“Why argue with an atheist?” ask Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker in the introduction to their book Answering the New Atheism, particularly since “the general quality of the atheists’ arguments now on the market is decidedly low.”
The answer is that the atheists’ arguments, however lacking in quality, are having an effect. The “Four Horsemen” (including Richard Dawkins and his fellows, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett) have trotted out little that is new, but their books have sold extensively and garnered wide media coverage. Many people, failing to detect the flaws in the atheists’ reasoning, have had their faith shaken.
Fortunately, a number of authors, both Catholic and Protestant, have replied to the atheists’ offensive—many of them specifically taking on The God Delusion. Because no one book encompasses every counter argument, anyone seeking a comprehensive understanding of the deficiencies of Dawkins’ argument may need to read several of these titles.
- God Is No Delusion by Thomas Crean, O.P. (Ignatius, 2007)
Thomas Crean, a Dominican friar, undertakes two tasks—a defense of theism and a defense of Catholicism (which Dawkins particularly dislikes).Crean, more adept in philosophy than Dawkins, notes that materialism is inadequate; it cannot explain, for example, non-material things such as consciousness and thought. Dawkins asserts that matter is the ultimate reality; Crean counters that it is mind.Dawkins dismisses St. Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God in a scant four pages. Crean takes more space to show that Dawkins has not, in fact, adequately replied and even misunderstands them. In two important chapters, Crean takes Dawkins to task over miracles and the Gospels before turning to the issue of morality. Dawkins is angered by many things he thinks are wrong, but his account of the origins of morality gives him no basis for such judgments.Crean shows that Dawkins’ ideas of the origin of religion are “lame,” and then proceeds to counter Dawkins’ misrepresentations of the Bible, ethics, and Catholic doctrine. Contrary to Dawkins’ assertions, Jesus did not preach only for an “in-group,” and the doctrines of original sin, the Atonement, and the relationship of faith and reason are expounded in a way that shows that Dawkins is attacking what he doesn’t understand.This is a valuable and clearly written book with a strong Catholic perspective.
- Answering The New Atheism by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker (Emmaus Road, 2008)
Catholic professors Hahn and Wiker cover a lot of territory in relatively few pages. Their book is somewhat heavier reading than Crean’s, but their perspective is different, making it an excellent companion volume.Hahn and Wiker show how Dawkins confuses the improbable with the impossible, because he believes that anything can happen—anything but a miracle. “The impossible, no matter how absurd, is possible,” he says. If anything is possible, then chance can provide a materialist explanation for what is otherwise inexplicable—the origin of life or consciousness, for example.Hahn and Wiker point out that chance cannot produce the impossible no matter how much time is allowed. Dawkins’ belief that anything is possible means accepting the absurd—a cow, in his schema, really could jump over the moon.After discussing Dawkins’ flawed argument against God (“At best he has shown that an infinitely magnified Richard Dawkins cannot have been the cause of the universe”) and showing how science does point toward God, Hahn and Wiker tackle moral issues. In rejecting God, Dawkins is left with atheistic evolution to account for morality, only to find that “many of the traits Dawkins marked as repugnant are ensconced in natural selection.”The authors close the book with a thought experiment: What would the world look like if Dawkins were right that belief in God were only a “mind virus” and survival of the fittest were followed without exception? The resulting picture is chilling.
(This book also has the best cover—a nervous-looking Dawkins as Adam in Michelangelo’s famous painting of the Creation of Man from the Sistine Chapel.)
- The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicut McGrath (IVP, 2007)
Alister McGrath is a Christian convert from atheism, a molecular biophysicist, and a professor of historical theology at Oxford University (where Dawkins holds his chair). He is thus able to provide multiple perspectives on Dawkins’ arguments.The Dawkins Delusion? is a focused reply to The God Delusion, although McGrath points out the difficulties in such a reply because the latter book “is often little more than an aggregation of convenient factoids suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact and loosely arranged to suggest that they constitute an argument.” Despite this difficulty, The Dawkins Delusion is a very accessible overview of and rebuttal to the majority of Dawkins’ arguments and failings. Together with the books by Crean and Hahn and Wiker, this book helps the reader see why and where Dawkins is wrong.
- The Delusion Of Disbelief by David Aikman (Tyndale House, 2008)
Aikman is another Oxford Ph.D .who takes exception to his follow Oxonian’s atheism. A former senior correspondent for Time, he offers a highly readable overview of the positions of the new atheists.He discusses their dislike of God, the scientific issues, and the problem of wicked atheists. He counters their arguments by demonstrating how the Christian worldview is foundational for liberty—and if that foundation is destroyed, Western society is in trouble. He writes, “The Founding Fathers understood that atheism was the worst possible worldview a society could adopt.” Contrary to what the atheists would have us believe, atheism has contributed to great social problems around the world.Aikman writes from a broadly Christian perspective. He appears to be Protestant but has no anti-Catholic axe to grind. This is a worthwhile and informative book.
- The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson (Christian Focus, 2007)
David Robertson, a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, styles his book as a series of letters to Dawkins. Robertson says that Dawkins appeals not to people’s knowledge and intelligence but to their ignorance. For example, Dawkins’ disproof of God is nothing more than the “Who made God?” question. Dawkins doesn’t display knowledge of what it means for God to be eternal and outside of time and space.Robertson addresses 10 myths, including “the cruel Old Testament God,” “the inherent evil of religion,” “the immoral Bible,” etc.This is an easily read book, but it assumes knowledge of Dawkins’ volume.
