Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back opens on a cold note. After destroying the Death Star, the Rebel forces have been driven into hiding on the icy planet of Hoth. In the beginning scenes of the film, an Imperial probe droid discovers the Rebel base, which prompts the Empire to launch an assault on Hoth that leaves the Rebellion with no choice but to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere. Throughout the movie, it often seems like the tide has turned against the small band of freedom fighters, until by the end Han Solo is frozen in carbonite for a bounty hunter, Luke loses a hand to his nemesis – his very own father – and the fate of the Rebellion hangs in the balance. It turns out that bringing down the Death Star was a short-lived victory, and it only seemed to anger the powerful and vengeful Empire.
Believe it or not, God’s Not Dead, a work of Christian apologetics published in 2013, is not too different from The Empire Strikes Back. The book portrays skeptics and atheists as conspirators in a mighty evil empire that’s out to squash the faith of young, earnest Christians only wanting the freedom to live out their faith. However, it also serves as a clear counter-attack against the infamous New Atheists and their fans. Author and pastor Rice Broocks doesn’t just want to arm believers with a defense of their faith, or even challenge the objections to belief in god, he wants to draw stark lines, chase down his opponents, and declare a decisive victory in the end. Who exactly is the evil empire may be a matter of perspective.
God’s Not Dead begins with the brief story of Dean, a friend of the author who, after struggling with how to answer an atheist, suddenly heard the voice of god. What did god say? Did he refute the atheist’s objections? Did he reveal astounding and miraculous truths to the doubting believer? The voice said, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Dean decided to get his heart right with god and he now knows how to answer skeptics and help other doubters with their questions. Stories like this one, notes pastor Broocks, are what inspired him to write God’s Not Dead.
The introduction minces no words with respect to the ways of non-believers. “They feast on unprepared religious people who unintelligently hold to beliefs they’ve merely inherited, who have only a secondhand faith.”1 Through a strategy of mockery, derogation, dishonesty, and suppression, they break down the faith of Christians who are not as intimately familiar with apologetics as the author. Of course, there are plenty of atheists who would not agree with such a strategy and have openly spoken out against it, just as there are Christians who would disagree with a heavy-handed evangelizing tactic, but Mr. Broocks does not seem so concerned with accurately representing the nuances of either side as he is with painting a very black-and-white picture of theists and non-theists.
Secular religions like “Darwinian naturalism” survive by eliminating competition, states the author. Christianity, on the other hand, spread by “the irresistible force of love and the power of truth”. Disappointingly, Rice provides no definition of religion, no elaboration on his secular religion example, and says nothing on all the threats made by Jesus and his early followers (Matthew 13:41-43, 25:40-46, Mark 9:43, 2 Thessalonians 1:9) that might have also helped to shape its influence. The gospel message is presented in simple form with the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and salvation. Pastor Broocks tells a very familiar story of how he was a lapsed cultural Christian flirting with drugs and alcohol before he found Jesus after others convicted him of his ‘sins’.
The introduction ends by addressing the three types of target audience for the book: the seeker, the believer, and the skeptic. One might well wonder why these should be considered separate types. Perhaps this is yet further indication of the absolute certainty the author seems to believe he wields. No need to seek when you know, no need to doubt when you have certitude. Let’s see how the arguments in God’s Not Dead hold up to such strong convictions.
Chapter 1: God’s Not Dead
The first part of the first chapter reads like something out of a born again Christian’s wildest fantasy. Years ago, Rice’s older brother Ben tried to free him of his faith. Being a law student, Ben prepared for the event like he was preparing a legal case against god. Rice recounts the whole experience as you’d expect an image-obsessed evangelist would: it was “the truth of God’s Word” that did all the work, not him, and – wouldn’t you know it – when all was said and done, god brought his big brother back to the faith that very same day, and Rice even got to baptize him in their pool. An ending as only celluloid can deliver.
Broocks continues on, covering the resurgence of faith in corners of the globe like Africa, South America, and Asia, while sweepingly declaring that there is a general and growing doubt about the “naturalistic dogma”. This he ties in to a quote from C.S. Lewis:
If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest one, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most.2
Despite Lewis’ seeming ecumenicism, a good many Christians do maintain that the religions of the world are one huge mistake. The mistake they make is denying the resurrection and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ, which is a damnable offense in the eyes of more than a few Christian theists. Atheists are not committed to taking the opinion that all religions are entirely devoid of truth anymore than any particular religious believer is committed to the opinion that all other religions are entirely devoid of truth. There are atheists like Alain de Botton and S.E. Cupp who have vociferously defended religion and gone so far as to recommend that non-believers can learn a lot from it. It is a gross over-simplification of religion to pretend that rejecting supernatural or ontological claims amounts to seeing all religions as founded on a huge mistake. Religions like Buddhism, Taoism, and Jainism have much to say about our experience as human beings, to the point that supernatural elements are comparatively minor.
As already noted, though, Mr. Broocks does not appear to have such a concern for presenting a well-rounded look at either side of the argument. He labels atheism a religion based on his own assertion that it has beliefs, dogmas, and tenets that are not meant to be questioned, which he backs up by citing a Newsweek article that calls atheism a belief. What these beliefs, dogmas, and tenets are is either left to imagination or for some future discussion in the book. To make matters worse, Broocks quotes Hawking who says “philosophy is dead” in The Grand Design, and contrasts this to a different take by Daniel Dennett: “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” Astoundingly, pastor Rice concludes from this that, “Therefore, in their minds, science becomes the only source of truth” (p. 6). This is the polar opposite of what Dennett suggests, which is that science cannot be divorced from philosophy! Ironically, this disagreement between Hawking and Dennett rebuts Broocks’ remark about unquestionable atheistic dogmas.
Moving on, the author attacks a well-known objection to the design argument attributed to Richard Dawkins, though it almost certainly predates him. If everything shows evidence of design, then who designed the designer? This objection is dismissed as an irrational, unyielding position of atheism because it’s unreasonable to demand an explanation for every explanation. It’s unclear that this is what Dawkins and others are asking, however. It seems to me that the point of the objection is to expose a flawed assumption in a particular premise of the design argument. If complexity and order indicate design, then why does it not indicate design in the case of the complex and orderly designer himself? Broocks’ comment on the need for a stopping point in explanations will become especially important later, when he discusses the moral and cosmological arguments.
Rice presses on to poison the well further against atheists by claiming that non-believers not only have not thought what it would take for them to change their minds, but they disbelieve for emotional and personal reasons that have nothing to do with reason and evidence. “No God – no accountability.” While I won’t dispute that there are some who abandon faith for non-intellectual reasons, this fact alone does not show that all atheists are guilty of it. Likewise, one would be just as mistaken in assuming that because some Christians have inherited their faith from family and relatives, therefore all Christians must only be religious because of their background. It’s certainly also worth noting that reverend Rice Broocks gives no answer to what it would take to make him lose his faith, in spite of his warning that “if your mind is made up… then no amount of evidence will convince you” (p. 9).
Regardless of what Rice believes, I have spent a good deal of time pondering the arguments for god, the case for Christianity, and what it would take to believe them again. Undoubtedly, this is due in part to my former identity as a Christian, not to mention that I live in a country where Christianity is the predominant faith, but it’s because I genuinely want to know why I disbelieve, too, and I want to test my views and hold them up to the light, so to speak, to try and ensure that they are as close to reality as possible. I applaud Christians and other religious believers who make the same effort, and I find it frankly petty and insulting when anyone implies that a mere divergence on what conclusion we reach somehow shows that any side is being dishonest about their effort. The question of what would change our minds on any issue is bound to be a difficult one. I feel that if there were more independent, impressive contemporary accounts of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection, and if the arguments for god were not so riddled with logical fallacies and unsubstantiated assumptions, I would be more inclined towards belief… but I am human, just as Rice Broocks is human, and just as we all are human.
