Book Plunge: Atheism: A Critical Analysis

What do I think of Stephen Parrish’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Stephen Parrish has written a book that is highly philosophical, and yet at the same time, highly readable. The book is a look at the idea of atheism. Does it really stand up to scrutiny? He looks at it from a scholarly level and from a popular level both.

At the start, one gets treated to definitions. What is meant by atheism and theism? What is meant by religion and science? What is meant by the term supernatural? These are all terms that we use freely, but very rarely do we stop and ask what they mean. I am one who never uses the term supernatural thinking it is way too vague and when I get a claim such as someone talking about the evils of religion, I ask for a definition of religion.

He also deals with popular objections. Is atheism merely a lack of belief in God? What about the idea that someone is an atheist to many other gods out there. The one who identifies as an atheist just goes one god further. Sure, these are all piddly weak on the surface and the old atheists would have been embarrassed to see such arguments, but they are out there today.

Parrish’s work that presents problem areas mainly for atheism come in three categories and these can be broken down further. The first is the origin of the universe. This is an interesting topic in itself, but I am pleased to see that he goes even further and asks not only how the universe came into being but rather how does it continue in being. It’s not enough to ask why it came in the first place. Knowing how it remains here is something great to ask too.

The second area is the problem of the mind. How is it that the mind works? What is the explanation of consciousness? There are a plethora of different theories out there. Parrish works to explain the flaws in the other theories and gives a case for why theism has better explanatory power.

The last is ethics and morality. There is a subsection here on beauty as well. How is it that we live in a universe where there seem to be principles of good and evil that most people consider objective, binding, and authoritative? Could they all really be subjective?

An atheist reading this could think, “Ah. Those are issues, but surely he should discuss the issue that’s problematic for theists. The problem of evil.” He should and he does. He looks at this and a number of defenses and theodicies and then turns and says that on his argument, the problem of evil is more of a problem for the atheist than the theist.

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t spell these kinds of thoughts out even more. There’s a simple reason for that. You need to go and get the book yourself. I can’t help but think of the quote of C.S. Lewis.

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

A man wishing to remain in his atheism should also realize that this book is a trap as well. While I am far more Thomist than Parrish is in my philosophy, there is far more that I agree with than I would disagree with. Anyone who is a critical atheist needs to get this for a critical analysis of that view.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 10

Is there a problem with other religions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick begins with a list of 500 dead gods. Rather than cram this whole post with their names, I will give a link to where he lists them out. Now at the start, most people would look at this list and be intimidated. After all, all of these gods were believed on by millions and said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. All are dead. That’s quite the claim.

As usual, McCormick did not do his research on them.

Some of these gods can’t be found even by searching online for them. Nothing comes up. Some of them are characters in stories, albeit at times ancient stories, but still characters. Some of them are more animistic spirits and thus omni qualities would not apply. Many are from polytheistic cultures and again, omni qualities would not apply. Of the omni qualities that would apply, I would be surprised if ten on the list made it.

So what does this tell us? It tells us once again that McCormick will be extremely critical and skeptical when it comes to what disagrees with him, but if he thinks it will argue for his side, he will believe it entirely without doing research. At a later date, I hope to bring out the research that I have done on this. I’m still in the process of putting it all together. If you’re wondering about this list, I advise you to just go through and start checking. See if you start seeing the problems.

Why would McCormick do this? Because he’s a man of faith. He is willing to believe whatever his fellow skeptics tell him uncritically but not so much what disagrees with him. He’s not a true skeptic. He’s just a selective one.

Naturally, after this, we find the “Christians are atheists when it comes to gods XYZ. I just go one God further.” You know, you’d think that if you’re dealing with someone with a Ph.D. in philosophy, you’d find a more sophisticated argument than a pet slogan of the new atheists.

Gentleman of the jury! You all believe that everyone else is innocent of the crime under question. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further. Think that would work?

How about this for a strange idea? Examine deity claims on a case by case basis. If someone wants to present a claim, study it. See what evidence they give and then evaluate it.

McCormick also talks about how denominations go to the Bible to settle their differences with the idea that if we understand it, then we will know which gods are real and what God’s nature is. I don’t know anyone who approaches it that way. The Bible never really argues for the reality of God. He’s just there in it. As for His nature, you can know that from Scripture, but many of us also turn to natural theology for that as well. For McCormick, it’s as if the Bible is the only resource we have. It’s a great one, but it’s not the only one.

When it comes to interpretation, McCormick at 3059 says “And the way an artist’s explanations of what a work means evolve over time suggests that not even the artist knows what the deeper significance is. The personal meaningfulness is largely a subjective and personal creation.”

If this is followed through, then I think we can conclude that give it some time and we can say that McCormick’s book is arguing for Christianity against atheism. After all, he doesn’t know what the deeper significance is and his personal meaning of what the text means is subjective and personal. Why trust it?

Interestingly, at 3074, when he talks about the way religious people think, he says that we’re more prone to say God’s beliefs are like ours. This is quite the irony because when he has talked about how God would prove Himself, he implies that if God wanted to do it, God would do it the way McCormick thinks He should. McCormick apparently also thinks that if God were real, God’s beliefs would be like His. How is he different from the religious people he critiques?

Meanwhile, many of us would say God’s beliefs aren’t like ours, because we all know things we do wrong that He condemns. We also know He condemns many things we wish that He wouldn’t. Of course, there are too many Christians that want to find God’s will and lo and behold, it conveniently happens to be just what they already want to do.

At 3106, McCormick says that instead of asking what the text says, we should be asking why we think it has the Words of God. That’s a very good question to ask. It would be good if McCormick had seriously investigated it. Unfortunately, as we know, he didn’t. We got simply the sound of one hand clapping.

He next asks if we have evidence to believe any of the supernatural claims are true. Now I prefer to speak of miraculous claims instead but again, this is a good question to ask. A good investigation would also interact with both sides of the debate. McCormick doesn’t.

He then says that the real question of whether a claim should be believed is whether it has evidence reasons, fits well with what we know through science. The only distinction I’d make is that not everything is known through science, but overall I agree with this statement. (Although I do want to know if it is known through science.) I wish McCormick really did because he unfortunately did not really evaluate the evidence and apparently believed a whopper of a claim at the start of this chapter with the list of 500 dead gods.

McCormick has plenty to say about private experience. Actually, I’d agree with him for the most part. Of course, if you do have external evidence and you have a private experience, that can further back what you say otherwise, but there are too many Christians who have just their experience.

Naturally, Dan Barker is listed as someone to consider in this. Well, I have, and I don’t take him seriously. His work is quite weak and shows a whole lot of misunderstanding of basic concepts and of course, he’s a mythicist. That last piece would be enough in itself.

McCormick also thinks we Christians have a dilemma. If there are so many religions that have natural explanations, what makes us sure ours is the right one? The answer is of course the one that he failed miserably at. The resurrection.

As I said, McCormick’s work constantly fails to deliver and just gets worse and worse. We simply have the sound of one-hand clapping. Don’t expect it to get better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe