Tag Archives: Apologetics

Quick review: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

The Atheist Who Didn't ExistThe Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Science is the only sure method for knowing things.

Faith and reason are opposed.

People believe in God because they’re needy.

Atheism is not a belief at all – it’s just non-belief.

You can discover goodness without God at all.

If you’ve heard statements like these then you and I are living in the same world. They’re relatively common in the so-called ‘New Atheism.’

But if you’re convinced by any of these statements, then you’ve been duped. These arguments, and others like them, are all bad arguments, according to Andy Bannister. Note the alternate title for his book Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments.

This book is all about the arguments of people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens. And written in an accessible and light style. If you like quirky British humour – and I do – then you’ll find it even better (as well as find plenty of jokey distraction in the hundreds of footnotes).

Bannister is a Christian, but this book does not aim to present the Christian Gospel, I think. The news of Jesus is there, in brief snatches (especially the last chapter on Jesus and history). But the aim of this book seems to be what comes before presenting the Christian message: to convince us that it is worth looking at the message.

That is, Bannister urges readers not to prematurely write off the question of God and Jesus. And if it’s Dawkins and his buddies who have convinced you not to go near the God question, Bannister’s warning is that you’re really a victim of empty argument.

So The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist is apologetic and pre-evangelistic. Apologetic: for it gives reasons why it’s worth considering Jesus. Pre-evangelistic: because it opens the door to an honest reading of the Bible.

I loved the humour (except for Bannister’s disdain of goat’s cheese – he’s definitely wrong there). And I’d definitely give this book away to people entrapped by the empty arguments of Krauss, Dawkins, et al.

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Science of the gaps

There’s a long-standing criticism of Christians that goes like this: whenever there’s something humans can’t explain, you say ‘See! That’s God at work’.

And fair enough too. What a silly argument. How does ignorance on the part of Person Y (me!) provide evidence for the existence of Person X (God)? All it proves is that there’s a hole in human knowledge – and that is not breaking news.

Honestly, though, I have only heard this argument for God a couple of times. The places it has come up have been informal chats among church folk. It’s is usually followed by an uneasy polite silence as everyone else considers how to change the subject.

Mind the gapIn contrast, I hear essentially the same argument more frequently against God.

Like this: there are holes in scientific knowledge, but we know that science has capacity to provide the answers. It’s science of the gaps. There’s a strong faith that the ‘scientific method’ is the single method capable of finding truth and certainty.

In my experience, the fields in which this mantra tends to appear are: ethics and society; the nature of mind, consciousness and personhood; questions of ultimate reality and purpose.

The weaknesses of Science of the gaps are many. Here are three:

  • Lack of knowledge is empirical evidence that science doesn’t (yet) know everything. It’s against evidence to counter by saying, ‘But science can know everything.’
  • It doe not allow for complementary true explanations. When a family wants to know why a car accident happened, the laws of physics don’t help. Yes, physics gives a true picture of momentum, force, etc. But the family wants to know about drunk drivers, blinding sun or illegal mobile phone use.
  • It’s impossible to prove the basic assumption. We only prove that science can know all things after science knows all things. In other words, the starting assumption is itself non-scientific.

In science (as in Christianity) it pays to ‘Mind the gap’.



Dead end questions

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 13 collects a number of Jesus’ parables together. They’re all provocative, but I’ve always been fascinated by the parable of the weeds.

Jesus’ story is of a man who sowed good seed, but the field was later oversown with weeds among the grain. The owner forbids his servants from eliminating the weeds, ‘lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them’ (verse 29). The servants must wait until the harvest.

In Jesus’ explanation (verses 36-43), he tells that the harvest is the close of the age. Until then, the kingdom of heaven is growing, but not at all marked by purity.

In other words, until the final judgement of God, this world will be marked by a mixture of good and evil. There will certainly be a division between the good things of the kingdom and the weeds of the evil one. Yet God’s judgement is delayed for a purpose: to provide safety now for those who will be be safe at the judgement.

In a very short story, Jesus directly addresses the problem of on-going evil. Jesus agrees that the presence of evil is awful. Evil remains evil, and must be ‘gathered and burned with fire’. Evil intrinsically prompts God’s servants to ask, ‘Shall we get rid of this now?’ At the same time, the delay in elimination of evil serves a divine purpose.


For Christians, this is just one passage from the Bible that we draw on to consider the real difficulty known as the problem of evil. It’s one passage among many. Christians have a long history of admitting the pain of persistent evil.

So Christians have many valuable ways to talk with our friends who ask, ‘How can there be a God if evil exists?’

But there’s a surprise. When I hear  people ask this, it’s usually sounds like a an attempt to stop that conversation. Your experience might be different – I hope so. All too often, the question is not asked to seek wisdom. Instead, it’s a question to close down the topic. It’s a dead end question.

When translated, the statement becomes, ‘Look, we all know that evil makes you and God irrelevant, so don’t try to trick me into talking about it.’

That’s sad for so many reasons, but I want to ask one thing: how an we help open this closed door?

Of course, if a friend really is saying, ‘Don’t talk to me’, that’s fine. I am sure, though, that some people would love to talk further. They might have a genuine question, or they might be ready to be intrigued. So here are some ideas about keeping the conversation happening.

  • Be direct. ‘Are you asking that to have more conversation, or because you’d prefer not to talk about it right now?’
  • Be intriguing. ‘It surprises me that people accuse Christianity of ignorance about suffering, because at centre of our faith is a violent injustice.’
  • Be honest. ‘I can tell you how suffering has touched me. And how knowing God was the biggest help of all.’
  • Suggest the future. ‘I feel you don’t want to talk about this now, but I hope one day will will. I’d love to be there for that conversation.’
  • Be caring. ‘Has you been hurt by this kind of pain? Or by people telling you to get over it?’

What would you suggest? Have you had conversations on this topic? I’d love to hear what you learnt. Please add your comments or questions below.