The atheist worldview, also described as naturalistic, centers on nature. A- is the Greek prefix meaning “absence,” therefore an atheist believes in the absence of God. Everything can be explained by natural causes and effects… This worldview eliminates the possibility of God from the outset; therefore, no evidence for an intelligent Creator will ever be convincing. The pretense of many atheists is that somehow they don’t really possess any of these presuppositions. (p. 10)
Corroborating these claims, Broocks provides a brief quote from Greg Graffin, lead singer of the band Bad Religion. Although these subjects of worldview, belief, naturalism, and supernaturalism are complex philosophical subjects that have been debated among academics for centuries, we’re only given the thoughts of a musician to back up pastor Rice’s statements. Not surprisingly, our author starts off on the wrong foot, failing to note that the other half to the a- of atheism is theism, which is a term for belief in god. Thus, rather than someone who believes in the absence of god, an atheist is more accurately someone who is absent the belief in god. This may not seem like much of a difference, but it’s all in how Broocks wishes to portray non-believers. It’s easy to pigeon-hole someone who believes in something as having a set of presuppositions or a whole worldview that rules out other beliefs. Yet someone who is simply without a specific belief, what can be said of their presuppositions or worldview? What presuppositions do we make if we disbelieve in ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, or leprechauns?
The irritating thing about arguing over who holds what assumptions, who presupposes what things, and so forth, is that it still ultimately comes down to standards of reason and evidence. Rice neglects to consider that embracing a label like ‘naturalist’ does not necessarily mean you have embraced it before-the-fact and ruled out everything afterwards. He quite conveniently finds it possible for a supernaturalist to have adopted their label after-the-fact, but for some intriguing and unexplained reason, atheists who claim a similar route to their disbelief are just tossing up a pretense. Mr. Broocks has eliminated the possibility of honest and diligent skepticism from the outset!
No greater confirmation of this can be found than in the very next section of chapter one, where the author proceeds to associate atheism and naturalism with the genocides and horrors of the 20th century. Lenin’s Russia, he claims, was the logical progression of a godless worldview, as were the “atheistic regimes” of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao. Zero attempt is made to justify such an incendiary remark, so we are truly left without reason to believe Broocks. There is actually ample evidence showing that Adolf Hitler was not an atheist,3 but the real area of contention should be whether atheism inspired those mass-murdering regimes or whether it was the totalitarian political ideology held by all of them that did the real damage. It is indisputable that Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia had religious believers among their supporters, so it seems to be grasping at straws to explain the atrocities of those political entities in terms of the religious opinions held by some of the men at the top.
Broocks bemoans the state of it all if there is no heaven or hell. “Why sacrifice your life for your country or any other cause” if there is no reward after death? Pat Tillman and many other atheists who have enlisted in military service seem to have found no problem with making such a sacrifice even if there is no heaven.4 No heaven does not mean there is no family, no loved ones, no friends, no society, or no future to protect and defend. What kind of morality is it that teaches us to do good for a reward rather than for its own sake? Broocks laments that without hell, terrorists will “get away with” their crimes, but according to his own conservative brand of Christian faith, Broocks believes that humanitarians like Norman Borlaug who did so much for the world will burn for eternity if they did not accept Christ, whereas a terrorist who raped and killed all his life would be welcomed into the kingdom of god if he repents and accepts Jesus before death. If Rice’s point is that his worldview provides a greater sense of justice, it seems that justice must mean something very different for him than it means for the rest of us.
Chapter one finishes off with some discussion on the gospel and the importance of whether or not god exists. The spirit of evangelism, says Mr. Broocks, is “a message of love, hope, and reconciliation, not hate and division.” Apparently the best way of communicating this spirit that the author can think of is to relentlessly demonize and stereotype his opponents, while dismissing their position at the outset – a tactic not at all uncommon to Christian apologetics. With the well now sufficiently poisoned, we at last move on to the actual evidence and arguments for god.
Chapter 2: Real Faith Isn’t Blind
Faith need not be the enemy of reason, at least according to pastor Broocks. All faith is not blind, some faiths can be committed to evidence even while others are not. It is of real concern when someone believes something without a rational basis. “Reason serves as a type of immune system,” Rice notes, “helping us sort out helpful beliefs from harmful ones… Irrationality is not a religious thing; it’s a human thing.” (p. 21) On this I could not agree more. Unfortunately, our author does not stop here, but continues onto shakier ground. One thing worth observing here, though, is that a deeper problem is being ignored, both by many atheists and theists. As important as evidence and reason may be, still more important is how we interpret each and put them to use. This is part of what philosophers call epistemology, or the study of how we come to know things.5 Through the remainder of this review, we’ll see just how this neglected subject impacts many of the conclusions that are drawn in the book.
Atheists believe a fantastic story that the universe just happened, by chance, and that all of this life and complexity came from nothing. “The universe just is,” asserts the naturalist. Yet is that really true? Is that the only option a rational person has to consider?
I’d suggest that an equally valid question to ask would be, ‘Is that really what atheists believe?’ Richard Carrier, an atheist philosopher and historian, explains that although there are numerous proposed answers to the big questions, and although scientists are currently hard at work trying to resolve some of them, “no one really knows the answers yet. We have too little information, and too many possibilities. Any explanation that anyone can offer, including ‘God did it,’ would only be hypothetical at this point.”6
Atheists do not believe the universe spontaneously burst out of nothing, nor do they have to believe it “just is”. Rather, an atheist recognizes that explanations for the origins of the cosmos are all speculative for the time being, and there is no shame in admitting what is really the case: we just don’t know. There are a lot of cool and interesting theories around, but there is always the likelihood that whatever is actually going on is far stranger than any of us can conceive (special relativity and quantum mechanics should perhaps have taught us that at the very least). What’s more, the god explanation is fraught with problems of its own that are still the subject of fierce debate among scholars today. Philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong comments on two such problems in a book co-authored with William Lane Craig:
A cause of an event is supposed to explain why that event occurred when it did rather than earlier or later and in the way it did rather than some other way. God cannot explain why the Big Bang occurred 15 billion years ago instead of 5 or 25 billion years ago, because, if the traditional God exists at all, He existed eternally and in exactly the same way 5, 15, and 25 billion years ago. Furthermore, the hypothesis of God cannot explain why the Big Bang has any of the features it has, since, if the Big Bang had different features, God would be just as good (or bad) at explaining those other features… To cite God as the cause of the Big Bang is to explain the obscure by the more obscure, which gets us nowhere.7
One does not need an unassailable explanation for the universe to find the god explanation unconvincing.
Mr. Broocks argues for compatibility between science and faith, asserting with C.S. Lewis that it was a belief in laws of nature, from a divine law-giver, that inspired the first scientists. While this may have been what prompted some minds in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to seek out elegant formulations of scientific principles, as did Newton, Kepler, and Galileo, the concept of a law of nature is centuries older, even predating the New Testament. David Sedley, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge, writes that, “The formula ‘law of nature’ first appears as ‘a live metaphor’ favored by Latin poets Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Manilius, in time gaining a firm theoretical presence in the prose treatises of Seneca and Pliny… [to the Romans] the place par excellence where ethics, law, nature, religion and politics overlap is the law court.”8 Laws of nature come out of the sense of causality we develop from experience of the world around us. Rice quotes Einstein, who remarks on how amazing it is that the universe is comprehensible to us, yet maybe that’s the thing – we have intentionally made it comprehensible with the elaborate theoretical constructs we’ve devised, meanwhile so much more of the universe still eludes our comprehension. Let’s not marvel too rashly at our ‘genius’ in “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”.
