trust our senses and reason.
— David Marshall
Judges should be taken literally whereas Joshua is hagiographic history, a highly stylized, exaggerated account of the events designed to teach theological and moral points rather than to describe in detail what literally happened.
— Matthew Flannagan
(note: This was a chapter asking the question Did God Command the Genocide of the Canaanites? and I found this response to be quite an interesting take on this whole issue specifically).
There is mystery in Christianity. There is a lived-out life of action in Christ’s name. Christians rightly embrace the imagination, the power of narrative, the importance of beauty and the arts, and the value of community. All of that is crucial. Nevertheless, wrapped up in all this there is a deep and essential reasonableness to the faith.
— Tom Gilson
The contrasts are clear: atheists claim that religion is the main barrier to reason. Christians believe our capacity to reason comes from being created in the image of an all-knowing God, and that the active use of reason is an important way to honor Him. Atheists brand themselves as a community united by reason. Christians marvel at how this group rallies together even as their most prominent leader, Richard Dawkins, argues that evolution favors the selfish gene, not the reasonable group. Atheists work hard to eradicate religion for the sake of a brighter future. Christians are amazed that atheists so blissfully ignore the scientific fact that, if religion is a false consolation, the future always ends in death.
— Carson Weitnauer
From the outside looking in, it appears that many atheists, out of an overwhelming desire to crush religion and win a cultural battle on behalf of secularism, have convinced themselves that they are an exceptional group of human beings who are uniquely governed by reason. Freed from the perceived handcuffs of faith and dogma, they believe they have been singularly liberated to exercise rational thought and the tools of science on behalf of human progress. Unfortunately, these loud, public, and often repeated declarations of their great love for reason have also blinded them to some obvious realities.
— Carson Weitnauer
In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn’t be able to explain the designer.
–William Lane Craig
(note: I’m not posting this because I believe in intelligent design theory, I just found this line of reasoning to be fair)