Category Archives: atheism

New Hope’s Reason Journal

Here’s the latest issue of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. It is both an online and print journal, this is the online bit. The print will be available some time soon.

Articles

“An Apologetic Church”
Stephen Bedard

“Apologetic Testimony from an Unlikely Source”
Mark Eckel

“The Witness of the Spirit: Developing a Pentecostal Approach to World Religions”
Jeffrey K. Clarke

“The Christian Doctrine of God Explained and Defended for Muslims”
Luis Dizon

“The Resurrection, Two Scholars, and Historical Method”
J. Steve Lee

Reviews

Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Stephen J. Bedard

Carl R. Trueman, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Fred G. Zaspel

Tom Wells, The Priority of Jesus Christ by Fred G. Zaspel

Andreas J. Kostenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel by Fred. G. Zaspel

Paul R. Williamson, Sealed With An Oath: Covenant In God’s Unfolding Purpose by Fred G. Zaspel

Norman L. Geisler, If God, Why Evil? A New Way to Think About the Question by Stephen J. Bedard

Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? by Fred G. Zaspel

Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Stephen J. Bedard

Daniel C. Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? by Josiah J. Batten

Drew Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith by Jeffrey K. Clarke

Paul Hughes (ed.), Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe by Stephen J. Bedard

James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by David Rodriguez Jr.

Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Ian Clary

Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion by Michael Plato

William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, Christian Apologetics: Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader: Volume 1: To 1500 by Ian Clary

Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective by Ian Clary

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Review: “The Rage Against God” by Peter Hitchens

We’ve updated the articles and reviews at Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. My review of Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith is there. I reprint it below:

Atheism in the twenty-first-century is a facile form of its counterpart from a previous generation. The abandonment of atheism by Antony Flew before his death in some respects marks the closing of an age of disbelief that at the least offered well-framed arguments against the Christian faith. With the ascendancy of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others who follow in their procession, arguments against Christianity are often superficial and presented with a force that is unwarranted in light of the weakness of the proposition.

Admittedly, there are aspects of recent arguments that have popular appeal. In the case of Christopher Hitchens, his rhetorically-gifted appeals to throw off the shackles of a totalitarian God; to free the mind from the limitations of religious thought and to reclaim the right to make autonomous moral decisions have a certain ring to them in the opinions of many. The attraction to him amongst the sixties generation and their progeny can be accounted for because Christopher embodies the spirit of that movement—indeed, he was and remains a key figure in that lingering cultural revolution.

Hence why The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by his brother Peter Hitchens is so utile; it strikes at the heart of Christopher’s arguments from a common perspective. The two Hitchens’, though often at odds with one another, share similar experiences: each went to a respected Cambridge boarding school; both are former Trotskyists who made loud breaks with the Left; are journalists who have reported from conflict zones around the globe; are masters of English prose; are trenchently forthright with their views and are committed to independent thinking. In a sense, The Rage Against God is like Hitchens battling Hitchens; not in the sense of brother against brother, rather of Christopher against himself.

While Christopher has garnered significant attention with God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Peter Hitchens remains relatively unknown outside of Britain. He is somewhat notorious as a conservative thinker in England where he writes a column for the Mail on Sunday and is a frequent contributor to politically-oriented talk-shows. As a journalist Peter has reported from Communist Russia and was a correspondent in Washington for the Daily Express. He has written a number of  books, including The Abolition of Britain, a sociological look at the rapid changes taking place in British society due to the replacement of a Tory worldview with that of New Labour. As well, he has famously taken on high-level British politicians including Labour’s Tony Blair and the Conservative’s David Cameron, the current English Prime Minister. While a Conservative, Peter is just as scathing in critique of his own party as he is of those of the Left.

The Rage Against God is a refreshing and accessible alternative to the dismissable arguments of God is Not Great. As well, it shares reflective similarities with Christopher’s recent Hitch-22: A Memoir. There is overlap between books as they recount stories of life in middle-class twentieth-century England. One could learn a lot about the decline of religion in Britain and the resultant change in culture from reading the three together. They are also an introduction of sorts to twentieth-century literature; the writings of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell and other recent additions to the western canon loom large in the lives of the Hitchens’.

