a funeral dirge for atheism

Is Atheism Dead?Is Atheism Dead? by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The question of the title Is Atheism Dead? is rhetorical. The answer to anyone with a modicum of common sense and awareness is affirmative. In fact, atheism was still-born from the start. It took the stage with twisted thinkers such as Frederick Nietzsche, author of the in-your-face The Anti-Christ (1888) and whose declaration “God is Dead!” became a clarion call for wishful masters of their own fate. As the author points out, the secular nirvana may have reached its apogee in the U.S. with Time Magazine’s cover provocation, Is God Dead?, in 1966.

Christian “intellectual” Eric Metaxas argues it has been downhill for the nihilists ever since, with true science, in leaps and bounds, increasingly proving the existence, nay, the scientific necessity of Intelligent Design (and Designer). Atheism is now, officially, debunked – praise God!

(Our education system is so thoroughly corrupted – see Ben Stein’s Expelled documentary – that teaching Intelligent Design risks expulsion.)

I use scare quotes around intellectual to indicate, upfront, the book’s good heart yet worldly weakness. (I don’t think God is interested in Christian intellectuals. Being a Christian author or writer is good enough.)

Metaxas’s goal is straight-forward:

I can certainly hope and even expect to convince any rational person that atheism is no longer an option for those wishing to be intellectually honest. [p.9]

He marshals five “major shifts” in thinking mostly since 1966’s premature party. One is the Big Bang, the second is the Anthropic Principle (or the Fine-Tuning Argument), the third is the fraud of Abiogensis (the sourcing of life from nothingness), the fourth are archaeological discoveries in the Middle East, each and every one confirming the biblical account, while the fifth is the practical, horrifying results of Atheism as a governing principle.

Metaxas writes in an informal, nearly colloquial style. Upfront he admits he won’t enter into Christian apologetics – his focus is debunking atheism. That focus is good, yet one finds him often bending over backwards to avoid offending the wavering multitudes with biblical truth. Who in fact is his target audience?

The author’s biography of German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer is what first brought him to my attention. (Oddly, Is Atheism Dead? is bereft of any listing of his books, as though he doesn’t wish to appear too Christian.) Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and killed for participating in the plot to assassinate Hitler. One has to wonder how a pastor could plot to murder anyone, no matter how much one can argue a “societal good” from it. I don’t recall Metaxas’s dwelling on the question in his hagiographic treatment of Bonhoeffer.

He also sponsors a lecture series in New York City titled “Socrates in the City.” The name itself reveals the intellectual bent.

All writers are influenced by their milieu. Could Metaxas be writing for his fellow New Yorkers, opinion leaders, editors, and sceptics alike? He seems to share their jokey disdain of unwashed Christians, writing when bowing out from any apologetics that he won’t provide “any eye-popping photos of the Ark – or of the fossil of a serpent with a larynx” [p.8]

Also in the Introduction, he allows “there is no particular reason for the reader to feel compelled to take the chapters in the order in which they appear,” [p.8] which suggests a lack of rigor. Why not build an argument carefully and sequentially?

Indeed, reading out of order may help, as the “major shift” he begins with, the Big Bang theory, is the weakest of the lot. The author argues this thought-shift is what first rocked the boat of so many sinking atheists. Before the theory (mooted in 1927), “we could always say the emergence of life out of non-life had an infinite amount of time to happen; and theoretically, given infinity, anything could happen.” But with the Big Bang, “suddenly that infinity shrank to 13.8 billion years, and there was no longer forever for life to emerge.” [p.6]

While Metaxas avoids the slippery subject, he is talking about Darwinian evolution, which was designed, in many ways, to dethrone God as the Creator. So in a book intended to proclaim “God is NOT dead!”, the author skirts the subject of evolution while embracing the Big Bang theory that trashes both God as Creator and the first book of the Bible, Genesis.

Annoyingly, he never modifies Big Bang as a “theory,” and elevates science, as a noun, to an impersonal force. Speaking of our fine-tuned planet, he writes:

It is all really far too baffling to understate or to fully understand, but this is what science has come to know. [p.47]

Dozens of times he tells us what “science” supposedly tells us, instead of what scientists claim to be true, while failing to differentiate between laws and theories. A page later:

It is all really far too baffling to understate or to fully understand, but this is what science has come to know.

Is science self-knowing?

Why, then, is the Big Bang the weakest of his arguments? While it may have pulled the rug out from under the with-enough-time-anything-is-possible atheists, it is a seriously flawed theory which is rushing towards its own big bang.

Had he read Vance Ferrell’s The Evolution Handbook (2001), or Dave Hunt’s Cosmos, Creator, and Human Destiny: Answering Darwin, Dawkins, and the New Atheists (2010), or Mark Cahill’s One Heartbeat Away (2005), he would have realized what an impossible fraud both macro-evolution and the Big Bang theories are. Ferrell’s nearly 1,000 page masterwork contains hundreds and hundreds of direct quotes from noted scientists admitting that neither theory is scientifically viable. (While the lie of evolution is more deeply embedded, the Big Bang theory is tittering on the brink of extinction. R.I.P.)

