Dawkins' disciples are 'laughably, comically wrong', claims apologist

Gosh, if this book lives up to its title and chapter headings, it's the EXACT sort of thing we need much, MUCH more of nowadays. This is a book I definitely want to read! From Christianity Today:

Dawkins' disciples are 'laughably, comically wrong', claims apologist
Mark Woods Christian Today Contributing Editor
02 August 2015

The Atheist Who Didn't Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments has a brilliant title which – and this isn't always the case – matches the book's contents.

Written by Andy Bannister, director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada, it's a romp through the fashionable arguments against Christianity, showing why they aren't nearly as convincing as people think they are, and in many cases are plain daft.

Among his chapter titles are The Aardvark in the Artichokes (or: Why Not All Gods are the Same), Sven and the Art of Refrigerator Maintenance (or: Why Religion Doesn't Poison Everything) and The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin (or: Why Life without God is Meaningless). These give you something of a flavour of the book, which is rigorous, penetrating, gracious and very funny.

The context of the book is the stream of anti-religion propaganda that's been produced over the last few years by the 'new atheists' like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and their ilk. Bannister is adept at taking them on, puncturing their arguments with well-aimed pins and offering though-provoking alternatives to their bleaker imaginings.

The aim of his book, he says, is simple: it is "to clear away some of the weeds of bad arguments so that a more sensible dialogue can be had". Why? Because "The 'God Question' is arguably the most important question that anybody can think about. Whether or not God exists is not a mere intellectual curiosity, up there with "What's the ten trillionth digit of Pi?" or "Did Newton invent the cat flap?", but a question that has implications for every area of our lives, not least because it is directly tied to the question of meaning: is there something that we are meant to be, or is a life spent playing computer games and eating pizza as valid as one spent fighting poverty or serving the cause of justice?"

He's by no means the first to do this. David Fergusson, Alister McGrath and Francis Spufford are just three doughty defenders of the faith whose works will outlast the controversies that gave rise to them. Bannister, however, has his own style and his own target readership – and that's deliberate.

He tells Christian Today: "Over the 20 years or so that I've been involved in Christian ministry – most of it focused on reaching sceptics – I became frustrated with the fact that so many really great books explaining the Christian faith never find their way into their hands of atheists or agnostics. Most evangelistic and apologetic books are simply read by Christians. Now on the one hand, there's nothing wrong with that: Christians need to be equipped to share and defend their faith. But I wanted to write something that would actually be read by sceptics. The question was how.

"Then I came across a quote by CS Lewis. Asked why he had taken up writing fiction – like the Narnia books – Lewis explained that too often the front entrance to people's minds is guarded by 'watchful dragons': things like cynicism, pride, and poor arguments. But story and imagination could let you 'steal past those watchful dragons'. That was a revelatory moment for me: maybe I could use a whole different approach, something completely fresh, to engage with atheism."

Of The Atheist Who Didn't Exist, he says, "rather than creep past the dragon, it uses comedy and wit to tickle the dragon's nose, so that whilst it's busy laughing, we can bring truth in through the front door".

This sort of approach is badly needed, he believes. While in the UK the 'new atheism' movement may seem to have peaked, with culture warriors like Richard Dawkins getting less air time, Bannister – himself based in the US – believes that "many of the arguments of the New Atheists have gone viral, spreading like an infestation of Japanese knotweed into the culture". In other words, it's too often just assumes that the Dawkinsites have won: and "I felt there was a need to show that those arguments ­– whether those parroting them have read the New Atheists or not – are not just wrong, but laughably, comically wrong."

Bannister recognises that it isn't easy to be a Christian in a culture where the current is running so strongly against belief. However, he says: "It's important to remember that Christianity is based on truth claims – about who God is, about what it means to be human and, most importantly, about who Jesus was. Either those claims are true: in which case it doesn't matter how few people believe them – two plus two would remain four, even if I hypnotised the entire population of the world to believe that it was five. Or those claims are false, in which case it doesn't matter how many people believe it. In short, there's only one good reason to believe the gospel: and that's if it's true. So even if it's tough: hold on!"

But, he adds – and here again, his comments catch the tone of the book "Remember that questions cut both ways. If you have a sceptical friend or colleague who insists on throwing objections to the gospel at you, by all means patiently tackle them. But in all of this, keep in mind that arguments don't win somebody for Christ, ultimately Jesus needs to draw somebody to him. Arguments, can, however, help remove the obstacles that prevent somebody seeing Jesus clearly in the first place. And that's our job as followers, disciples and ambassadors of Christ – to introduce people to Jesus, and then to get out of the way."
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So, I had the happiness of reading this book, and am finally getting around to writing a review. Here goes:

It's a great, fast, and effective read, filled with humor, and a book I highly recommend you get for your atheist or agnostic friends. It's very fair to non-believers, doesn't have a nasty or condescending attitude toward them, and defends religion against some of the basic errors atheists make about it. Toward the end of the book, it goes into Christianity in particular, albeit briefly.

