This book is quite mammoth (655 pages). In it, John Blanchard has attempted the rather ambitious (but worthwhile) goal of attempting to construct both a critique of atheism and a defense of Christianity all in the one book.
He starts by going through a history of atheistic ideas, then proceeds to pull it apart on various aspects (everything from it’s failure to explain why everything is here, perceived design in the world, lack of a moral framework – the usual stuff). Blanchard helpfully takes things a step further by defining theism as Christian theism. This helps because rather than just defending the idea of God in general (which could encompass many religions which Christians wouldn’t believe in either), it’s tied down to the one faith.
It also means that, using that definition, an atheist can be someone from another religion who doesn’t believe in the Christian God, thus allowing for some critique of the other major world religions and agnosticism as well. (Though at the same time, he is careful to distinguish between them – so an atheist needn’t worry that he’s going to be painted in the same brush as a Muslim or an agnostic, for instance.)
Overall, I liked the structure of the book and I liked that John Blanchard was trying to write it for an atheist to be able to think through his or her own position, plus also the evidence for Christianity. This is good, because sometimes atheists don’t necessarily seem to have responded to all the arguments that Christians have put forward, or they’ll just use a blanket dismissal of anything that comes from the Bible, just because it is the Bible. (But I’ll be the first to admit that Christians have spent a lot of time recently answering objections that nobody’s really raising as well, so it does take two to tango.)
It’s also a nice mix of all the different arguments involved – some are philosophical, regarding how you determine truth and morality. Others are evidentiary – what does historical evidence say about Christianity? So it tackles atheism on many levels.
As a broad brush introduction to the Christian responses to atheism, I’d recommend it, but I have two reservations about it, one minor, the other more major.
The minor quibble is just that the book is so formidably dense (it feels like an average of five endnotes per paragraph) because Blanchard is doing his best to represent a well-read critique of atheism that has actually understood his opponent’s position. However, I felt the same points could have been made in a shorter book.
But the more major point is that there is a large chunk missing in temrs of how the Bible reconciles with science. I believe Blanchard has written another book on Christianity and science and how they’re compatible, and I’m sure he left it out because of space reasons, but I think it leaves a gap in the argument. I believe one of the biggest issues that modern Christianity faces is that when Darwinism first arose, the weight of scientified evidence seemed to clash with the creation account in Genesis. I haven’t looked too closely into the issues, but I know many Christians who take the opening chapters of Genesis fairly symbolically – not to be taken as a literal account of creation. However, if I was a skeptic, I would want to know: if it’s okay to discount the opening chapters of the Bible because they clash with science, why insist so strongly that a guy rose from the dead – which also clashes with science?
I think the answer lies in understanding the presuppositions that support how we view the scientific evidence as well as an understanding of how the opening of the Bible is meant to be read, and I would have loved to have seen some thinking along that line.
But instead, Blanchard spends an entire chapter demolishing evolution, but never gets around to explain what he’s replacing it with. He clearly believes that God created the world, and that there is intelligent design – but how does that all work? Did the world evolve, but evolve in a designed way? Is it a young earth that looks old? An old earth with some reinterpretation needed for how we understand Genesis? I think all of this is imporant (especially with the attention being drawn to Charles Darwin in this anniversary time) because the perception that I get from many non-Christians is that Christians cling to believing in a book which can’t possibly be true, because science has disproved it. To my mind, while I believe there is strength in the notion of a creator to explain an ultimate cause for everything, and while I believe there is merit in intelligent design, I think it needs to be more strongly linked with the evidence that is out there. Anyway, that could well be in Blanchard’s other book, so I’ll have to track that down at some stage. (After doing some atheist reading, because I think it’s important to make sure we’re not misrepresenting the other side either.)
That said, this is a great introduction to various streams of Christian arguments against atheism, and it’s nice to see someone grappling with the arguments that atheists are using.
4 out of 5.