While comments were snafu’d, I got to enjoy a big long list of apologetics resources that our dear friend The Eh’Theist found while a bunch of us were hanging out on the Disqus site like we were at the Café Américain waiting for our papers to come in. The list shows us everything that Christians get wrong about atheism–and to a cevrtain extent why they get it wrong.
Why Lists Are Important.
Whenever I see a big list like this one, I think back to a relatively unknown Sean Connery/Michelle Pfeiffer movie called The Russia House. (I know I’ve mentioned it before and I will keep mentioning it until everyone
loves it finds out about it.) In it, Barley St. Blair (Sean Connery), an alcoholic book-publisher Englishman, gets sucked into international semi-post-Cold War espionage out of love for the very brave Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is trying to help her ex-lover “Dante” (Klaus Maria Brandauer) smuggle his scientific findings out of Russia to the Americans to end the arms race once and for all.
It’s an amazing movie: funny, sad, clever, and strangely topical given events of late in America, with a wistful soundtrack that goes up there with the best of the best (Conan the Barbarian being the only one I can think of that beats it for sheer beauty and storytelling support). Sean Connery is playing himself as usual, but he’s clearly having a total blast riffing on his James Bond days. Michelle Pfeiffer sells the withdrawn, elusive Katya with grace and a fine accent. And god damn, Klaus Maria Brandauer is great in everything, but here he’s hit his acting apotheosis: his dissident Russian scientist is prickly and persuasive and aggressive and needy and surly and generous and utilitarian and soaringly artistic and pessimistic and optimistic and boyish and older than his years–sliding in and out between these states and more besides in the space of one spoken sentence sometimes.
As the movie draws to its slow burn of a climax, a coalition of British and American spies give Barley a long list of questions they want him to give to the Russians, not realizing that Dante is already dead. Barley realizes right then that lists are powerful things; they tell anybody who reads one exactly what the list-makers know and don’t know. And so he parlays that list–and his newly-learned spycraft–into a stunning gambit to save himself and Katya (and her entire family) from certain destruction.
So when we look at this list, let’s think about what it tells us about what the makers of the list know–and more importantly what they don’t know.
The List to End All Lists.
The list I’m examining now is on a site called Apologetics 315, archived here for your convenience in case the list changes. The whole site looks like the brainchild of one person: Brian Auten, who says he has a Master’s Degree in “Christian Apologetics” and has interviewed over 150 apologists over the years. He’s been running the site since 2007. And though he doesn’t present a list of his doctrinal beliefs that I could find, he’s been endorsed by all manner of fundagelical leaders like William Lane Craig and Frank Turek.
Obviously, since the fellow makes a living in the field of apologetics, he’s going to think that apologetics is the best tool possible to keep Christians in the faith and maybe even make more Christians (of the proper kind, naturally, as we’ll see when we dive into the list).
I don’t think Mr. Auten would ever like to think about how genuinely useless apologetics is against anybody who has functioning critical-thinking skills–if he could accept the idea in the first place. I really don’t think he could. Indeed, he’s written an entire paper, available on his site at present, about what apologetics is, why it’s totally Biblical to use apologetics, and what its functions are.
We wondered on Disqus (during our long, lonely exile) whether this guy is presenting this list with the intention that his readers will use the materials on it to try to evangelize non-Christians or if he’s just writing it for his own tribemates in hopes of strengthening their faith. This paper settles the question immediately. He absolutely intends the apologetics materials he presents and writes to be used not only to help Christians overcome their own doubts, but also to counter what he calls “attacks against the Gospel,” presumably by non-Christians, “to build a reasonable case to persuade the unbeliever” by “removing intellectual stumbling blocks” (apparently by creating all new ones).
This particular list was something Mr. Auten created in 2009. It got a few comments when it was first presented, but interest flickered out fairly quickly. Someone in 2015 pointed out that Mr. Auten spelled one of his authors’ names incorrectly, but it was never corrected–which makes me suspect that Mr. Auten himself hasn’t actually looked at this list, much less revised it, since his own last comment in 2014.
He clearly wants it to be an end-all, be-all list of works, a list of books for every single need that a Christian might ever have. He organizes it carefully by topics of interest to fundagelicals, starting with works aimed at newbie Christians (including the crapfest The Case for Christ, for which you can easily find debunks pretty much anywhere; here’s my favorite one–it’s totally worth the time you’ll need to watch Steve Shives’ full evisceration of this much-revered book).
Steve Shives reads The Case for Christ. Or as I call his series as a whole: OW OW OW OW OW OW OMG that doesn’t look like it should bend that way, dude.
