In this book, authors Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow use the arguments of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and other prominent atheists as the jumping-off point to discuss questions of God’s existence, Christian morality, science, evolution/creationism, history, Scripture, and more. The style is engaging and friendly, even when dealing with the kind of vicious statements that Dawkins in particular likes to make, and this is refreshing. And much of the evidence that McDowell and Morrow offer is compelling. You can probably sense the “but” coming up here shortly… we’ll get there.
At first I was enamored of the book. Look at all this amazing proof! The evidence for a Creator is astounding! The reasons for faith are powerful! How can anyone even argue? But as I read further, I began to bump into things that were problematic, little theological statements that weren’t quite right or that told only a part of the truth. I understand not wanting to just cite Scripture to people who don’t accept it as authoritative, but some things cannot be explained any other way. In short, this book approaches the question of God from an evidentialist perspective, which basically means that it relies on sources outside Scripture (such as our observations of life, common sense, reason, history, studies, science, etc.) to make its case.
I think it can be very helpful to examine the evidence outside of Scripture for God’s existence, and there is certainly a place for this type of apologetic approach when dialoguing with skeptics. But if we rely solely on an evidentialist argument, we’ve cut the ground from under our own feet, because our foundation is Christ as revealed in His Word. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is always relevant and always right. Our interpretations aren’t always infallible, but we can trust God. A solely evidentialist approach discounts the power and perfection of Scripture in favor of human arguments — some of which may be right, but none of which is authoritative.
There are some disappointing theological statements in the book. In particular, the chapter on Hell — while making some great points, such as Hell being relational — really falls down. The truth is, we can’t postulate about Hell outside of Scripture because we simply don’t know. We will never be able to justify Hell to skeptics, but our efforts are even more futile when we attempt to explain spiritual things in carnal language. We can’t depart from divine revelation when we are explaining divine things; we will not arrive at a correct conclusion with only our own wisdom to guide us. I agreed with many things in this chapter, but on the whole it was a disappointment.
Also the authors candidly admit that they wish God never told the Israelites to conquer the Canaanites and obliterate them completely. We may not like certain things in Scripture, but if God included it, it is His Word and we are to love it. It’s okay to be honest about our reactions to things in the Bible, but we need to wrestle with those things and rest in the knowledge that God’s wisdom is greater than ours. If it pleases Him to include it, it should please me to learn from it. Again, this is an area in which the authors try too hard to make sense to a skeptic. Some things just won’t make sense until we are converted, and even then we may struggle with understanding God’s purposes. It really does come back to faith in the end.
Despite my overall sense of the book’s faults, I learned much from it. The discussion of naturalism is particularly helpful. Naturalism is the belief that everything we are is a product of our physical bodies and environments, that personality and selfhood are myths we’ve created to comfort ourselves, and that ultimately we are nothing more than the sum of the atoms that comprise our physical selves. There is no spiritual component to man and when we die physically, we simply cease to exist. This is the root belief that atheism comes from. It isn’t atheism versus Christianity; it is naturalism versus theism.
I really appreciated the chapters on evolution and science and the supposed disconnect between science and creationism. Dawkins loves to say that no educated or intelligent person believes in creationism, but he is patently incorrect in this claim, as McDowell and Morrow demonstrate with quotes from many leading scientists. (As a side note, I would love to hear Dawkins’ response to the consistent, verifiable refutations of his claims that McDowell and Morrow have gathered from various scholarly sources.) But we don’t believe a thing because leading scientists and philosophers do; both sides can produce impressive lists of supporters. And this is where the evidentialist side of the argument is very valuable; Scripture says such-and-such, and look! here’s a bunch of evidence that corresponds to what the Bible has been saying for centuries. It won’t convince people who are determined to believe the opposite, but it may raise questions for those with open minds.
I liked having galley proofs of this book because I felt free (and had room) to write in the margins, to underline and circle and star the important bits. I also engaged in some argumentative marginalia (always fun stuff) when McDowell and Morrow made statements I did not find Scripturally supportable.
For atheists who enjoy being scornful of and belittling people who profess faith in God, this book will probably not hold much appeal. McDowell and Morrow aren’t interested in getting nastily personal or in gleefully pointing out the stupidity of their opponents. Instead they try to take on real questions and provide viable answers from Christianity. They don’t succeed perfectly, but there is much of value here to the person who is sincerely seeking.
Overall, I think I’d recommend this book — to my atheist/skeptic friends as a discussion-starter (with a few caveats), and to fellow believers as encouragement in our faith. The empirical evidence we have for the existence of God is not conclusive, nor is it the whole story; I am thankful we have His Word to teach us to place our faith not in ourselves or our wisdom, but in the God who has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. ( )