Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: The Making of an Atheist

Book Review: "The Making of an Atheist" by James Spiegel

Introduction

The Making of an Atheist by James Spiegel is a short book on the non-rational reasons that people may have for rejecting the existence of God. It was of interest to me because it doesn't address intellectual reasons, but emotional reasons. The book talks about the psychology of atheists. The book is divided into five chapters and is a mere 128 pages, so it makes for a quick read.


Chapter 1: Atheistic Arguments, Errors, and Insights

In the first chapter Spiegel defines what he means when he uses the word "atheist". That being pretty much anyone who does not affirm the existence of God (this would include agnostics). He then discusses some of the reasons that atheists give for refusing to believe that God exists. He explains the moral argument against God, the hypocritical behavior of people within the Church, and answers both. He addresses other issues in the Church, such as intellectual laziness (which has lead to the charge of "god of the gaps" reasoning) and disunity over side issues. He concludes that the Church, itself, gave the atheists the ammunition against God; they just point out the problems. The Church needs to recognize the truth of what has been revealed and do something about it instead of ignoring it.


Chapter 2: The Irrationality of Atheism

In chapter 2 Spiegel looks at the evidences that convinced atheist Antony Flew that God does exist. The evidences given are: the beginning of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness. Spiegel points out that many intellectuals are atheistic, as Flew was. Spiegel moves more towards the psychological when he points out that even though the evidence is weighted toward theism, these intellectual atheists still reject the existence of God. He points to Romans 1:18-23 as an indicator of the source of such rejection- immorality. He makes the point that emotions do have the ability to override reason in the human mind- if the person does not like the implications of a conclusion, they will dismiss it regardless of how rational it may be. He then moves back to the intellectual side to show that atheism is actually self-defeating via Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. Spiegel concludes this chapter by stating that the only reason that someone would prefer a self-defeating worldview to one that is coherent (and explains the data) is because of the preference of immorality over truth.

Chapter 3: The Causes of Atheism

In chapter 3 Spiegel opens his exclusive conclusion up to also include other causes for atheism. It deals with Paul Vitz's research on the connection between fatherlessness and atheism (see the book "The Faith of the Fatherless"). The initial connection to Spiegel's idea being that an atheist may be harboring resentment and desires for revenge against an absent father figure. He then shows how the absence of the father figure in many intellectual atheists' lives opened the door more widely to immoral behavior in their life- this immorality being what they are committed to retaining, and an acceptance of the conclusion that God exists would mean that they would be expected to leave and shun the immoral behaviors. Spiegel then offers that in the presence of the evidence for God, the rejection cannot be believed to be due to ignorance, but a deliberate act of the will to suppress the evidence in their own mind to maintain their commitment to their behavior.

Chapter 4: The Obstinacy of Atheism

In chapter 4 Spiegel examines the ways that sin can exercise such control over the mind as to render it unable to accept logical conclusions. He discusses the idea of a paradigm. This being a set of assumptions that form the foundation for which all other thinking is conducted (including thoughts on politics, theology, history, and science). He explains that it is difficult to change paradigms because of how intricately engrained in our lives they are. If immorality has fostered an atheistic paradigm, then immorality makes it extremely difficult to change one's mind about, at least, theological issues. He states that having a specific paradigm can blind people from seeing truths that are contrary to it. Speigel then looks at the psychology of self-deception and how a person can be on a downward spiral that leads to even deeper self-deception (making it more difficult to escape). 

Chapter 5: The Blessings of Theism 

The final chapter is a warning to Christians and an invitation to atheists. The warning to Christians is to avoid immorality in their lives- as demonstrated in previous chapters, immorality can lead down the wrong path. For the atheists who is more committed to finding truth than to some behavior, Speigel offers that nothing is beyond the power of Christ, and if the will to believe is present, they can be rescued and begin a new life.


Reviewer's Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book. I have to say that it touched on one of the topics that make me very uneasy in intellectual discussions: a person's character. The majority of the time, when a person's character is brought into the discussion, it is to dismiss the validity of something they said that the other person does not want to accept. The information in this book is quite powerful, but may not accurately describe every atheist. People do not like to be psychoanalyzed because the person analyzing can discover truths about a person that were thought to be private, and if those private things are known by the possessor to be wrong, that person can (and will) be extremely defensive in the presence of their discovery (further affirming the truth of the content in this book). I would advise great caution for any Christian who wishes to read this book. It must be approached with a great deal of humility; because if not, it will go to your head, and you will, in turn, do more damage for The Kingdom than good.

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