The Rise of Atheists and “Nones”
Despite offering utterly nothing new, and despite its role in producing the most brutal and destructive ideologies of the last century, atheism is on the rise everywhere (along with its cousin, socialism). While relatively few people proclaim themselves atheists—though that number is growing significantly—many more people now disavow religion of all forms.
Western culture in recent decades reflects this massive change in belief and has become much more secularized. Although they loudly complain of their supposed second-class minority status, atheist views generally prevail on college campuses, in the media, and in politics. Quite a few of them make a career out of their unbelief, writing best-selling books and op-eds in the New York Times. Some, like the atheist caricature Neil deGrasse Tyson, have hordes of fans on Twitter and receive great sums of money for speaking engagements and creating shows that perpetuate atheist propaganda.
Happily, many adept Christian apologists have risen to the occasion to repeatedly refute atheists’ arguments, or, more frequently, correct their mischaracterization of Christians. Unhappily, the great majority of people never have the opportunity to hear these rebuttals because they are not as amusing as atheist snark. Even if the average person’s heart, mind, and very life testify to God’s presence, his leaders, entertainers, and teachers will convince him otherwise. Hence, most people, especially millennials, now escape the conflict by residing in an insipid spiritual limbo and calling themselves “Nones.”
An Unexpected Gladiator Walks Into the Arena
With his book Answering Atheism, Trent Horn, a young Catholic apologist (31 years old!), enters the fray and injects new life in refuting atheism’s false claims. Although his book is marketed as an olive branch to atheists, kindly persuading them to reconsider their position, it goes much further in reinforcing the faith and reason of theists. In it, Horn clearly demonstrates the flimsiness of most atheist premises as well the compelling case for the theism. Even if atheist intellectuals continue to revel in writing witty barbs and stroking their chins in unquenchable smugness, Christians can take heart that they have the stronger case.
Horn himself admits in his introductory chapters that he offers nothing new in terms of arguments; rather, he hopes to change the approach that theists take when confronting atheism. All too frequently, Christian apologists will either resort to the same kind of derisive inflammatory language that atheists use, only to lose their cool and look hypocritical, or they will confuse and bore their audience with convoluted unedited philosophical treatises drawn from St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, and beyond. Although he could play either role with ease, Horn, with superlative gentleness, picks a third way: he will respect his opponent while thoroughly dismantling his argument in clear accessible language.
In a gesture of goodwill, and as an effective tool of using his opponents’ words against themselves, Horn abundantly cites atheist thinkers and even presents their case before moving into his own—while he scrupulously avoids the terminology, he wisely follows St. Thomas in his style of argument. In the first section of the book, “Should I Be An Atheist?” he examines the atheist position and determines whether it can stand independently or not. As he does this, he exposes the contradictions and insufficiencies of the atheist position, answering every common objection, even ones involving Santa Claus the “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” with patience and concision.
As Horn makes clear, disproving atheism does not automatically prove theism, so in the following section, he offers the main arguments for belief in God. Minding his audience, he refrains from becoming too technical and offers abundant analogies to explain some intimidating abstractions. Nevertheless, he takes care to review the scholarship involved and showcase his extensive research, particularly as he discusses the science behind the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments. Even if the reader somehow walks away from his book unconvinced, he will still learn a great deal about the makeup of the cosmos and the different universal constants and forces holding everything together.
In this, as before, he still tends to every objection and frequently pits atheist against atheist, well aware that a skeptical reader would accept nothing else. Moreover, for atheist and theist alike, he does the great service of distilling the some incredibly dense and often wordy arguments from contemporary philosophers and scientists (and not a few pseudo-philosopher/scientists). For those who desire to learn more on some of these arguments, he goes deeper into some of these ideas in the appendix and endnotes or visit the excellent apologetics site Strange Notions where Horn is a contributing writer.
Killing His Opponents With Kindness—And Overwhelming Scholarship
One may find fault with Horn’s conciliatory tone with so many hotheads who would like nothing better than to see the Church go down in flames, but in this he demonstrates true Christian meekness. As C.S. Lewis explains, such meekness displays the quiet confidence of a lion, not the sycophantic cowardice of a mouse. Unlike the insecure rants and tangents expressed by people like Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens, Horn’s arguments peacefully transcend this mudslinging and move to the difficulties at hand.
By modeling his “new approach” so effectively, Horn instills the same kind of meekness and slowness to anger in his reader. For Christians uncertain in their beliefs and potentially fearful of encountering of captious atheist trolls, Answering Atheism offers a boost of much needed courage and conviction. One may not rush into logical duels with skeptics afterward, but neither will he back away from an argument if it comes up.
For too long, atheists have simply won the argument by default. Among the young, they carry even more sway since religious education has faltered horribly in recent decades, relying more on the subjective sentiment of personal spirituality than the objective reasoning of theology and philosophy. Trent Horn makes these subjects matter again and empowers his readers to not only know more about their faith, but to take stock in just how beautiful and necessary that faith is to their lives and society at large.