What’s my review of David Bentley Hart’s “Atheist Delusions?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Psalm 11:3 “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Indeed. What can the righteous do? When picking up Hart’s book, one might expect a lengthy reply to various new atheist arguments and criticisms of their approach. One will certainly find that, but not where one would expect. It will be in the first section of the book and the last section. The majority of the book does not even mention them at all. Do not come here if you are expecting a critique of Dawkins’s bogus 747 argument for instance.
Yet Hart does not hide his opinion of modern writing. The first chapter, “The Gospel of Unbelief”, has a number of great statements. The Da Vinci Code on page 4 is described as the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate. On the same page, we are told Christopher Hitchens’s “talent for intellectual caricature somewhat exceeds his mastery of consecutive logic.” There’s Richard Dawkins who “despite his embarrassing incapacity for philosophical reasoning–never fails to entrance his eager readers with his rhetorical recklessness.” Describing Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” on page 8, Hart says “It is little more than a concatenation of shrill, petulant assertions, a few of which are true, but none of which betrays any great degree of philosophical or historical sophistication. In his remarks on Christian belief, Harris displays an abysmal ignorance of almost every topic he addresses.”
Yes. Hart does not hold back and he gives more of the same in the end, but there is no need for Hart to waste time on those of the new atheists who have just as much faith if nor more than the fundamentalist preachers and believers that they are so quick to condemn. There is a sharp dichotomy with them. No goodness can be attributed to religion and no evil can be attributed to non-religion. If something works religiously, it has a “scientific basis.” If something goes wrong with a system of non-belief, that is because the part that went wrong has a “religious basis.”
What Hart wants to deal with is the foundations. These beliefs are being removed by the new atheists from their position of faith. It is a system of materialism that cannot allow anything contrary to its unproven presuppositions. If something seems outside of the material universe, it’s either just wrong or we’ll find an explanation for it someday.
It is a position that upholds the value of science but then takes that and turns it into a deity. Science is the new priesthood with its own standards of canonicity (No religious belief allowed) and its own statement of faith (No gods allowed) and built on a number of creedal statements (Religion poisons everything. Faith is believing something without evidence) and bad evangelistic slogans. (I just believe in one less god than you do.)
Keep in mind the very term “There is no God”, while it could be true for the sake of argument, cannot be determined by science, any more than the claim “Love is the highest virtue” cannot be proven by science. This is not because science is wrong. It is because science is the wrong tool. It is no more an insult to science to say this than it is an insult to hammers to say they are not recommended for treating a toothache.
While it might be said that a Christian will hide from a scientific discovery, and no doubt many do, it is just as true that the modern atheist tends to hide from anything that indicates any truth of a religious claim. Such can be found in how many even make it a mantra that Jesus never even existed. What is accepted as thoroughly proven amongst NT scholars and ancient historians and is practically a universal consensus, is disregarded, while the new atheists mock the Christians who do not accept the scientific consensus on evolution, held even by some Christians. Once again, which conclusion should be accepted depends on the presupposition. All of science is good and all of religion is wrong and biased.
Hart goes to great lengths to show that the problem is not really with science or religion. Men have a great proclivity to do evil and will accept any reason to do so. That reason can be religious or scientific. We must simply ask which one has had a greater power to curtail that evil within human beings. His argument is that Christianity has had that power.
To show this, he deals largely with myths of history and shows how Christianity changed the world through the building up of moral character based on the example of Christ. Hart contends that today, we accept many moral truths, but would we have accepted them if Christianity never came into the world? Probably not, except for perhaps Jewish people. Just look at the Greco-Roman world. Men and women weren’t equal. Some were by nature slaves. Unwanted children were to be left in the wild to die at the hands of wild animals. People watched other real human beings fight and die in the Coliseum for entertainment purposes. Did Christianity erase all of this immediately? No. But Christianity did set the seeds in place that eventually did so.
What happens then when these ideas that are rooted in Christian beliefs lose their Christian foundations? Will the belief itself live on? It could be a nice dream to think that it would, but where is the evidence? The 20th century has been the most secular century of all, and at the same time the most bloody century of all. If we are people to go by the evidence, then the evidence is in. At this point, when Christianity is removed, people have a greater propensity to return to their base desires.
Consider for instance the idea of what to do with the least of ours. The Romans and Greeks would leave their children to die in the wild if they weren’t wanted. Are we that barbaric? It could be, we’re worse. Peter Singer and others argue today that we should have the right to kill our own disabled children up to a certain time. As someone who is an Aspie, as is my wife, I take this claim quite seriously. Christianity, on the other hand, would hold that this one that is said to be useless in the sight of the world and holding us back from genetic success, fully bears the image of God and is worth more than the entire universe. Indeed, one could argue that in their weakness, many disabled people reveal the nature of God, the God who in Christianity took on human weakness in the incarnation, than many of us “healthy” ones do.
Hart does not hold out much hope for our society as he does not see how such a revival can take place. Perhaps it is just for me that hope springs eternal, but I think it is possible. I think we are on the verge of a golden age in apologetics. If the apostles could change the Greco-Roman empire, why not think that we all today can do the same in our own world? The question is not the ability. We have the means to reach the world. The question is not the knowledge. We have the information that we need to do so. The question is the will. Are we willing?
Ultimately then, it comes down to a question of obedience. Christ has given us our marching orders in the Great Commission. There is no plan B. We have been told what to do. The question could then be said to be “How much do we believe in Christ? How much are we truly Christian?”
If we claim Christ is Lord of all and He has the power to change the culture, then let us go out there and do so. If we do not do so, it could be because parts of us don’t really believe that the Christ can do so through the proclamation of His message. This would be, as I’ve argued before, due to a lack of instilling of the importance of having a total Christian worldview to our churches rather than just teaching that we should be good people. Christians are to be good people, but we are to be not just good people. We are to be Christian people.
If I had a criticism of Hart’s work, it would be I would like to have seen more claims properly noted. There are many notes, but there are many claims I would have liked to have seen more noted. I also disagree with him that both Arians and Trinitarians could make a case from the Scriptures. They speak with one voice and they say “Trinity.”
Despite this, I do overall highly recommend the work to deal with a number of atheist statements of faith. The style is witty and engaging, yet it is certainly not simplistic, and one will learn plenty from reading a volume like this.