Saturday, January 07, 2012

Book Review: Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists

One of the brashest challenges that religious truth has experienced over the past several decades is the remarkable rise of the pugnacious New Atheists. Sean McDowell and Jonathan Marrow, new generation Christian apologists, have undertaken the task of contesting this anti-theistic upsurge. And in Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists the authors have pulled together a wide range of research that powerfully critiques the arguments from the combative non-theists.

Worldviews are in dispute: Christian theism vs. modern atheism. There are powerful and compelling arguments for the existence of God, but one wouldn’t know it if one only read the works of Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins. They assert numerous fallacious and deceptive arguments as they often erect the frailest of straw men in order to push them down with the greatest of rhetorical ease.

You would think that atheism is a forceful challenger to Christianity. But McDowell and Morrow argue that the New Atheism, as aggressive as it is, does not provide the evidential or philosophical truth. The more important consideration, they advocate, is what worldview has the preeminent rational arguments and historical facts on its side.
They proceed to make the case that Christian theism, categorically, provides the finest evidence and makes the most sense.

The authors deal with the scientific and philosophical challenges to Christian theism in a reasoned and respectful manner.
In Is God Just a Human Invention? topics include:
  • The relationship between reason and faith
  • A defense of miracles
  • The origin of the cosmos
  • The reality of soul/body dualism
  • Flaws in Darwinian thought
  • The biblical view of slavery and genocide
  • The remarkable rise and impact of a new generation of Christian philosophers
  • The exclusivity of Jesus Christ
  • And much more.
The apologists begin with an examination and refutation of the atheist accusation that “faith … is belief without supportive evidence” (atheist Victor Stenger, p. 19). “The idea that faith is opposed to reason permeates the writings of the New Atheists.” This allegation is erroneous inasmuch as Christianity doesn’t value blind faith and irrationality since biblical faith is “belief in the light of the evidence” (pp. 19-21). They make it clear that Christianity is not to be lumped together with irrational religions because it “values the role of the mind which includes the proper use of reasoning and argumentation” (p. 22).  A list of supporting quotes by Christian thinkers across time is posited as one of many helpful tools within this essay. The reader then learns that all men, even atheists, have faith in their daily lives. One trusts the unfamiliar pilot of a plane one boards; one has faith that the electrician properly wires your house; one trusts the cook at the restaurant where one eats, etc. (p. 24). Thus religious followers are not the only people with faith; all men have faith in things they have not seen, often this faith is not based on evidence. Moreover, atheists have blind faith in the idea that the universe “came into existence from nothing,” that life emerged from non-life, and the mind arose from mere matter (p. 25).

This section ends with brief expositions of the classic proofs for God’s existence presented in a clear and persuasive manner, but too diminutive to be useful standing alone (p. 28-29, the remainder of the book supplements and defends their claims nicely).

The writers in the next chapter tackle the alleged conflict between science and religion. “There is no inherent conflict between Christianity and science” (although there is antagonism at times), since most of the early pioneering scientists were theists. Furthermore, the universe was created by God; Galileo’s new theories (he remained a theist) were not handled wisely, but the skeptics exaggerate the conflict; and naturalism fails to supply the underlying ontological (the nature of matter) and epistemic (ground for knowledge) resources required and presupposed by science. Naturalism is defined by Dawkins as the view that nothing exists “beyond the natural, physical world” (p. 37).  The problem is naturalism “ultimately undermines any basis for confidence” in nature’s order and the powers of reason (p. 37). Likewise, naturalism leads to skepticism regarding our senses and rational notions forasmuch as men are mere products of blind evolutionary processes. Thus, under a naturalistic worldview, there’s no reason to trust our reason or our senses; they were merely the result of blind Darwinian accidents.
If the mind has developed through blind, irrational, and material processes of Darwinian evolution, then why should we trust it at all? Why should we believe that the human brain—outcome of an accidental process—actually puts us in touch with reality? Science cannot be used as an answer to this question, because science itself relies upon these very assumptions (p. 39).
The section ends with a very succinct essay by John W. Montgomery that presses the truth that Christianity has the necessary explanatory power required for science and intelligibility; what's more, it alone offers a Saving Redeemer. This essay would make a fine pamphlet to print as a witnessing tract (pp. 42-43).

Chapter Three offers a defense of miracles as the authors challenge many assumptions and proposed methodology posited by naturalists who oppose the possibility of miracles; after all, “if a transcendent God exists, then it seems eminently possible that He has acted in the universe” (p. 46). So combating the faulty presuppositions of the naturalist is an important aspect of an evenhanded defense of miracles. The authors rest their case for miracles on all the cumulative evidence for God’s existence: Cosmological, Design, and Moral arguments as well as the evidence for the human soul and Christ’s Resurrection. Thus there is a large amount of compelling evidence for God and God has the ability to perform miracles, and miracles “seem quite probable” (p. 46).

The chapter proceeds to directly contest Hume’s case against miracles. First they counter Hume’s underlying ideas because many of the New Atheists employ Hume’s longstanding arguments. The authors expose Hume’s circular reasoning:
Hume presumes to know the uniformity of human experience prior to considering the evidence. To assert that uniform experience counts against miracles is to assume that all miracle claims are false. But how can he make such a claim before examining the facts? Well, he simply assumes it (pp. 47-48).
Since vicious circular arguments are fallacious, this part of Hume’s case fails before it can get off the ground.

Second they successfully attack Hume’s theory that one should never believe the improbable. If one must view all life this way, one can never see anyone win the lottery or draw a royal flush since it’s very improbable (p. 48).  But we observe royal flush winners even though it is very improbable that one can hold such a hand. Under Hume’s critique of miracles, one “would not be justified in believing” that improbable winning hands occur. “But surely it is perfectly reasonable to believe that an improbable event can occasionally occur” (p. 48). Thus Hume’s improbability critique against miracles misses the mark.

The rest of the chapter delivers some credible counters vis-√†-vis the remainder of Hume’s case against supernatural marvels, including a concise defense of the majestic miracle of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 47-54).
The New Atheists boldly claim that miracles are impossible. Yet, as we have seen, this denial is not based on any scientific or historical evidence, but rather comes out of a philosophical commitment to naturalism (p. 54).
The subsequent chapter focuses on Darwinian evolution as anti-Darwinian quotes from non-theistic and theistic scientists are brought to bear upon this highly favored theory. Added to this is the case of Intelligent Design. Rational design of biological life is the case since many pursuits of truth seek evidence for design (or information) as evidence for the agency of intelligence; this includes SETI research, forensic science, and archeological examination (p. 59). If it’s a suitable scientific tool in those cases, it can be in the analysis of biological design.

Additionally, Morrow and McDowell highlight the distinction between macroevolution (changes from one species into another different species) and microevolution (small changes within a kind) as a way to clarify the dispute between Divine creation and Darwinian evolution:
If you’ve only read the New Atheists, then you may think evolution is the only game in town.  … But that is not the whole story. When examined closely, their most compelling examples turn out to be (at best) evidence for microevolution. Not only is the evidence for Darwinian evolution lacking, compelling evidence for design can be found from the tiniest cell to the origin and structure of the universe (p. 67).
The Kalam argument comes next. They define it via William Lane Craig:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause (p. 74).
A lucid exposition defending the argument follows as they discuss the Big Bang theory, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and some of Stephen Hawking’s ideas (they didn’t interact with Hawking’s latest theory: one aspect of his new view is that nothing could have created everything, Hawking: The Grand Design, 2010).

The volume adds essays about how life began (pp. 71-82) and the Fine Tuning argument (everything is just right for life, pp. 95-107) as they stack up their imposing cumulative case for Christian theism.

Chapter eight contends that a purely material reality cannot produce consciousness.1 They argue for an immaterial aspect of the mind using:
  • The New Atheists’ words against them
  • Documented Near Death Experiences
  • Intention and free choice
  • The need of an enduring personhood over time (a person is more than the sum of one’s physical parts)2
  • Mental states which “cannot be described in physical terms” (“how much a thought weighs, or how long your beliefs could be stretched out,” pp. 109-115).
It’s difficult to see how a mind could arise from nonmind through the purposeless, material, mindless process of evolution. It’s much easier to see how a Conscious Mind could produce the human consciousness (p. 116).
McDowell and Morrow go on to rebut various atheistic notions such as: theism is a mere product of wishful thinking, Dawkins’ Meme theory, and blind natural selection (Chapter 9). Thus it is “reasonable to conclude that God exists” which means that it is “also possible to infer that the reason so many humans have desires for and beliefs in the divine points to God’s desire to be known” (p. 129).

The authors then defend Christianity against the unfair charge that it is dangerous as they expose the massive death toll that political atheism racked up by atheists Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  These anti-theistic leaders murdered tens of millions of innocent people (pp. 135-147).

The next section gives a brief but suitable explanation of Old Testament ethics by means of the employment of context, proper hermeneutical applications, and cultural veracities to make their case. Moreover, they press the moral truths that Jesus lived out (accepting the needy, healing, and His vicarious atonement) and commanded (turn the other cheek, give, seek peace, love, and forgive) as the most profound moral standard ever offered (pp. 148-155). Additionally they provide fine essays concerning the doctrine of eternal punishment, God’s command to go to war, and the appropriate view of sexual morality (pp. 159-196). They add: “True freedom is found not in throwing off Christian morality, but in embracing it wholeheartedly” p. 194).

The succeeding portion seeks to demonstrate that atheism lacks the ontic grounding for objective moral truths. Atheists can know what is moral (epistemic explanation); they can know right from wrong. Nonetheless, atheism lacks an objective and perfect ontic ground to issue objective moral commandments as well as the means to hold all moral lawbreakers to an account.

