Review of James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010, 141 pages
James Spiegel’s books are usually worth a gander because he writes about important but often neglected subjects. Witness his books on Hypocrisy and Providence. This book makes a helpful contribution to the usual run of apologetics resources by looking at some intriguing facts surrounding how atheists are made.
Some atheists, of course, make the claim that atheism is the neutral baseline position of humanity; all evidence to the contrary. But most atheists would, I think, agree that they came to a non-belief in God through one way or another.
This small work is about the undercurrents which turn people into atheists. In the main, these have to do with morality. After quoting from several atheists, Spiegel observes,
These comments by Nagel, as well as those …by Harris and Dawkins, reveal strong emotions. Could it be that their opposition to religious faith has more to do with the will than with reason?…That is precisely the aim of this book. Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. Such doubts are mere symptoms of the root cause – moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience. (11. Author’s italics )
That is a strong claim. But it has been made before. Cornelius Van Til’s works are filled with this theme of moral antagonism to God. As he once stated it; man’s unbelief is informed by his ethical hostility toward God. This is certainly a biblical position. Psalm 14:1 locates the rejection of the concept of God in the corruption of men. Romans 1 does the same thing. Motivations to anti-theism are just that, motivations.
Turning from the Introduction to the first chapter, Spiegel turns his attention to the problem of evil. He admits that this issue “does pack some punch”, but “it could never count as grounds for atheism” (26). The logic of atheistic naturalism does not empty out into anything but leaky vessels. Even trying to call upon Occam’s Razor (the principle of adopting the least premises to account for something) to make God a superfluous postulate backfires when it is seen that atheism just doesn’t have the tools needed to explain our experience (28-30). to make the point clearer the author presents a well-honed scaled down version of Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (58-59), the gist of which is, “if naturalism is true, then we have no reason to believe it is true.”
In the third chapter the book looks at the causes of atheism. To start off the examples of actress Jodie Foster and comedian George Carlin are given to show that “desires often drive a person’s beliefs” (63). Spiegel then turns to the work of Paul Vitz to show how absentee fathers is linked with atheism (He might also have referred to John Koster’s telling study, The Atheist Syndrome). The works of Paul Johnson and E. Michael Jones which have documented the immoral lifestyles of prominent atheists are then surveyed.
Chapter 4 deals with the atheist mindset; how the mind can be trained in non-belief. Thomas Kuhn’s study of scientific paradigms and Michael Polanyi’s theory of personal (tacit) knowledge support the writer’s thesis that if one is set in a certain way of thinking, “we can expect our most cogent arguments to fall on deaf ears.” (101). In short, there is “a will to disbelieve.”
In the last chapter the benefits of Christian Theism for mental and even physical well-being are covered. All in all this is a very good and easy read; a good book to put into the hands of high school grads or for adult study groups. Atheists, of course, will hate it. But it does not pretend to diagnose every case of unbelief. what it does do is make a solid case for “How immorality leads to unbelief.” Recommended.