By Khaldoun Sweis
(My spouse, who is a strong believer, requested that I read some books on apologetics. I thought this one may help bring me back to belief, but it actually helped strengthen my unbelief.)
When I was strong in my religious beliefs, I read the Christian apologists with awe. “How could anyone argue with this?” I thought. Those atheists must be a close-minded lot! But when I started reading what “those atheists” really wrote—what their arguments really were—I was in for a surprise.
Khaldoun Sweis, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Olive-Harvey College, writes another book for amateur apologists, equipping them for battle with the atheist they’ll most likely never meet.
In Killing God: Addressing the Seven Most Common Objections from the New Atheists, Sweis writes:
“I urge you to look beyond your natural, confirmation biases and look at the arguments I make and critically evaluate them for truth. So when someone asks ‘who says what the truth is?’ the best answer…is to say ‘the person with the best arguments.’”
Sweis’s chapter, “Who are the famous atheists?” could also be called, “Who are the most notorious atheists?”
While it’s true that Karl Marx is one of the most famous (though I don’t see where he fits in a book on New Atheism), it is unfair to suggest that Marx and his ideas represent non-believers, but it does work well to further the view that atheists are evil. After the author introduces Marx, he goes on to list the numbers of people killed in the name of communism by Marx’s followers—Stalin and company. If the author’s point is that atheism leads to murder, one could just as reasonably say that religion leads to murder. Consider today’s world. Aside from recent clown attacks, Muslim extremists are perhaps the greatest cause of fear and anxiety, and for good reason. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, people do kill in the name of religion, but no one kills in the name of atheism.
The most significant thing the author says about Nietzsche is: “His father died when he was five and he was raised by women.” Perhaps that wasn’t the most significant, for the author later notes that Nietzsche “spent the last days of his life insane.” These tidbits fit nicely with chapter 4, “Psychology of Atheism.”
On Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead, the author says, “We have indeed killed God or the very idea of God.” How? “In fields, such as Social Sciences, Anthropology, Economics, Geography, Linguistics…and every other major field in the history of mankind!!” I’m not sure what the author means here, but I have to ask: can a God who creates everything not stand on his own when confronted with any field of study?
I’ll skip over the descriptions of other historically famous atheists and their “depressing” views which ultimately lead to divorce and insanity.
As far as the new atheists, Sweis tells us that Christopher Hitchens’s mother committed suicide, and that at his own death, his last words were, “Capitalism. Downfall.” These are more hints that atheism is caused by tragedy and leads to a meaningless life. Sweis also claims that “There are not many arguments here to look at logically for truth value” in Hitchens’ “rhetoric.” One would have to read Hitchens with a closed mind to draw such a conclusion.
The author’s description of Daniel Dennett says nothing that you can’t read on Wikipedia, so I’ll skip it. And regarding Richard Dawkins, the author hopes to add something about him later. Strange that he would skip Dawkins in a book that’s supposed to answer the arguments of the new atheists, but Dawkins would be hard to answer. As for those who agree with the new atheist philosophy, Sweis claims that “They wear it like a cherished coat.”
While I find a lot in the writings of the men above that I agree with, I certainly don’t wear their philosophies like a coat. Atheism would more properly be compared to Joseph’s coat, one of “many colors.”
In Chapter 4, “Psychology of Atheism,” Sweis tells how prominent atheists had terrible childhoods with abusive fathers, which probably led to their resentment of male authority figures, the “defective father” hypothesis. At one point, Sweis suggests that people with such a history choose not to believe in God. Later, he quotes a writer who believes these defective fathers make it “impossible” to believe in God. Never mind the examples of atheists with great fathers, or the examples of leading Christians with horrible fathers. Sweis then argues that “our passions ought not to be the slave master of our ideas,” effectively knocking over his straw man, while also presenting a good argument against Christianity. In fairness, Sweis does say that “not all atheists are like this, and it certainly does not follow that atheism is false because of it.”
In his chapter, “Four Common and Weak Arguments of Atheism,” Sweis continues to misrepresent non-belief.
For example, in “Religion is the opposite of reason,” Sweis doesn’t take on the real claims of the unreasonableness of religion—the trinity, for instance. Or a God who loves everyone but sends most of them to hell. Instead, he finds a quote on the internet that says faith is “pretending to know what you don’t know” and takes issue with the word “pretending.” I know that most believers don’t “pretend.” I certainly didn’t. My faith was better defined as “continuing to believe despite evidence to the contrary.” But Sweis doesn’t bother with that.
Argument two of the “Weak Arguments of Atheism” is:
“Some atheist[s?] produce a charade of words and complaintants [sic] rather than reasoned arguments.”
Is this an argument of atheists, or is it Sweis’s argument? We could rephrase it like this, although it would prove just as much, which is nothing:
“Some Christians produce a charade of words and complaints rather than reasoned arguments.”
In the following chapter, Sweis takes on the “Three Uncommon and Stronger Arguments of Atheists,” which are stronger than the arguments in the preceding chapter, but not uncommon.
1.Causality leads to infinite regress
Sweis answers this with Aristotle’s “God is the uncaused cause,” but fails to answer the counter-argument: If we are content to say that God has always existed without a cause, why can’t we assume the same of the universe? After all, a God who can create the complex universe must be more complex than his creation.
1.The Paradox of Omnipotence
Sweis simplifies this argument: “If God is all-powerful, then God becomes incoherent because it leads to paradoxes.” He goes on to write about God’s omnipotence, but never gets down to the tough questions that atheists really ask:
If God is omnipotent and all-loving, then why is there suffering? Or hell? Does he desire that “all men be saved?” Then why aren’t all men saved if he is omnipotent? Because they reject him? Then why doesn’t he cause them to accept him? These are paradoxes I would have liked the author to deal with.
Sweis says, with other theologians, that there are things God can’t do; he can’t act against his own nature. He can’t sin, for instance. But here’s another paradox: if there is an absolute standard of morality, then wouldn’t that standard apply to God as well? Why is it not immoral for God to command the ancient Israelites to “slaughter every man, woman, and child” who lived in the lands God told them to conquer? If the standard of morality does not apply to God, then it is no longer absolute.
1.Dismissal of God from science and cosmology in particular
Sweis rephrases this as: “Since the universe is here, it must have come from nothing.” He then argues that a universe cannot come from nothing. That is logical. As is the question, how did God exist from all eternity, created from nothing? How did God himself create the universe from nothing? Sweis says that “it does not take a Ph.D. in Physics to see nonsense even at the highest level of the academy.” But how does the answer, “Because God made it that way,” come across as more reasonable?
The following chapter, “God and Truth,” is summarized by Sweis’s statement that “truth is a reflection of reality.” On that we can agree. But Sweis says that the way to truth is through “research and prayer.” Bringing prayer into the argument is a departure from logic. But to go along with him, that’s what I was doing during the years of my deconversion—reading the Bible and praying. I’m not implying that God answered my prayer by leading me to unbelief; that’s beside the point. Did I arrive at the truth? If not, why did Sweis’s method fail for me?
Sweis ends his book by politely arguing that atheists have no objective meaning in their life, that they believe they are “worm food,” and that by listening to them you might be tempted to commit suicide. Also, there is no ultimate justice if there is no God. The same God who, according to the Bible, had all the children in Jericho “put to the edge of the sword” and then sent them to hell.
There is nothing new under the sun, and that includes the arguments in this book. If truth is determined by “the person with the best arguments,” as Sweis wrote, I don’t think we find it here.