An article of mine, entitled “Unreasonable Doubt,” appeared in last month’s issue of Christianity Today. It is now available on-line here. In the article I discuss the major themes of my book, The Making of an Atheist, which aims to explain and apply the biblical account of atheism.
With the publication of the CT article, a few more folks have written me to say that I commit the ad hominem fallacy or that my book is offensive or that my argument is circular because I assume that the Bible is divinely inspired. (Perhaps the next issue of CT will run some readers’ letters that make such protests.) These were the main complaints among my atheist critics when the book was first published last year. Because I’ve grown weary of rebutting these objections one by one in emails, I’ve decided it would be a good idea to address them in a blog post. So here you go.
As regards the ad hominem fallacy accusation, my book may contain its share of mistakes, but this is surely not one of them. The ad hominem fallacy is committed when one insists upon the rejection of a position because of some fact (or alleged fact) about the person who holds that view. I do not argue that we should reject atheism because of any facts about atheists. In fact, in my book I review many of the objective evidences for theism. Rather, my thesis concerns the moral-psychological roots of atheism. So, to use an analogy: It would be ad hominem to say that we should reject Capitalism because Adam Smith was a bad guy. But it would be perfectly appropriate to argue that Smith came to affirm his view because of X, Y, and Z. The argument in my book is like the latter, not the former.
As for the supposed offensiveness of my book, well, that depends on what one means by “offensive.” If this is intended to mean that I am insensitive, cruel, or have attacked others without justification, the charge is unfounded, even ridiculous. I simply offer a moral-psychological account of the roots of atheism, and I do so as fairly and sensitively as I can manage. In fact, my account parallels what Feuerbach and Freud proposed in suggesting that belief in God is a sort of psychological projection. (I argue that atheists, as it were, “project” the absence of God, due to a combination of moral and psychological factors.) While deeply mistaken, I would never say—nor have I ever known a fellow theist to claim—that the Feuerbach/Freud account is offensive (in the sense defined above).
Now if my critics’ claim is that my account is offensive in the sense that it is likely to be met with anger or resentment on the part of some people, then I plead guilty. Of course it bothers atheists to be told that their worldview is irrational and that, furthermore, it is a consequence of willful rejection of God rather than an objective assessment of evidence. So why defend the thesis at all? Why write a book that will incite atheists? Well, because it is an important and biblical truth that has many significant practical implications with regard to ministry, apologetics, and personal spiritual formation. My account of atheism is really just an unpacking and filling out of what Scripture says in Romans 1:18-32, Ephesians 4:17-18, and John 3:19-21, among other passages.
So, then, in building my account of atheism on the Bible am I guilty of arguing in a circle? No, because I am not appealing to Scripture to build an argument against the truth of atheism (or in favor of theism). I would never cite any biblical passage as an argument for God, as this would indeed be blatantly circular. But, assuming that God exists and that the Bible is divinely inspired, it seems appropriate to consider what, if anything, Scripture says about the causes of atheism. This is all I do in my book. Offensive to some it may be, but it’s an important truth that needs to be heard.