Instead, the layman Metaxas appears to take it on faith:

Thanks to the work of many scientists over these decades, we have come to see the profoundly humbling reality of the situation and have come to see how deeply ignorant we really are about what happened when life leapt into being from the infinite abyss of non-life. [p.100]

Translation: Abiogenesis (life springing from non-life) is impossible – yet we must simply take it on faith.

He goes as far as to liken the Big Bang to Christ’s resurrection, speaking here of Christian belief in the latter:

They know that if it happened, it is a miracle. Like the Big Bang, it defies everything we know from science, but there’s too much evidence for us to ignore it. [p.306]

He admits that the Big Bang theory “defies everything we know from science,” yet the “evidence” forces us to accept it. How can that be? In fact, Christ’s resurrection is one of the most thoroughly proved (and accepted) facts of history, while the evidence for the Big Bang theory is crumbling before our eyes.

Just over a quarter of the way into the book, Metaxas gets around to the Scientific Method:

Indeed, even if you can show your work, there exists a custom in the scientific community in which one is obliged to repeat one’s experiment numerous times to see whether the results can be duplicated. [p.110]

Obviously, wild theories such as the Big Bang and macro-evolution are unrepeatable experiments – consigned forever to theories (not laws), now in the process of being debunked. To tell us “science tells us” they are certain is sophistry.

Darwin himself worried over a century and a half ago that lack of fossil evidence of speciation (successive evidence of new species being a type of repeatable experiment itself) would sink his theory. On his own terms, his theory is officially dead.

Abiogenesis has a curious history. Biogenisis, based on Louis Pasteur’s 1864 proof that life only comes from life, is one of the most respected scientific laws. Yet it alone invalidates the Big Bang, for how could any life whatsoever arise from an explosion so hot as to sterilize all matter a billion times over? The only solution was, abracadabra, to create Abiogenesis, specifically positing that life indeed did arise once out of non-life – all in the mad quest to deny the Creator God any place in our wanton lives.

The chapters on archaeological discoveries provide the most new information to the well-informed reader. Dozens of cases are outlined – beyond the Dead Sea Scroll discovery in 1947 – which deflate sceptics’ fondest hopes for debunking the Bible. Sodom and Gomorrah were so thoroughly destroyed by God that it proved difficult to confirm their existence through present-day ruins – until Dr. Steven Collins’ excavations were written up in 2013. Indeed, the pioneer in biblical archaeology, Rabbi Dr. Nelson Glueck, posits “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”

Metaxas opines:

It’s also hard not to wonder whether the book that some think of a cobbled-together compendium of ancient folktales – most of which are half-remembered and get many details wrong, even if there is some fundamental truth to them – is in fact the inerrant Word of God. [p.120]

Except for Genesis? one has to ask Mr. Metaxas.

The author leads a busy lecture circuit and social media life. His latest book suffers from a slap-dash quality and poor editing: there were numerous repetitions and logical inconsistencies. An index would have helped – especially for the apparent target audience, of under-informed hipsters. One caption lazily reads “Remains of Saint Peter’s House in Capernaum, Israel.” Anyone who has bothered to read the Bible at least once knows that calling Apostle Paul a saint is as meaningful as calling oneself that. While breezy – and overly so, as I did not appreciate the use of “BFF” in a chapter heading – the writing can be quite sloppy. Notice the repetition of “that” three times:

We didn’t understand until 1980 that it was that asteroids that killed off the dinosaurs. [p.44]

Once again, that is a supposition, which is in fact incorrect as voluminous new evidence is proving. (Specifically, the dozens of cases of dinosaur fossils with skin tissues that contain DNA, which renders impossible the asteroid theory that pushes the extinction back several hundred million years.)

One last gripe: the auroboros image used as a section divider throughout the book and in the cover art is a Gnostic symbol.  Metaxas explains it represents the “logical absurdity” of “a snake swallowing its own tail” [p.274] without mentioning the source.

Despite its flaws, the book has a good heart while putting atheism to rest, so let’s end with the author’s expression of a sweet, even blessed hope:

Does not the idea that we long for meaning tell us something – or everything – about who we are and how we are made and by whom? Does not our deep longing for meaning in our own lives and for the meaning of life itself not tell us that we were created for meaning, and that without it we can hardly live? [p.400]

Amen. And here’s to Mr. Metaxas slowing down the self-promotion and spending more time in apologetics and the living Word.

Eric Metaxas, Is Atheism Dead?, 2021, Salem Books, Washington, D.C.

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About ben

Ben Batchelder has traveled some of the world's most remote roads. Nothing in his background, from a degree in Visual & Environmental Studies at Harvard to an MBA from Wharton, adequately prepared him for the experiences. Yet he persists, for through such journeys life unfolds. Having published four books that map the inner and exterior geographies of meaningful travel, he is a mountain man in Minas Gerais, Brazil who comes down to the sea at Miami Beach, Florida. His second travel yarn, To Belém & Back, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, visit www.benbatchelder.com.

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