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An atheist jumps off his seat and runs to his friend, "The Bible itself says, 'There is no God.' The Bible says that!" His friend, a Christian turns and smiles, "That's in Psalm 14:1. You should read the whole verse my friend for it says "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" After today's episode, we'll see that it's not just the Bible that atheist have read wrongly.
Hi, my name is Terence and I'm your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Previously, I reviewed Fault Lines by Voddie Baucham and Imprisoned with ISIS by Petr Jasek. I dropped an email to the publisher, Salem Books, saying I enjoyed the two books, thanks for publishing them. They replied asking if I wanted to review an upcoming book, "Is Atheism Dead?" by Eric Metaxas.
I said, "Yes! I loved his Bonhoeffer book." I had also suggested another book of his, "Seven Men", to a young adult who was on his way to a reading habit.
Soon I had in my hands the advanced review copy of "Is Atheism Dead?" Advanced review copy means that what I have here might be different from the final published copy but it should not be substantially different. And if it is substantially different than whoops, I have to re-do this podcast episode.
Rallying Christians to Storm Atheists Positions
The title "Is Atheism Dead?" is a riff on that famous 1966 Time cover asking, "Is God Dead?" Fifty years later, proclaiming that God is dead is no longer as shocking as it was then. Atheists survey the battlefield and consider the battle all but won. Christians are on the retreat in politics, science, education, even within the church, liberal theology has taken over many institutions.
In this book, Metaxas launches a counter-offensive against the atheistic worldview. He shows that science, true science, pure science detached from a foreign atheistic worldview shows what is obvious: life in this universe is not a random occurrence. Second, archeology unfailingly confirms what the Bible says happened, actually happened. And third, Metaxas argues atheism in concept and in practice eats itself. These three parts (science, archaeology and atheism) form the book and form a rallying cry for Christians to bring the battle to the atheistic side.
Big Bang Theory: Friend or Foe?
The offensive starts at the beginning: The Big Bang Theory. He writes:
Infinite time was the darling of many atheists who maintained that “with enough time” anything was possible, and God was unnecessary. Whenever anyone objected that certain things could not have happened randomly and without some “Designer” or “Creator,” those wed to the atheist materialist position would object that “given enough time” anything could happen. Life could arise randomly out of non-life in the primordial oceans. Amoebas could become redwoods. Aquatic creatures could become flying mammals. It was only a matter of having enough time, for time covered a multitude of sins.
Metaxas then outlines how Big Bang Theory came to be -- Einstein makes an appearance -- and how, to their great dismay, atheists were forced to confront a universe with a beginning, the universe is 13.8 billion years old. Now to us, 13.8 billion years is such a huge number, it might as well be infinity. Surely it still gives atheist the allowance to say "given enough time, anything could happen". However, if you consider that the earth is only 4.5 billions year old, in the time scales we are talking about, you pretty much have to get things right the first time for life to happen.
Imagine you have 13.8 hours before everyone comes for the party, and it takes 4.5 hours to bake the cake. Given infinite time, you could try different recipes, throw all the ingredients together, and hope to bake the perfect cake because given enough time, anything could happen, even a perfect cake. But if you only have 13.8 hours to bake it, and it takes 4.5 hours to bake one, then you need to plan. If you only have 13.8 billion years to make life happen, you can't hope for things to come together randomly.
"Whoa... whoa... hold on here. What's this about 13.8 billion years and 4.5 billion years. I believe the earth is 6000 years old!"
So we have here a Young Earth Creationist who answered the call and showed up to fight the atheists and he suddenly realises that he is sharing a foxhole with a Christian, who is repeating the same billions of years nonsense that atheists are saying. What was supposed to be a two way pistol fight has become a three way Mexican standoff.
Ah right. Metaxas doesn't deal with that tiny little conflict between Young Earth and Old Earth Creationists. In the book, he frames the fight as one side believes God created everything and the other side believes there is no God.
I'd like to suggest respectfully that if you hold to Young Earth Creationism that you continue to hold on to it. Don't let this book persuade you otherwise because Metaxas doesn't mention and then refute Young Earth Creationism. He is not so much arguing for Old Earth Creationism, he is arguing against atheism, hence the title, "Is Atheism Dead?"
You know how Star Trek or Star Wars or Marvel Universe have its own in universe logic? Whether it's tractor beams or light sabers, it obeys it's own in-universe physics. What Young Earth Creationist can gain from this book is that in a billions of years universe, which atheists and popular culture know to be true, this universe shows that life is not a random occurrence.