After taking a brief break to again portray atheists as miserably angry people by citing two theistic commentaries on Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Krauss, pastor Rice finally comes to a discussion on the nature of faith. “Faith involves reasoning, remembering, and researching,” he states. “Faith is hard work.” (p. 28) Certainly one’s religious practice can involve these things, but what is faith itself? Without some sort of epistemology, we have no reliable way of telling good reasoning from bad reasoning, accurately remembering things from falsely remembering them, and reliable researching from flawed researching. Broocks refers to Lewis once more, suggesting that faith is “actually holding on to what your reason has led you to conclude despite your changing moods.” This definition of faith as an unwillingness to let emotion affect one’s informed beliefs is far too convenient and far too vague. It’s as if faith is some mysterious ghost in our mental machinery, pushing us to stick with our convictions.
Our author identifies three key ingredients to faith: knowledge, assent, and trust. Rice casts faith in the image of a contract between consenting parties. Knowledge is important in that one should know the details of what they agree to; assent is important in that one should arrive at a decision uncoerced, through reason; trust is important in that both parties should believe in each other, not blindly, but based on knowledge and evidence. I can appreciate these as good bits of advice for maintaining healthy relationships, but we are still left with a paltry understanding of what faith actually is. Obviously faith and reason are not the same on this view, however their relationship seems to be such that faith ‘extends’ reason where reason could not go alone. Notably, no justification is even attempted for this notion that properly exercised reason has some natural limit where it can’t rightly provide us with stability and confidence in our views. This actually seems like an article of faith in itself, that our reasoning abilities are ‘corrupted’ because of ‘sin’. Of course, then one is simply begging the question by using faith to justify faith.
In the next section, entitled “Unbelief is the Product of Not Thinking,” reverend Broocks lays out the narrow-minded narrative into which he squeezes all non-believers:
The Scripture explains the tendency of the human heart to gravitate toward unbelief by suppressing the evidence for God. Like a lawyer who doesn’t want any evidence to come forth in a trial that could discredit his client, the skeptic is threatened by the believer who makes a case for God based on reason… This is why there is such frustration and anger on the part of atheists when God is mentioned. All their hard work of suppressing the truth gets sabotaged. (p. 31)
It’s all too easy to claim that someone who disagrees with you is blinded by emotion, that their judgment is clouded by bias, and that that in itself is further indication of the rightness of your position. It requires no effort, no evidence, no reasoning, just a mere assertion that confirms your own view and allows you to comfortably dismiss your opponent’s position without doing any of the leg work. I would direct the very same criticism at any atheist who would try to outright dispense with religious arguments on the basis of nothing but the abuses of the church, the power of fear instilled by the doctrine of hell, or the wish-fulfillment theory of Freud. Sadly, though, Rice believes he has an especially incorrigible insight into the hearts and minds of unbelievers because he interprets a particular passage of an ancient text (Romans 1:18-19) to be a revelation from god that is relevant to atheists today, despite the fact that it is part of a letter written to a very specific group of people in first century Rome. This extraordinarily presumptuous and hasty generalization is no more than yet another article of faith.
For the remainder of chapter two, the focus shifts to a warning against “scientism,” or the belief that science is the only source of knowledge. Broocks notes that science cannot determine ethics or mathematics, emphasizing that ethics should be applied to science instead of science being an arbiter of ethics. Although I won’t take issue with these main points, one misleading statement is that the mathematical order of the universe was “discovered, not invented.” (p. 34) This is surely one way of viewing mathematics, but it is not the only way. Physicist and engineer Derek Abbott identifies four views on the nature of mathematics, three which can be categorized as suggesting that math is, in fact, invented and not discovered, and one, the Platonist view, which takes the opposite to be true.9 Mathematical Platonism is appealing to many theists precisely because it sees the order of mathematics as more than just a human construct, as a fundamental reality of the universe, but it’s frankly dishonest to portray the view as the only game in town.
“Nature would not have generated the capacity for higher reason,” argues our author. Natural selection would have only given us the basic abilities for survival, like eating, mating, and avoiding danger. “God must necessarily exist in order for atheists not to believe in Him. There is no other explanation for the capacity to reason”. The irony is that pastor Broocks offers us a pretty solid rebuttal to his own argument. If higher reasoning includes abilities such as predicting and understanding the world around us, it’s not hard to imagine how nature could have gotten us from basic survival thinking to advanced thinking. Being better able to predict the behavior of other animals would help us in avoiding danger or finding a suitable mate. Forming a more nuanced and accurate understanding of our environment would likewise help us track down food more easily, avoid dangers, and attract mates. Rice’s terse little argument that reason presupposes god shows only a lack of imagination, and maybe an unwillingness to read the scholarly literature on the subject.
“[W]hen skeptics try to assert the nonexistence of God,” concludes chapter two, “they lose touch with reality and sound reason and unwittingly head down the long, dark road to insanity.” I guess it shouldn’t be all that surprising that someone so offended and so clearly angered at being called delusional by the likes of Richard Dawkins and other atheists resorts to declaring all skeptics insane. I mean, it’s not as if Jesus instructed his followers to turn the other cheek or anything like that. In spite of the bluster oozing from every page of God’s Not Dead, we still have little else but faith statements, empty assertions, and contentious rhetoric by the end of the second chapter.
Chapter 3: Good and Evil are No Illusions
As you might guess from its title, chapter three hits on a familiar theme in Christian circles: the world is on the fast-track to hell because it’s moving further away from god. Another familiarity in it is the story of Rice’s conversation with an atheist philosophy professor who “had not done his homework” on evolution, and who brought up the problem of evil. Once again, our author portrays himself as the white knight, gallantly defending the faith in a game of stump-the-ignorant-skeptic. Broocks scoffs at the objection and presents his ‘knock down’ response: if there is no god, there is no such thing as evil. “Because there are things that are wrong, regardless of the country or context, there is a real moral law that we did not invent and from which we cannot escape. We no more invented morality than we invented numbers or even reason itself. These are things that are written on our hearts by our Creator.”10
We saw in the last section that there is disagreement over whether or not numbers have been invented, and the same is true of reason. The studies of mathematics and logic are human constructs, a fact which ought to be indisputable. However, there is a further question of to what extent, if any, these constructs describe anything outside the human mind, anything objectively real. It seems to me, and to many other atheists, that there is indeed some basis for thinking certain things in mathematics and logic are more than just our subjective opinion. The law of non-contradiction – that something cannot be both true and false at the same time, in the same way – is sometimes called self-evident because even the suggestion that it’s false makes the assumption that there is a real difference between truth and falsity. No god is required to see that this is such a strong idea that it likely describes something which isn’t exclusive to our imagination.
But then what is it describing? No one really knows. Perhaps its something fundamental to the nature of existence. As I explain in my article on The Transcendental Argument for God, it’s not that the operation of reality conforms to logic, but rather that logic conforms to the operation of reality, and we are informed by logic. The construct that we call logic is a human invention, but the operation of reality is not. If logic is not descriptive of reality, we correct and refine it accordingly.
The question of objective morality is also a question of to what extent our perceptions describe anything beyond our opinion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as obvious that there are self-evident moral truths, at least not in the same sense as the law of non-contradiction. For this reason as well as others, some atheist thinkers like Michael Ruse and the late J.L. Mackie have seen ethics as purely subjective. Yet there are plenty of atheists who think there are moral truths, such as Erik Wielenberg and Stephen Maitzen, and there are still others who think the entire objective/subjective distinction is a muddled and unhelpful mess. While I lean towards that last category, I do believe there are moral truths just as there are mathematical and logical truths, and I see no more reason to think they must be grounded in a deity than to think the law of non-contradiction must be grounded in a deity.
If there is no god, why think anything is really wrong? In his book Morality Without God? moral philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong argues that what makes something wrong is the unjustified harm that it causes. Rape and murder are not wrong because of any beliefs or desires about them, but are wrong because they cause harm for which there is no adequately compensating good. On this account, one can say, as Christian apologist William Lane Craig likes to say, that the Holocaust was wrong and still would be wrong even if the Nazis has succeeded in killing or brainwashing everyone – it was wrong because of the unprecedented harm it caused to millions.
Still one might ask why we should care about harm instead of pleasure, happiness, or some other factor. Recall pastor Broocks’ remark in chapter one about the need for stopping points. If it’s acceptable for the theist to continually interrogate the atheist on her moral position, it’s equally acceptable to interrogate the theist on his position. Why should we care about god’s commands or about doing what is consistent with god’s nature? At some point, even Professor Craig will concede that, “If someone really fails to see the objective moral truth about such matters, then he is simply morally handicapped.”11
In his paper entitled “In Defense of Non-Natural Non-Theistic Moral Realism”, ethicist Erik Wielenberg offers an explanation of why an objective morality need not be grounded in some external source to be justified:
…I have an ontological commitment shared by many theists: I am committed to the obtaining of substantive, metaphysically necessary, brute facts. Some ethical facts fall into this category; I call such facts basic ethical facts. Such facts are the foundation of (the rest of) objective morality and rest on no foundation themselves. To ask of such facts, “where do they come from?” or “on what foundation do they rest?” is misguided in much the way that, according to many theists, it is misguided to ask of God, “where does He come from?” or “on what foundation does He rest”? The answer is the same in both cases: They come from nowhere, and nothing external to themselves grounds their existence; rather, they are fundamental features of the universe that ground other truths… Such basic ethical facts are the axioms of morality and, as such, do not have an external foundation. Rather, they are the foundation of morality.12
This hardly seems a less plausible view than that of the theist. I would contend it’s even more plausible because the necessary brute facts being asserted are nothing like a supposedly all-powerful and all-good being, which has the problem of evil to grapple with. On the theistic view, there is also one value not grounded in any external foundation. If god is the good, good is not just a property of a being, but an actual being, one who has no foundation for its existence. Since the Christian who advances the moral argument already grants the possibility of a necessary value without an external foundation, it truly seems there is no room for justified objection.
For the remainder of chapter three, Rice discusses free will, his primary answer to the problem of evil. “If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad,” he says, quoting C.S. Lewis yet again. Amusingly, a mere two pages later our author states that in eternity “we will be able to exist with our free wills intact without the presence of evil.” (p. 61) It sounds as if evil is not actually necessary at all for freedom of the will, in contradiction to Lewis. As popular as the free will defense may be, it fails to account for evils not caused by human beings, such as natural disasters, it assumes there is a greater good in providing for free will than in eliminating evil, and it blurs the distinction between good and evil if every evil is for the purpose of a greater good (free will), as previously noted.
As in the preceding chapters, Mr. Broocks writes with conviction and confidence that relies heavily on assumptions of faith. The age-old problem of evil is given short responses with breathtakingly little substance, the case against non-theistic ethics is made with lots of “sound and fury” and appeals to authority, but any justification for the main point supposedly underlying the whole chapter, that theism provides the only viable explanation of moral values, is conspicuously absent. Though good and evil are certainly no illusions, Rice’s articulation of the moral argument for god is full of hand-waving and smoke and mirror tricks.
Chapter 4: There Was a Beginning
The fourth chapter of God’s Not Dead opens with a quote from Fred Hoyle: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics.” Creationists and religious believers who see design in the universe have often cited Dr. Hoyle in support of their own position, but not only was he an atheist,13 he was also a vigorous defender of panspermia (the view that life began elsewhere in the universe and was distributed to Earth by comets or asteroids) and an outspoken critic of the Big Bang theory, which seems rather ironic given the role the Big Bang will play in this chapter. Of course, in response to the above quote, we can simply remark that common sense has been shown time and again to be out of its league when it comes to the realm of science. We need more careful and critical thinking in uncovering the mysteries of the universe.
Broocks insists at several points that ‘most cosmologists’ interpret the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe. In defense of this, he quotes from two 1978 publications by astronomers P.C.W. Davies and Robert Jastrow. It’s true that there are cosmologists who do see the universe as having had a beginning, and it’s true as well that some of them love to make generalizations about the extent to which their colleagues agree with them, but this is certainly not the end of the story, and we must be extra cautious when there are conflicting claims from experts about where the consensus lies. In his 2010 book From Eternity to Here, physicist Sean Carroll makes note of this debate:
Cosmologists sometimes say that the Big Bang represents a true boundary to space and time, before which nothing existed – indeed, time itself did not exist, so the concept of “before” isn’t strictly applicable. But we don’t know enough about the ultimate laws of physics to make a statement like that with confidence. Increasingly, scientists are taking seriously the possibility that the Big Bang is not really a beginning – it’s just a phase through which the universe goes, or at least our part of the universe.14
Not to worry, though, because our author has an answer for this level-headed hesitation, too. “Many in the skeptical community would try to downplay the notion of a definite beginning because of the religious implications.” (p. 69) Why would this be any worse than preferring a naturalistic explanation for any other phenomenon that was once explained by supernatural causes? Was Robert Koch downplaying the notion of demonic possession when he did his work on bacterial infections because he didn’t like the religious implications? Just as he had reasons for suspecting a culprit other than malevolent spirits, modern physicists have reasons of their own for questioning whether the Big Bang represents a real beginning, as Professor Carroll explains. Even if one of their reasons includes the observation that supernatural explanations tend to miss deeper scientific truths, this is no basis whatsoever for dismissing their arguments offhand.
With that, Rice launches into the cosmological argument for god. I have addressed this argument already in my article on it, discussing a much more fleshed-out version than is provided here. Disappointingly, pastor Broocks supports the argument’s two premises – whatever begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist – with mere assertions. The first premise, he says, is “undoubtedly true”. The problem is that we can’t be so sure we’ve ever really experienced anything beginning to exist. We’ve seen all sorts of things form and decay, changing states and changing shapes, but the notion of something beginning to exist is as much an artifact of perception as the notion that the Big Bang is a true beginning. The second premise is tied to a quote from Dr. Craig, who I engage more fully in the article mentioned above.
The abrupt fashion in which Rice bangs out the cosmological argument and then moves on is quite interesting in light of where he goes next. The question of why there is something rather than nothing, pondered by the greatest minds for countless centuries, is given the treatment of a Jack Chick tract. The author tells the story of conducting a meeting for students at the University of New Orleans and making the statement that, “Either everything you see around you started itself, or it was started by something besides itself.” This is a bit misleading, though, as it’s not a true dichotomy, which would look more like, ‘Either everything started itself or everything did not start itself,’ not as narrow a pointer to faith as Rice wants. When a student speaks up and suggests that a third option is that we may not actually be here, the good reverend responds, “If we aren’t really here, then you wouldn’t be here, so be quiet,” a complete dodge and a remarkably insulting reaction. Broocks bemoans how people “say anything they want, regardless of the evidence or logic, and expect the idea to be given equal consideration”. Is this perhaps an angry, overly emotional response we see in the humble, rational Christian author?
Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking are the focus of the next section, particularly their ideas about a universe from nothing. At this part of the chapter, I feel Rice raises some good points about the nature of ‘nothing’ on Krauss’ view, as well as the assumption Hawking makes that the laws of nature could cause a universe to pop into being all on its own. These are definitely the most controversial claims made by their theories, but to label them “absurd”, as our author does, strikes me as bias talking more than anything else. Certainly, they are counter-intuitive and unproven, but then again so is much of cutting edge science. Rice and other apologists are quick to criticize scientific ideas in their infancy when they pose implications that don’t comport with their religious worldview. It’s not only non-believers that want their views to be true.
Broocks continues on to the subject of fine-tuning. Presenting a slew of claims and numbers allegedly too impressive to have worked themselves out by chance, mixed in with reference to Dawkins and other non-theists who have found a general intuitive appeal in the fine-tuning argument, our author concludes that there is indeed design in the universe. “These facts are often glibly dismissed by naturalists,” he speculates, “in favor of wild speculation on unproven theories devoid of experimental support. For intelligent people to dismiss such overwhelming odds proves no amount of evidence can overturn their predetermined stance that there is no God.” (p. 81) However, atheists are not the only “intelligent people” to find the fine-tuning argument unconvincing. Timothy and Lydia McGrew, who are married Christian philosophers, take issue with the argument in a paper of theirs:
[P]robabilities make sense only if the sum of the logically possible disjoint alternatives adds up to one – if there is, to put the point more colloquially, some sense that attaches to the idea that the various possibilities can be put together to make up one hundred percent of the probability space… if we carve an infinite space up into equal finite-sized regions, we have infinitely many of them; and if we try to assign them each some fixed positive probability, however small, the sum of these is infinite.15
The McGrews, who certainly have no predetermined stance against believing in god, nonetheless see the fine-tuning argument as problematic in its calculation of probabilities. In classical probability theory, probabilities can be counted and added up to 1, or 100%, yet the fine-tuning argument attempts to deal with a universe composed of infinite space in a way that casts doubt on whether it really is talking about probability in a meaningful sense at all. This would seem to reinforce the objection made since David Hume, that because this universe is the only known universe, our sample set is unreasonably small for us to be making declarations about what kind of universe is necessary for life. It requires no prejudice against theism to understand that while the fine-tuning argument may be appealing at its surface, things are not always discernible through common sense alone, and we human beings are notoriously bad judges of probability when we make intuitive judgments without putting in enough mental effort.
Chapter four finishes off with a brief word on the multiverse theory, primarily to point out that it is untestable, and a short assertion that mind precedes matter. As has already been noted, a universe is a thing we already know exists, whereas god is an altogether different type of thing, so different in nature that philosophers have been debating for centuries over whether or not a being with all those different properties could even potentially exist. Though we still struggle to explain the mind, we know of no mind capable of acting without neurons and nerve signals, and the long literature documenting the close relationship between brain trauma and consciousness makes a strong case against the likelihood of any disembodied mind. Combine all this with what we understand of our universe and its black holes, eerily similar to what science tells us the Big Bang was like, and the multiverse theory can appear quite a bit more plausible than the supposition that a “superintellect has monkeyed with physics”, even if it is untestable at this present moment.
Chapter 5: Life is No Accident
Chapter five begins with reference to Anthony Flew, the famous atheist-turned-deist that religious apologists love to name-drop in making their case for faith. Flew now believes, as do many theists, that the complexity of life speaks to an intelligence behind it all. From the very beginning, Broocks frames the issue in terms clearly biased towards design: DNA is an “instruction manual for operating any living thing”, it is “intelligent information”, a “computer program”. Such analogies may help us get our minds around how things work at a microscopic level that might otherwise seem elusive to us, but they are also misleading when we mistake this projected language for some fundamental truth about our genes. In calling DNA information, or comparing it to a computer program, we help make it more accessible to our understanding, yet this constitutes no basis for claiming that DNA requires a designer like a computer program requires a programmer.
Rice wastes no time in suggesting that skeptics simply refuse to accept design, stating matter-of-factly that “Darwin gave [the scientific community] their God substitute: natural selection.” There were certainly those at the time like Thomas Henry Huxley, nicknamed Darwin’s Bulldog, who greeted the theory of natural selection with praise partly because of its perceived elimination of a divine creator. However, the real impact of evolution throughout the religious sphere was and still is its overturning of the design argument once advanced by William Paley. As Rice observes himself, “scientists and philosophers for the most part have agreed that life was designed,” but before Darwin there was no plausible non-theistic account of this appearance of design. With The Origin of Species, a new alternative emerged that could explain the complexity and order in life without appeal to any deity.
One can imagine why this did not sit well with many clerics and believers of the time, but in the decades since many people have found room for god in a world evolved through natural selection. They see the divine hand of creation behind the process of evolution itself, rather than opposed to it. Yet there still are some theists who continue to attack the theory, as well-substantiated as it is, not so much because the science doesn’t support it, but because of their own religious convictions. Hugh Ross, quoted numerous times throughout God’s Not Dead, is an old-earth creationist who disputes evolution and favors a biblical (or at least his interpretation of what’s biblical) view of origins. Broocks follows suit in espousing the popular creationist distinction between microevolution (small-scale evolution, within species) and macroevolution (large-scale evolution, species into other species). “The former has been clearly observed,” he says, “however, the latter has no experimental or observational support.” This is patently untrue, though, as is explained in detail at the Talk Origins resource on evolution.
Frustratingly, our author makes a number of similarly loaded assertions in chapter five, few if any of them backed up by any argument. He asserts that the title of The Origin of Species “mistakenly implied that the theory of evolution offered evidence of how life arose from natural processes”. Who thought this? The title is not the origin of life, after all, and it hardly seems reasonable to hold Darwin accountable for a misunderstanding that could easily be remedied by actually reading the book. Broocks goes on to assert that even “if the mechanism that accounts for all the changes in life from one species to another were natural selection, it would have taken a supernatural Designer to have constructed such an astounding process.” (p. 97) But why assume this? Rice offers no further comment, and his apparent astonishment is not enough to justify so grandiose a conclusion. Another passing assertion is that the famous Miller-Urey experiment was “discredited because the experimental conditions did not match those of the early earth.” This is frankly ridiculous. The Miller-Urey experiment did show at least one set of conditions under which the building blocks of life can form, and when the question is ‘can life arise from non-life,’ this is very much still an answer.
Broocks quotes yet more popular creationist disinformation from Hugh Ross:
If the environment of earth at the time of life’s origin contained any oxygen, that oxygen would immediately and catastrophically shut down prebiotic chemistry. On the other hand, if earth’s environment at the time of life’s origin contained no oxygen, ultraviolet radiation from the sun would penetrate the earth’s environment to a sufficient degree as to similarly, immediately, and catastrophically shut down prebiotic chemistry. Either way, earth never could have naturalistically possessed any prebiotics.16
In an article on the Miller-Urey experiment for the Natural Center for Science Education, Alan Gishlick comments that “nearly all researchers who work on the early atmosphere hold that oxygen was essentially absent during the period in which life originated (Copley, 2001) and therefore oxygen could not have played a role in preventing chemical synthesis.”17 Gishlick cites several sources of data supporting this conclusion, as well as several studies on amino acid synthesis since Miller-Urey. The UV radiation environment of the early earth has been taken into account by researchers as well, with common solutions being oceanic protection,18 protection provided by rocks, ferrous iron, certain sediments, UV-screening compounds, and even dead organisms floated to the surface could’ve concealed a creature from ultraviolet radiation.19 Like many creationists, Dr. Ross misrepresents an area of current scientific inquiry as a formidable refutation of abiogenesis, when in fact it is no real cause for alarm.
Rice Broocks, however, is content to just repeat assertions and make arguments from ignorance until the cows come home. “The presence of design is so overwhelming that biologists decide the design they witness everywhere isn’t real.” On the contrary, what we’re talking about is indeed the appearance of design, and scientists have perhaps learned not to mistake appearances for absolute truth because appearances can be deceiving. Remember, common sense is not a reliable means for interpreting scientific data. Nevertheless, Rice waxes theological about the “stunning miracle” of reproductive life, “so impossible to imagine that it sounds like a fairy tale”, as well as the loaded question of how life “[knew] that every living thing needed a genetic code or that all the parts of the eye had to appear at once?” These thoughts show an obvious assumption of supernatural design, consisting of several other assumptions about the structure, development, and purpose of nature that few biologists would agree with.
One section in chapter five is entitled, ‘Can Evolution Explain Everything?’ This disingenuous strawman fallacy is just one of many, but it serves to illustrate how far afield pastor Broocks really is. In his rush to condemn the position of atheists, he has missed out on a lot of what atheists actually argue and accept. No atheist – not Dawkins, not Harris, not Dennett, not the late Christopher Hitchens, not pre-conversion Anthony Flew – would say that evolution explains everything. In fact, we concede as much when we distinguish between evolution and abiogenesis, as a great many creationists often fail to do. As mentioned above, though, there is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to every question. Just prior to this section Rice criticizes Dawkins’ “who designed the designer” challenge on the very same grounds: demanding an explanation for everything is simply unreasonable. Equally unreasonable is pretending that any old explanation is better than admitting our ignorance.
How does the intelligent design explanation fare? Rice trots out the irreducible complexity argument, which has been debunked by evolutionary scientists so many times it’s unfunny. The argument posits that some structures in organisms have too many parts, put together in such precise order, to have formed by natural selection. The two examples provided are the bacterial flagellum and the eye, both addressed ad infinitum in evolutionary literature. If irreducible complexity is a term “naturalists love to hate”, then Ken Miller is a name creationists love to hate. Dr. Miller is a Brown University Biologist and a Roman Catholic, meaning that he can’t be saddled with the usual nonsense about holding to a godless worldview. Ken testified in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial and has written a thorough critique of the bacterial flagellum example. Scientists also have a pretty solid working idea of how the eye evolved, despite vigorous claims to the contrary from the religiously-motivated.20
Not only does Mr. Broocks fail to address anything like these well-known rebuttals, which have been available for almost a full decade now, he attempts to bolster his statements with some rather bizarre remarks. Objecting to the possibility of a structure being co-opted from existing structures, he says that even “if all the pieces are present, randomly arranging them will not magically cause a functional [structure] to come together.” Frankly, this seems like nothing more than a manifest prejudice against evolution. As Dawkins and plenty of biologists have repeatedly explained, mutations are random, but the process of natural selection is not; it clearly favors traits that aid in survival, hence the selection part of natural selection. On the eye, Broocks makes an appeal to authority in referencing a Christian surgeon who doubts the evolution of the eye, and compares evolutionary attempts at providing a story of the eye to a Calvin and Hobbes strip. This is the kind of sharp-witted apologetics we get in God’s Not Dead, which any undergraduate Biology student will easily recognize as absurd.
The irreducible complexity argument is a fallacy known as the argument from ignorance. It takes what we don’t know and makes an assumption out of it. The fallacious reasoning of irreducible complexity is that it assumes that because we are currently not in possession of a complete explanation for the evolution of the eye, or of the bacterial flagellum, there must be no possible way these structures evolved. Rice takes on this retort, labeling it the god-of-the-gaps fallacy, meaning that the theist fills in the gaps in our scientific knowledge with the god explanation. This is indeed what is going on in an argument like that of irreducible complexity, but Broocks’ response is surprisingly weak and rather telling. He says “such language is a part of the diversionary tactics of people who are desperate to find any possible alternative to God.” Of course, this can’t be true of Dr. Miller or the countless other theistic scientists who accept evolution, but, more importantly, it dodges the issue and does nothing to vindicate irreducible complexity.
Three criteria for identifying design are given, borrowed from popular intelligent design proponent William Dembski:
2. They are highly improbable.
3. They contain specified complexity.
How is 1 to be determined without committing the argument from ignorance fallacy? We can search and search for an explanation of some phenomenon for decades and come up empty handed, because sometimes it takes a Galileo, a Newton, or an Einstein to finally hit on what the rest of us have missed all along. How can we ever know that our judgments with respect to what “could not” have been produced naturally are not premature? On 3, our author explains that specified complexity refers to “patterns that contain some sort of identifiable pattern”. The problem with this is that we human beings are well known for our abilities in pattern recognition, particularly how often things are not what they seem.21 We see shapes in the clouds, faces on the moon, and plenty of patterns that are illusory. How does number 3 account for this problem? Rice offers no insight into these major confounding issues with the criteria.
Chapter five concludes with one last ditch creationist disinformation strategy, and it’s a big one. The “lack of transitional forms” Rice describes as “so glaring” that Stephen J. Gould invented the theory of punctuated equilibrium to conceal it. The Cambrian explosion, contends Broocks, testifies against gradual evolution and in favor of design. These tired old arguments have been dealt with for years, but let’s rehash them again for those who may be newer to them. First of all, the fossil record is teeming with evidence of transitional forms.22 To claim the contrary is to either be unfamiliar with the evidence or to redefine the concept to suit a particular agenda. Second, the shortest estimation of the duration of the Cambrian explosion is 10 million years, far from the blink of an eye creationists portray it as.23 Life existed before the event, and studies have found the rate of evolution at that time to have been perfectly explicable without the need for any deus ex machina. Third, the theory of punctuated equilibrium did not arise as a reaction to a lack of fossils, but came out of Ernst Mayr’s work on allopatric speciation, as well as other lines of evidence pertaining to rates of evolution, all still quite consistent with a naturalistic perspective.
To show that life is no accident, reverend Broocks has to defy decades’ worth of scientific discoveries supporting the theory of evolution, and embrace a litany of flawed and long-debunked creationist arguments. True to form for the intelligent design camp, Rice dismisses legitimate objections to his hodgepodge of bad science and poor reasoning by tossing out accusations of ‘dogma’ and ‘naturalistic bias’, all the while pretending that theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller and Francis Collins (who is cited elsewhere in the book) either don’t exist or are simply deceived. The absence of actual discussion in this chapter is something to behold in conjunction with the arrogant and condescending tone. Clearly, Broocks is passionate about his creationism, perhaps as passionate as he is unequipped to deal substantially with the topics at hand.
Chapter 6: Life Has Meaning and Purpose
We human beings are unimaginably insignificant in the grand scheme of things, says a quote from Lawrence Krauss at the beginning of chapter six. So insignificant that we are “completely irrelevant.” In contradistinction to this, another quote is provided from C.S. Lewis: “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” According to Lewis, it is only if we have some understanding of meaning that we can know what meaninglessness is, and this shows that there must be meaning to the universe. However, this argument is like an ontological argument for meaning, and it commits the same fallacy as the ontological argument for god. From the mere fact that we can have within our minds the concept of meaning, it does not logically follow that meaning must exist outside our mind as well. We can conceive of a perfect circle, but the question of whether any truly perfect circle exists in nature is a separate and contentious question.
Rice is doubtlessly right when he says that questions of meaning and purpose “grip our minds and potentially vex our souls.” We all want our actions to make a difference, we want to know there’s more to life than a 9-5 shift, and we want to find some sense amidst what can often seem like endless chaos. It seems that we are hard-wired with these sorts of concerns. But like the perfect circle, we can’t be sure that these drives and urges we feel towards ultimate meaning and purpose say anything except that we are a species very concerned with finding its place on a stage that we still struggle madly to comprehend. Religion stands ready and waiting to hand us exactly what we’re searching for, yet before we buy their bill of goods we should ask where the evidence lies. Answers are abundant in this area, but why think any one answer is preferable to others?
First on our author’s list of reasons are the dismal and hopeless implications of atheism. Although the work for this was already begun in the introduction, it is brought out front and center here. Without any citations to justify his vague doomsday clamor, Broocks says that suicide is increasing, drug abuse is on the rise, and people are “drowning in a sea of emotional pain” because the world has turned its back on god. Anyone who has read a religious pamphlet or tract before will recognize this familiar tone of apocalyptic dismay. Describing suffering during the Holocaust, in Communist China, and quote-mining atheist thinkers like Nietzsche and Russell, Broocks presents what he labels the “despair of atheism”. One reason to think life has meaning and purpose, he seems to suggest, is that without god, life has no meaning and purpose. Even if we grant this, however, it’s a truism, not any kind of reason that can point beyond our subjective desires.
Second on the list is the appealing promise of a life lived with the Christian worldview, as interpreted by pastor Broocks. God’s desire, he announces, is for our good, not for destruction. Furthermore, god has created each and every one us for a purpose, like we find in Jeremiah 1:5. “The reason we are to have no other gods before the real God is because anything we lean on other than God will let us down.” (p. 123) Despite the comfort it may bring some people to believe that they have a real cosmic purpose with god, who will never let us down, these are just beliefs and assertions, and no evidence for them has been forthcoming aside from unreliable anecdotes and personal testimonies. The idea that only god can make a life fulfilling also packs in assumptions we never grant to other sources of meaning and purpose. Would things perhaps be different for you if instead of telling yourself in times of hardship that you’ve let god down, you opened yourself up to the possibility of being in error with other people who you felt had let you down?
In a ballsy move, Rice claims that the fact that the The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, an evangelical Christian self-help book in essence, is the “best-selling book of our time, next to the Bible,” indicates something about our human longing for purpose and meaning. The Purpose Driven Life has sold 60 million copies and counting, Rice notes, but other books published in the same decade have out-sold it, including The Da Vinci Code, ironically, and two of the Harry Potter novels.24 If we take “our time” to be the 20th century and not just the 21st, then Quotations from Chairman Mao dwarfs Rick Warren’s best-seller by several hundred million copies. Selling a lot of a particular book sure doesn’t mean the book is good or hits on some important truth.
A third item on the list, somewhat related to the first, is that life has no purpose if we are just evolved animals. Yet again, this backwards insistence that life has meaning and purpose because without x it has no meaning and purpose is practically useless in achieving the end Broocks wants to achieve. We still have no good reason for thinking life does, in fact, have meaning and purpose, let alone the kind that might require a god to explain it. In addition, we are indeed animals, but it is fallacious to leap from this statement to saying we are “just” animals and nothing more. We are animals with parents, children, siblings, and very specific cognitive abilities shared with few other animal species, like the ability to reason, to reflect, and to contemplate the future. These are all facts about who we are, and they are the kinds of facts that inform our values and sense of purpose. One is free to deny them, of course, but to do so without argument is to invalidate one’s position, and to demand an explanation for every explanation would be to invalidate it by way of hypocrisy.
Unfortunately, Broocks takes the latter tactic, in complete defiance of his own standard set in chapter one. The atheist agrees that humans are different from animals in many of the ways that Rice lays out – metacognition, aesthetic recognition, language, culture, personhood, etc. – and Rice’s response to this explanation is to demand further explanation. “The problem is evolution and atheism have no explanation for these differences.” (p. 131) In one sense, this is true – atheism is only the absence of belief in god, so it can’t explain such phenomena, nor should it have to; evolution is a theory of the diversity of life, and although we can postulate explanations for how these differences evolved, the question of why humans have these phenomena (as opposed to how we got them) is not a scientific question. However, as noted, this is also asking of naturalists what Rice claims is unreasonable to ask of theists. Simply having what appears to be a further explanation, like god, is not sufficient grounds for violating this standard, or for declaring superiority. Unless you can truly demonstrate that your explanation successfully explains some real feature of the world, you have no better standing than the naturalist or anyone else.
At the end of chapter six, our author proclaims that “these things [ultimate meaning and purpose] do exist.” Disappointingly, all three of the reasons we are given express nothing more than a preference for ultimate meaning and purpose. Broocks comes closest to an actual argument when he observes that it can be “catastrophic on the human soul” when meaning and purpose are denied, but this might just as easily indicate the need for subjective meaning and purpose as for an objective sort. Like a number of apologists, Rice fails to appropriately distinguish between subjective value and nihilism, so all discussion of purpose is couched in terms of absolute transcendent purpose, whereas any other kind is treated as basically worthless. This is simply an unfair presentation of a hotly-debated philosophical topic, clearly skewed towards faith. We are still left with no justification for why these preferences of the author should be seen as anything else.
But what about meaning and purpose in a godless world? Is it really as bleak an image as Mr. Broocks asserts? Erik Wielenberg offers some important thoughts about bringing meaning and purpose to one’s life in his short and sweet little book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe:
Engage in intrinsically good activities, activities that are worth doing for their own sake. It is part of the very nature of such activities to bring internal meaning to one’s life….Ask yourself this question: If you found yourself [stuck in a well, with drops of honey hanging from a bush nearby], would you have a preference concerning the presence or absence of honey? If the final outcome argument is correct, [if only things that last forever can have value,] it should not matter to you. But I suspect you are like me and you do have a preference for honey. As a matter of contingent fact, some humans may be unable to engage in activities that are intrinsically good: They may be like travelers trapped in the well with no honey in sight. But this is hardly an essential feature of the human condition… There is honey all around you; you have but to reach out and lick it. You do not need God to give your life internal meaning.25
As I pointed out in our discussion of chapter three, some things may be good in and of themselves, like love, intellectual activity, certain kinds of creative expression, and teaching. These are activities we typically participate in because we see them as worthwhile for their own sake, not because of any consequences they bring us. Such things, by their nature, fill our lives with meaning and purpose when we undertake them, and because they are intrinsic goods they require no external grounding. Although this is just one example, it shows that there certainly can be room for meaning in a world without god, and that meaning is as real as we should need it to be, even without the pretense of a transcendent god to give it the illusion of unquestionable truth.
Chapter 7: Jesus and the Resurrection
We have no more reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead than that a pot of fish did.
The resurrection of Jesus is where pastor Broocks has been leading up to over the preceding six chapters. Until now, his arguments have endeavored to establish the existence of a god, but only the loosest of threads have been woven to tie this god in with the Christian deity. However, if we pause for a moment to reflect on how this deity is commonly understood, as a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, and perfectly good, we may find ourselves further off the path Rice has set out for us. None of the arguments made thus far get us to this sort of being, not fine-tuning, not a spacetime beginning, not the design hypothesis, nor the purpose, meaning, and objective morality many of us seem to crave in our lives. At best, they give a vague idea of a cause of our universe, possibly a very powerful, intelligent creator that has instilled in us strong feelings about our existence here, but no effort has been made to show that this nebulous thing is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent. Not even a man being raised from the dead would accomplish this feat, so Rice really has his work cut out for him.
Naturally, our author begins with the historicity of Jesus. Three main sources are cited for a historical Jesus, in addition to brief mention of agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s support for the thesis. Invocation of Ehrman is, I feel, both unnecessary and problematic. Though I count myself a fan of Bart’s work, his book Did Jesus Exist? has been relentlessly taken apart by historian Richard Carrier,27 and, more importantly, Ehrman himself is just as likely to be wrong as is any mythicist scholar like Robert Price. Evidence ought to be preferred to appeals to authority, and because Broocks does provide some evidence, his fleeting reference to Bart is an irrelevant detail.
The three sources cited in defense of a historical Jesus are Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Thallus. My article on The Extrabiblical Evidence for Jesus is currently under revision, but I will say that I am sympathetic to the Tacitus passage, less so to Pliny, and not at all persuaded by Thallus. Tacitus’ Annals, where the reference is found, is regarded by modern historians as a generally reliable and very important source of information for the time period it records.28 The authenticity of the passages from Tacitus and Pliny is not under serious dispute, neither is their dating (115-112 CE), and both men likely would have had access to governmental records from which they could have received their information. While both sources primarily focus on the Christian sect during their time, Pliny says comparatively less about Christ as a person than does Tacitus. Thallus, on the other hand, survives only in the later commentary of a Christian author, and there is uncertainty about when Thallus might have written. The passage in question tells of a darkness, which Thallus attributes to “an eclipse of the sun,” yet the Christian historian calls the darkness during the crucifixion. We know far too little to count Thallus as a reliable source for a historical Jesus.
I find it plausible that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth on whom the gospel narratives are based. Likewise, I agree with the author in rejecting the over-blown similarities drawn between Jesus, Mithras, and other pagan deities in films like Zeitgeist and Religulous. I’ve given a small sampling of my reasons for thinking there was a historical Christ, but the discussion of the subject in God’s Not Dead is so limited that it will be unlikely to persuade even the most open-minded mythicists. Nonetheless, I cannot agree with Mr. Broocks that once the historicity of Jesus is accepted, “it becomes a rather straightforward investigation about His impact.” (p. 143) In his own day, the apostle Paul remarked on some of the varying views on what Jesus taught, a mere 20-30 years after the crucifixion. The historical identity and message of Jesus have been the focus of heated debate among scholars for well over a century. Why Rice’s optimism?
