Book Plunge: New Atheism: A Survival Guide

What do I think of Graham Veale’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.


First off, my thanks to Graham Veale for having me sent his latest book and the interest of being on my podcast to talk about it. Having said that, let’s get straight to the book.

The new atheism has come, but already, it’s starting to look like a flash in the pan, which isn’t really too surprising. If anything, this has been a benefit to Christianity and an embarrassment to atheism as numerous writers have written works critiquing the new atheism which is incredibly easy to critique. If you want to see a lot of empty rhetoric with little or no research of the ideas that are being argued against, just pick up a book by the new atheists. (And yes, sadly, that does apply to some works of Christian apologetics as well. No problem saying that.)

Graham Veale has added to this and the benefit of his work is it deals with a lot of the latest incarnations that have come about. For instance, there is a chapter dedicated to dealing with the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It should be an embarrassment to the new atheists that this is really considered an argument. I can’t picture writers like Kai Nielsen, J.L. Mackie, and Antony Flew before becoming a theist using arguments like this. 

The next chapter is about science and the problem with scientism, the idea that science is the only way to establish what is true and if anything is true about reality, it must be scientifically true. Veale rightly points out that it is not the case that scientific explanations and theistic explanations contradict. They can work together and for the early pioneers of science, they indeed did.

From there we go to Dawkins and the problem of a big big brain. He starts off writing about the Courtier’s Reply, which should be a reply that simply shows the massive ignorance of the person giving it. It is a result of what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” The idea is that we know these other stories are nonsense, such as leprechauns and fairies, and God is in the same category. But that’s the very question under discussion! Is God nonsense like the others? You don’t demonstrate that by just asserting it. You demonstrate it by interacting with the best your opposition has to offer. 

From there, we move on to design. Now I’m not going to say anything about the design argument insofar as it is the design argument. I don’t hold to it in the ID sense, but I do think it’s important to point out Dawkins’s hilarious claim that if this universe is designed, then its designer must be even more amazing and thus, He must be designed. This is the point of the big big brain in the title. Dawkins treats God as if He was a physical being with a physical brain and thus having a designer. This is certainly not the God of Scripture, nor of Aquinas, nor of most any Christian theologian throughout the centuries but hey, evidence. Who needs it? If this is what you think your opponents believe in, well you don’t need to show that they do by actually researching them. Just make assertions!

This is also one way I know that when Dawkins wrote his critique of the five ways of Aquinas, that he never read Aquinas himself. If he had, he would have known the very next chapter was on divine simplicity. Now you may think that idea is nonsense and makes no sense. So what? That is the idea that Aquinas held to and has been the traditional idea for centuries. If you want to argue against God, you must argue against the idea given you and the data given you. You don’t get to make up your own idea. (In some circles, this is known as a straw man fallacy)

The chapter after this deals with the moral argument mainly as a way that we know right from wrong. While I do not think the argument from a personal experience that’s also presented is the best argument, for some people, it does count as data. I could say it is certainly a part of our experience that needs to be explained.

We move on then to questions of miracles and who Jesus was in the eyes of His contemporaries. This is the main chapter that focuses on the resurrection which is absolutely essential. I do think Veale has done some excellent interaction with some of the latest scholarship and that includes the scholarship that is not friendly to his position. He interacts with the ideas of Second Temple Judaism using sources like Hurtado and Bauckham as well.

Next we move on with a section on the Insider Test for Faith. This is certainly a response as is said to an atheist who would love to be mentioned.

Anyway, the point of the Insider Test for Faith is asking from an internal approach if theism does explain the data well that we have. Now this would of course not prove that theism is true, but it would at least demonstrate that it is coherent and if it is to be true, then it must certainly be at least found coherent. (Incidentally, it’s hard to not read the story about holocaust denier David Irving at the start and laughing when you get to the end of it.)

The last chapter is about how the Gospel is for all people. This also deals with the problem of evil and rightly points out that the solution to the problem of evil is the Gospel. Now some might be hearing that and thinking that it means accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior answers why God allows evil. That’s not what’s being said. The answer to evil is that God is reclaiming this world and reshaping it in Christ and that includes evil.

