I like Christian apologetics book as much as the next guy which means not a whole lot. I do like the idea of them. A reasoned, rational defense of Christian truth is a great idea–something that answers questions and addresses difficulties can be very helpful. But let’s be honest, most apologetic works suffer from some serious defects. A few are overly simple and don’t really offer more than trite answers to tough questions. Some books are just dry and boring. Rare is an apologetics book that answers questions well while remaining entertaining.
The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments by Andy Bannister is both highly entertaining and thoughtful. Bannister is the Canadian Director for RZIM. Hailing from the UK, his prose is full of British wit, humorous asides and puns. It is rare to read a book where the footnotes are this funny. Bannister takes on the rhetoric of the so-called New Atheists, exposing bad argumentation, false claims, overstatements made by these antagonistic unbelievers. Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and the Derek Zoolander of New Atheists, Sam Harris, are all skewered by Bannister’s masterful wit. He also endeared himself to me by taking several cheap shots at the Toronto Maple Leafs (the NHL team in his adopted city). I haven’t read an apologetic book this entertaining since Randal Rauser’s The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetics Rabbit Trails.
Each chapter begins with a humorous story (most often a bit fiction) which highlights significant issues with these Atheist’s arguments. Bannister then goes on to make some serious points about :what constitutes a good argument, the saneness of Christian belief, the reason why not all gods are the same, the problem with psychological arguments against God, why religion doesn’t poison everything, the limits of science’s explanatory power, the necessity of God to underscore morality and meaning, why everyone has faith and our reliable knowledge of Jesus. I doubt seriously he would win many converts from died-in-the-wool-atheists, but Bannister certainly demonstrates the warrant for Christian belief.
Bannister focuses on the New Atheists, though some of what he writes applies to ‘Old Atheism’ as well (he peppers his prose with occasional references to Bertrand Russel and others). What sets the New Atheists apart from the old, is the vitriol they direct at religion and faith. They don’t describe religious people as wrong or misguided. They see us as evil. While their arguments against God are not always the most philosophically sophisticated, I’ve spent enough time on college campuses to hear Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris described as intellectual heroes from bright young people. Bannister does a good job of showing some of the places where their arguments are more flash than substance.
However this book doesn’t tackle every issue. One of the stickier points for some unbelievers is God’s track record. Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens point to the Canaanite Conquest and some troublesome stories in the Bible and posit that the God of the Bible is a ‘moral monster.’ Bannister doesn’t explore this issue or theodicy (the problem of evil) in any great depth and yet I think that this is the major issue for many people today. This signals the limits of this volume. A skeptic may follow and appreciate Bannister’s points and still come away with their principle objections untouched.
But for an entertaining and thoughtful romp and critique of New Atheism this is well worth reading. I give it four stars.
Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from Monarch Books and Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.