The more I talk with atheists, the more I read their words, the more I am convinced that atheism is irrational.
Sometimes it seems like an emotional overreaction. Little more.
This new book by Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy confirms my suspicions.
It also fascinates me.
The authors avoid the usual pattern of Christian-atheist debate, which usually means the atheist attacks a caricature, the Christian quotes a Bible the atheist rejects, and each marshals scientific evidence that the other reinterprets.
Instead, the authors refuse to play defense or offense and yield the field to the atheist. Will he stumble over his own feet? They hope to show that he will do exactly that. So, rather than refute the atheist, they allow the atheist to refute himself.
Though not claiming to speak for every atheist, all the big names are here: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Russell, Nietzsche, Hume, and many more. Even Mark Twain gets in a few zingers, as the authors quote liberally from accepted atheistic sources. Their goal: to listen to atheists preach on a dozen or so different subjects.
These subjects set the stage for the authors to display their main thesis, that the atheist who accuses the Christian God of inconsistency merely exposes his own. The atheist who rejects Christianity, claiming it to be rationally impossible, must embrace his own contradictions to do so. Moreover, he must do it twice.
This book shows how. It does not tackle scientific or psychological arguments, as the authors notify the reader in the introduction. They address only what they call “God in the Dock” arguments, which are atheistic attempts to indict the Christian God for contradicting himself. This focuses the discussion: they agree to hear the plaintiff, so long as he agrees to assume the existence of the defendant for the duration of the trial.
(An atheist could argue the non-existence of God by assuming his non-existence, but such an argument would be circular and irrational, which is exactly what the authors intend to prove.)
Summary: The First Contradiction
The ground rules set, here’s how the book works. The authors begin with the inherent tension between “The Problem of Moral Evil” (ch. 1) and “The Value of Human Autonomy” (ch. 2). In the first, the atheist argues that the existence of moral evil contradicts the existence of a loving, all-powerful God. If he were good and all-powerful, he would fix everything, or, better yet, he wouldn’t have made things like this to begin with. It’s a familiar argument, but it loses traction when we consider the alternatives.
Ultimately, the atheist despises any possible attempt by God to fix the problem of evil. If God were to prevent it entirely, he would be tyrannical. If he were to prevent only its worst outbreaks (genocide, rape, etc.), he would be intrusive. Either way, God would be inhibiting man’s free self-determination, which strikes at the very core of the atheist’s values. Of course, God could intervene by exerting influence upon man’s will so that he voluntarily shuns evil – which is exactly what he says he does! – but as the authors show, this too offends the atheist.
So, the atheist faults God for the existence of evil, but he also faults him for anything he might do (or have done) to change it. As the authors say, it is as if the atheist carries two banners: “Fix Everything!” and “Don’t Touch Anything!” (p. 10) This is the first inconsistency.
Summary: The Second Contradiction
The second emerges as the authors present God’s methods of removing evil while preserving man’s ability to make real choices. They lay them out in complementary pairs: “Submission and Favor” (ch. 3), “Death and Faith” (ch. 4), “Guilt and Rules” (ch. 5), “Punishment and Pardon” (ch. 6), and “Hell and Heaven” (ch. 7). Each of these plays a part in God’s dealings with man, yet the atheist rejects every single one of them when offered by God.
For example, it may be immoral for God to punish human beings for their sins, but the atheist thinks it necessary – even good – to restrain or remove egregious criminals from society for their crimes.
And that’s the inconsistency. The atheist actually accepts all of these on a human level, and the authors display this through the words of the atheists themselves. In principle, the atheist is willing to employ any and all of these to help build a noble, just, and perfect society. So, the problem isn’t the way God intervenes; the problem is God himself.
That much is clear in the review chapter, “Inconsistencies” (ch. 8). The atheist accuses God of negligence if he doesn’t fix the problem of evil, and when he offers to fix it in a way that upholds man’s freedom, the atheist decries God’s methods as immoral, while employing them himself! In addition to the two banners mentioned earlier, the atheist carries two more that proclaim: “Immoral for God” and “Moral for Humanity.”
That’s all the authors do: allow the atheists to speak for themselves. They even give the atheists a chance to evaluate what they’ve said in “Responses and Objections” (ch. 9), but the inconsistencies only stand out in sharper relief. Once again using atheistic dogma, the authors conclude that there really is no rational objection to God. The only real objection is to what it would mean if God really existed, and that’s a reality no atheist wants to face. In the end, the atheist has only one real “Request” (ch. 10): a life without God.
The major strength of The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw is that the authors do not evaluate what the atheist says; they merely draw logical conclusions from his works. Their stated goal is that an atheist would recognize his own belief in this book, though they hope he will also see his logical inconsistency.
That’s also a weakness, I suppose. This is truly a thinker’s book. The reader should be familiar with logical argumentation, as well as several lines of established apologetic reasoning. This is not an introductory work, though the authors review their conclusions often, presumably to help novices keep up. I was thankful for this because the implications were not always obvious.
So who is it written for? Unclear.
This is a rational book, written to demonstrate the inherent irrationality of the atheist’s position. So, I’m not sure how far it will go towards convincing any potential atheistic readers.
On the other hand, Christians may face any of the attacks presented in this book, and while they may never be able to convince the atheist of his own inconsistency, I think a book like this will help Christians to stand firm and realize that for all the bluster, all the pretensions at knowledge, and all the poisonously witty critiques hurled by Dawkins and Hitchens and others, atheism contains very little real substance. Atheists may be cultured, educated, successful, celebrated, even neighborly, but their creed is logically self-defeating.
Which brings me to my original observation. In my opinion, this book succeeds masterfully in showing one thing very clearly:
Despite all its claims, atheism is not the triumph of reason over faith; it is merely sound and fury, in front of a curtain, hiding a man who simply doesn’t like God.http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255