In The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw, authors Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy provide an honest, unique, and compelling critique of atheism’s inconsistencies.
In critiquing and attempting to debunk atheism, theists and Christians in particular, often seek to take atheists and their arguments against the existence of God head on. The Christian position is pitted against the atheist position in hopes of refuting atheism’s rejection of God. This is the way most debates between Christians and atheists are conducted. We saw this recently in the debate over the origin of the universe between Christian Ken Ham and atheist Bill Nye. Similarly, most apologetic books in defense of Christianity against the attacks of atheism use Christian arguments to answer atheistic arguments. Atheism is thought to be refuted through healthy traditional Christian apologetics.
While all of these debates, discussions, and apologetic resources are good in and of themselves and serve specific purposes, they all fail in some degree to fully understand the atheistic position. In The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw, Norman Geisler continues his illustrious career as a faithful apologist. With the help of Daniel McCoy, the two have added a unique resource to the multiple refutations of atheism, one that stands alone in many respects. They have truly given a new look to the new atheism. This book doesn’t refute atheism with Christianity, but rather refutes atheism with atheism. In a unique, compelling, and accessible style, the authors primarily compile various quotes from modern and historic atheists. Caricatures are common in resources like this, but in this work there are none, because the atheists are given ample space to speak for themselves.
Throughout the book the authors seek to show how atheism is flawed at its core when it seeks to show how a moral God, particularly the moral God of Christianity, does not exist. They do this by pitting not Christianity against atheism, but the atheists against themselves. Geisler and McCoy show that atheism’s refutation of the Christian God is to be refuted because such an argument is self-contradictory.
Setting Ground Rules
The authors begin their quest to expose two glaring atheistic contradictions by setting the ground rules in the introduction. In any apologetic work, especially one with as lofty goals as this one, there must be a clear description of what is being argued against and in what realm this battle for truth is going to be fought. Geisler and McCoy are clear and fair throughout the book, but they are especially clear and fair in the introduction. They explain that the goal of the book is to diagnose “serious contradictions” within atheism’s rejection of the Christian God (1). They also make clear that their aim is not to make childish accusations or circular arguments. Rather, their hope is that the “thinking atheist” will consider their analysis of this problem of contradiction within atheism (1).
The arguments given by atheists in this book and refuted by the authors are all God-in-the-dock arguments, which “stand for the family of atheistic arguments that place God on trial for having contradicted his own nature” (2). So, instead of engaging atheistic circular arguments (i.e. “God does not exist because God does not exist”), the atheist plays within the rules of Christianity. In other words, Geisler and McCoy attempt to show that the atheistic attempt to argue that a moral God does not exist based on the Christian God’s very nature is in itself contradictory. The authors do this in two ways.
They first show how the atheist’s desire for God to both intervene and stay out of the dealings of man is illogical. Then they show how the atheist takes issue with the way God intervenes, while not taking issue with these various interventions in and of themselves. These contradictions are exposed in detail in chapter eight.
Moral Evil vs. Human Autonomy
The atheist’s biggest problem with God is shown quite clearly to be the problem of moral evil. This is seen in the bold claim of Richard Swinburne, “The main argument against the existence of God has always been the ‘argument of evil’—that is, from pain and malevolence” (11). While modern atheists clearly take issue with natural evil (i.e. natural disasters), the authors show that modern atheists take even more serious issue with moral evil. If God is both omnipotent and perfectly good, the atheist argues that he cannot exist because of the moral evil that pervades society. Or, if he does exist, then he is by no means good, so the atheist argues.
Essentially, the atheist is shown to accuse God of immorality for his non-intervention into the problem of evil in the world. Balancing a good God with moral evil is a task only worth giving up in the eyes of the atheist (21). The Christian God is man’s greatest enemy because of his lack of intervention and/or prevention of moral evil.
However, in the very same breath, the atheist accuses God of robbing man of freedom by intervening to deal with the problem of evil. The authors compellingly present three levels of intervention. A-level interventions include intervening in all cases of moral evil. B-level interventions include intervening in the truly bad cases of moral evil. C-level interventions include intervening on the conscious level for the willing. Geisler and McCoy show that God intervenes at the C-level, which atheists believe is not enough. So, the atheist is calling for God, if he is truly moral, to intervene by prohibiting all evil actions of man or some of these actions.
However, in favor of the exaltation of human autonomy, the atheist argues that man does not need God to intervene. In the words of atheist Dan Barker, “We atheists consider ourselves whole, thank you. We are not sick. We don’t need the doctor” (34). The greatest strength in this book is seen in the first two chapters. The authors remain transparent by honestly presenting the atheistic position with little commentary and minimal pushback.
Geisler and McCoy fairly and fully present the atheistic position of accusing God of intervention and calling for total independence from any God who would intervene. These chapters set the ground for the glaring contradictions in the atheist’s position.
Problem with God, Not Intervention
From this point, the authors move to show atheism’s problem with the way the God of the Bible intervenes to solve the problem of moral evil. They discuss ten interventions, which are paired up and laid out in five chapters—death and faith, guilt and rules, punishment and pardon, and hell and heaven. Geisler and McCoy outline the atheist’s argument that God is immoral to intervene in these ways. For example, it is immoral for God to allow death to exist, just as he is immoral to require faith from the humans he created.
Then again, as the conflicting beliefs of atheism is exposed, each and every of the afore mentioned interventions are beneficial to society at large. With regard to death and faith, the atheist calls God immoral for “permitting death and prescribing faith.” However, the atheist has no problem with death, as they do not desire immortality (58). Similarly, atheists who denounce God for prescribing faith call for faith in humanity, science, and technology (59-61). Atheists also see no harm in faith in a pantheistic god (61-62). So, the problem with all of God’s interventions is not that they (death, faith, guilt, rules, etc.) are harmful in and of themselves. Rather, the problem lies in their utilization by God (63).
In the end, it is clear from the mouths (or pens) of atheists that God is immoral to create a world in which evil exists and not intervene significantly to stop it. However, this same God is also immoral to intervene so significantly that he inhibits the freedom and autonomy of man. The problem for atheists is that the Christian God is big enough to sovereignly rule over moral evil while permitting human freedom. Atheists prefer a God who is under their control, “not a God who is in control” (155).
Geisler and McCoy engage the atheistic God-in-the-dock arguments by showing them to be directly contradictory and illogical. So, while atheists use these arguments to dispel the Christian God as a contradictory being who therefore cannot exist, the authors turn the table on the atheist and use their own words to expose contradictions or “conflicting beliefs.”
However, the authors do not expose inconsistencies within atheism without considering atheistic responses and objections. Chapter nine was very necessary for a book of this kind and would not be able to stand up to scrutiny without it. It is here where there is the more traditional apologetic approach to refuting atheism. The difference is that the authors refute the objections of atheists to the authors’ argument that their position is contradictory.
Although I would have much preferred to have seen a conclusion at the end of the book, this book achieves the purpose of bringing the debate over the viability of atheism to their field of play. Atheists who use God-in-the-dock arguments are given home field advantage in The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw. The reader will be exposed to atheistic arguments against the Christian God in the words of the atheist. Readers will therefore be able to clearly see how truly fatal the flaw of contradiction is to the atheistic position, in the words of atheists themselves.
While atheism clearly desires for the exaltation of humanity, its refutation of the God of the Bible actually belittles humanity. Geisler and McCoy call atheists to humbly consider how they refute the Christian God and see how illogical it is in hopes of embracing him, the one who “wants something far more glorious for humanity” (157). The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw is a unique and fresh apologetic resource that any thinking atheist and Christian should pick up.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggershttp://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.