Review: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

tawdeI’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.

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Taking God at His Word and reviews

Taking God at his WordEarlier this year, fellow blogger The Alethiophile suggested a sort of ‘book exchange’ – he would take book requests and review them, if readers would take a suggestion from him. He suggested ‘Benefit of the Doubt’ by Greg Boyd, which I reviewed a few months ago, and I suggested ‘Taking God at His Word’ by Kevin DeYoung for him to read.

Today, he published his review of the book. I started this blog post off as a comment, but it got a bit out of hand, so I publish it here and hope that others might find it helpful. You’ll almost certainly want to read his review before reading this, otherwise it won’t make much sense…


 

Hi there, as I was the one who recommended the book to you in the first place I feel a duty to respond 🙂 I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy the book, but – as I said on Twitter – I do feel that you have been unfair in this review, and I’ll try to explain why. By and large the problem is I feel that you are writing a review of a book I don’t recognise.

My suspicion is that DeYoung has got your back up with the comments you mention about wanting someone else to accept his interpretation. His tone is polemical at times – perhaps you felt like he was attacking you and your views – and I think you’ve reacted strongly to that, which has coloured how you’ve read and reviewed the book.

Anyway, I’ve divided this up into a few sections which examine the points you make; I hope this isn’t too much but I find it helps to keep things neat and tidy.

1. DeYoung’s interpretation?

You don’t actually quote DeYoung’s full comment about interpretation (and in fact you don’t quote much in the review at all. I would say it’s generally good form in a review to let the author speak for themselves where you can and summarise where you have to.) The full quote is: “I do claim that you need to accept my understanding, because it’s not my understanding. It’s the teaching of the New Testament and the affirmation of the orthodox Christian church throughout the centuries.”

So DeYoung is not claiming himself as the infallible interpreter of Scripture, but simply in line with the way the church has always understood these things. The idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ is a modern novelty: Athanasius or Augustine didn’t “agree to disagree” with the Arians, for example. This is why we have the ecumenical creeds. There is actually a kind of false humility in saying “I don’t claim that you need to accept my understanding” – because it gives the appearance of saying “I might be wrong” while actually putting your own particular belief beyond challenge or criticism. You don’t need to submit your views to scrutiny because you’re not saying other people need to accept that understanding.

If, for example, you claim to believe in the Bible but claim that Jesus is a created being, then I would say that you do need to change your opinion – not because I happen to believe something different, but because I believe the Bible says very differently and the church has always held this as an orthodox Christian belief.

It’s interesting that in this very review you say, “Yes, some things are really important historically. I would fully affirm the historicity of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; those twin events are not only the lynchpin of christianity, but are well attested and can be relied upon as historical events as strongly, if not more so, than many an event in the ancient world.” When you say “really important”, how important do you mean? Would you say that someone who didn’t take the resurrection account as historical is actually in error, and would you want them to accept your particular view?

There must come a point at which we need to say that some beliefs are wrong. The church has always believed that Christ was “born of the virgin Mary” (to quote the Apostles Creed), and I don’t see how requiring someone to believe what the church has always believed when it comes to the virgin birth (or the rest of the creeds, for that matter) is setting oneself up as an infallible authority.

In particular, I think your statement: “this level of arrogance is sufficient reason to view DeYoung as an unsound, unhumble teacher whose work is not to be trusted” is completely unfounded.

2. The Bible – clear?

You say: “in his view the bible is wholly clear and can be readily understood. But if you read the chapter, there is no evidence of his appreciating the times, the cultures or the languages the bible was written in, nor to the various audiences to whom the books were written.” Actually I don’t think DeYoung says the Bible is ‘wholly clear’.  He quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith and says “Some portions of Scripture are clearer than others. Not every passage has a simple or obvious meaning” (which I think would cover your example of 1 Thess. 4:17).

But he does say “That which is necessary for our salvation can be understood even by the uneducated, provided that they make use of the ordinary means of studying and learning.” This is similar to other statements such as the Anglican 39 Articles, which says in Article VI: “HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

So I feel that you have misrepresented what DeYoung says and knocked down a straw man. Although study of culture and language may be beneficial in terms of nuance and background, the fundamentals of the gospel are understandable without them.

3. Quoting

You say: “Obviously, there are some scriptural references, though all too often they are piecemeal, stripped of context and have a strong odour of proof texting about them rather than the aroma of exegesis.”

When you quote 1 Corinthians 13:11 at the end of your review, is that ‘proof texting’?

I think DeYoung does a pretty good job of giving context in the book actually. Can you name any specific examples where he proof texts and takes things out of context?

I agree that DeYoung doesn’t quote from any liberal scholarship – but then, when I read Greg Boyd, I don’t recall him really engaging with any conservative scholarship. I’d say it was acceptable for a book written for a popular (not scholarly) audience not to engage with lots of different views – he’s trying to promote a particular view. Saying that he doesn’t quote from people who disagree is, I think, a little uncharitable. And doesn’t actually engage with any of his arguments.

In terms of the history, I think DeYoung would agree that literary genre is of course important (not sure what his position is on Genesis 1-2 with respect to evolution). But we do have to take seriously Jesus’ view of Scripture, and I think he presents a compelling case that Jesus had a truly high view of Scripture which we must reckon with. If our Lord and God thought certain things were historical, who are we to argue? (Incidentally, if you want an interesting read on historical criticism and evangelicalism have a read of this book.)

4. The fundamental disagreement

The fundamental disagreement I have with you is at the start of your post: “all too often he seems to treat it as though it were a single body of work with a single author.”

