Monday, October 31, 2011

"Does God Believe in Atheists" - Book Review

Pastor Ed Blackwood recently gave me a book to read called "Does God Believe in Atheists" and asked if I would review it for him. I gladly complied in spite of the size and length of the book (720 pages long).  

According to wikipedia, John Blanchard is a Canadian director. This is not the John Blanchard who wrote this book. Blanchard is a British writer and apologist. He also preaches. His focus is "popular apologetics." He has written thirty books, two of which have been well received, including "Does God Believe in Atheists." (Hereafter, "Atheists.") It has "voted 'Best Christian Book' in the 2001 UK Christian Book Awards." It seems to be very popular, at least in the UK.

Blanchard has three theses in his volume, first to trace the history of atheism in western philosophy. (Blanchard does dive a little into eastern religion but not much. This is a volume of western philosophy.) Second, he provides an account of negative apologetics. Third, he moves into positive apologetics.

I appreciated Blanchard's bullet point summary of his definition of God. This is a slippery definition, and I think Blanchard does a pretty good job, kind of.

His first thesis is interesting. We often hear about books tracing the history of God or people's belief in God but not of atheism.

Also, Blanchard's reading style is easy, fun and fairly clear.

Lastly, kudos to him for writing so many pages. It's a big book.

Minor Issues
That's all that the nice things I have to say about "Atheists." Two things need to be noted. When I began reading this I was expecting a very good book since it has received such high acclaim. Second, somewhere in the introduction Blanchard mentions this is a higher level book, for those on the collegiate level. Hence, I was expecting a good book.  My expectations were not fulfilled.I was a bit shocked by some of Blanchard's citations and lacking sources. This is the opinion of someone who just has a B.A. in philosophy and these criticism don't alter Blanchard's argument but our perspective of his argument.

I was surprised that when Blanchard quoted one of Plato's dialogues, he didn't even cite a translation but a British newspaper. Throughout the book, I noticed, Blanchard quoted from this same paper, the Daily Telegraph. Maybe it's just a British thing, but I didn't know it was okay to rely on a newspaper for your citations in an academic book.

Also, Blanchard's sources were poor. He quotes from R.C. Sproul, Gerstner, Geisler and others of the same sort. Thumbs up. Great guys to quote. No problem. I got uncomfortable when Blanchard failed to cite authority's on Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, Kierkegaard, Comte or Sastre. It's not that these writers are bad writers or thinkers. It's that you should be quoting much more widely then them and cite authority's of the writers your'e dealing with. For instance, if Blanchard discussed and cited what writers were saying about Plato and Atheism then it would have made for a better read. Instead, Blanchard gave just a light showing of what Plato thought and how it relates to atheism.

So far, my criticism's of Blanchard's book are a bit petty. I mean so what if his citations and sources are poor. What about his argument?

Before  I get into my criticism of Blanchard's argument, I want to note that their is a bit of wisdom we ought to think about. Luke 16:10 says "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much." The general idea is if you can't do well with the little stuff, how can we trust you with the big stuff?

Blanchard is not careful with these small things, so why should we trust his argument?

On to the Argument 
As I said before, their are three theses in "Atheists." I will deal with these three arguments in two parts. First, his history of atheism.

Why, as a theist, read a history of atheism? Hopefully it is to acquire a better understanding the intellectual history of that belief. In the case that I would want to have a better understanding of this narrative, wouldn't I want to read an account that is friendly to atheism? Certainly Blanchard doesn't fail to give an account, but I don't see the point of it.

My intention would be to read about the history of atheism and acquire an understanding of it. Why would I want to read a history that is going to paint atheism in a poor light? That's not going to help my understanding of atheism. Certainly, it'll influence my thoughts on not wanting to be an atheist. But I don't see the reason to read the book to learn about Blanchard's first thesis.

Blanchard's two latter theses have to do with positive and negative apologetics. Cool. I didn't notice anything unique about Blanchard's various arguments. I think if you opened up a basic intro to apologetics, you would find pretty much the same thing.

So instead of going through 700 pages to listen to these arguments, why don't you read something a bit smaller?

In conclusion, Blanchard's book had some great potential. It could have been very interesting, but because of a lack of research and not being unique in it's content, I would not suggest this book to anyone.

If you want to find out about the history of atheism  why don't you read an atheists perspective on it? If you want to learn about apologetics, why don't you read a smaller book? 

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Thank you for your comment, I'll review it as soon as I can!