Peter’s book is divided into three sections. The first is autobiographical where he reflects on his upbringing; the failings of a theologically liberal Christian education; the demise of traditional English values; and his embrace of atheism and Trotskyism. In some ways this reads like a summary of The Abolition of Britain and one sees that the British subtitle, “Why Faith Is the Foundation of Civilisation,” is appropriate. Hitchens excoriates the Left for leading England away from its traditional cultural milieu that once made it a great nation and he chides the Right for its withering and useless class-structured governance. Both are to blame for the relativist mess that has changed Britain, according to Hitchens, for the worse. In the midst of this, Peter explains how he lost his faith, memorably demonstrated in the burning of a bible when he was fifteen years old. The chapter on his rediscovery of faith is an especially good part of the book. Peter’s conversion involves him being awakened to the reality of his own immanent judgment by God as he contemplated the painting The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden in the Musee de l’Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, France.

The second section is apologetic where Peter takes on what he calls “the three failed arguments of atheism” against religion: conflicts fought in the name of religion; morality without God; and atheist states not actually being atheist. Each argument is dismantled using examples from history and common sense. For instance, it is demonstrably reductionist to claim that all religious conflicts are always about religion. In the case of Northern Ireland, says Hitchens, religion is less a factor than the ownership and control of territory.

The third section looks at some of the defenses of atheism, in particular those of Christopher in God Is Not Great. This is the part of the book that Peter sees as “the foundation of the answer to my brother’s position” (164). Christopher denies that the atrocities committed by atheist states are a result of atheism, even going so far to argue that Stalinist Russia was actually religious. Peter, again using history and common sense, clearly shows that such arguments fail. Not only is Christopher’s failure in view, but socialism’s as well. One of the final sections of the book highlights the “totalitarian intolerance” of the New Atheists, which is especially true of Christopher, and is an unfortunate and unnecessary correspondent to his critiques of religion.

There are many good things to say about The Rage Against God. It is very well-written. Both Peter and Christopher are wonderful writers and this makes reading their books delightful, even if one disagrees with their final conclusions. It has been said that both brothers are great respecters of the English language, and this is borne out in Peter’s writing. The tone of the book is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Peter observes the fundamentalist streak of the New Atheists that manifests itself in vitriolic screeds. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Peter writes circumspectly and never deteriorates into personal attacks, even though he makes good use of wit and satire. Second, Peter’s columns and television appearances are often devastating in terms of argument and tone; he brooks no quarter with those whom he disagrees. The tone of this book is noticeably different.

Peter also has an excellent grasp of the issues and explains them with clarity. He is not fooled by the rhetoric of the New Atheists and sees past the non sequitors, the ad hominems, the generalizations, the redundancies and the euphemism of their arguments. He demands honesty from atheists who critique his religion and offers it in turn, even if it hurts.

The book is also a helpful commentary on the role of beliefs in the shaping of national ideologies. Due to his experience in Russia, he can offer first-hand accounts of the devastation wrought by Communism and its atheist hand-maiden. His insights into the cultural changes in the West, that mirror certain aspects of Communist Russia, is a sound warning to those who want to pursue a similar agenda.

A drawback of the book is its lack of theological depth. Hitchens is a journalist, so it would not be fair to expect him to delve into intricate dogmatic issues. However, more interaction with Christian thought is not unreasonable. There is very little mention of Jesus Christ or the gospel message, which is the book’s biggest failing. If Hitchens has even the slightest hope that someone would be converted to Christianity as a result of reading the book, he has severely limited the possibilities.

Also, his method of critique follows tit-for-tat responses against popular atheism, but it would have been more effective if he had examined some of atheism’s—and his brother’s—philosophical underpinnings. For instance, Peter rightly points out that the problem of conflicts in the name of religion are actually problems of human nature. Instead of leaving his answer at this juncture, another step could be taken: what is the atheist’s standard for evaluating the value of religious conflict? Given atheism, objective, universal, immaterial moral standards are illusive. An even further step could be taken by pointing out that when an atheist makes a moral statement, he must abandon his precommitments in favour of another that makes sense of morality; in this case, Christianity. In almost every section of the book one wishes that Hitchens went further. While this does not lessen the force of his arguments, he could be more effective if he took this more thorough apologetic approach.