Therefore, Metaxas is saying Christians need to know the argument "Given enough time, anything could happen" is dead in the water. Christians need to take the fight to the atheists to ask them, "Do you know that your heroes, your thinkers and scientists have admitted that the evidence is compelling: life is not a random occurrence?"
The Big Bang Theory is only one part of a greater argument.
A Dime's Worth of Mass Would Collapse the Universe
Next, t here is also the fine-tuning argument. A big part of what Metaxas does is to convey how easily it is for life not to exist.
Metaxas quotes many scientists on this and one of them is Hugh Ross, a Caltech astrophysicist, from his book "Why the Universe is the Way It Is":
At certain early epochs in cosmic history, [the universe’s] mass density must have been as finely tuned as one part in 10 to the 60th power to allow for the possible existence of physical life at any time or place with the entirety of the universe. This degree of fine-tuning is so great that it’s as if right after the universe beginning someone could have destroyed the possibility of life within it by subtracting a single dime’s mass from the whole of the observable universe or adding a single dime’s mass to it.
Crazy huh? And that is only for one parameter, the mass of the universe. Metaxas describes other parameters including the size of the earth, the relative mass of the moon, the location of the solar system, the properties of water, the properties of light and the four fundamental forces. And he only lists some in this book because there are 200 parameters to get exactly right for life to happen. 200 parameters!
That's like going to Vegas pulling the arm of 200 slot machines in a row and hitting the jackpot for every one of them. What are you going to tell the casino owners as they strap you to a chair for a trip to the bottom of the ocean? "I'm just really lucky"? What if you told them, "Let me call my science professor. She'll tell you how it's not just likely but inevitable that this could randomly happen." You call her. You explained that you are on the edge of an existential crisis. And she says, "Nobody is that lucky. The machines must have been rigged."
And that's where atheism has left the non-believer. No help whatsoever to deal with the evidence.
Metaxas quotes Stephen Hawking:
If the overall density of the universe were changed by even 0.0000000000001 percent, no stars or galaxies could be formed. If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.
Metaxas quotes Francis Crick, one of two scientists who discovered DNA's double helix.
An honest man armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.
Metaxas quotes Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist in the world.
During an interview for the 2014 film Expelled, he [Richard Dawkins] allowed that yes, the astonishing and baroque complexity of DNA might indicate “a signature of some kind of designer,”...
Despite Hawking, Crick, Dawkins and others conceding the complexity of life and the force of the fine-tuning argument, they don't end up believing in Intelligent Design. So what do they believe?
Instead, and what I'm about to say is disappointing for atheists, they suggest... Francis Crick suggested aliens. Dawkins calls that an intriguing possibility. Others suggest multiple universes. Ideas like this are the plots for Alien and Marvel movies. Others still cling on to random occurrence, a happy accident, saying isn't it amazing? 200 jackpots in a row! We are really blissfully lucky (and ignorant)!
But can we trust Eric Metaxas with the science? Are the numbers right? He is not a scientist. He graduated in English from Yale. He wrote bestselling books on Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther, more of a religious biographer rather than a hard science guy. Would you trust him to make sense of the origin of life and the universe? Well, I won't. Which is why I'm grateful he doesn't claim to be smarter than he is. He puts forward scientists both religious and atheists, their books, their quotes and their thoughts.
Metaxas did not discover any of the things here, he is merely assembling a story that all the scientists know but re-telling them to Christians who should know that the Big Bang Theory has destroyed the atheist argument that "Given enough time, anything could happen", that there are at least 200 parameters that are so fine-tuned to defy a happy accident, we are just not that lucky. And we can't say it's evolution because water doesn't evolve, light doesn't evolve. There is survival of the fittest over successive generations. Every condition was perfect from the beginning.
Digging Deep to Find the Bible True
Other than the science, the next thing that Christians need to know is archaeology has never contradicted the Bible. Not once.
King David was fictional, they said. Like King Arthur was fictional, they said. There was no evidence he existed, they said. And by that they mean the Bible does not count. And lo and behold, archaeologists discover carved into a memorial stone from 8th Century BC, the words: "the House of David".