Other topics include “Jesus,” which is a list of books that support the notion of a totally historical Jesus whose biography matches what is given in the Gospels; “Resurrection of Jesus,” which is a list of books that PROVE YES PROVE that Jesus really did die and then return from the dead; “Miracles,” which are books that try to support the notion that the Christian god does absolutely anything tangible in our world (it’s also one of the shortest categories, with only 4 books–and they’re quite wibbly-wobbly-looking, not persuasive in the least; these will be books arguing well it’s not totally totally impossible, therefore Jesus); and of course books about the “Problem of Evil,” “Doubt,” “Science” (which largely consists of books slamming real science in favor of the pseudoscience that fundagelicals prefer), a whole large section shilling for Creationism (which contains almost nobody who actually works in the field of biology, which shouldn’t surprise anybody), and of course “Abortion,” which contains exactly what you think it does. There is also a list of books aimed at fundagelicals who aren’t sure how to evangelize and want some tips and tricks.
As we go on, we discover that Mr. Auten highly recommends books like the execrable I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, along with Mere Christianity, The Case for the Real Jesus, In Defense of Miracles, Reasonable Faith, and a whole bunch of other books that are guaranteed to produce cringes that can be seen from upper orbit out of anybody who reads them without fundagelicals’ Jesus Blinders firmly affixed to their eyes.
Signs of the (End)Times.
Interestingly absent from this list is anything about equal marriage. If this list was indeed written in 2009 and then forever after left right there, then that doesn’t surprise me. Equal marriage wasn’t quite on fundagelicals’ culture-war radar at that point. Abortion was, however.
Further, we see an extended section about atheists, which were the boogeymen du jour for fundagelicals even in 2009, but there’s nothing there about progressive/liberal/emergent Christianity, which hadn’t really begun to make noise then. Fundagelicals hate progressive Christianity about as much as they hate atheists, feminists, and gay people, perhaps even more because they view such Christians as betraying the Truth™ and bunking down with the enemy. He’s got a short list of books that he thinks slam “Postmodernism/Relativism,” but they don’t look particularly persuasive either–and that’s not really the same as slamming liberal Christians.
Further, there’s nothing on the list about Muslims, who are the other boogeymen lately for fundagelicals, except for one listing under “Cults,” since that culture war had only just gotten seriously rolling; there’s nothing whatsoever about the horrors of Sharia Law either. We also find nothing in this list about prepping, guns, the Benedict Option, religious “liberty,” or homeschooling. Fundagelicals simply weren’t fighting those culture wars quite yet. Indeed, in 2010 a commenter adds a couple of books about paganism–revealing him- or herself as a Christian who is clearly very, very concerned about that topic, and clearly among the last vestiges of Satanic Panickers at the Disco.
Taken as a whole, this list tells us exactly where fundagelicalism was on Christianity’s timeline–much the same way that Slacktivist revealed about the Left Behind books. By studying what culture-war causes this list leaps on and which ones it ignores, we can very safely place this list right at 2005-2009. It’d be really interesting to see what books would be taken off the list and which ones would be added almost 10 years later.
One thing sure hasn’t changed, though: fundagelicals really have no idea what atheism even is, much less how to engage with atheists.
The Atheist List.
I zeroed in on this part of the list right away for some reason; maybe it simply highlighted to me just how WTF and bizarro-world the rest of the list is. Very clearly these books are offered not to show fundagelicals what atheism is, but to coach them on how to witness to atheists (“witness” is a Christianese verb that means “trying to proselytize;” it’s also a noun that is used to describe a Christian’s reputation and credibility). More sinisterly, the books on this list will teach fundagelicals to hold atheists even more in contempt and to hate them more than they already do.
I wanted to show you what was on it, link to debunks of those books if they exist, and then give some better resources to anybody–including Christians and especially including fundagelicals–who wants to learn about atheism from the people most qualified to speak on the subject: actual atheists.
To the right you’ll see a thumbnail of the list (click to embiggen, as usual).
The first thing you’ll notice is that there are very few actual atheists on this list; I spotted Daniel Dennett, one of the so-called “Four Horsemen of New Atheism,” who co-authored one book with a Christian, along with J.J.C. Smart in a similar situation, but that seems like it for atheists; it’s noteworthy that the only atheists on this list are countered by Christians in their respective same books. Also, all of the Christian names I recognize would qualify as toxic Christians according to the definition I’ve put forth: Al Mohler, William Lane Craig, R.C. Sproul, even our old (banned) pal David Marshall.
Where’s the Beef?
Here’s a partial examination of the list:
God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
John Lennox, the guy responsible for this book, is very much a Christian. He’s got degrees in Mathematics and in the Philosophy of Science. He is not a real biology-type scientist. I can’t find anything he’s ever written in scientific journals about scientific stuff, so it’s a mystery as to why the collator of this list thought that someone like that could actually demonstrate basic competency in science and the scientific method. But he debated Richard Dawkins back in 2007 and Christopher Hitchens in 2008, so that probably really impressed Mr. Auten. Unfortunately, the book didn’t impress many non-Christians, who probably expect books about science to be written by, um, yanno, real scientists instead of pretenders and wannabe tryhards. Either way, a book written by a guy who’s made a living in apologetics isn’t going to tell anybody anything accurate about atheism, much less make a persuasive case for adopting his particular brand of woo. This isn’t a very well-known book and it’s hard to imagine why it got a coveted highly recommended asterisk, but I suppose a fundagelical has to make do with what’s available.
