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Monday, September 7, 2015

"The Atheist Who Didn't Exist" (Andy Bannister)

TITLE: The Atheist Who Didn't Exist: Or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments
AUTHOR: Andy Bannister
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (240 pages).

Why is atheism increasingly being portrayed as something “scientific, contemporary, and for those with brains” while Christians being see as “stuffy, outmoded, and irrational?” Why do people buy into the arguments of New Atheists lock, stock, and barrel? Are they right in their assessment? Are they fair in their dismissive stances? Have they become victims of bad argumentation by the New Atheists? These questions motivated Andy Bannister to action not only to join the famous apologist organization, RZIM, but also to write this book that puts the arguments in proper perspective. He deals with each bad argument and shows readers exactly why they are bad and frivolous.

First, he argues that we need to question the sound bites atheists put forth, such as: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” On what basis do people assert that? He points out that the alternative secular, atheistic, and socialist models have also proven fatal, like the Pol Pots, the Mao Zedongs, and the Stanlins. Bannister tries to prove that atheism must be sustained by rational and appropriate arguments. Don’t let the bus of New Atheism drive you away with their simplistic arguments that looks catchy on the outside but hollow on the inside. Second, he asserts that atheism is actually a belief system as not taking a position of religion is actually a position in itself. Bannister points out that atheism “looks like a belief, and behaves like a belief” and that a “simple disbelief in God does not make one non-religious.”
Third, in maintaining that not all gods are the same, it is foolhardy to accept Richard Dawkins’s argument that doing away with religion is getting “one god less.” One cannot keep dismissing one god after another without eventually dismissing one’s own. One needs to come back to the heart of the belief and to see from history the facts and the evidence of faith. Fourth, believing in God does not mean we are insane. God is not a Santa Claus where people labels as myth. Many people of mature age do find faith a totally rational thing to embrace. Fifth, religion is definitely not a crutch. Atheists sometimes assert that people seek religion because they needed a psychological crutch. Tracing the topic all the way to Sigmund Freud who first popularized the use of psychology, one's ability to project such thoughts ends at death. Psychology can be helpful but it needs to be placed within its contexts of use. It is definitely not a tool mean to support or denounce religion. Sixth, it is terrible to claim religion as a poison. For eradicating religion is the all-effective pill to remove violence and ills of society, how then do we explain the problems caused by non-religious regimes? Just because of a few bad apples in any particular religion does not mean the entire religion is bad. Seventh, Bannister addresses the over-reliance on science to explain everything, including faith matters. How can science be elevated to a religious level? While science does a good job in explaining how things work, it is less meaningful to look at issues of ethics and religions. More importantly, even science itself has limits. The mistake is to be blindsided by this overwhelming trust. Eighth, is there such a thing as a good atheist? Do we really need God in order to be good? Like a proud vegan who secretly eats meat, atheists often have to face the question of God in making ethical decisions. While we can argue against "God talk," we may find it hard to argue against the existence of hypocrisy in dogmatic statements that sit on a poor foundation. Nine, Bannister starts to make propositions FOR faith in God, that without God, life is meaningless. The question of "What is the meaning of life" continues to stump philosophers throughout history. For the question to even have any meaning, one needs to acknowledge the need for a basis to talk about meaning. We need to consider the question of what if atheism isn't true? That if atheism is indeed what it claims it is, then the idea of meaning becomes meaningless. Tenth, it is man's innate nature to be people of faith. The difference lies in what one expresses faith in. Trust and faith are interrelated. What is the foundation of our faith? Even the New Atheist's kind of claims must answer this question of basis of their faith in atheism. Just because one does not use the word "faith" or "belief" does not mean the atheists don't believe in anything. Finally, the gospel of Jesus can teach us more about life and faith instead of the New Atheists' books and material attacking religions, especially Christianity. Debunking bad arguments is not enough. We need solid faith that is anchored in solid rock.

The Bible declares out clearly in Ps 14:1 that “The fool declares in his heart, There is no God.’” “Fool” is a strong word. It is a word beyond verbal reprimand but shows inner rebuke to a dull and ignorant soul. Like a child trying to deny that he has a parent, it is foolish to say things like a child simply appears out of the blue. For Andy Bannister, Canadian director of the RZIM organization, he feels that many people buy into the arguments of radical atheists without first doing sufficient thinking for themselves. Do not settle for soundbites but diligently work through the real deal. Do not dismiss religion just because some atheists say so. Examine their claims. Sieve out the rhetoric from the reality. Hear what they are saying and observe what they are hiding. Are they talking sense? Is Christianity like the elusive or fabled “Loch Ness monster” that the atheists are painting out to be? Bannister uses both wit and humour to demonstrate in eleven chapters that if one seriously studies the arguments made by the popular atheists, one will not only find that many of the claims of the New Atheists are not only untenable, Christianity is entirely reasonable. With a title that suggests how bad arguments result in the implosion of the New Atheist philosophies, Bannister is convinced that the biggest threats to Christianity is not atheism. Christians need to be assured that the gospel itself is impeccably grounded on solid rock. Postmodern pebbles and rude stones can be thrown at the claims of Jesus but all they do is scratch the outer layers of historical Christianity. If subjected to their own claims on themselves, it is unlikely to even survive the way Christianity has survived the many years of persecution and unfair prosecution.

Bannister writes it conversationally and often casually. Each chapter opens with familiar modern scenes. Readers can follow the arguments easily and to examine how the author takes apart the arguments of the new atheists point by point. He cites Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris quite frequently. Rather than launching himself off with scathing retorts for these attackers of the Christian faith, he injects humour into the chapters. After all, the bad argumentation used by the new atheists are laughable in terms of the weak foundations and bad arguments. Books like this will appeal to those who had problems coping with the radical statements from the Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harrises. For them, Bannister is assuring them that they should not worry as these New Atheists do not have strong foundations in the first place. What is less clear is how this book will apply to engaging the more moderate atheists or agnostics. For me, as I read the book, I cannot help but think of the atheism as a philosophy that essentially finds its identity on the very thing it opposes. In other words, without theism, there is no atheism. Without God, their sense of identity (that depends on the constant grappling with the God-person) crumbles. For many, the most rationale position is often agnosticism, which is a position that does not commit oneself to either theism or atheism. Whatever it is, Bannister tells readers not to fear atheism, especially the new atheists that are loud on the outside but largely empty on the inside; noisy with rhetoric but quiet with reality. After all, these new atheists are not as cool as people may think.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Monarch Books and Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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