Be that as it may, Peter Hitchens has done a good job at giving answers to the puerile claims of his brother, and basically makes Christopher’s book on religion look foolish. It is a shame, because Christopher is an intelligent man and the open flaws of his book, so well pointed out by Peter (and others) is a blight on his otherwise commendable literary reputation. The Rage Against God is a good book to give to atheists who trumpet the arguments of Christopher Hitchens as though they posed a real problem to Christianity. It is also good for those who have doubts about their faith; Peter Hitchens demonstrates the importance of Christianity to a well-ordered society which, in a way, is a proof for its truthfulness.

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The Pugnacity of the New Atheists

A couple of years ago I was given the opportunity to drive Alister McGrath to a speaking engagement. He gave an excellent lecture on Luther’s theologia crucis, a subject of which is he an expert. On the drive back to his hotel I asked him about his debates with various leading atheists. I asked him if debating the overtly arrogant Richard Dawkins was a frustrating experience. He said no, that Dawkins wasn’t actually that bad on a personal level. Rather, it was Christopher Hitchens who was much more difficult. “You see him with a glass of water on the lectern in a debate,” McGrath said, “Only it is not water in the glass.” Apparently as Hitchens imbibes he becomes more and more cantankerous, making the debate a less-than-pleasurable experience.

My perceptions about the New Atheists, however, are different. Because of his demeanor, I have very little time for Dawkins; his prideful tone is a complete turn-off. But I do enjoy Christopher Hitchens, even though I think his arguments against the existence of God are beneath his own intellectual abilities. Hitchens uses ravaging rhetoric when he skewers his Christian opponents, yet I don’t get the same visceral disgust as I do with Dawkins. Why is that?

The reason for this is that—at least as it appears to me—Dawkins’ arrogance is of the “How dare you question me??” variety, while Hitchens’ is more “How dare you question what I perceive to be self-evidently true?” In the latter case, Hitchens is vitriolic in the name of truth, whereas Dawkins is revolted at the idea that anyone would challenge him in is Oxford-donness.

Of course I don’t doubt that Christopher Hitchens can be just as conceited as Richard Dawkins. But at least his concern seems to be for the argument more than for his reputation. If that’s the case then I can respect that, even though I disagree with the content of his arguments (and think they’re weak and shallow).

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Prof. Ditchkins on Science

Check out the devastating arguments renowned atheist Prof. Richard Ditchkins proffers for science and reason:

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Etcetera

Peter Hitchens, in his book The Rage Against God, tells us what he thought he knew about the Christian faith before he believed it:

I was convinced that a grown-up person had no need of Santa Claus fantasies or pies in the sky. I knew all the standard arguments (who does not?) about how Christianity had stolen its myths and feast days from pagan faiths, and was another in a long line of fairy stories about gods who die and rise again. Since all the great faiths disagreed, they couldn’t all be right. Jesus was curiously similar to Mithras, or was it Horus? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, easy as pie, not in the sky, and made still more facile by the way such youthful epiphanies are applauded by many teachers and other influential adults, and endorsed by the general culture of my country, which views God as a nuisance and religion as an embarrassment or worse.

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Hitchens vs. Blair on Religion

On November 26, 2010 the Munk Centre in Toronto, Ontario hosted the sixth in its series of debates. The question to be resolved was “Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?” Answering in the negative was renowned wordsmith, literary critic, journalist and author Christopher Hitchens. The affirmative was answered by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I desperately wanted to attend this debate if only to witness a showdown between two articulate, charismatic, witty and educated opponents. If it were at all possible, I also envisioned getting my copy of Hitch-22 signed by its author. Alas, it was not to be, so I’ve had to settle for watching it online (see below).

You might find it odd, if you know anything about me, that I come away from watching the debate favouring Christopher Hitchens. Of course, I am no friend to atheism, nor was I particularly convinced by his argument. Where I came to “side” with him was not so much on his atheism. Rather, this debate was less one about atheism vs. Christianity, or even atheism vs. theism. It was rather a debate between an atheist and a religious pluralist. I dare say, I think I can’t stand religious pluralism more than I can’t stand atheism. Blair converted to Catholicism after he completed his political career and is now some sort of spokesman for religion. It must be said, however, that Blair’s take on religion is a mushy form of “why can’t we all get along?” wearing a t-shirt with Desmond Tutu on the front.

Were I to debate Hitchens on this question, my opening words would attempt to clearly define what I meant by religion. If by the term I was to defend a catch-all that included Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Wicca and the religion that crazy guy in Allan Gardens mumbles in his crack-induced haze–I would gladly concede defeat without uttering another word. Yet, if by religion I mean that revealed in the pages of the Hebrew and Greek Testaments that has its focus set squarely on Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity–I humbly submit that I would not only argue for the validity that it is a force for good in the world, but I would win (not because of my skills, but because this definition of religion is a necessary precondition for any discussion of “good.” I’d win at the outset just by affirming my position!).

A much better rendition of this debate was had between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson. It was originally staged in the pages of Christianity Today, it then went on into book form with Is Christianity Good for the World?, and then went on tour across the eastern seaboard of the United States and was captured in the documentary Collision. For anyone dissatisfied with the Hitchens/Blair pairing, I would highly recommend Hitchens/Wilson instead. Wilson does all that I would hope a defender of Christ would do–including win.

So, below is first a video from the Munk debate; afterwards a trailer for Collision and finally the video for the Westminster Seminary part of the Hitchens/Wilson debate.


 

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Thankfulness

Here’s my latest contribution to the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog: Thankfulness. Yes, of course, because of Thanksgiving.

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So What Does Hart Really Think of Hitchens?

Earlier this year I read about half of Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great, but couldn’t continue because it was so bad. I’ve thought of reviewing it, but to get explain all of the mistakes would have taken another book of double the size. Thankfully, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has a piece in the recent issue of First Things on the New Atheism that deals with Hitchens perfectly {HT: Between Two Worlds}. Below is the section on Hitchens, but I highly recommend reading the whole article–it’s hilarious. I laughed and laughed my whole way through!

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Peter Hitchens Interview

Interview with Peter Hitchens about his return to Christianity, his relationship with his brother Christopher, his work as an international journalist and his book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Zondervan).

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10 in 2010?

One of my favourite bands used to be Bad Religion, the godfathers of California punk. The early stuff was raw and in your face and as they’ve aged their melodic side has come to the fore. If you know them at all, you’re likely familiar with their radio hit 21st Century Digital Boy, a song whose music and lyrics I love.

What’s most interesting about Bad Religion is that their singer, Greg Graffin, has a PhD in evolutionary biology from from Cornell, thus the intelligence of the song-writing is quite high. Graffin is also an atheist and this comes out strongly in a lot of what he writes about. One song in particular has been in my mind as the calendar switched to 2010 – it’s a song about suffering and the over-population of the world: Ten in 2010. It’s short, so I’ll reproduce the lyrics for you:

parched, cracked mouths, empty swollen guts
sun-baked pavement encroaches on us
haves and have-nots together at last
brutally engaged in mortal combat
10 in 2010

what kind of God orchestrates such a thing?
10 in 2010
ten billion people all suffering
10 in 2010
truth is not an issue just hungry mouths to feed
10 in 2010
forget what you want, scrounge the things you need

happy and content it can’t happen to you
10 in 2010
fifteen years we’ll think of a solution
10 in 2010
it won’t just appear in one day
10 in 2010
for ten in twenty-ten we’re well on our way

like piercing ear darts, I heard the news today
10 in 2010
10 billion people…coming your way

Now, there is much that could be said about this song in terms of its overall philosophy. I think in particular of the line early on: “What kind of God orchastrates such a thing?” The song is essentially about the goodness of God and human suffering; a subject often called “theodicy” in the philosophy of religion. My point here is not to get into the issue of how God can be good in light of human suffering (one thinks only of the recent earthquake in Haiti). Philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and John Frame have offered up sound answers to this age-old problem.

Rather, I want to highlight the basic error of the song in that the world’s population is not ten billion and it is now the year of our Lord two thousand and ten. Trusty old Wikipedia estimates the population of the world currently at 6,799,700,000. I wonder if Graffin’s changed the lyrics or if they’ve scrapped the song altogether?

