Review: The Atheist Who Didn't Exist

I’ve just finished reading “The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist” by Andy Bannister. The book is subtitled “or the dreadful consequences of bad arguments”, and that’s a pretty good summary of the book: examining various arguments made by writers such as Richard Dawkins (who else?) and the like to see whether they stand up. The point of the book is not to demonstrate the truth of Christianity per se, just to demonstrate the issues contained within the arguments made by these atheist writers.

The thing which makes this book stand out for me compared to the multitude of other books which have been written in response to Richard Dawkins and the so-called ‘New Atheists’ (not that they’re particularly new any more, but still): the scope. What this book does is distil a number of arguments and try to deal with the precise objection in each case. In many cases, he presents arguments in a clear and concise way, and they are well illustrated: for example, each chapter starts with an imaginary (and usually humorously absurd) conversation to introduce the topic.

For me the real strength of the book is its analysis of the logical arguments: Bannister is able to boil an argument down to its precise form and then examine it to see whether it stands up. I’d go as far as to say that this is the best book I’ve read from that perspective (although I haven’t read very many, so that’s not really much of an accolade). But I think too often Christians simply leap to the defensive when someone comes up with questions, rather than saying: “Well, let’s take a step back and look at the question itself. How would that logic work in other situations? Are you being consistent?”

I would recommend this book to a Christian who wants to be strengthened in their understanding of apologetics, or to an atheist who wants to examine some Christian answers to their objections. I think it would be hard to find a book which examines so many arguments so comprehensively and clearly – it’s very understandable.

The only downside? The constant footnotes! There are plenty of humorous footnotes throughout the book, but personally I found them something of a distraction. It’s a matter of personal preference, though – you don’t have to read them.

(Although, my blog is footnoted in one of the footnotes – brownie points to anyone who can name which post. It’s not the reason I read the book though – I haven’t seen a penny of royalties. Not one…)

One of the problems with the so-called ‘New Atheists’ is that they are strong on rhetoric but weak on actual argument. I hope this book is widely read and helps to illuminate the problems for many people.


13 responses to “Review: The Atheist Who Didn't Exist”

  1. Apologetics schmologetics! This kind of thing is hardly new. Always marketed to the faithful.

    1. Schmologetics, that sounds painful.
      Yes, there are many, many, books about apologetics out there. I just thought this was a particularly good one.

  2. If only the christian god would speak up for himself then we could put this nonsense to bed once and for all.
    Alas, he is as mute now as he ever was and ever will be.

    1. Would you like God not to be mute? Or does it suit you that he apparently is?

      1. Apparently? When did he start talking to you, Phil?

        1. Nice way of avoiding the question 🙂
          Obviously we disagree on whether God has spoken and speaks. I’m just curious to know if you had cast-iron proof that God had spoken, and spoken to you, whether his message would be received with joy or not. Do you want God to speak?

          1. Which god are you referring to, Phil? Yahweh?

        2. Well, as you should well know, I don’t believe in another God 🙂

          1. Ah, so Yahweh, then.
            If Yahweh actually existed outside of the Canaanite pantheon and based on the biblical tales I would not want such a heinous monster whispering in my ear, thank you very much. Or in the ears of those that might listen and consider what they are hearing is real rather than the ramblings of a delusional mind.
            Listening to such nonsense produces other fictitious monsters, like Moses and Joshua and sadly, somewhere down the line someone will believe these characters were real and then develop some disgusting doctrine, such as Divine Command Theory, and justify their actions.
            And before you know it you have people building ships and spreading this crap all over the world like some sort of theological STD.
            Secular humanism sounds a much better option to my mind.

          2. You wouldn’t listen to God because you think he is immoral? Interesting. We’ve discussed before just where our sense of right and wrong comes from. As an atheist, you have no answer. I mean, sure, there are answers – but at the end of the day, it’s simply personal preference. There’s no reason why your answers, or our society, should be privileged over anything else. There’s nothing objective to measure them against. Try telling me why your morality is any better than ISIS, or Donald Trump, or whoever holds morals you disagree with. You have a preference, others believe something different. There’s no authority, no reason, no meaning, if atheism is true it’s simply atoms in a void telling other atoms what to do or not to do. Futile, meaningless, and empty in an uncaring universe.
            I often find myself thinking when listening to atheists, “methinks he doth protest too much”. Your language is just so emotive. Kind of like… you really hate God. Someone once said that the atheist believes two things: 1. There is no God; 2. I hate him.
            Anyway, it’s getting late here and I have a busy week, no more comments from me on this thread. Good chatting to you, maybe see you again another time.