My favourite chapter in the book is the "Three Misbehaving Boys Who Changed History". It's three stories, each story starring a naughty boy. I told one story over breakfast, another during lunch and the last one at dinner. So while my wife and children were having their meals, I was telling them of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, Hezekiah's Tunnel in 1880 and the Silver Ketef Hinnom scrolls in 1979. I took my story outline from Metaxas, simplifying what Metaxas wrote here:
... when we are dealing with the Bible, one finds a predictably high level of skepticism, especially among those who don’t take the text very seriously. Thus many have claimed the Bible texts were “changed” in the course of their being “copied” over the centuries by the monks of the Middle Ages. Skeptics suggest the monks—in league with “the all-powerful Church”—transformed them into what the church wanted, rather than what they originally were.
I then asked my children what would it take to prove that the Bible was never changed? The answer, to their delight, came from a young shepherd boy looking for his lost sheep. He finds a cave. Thinking his sheep might have gone in that cave, he throws a rock and hears broken pottery. Against every parent's wishes, the young boy enters this cave alone and finds treasure. The Dead Sea Scrolls.
Metaxas tells it:
Surely the largest jewel in this dazzling treasury were the two-thousand-year-old copies of the thirty-seven books of the Bible, which showed that what we possess today as our own Bible is precisely the same as what existed then. Never in human history has an observed absence of change so instantly and dramatically changed everything.
In a way this book is a collection of stories, there are many people in this book with their adventures, hopes and dreams told amidst the cosmology, biology and archaeology. Metaxas writes in a way that we can take the bare essence and retell it to delight even young children.
And there is more! Metaxas describes the story behind the long lost Hittite civilization, the Moabite stone, Pilate's stone, Pool of Siloam, Herod's Temple, Sergius Paulus' inscription, Gallio inscription and more.
And what I just listed are the older discoveries. He covers new ones. For example, in one chapter he details the discovery of the childhood home of Jesus. Metaxas writes:
First of all, on the face of it, the idea that a simple home built over two thousand years ago would survive and eventually be identified as belonging to anyone specifically seems absurd. And in this case, we are talking about a very out-of-the-way village or town called Nazareth, and about an unknown carpenter/builder named Joseph who raised his family of several children there, including his eldest, Jesus. This would have been where his wife, Mary, raised their children and cooked their meals. But this place—both the town and the house itself—would have been distinguished principally by being undistinguished. This was not a palace or any kind of structure that was any different from the innumerable other structures built throughout what we today call the Holy Land. It would have been a very simple home for a working-class family in an obscure village. Why should any such place survive beyond a century or two?
The book by Dr. Dark describing this finding was published in late 2020. Other recent discoveries include:
- In 2018, a seal ring was found bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.
- In 2019, a tiny ceramic pomegrenate was found in Shiloh precisely matching the description of those described in Exodus 28:33-35.
- In Christmas 2020, a "mikvah" purification bath was discovered from the time of Jesus near what was believed to be the Garden of Gethsemane. And one of the most exciting recent discovery is the discovery of Sodom. It's a story of a man, Dr. Collins, who believes what the Bible says is true and goes out looking for it despite unbelievers saying it's a fable and believers saying it's under the Dead Sea. At the site, he discovers an artifact, an artifact more important than Thor's hammer, because Thor's hammer is fictional but Sodom is not. Dr. Collins has proven that Sodom is as real as the city you are living in now.
Finishing the archeology part, we are not done yet. There is a third part and it's to me, the most debatable part, not in content but in tone.
I like Eric Metaxas when he is happy. A happy Eric is exuberant in his praises, whether it's on Bonhoeffer or the seven great men or the science and archeology he describes. Full of wonder and awe. An angry Metaxas is...
Let me read to you what he writes about people he doesn't like.
I quote, you judge. Metaxas writes:
Richard Dawkins may have spent his career doing science, but in talking about what science actually is he has shown himself to be hopelessly confused. We might expect scientists to be able to do science, but we should not expect them to understand the idea of science any more than we can expect a fish to understand how he swims.
But the New Atheists seem to revel in tossing caution and nuance to the wind. So to search for rhyme or reason in what they say can sometimes be like trying to parse the ravings of a madman. In particularly purple flights they contradict themselves at nearly every turn of phrase, boustrophedonically doubling back on themselves again and again in ways that seem tangential and tangled, and yet the proudly indignant determination with which they speak captivates us and carries us forward until it seems we have entirely forgotten the objection that a moment ago bothered us, for they have moved on and are still moving on and on and on. Part of this may be intentional strategy on their parts, but whether conscious or unconscious—or what part of each—is impossible to say.