This is an anthology of essays edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. I already am well aware that WLC is far from an actual scientist–in reality he is an extremely dishonest and untrustworthy fundagelical huckster–but you might not be aware of Chad Meister, who is an ex-engineer turned philosophy professor. The book is subtitled Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, but it doesn’t actually provide that explanation. Like many of the books on this list, this one is basically a baldfaced evangelism attempt aimed at atheists by way of slams against the scientific method (notably the Theory of Evolution) and the trotting-out of lame-o apologetics arguments used purely because there is no evidence for anything being claimed, not really real reasons why atheism is not a reasonable conclusion. The book isn’t even a good explanation for Christians of what atheism is like (most of the time). Christians are simply gaga about this book, but non-Christians don’t appear to know much about it–or care. There are some scathing reviews of it online at Amazon, so feel free to decide for yourself.
The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions
Written by David Berlinski, who is a
Christian Jewish bigwig at the Creationist Discovery Institute, this book slams science super-hard and pretends that that’ll show them darn dirty apes atheists. Mr. Berlinski has a little education and background in molecular biology and systems analysis; he calls himself a mathematician but I can’t see that he’s ever written any papers about it. It doesn’t look like he ever got down and dirty with evolutionary biology. So who else would be a better pick to write about the evils of evolutionism? RationalWiki didn’t think much of this book or of anything else he’s ever written about religion or Creationism, and neither did PZ Myers. When a Christian calls modern science “pretentious,” by the way, that’s where I check out entirely; I don’t think I’m alone there either.
If There is a God, Why Are There Atheists?
This one comes to us from the warped and wacky mind of uber-fundagelical R.C. Sproul, who is among the wingnuttiest of all fundagelical wingnuts. For some reason he really likes speculating about what atheism is like, even though he very obviously doesn’t know the first thing about atheists. Christians adore this book–and everything else R.C. Sproul befouls–because he tells them all the lies about atheists that they ache to hear and hear and hear again. If a Christian tells you that he or she really likes R.C. Sproul’s work, that’s all you really need to hear to justify distancing yourself from that person.
A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism
Peter S. Williams is some kind of British philosopher who thinks that his god is some kind of “maximally beautiful being.” According to that biography, he’s also a proud member of the Evangelical Philosophy Society. This book isn’t a very good guide to atheism. Mainly he’s trying to poke holes in what many people regard as New Atheism, but as my colleague at Skeptic Ink has demonstrated, his reasoning is rather suspect and his conclusions even more so. Christians who go in for arguments from beauty, as this one clearly does, are people who are generally totally divorced from reality–or worse, who also like atrocity apologetics. I’m not sure which type is worse.
Faith of the Fatherless
This one, by a Catholic named Paul Vitz who I’ve never heard of, puts forth the old chestnut about atheists having grown up without adequate parenting. Yep, you heard him right. Atheists are just little kids who didn’t have good daddies, so now they’re totally rebelling against the biggest daddy of them all: the Christian god. What makes this book particularly dishonest is that its author offers up really awful and poorly-designed “studies” about atheists that he thinks support his notions; he’s put effort into this dreck. He also buys into the Law of Conservation of Worship by claiming that atheists totally for realsies worship science, rationality, and even themselves just like Christians worship their god (!). And he even tries to claim that Hitler was totally an atheist. Oh, and atheists don’t actually exist because Jesus-reasons. Again, this is definitely what fundagelicals tend to think about atheists, but it sure won’t sound familiar to actual atheists. All told it may be one of the most insulting books on this list; it’s certainly done quite a lot to destroy Christians’ witness to atheists.
The Truth Behind the New Atheism
David Marshall must have been tickled pink to get one of his books onto this list. One reviewer was downright mystified at the apologist’s train of thought in it, though, since it appears to consist entirely of insults to atheists, logical fallacies, and really contorted warpings of various Bible verses. That MO sounds pretty familiar, and we’ll leave it at that.
And the Antony Flew book, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, is on the list too, which just makes me really sad. Antony Flew was, in his younger years, a firebrand who is (among a great many other accomplishments) responsible for the development of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy. As he got older, he was converted to a sort of deistic Christianity.