I don’t agree with all Veale says in this book (I don’t think Jesus was honorably buried for instance) but those points of disagreement are mainly on secondary matters. I do find the style to be engaging. If you have read much on the new atheism on both sides, you might not find much new material here, but if you’re looking for an engaging one that deals with style as well as “arguments”, you should enjoy this one.

In Christ,

Nick Peters


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4 Responses to “Book Plunge: New Atheism: A Survival Guide”

  1. labreuer Says:

    The cover itself is pretty incendiary. I know the adage of not judging a book by its cover, but to implicitly call every single New Atheist ‘heartless’ is probably false. If one is a Protestant and properly believes in the fallenness of the emotions and the intellect, then either (i) an atheist can offer no critique whatsoever of Christianity, or (ii) some proper, valid critiques can be emotional in nature. Indeed, one telltale sign of emotional critique is exaggeration of claims. It’s as if the emotions point in a direction, but don’t do a good job of telling us what momentum to pick up in that direction.

    Nick, do you know of any books which do their best to turn the various popular New Atheist critiques into proper critiques, reasoned through well, given appropriate emphasis, targeted at the relevant spacetime cross sections of Christianity as believed and practiced, etc.?

  2. apologianick Says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but if there was one like it, I suppose it’d be Alvin Plantinga’s “Where The Conflict Really Lies.”

    It’s really hard to do this with the new atheists since their arguments really aren’t reasoned at all and are entirely improper and are just shotgun approaches.

    • labreuer Says:

      I have read Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism; the following struck me as I skimmed bits I’ve highlighted, especially when combined with Feser’s claim in The Last Superstition that modern philosophers tend to create more problems than they solve, which certainly jives with Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue:

          But suppose Swinburne’s arguments are indeed unsuccessful, and add that the same goes for all the other theistic arguments—for example, the moral argument as developed by George Mavrodes and Robert Adams, and the cosmological argument as developed by William Lane Craig, and all the rest.[19] Does it follow that one who believes in God is irrational, unjustified, going contrary to reason, or in some other way deserving of reprimand or abuse or disapprobation? No. After all, one of the main lessons to be learned from the history of modern philosophy from Descartes through Hume is that there don’t seem to be good arguments for the existence of other minds or selves, or the past, or an external world and much else besides; nevertheless belief in other minds, the past, and an external world is presumably not irrational or in any other way below epistemic par.[20]
          Are things different with belief in God? If so, why? (42–43)

      A great example of “selves” is Jonathan Pearce’s “discontinuous ‘I'”, which he later blogged about: The “I”, personhood and abstract objects. So there is a very good argument to be made that moderns (not even just New Atheists) have undercut their very ability to establish some of the most important things, taking them not really even on faith, but irrationally—by affirming them while denying their grounds. Thanks for getting me to find this again, Nick. 🙂

      Nevertheless, Plantinga’s book doesn’t really try and draw out good arguments, so much as to do a sound job showing how existing arguments fail to obtain. So I don’t think it’s quite what I’m looking for. Note that I carefully worded my request: “targeted at the relevant spacetime cross sections of Christianity as believed and practiced”—it gets tedious when every New Atheist criticism is met with, “Well, these Christians over here don’t believe that!” If indeed it is the case that large swaths of contemporary Christians appear to believe it, there would seem to be a grain of truth in the criticism which ought to be deal with head-on, in an honest fashion.

      Perhaps if @tildeb shows some intellectual honesty and willingness to really dive into issues instead of say “sophisticated” and such, I would go through The God Delusion or something and look for his best points. It’s not super-high on my list of things to do, but if someone wanted to partner with me, I’d be game.

  3. Deeper Waters Podcast 10/11/2014: Graham Veale | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] have been many books addressing them. One such book is The New Atheism: A Survival Guide. We’ll be meeting with the author, Graham Veale and chatting with him this Saturday from 2-4 […]

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