  3. Ehem… I though as a christian one of the morals was about not lying – ‘We’ve discussed before just where our sense of right and wrong comes from. As an atheist, you have no answer’
    Look back on your posts at the comments, we do have an answer.
    Morals, come from society and parents all sorts of elements all around us.
    Difference between a religious morals and an atheists morals is that the atheists morals can change and improve with experience and knowledge.
    A religious moral is inflexible, rigid and as such festers in the past keeping us all back. Or the speaker of the religious morals – pastor, priest etc, can shape the morals to whatever he sees fit.
    Now, when morals aren’t questioned or change, the crusades, jihads etc can happen, because its the word of god and that’s final.
    Rather than using your brain you now justify your actions because an unprovable space being told someone at some point that wrote it in a book that has then been interpreted a billion different ways to the point that the person now taught you. So you can now do awful things without using your morals, but rather using religious morals that have been implanted in you.
    And that leads me nicely into the next point –
    ‘try telling me why your morality is any better than ISIS, (a religious based organisation) or Donald Trump (a strong Christian), or whoever holds morals you disagree with.’
    This question has several answers so I’m going to address a few of them briefly –
    1.Atheism is not religion. It does not tell you how to live your life, or how to be as a person, it does not tell you to feed the hungry, or do charity work etc.
    As such, this question is frankly ignorant. You are comparing Atheism with religion, its like comparing apples and oranges.
    2. The moral you are referring to are individual at which point I ask why are your morals better?
    3.It is our morality, it is what we believe as individuals and not as brainwashed servants of morals that change with the wind and pretend to be fixed with religion.
    4. Same question right back at you – ‘try telling me why your morality is any better than ISIS, or Donald Trump, or whoever holds morals you disagree with.’
    God? Have you any proof? No… Well, I suggest you read this then –
    Bertrand Russell everybody –
    Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake.
    If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.
    But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
    And that really sums it up. You have no proof of your god, therefore your set of values you live by are less valid than mine I would argue, due to your cockeyed view through the bible.
    Your morals are inflexible and based on a book they can be used to sway people who listen to whatever argument you may have, and in the extreme produce suicide bombers, westboro church types, ISIS etc.
    ‘Futile, meaningless, and empty in an uncaring universe.’ – Lol here’s Dawkins –
    “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
    And finally, I can only speak from a personal perspective, I don’t hate god, you can’t hate something that does not exist.
    What I strongly dislike is the way people use ‘god’ to sway influence over people, that cause murders, hate. People like Kim Davis in the US being an absolute monster to gay people for literally no reason.
    You think that without a god the world is pointless. How sad for you.

    1. Thanks for your comment Darren, it must have taken you ages to type out.
      But I am afraid I’m not even going to begin to reply to it. Virtually everything you say we have been through at least four or five times on here. Probably more. We have the same debate every time, and I’m tired of it. I just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to debate things with you or anyone else like this on the internet any more. There are only a limited number of ways I can basically say the same thing and after a while it just gets a bit stale, you know? From my perspective you seem hellbent on misunderstanding me, to the point that debate is utterly futile. Maybe you feel the same about what I say.
      We’ve been discussing for, what, 3-4 years now… I just feel like you’re not interested in debate, rather you want a convenient Christian to shout at and be a punch bag. Well, I’ve tried my hardest to answer your questions, I’ve done my best, but there comes a point at which you have to question whether there’s any point carrying on, and I don’t think there is here.
      God bless Darren, I hope one day the Lord finds you.

  4. Try telling me why your morality is any better than ISIS, or Donald Trump, or whoever holds morals you disagree with.

    For the same reason my morality is better than Thomas de Torquemada, Joshua, Moses, Every single Pope that ever was,( and likely will be) The Archbishop of Canterbury, and any religious person you care to name.
    And probably you too….

Related posts

Like this? Subscribe to my Substack.