“In the theistic view, objective moral laws are grounded in the reality of a Moral Lawgiver. So what grounds morality in a world without God? (p. 198).” Without theism nothing has the ontic stature to ground objective moral truths.

Their chapter regarding the most perplexing problem: Why does an all-good and omnipotent God allow evil (theodicy) and suffering? This segment is short but convincing. Still, the authors know that the problem of evil has no easy solution when it comes to real pain.

They rightly profess: “According to the Bible, a day will come when every broken heart will be mended, every illness healed. God will set the world right. Death will not have the final word—Jesus Christ made certain of that” (p. 219).

Chapter seventeen is a fascinating look at the innumerable things modern men take for granted that resulted from the application of the Christian worldview or its extension and influence. This includes charity, hospitals, orphanages, rights for infants and women, and the ending of culturally mandated abuse of people across the globe. Hence, Christianity has been and continues to be good for the world: “Christianity has been a force for good in the past, continues to be so today, and will be tomorrow as long as Christians pay close attention to the teaching and example of Jesus” (p. 233).

As they cross home plate the two apologists forward a critique of the dreamt up religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; in contrast to this puerile invention, they offer a superb apologia for the wonder of Christ. At that juncture they bless the reader with their personal testimonies (pp. 237-264).

Is God Just a Human Invention? is loaded with exceptional quotes from Christian and non-Christian thinkers. Additionally, the book furnishes very short essays at the back of each chapter from various erudite Christian scholars that augment the thesis of what was advanced by the authors.

This volume combines simplicity and applicability without forfeiting precision. The authors lead the reader into the full girth of the many contemporary discussions concerning the defense of Christianity. They offer several of the leading arguments for Christian theism while toppling some of the most belligerent of the objections promoted by the New Atheists. They have written, with abundant care, to attain a thoroughness that is not often established in popular books. The wisdom and excellence with which each chapter is written makes this a crucial volume for the budding apologist’s library.


Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mike A. Robinson is an avid reader and reviewer; he has authored 14 books using leading-edge apologetics that make an impact on average people. More of his work can be found at http://theLordGodExists.com.

  1.  The atheist who maintains that only the physical world exists is claiming that nothing spiritual or nonmaterial exists; this includes an enduring immaterial soul. Without an ongoing immaterial apsect of personhood, after seven years, everyone is a different person. So the atheist cannot account for personal identity. By his standard of a physical-only world, everyone is a different person after seven years because every physical atom has been swapped for new ones. If we consist of only physical matter, and are devoid of a nonmaterial soul, under the atheist physical-only view, after our bodily atoms were completely exchanged for new ones, we would be different people. The atheist, under his worldview, is not married to the woman he married nine years ago. They are totally different physically, due to the complete exchange of bodily atoms after seven years. If he has a child over the age of seven, by the atheist’s standard, the kid is not the same child that was born to them. Therefore, if he wanted to be consistent in his worldview, he should throw away all his baby pictures and their wedding album. The atheist husband still hugs his wife without being unfaithful to her, since people have souls. He will still take his kid to the park and buy him a balloon. But he will not buy the unknown kid who is next to him a balloon. The atheist knows that his child is the same child who was born to him years before because he has an enduring immaterial soul. Can the information in one’s DNA be the basis for personal identity? No, since twins have the same DNA but they are two different individuals (http://thelordgodexists.com/2011/05/enduring-personal-identity-presupposes-god-part-i/).
  2. For more on the “problem of enduring personal identity” see: Keith Ward: More Than Matter, pp. 64-80; J.P. Moreland: Scaling the Secular City, pp. 88-89; and for a Thomistic view see: Edward Feser: The Last Superstition, pp. 203-208).

3 comments :

Paula Reece said...

I just finished this book and found it fascinating. I'm not a theological scholar by any means, but I appreciated the authors' ability to explain their arguments in a way that a layperson like me could understand but without sacrificing precision and rigor. For someone just diving into apologetics with a real personal interest in responding to new atheists, this has become a powerful and critical resource! I definitely recommend it!

Chad said...

"Worldviews are in dispute: Christian theism vs. modern atheism. There are powerful and compelling arguments for the existence of God, but one wouldn’t know it if one only read the works of Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins. They assert numerous fallacious and deceptive arguments as they often erect the frailest of straw men in order to push them down with the greatest of rhetorical ease."

Very, very well put!

Thank you for the review!

Godspeed

MaryLou said...

I wish I could buy every apologetic book out there, but I just can't afford to do so. When this book from McDowell and Marrow came out, the reviews I read were so brief and told me so little about its contents that I was afraid to spend money on it for fear it would be a disappointment. But this review has convinced me that it is a "must-have" book. Thanks for providing so much quality information about it, Mike.

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment. By posting your comment you are agreeing to the comment policy.

Blog Archive

Amz