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:

  1. It exposes us to attacks against the faith
  2. 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.)
  3. It prepares us for real-world engagement with unbelief.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.

PS: For an extended, and more thorough, treatment on this subject, click here. This chapter is also found in Greg Bahnsen’s excellent apologetics intro Always Ready

Posted on August 7, 2007, in Atheism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. You reference part one. An obvious hyperlink would be handy in posts like this.

  2. ok yeah the fact that you think the “problem of induction” even exists is a sign that unfortunetly you are very philsophically neive, it doesnt exist, i cannot refute a problem that doesnt exist. Also the idea of moral absolutes are a bit of a misnomer as you dont believe they exist without god

  3. Tony, thank you for your comments. I have to admit, I’m not quite sure how to respond to them. You say that I must be philosophically naive because I’ve raised the problem of induction (though not in the post your chose to respond to). But respected philosophers such as David Hume and Bertrand Russell have admitted than it is in fact a “problem,” (see, for example Russell’s ‘On Induction’, The Problems of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967). Dr. James Anderson has written a brief history of responses in the secular philosophical world (See his “Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction,” http://www.proginosko.com/docs/induction.html). You can also find a helpful online article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/

    So to say “there is no problem” reveals either a lack of awareness of the ongoing discussion of this issue or a flippant brushing away of the issue for reasons I cannot assume to know. Now, it should be noted that in the blog article where I do raise the problem, I view the problem only as a problem for non-Christian worldviews. I believe the Christian worldview is fully equipped to provide a sufficient response to the “problem.” See the following piece: https://apolojet.wordpress.com/2007/07/20/the-unformity-of-nature/

    Your closing statement isn’t clear, so I don’t know where you’re going with that. Sorry.

  4. i read it, you didnt solve anything, infact you created two problems as now you would have to deal with both the uniformity of nature and the uniformity of god! It seems you fell into the common misinterpreation of Hume’s work as championed by Greg Bahnsen and Bertrand Russell!

    my closing statement was about how if moral absolutes are dependent on God they arent really absolutes so to say

  5. Tony, simply stating that you disagree with Bahnsen and Russell’s interpretation of Hume ins’t a counter-argument. You know better. Saying so doesn’t make it so. What I provided was a simple, yet internally consistent explanation (from within the Christian worldview) for the uniformity of nature. The natural world is generally uniform because God decreed it would be generally uniform. The “uniformity of God” problem you raise isn’t a problem: God’s nature is eternally consistent. In fact, a classic definition of God (found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism) is ‘God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This simply is what God is.

    The God of the Bible is all-knowing, therefore his knowledge cannot grow. He is perfect goodness, so his moral excellency cannot change. He is a spirit and therefore has no body to change or degenerate. Etc., etc., etc. Another way of saying this is that God does not change in his person, perfections, or plans.

    The “problem” of moral absolutes is solved in a similar manner. They are “absolute” in that (when properly understood and applied) they are rooted in the only thing in existence that is truly absolute: The triune God himself. An atheist worldview, by contrast cannot maintain moral absolutes of any kind since there is literally nothing (no-thing) that is absolute. The best it can do is societal consensus enforced by the powerful. Even Nietzche saw this.

    • “The “uniformity of God” problem you raise isn’t a problem: God’s nature is eternally consistent. In fact, a classic definition of God (found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism) is ‘God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This simply is what God is. ”
      nice job begging the question! you are just assuming that god is uniform to prove that god is uniform. It IS a problem whether you like it or not- as you cannot ever justify WHY god is uniform, all you can do is beg the question over and over again! Why should you expect God to be eternally consistent? the only anwser you can give is either “God told me” or “He always has been consistent” which both begs the question

      And i think you got it wrong -God by definition cannot be absolute, his “morally exellency” is nothing more then an empty tautology, to say that nothing in an athiestic worldview is absolute is showing me you dont even understand what absoulute even means! ONLY in an athestic worldview can absolutes be maintained as they would be unchanging by time or space not subject to the power and will of any supernatural being

  6. Admittedly, there is a kind of circularity in my argument. But it isn’t the kind of random circularity that comes from trying to avoid the burden of proof. Say, for the sake of argument, that the God of the Bible does exist— a infinite and personal Creator that is far superior to his creation in every way imaginable— it would not be illogical to say, based on his own verbal revelation, that we understand somethings about him and yet not others. To say otherwise would be to say that God cannot exist unless you can exhaustively understand all things about his nature and his intentions—i.e. unless you were God himself! What I’ve argued for is circular coherence.

    Philosopher Nicholas Rescher defines what I’ve called circular coherence as “The justificatory procedure at issue is then indeed circular-the validated logic we achieve in the end should ideally turn out to encompass the very logic of which we have been making presystematic use. But there is nothing vicious or vitiating at work here; it is a matter of retrospective wisdom-of-hindsight reassessment, of revisiting something familiar to reconsider it from a different point of view…In this way the validation of the modes of argumentation that constitute our logic is a process that is –to reemphasize- virtuously circular. We would not-should not- want it otherwise. Circularity in this domain is not just unavoidable but actually desirable…In the validation of modes of argumentation, circularity is not something vicious or vitiating; it is a rational sine qua non.” ( Nicholas Rescher, Cognitive Pragmatism: The Theory of Knowledge in Pragmatic Perspective [Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001], 143)

  1. Pingback: Introducing the New Apologetics Q&A Page | KINGDOMVIEW

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: