Is Atheism Dead? by Eric Metaxas – Book Review

Confession – I enjoy Eric Metaxas’ writing. His biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes my top 10 all-time book recommendations for people. His other biographies are well worth reading and he is a gifted story teller, whether he is recounting tales from his own life in Fish Out of Water, telling us about the life of Martin Luther or the history of Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. I have read the majority of his books (or listened to the audiobook versions). I know what Eric Metaxas is capable of. All of that to say that it pains me to write the opening of this review. Is Atheism Dead? might be the most important book that Mr. Metaxas has written, or at least the 2nd most important after Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, but it is not a great book.

In reading Is Atheism Dead?, you can feel the author’s enthusiasm for the subject. He is passionate for communication of the truths contained. He has chosen to divide the book into 3 sections. The first one, “Does Science Point to God?”, is a very helpful introduction to the progress that science has made in the modern age. In this section Eric firmly establishes the incredible improbability of life existing on earth or anywhere in the universe. What some refer to as the “Goldilocks principle” meaning that there are many things that can go wrong in either direction and have rendered life impossible, but the universe exists in a very specific way that is “just right”, allowing for life to exist. He quotes Paul Davies, the English physicist in saying:

“Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth—the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “co-incidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.”

Paul Davies

This section is the strongest section and does an excellent job of laying out the “evolution” 😉 of the argument over recent history. This works both as a case for the existence of some kind of catalytic intelligent designer behind all of these coincidences as well as showing the degree of misplaced faith that is required for someone to believe that all of this just happened. Simply, it requires a great deal more faith to believe in the alternatives than it does to believe in some kind of intelligent design behind all of this.

The second section is entitled, “The Stones Cry Out”, and it deals with the archeological evidence that supports the Biblical record. In this section, the author chronicles some of the most significant discoveries that support the authenticity of this record. It is interesting to see so many of these gathered in one place, and the evidence presented can be very encouraging for believers who are not familiar with the strength of this support. The quote that opens this section is a statement that might be surprising to those who have attended liberal-leaning universities anytime recently:

It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.

—Rabbi Dr. Nelson Glueck

Rabbi Glueck is one of many prominent archeologists quoted in this section. In addition, the author introduces his readers to some historical textual criticism techniques which point to the validity of the Biblical accounts. The Bible goes out of its way to include strange details, quirky specific accounts and many records that cast the followers of God, including those who held the pen at different times, in a most unfavorable light. This section is helpful, but lacks flow and is better read piecemeal rather than front to back.

The last section is entitled, “What is Truth?”, and has a difficult time finding a focus for what it is trying to accomplish. Much like the second section, there are pieces here that are very helpful in processing different thoughts on atheism, faith and belief in God, but the section doesn’t lead the readers on a clear coherent path to the answer of the question laid out in the title. Instead, the author starts with an analysis of prominent atheists and some of the limits of their arguments. He asks some relevant questions, such as, “If what they believe is true, why do they care so much about what other people believe?” Why should these atheists care so much that people believe in God?

The answer for many of them seems to be in that they have made a great deal of money by arguing their points and have become very famous as well, but again, what is fame and money if life is without meaning and in the end, we only return to dust, matter in another form? The author presents 3 prominent atheists who genuinely sought truth out of the meaninglessness of atheism, Sartre, Camus and Flew, and as well looks at both historical scientists and scientists of the modern age in order to demonstrate how closely science and faith have always existed, calling them BFFs. The pursuit of meaning and truth is natural for those who hold a Christian world view and a history of scientific progress supports this thoroughly.

I especially enjoyed the author’s research on analysis on the “legend” that it was people of faith who were the most opposed to the heliocentric world view proposed first by Copernicus and later by Galileo. This notion is described by the author as the “Founding Myth of Atheism”. For most of us, the church’s blind opposition to these men’s scientific research was presented to us that proof that the organized church has always stood against science. The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. By contrast, “Galileo was no enemy of the Church—and far from it. He was a deeply serious Christian who saw no disparity between what the Church taught—or what the Bible said—and what science revealed.”

“Copernicus, like Galileo, lived at a time when all truth was one. What he learned via science could never compete with the truth of the Scriptures, any more than science could compete with mathematics. For him, God was the God of all truth, whether scientific, philosophical, mathematical, or theological. So to divide faith and science as we often do today was inconceivable, and Copernicus could never have dreamt that his astronomy might be troubling to the Church, which he—being a clergyman—revered.” Both of these men operated within the support of the mainstream of the Church and were people of faith themselves.

Ironically, the opposition to their theories did not come from people of faith, making an argument from the Bible, but from educated people who resisted the theory because it differed from what they had learned from the teaching of Aristotle. Within and outside of the Church, there were those who came to hold the teaching of Aristotle on equal and in some cases greater ground than the Bible. In fact, many within the Catholic Church had as much a problem with Martin Luther over his non-Aristotelian thinking as anything else. It was these die-hard Aristotelians who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope and see his evidence. The author points out throughout history it is often those with hard-wired bias based on previous scientific thought and discovery who  are the most adamant opponents of new discoveries, not scientists with true Christian faith.

In the last chapter, the author closes his argument by taking a step back once again and looking at what it actually means to live a life without meaning and no greater moral standard of accountability. To take the religion of atheism to its ultimate conclusion is a very dark destination. Most of the modern atheists don’t go there, nor do they lead others, perhaps because they know that no one wants to buy a book based on such a nihilistic counterfeit worldview. Contrast that with the opposing viewpoint, the other side, the people who find their hope in a world that was created for purpose and meaning.

“You get to be a part of giving others genuine hope in the genuine God who is the author of life and hope and goodness and truth and beauty. It is what you were created to do, but perhaps until now you didn’t understand this as you do now. That only means that you can now live as the one who made you made you to live. You can begin now. And this is not merely a poetic or a nice idea; it is true. The God of the universe wants you to spread goodness and truth and beauty wherever you go, to his glory.” This is not just a better sale’s pitch, but it is a more rational, truthful path. The world continues to sell us a message of despair, but this is not the message that God has for you, this is not the life we were created to live.

As I stated in the beginning, this book is not a perfect book. The construction of the book is flawed. Many of the ideas don’t build on what is written before and some details included could have been developed more and others left out, but it is an important book, a significant book and a book that you or perhaps someone in your life could benefit from reading. There are many truths which can serve to reinforce the faith of Christians fighting against a torrent of misinformation. There are some significant arguments that could help turn a true seeker on the right path. Is Atheism Dead? True atheism may have never had a leg to stand on when faced with a rational approach to engaging observable truth, but the scientific discoveries of the last century have moved it firmly into the land of myth, rather than the realm of reality.

Six years ago, the author wrote an article which appeared first in the New York Times on this topic, entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” If you are interested in this topic, read that first and if it that peaks your interest, I would recommend picking up Is Atheism Dead?.

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