Saturday, August 30, 2014

Five books that refute atheism

There have been a lot of good books defending Christian theism or refuting atheism, but for my money the following five books (one of philosophy, one of history, one on science, a biography, and a novel) do the best job of demonstrating that modern atheism is an untenable position that cannot intellectually withstand the force of the theistic position:

The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, by Edward Feser (philosophy). The great modern defense of Aristotelian-Thomism (The only thing that can really be called "Christian philosophy," despite many attempts to define it otherwise) by one of the great modern Aristotelian-Thomists takes a philosophical wrecking ball to the New Atheism. Feser defends the classical Christian worldview in an enjoyable polemic style (enjoyable, that is, if your not on the wrong end of it) and makes mincemeat of the silly and shallow argumentation of the New Atheists. He shows that arguments such as "But if God is the first cause, who caused him?" betray a total misunderstanding of the cosmological argument, an argument that really cannot be refuted if it is actually understood.

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, by David Bentley Hart (History). Hart argues that the moral revolution which we still enjoy the benefits of today was only made possible by the coming of Christianity. Of course, today's secularists, ignorant of the origin of the beliefs that underpin the modern view of such things as human rights, see no problem with holding a secular worldview and, say, being charitable. Hart points out that, for example, the opposition to slavery arose outside the chain of historical causation and was not only introduced by Christianity, but was impossible without it.

The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinski (Science). Berlinski received his Ph.D in philosophy from Princeton and was a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology from Columbia University. He is not only a formidable thinker, but one of the greatest prose stylists now writing. There are many people today who think that science somehow undermines religious belief. Berlinski points out that this position betrays a hopeless ignorance of both religion and science. His historical account of the debate over the Big Bang theory shows scientists such as Einstein desperately trying to justify belief in an eternal universe and having to reluctantly face the reality of a universe that has a beginning--a position that theology has held for millenia.

St. Augustine: A Life, by Garry Wills (Biography). Wills, a somewhat heretical Catholic, does a magnificent job showing us the life and thought of the man commonly acknowledged to be the greatest thinker of the first thousand years of the Church. Augustine received the best education of his time, made his way through the various systems of thought in the ancient world, and rose up through the academic ranks to eventually become the Professor of Rhetoric at Milan, the highest academic chair in the Roman Empire. Then, one day on the porch of his mother's villa, after having spend several years confronting the claims of Christianity, he opened up his mother's Bible, and was converted. He was known to have dictated several books to several secretaries at once, and wrote some of the most intellectually formidable defenses of Christianity ever penned, including his great masterpiece, the City of God.

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (Narrative Fiction). Tolstoy may have been the greatest novelist of all time and Anna Karenina was his greatest novel. What many people don't understand about this story is that it is just as much about Levin, a young agnostic nobleman with all the secular prejudices becoming common at the time, as about Anna, the seductress whose affair with a dashing young army officer is her moral and psychological undoing. Through his courtship with the adorable and earthy Kitty, the barricades of his heart are broken through and he begins to see his life in the moral context of the economy of God. In one scene, his future brother-in-law reminds him before his Orthodox wedding that he is obliged to perform the sacrament of Confession, something his agnosticism has prevented him from doing for many years. The priest who, during the mass, Levin thought had just been going through the liturgical motions, surprises him in the confessional with his piercing questions and his understanding of Levin's spiritual conditions. It rocks Levin's world. By the end of the book, Levin realizes, partly through the Christian love of his wife, that his opposition to Christianity is intellectually groundless, and is the result, not of any sound rational objections, but only of his own intransigent attitude.

These are my picks. I would interested in what books have influenced others.


Singring said...


You know how to crack me up, Martin.

Martin Cothran said...


I didn't know you were cracking up. I hope you get over it.

Anonymous said...

I always figured it was Marx and Engels who cracked up Singring.

One Brow said...

I was greatly influenced by Feser's book. I used to think Catholics had a respectable metaphysics, but Feser demonstrated otherwise to me.

Martin Cothran said...

Yes, I seem to remember you blogging about the book and I remember it occurring to me while reading your posts how important a basic education in philosophy is.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

You thought there was an official Catholic metaphysics? And that Edward Feser was appointed by the Vatican to spell it out for everybody?