Puritan apologetics and the new atheism April 30, 2011

I’ve had an interesting exchange on the Amazon UK website with “Peter” who, even though a Christian, didn’t appreciate “Who made God?” one little bit. Below is the exchange with just a few delations, but it can be summarised briefly enough: should we use modern methods and styles in today’s Christian apologetics or should we live in the past in these respects? I have great admiration for the 17th Century Puritans and their writings, and they still have much to teach us, but we cannot expect them to deal adequately with the “new atheists” and our Bible-rejecting culture. We dare not go to battle with the mindset of antiquity!

 Review by Peter

The book does not mention anything about ‘Who made God?’ If one was to give the book to ones non Christian friend, the friend will not come away getting a better understanding about God. There is too much Philosophy and Science, and less about God. It is no wonder the author lost the ‘Huxley Memorial Debate’ in 1986, for there is nothing in this book to convince the sceptic or atheist about God’s existence. Author’s reply

Reply by author

Thanks Peter. No book suits everyone but I fear you have a very superficial grasp of what the book sets out to do … namely, to present a world-view based on the existence of the God of the Bible (“the hypothesis of God”) over against the atheistic world-view that saturates the mass media and thus many people’s minds. But even so, it is surely bizarre to suggest that the book says little about God. If you consult the index you will find the following page entries under “God”; 65-6. 68, 69, 71, 78, 79-92, 95, 96-9, 117, 120, 131, 139, 142, 147, 169, 189, 190, 207-9, 210, 245, 250 … followed by sub-entries under ‘attributes of God’, ‘covenants of God’, ‘decrees of God’, ‘definition of God’ and ‘goodness of God’ … followed again by no fewer than 49 page references to ‘hypothesis of God’ and 15 further subdivisions under the heading “God” such as ‘image of God’, law of God’, ‘mind of God, ‘nature of God’, will of God’ etc etc. And that is not to mention the many Bible texts quoted throughout the book’s 300 pages.
Oh, and if you still insist that “this book does not mention anything about ‘Who made God?'” you must have skipped the first chapter which is devoted entirely to this very matter. Your review leaves me somewhat bemused!
So here’s a friendly challenge. If you were seeking to convince an atheist of the existence of God, what arguments would you use that are not present in my book? You don’t need to elaborate, just list them (e.g. if you would use the argument from morality just say “argument from morality” … but of course you can’t list this one because I devote a full chapter to it in the book). I look forward to your response.

Peter again

 Mr. Andrews, there was nothing in your book that would convince an atheist or a sceptic about the existence of God. If I was asked by a sceptic to recommend a book about the existence of God, yours would not be recommended. The book is too shallow compared to the one by Stephen Charnock – The Existence and Attributes of God (Have you read the book?). I would use the arguments in Charnock’s book to convince the atheist. I also found that the book was not serious enough, especially the anecdotes, as they do not conform to when writing about Almighty God. You may disagree; but that is how I interpret your book.

 Further author’s response [references to “Who made God?” marked WMG in square brackets]

 Thanks Peter but you don’t rise to my challenge and tell us what arguments Stephen Charnock employs for the existence of God and how they differ from my own. Well, I will save you the trouble and reproduce them below. But before we get to that, are you seriously suggesting that you would recommend a modern scientific atheist or sceptical student to read a Puritan dissertation on the subject of God’s existence, written as it was in the 17th Century? Are you not aware that today’s atheists justify their atheism by appeal to the findings of science during the past 200 years and need to be challenged on their own ground? Charnock’s apologetics were fashioned over 300 years ago; do you not understand that our apologetic today must address today’s intellectual climate (as Charnock’s addressed that of the 17th century)? I have benefitted greatly from Puritan writings and have even given conference papers on them. But we live in a different intellectual world today. However, apart from the science there is actually a close correspondence between Charnock’s arguments and my own in WMG. I’m sorry you cannot see this.
          Anyway let’s see what Charnock has to say. In his “Discourse 1; on the existence of God” he offers four reasons for believing that God exists, as follows:
          Reason I. `Tis a folly to deny or doubt of that which hath been the acknowledged sentiment of all nations, in all places and ages. There is no nation but hath owned some kind of religion, and, therefore, no nation but hath consented in the notion of a Supreme Creator and Governor. [see WMG pp.132, 134].
          Reason II. It is a folly to deny that which all creatures or all things in the world manifest. Let us view this in Scripture, since we acknowledge it, and after consider the arguments from natural reason. … The apostle resolves it (Rom. i. 19, 20), “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” [this is the main theme of WMG, namely, that the world revealed by science is the kind of world we would expect if God is the creator and sustainer of the universe; WMG works this theme out in many ways including matching Charnock’s following points; see WMG Chs. 7-8].
I. The world and every creature had a beginning. II. Which will appear further in this proposition, No creature can make itself; the world could not make itself.
III. No creature could make the world. No creature can create another. If it creates of nothing, it is then omnipotent and so not a creature.
IV. From hence it follows, that there is a first cause of things, which we call God. There must be something supreme in the order of nature, something which is greater than all, which hath nothing beyond it or above it, otherwise we must run in infinitum [WMG Ch.1].
          Reason III. It is a folly to deny that which a man’s own nature witnesseth to him. The whole frame of bodies and souls bears the impress of the infinite power and wisdom of the Creator: a body framed with an admirable architecture, a soul endowed with understanding, will, judgment, memory, imagination. Man is the epitome of the world, contains in himself the substance of all natures. I might add, the union of soul and body. Man is a kind of compound of angel and beast, of soul and body; if he were, only a soul, he were a kind of angel; if only a body, he were another kind of brute.
Man witnesseth to a God in the operations and reflections of conscience. (Rom. ii. 15), “Their thoughts are accusing or excusing.” An inward comfort attends good actions, and an inward torment follows bad ones; for there is in every man’s conscience fear of punishment and hope of reward; there is, therefore, a sense of some superior judge, which bath the power both of rewarding and punishing [see WMG Chs. 16-17].
          Reason IV. As it is a folly to deny that which all nations in the world have consented to, which the frame of the world evidenceth, which man in his body, soul, operations of conscience, witnesseth to; so it is a folly to deny the being of God, which is witnessed unto by extraordinary occurrences in the world [judgements, miracles and the fulfillment of prophecy.] [WMG has a whole chapter on miracles (Ch.11) and majors on the sovereignty and judgements of God in many places esp. Ch.17].
          One final point. You clearly disapprove of using humour in apologetics. But this is a deliberate strategy designed to engage and retain the interest of the person-in-the-street and many people testify to the fact that it does achieve this object. There are many anti-atheism books out there but ordinary people don’t read them. I am trying, with God’s help, to communicate the biblical world-view to those who are ignorant of it.