The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist, Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments, by Andy Bannister
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
As someone who reads a fair amount of books on the subject of apologetics, many of which deal with the challenge of the so-called “New Atheists” , it is always noteworthy to see a book that combines intellectual rigor with a great deal of humor. To be sure, the author is a confirmed Brit, with a lot of inside jokes that work best if one is fond of contemporary English culture, geography (particularly the Lake District, where I spent one memorable summer camp as a teenager), and food, along with a taste for literally hundreds of terrible puns on just about every page, many of them in footnotes. Even if one does not understand all of the puns and inside jokes in this book, a reader should be aware of the fact that the author has a breezy wit and clearly does not take himself seriously, poking fun at his amorous escapades as a youth, showing a great deal of appreciation to his longsuffering wife for their happy marriage, and using his wit to make the subject of philosophy something other than the stuffy subject it often seems to readers. Hopefully, while the readers are trying to figure out the latest joke that the author makes about food or cricket or some absurd story about a thief drugging people to help him steal art or a man who angrily denies the existence of Sweden while listening to ABBA tunes, they realize this joking is in service of strong philosophical ideals, namely the holding of those who consider themselves as the bright defenders of reason to the standards of reason they so cavalierly disregard in their own bloated rhetoric.
In terms of this organization, this book has a simple style that, like some of my own blog entries , makes gentle fun of 19th century writings and their overly complicated but also very descriptive titles, something that ought to be clear from the lengthy title of this book. Each chapter, usually around 20 pages, takes arrogant atheists to task about some major logical fallacy they adopt in their books and twitter posts and articles, which are given oddball titles that provide an over-the-top example, and which are helpfully described in the more mundane and explanatory subtitles. These logical fallacies include a look at the consequences of bad arguments, why atheism is a belief system, why all gods aren’t the same, why faith in God is not a sign of insanity, why psychological arguments against Christianity fail, why religion doesn’t poison everything, why science is incomplete in explaining the fullness of reality, why we need God to be good, why life without God is meaningless, why everyone has faith, and why we can really know a lot about Jesus Christ. The writer is a thoroughgoing Hellenistic Christian with a strong belief in the importance of rationality and while this book is short on a great deal of scriptural exegesis, it certainly provides a strong defense of the historicity of the Gospels on account of their genre as well as their awkward honesty, an argument that applies in general to the truth value of that which is written by people with tendencies towards awkward honesty that ought to be widely appreciated.
Although this book will be greatly lauded for its stylistic excellence, and for its consistent tone of irony and gentle ego-deflating mocking, the book really succeeds in terms of its consistent and logical rigor, and its submission of truth claims to a fair-minded and rigorous view of evidence. This book makes one example of Christian apologetics that shows defenders of belief to be deeply interested in rationality and truth, and in pointing out that the acidic bath of skepticism destroys the claims of many skeptics to being defenders of reason and intellect. In drawing out the many implications of the bad arguments of the New Atheists, the author manages to point out that their contemporary popularity is largely due to the fact that our present age is bored with the difficulty of thinking seriously and wants any excuse to justify its rejection of the high ethical demands of God’s ways as described in the Bible. This is a prescient argument, even if this book is not focused at our contemporary social trends. The one false note the book strikes is its continual ad hominem attacks at fundamentalists, a term it does not define and uses as a pejorative label. Given the attention the book takes to avoiding ad hominem attacks and defining terms carefully, this is a worrisome note that is probably made in order to appeal to its target audience of hip and ironic believers and skeptics who think themselves to be smarter than the fundamentalists they all openly disdain, presumably for believing the Bible is literal and for having a certainty in certain biblical truths as well as a general belief in inerrancy.
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