Of course, the conversion of one person doesn’t make the religion’s claims more persuasive to others; indeed, Mr. Flew’s reported train of logic here has been very ably dissected by others already and shown to be seriously wanting. This book does not actually provide any really good, credible reasons for belief; it just makes Christians all the more ignorant of why someone might reject their evangelism attempts (well, and it makes them look more predatory as well, but that’s what I think of evangelism in general anyway). Further, Mr. Flew sounds like he converted to a form of Christianity that most fundagelicals would call deeply heretical–though at this point in their religion’s decline, they’ll take whatever they can get.
What We Can Learn.
First, regarding what fundagelicals know about atheists:
Atheists are atheists because they didn’t get indoctrinated well enough with Creationist talking points, the silly-billies. Those mean ole scientists got to them first with all those Darwinist ideas (“Darwinism” is a Christianese dog-whistle term that means someone who understands and accepts the current scientific models for a variety of fields of science. It’s meant to make science acceptance sound just as religious as science denial is.) Certainly those poor atheists weren’t exposed to Creationist materials early and often enough so they could at least learn all the correct talking points from their pastors and Sunday School teachers. Darn the US Supreme Court and its atheist activist judges, stopping TRUE CHRISTIANS™ from sneaking their religious ideas into public schools!
Atheists are also atheists because they had terrible relationships with their parents growing up, too. (No word on all the Christians who grew up in the same boat, nor any explanation of atheists who had great relationships with their Christian parents. Such people do not exist in Christian-land.) People who grow up in Christian homes and learn all the right talking points simply don’t deconvert, unless they do.
Atheism is supposed to provide the same pleasures and joys to atheists as Christianity is supposed to provide to Christians. But it doesn’t, and so atheism is a very empty and meaningless religion to pursue. Atheists don’t know that Christianity has all the answers they need, unlike atheism, which is a religion that provides no answers.
And atheists aren’t really even atheists at all because obviously everyone believes in and worships something. Even if they deny that idea out of hand, they’re just wrong, and Christians know better than actual atheists do about what they’re thinking and feeling.
The best people to teach fundagelicals about atheists are other fundagelicals, obviously.
(Nothing in this section is actually true.)
Second, how to convert an atheist to fundagelical Christianity:
The best way to convince an atheist to believe in the Christian god is to bash evolution and the scientific method like whoa. Just as all Christians believe in Creationism, all atheists believe in science, so that’s obviously the best attack route.
Another great method of converting atheists to fundagelicalism is to learn a lot of fancy arguments, because obviously an argument is all the evidence anybody needs to believe. If a fundagelical needs more, this list also thoughtfully provides a wealth of resources about Creationism, since everyone knows that Creationist “scientists” have produced tons and tons and tons of pffft evidence. But remember, kids: Christians don’t need evidence, only faith, except it’s great that they totally have evidence in addition to faith, even though they totally don’t need it.
(Nothing in this section is true either.)
Third, regarding the steady decline of Christianity’s membership numbers and its dominance:
Not happening. Not happening. Not happening. None of that is happening. It’s all a delusion. Atheism is facing its “twilight.” It has no future. Any day now, things will go back to normal and Christians will wake up and have their Good Ole Days back again.
(Nope, not true either.)
If this is really a list of one lifelong apologist’s best resources, then he and his religion are in very deep trouble.
Here is a short list of books that do a much better job of outlining what atheism (or secularism or humanism or even simply the rejection of religion) is about. It’s only a start, of course:
Atheism for Dummies, by Dale McGowan (who is the Patheos Nonreligious channel’s editor as well).
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.
The Portable Atheist, edited by Christopher Hitchens.
All That’s Wrong With the Bible, by Jonah David Conner.
The Homemade Atheist, by Betty Brogaard.
Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne (for the Christians who are convinced that bashing evolution is the best way to witness to atheists–or for non-Christians who want to learn more about this branch of science generally; also see Your Inner Fish and The Greatest Show on Earth).
Why I Became an Atheist, by John Loftus.
Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russel (oldie but goodie!)
Jen Hancock’s Handy Humanism Handbook, by Jen Hancock.
Good Without God, by Greg Epstein.
How the Great Pan Died, by Edmond Bordeaux (way out of print but worth the hunt).
Of course, these books pretty much shut would-be Christian evangelists down completely, so that’s no fun (for them). The lies they tell themselves about their worst enemies are the permission slip they feel they need to continue mistreating others–and to keep those happy Christian bubbles safely intact. They won’t make a whole lot of sales if they start treating atheists and other non-Christians with respect and kindness, but it’s not like they were making a whole lot of sales anyway.
What would y’all add to this list that you think does a good job of explaining non-belief and the reasons why people are rejecting religion nowadays?
We’re gonna hold off on the movie review till next Saturday, so hang onto those wine coolers! And we’ll see you on Thursday!
PS: One more thing I learned while writing this post is that it’s really, really hard to tell a fundagelical from a hardcore Catholic from a hardcore Jew. Horseshoe theory, anyone?