Atheism in Review

I have had the opportunity to get to know Dr. William Lane Craig and worked on research for one of his debates some years ago. He is a clear thinker and sound debater. The above 10 minute clip of his debate with the Christopher Hitchens is a case in point. In fact, CommonSenseAtheism.com wrote that, “Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.” Craig is correct in pointing out that atheists cannot simply deny that God exists but are also required to make a positive case for their position. Our task is to understand their claims and question their conclusions as well as making a positive case for our beliefs.

Two recent contributions to the ongoing debate are the book by Norman L. Geisler and Daniel J. McCoy, The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw:Exposing Conflicting Beliefs and the film God’s Not Dead

The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw:Exposing Conflicting Beliefs (Paperback, $11.97, Baker Books, 2014, 177 pages).

Anyone who has attempted rational conversation or debate with an atheist understands the frustration of having the arguments shift in category and/or criteria to the point that coming to a reasonable conclusion seems impossible. Geisler and McCoy take a slightly different approach to the issue in this excellent addition to the discussion. They outline their approach to the main claims of atheism as the “God-in-the-Dock Arguments”:

The first term we define is God-in-the-Dock(GITD) argument . We have taken the phrase from a C.S. Lewis essay, and as an adjective God-in-the-dock will stand for the family of atheistic arguments that place God on trial for having contradicted his own nature. These arguments designate a particular action or inaction by God as incompatible with his perfect nature. We define his nature according to his infinite holiness, power, knowledge, and love. Each atheistic argument considered is a GITD argument, to each might be framed in such a way:

If God were truly moral, he would not [action].
God does [action]
Thus, God is not truly moral.

Of course, if God is not truly moral, then a moral God does not exist. Thus, more pointedly, the infinitely moral God of Christianity does not exist. It is true that some of the arguments that follow can be construed in ways other than GITD. For example, one might say, “The kind of totalitarian submission called for by the Christian God is evidence that Christianity was concocted by opportunists.” However, we are concerned with the version of the argument that says, for example, “If God were a truly loving God, he would not demand our submission.”

Using GITD they cover eight essential areas:

Chapter 1: The Problem of Moral Evil
Chapter 2: The Value of Human Autonomy
Chapter 3: Submission and Favor
Chapter 4: Death and Faith
Chapter 5: Guilt and Rules
Chapter 6: Punishment and Pardon
Chapter 7: Hell and Heaven
Chapter 8: Inconsistencies

In each of these chapters Geisler and McCoy demonstrate that the problem atheists have is not really the issues they raise but with God himself. For example they do view morality as necessary but do not like God as the author of morals. They like free will (human autonomy) but do not like God allowing free will which would then permit humans to act morally evil in the exercise of their free will. So, again, their problem isn’t free will but God. In chapter 9 “Responses and Objections” Geisler and McCoy address some additional objections which atheists might raise to the previous topics and responses to them.

The final chapter, “The Request” is typical of good teaching style. The Introduction outlined what would be taught. Chapter 1-9 taught what the authors had outlined in the Introduction and “The Request” restates what has been taught:

As we have seen, the atheist’s position is a fascinating one. Simultaneously, he holds that evil needs divine interventions and yet that divine interventions are evil. All the while, these very types of interventions are absolved on the societal level. So, on the one hand, the atheist makes clear that interventions are not evil in themselves. Yet when from God, these interventions threaten the atheist. Because the atheist values human autonomy, though he opposes moral evil, he does not oppose the freedom that enables moral evil. As we saw in chapter 3, the atheist is not anti-freedom in the least. So, on the other hand the atheist makes clear that freedom is not evil in itself. In the end, the atheist is against neither freedom not the interventions, though he condemns God for employing both.

So, in the end, the problem for atheists is not the issues they raise for they actually agree with Christians on a societal level, but the final analysis their objection is only with God. They simply don’t like God.

This is the type of book that I would recommend several read at the same time, discuss and perhaps even role play. It will take some brain power as the issues are philosophical but can be very helpful as a tool in both evangelism as well as discipleship.

God’s Not Dead (Pure Flix Entertainment; 2014, Actors: Kevin Sorbo , Shane Harper)

I can’t recall ever writing a film review. I may have but if I did I have no immediate recollection of doing so. There is a reason that I tend to not review films or Christian novels. They tend to lack depth, character development and are often what I might call cheesy. One of the reasons for this is what I think is an oddity of the believing church. I grew up as an atheist and one of my favorite pastors, Ray Kolbocker from Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL grew up agnostic. From time to time we talk about how we both viewed the church before we were believers as this weird group which we have to admit we are sinners to join and then we must spend the rest of our lives pretending we are not. I don’t get that. However, it also directs how Christian novels and films are made. People are messy, life is complicated and to develop strong characters allowing them to be truly human is part of the process. My tendency is to look for authors and films which are good morality tales that reflect or at least agree with a Christian worldview while being tales told well.

God’s Not Dead is better than most of the Christian film’s I have seen. The premise is similar to one I had proposed to a film maker a few years ago which was staged in court where a teacher is on trial for giving a positive affirmation of his belief in response to a student’s question. Although Kevin Sorbo’s character (Professor Radison) was a little over the top as to how a professor might act in the classroom he did an admirable job with the character over all. Shane Harper (Josh Wheaton) did a very good job with the apologetic material but seemed to go from uncertainty about how to make his defense to being an expert apologist within a matter of hours is a little bit of a stretch. His fiancé’s reaction to and rejection of him for undertaking the challenge is a bit unrealistic. I understand the need to add tension and pressure on the main character but this was a bit over dramatic. The inclusion of Willie & Korie Robertson of Duck Dynasty and Christian band, The News Boys may have helped in marketing but I am not sure they really contributed to the film. The time spent with them may have been better used in developing the preparation for the debates or the classroom itself.

The essential content is important and the film does get the questions and answers out into public view and consideration. For that I am glad. That Christian writers and filmmakers are working at improving their skills and the finished product is encouraging. I realize that I am neither a novelist or filmmaker and to some degree my critiques come from the “cheap seats” but even though I may not be able to create good novels or films never-the-less appreciate both when well done. On a five star scale I would give  God’s Not Dead 3 stars. It’s best use is in demonstrating to youth or as an introduction to most churches how to use apologetics and as a way to open conversation with non-believers about the existence of God in order to share the gospel. Maybe dinner and a movie at home with some neighbors would spark some interesting conversation. It is not a classic as say, Chariots of Fire but worth watching at least one time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *