Atheism: The Case against God

25 December 2005

Perhaps the most popular work on atheism and disbelief in God, Atheism: The Case Against God has been tremendously influential. It is also highly recommended by atheists and humanists, despite being slightly outdated. Due to these reasons, I decided to check out the book for myself.

Overall, I have to admit that I think this book is unimpressive. Smith argues by assertion much too often. Although Smith covers a variety of issues, his writing often contains little substance.

Smith’s book is also a bit outdated. Largely because of this, Smith’s material on the Cosmological Argument and Teleological Argument are all but useless. Smith cannot be blamed for this, but all of his objections have been refuted by philosophers and theologians (as well as my own articles) in the years since his book was originally published.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this book, however, is that its title seems a bit inappropriate. Although Smith claims to be refuting the existence of God, almost the entire book is devoted to refuting Christianity. At times, Smith’s writings come off as a polemical tirade against Christianity rather than a clear case against the existence of God. In fact, out of four main chapters, all but one addresses Christianity specifically. The third chapter (dealing with proofs of God’s existence) is the only chapter that does not specifically target Christianity.

Chapter 2, dealing with “Faith Versus Reason”, was by far the most lengthy chapter and by far the most boring. Smith discusses a concept of “faith” which bears no resemblance to the way I define faith. As a result, I end up agreeing with Smith’s passionate defense of the use of reason. Smith’s second chapter is useless except to those who hold the kind of “faith” that means believing without or in spite of evidence. This chapter is, however, a good defense for the importance of apologetics for Christianity.

Smith also has a tiny chapter on “Revelation”, which deals mostly with the Bible. This is Smith at his worst; he makes claims out of thin air without backing them up or providing references. He also takes the opportunity to spew out a few emotionally charged words about the “vindictiveness” in the Bible. Rational Christians have nothing to worry of Smith’s superficial treatment of the Bible.

The last chapter of the book is dealing with the foundation of morality. Smith takes this opportunity to talk about the “evils” of Christianity and the “psychological harm” caused by such belief. However, such arguments are mere emotional tirades, and as such are no threat to Christians. Smith claims that Christianity attempts to preclude the pleasure from sex by forbidding pre-marital relations. Supposedly, this restriction on sexuality is damaging, but I can only wonder exactly how Smith knows that having pre-marital sex is more pleasurable (in the end) than exclusive sex with one’s marriage partner. Obviously, Smith has not tried both. Smith’s foundation for morality has to do with the “pleasure” of humans, and as such could lead to terrible consequences (especially because of the tendency for humans to “desire” evil things). Smith’s foundation for morality is not objective and it is all but useless, all the while reducing the human being to the status of an animal.

Smith’s book would have been much better if he did not focus so heavily on Christianity and withheld from commentary on topics he (apparently) knows nothing about (such as, for example, biblical criticism). Despite its flaws, though, Atheism: The Case Against God is a decent introduction to atheism.

See HERE for a full critique of this book.


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