A Little Atheism is Good for the Soul (Part 2 of 2)
In the brief first part of this series I disclosed a bit of personal information about myself. Now, I’d like to give the reasons why I believe that the study of atheism is a good thing. Now, for the record, what I mean by “study of atheism” is not reading books or article against atheism by Christians (though that is good, helpful, and ought to be done). What I mean here is actually reading books and articles written by actual atheists.
Here I’d like to list some benefits of reading atheists, some of the things to look for, and then list of few books worth looking into.
Benefits of reading atheists. Here are some of the positive things one gets out of reading works on atheism:
- It exposes us to attacks against the faith
- It forces us to deal with real objections by real unbelievers (reading too many books about atheists usually causes us to think we already know what they’re going to say, and that’s not listening. We don’t like it when they do it to us, let’s not do it to them.)
- It prepares us for real-world engagement with unbelief.
- Through careful examination of atheist argumentation and objections we come to confidently learn that our faith isn’t a blind leap. Atheist arguments in defense of their stance really aren’t good arguments (My atheist books are thoroughly marked with red ink).
Things to look for when reading atheists. Now I pick up from point 4 above. What kinds of fallacies ruin atheistic arguments? Here’s where things go bad:
- Lots of emotion-raising language instead of actual evidence and argument. In other words, many atheists like to depend on flash rather than substance. (Richard Dawkins is really good at this, especially in his latest work, The God Delusion). For instance, compare these two types of statements:
a) To believe in a God who allows and even ordains the amounts of evil in our world is rationally unacceptable.
b) Who in their right mind would believe there’s an invisible man in the sky who arbitrarily decides to allows children to be tortured?
Notice the first claim is something we can discuss and debate fairly. The second statement is loaded with lots of emotional baggage which first needs to be addressed and in fact turns the audience against anybody who would make a Christian defense. After all, no one wants to be told they’re not “in their right mind.”
2. Ignorance of Christian theology. I’ve addressed this problem elsewhere. How can the atheist attack Christian belief if he or she doesn’t even understand what they’re talking about?
3. Double standards. It not a good argument to say something against your opponent that with a few word changes can be said right back to you.
Objection by Atheist: “Christianity cannot be true, look at all the evil done by ‘Christians.'”
Response by Christian: “Atheism cannot be true because of all the evil that’s been done by atheists (such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Nero, Mao, and Vlad the impaler, to name a few).”
If it cuts both ways, just drop it.
4. Appealing to notions which lack any foundations in an atheistic worldview. If a naturalistic, atheistic worldview cannot provide a foundation for the objective existence and value of logic, the uniformity of nature, moral absolutes, etc., how can it appeal to such things in it’s attack against Christianity? Answer: It’s shouldn’t. (I’ve also dealt with this hereand here).
Books promoting atheism. Here’s list of books to keep in mind when wanting to hear “the other side”:
1) Atheism: A Very Short Introduction– by Julian Baggini. This is a great little introduction to atheism, and is one of the few books on the subject written by an atheist who actually admits atheism is a worldview.
2) Why I am Not a Christian– by Bertrand Russell. This is a classic work in atheistic literature and is made up of short essays, so you don’t have to read the entire thing straight through (for an excellent Christian response to Russell’s main essay see here).
3) Atheism: The Case Against God– by George Smith. Many atheists believe this remains the classic work on the subject. Herbert also fails prey to many of the logical and argumentative errors noted above.
4) The God Delusion– by Richard Dawkins. In this work, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins steps outside of his area of expertise and unto the court of apologetics and philosophy of religion. If one were to remove all of his emotionally charged rhetoric this 374 pg book would probably be reduced to a 100 pg booklet. And when you examine the material left you’ll discover nothing new that hasn’t been responded to before. Of course Dawkins, with Sam Harris, is the most outspoken contemporary atheist, so knowing this material when speaking to atheists is helpful.
I read atheists because they strengthen my conviction that only Christianity provides meaning, and atheism is irrational. I don’t cling to my Christian faith out of blind, irrational faith. I’ve weighted and considered the other side and come to the conclusion that atheism rests upon poor, badly construed arguments. We need not be afraid of atheism’s poor logic.
Exposing oneself to a bit of atheism can indeed be good for the soul.