Book Review - Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists

Image of Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists
by Sean McDowell, Jonathan Morrow
Kregel Publications 2010
Paperback 304

Is atheism making a comeback? Authors Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow say it is and seek to respond to this very vocal movement in their new book, Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. Recent books by contemporary atheists include titles like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. The recent proliferation of these books speaks to the reality that atheism is back—with a vengeance. These four vocal atheists have been duly named “The Four Horseman” by Al Mohler.

To say that atheism is back is somewhat inaccurate: atheism has been around since the fall (Gen. 3). Throughout history there have been moments of intense effort by atheists to undermine or overthrow Christianity. This is one of those intense moments. There is no denying that these New Atheists are making a public scene in their quest to rid the world of religions— especially Christianity.

As a result of the atheistic outcry against Christianity in particular, there has been an enormous response among evangelicals. Notable apologists such as Ravi Zacharias (author of The End of Reason) and SBTS president Al Mohler (Atheism Remix) have written popular level books in response to the New Atheism. Theologians such as Alister McGrath (The Dawkins Delusion) and biblical scholars like Paul Copan (Is God A Moral Monster?) have made noteworthy contributions. Pastors such as Doug Wilson (Is Christianity Good for the World?) and Tim Keller (The Reason for God) have responded to the New Atheism with theological rigor and pastoral care. More philosophical responses have come from the likes of David Berlinski (The Devil’s Delusion) and William Lane Craig (God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist). These have shown that the biblical claims of Christianity can more than hold their own among philosophical doubters. Further, scientists such as John Lennox (God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?), Stephen C. Meyer (Signature in the Cell) and Francis Collins (The Language of God) have responded to atheist’s attacks in their own areas of expertise.

With this wide variety of responses from defenders of Christianity, there is no doubt that Christianity can hold up against charges from any source. Each of these books is helpful in its own way, and many more provide solid answers to the claims of atheists. Whether atheism is actually making a substantial comeback or not remains to be seen. For now, it is certain that many Christians have heard the boisterous claims of the New Atheists and have been asking questions about their own faith and the Bible.

For the Christian who may not be able to determine where to begin in his quest to chew through some of the above-mentioned books, the task can seem daunting. There is so much to read and so much material and information to process that it can seem easier to take the fideist approach and just believe in God regardless. It is to this group that McDowell and Morrow speak. McDowell and Morrow have taken on eighteen of the most hotly debated issues among Christians and Atheists. With remarkable ability, they have condensed these eighteen issues in an easy-to-understand way without being overly simplistic. They have brought out the salient points of contention within each issue and have responded with clarity and forthrightness. No chapter is longer than sixteen pages and some are as short as nine or ten.

McDowell and Morrow state that the central thesis claimed by the New Atheists is that “Christianity isn’t just false; it’s dangerous” (p. 14). It is this claim that the authors seek to answer through the eighteen chosen topics, with the help of selected experts. The body of each chapter is written by the authors. At the end of each chapter an expert is brought in from the relevant field of study to wrap things up. In addition, each chapter incudes a short list of related books readers may use to delve deeper into the subject matter of each particular chapter. A large body of good books is available. McDowell and Morrow have done a great service to readers by directing them to the best ones to go to next.

Is God Just a Human Invention? is divided into two sections. The first deals with atheistic claims that fall under the scientific/philosophical category. The second deals with moral and biblical challenges. The first issue in the science/philosophy section is the question of whether or not faith is rational. Much of the discussion by atheists that faith is irrational is due to a misunderstanding of the nature and content of faith. Thus they believe that faith is “blind, irrational and stupid (p. 19).” Whether they realize it or not, atheist attacks on the validity and rationality of faith seem to be more aimed at fideism (the belief that faith is independent of reason). “Biblical faith is trust in God because He has shown Himself to be reliable and trustworthy. It is not belief in spite of the evidence, but belief in light of the evidence” (p. 21).

Moving from the rationality of faith, the authors tackle the claim that faith and science are at odds. The book then defends the high likelihood of miracles. “In short, the possibility of miracles depends upon the existence of God. If God exists, miracles are possible” (p. 46).

Discussion of origins issues includes the origin of the universe and of human life as well as the Christian explanation for why the universe is just right for life. When Christians refer to God as the original source of all things, atheists always counter, “But who made God!?” To this classic question the authors respond that “The claim is not that everything has a cause. Rather, everything that begins to exist has a cause” (p. 78).

One of the most intriguing and thought provoking chapters of the book is the eighth, in which the authors discuss the debate over whether or not humans have souls. Daniel Dennett wants us to believe that the mind does not exist and is merely “an illusion created by the brain” (p. 109). To this claim the authors offer several counterarguments:

If there is no soul, then free will does not exist…. if materialism is true, you do not have any genuine ability to choose your actions…. if you were solely your body, then your identity would be constantly changing. (p. 112-13)

Part two of the book deals with moral and biblical challenges. First, the authors respond to the harsh claims of Christopher Hitches that religion is dangerous. Hitchens sees all the major evils of the world as stemming not from people but their religions. The authors state, “Upon reflection, most would agree that people are the problem, not religion. There are deeper issues at work. The human heart is corrupt” (p. 137).

In these chapters, the book addresses several issues from within the Bible, including the ethics of slavery, the morality of the idea of hell, the ethics of Israel’s conquests in the book of Joshua, Christianity’s alleged suppression of human sexuality and why faith in Jesus is superior to belief in alternatives, such as a flying spaghetti monster. All of these issues and more are dealt with clarity and honesty.

The only real criticism I have of the book is the frequent undefined appeal to the freedom of man and how certain atheistic claims would take it away. I would like to have seen the authors at least explain their definition and understanding of this freedom, given how often they appeal to it.

McDowell and Morrow have done a great service for those seeking answers to the claims of atheists but who don’t know where to turn first to find them. I would recommend this book to new and seasoned believers who are unfamiliar with these issues.

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