Saturday, April 03, 2010

Book Review: The Making of an Atheist - Part 3

Making of an Atheist
Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review.

4. The Obstinacy of Atheism

Dr. Spiegel starts this chapter using the movie The Sixth Sense as an analogy for the doctrine of original sin. It is the idea of being dead and not even knowing it. We all need a person like the boy, Cole Sear, to bring our deathly situation to our attention.

"Then, and only then, can we glimpse the truth about ourselves and--to break from the analogy of the film--experience spiritual resurrection." p90

In this chapter Dr. Spiegel aims to show how "a person may become locked in the atheistic delusion" through his worldview and the influence of sin on the mind.

Some believe that scientific objectivity is completely possible. With the idealistic view of science that we are fed from our earliest years at school, it has become difficult to shake this idea. However, scientists are not immune to their own beliefs and values. Research done by physicist and historian Thomas Samuel Kuhn has shown that scientists are clearly not objective in their research. Scientists tend to hold tenaciously to t6he paradigms they are familiar with, even in spite of data that clearly contradicts their ideas. These paradigms are children of the mind, created by the thoughts of scientists. Paradigms are human creations, hence they are "always imperfect, subject to revision and replacement." (p93)

Duck or rabbit?
What do you see?
A duck or a rabbit?

Spiegel also makes use of "chemist-turned-philosopher," Michael Polanyi's ideas. According to Polanyi, the practice of science is a personal rather than only a mechanical process. Polanyi states that scientists bring their own ideas, biases, desires and commitments into their work.

"The personal concerns of scientists sometimes override the pure implications of data, and theories are often selected or defended on this basis rather than just empirical evidence or logical reasoning." p99.

Factors that influence scientific paradigms include psychological and sociological factors that are driven by a huge influence from business, government and public opinion. Although scientists claim to be objective, they do still filter scientific data through their own presuppositions. These presuppositions, or paradigms, condition us into seeing events and processes in certain ways.

Dr. Spiegel highlights some insights by Kuhn that can help us in understanding atheists:
1. The atheistic paradigm has its own standard of truth;
2. Theists and atheists, in a sense, live in different worlds;
3. Many determining factors--leading to atheism--are non-rational in nature.

Human reason, upon which atheists claim to base all their beliefs, can provide great gifts but also horrible disasters. Simply take a look at Ivan the Terrible and Hitler. "What landed [them] in the annals of the wicked was not lack of reason but the clever pursuit of the wrong ends." (p104)

"So, as important as reasoning ability is, what is most decisive in human affairs is truth. This is especially the case when it comes to the reality of God, the most fundamental of all truths." p105

God's existence has been made clear by what is created. Apart from the physical evidence around us, theologians, like Calvin, have said that within humans there is an awareness if divinity, implanted there by God. This sense is called the sensus divinitatis.
According to Calvin, this sense
1. is universal;
2. is inborn or innate;
3. has a cognitive component.

Human cognitive functions do  not always function correctly, hence we suffer from cognitive malfunction, or cognitive disease. This is known as the noetic effects of sin.The effects of sin on our minds corrupt our thinking about issues such as ethics, human nature, purpose, origins and more. Of course this cognitive disease leads to unbelief which is enforced by immoral behaviour.

The descent into atheism is not actually caused by a perceived lack of evidence for the existence of God, but rather by a "complex of moral-psychological factors." It is a willful rejection of God. The hardening of an atheists heart is caused by a blindness caused by his own paradigms by which he lives and somehow they have a damaged sense of the divine.

5. The Blessings of Theism

And so we come to the last chapter of Dr. Jim Spiegel's book.

One of the great blessings of Christianity is the cognitive health that comes from Christian virtue. Virtue is crucial for Christians and the preservation of their faith. Virtue assists cognition in:
1. avoiding the negative effects of sin. Living virtuously prevents the deadening of the sensus divinitatis.
"The less on'es cognitive system is damaged, the better it can fulfill its function to produce true beliefs. Therefore, the more virtuously one lives, the more truth one is able to access, including truths about God and how to obey Him." p117
2. preventing motives for willful disbelief. A person that is immoral and vicuous has motive for rejecting vital truths that condemn him. Hence, less sin, less ulterior motives!
3. that obedience to God improves cognition. What we spend time with, such as what we read and use as entertainment affect the way we think about the world.

Apart from cognitive wholeness, faith also brings emotional wholeness. These emotional benefits stem from the fact that we can go to God with our complaints when things are going bad. When natural disasters occur, who do atheists complain to. They have no one. Christians have God to go to with these complaints. these type of complaints are absurd to atheists.

As Christians we also have someone to thank for our talents, good health, intelligence and natural blessings. When an atheist comes across natural beauty, intelligence or any such attribute, who does he thank? Who does he praise? There is no one, but fatalistic evolution.

Christians have experienced redemption and as a result act on that. Missionaries take that message together with addressing personal and social needs, because of this redemption. They freely give because they have received freely. They pay it forward.

Dr. Spiegel strated off this chapter referring to that well read article at the Times Online by the atheists, Matthew Parris, called "As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God." In this article Parris reflects that Africa does not need another economic program and aid efforts, but rather needs Christianity. He noticed that Christianity changes people's hearts, and that is what Africa needs. Christianity actually brings about change.

Finally, my conlusion

The aim of this book is not how to answer the 10 toughest questions from atheists. Rather, it is a book into the psyche of the atheist. It is a book to help us understand how someone could possibly be an atheist.

It is not an academic book that bores the reader with psycho-analysis after psycho-analysis. It rather brings home the point of the book with shorter pieces of research so as not to bore the reader. It also takes certain passages of Scripture to show that Scripture knew the reason of the atheists' existence all along.

If you are a snobbish academic expecting reams and reams of quotes and references from other academic works, then you will be wasting your time. However, if you are interested in this subject because you personally know an atheist, or want to be introduced to this subject, then this book is for you.

Would I recommend The Making of an Atheist to anyone? Yes! I would give this book at least a 4/5 star rating.

Buy The Making of an Atheist at:
South Africa - Kalahari
U.S.A. - Amazon

Read the following:
Interview with Dr. Jim Spiegel
Review of The Making of an Atheist Part 1
Review of The Making of an Atheist Part 2

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