Book Review – The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist – Andy Bannister
One of the clearest distinguishing characteristics of the so-called new atheism, is its moral certitude. Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett ,and Samuel Harris, as well as many others have declared that atheism has finally and convincingly won the war against Christian theism.
So sure are they of this decisive victory that they have made loud proclamation of the fact and proudly published their summaries of the conflict. Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, Harris’s The End of Faith, and Dennett’s Breaking the Spell as well as several other books by these authors and others all trumpet their perceived triumph.
Dr. Andy Bannister in his new book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist provides a serious yet whimsical response to some of the more popular atheist arguments circulating in the culture. Aimed primarily at skeptics, doubters, and atheists, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist encourages readers to identify and avoid bad arguments and instead deal seriously with some of life’s deepest questions in meaningful ways.
Bannister reminds readers that every philosophy, theology, and/or worldview has questions they must answer. Questions such as, what is the point of life? Or, what is the essence of humanity? Do humans have a purpose in life beyond what they define personally? What happens when we die? Only those answers that are rational, coherent, and liveable provide a satisfying foundation for living.
Andy starts his book with a well-known example of atheistic rationale as an illustration of a poor argument that relies on a carefully crafted sound-bite that ultimately is misleading in the least. A few years ago buses in several metropolitan areas began displaying placards on their sides that had statements such as, “There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Many people snicker at that type of statement but others accept it as truth. Without spending any time examing what the statement is actually saying many people live their lives as if God does not exist.
Upon a moment’s reflection however, this statement turns out to be nonsensical. Is life just about enjoyment? What does that even mean? What is enjoyment? Isn’t that just an emotion achieved by acquring products or experiencing a moment in time? Is that the purpose of life? Centuries of philosophers and theologians of every persuasion striving to understand humanity’s existence, and the best atheism can do is say “enjoy life.” What a vacuous, lame, and perverse mentality.
Bannister’s entire book is given to examining and confronting this kind of atheistic misdirection. Bad arguments and equally bad sound bites might persuade uncritical and unthinking people of something vaguely felt or believed but they do not stand the test of robust examination.
Bannister’s stated purpose for writing this book is found on page twenty-seven of my copy of the book. He states that his goal is “to clear away some off the weeds of bad arguments so that a more sensible dialogue can be had.” This is indeed a worthwhile endeavor. The goal of a Christian in dialogue with an unbeliever should be to answer objections in thoughtful and reasonable ways.
One of the strengths of Bannister’s book is his use of humor. He doesn’t use it to denigrate but to provide an impression of what the unbeliever’s argument might look like when encountered in daily living. In chapter two for example we encounter the Scandanavian Skeptic whom the author uses to illustrate the bad argument that non-belief is not a thing and therefore does not require any support beyond the assertion.
In this chapter we learn that some atheists try to argue that non-belief in God means they don’t need any evidence or proof to support their statement of non-belief because it is in effect a negative claim and the abscence of something (in this case belief) does not require evidence. However, as Bannister points out this claim proves too much.
If atheism is merely non-belief in God then cats, dogs, giraffes, tennis shoes, automobiles, and condominiums are all atheists because they don’t believe in God either. Of course this statement will elict an immediate and perhaps even exasperated response along the lines of “those things can’t believe anything.” This response actually reveals an important point in this issue. When atheists state that certain things “can’t” believe in God such as cats, dogs, and giraffes, they are conversely admitting that non-belief is really a lack of belief in God by a creature that has the ability to form beliefs. This is vastly different from the original claim.
Bannister tackles most of the bad arguments and equally bad sound bites in eleven quick read chapters. Titles such as The Santa Delusion, Humpty Dumpty and the Vegan, and The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin leave readers smiling and even laughing at times, but underscore very important points in arguing against atheism’s claims that believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus, that morality is individually created, and that life is meaningful without God.
The heart of the issue for Bannister and other Christians who have examined atheism is this: Life has no meaning if there is no God. It is absolutely absurd to teach children not to bully one another, to respect people, and treat people kindly while also teaching them that they are merely accidents of time, chance, and mutation. This is counter productive to understanding morality, virtue, and meaning. If there is no God, no creator, than everything is utter nonsense and only despair remains. Some atheists are willing to own up to their worldview reality but most are not. Attempting to side-step the implications of atheism results in the bad arguments and sound bites invalidated in Bannister’s book.
I recommend Dr. Bannister’s book as another resource to help Christians understand their atheist friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The intellectual capital of the Christian theistic worldview is rich and deep and will overcome every objection when consistently practiced, explained, and taught.
Dr. Andy Bannister is the Canadian Director for RZIM, speaking and teaching regularly throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe.
He holds a Ph.D. in Islamic studies. He is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.
Dr. Bannister is the author of: An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an (a book that reveals many of the ways the Qur’an was first composed) and Heroes: Five Lessons From Whose Lives We Can Learn, which looks at the lives of five incredible giants of the Christian faith. His latest book, and the subject of this review is, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (subtitled – or: The Dreadful Consequences of Really Bad Arguments).
I interviewed Dr. Bannister on my program, Soaring Eagle Radio.
I was not remunerated in any way for writing this review. A free PDF copy of the book was provided to me in advance of the aforementioned radio interview. This book review orginally appeared on Dr. Mike Spaulding site.