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.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Does God Believe in Atheists? (John Blanchard)

  1. I agree… an excellent book, but perhaps “tome” is more appropriate. Lots of good stuff if you’ve got the time to read it all.

    Dave

    PS, nice change to the blog layout 🙂

  2. Thanks, Dave. Glad you liked the blog layout. However, others were saying that it’s a bit difficult to read because of the light on black. I’ll keep having a look for something cool…

  3. Thank you for this review. It is refreshing, as a Christian, to come across a mature and intelligent analysis of a Christian apologetics work. Forgive me if that sounds patronising but the current state of intellectual debate, certainly in the UK, is so poor in terms of the use of logic and reason that I felt compelled to make the observation.
    Your comments regarding the absence of adequate responses to evolutionary explanations for existence in John Blanchards arguments are enlightening.
    I think the truth is that it is very difficult to get people to even consider the possibility that evolution or naturalistic explanations for origins could be wrong. I have found that very few people can engage with the idea to the point that such evidence would be considered. This is particularly so when one begins to explain that the evidence is in fact the very same evidence used for both sides of the argument. As you have said it is how the evidence is viewed that is what makes the difference.
    I am a long way down the road of understanding how the Bibles explanation for existence is matched by the evidence. I have studied the works of many scientists who can offer the evidence you would need to examine.
    The crux of the matter however comes in the erroneous idea that logic does not exist beyond the material. That the ‘real’ world is divorced from the spiritual and therefore non material explanations are invalid.
    The clue the Bible gives to this is I believe to be found in the first sentence of Genesis.
    God is beyond the material. He is spirit.
    This is an obvious statement but that is where the revelation is designed to move on from. The full truth of the words written are discovered in the full consideration of just what they mean.

    What is being declared in this first Bible statement therefore is the central fact of all the logical consequences that follow. Material law is subject to Spiritual governance. All the physical laws we know of were set in place by God and He as the Bible points out many times upholds the physical universe by them. You will hear these principles echo in Jesus teaching.

    What therefore replaces naturalism is the fact that all of nature came into existence by non material supernatural means ex nilho.

    The word science has been hi jacked. It has become the primary scientific law that only material explanations can be defined as science. The whole proposition of supernatural cause cannot be thoroughly explored by any system if the preset condition is that the supernatural must be automatically ruled out.
    Logic itself is a scientific process and logic in no way denies the possibility of a supernatural existence.

    If the Bible is to be logically examined to see if it is the truth then it must be treated as though the statements it makes are possible.This requires the setting aside of all other models.Through this the freedom to examine the evidence without preconditions allows a completely fresh conclusion to be drawn based purely on exactly the same scientific principles that are supposed to be applied universally to all scientific endeavour.
    eg. The absence of erosion between geological layers.

    I have been amazed to discover just how much of what is upheld as fact by the scientific community at large is no more than conjecture and even dogmatism when the non filtered application of known scientific laws are applied at the foundational levels.

    The principle therefore is that the whole of the picture is required to be redrawn. This is why it could not be adequately covered in a book which, as you point out is already very large. Over two hundred years of thinking has to be re examined and that is why many cannot travel the road. Sadly, with the cultural and spiritual pressures prevalent now, in most cases it’s easier to simply throw the idea into the box marked lunacy.

    As a practical opening I believe many of the most difficult areas of apologetics can be overcome by a serious and scientific analysis of the Genesis global Flood. The works of J Baumgartner are to be recommended. A good website is Creationconversations.

    Cheers

    John

  4. I believe we’re all atheists, I just believe in one less god than you all. And when you realise why it is that you don’t believe in other gods, you will understand why I don’t believe in yours.

    1. “Tip #5. “Atheists just go one god more” is a joke, not an argument

      I wish I had a dollar for every time an atheist insisted that I am an atheist with respect to Thor, Zeus, Krishna, and so on, and that atheists just go ‘one god more’. As every trained philosopher knows, Christians are not absolute atheists with regard to other gods. They happily affirm the shared theistic logic that there must be a powerful Mind behind a rational universe. The disagreements concern how the deity has revealed itself in the world. Atheism is not just an extension of monotheism any more than celibacy is an extension of monogamy.” – taken from Top 10 tips for atheists by John Dicskson – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-18/dickson-tips-for-atheists/5397892

  5. Hi John,

    Thanks for the comment, I found it really encouraging and helpful – and it just coincided with me starting to read Darwin and re-visit the evolution debate.

    Bryan,

    Also thanks for dropping by. I’ve heard your quip before, and it absolutely goes down a treat with a roomful of atheist – but, for the record, Christians don’t disbelieve in other gods for the same reason you disbelieve in ours. Keep reading, mate.

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