I think DeYoung presents good evidence that the writers of the Bible did indeed think it had a single author. I think this is precisely what e.g. 2 Tim 3:16 does claim for the Bible, or the book of Hebrews, or the apostles in Acts 4:25, and so on. The Bible’s words are God’s words. DeYoung is not elevating the Bible to the position of the Trinity, but if Scripture is the Word of God then it flows from Him and reflects His character, will, truth, etc.


 

Anyway, I’m sorry for writing a short essay in response to your review, but seeing as I suggested the book in the first placeI felt compelled to respond. There’s more that could be said but I think that covers the most important things!

Quick Review: Samsung Galaxy S Advance

On Friday I arrived back home to find my new phone had been delivered (well, it had been delivered next door and I had to pick it up, but still.): a Samsung Galaxy S Advance. This is to replace my HTC Wildfire, which I’ve had for the past couple of years. I bought it on the strength of reading an excellent review of it a couple of weeks ago.

Although I’ve only had the phone for a couple of days now, I decided to post up a quick review, given the pace with which mobiles seem to change and develop (it’s no use me posting a review after using the phone for a few months!). As such, this isn’t really a “how well does the phone cope over time” kind of review, but just my first impressions as well as a comparison with my experiences of an HTC Android for two years.

I’ll look at the pros and cons, starting with the cons:

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2011: The Review

So, 2011: what about it, eh? *makes dismissive noise and rolls eyes* It’s been a bit of a year. Well, inspired by my friend Alex’s review of the year, I’ve decided to do something similar – though not in as much depth.

Here are a few things I’ve seen this year (films, books, TV etc… wherever the mood takes me. That’s the crazy kind of guy I am) which I think are worth watching. Note that not all of them came out this year, but this year is when I saw them:

Films

I will be honest: we haven’t been to the cinema since we went to see The King’s Speech ages ago. We rent DVDs from easyCinema (or LoveFilm, I think they’re basically the same) – hence not all of these are 2011 releases. Handily, you have a feature where you can rate a film after seeing it – so I’m going to post up a selection of the films I rated 4-5/5.

  • Speed Racer – saw this on Alex’s recommendation earlier this year, and immediately ordered the DVD. (Well, Blu-Ray, but for brevity I’ll stick with DVD). Great family film, made by the Wachowski brothers around the time that they made the original Matrix.
  • Beyond the Pole – interesting film, starring Stephen Mangan. Started out as a comedy but ended up slightly tragic, still with funny moments though. Worth watching.
  • The Social Network – fantastic work. Someone told me that the writer of this film writes dialogue like poetry. I’m not entirely sure that’s exactly right but I thought it was very insightful, well paced, well scripted and well acted.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – original Swedish version. Lots of Saabs and Volvos being driven around 😉 This was really good – I don’t know what the new version is like, but this one is very thought-provoking. I like the ‘message’ as well, that the protagonist (the girl) does seem to change and find some kind of redemption.
  • The Ghost – good psychological thriller, very cleverly written.
  • Submarine – excellent film, written and directed by newcomer Richard Ayoade (‘Moss’ from The IT Crowd). Side splittingly funny in places but with some really tender moments – kind of like ‘Beyond the Pole’ in terms of being a comedy/drama, but probably funnier.
  • Things We Lost in the Fire – great story about a family shocked by the death of the father and them learning to be a family again – I’ve probably not sold it well but this one is actually quite heart-warming in the end.
  • Tangled – a film we watched on Alex’s recommendation. Great kids film (and for adults too) – it left me with a smile on my face at least!
  • Good Will Hunting – an old film I know, but if you haven’t seen it’s definitely worth watching. Ben Affleck plays his usual character, but Matt Damon is pretty good. And even Robin Williams isn’t annoying!

Once again plagiarising taking inspiration from Alex, one or two films I thought were absolutely awful:

  • Knight and Day – I remember seeing Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz advertising this on Top Gear a while back. I thought, “Hmm, looks pretty good, I’ll check it out.” I shouldn’t have bothered … it’s awful. Couldn’t really follow the plot, it wasn’t really funny… overall, not the best film ever 😉
  • The Other Guys – this film showed some promise, I do like Will Ferrell – but just couldn’t quite deliver. I just didn’t find it funny, it seemed to follow too much in the vein of those so-called “jokeless comedies“.
  • Four Lions – in some ways I didn’t want to put this in because it was pretty good, but at the end of the day I just found it didn’t really deliver. There were a few genius comedy moments, but apart from that it was a bit sad and left me feeling … well, a bit empty. (Kind of like 500 Days of Summer last year – although Four Lions was definitely funnier.)

Other Stuff

I don’t really read much in terms of novels (most of my novel reading has been in the form of free books on the Kindle, mainly Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories). I don’t want to start recommending Christian books on here at the moment, I might do that in a separate post.

We also don’t really watch that much TV, but here are a few bits of TV which come to mind:

  • Doctor Who – really enjoyed this year’s season. Matt Smith and Stephen Moffat at their best I think.
  • Frozen Planet – amazing TV. The BBC have excelled themselves once again.
  • Rev – despite my somewhat negative review, it’s well worth watching!
  • Death in Paradise – great fun, somewhat mindless but comic fun starring Ben Miller. Feel-good TV that hits the right notes for me.
  • Outnumbered – I was a tad disappointed with the most recent series, it just felt like the kids were getting a bit too old. Part of the charm of the series was their innocence, and I think that has been somewhat lost now.

I think that’s enough from me rambling on anyway. I will now stop pretending I know anything about films or TV and move on…