Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: Atheism's New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists by David Glass

Everyone seems to be talking about atheism. The so-called “New Atheists” are out and proud. Their books are in every bookstore, waiting to perpetuate ideas about religion: that it is evil and causes violence, that its adherents are positively irrational or even delusional, and more. Dressed to impress, atheism is sporting “new clothes,” and David Glass, in his Atheism’s New Clothes, seeks to expose them. Glass explores the primary works of the “New Atheism”: Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Hitchens’ God is Not Great, Harris’ The End of Faith, and Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

Glass starts Atheism’s New Clothes by outlining the claims of the new atheism. One problem with this movement is that it rejects theistic belief simply because it is, according to them, simply obvious that theism is false and so they do not bother to interact on a scholarly level with theistic discussions.[1] In particular, the new atheists define faith in a way which is most helpful to their own case and refuse to interact with theologians on the topic. Harris goes so far as to argue that they can ignore what theologians say because they are allegedly irrelevant to the faith of the faithful.[2] However, Harris’ argument is based upon reading Hebrews 11 in “the right way,” which is of course his own reading that is not based upon the Greek or even exegesis of any sort.[3] Glass counters the contentions of the New Atheists’ by exploring a number of Christian responses to faith throughout history.[4] He notes that the consensus is that “within Christianity it is entirely appropriate to provide arguments and evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity… note that the New Atheists fail to engage with any [view of faith outlined by Glass] or any other well-thought out view on the subject.”[5]

Another prominent aspect of the New Atheism is that science is alleged to undermine belief in God. They rail against a god-of-the-gaps and make it out as though that is the only way religion has interacted with science. Glass, however, notes that “science took root in a monotheistic, and specifically Christian culture, rather than a polytheistic or pantheistic culture… The question here is how such scientists [Christians who were scientists] could really have engaged in their work of science by its very nature removes the need for God as the New Atheists maintain… They thought of their work as expressing how the universe behaves in accordance with the laws God had put in place.”[6] In contrast to the notion that believers propose God to explain what science cannot, Glass stresses that, like Swinburne, it is more a matter of explaining why science explains.[7]

Can miracles occur? The New Atheists immediately appeal to Humean types of arguments, but Glass argues that these fail. In fact, it seems that here it is the atheist being unreasonable, for “it seems that no amount of evidence would be considered adequate to make it reasonable to believe a miracle had occurred.”[8]

Glass then turns to evidence for the existence of God. He outlines over the course of two chapters a cosmological argument—one which argues from the beginning of the universe—an argument from the orderliness of the universe, and an argument from consciousness.[9] The arguments Glass presents are fairly familiar, but by tying them into a discussion of the New Atheists’ responses (or lack thereof), Glass provides a valuable resource for answering the objections of those who use a similar tactic. For example, in response to the fine-tuning argument from the orderliness of the universe, Glass notes that the New Atheists’ “reasoning seems to be that the mere feact that some… scenario might be possible is all that is required to make it preferable to theism as an explanation…”[10] Yet, Glass notes, this leads to some things which the New Atheists would not find palatable, like the notion that “miracles such as the resurrection occur naturally somewhere in the multiverse without God having to bring them about.”[11]

Glass uses a chapter to focus upon Dawkins’ arguments against God specifically. He notes that Dawkins wavers between a Humean argument and a Darwinian argument: on the one hand he seems to argue that miracles are in principle impossible; on the other hand, he argues that Darwinism has undermined belief in miracles. Yet the arguments themselves offset each other. Why argue that Darwinism undermines the miraculous origins of life if miracles are, in principle, impossible?[12] Furthermore, Glass argues that both arguments ultimately fail to challenge belief in God.[13]

The New Atheists all seem to think that they can explain religion by showing how it evolved. By using the concept of a “meme”—an idea which can evolve just as much as any biological organism—they hold that religion has evolved as a useful capacity, but we have outgrown its usefulness.[14] However, Glass points out that even if this could explain how religious belief can arise, it would not explain away religious belief as untrue.[15] In regards to Christianity in particular, the argument would do nothing to explain the historical evidence for the religious practice.[16] More fundamentally, however, the argument could be applied to any area of knowledge, and therefore undermine all belief. It is self-defeating.[17]

Glass goes on to analyze theism as opposed to materialism in regards to morality. Although materialism may be able to explain how we have moral beliefs, “it does not tell us whether we actually have such an obligation [to be moral].”[18] Religion is very often based upon revelation, the notion that God has revealed truths to humans. Glass argues that the New Atheists’ rejection of revelation is based upon a number of assumptions and faulty arguments.[19] A particular problem is their terse dismissal of revelation based upon conflicting revelations. Glass asks, “Is it really the case that there is no evidence to distinguish [the truth claims of various claimed revelations]?” and argues that there are, in fact, ways to determine the truth of a revelation.[20] Atheists also claim that the Bible in particular has a morally reprehensible code, but Glass notes that much of this is based upon a misunderstanding or naïve reading of the text.[21]

Finally, Glass argues that Christianity in particular is based upon a claim which can be investigated: the resurrection of Christ.[22] He argues from a minimal facts perspective; that is, he argues that there are certain historical facts which must be explained by a hypothesis and that no rival theory to the resurrection succeeds in explaining these facts.[23] As he closes his work, Glass notes that only on theism can life have real meaning, purpose, and rationality.

There have been a number of works written to respond to the New Atheists, and interested readers may wonder where Atheism’s New Clothes stands out. Glass provides perhaps the most in-depth look at the specific arguments of Dennett and Dawkins in particular. Furthermore, the book is presented not just as a response to the New Atheists but as an apologetic primer. It contains a number of arguments for the existence of God and an extended defense of the truth of the Gospels as well as the resurrection of Jesus. These qualities make it essential reading for those looking to respond to atheists who make claims similar to the New Atheists’. The thoughtfulness with which Glass approaches the arguments of the New Atheists and his in depth analyses make it a worthy read for those looking to respond specifically to the authors of the four aforementioned books. Christians should not let this book pass by.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer J.W. Wartick is a graduate student in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. His greatest interest is philosophy of religion--particularly arguments for the existence of God and the polemics against atheism. He frequently writes on these topics (and others) at

[1] David Glass, Atheism’s New Clothes (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2012), 24ff.
[2] Ibid, 39.
[3] 40.
[4] 42ff.
[5] 51.
[6] 69.
[7] 72-73.
[8] 86.
[9] 93ff.
[10] 133, emphasis his.
[11] Ibid.
[12] 151ff, see especially 163 for this apparent problem.
[13] 158ff.
[14] 180ff.
[15] 184ff.
[16] 187-189.
[17] 190-195.
[18] 212.
[19] 238ff.
[20] 243ff.
[21] 249ff.
[22] 265ff.
[23] 286ff.


Big Blue said...

I'm sorry but that review shows no understanding at all of the word atheism. Which presupposes, of course, that neither does the author of the book.

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Big Blue - The review does show understanding of the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, Harris), which is all that it was meant to do. The reviewer's summary of their arguments is accurate. Your comment would be more accurate, perhaps, if you wrote that the New Atheists show no understanding at all of the word atheism.

jeremy said...

How so? How about a bit more in you response? I would be interested if you have the time.

jeremy said...

"your"...i can' t type well on this Kindle :)

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