Since the 9-11 attacks on the United States, there has been an increase in both the amount and the stridency of atheist attacks on religion in the public square here in the West. With this escalation, we have also seen the emergence of a minor industry in Christian books providing for defenses of the faith from this “new atheism”. Many of these books have focused on evidential or philosophical supports for Christian belief.
However, with their new book The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs, Norman Geisler and Daniel J. McCoy take a very different tack. Instead of delivering yet another proof for the existence of God, the authors examine the atheist claims promoting the immorality of God and then evaluate each for apparent inconsistencies. They essentially take upon themselves the mantle of disbeliever for a moment and attempt to critically examine the arguments of the self-proclaimed skeptics.
To achieve their goal, Geisler and McCoy first establish a clear definition of two dominant prongs of atheistic argument that suggest God is immoral: 1) God allows for evil to exist in the universe, and 2) God infringes on human dignity by creating rules, punishments, and a salvation through “human sacrifice” (the new atheist understanding of the atonement). By specifically calling out these contentions, one may get the impression that the new atheist ranks are more unified than they actually are. This being said, it is a very useful introduction and explanation of the atheist attack on the morality of God.
The section did have a somewhat frustrating tendency to allude to other atheist objections and their corresponding Christian responses, and it did so in an almost offhand manner. This practice added very little and only proved to be a distraction from the book’s focus. A reader looking for a better examination of those en passant debates would be better served by another Geisler work (with Frank Turek), I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.
Having established a definition for the key arguments, Geisler and McCoy spend the latter chapters identifying the contradictions inherent to them. Regarding the first assertion, the authors suggest that it is inconsistent to demand that God act to alleviate evil in the world when at once failing to employ any of the methods the Christian God claims to use to address that same evil. Speaking to the second claim, the authors point out that what new atheists call infringements on human dignity when performed by God seem to be simultaneously lauded if performed by society. Geisler and McCoy conclude that, when considered from all angles, the new atheist objections to the morality of the Christian God prove to be internally inconsistent.
The authors’ objective is not to bring the reader to an unshakeable faith in the God of the Bible, but rather they intend to remove one convincing and prevalent attack on faith in God – especially in modern works. In this aim, they prove reasonably successful. Readers who are looking for a knock-down proof for the existence of the Christian God will be disappointed by this much more modest argument. Similarly, atheists seeking an expression of the values of Christian theism as opposed to atheism will find only limited use for this book.
The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw will be useful for Christians in understanding the more extreme claims of modern popular atheists and will give them an improved means of thinking through arguments against God, even as it is unlikely to bolster their faith directly. Atheists reading the book may not come away from the experience as theists, much less as Christians, but perhaps they will at least be chastened in the more bombastic rhetoric. And just maybe they will begin to question their skepticism concerning the claims of Christ.