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A strong attack on Christian fundamentalism but a feeble apologetic for atheism
on 6 April 2008
This is an absorbing and highly readable account. It's a serious study (tho with humour), written in a clear, accessible style. Rather than a book in defence of atheism, however, this book is a staunch attack on evangelical fundamentalism. Almost all of Mill's arguments are against Christian fundamentalist beliefs rather than a pure reasoning of his own belief that there is no god. Further, it makes virtually no mention of any other religion than Christianity; and even here, it focuses purely on the evangelical stream of that faith. Thus its value is limited.
Mills' chapters on science are well argued, e.g. his study on the origins of the universe, the 'planetary clockwork' of our solar system, and his defence of evolution (two chapters). Mills also includes some good reading on the implausibility of souls suffering in an eternity of hellish agony, and on Christians' 'selective observation' of answered prayers. I would love all 'born-again' Christians to consider the points Mills makes in these pages.
I personally am a committed Christian, yet share Mill's annoyance at much of the naivety and shallow-thinking that so many evangelical believers hold to. Indeed, I could list many more such points that Mills doesn't mention! Christians can certainly be extremely naive and obnoxiously insistent that THEIR interpretations of the Bible are the only true interpretations, and that they therefore MUST be right. Such intolerant attitudes are indeed horribly off-putting, and if these had anything to do with turning Mills and others away from their evangelical faith, then the Church has much to be ashamed of. It's easy to see why many find evangelicalism so unattractive in many ways.
But please note that not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. I have a very deep and intimate faith in Jesus Christ, but I am NOT a fundamentalist (although I confess, that like Mills, I used to be). I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, and I certainly don't believe it is all to be taken literally. The Bible requires serious critical study to understand what parts were meant to be taken literally and what is meant to be figurative. It's not a matter of personal choice, but of careful academic study.
Thus, I, like many evangelicals I know, do NOT hold to 6-day creationism, nor that all non-believers will be sent to a life of eternal suffering (however, to insist that any form of 'hell' is a myth is presumptuous). But I do believe that Jesus Christ can give new life to all who are truly willing to die to self; I believe He guides and protects us, gives wonderful purpose to life, hears and answers prayers, and gives a most profound peace, joy and hope.
There are a considerable number of statements in Mill's book that I believe are incorrect or are gross generalisations which simply do not hold true for many Christians. He states that 'historically, the Church fought venomously against each new scientific advance' but fails to state that many of these advances were in fact made by Bible-believing Christians! Mills is quick to note various inhumanities committed by 'devout believers', e.g. the burning of witches in centuries past, but makes no specific mention of the MILLIONS slaughtered by committed atheists such as Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, or Kim Sung of North Korea (to name a few). Mills fails to mention that the most atheistic nation in the world (North Korea) is also that with perhaps the most pathetic record of human rights abuses - not 300 years ago, but TODAY.
The author also makes a number of contradictions; such as stating that most Christians live 'very unfulfilling lives' of miserable guilt (p56) - yet admitting that he had 'an exceptionally happy childhood' as 'a typical believer in the Baptist faith'! (p74) I also think that the entire chapter devoted to fundamentalists' views on the danger of internet porn hardly constitutes a solid evidence of atheism! (nor, for that matter, does his chapter on the Constitution of America!). Perhaps Mills was running out of arguments.
But a more serious criticism of the book is the author's failure to give positive reasons for the validity of atheism, rather than his constant attacks on fundamentalism. He completely fails to show what genuine meaning there is to life for an atheist. He simply refers to 'hobbies and interests' which keep people 'maximally happy' (p55)! He goes into no depth whatever on the meaninglessness of life generally or in particular. This is a terrible omission I know of no atheist who lives out what they believe. An atheist believes that a human is simply a (complex) bundle of chemicals with no deep, ultimate purpose. A lump of dog dirt, or a rat, falls into the same category. But I know no person who truly lives as if that's true. Atheists live a contradiction, but none are willing to admit it. Mind you, Nietsche at least ATTEMPTED to live out the reality of his atheism and the meaninglessness of his own existence, and I admire him for it. But what happened? - he went insane. He couldn't do it - it's impossible. Mills fails to discuss the soul-less implications of atheism. Ultimately, if Mills had spent far more time explaining the reasons and the consequences of his own atheistic beliefs, instead of simply rubishing evangelicals' views, then this book would have been far more worthy. As it is, however, it does make a thought-provoking read.
So many atheists believe that unless something is scientifically verifiable, then it should not be taken seriously. It's a well-worn point, but who can scientifically verify the reality of love? Yet, it's one of the most vital ingredient in a human's life. And it's the central tenet of the Christian faith (whether or not we all practise it as we should). God is love. He, too, is scientifically unverifiable, but as millions of people who have received His love unspeakable can testify, He, too, is very very real.