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Review: Collision (by Mark)

My buddy Mark Nenadov has a review of the recent documentary Collision that follows Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson as they debate on the question of whether Christianity is good for the world. Check it out.

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Hitchens/Wilson on Imus

Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson discuss their new movie, Collision, on the Don Imus show {HT: Blog and Mablog}:

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Interview: Piper and Wilson Discuss Atheism

John Piper discusses the upcoming film Collision with Douglas Wilson. The film is a documentary directed by Darren Doane that follows Wilson and atheist Christopher Hitchens as they did a series of debates on the west coast last year. Check it out here.

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Ruse on New Atheism

Michael Ruse is a well known atheist philosopher and scientist. Although he’s a Brit, he has a strong Canadian connection in that he taught at the University of Guelph most of his career. He is currently in better climes in Florida. Ruse is a vociferous anti-creationist and has even gone to court as a witness against creationist teaching in Arkansas. Ruse engages frequently in debates against Christians, in particular proponents of the Intelligent Design movement like William Dembski. His most recent book is Darwinism and Its Discontents (Cambridge, 2008).

When Alister McGrath co-wrote  The Dawkins Delusion? with his wife Joanna McGrath a few years ago, Ruse endorsed the book saying that it was a great rebuttal of Dawkins, whom Ruse accused of being an embarassment to the atheist community. Now, at BeliefNet, Ruse has published an article explaining why he doesn’t line up with the so-called New Atheism. Check out: “Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster.”

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A. N. Wilson Reconverts

A. N. Wilson, a very well known atheist, has announced that he is returning to the Christian faith of his childhood. A major antagonist to Christianity, news of his “reconversion” is surprising indeed. The New Statesman has a piece by Wilson outlining the reasons for his change called “Why I Believe Again” which is a really cool read. The New Statesman also has a Q & A with him where he goes into more detail.

Wilson has written a number of books on Christianity that have been controversial, in particular his works on Jesus and Paul. N. T. Wright has taken Wilson to task in a number of works.

First it was Anthony Flew who abandoned atheism and now Wilson. Pretty cool to see these prominent thinkers realise that their atheism can’t account for the real world that they live in.

[HT: Between Two Worlds]

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Does God Exist?

This video is from the Christian Book Expo. It’s a panel discussion on the question of God’s existence. William Lane Craig, Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Wilson, Lee Strobel and Jim Dennison are on the panel.

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Collision: Wilson vs. Hitchens

While I’m on an atheist kick, Collision, a documentary on the debate over the existence of God between Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens, should be out soon. I guess it’s being screened at the Christian Book Expo. I can’t wait!

[HT: Doug Wilson]

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“Too much, the atheist bus?”

Atheist Bus

I drive my wife to work in the morning. This morning I had the delightful surprise of reading “There’s probably no God: Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” on the side of a street car. First of all, who’s worrying? Second of all, and more importantly, we’re supposed to stop worrying based upon a mere probability? Pardon my snicker. If God probably doesn’t exist, then he just as probably does. If that’s the case and we all stop worrying, we’re all, to put it mildly, up a creek. I wonder if this is endemic to Canadian atheists? We Canadians have our opinions, but don’t always like to force them on people – hence the “probably” to take the wind out of critics’ sails. Is this the atheists way of being inclusive? Gotta let those agnostics in there too!

I am reminded of the words of Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.” This verse has been reaffirmed in my mind today as I gazed happily at the side of a TTC Red Rocket. For more info about the bus campaign, check out Athiest Bus.

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Antony Flew and Atheism

Antony Flew was a very influential atheist philosopher who dominated the scene in the twentieth century. In 2004 he publically announced that he was no longer an atheist. His story is recounted in his very well written book There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changes His Mind that I just finished reading last week – I highly recommend it. The appendices, especially the one by Tom Wright on Jesus and the resurrection are excellent.
The New York Times has an article on Flew that they ran in 2007. It’s worth checking out. I really hope that he moves from being merely a deist (a belief in an impersonal Creator) to converting fully to Christ. It looks like he is on the way!

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Bahnsen DVD set!!!


Wow, this looks amazing!
Only in my wildest dreams did I think something like this would be published!!!

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