Published by Baker Publishing Group on June 17th 2014
Genres: Apologetics, Christian Ministry, Christian Theology, Evangelism, Religion
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Most critiques of atheism focus on refuting head-on the claims of atheists. Instead, this unique book faithfully represents what atheists say they believe and stands back to watch as the natural inconsistencies in that worldview inevitably rise to the surface.Norman L. Geisler, the apologetic giant of our time, is joined by Daniel J. McCoy, highlighting two inconsistencies in particular. First they examine the atheist's assertion that God cannot exist because there is evil in the world and that if God truly existed, he would intervene. These same people then turn around and say any intervention on God's part would impose upon human autonomy, and thus would be unjust. Second, these very interventions that would be considered immoral if imposed upon the earth by God are lauded when they stem instead from some human institution or authority.Geisler and McCoy highlight this kind of "doublethink" step by step, showing readers how to identify such inconsistencies in atheistic arguments and refute them--or rather show atheists how they refute themselves.
In case you’re new, I feel the need to tell you that while I am an atheist (a humanist) I am not an anti-theist. I believe in live and let live — but that’s all been covered. Check out my other posts for that.
So. This. Book. Let’s start with the easiest critique. This book quotes so extensively from atheists, scripture, and apologetics, I have to wonder how many pages the author’s own thoughts and writing would actually fill. (Ballpark guess, I’d say no more than 50, if that.) The reason given is to “faithfully represent what atheists say they believe…” Okay. Fair enough. But honestly, it’s just way too much. Even if I had agreed with the premise of this book it would have been too much – frankly, it’s lazy writing.
Structure. Ten chapters all aimed at highlighting atheist’s ‘inconsistent beliefs’ – both of which make the assumption that there actually is a Christian God. Further, very cleverly, the authors create a strict framework in which they will present their arguments – God in the Dock – (GITD) incidentally also coined by another apologist, C.S. Lewis, who I actually like. Well, his apologetics, anyway.
“This book will not venture outside of the GITD arguments against the coherence of Christianity, with the agreement that the atheist will not hop the fence mid-argument to snatch, bring back, and sneak in caricatures.”
Sigh. We’ll get to tone in a moment, but first, what a very clever device Mr. Geisler and Mr. McCoy. Make the ‘enemy’ (read: atheist) suspicious to your intended audience and frame the argument exactly and only as is best for you.
Tone. The authors claim several times throughout the book that they are attempting to have respectful dissent with atheists – after such a claim, the next sentence is usually one that either takes a tone of superiority and general self-righteousness. In my experience that is not how you win hearts and minds, that’s not how your show respect – though it’s useful I suppose, if you’re speaking to people inside of your own echo chamber. I think that the tone itself is evident by reading the synopsis alone. It only becomes more smug, the more you read.
Context. So, we’ve already talked about the extensive quotations in the book. As is to be expected with people not seeking to learn or to write honestly – the quotations are cherry-picked (both from the atheists and from scripture) to serve the purpose of the authors. How convenient. For the first few chapters I looked up the context of the quotations (most of which were wildly misrepresented) then I became weary. Predictably, the (in)famous Sam Harris quote is also taken out of context:
“Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them…”
You know what’s coming… the rest of the story. A Load of Bright wrote a post called Misquoting Harris. While this was the most easily identifiable quote taken out of context – I promise you that most of the other quotes that I looked up were taken equally out of context. As I said, there were so. many. it was impossible for me to look them all up.
So when your argument is based on quotes taken out of context — what argument do you have left? More troublesome, how honest is it? I have issues with dishonesty – especially – in books like this.
I actually laughed at the quote from ‘former atheist’ Paul Vintz who describes “what it was like to finally be counted among the initiates” He actually speaks about being drawn into society after becoming an atheist, whereas while he was a Christian, he had been shunned. I’m sorry. But no. Just. No. Not in America. (If you’d like a anthology of stories from atheists living in America, I’d highly encourage you to check out Atheists in America.)
Last thoughts. So, this book makes all the usual assumptions about atheists (we actually believe in God but just want to rebel, there’s no way to have ‘real’ morality without the guidance of a Christian God, a mild vilification of science, etc. etc. etc.) the book takes atheist’s words (and scripture) and twists them to its own purposes. Blech. It feels like the authors are almost willfully misunderstanding what atheists think. It leaves a vile taste in my mouth.
I don’t even know who to recommend this book to. I suppose conservative Christians locked in their echo chambers might enjoy it – but I’ve read reviews that say they’re actually ‘disturbed and depressed’ by the number of quotes from atheists. (Which raises the question, Why is that? But that’s another discussion for another day and another place.)
Do I have anything nice to say? Admittedly, not a whole lot. But the citations did give me a fabulous reading list of some of the greatest thinkers in our time and before – you can bet some of those will be on my TBR list soon.
So, Reader. I’ve tried really hard to be fair with this book. What do you think? Am I out of bounds? Does this book look at all appealing to you, if so, why? (It’s not a trap, I’m just trying to understand.) How do you feel about apologetics? Can anyone recommend any Islamic or Jewish apologetics?