I could defend the writing. Elijah egged on the Baal prophets. Jesus and the Apostle Paul called people, "Brood of vipers and dogs". Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are notorious for their hostility against the faith and they only deserve what they get.
But on the other hand, Elijah commanded all the Baal prophets be killed, which means whatever license he may have, may not apply to us. Jesus was silent before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod. And Paul in Romans 9 said, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." And as bad as Dawkins and Hitchens and the rest of them may be, Christians have been gracious to men far worst than them.
If we take one of Metaxas frequent targets in the book, Christopher Hitchens, who wrote "god is not great", God deliberately spelt with a small g. He has a nasty reputation.
I don't know much about him and I don't really want to but after reading his name so often, I opened a book that I bought a long time back but never gotten around to: "The Faith of Christopher Hitchens" by Larry Alex Taunton. Let me quote from Taunton's book:
While I do not quite want to say that the public Christopher was a sham—perhaps an occasional actor might be a better description—he said and did things in my company that would lead one to conclude that this public manifestation of Christopher Hitchens was not the real one.
In another part of the book, Taunton writes:
You see, in one manifestation of himself, Christopher Hitchens was everything the people in this room thought him to be: a radical Leftist, sympathetic Marxist, and militant atheist. But in another, more carefully guarded and secret book, Christopher Hitchens was something altogether different. And therein lies the remarkable plot twist in the tale that is Christopher Hitchens’s life.
Metaxas has a chapter on three famous atheists who converted out of atheism: Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Anthony Flew. Which makes one wonder if Christopher Hitchens lived a bit longer perhaps he too would have accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
If you prefer a less spicy book that argues against militant atheists, you should check out "The Dawkins Letters" by David Robertson. Robertson wrote open letters to Richard Dawkins which Dawkins published in his website. These letters were then adapted into a book. The tone is conciliatory for example, in one chapter it starts this way:
Dear Dr Dawkins, I would like to apologise if I am in any way misrepresenting your position. It is not intentional. I disagree with what you say and it would therefore be pretty pointless to write about what you are not saying. However, I am becoming more and more convinced that your position is primarily a philosophical and religious position, rather than one you are driven to by science.
And it ends in this way:
And one last thought. One thing that really annoys some atheists is when Christians promise to pray for them. Why do we pray for you?
Therefore, to pray for you is a supreme act of love because it asks for the best for you. And Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies. So I do pray for you and for all those who have been deluded into thinking that there is only the material, and that their Creator does not exist. Forgive me.
The third part has many good things going for it, Metaxas counters common atheist points like: religious wars (they ignore more deaths are caused by secular states), religion suppresses science (they ignore many scientist past and present are religious, including Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo) and many more good points. Because Metaxas engages directly with atheism's talking points, he comes across frustrated at the arrogance and ignorance he sees.
In conclusion, "Is Atheism Dead?" has many great stories that are simple enough to be told over family meals and deep enough to get you exploring science and archaeology with the many books Metaxas cites and recommends.
With regards to his tone, I see it as Metaxas getting tired of seeing Christians on the retreat when Christians are the ones with the winning positions. He is going down the line kicking soldiers out of the ditches, shouting, "We have the guns, the tanks, the enemy has nothing. They are cock-eyed and shooting blanks. So come on!" Which stirs up the troops at the expense of the other side.
You see, not all atheists are worked up like Dawkins or Hitchens. And for them, a respectful yet convicted tone as found in "The Faith of Christopher Hitchens" by Larry Alex Taunton or "The Dawkins Letters" by David Robertson, would be more welcome.
Ultimately, I don't think the tone detracts from what the book offers and Metaxas does achieve his aims. The question, "Is Atheism Dead?" is deliberately provocative and rallies Christians to confront atheists with the knowledge that life is not a happy accident, archeology has proven the biblical record over and over again and atheists simply have no ground to stand on.
This is a Reading and Readers review of "Is Atheism Dead?" by Eric Metaxas.
If you like this episode and my other episodes, don't you think more people should know about Reading and Readers? You learned so much in this episode didn't you? Do you know anyone else who likes science? Or archaeology? Or the question of atheism? Think of a name, make sharing your aim. The next episode, I'll review Faithlife's Free Book for October. See you then.
- Is Atheism Dead? by Eric Metaxas. Amazon.
- The Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Alex Taunton. Amazon.
- The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson. Amazon. Faithlife.
Sound Effects from zapsplat.com and uppbeat.io.