The chapter names are fun enough in themselves. They are:

1. The Loch Ness Monster's Moustache
(or: The Terrible Consequences of Bad Arguments)

2) The Scandinavian Sceptic
(or: Why Atheism Really is a Belief System)

3) The Aardvark in the Artichokes
(or: Why Not All Gods are the Same)

4) The Santa Delusion
(or: Why Faith in God Does Not Mean You're Insane)

5) Aim for That Haystack!
(or: Why Psychological Arguments Against Religion Fail)

6) Sven and the Art of Refrigerator Maintenance
(or: Why Religion Doesn't Poison Everything)

7) The Lunatic in the Louvre
(or: Why Science Cannot Explain the Entirety of Reality)

8) Humpty Dumpty and the Vegan
(or: Why We Really Do Need God to Be Good)

9) The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin
(or: Why Life Without God is Meaningless)

10) The Panini Poisoner of Pimlico
(or: Why Everybody Has Faith)

11) The Reluctant Eunuch
(or: Why We Really Can Know a Lot About Jesus)

To give you a sense of the book and how it rolls, I'll describe the first two chapters.

In the first chapter, he talks about, well, bad arguments, and takes a look, too, at the motivations of certain of the "New Atheists." He basically asks for people to simply be fair and to be logical as they read his book.

In the second chapter, he takes on the argument, "Atheism isn't a claim. It's just a non-belief in the claim 'There is a god'." He talks about how that argument "proves too much," making an atheist ouf of anyone --and anything -- that doesn't profess a belief in God. IOW, your couch is an atheist. Telling an atheist that the above statement implies that his couch is an atheist might warrant the response, "But couches don't believe in anything!" -- which the writer points out is a different claim. It is, at that point, a positive claim. As he says of the atheist friend who might come back with that statement, she "is now claiming that she believes that the external world really  exists, that we are not simply brains in a jar, our thoughts and experiences manipulated like those of the humans in The Matrix movies. Furthermore, she is claiming that other minds exist, that it is possible for the human brain to form beliefs, and that our thinking is more or less reliable. Suddenly, what looked to be a simple, innocent statement of non-belief ("I don't believe in God") has suddenly morphed into not just one but a whole series of positive claims, popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm."

He then goes on to show that atheists are making a positive claim -- or, if they're not, then their assertion that "there is no God" can't be either true or false. But whether there is a God or not is either true or false, and, so, atheists should defend their claim that God doesn't exist as much as they expect Christians to defend our claim that God does so exist. He segues here into the argument that you know'd be coming from the typical atheist:  "but what about ________" where the blank could be filled in with anything from Santa Claus to fairies to, the example the writer uses, "the hippopotamus in the bathroom." He shows how nonsensical the retort is in this context when you consider the effects of belief in all of the above, and what those various beliefs entail. We've got atheists devoting their entire lives to defeating the proposition that God exists; would they do that to defeat the belief that there's a hippo in your bathroom?

As to what the notion that God does not exist entails, he gives a quote from Nietszche: "When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. The morality is by no means self-evident... Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole:  nothing necessary remains in one's hands." In other words, atheism entails a lot of consequences. It's no mere imaginary "hippo on the bathroom," or garden gnomes come to life, idea, with no consequences, with no important ramifications.

He then talks about another aspect of atheism which shows it is a belief system. He talks of how atheism acts as an identity marker. People identify as atheists, act like atheists, have atheism bumper stickers and T-shirts, spend lots of time on the internet arguing about why their atheists, and so on. It'd make no sense for them to, for ex., do that sort of thing to proclaim their non-belief in that hippo in the bathroom, would it?

So right off the bat, he demolishes some of the typical atheist claims, and that smug place they come from that puts all the burden of proof on everyone but themselves. He calls them out.

I totally recommend this book, not just for your atheist/agnostic friends and family, but also for yourself, so it might help you tune up some of your arguments and put atheists on the defense. Good stuff!

No matter how strong the arguments against atheism, in order to best an atheist in an argument, one first must demonstrate to the atheist that he or she is not nearly as smart as he or she presumes. Given the usual smugness that accompanies atheism, which is, in reality, a defense mechanism of sorts, this task is much more difficult than refuting their arguments.

Or, as a good friend of mine says, "Logic never convinced anyone of anything."


A Former Atheist

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