The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs

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.

9781441245915

Method

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.

Thesis

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.

Evaluation

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.

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggershttp://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
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7 Responses to The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs

  1. Sorry, either you missed the points in the book or the book isn’t quite good. Without reading it, I cannot say what is in fact the case.

    But, to make that short: “a man who simply doesn’t like God”. Why do you hate Vishnu? After all, you are only a “a man who simply doesn’t like Vishnu”. Nonsense. I think that the fictional person “god” as imagined by some Christians is pretty unlikable, but I have as much feelings towards him as I have towards Darth Vader or Lord Voldemort: Yeah, they are bad, but they don’t exist, so really investing emotions into any of them would be a waste of space.

    • First, thanks for reserving final judgment until reading the book.

      Second, from the perspective of the book, I would say that we’re coming at this from two directions. You seem to be approaching the question from outside the Christian faith, while the book addresses those who attempt to climb around inside to show its inherent contradictions. I mean, you did just say that you find God unlikable, though you think of him as a fictional character. That’s not the same thing as saying that you find the Christian God – as defined by the Christian faith – impossible to believe in. As for Vishnu, I honestly don’t know enough about him (?) to demonstrate his inconsistencies, which is the kind of argumentation this book addresses.

  2. From an atheist’s perspective, I would have to say that it seems the problem with Geisler’s new book is that it attempts to generalize all atheism into a very narrow subset of arguments which happen to be easily answered. It does not fairly address the more difficult questions posed by atheists.

    For example, when you point out that atheists object to the idea of God punishing sins but embrace the idea of courts punishing criminals, you act as if these are equivalent concepts. However, in human society, we strive to find punishments which fit a crime. If you’re caught speeding, you pay a fine; but if you are convicted of murder, you go to jail for the rest of your life. On the Christian view of sin, the punishment is grossly mismatched to the crime. Whether you told a little white lie or perpetrated a massive genocide, Christianity insists that you are deserving of an infinite punishment. It is the idea of an infinite punishment for a finite offense which atheists tend to oppose– not the simple fact that there may be some sort of supernatural punishment.

    If I wrote a book entitled “Christianity’s Fatal Flaw” and proceeded to make a case on the strength of arguments like “the sky is not a solid dome as claimed in Gen 1:7-8” or like “Christians believe the elect were chosen before the foundations of the world, so it’s no use trying to get to heaven,” you would rightly object to the fact that I am generalizing some very poor beliefs held by only a small subset of Christians as if all Christians shared these views. This is what Geisler is doing against atheists, in his book.

    • Thanks for commenting!

      I suppose I should emphasize that this book doesn’t really answer arguments, so much as it juxtaposes them.

      Also, the authors go to some lengths to remind the reader that they are exposing arguments that use God’s own testimony against himself, which is a popular atheist tactic. But when an atheist argues the mismatch between sin and judgment, he or she is usually using a human / temporal measure. I suppose that an atheist would have little problem if God did to humans what humans do to humans (provided they could assume his authority). The flaw would be in assuming that God’s relation to humans is comparable to humans’ relation to other humans. Within the Christian faith, God is “more,” which makes sin “more” and thus judgment “more.” And that’s not to mention the difference between an infinite, eternal God and finite, temporal humans, which also has to be taken into account. If these differences are taken into account, then the difference between human and divine justice isn’t quite so problematic – logically speaking. And that’s just the author’s point – the objections are not logical. They are something else.

      It’s the “something else” that they don’t take up, beyond noting that even if there were an infinite, eternal God who punished sins, while pardoning the penitent, the atheist would still likely reject him. But not strictly for the fact that he punished and pardoned.

      As for your proposed book, thank you for pointing out the problems with arguing against beliefs held by a minority of believers. However, I don’t think that is the essence of this book. In this book, the authors use the writings of the most popular, most prolific atheists, who (I assume) are generally accepted by the rank-and-file, and they simply lay out their arguments. Their method is not: “Here is what the atheist says. See? It’s wrong.” Their method is: “Here’s what the atheist says about God. Here’s what the atheist says about himself. Here is a fundamental inconsistency.”

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond!

        If I misconstrued, and Geisler really is responding directly to claims made by specific atheists, I’ll gladly rescind my earlier comment. My objection would be to an unwarranted generalization, not to a direct response to claims made by popular authors.

        I would warn that it is a fairly bad assumption to think that the most popular, prolific atheist authors are “generally accepted by the rank-and-file.” There are just as many atheists who are critical of people like Dawkins and Hitchens as there are who agree with the arguments these men make. For example, I have repeatedly said that I find Dawkins to be an excellent biologist, but a terrible philosopher. Again, if I were to turn it around, it’d be like an atheist pulling scattered quotes from Al Mohler or Ken Ham or Father Robert Barron and assuming that these statements are generally accepted by Christians.

      • Fair enough.

        This is from p. 3 of the Introduction: “Please understand we never intend to speak for all atheists. When we speak of ‘the atheist,’ we are merely referring to the atheist who holds the atheistic arguments under discussion. There may well be many atheists who do not hold to these particular arguments but instead disbelieve in God on the basis of other arguments.”

        Obviously, the book is fairly limited in its scope. Apparently the authors feel that the average American is more likely to meet atheism through published rhetoric than personal interaction. That, and it’s easier to interact with public positions rather than a multitude of personal and private variations on a theme.

        Out of curiosity, are there any authors you would recommend for someone to get a fairly accurate idea of what all atheists believe?

      • Honestly, the only thing that all atheists share in common is a rejection of belief in gods. Beyond that, asking “what do all atheists believe?” is a bit like asking “what do all people-who-don’t-believe-in-aliens believe?”

        However, it is possible to restrict our scope in a meaningful way in order to facilitate a discussion. Generally, when most people in the US use the word “atheist,” they are referring to atheists who also happen to be materialists; and most self-identifying atheists with whom I have conversed also tend to self-identify as humanists and political secularists. Materialism and humanism do tend to have some pretty general positive beliefs associated with them. For example, materialists deny the supernatural; humanists tend to define morality in terms of the welfare of humanity, as a whole; and political secularists do not believe that the government should be in the business of either endorsing or regulating religious beliefs.

        Unfortunately, I’m not actually all too widely read on atheist popular literature, so I don’t know if I can recommend any authors who would espouse the generally accepted beliefs of materialist, humanist, secular atheists. One resource I can recommend is a public-access television series out of Austin, TX, called, “The Atheist Experience.” In general, the program tries to steer clear of the outright vitriol against believers that you’ll find in people like Dawkins and Hitchens, and there are a number of different hosts with different experiences and views so that you can get a feel for those beliefs which they generally share in common, and those upon which they often differ. Most of the episodes of the show are available (legally) on YouTube, if you are interested.

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