- Dawkins’ God by Alister McGrath (Blackwell Publishing, 2005)
Dawkins’ God was published before The God Delusion and is a response to Dawkins’ earlier books such as The Blind Watchmaker. McGrath looks at the reasons for Dawkins’ atheism; notes that the scientific method cannot decide the God question one way or another; points out that Darwinian evolution is not necessarily atheistic; shows how Dawkins’ definition of faith is a “straw man” and his knowledge of theology is lacking; and offers a severe critique of Dawkins’ “meme” hypothesis. Dawkins’ God is a bit more technical than The Dawkins’ Delusion? and less accessible for the average reader.
- The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day (Benbella Books, 2008)
If you want facts and statistics to counter atheist arguments, this is your book. Day (a non-denominational Protestant) doesn’t limit his pointed rebuttals to Dawkins—he also takes aim at Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett. Do you want to know how many people died in the Spanish Inquisition (a topic the atheists regularly raise)? Fewer than the state of Texas executes per year. How many people died under atheist regimes (a topic the atheists try to sweep under the rug)? About 150 million. How many wars in history were religious wars (since the atheists claim that religion is a major cause of war)? About 7 percent of history’s approximately 1800 significant conflicts. And so on, from Socrates to the European Union.In a couple of places the book is unnecessarily crude, and Day’s sarcastic humor can become tiresome. He includes a chapter combining computer-game concepts and lingo with theology which is only peripherally related to the book’s central purpose.
- The Devil’s Delusion by David Berlinski (Crown Forum, 2008).
Berlinski is a secular Jew who points out the scientific pretensions of the new atheists. He explains that science does not lead to the conclusions that Dawkins would like it to; that atheism has led to the greatest horrors in history; and that the universe really does look as if it was prepared for the coming of humanity. He dissects Dawkins’ “unanswerable” 747 argument, and points out flaws and contradictions in the atheists’ positions. Berlinski’s humor, while sharp, becomes heavy-handed.
- Deluded By Dawkins? by Andrew Wilson (Kingsway Publications, 2007)
Wilson’s main contribution is to provide a chart of Dawkins’ lines of argument or assertions, of which there are 63. Christians can agree with 33; 12 are unsubstantiated; 10 are irrelevant; only eight offer any reason not to believe in God. The eight fall into four categories: anti-supernaturalism, logic, Scripture, and improbability. Wilson examines these four in brief chapters. The author seems to be an Anglican. Because of its brevity, this book serves best as either an introduction to the arguments or as an easy-reader.
- Greater Than You Think by Thomas D. Williams, LC, Th.D. (Faith Words, 2008)
Fr. Williams disposes of the major atheist arguments in a manner accessible to anyone. The book is divided into five parts: Religion in the Crosshairs, Religion and Society, Faith-Science-Reason, Christianity under Fire, and Atheism under the Microscope. The introduction is particularly helpful. In it, Fr. Williams discusses the reasons people become atheists and exposes the intolerance of atheism and its lack of moral and ethical underpinnings.Greater than You Think can serve as a valuable introductory-level book for both adults and teenagers. The author teaches theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome and is Vatican Analyst for CBS News.
Approach with Caution
- Challenging Richard Dawkins by Kathleen Jones (Canterbury Press, 2007)
The problems: In the chapter on Jesus there is no mention of redemption, of his suffering and dying for our salvation. He is only a teacher, an example.
- Darwin’s Angel by John Cornwell (Profile Books, 2007)
The problems: Cornwall, although a Catholic, claims that religion is a product of the imagination; that there can be such a thing as an “atheist Christian”; that non-Christians such as Spinoza or al-Hallaj could find God by dispensing with organized religion; that angels do not promote the claims of Christianity above those of other religions.
- Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler Jr. (Crossway Books, 2008)
The problems: Dr. Mohler says, “The New Atheists are certainly right about one very important thing—it’s atheism or biblical theism. There is nothing in between.” He implies that biblical theism means rejecting all aspects of evolutionary theory and adopting a strict biblical literalism.
Four other books that aren’t directly (or are only partially) anti-Dawkins deserve mention:
- Anthony Flew was for many years the world’s leading atheist. He was, however, intellectually open enough to follow the evidence wherever it might lead—and it led to God. His 2007 book, There Is a God (HarperOne) details his journey from atheism to God. Flew is not a Christian—he might best be described as a deist.
- Francis Collins is well known as the director of the Human Genome Project. In The Language of God (Free Press, 2006), he shows how a scientist can also be a Christian. Collins too made the journey from atheism to Protestant Christianity. He discusses Dawkins in passing.
- Dinesh D’Souza has penned an excellent defense of Christianity in What’s So Great About Christianity (Regnery, 2007). He ranges over much of the ground disputed by the atheists, and shows clearly how Christianity is, indeed, great.
- On a more philosophical level, Catholic professor John Haught addresses the bevy of atheists in God and the New Atheism (Westminster John Knox, 2008). Haught has written extensively on science and theology, and this book is another valuable addition.
Photo by Steve Jurvetson