Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Thursday, April 01, 2010



Today's Atheists In Historical Perspective

R. Albert Mohler Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 108 pp $15.99 ISBN-10: 1433504979 ISBN-13: 978-1433504976

Reviewer: Forrest W. Schultz

With the book under review here I have finally begun to read the writings of Albert Mohler, something I have intended to do for a LONG time. If this volume is a representative sample, than I can see why Mohler has been receiving high praise.

In this book Mohler places today's atheists into historical perspective -- both short range and long range. The short range perspective is the contrast with the atheists of the late Victorian period, the kind of atheism which mourned the loss of God. Mohler provides two illustrative examples of this in important poems of the time: Thomas Hardy's God's Funeral and Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach. This sense of the loss of something precious stands in sharp contrast to the New Atheism's attitude of celebrating the end of something regarded as harmful and dangerous. For the long range perspective, Mohler turns to the scheme set forth by Charles Taylor in his 2007 book A Secular Age. According to Taylor, belief in God passes through three stages. During the first stage God is so strongly presupposed that people find it impossible not to believe in God, and they regard God as the supreme authority and judge. During the second stage the people regard belief in God and disbelief in God as two options between which man must choose because in this stage man has arrogated supreme authority and judgment to himself thereby placing God down in the dock as an object to be examined to determine its nature and existence or non-existence. In the third stage, which we are entering now, the intellectual leaders, such as the New Atheists, regard it as impossible for a rational person to believe in God. From what Mohler presents here it sounds like Taylor is on target. I have not read him but based on what Mohler says, I intend to do so as soon as possible. One of the hallmarks of a good teacher, as C.S. Lewis said, is recommended good books to his students. If Taylor turns out to be good, which sounds like the case, then Mohler is to be applauded for recommending him.

Mohler discusses three of the New Atheists in some detail: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. I have known of Dawkins ever since his "selfish gene" concept was announced -- because I have always had a great interest in biology. I did not become aware of his crusading atheism until I heard of his "God Delusion" notion. The other two I was unaware of. What all three have in common is the idea that belief in God is dangerous. This belief sets them apart from what appears to be the reigning notion today -- postmodernism, according to which it is impossible to know the truth, especially about philosophical matters. So, in this respect they are like the old atheists, who were (old) modernists, who believed that philosophical truth could be known and that atheism was clearly true and theism false. However, this may not strictly be true of Dennett, who regards theism not so much false as he does something which was once evolutionarily advantageous and is now evolutionarily disadvantageous.

Mohler in this book is more focussed on understanding the New Atheism than he is at refuting it or of proving christian theism. He does note that the presupposition of secularization theory is based on the functionalistic notion of religion, i.e. that it exists to provide certain functions such as supplying meaning and comfort. If one can show that this understanding of religion is fallacious, then the atheist's argument based on it is likewise fallacious. This plus scientific evidence can be used to attack the New Atheism, but, as Mohler rightly states, "the self-authenticating character of divine revelation is the only ground upon which a distinctively Christian theims can be established." He aso states, in the last chaper, how we must not use an accommodating or compromising approach, as many liberals have done. To the contrary, Mohler stands firmly on the Biblical creationist rock, so it is not suprising that he will be the keynote speaking at the 40th anniversary Institute for Creation Research banquet this fall. Mohler also attacks the tepid kind of Christianity in which Dawkins and Dennett were raised, because he believes this was instrumental in leading them to their atheist views.
There is one serious error in Mohler's book. Charles Darwin's famous book, The Descent of Man, was first published in 1871, not in 1859, as Mohler states (p. 20). The year 1859 was the year when Darwin's most famous work Origin Of Species, was first published.
I recommend this book as a good introduction to the New Atheists -- it is amazing how much Mohler has packed into such a short book.