There are several statements about Jesus and his followers that virtually all scholars agree on, according to Dave Sterrett and Gary Habermas. These are:
ii. He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.
iii. Soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.
iv. Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after His interment.
v. The disciples had encounters with what they believed was the risen Jesus.
vi. Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed. They were even willing to die for their belief.
vii. The proclamation of Christ’s resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history.
viii. The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.
According to Rice, “the only plausible explanation for these facts is that Jesus actually died and rose from the dead.” (p. 152) Several of these statements seem quite inconsequential, though. Statements i-iii require no explanation at all on the view that Jesus did not rise from the dead, they are just what would be expected. Little needs to be said in the case of vii, except that other supernatural claims – like an angel appearing to Joseph Smith or the Temple of Delphi magically defending itself – also emerged after a short time, yet many of us don’t see that in itself as lending credence to them. I find statement viii to be irrelevant too, due to the fact that Acts 2 tells us the disciples did not begin proclaiming the gospel until Pentecost, seven weeks after the alleged resurrection. By such a time, it simply would have been fruitless for the Romans to exhume a body that would have decayed beyond recognition.
The remaining three statements (iv, v, and vi) need a bit more discussion. On the empty tomb, Broocks quotes John A.T. Robinson, who calls it “one of the best attested facts we have about the historical Jesus.” However, Peter Kirby has noted that the empty tomb is missing from the earliest Christian sources, the writings of Paul, he observes that there is some evidence of early alternate burial traditions of Jesus, and he contends that the fact that there is no indication of veneration of the site of Jesus’ resurrection is a strong argument against an empty tomb.29 Rice claims that no one would have fabricated the story of the women being first to the tomb, because women were not considered reliable witnesses. But there seems to be little to no evidence from antiquity showing women were so generally distrusted; in fact, the first century historian Josephus hung his entire accounts of the incidents at Gamala and Masada on the testimony of women.30 A third defense of the empty tomb Broocks offers is that the stolen body rumor only makes sense if there was an empty tomb. Yet this rumor is only found in Matthew, not in any other gospel, nor is it in Paul, and it could just as easily have originated as a response to the proclamation of an empty tomb rather than an actual empty tomb.
Regarding the disciples’ encounters with ‘the risen Christ’, our author cites 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which lists the twelve disciples, Paul, and 500 others as witnesses. Unfortunately, we have no testimonials from most of these people, not even names of any of the 500, and some of what we do have does not appear to be independent, since scholars have established that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources. “In fact, Paul reveals the earliest Christians were hallucinating on a regular basis, entering ecstatic trances, prophesying, relaying the communications of spirits, and speaking in tongues – so much, in fact, that outsiders thought they were lunatics (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14).”31 Biblical scholar Hector Avalos has pointed out that Marian apparitions, which are not believed by most evangelical Christians, have been reportedly witnessed by millions of people at a time.32
Broocks sees the transformation of the early Christians’ lives as so drastic it could not possibly have happened by natural means. I have elsewhere addressed the popular question of why the disciples would have died for a lie, but there is often exaggeration in these sorts of claims about the ‘meteoric’ rise of Christendom, particularly on the part of pastor Broocks. Jeffrey Lowder reports that even a Christian historian like Robert L. Wilken is not so convinced, observing that, “For almost a century Christianity went unnoticed by most men and women in the Roman Empire… [Non-Christians saw] the Christian community as a tiny, peculiar, antisocial, irreligious sect, drawing its adherents from the lower strata of society.”33 This certainly does not sound like the massive uprising of faith a mere three days after Jesus’ death, which seems to be what Rice envisions. Studies like those of Leon Festinger, published in his famous work, When Prophecy Fails, show that disconfirming events do not always lead to the dissolution of a cult, but can be an opportunity to reorient, even resulting in a stronger sense of devotion.
In the remaining pages of chapter seven, we shift focus from the evidence for the resurrection to the meaning of the resurrection. Rice lays out the evangelical brand of the gospel message, along with the assertion that the resurrection shows that god is not dead. But as we’ve just seen, there are numerous reasons for doubting the resurrection of Jesus, and these are not part of some bias that “miracles are impossible,” as Broocks insinuates the naturalistic worldview must hold to. There are legitimate grounds for thinking that Jesus was not raised from the dead – very similar grounds on which we would reject many other miracle claims.
Richard Carrier mentions a story told by Herodotus, an ancient historian who is known to have consulted eyewitnesses, who was an educated man, and who is still widely regarded as one of the most reliable sources of his time. Herodotus tells of how “a whole town witnessed a mass resurrection of cooked fish”.34 Should we find this believable because of who Herodotus was? Because an entire town witnessed the event? What about the fact that the witnesses were so moved by it that they took their story to others, one of whom eventually wrote it down?
The simple truth is that we have no more reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead than to believe that cooked fish did.
Chapter 8: The Witness of Scripture
Chapter eight is all about the reliability and influence of the Bible. It’s kind of odd Broocks chose to put this subject after the chapter on the resurrection, but it’s even stranger that he decided to include it at all in a book supposedly revealing the evidence for god. There’s miniscule mention of the historical accuracy and archaeological verification of some of the Bible, and this in no way shows that a god must exist anymore than the historical accuracy and archaeological verification of the city of Troy from The Iliad shows that Zeus or Athena must exist. Just what is reverend Rice on about?
The chapter begins with a Bible-praising quote from Abraham Lincoln, which was denounced as a fraud by his law partner William Herndon.35 Broocks also misconstrues the debate over non-canonical scriptures like the Gospel of Thomas, dismissing them as “imposters” written in the second century. There are reputable New Testament scholars like Stephen J. Patterson and Ron Cameron, though, who have defended dating Thomas to the first century, within the same time frame as the four gospels. In another blunder, Rice places composition of Mark “between AD 50 and AD 70,” which is much earlier than the 65-70 CE dating accorded it by most experts.36
Our author covers many details throughout this chapter, rolling them out for readers like a fact sheet. The Bible has 66 books, the Greek Old Testament used by the early church is called the Septuagint, many manuscripts of the New Testament exist, the Dead Sea Scrolls corroborate a large number of the Old Testament texts… as interesting and useful as these facts are, the end-goal is significantly fuzzier. Drawing on the case for the resurrection made in the previous chapter, Broocks explains that “because of Christ’s authority, we approach the Scriptures as true and trustworthy.” (p. 174) This is pretty puzzling, because if the scriptures are accepted as divinely-inspired on the basis of Christ, not their accuracy or verification, then the existence of god is not a conclusion reached from holy scripture, but holy scripture is the conclusion reached from presumption of god’s authority in Jesus. So chapter eight is more like a corollary of chapter seven rather than an additional argument for god’s existence.
Nevertheless, Rice does touch on the historical accuracy and archaeological verification of the Bible. While I have no trouble agreeing with his general assessment that the Bible often mentions real names and real places, or that the majority of its manuscript variances are related to spelling, grammar, and other minor issues, there are undoubtedly some historical errors in the texts. I discuss several examples in my article on The Historical Errancy of the Bible. It would simply be bad reasoning to assume that select accurate details can justify assuming that an entire collection of “sixty-six books written by forty different authors over a period of sixteen hundred years” is without any historical error. Literature on biblical archaeology, such as The Bible Unearthed and From Eden to Exile, casts doubt on many Old Testament tales as well, contrary to Rice’s claims about archaeology verifying the Bible’s historicity.
Biblical prophecies are given about a page and a half in chapter eight. Entire volumes have been written on such things, some of them even focusing on just one book of the Bible, and yet our author rattles off a few examples in short spurt. “The Old Testament authors predicted Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), ministry in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2), descent from King David (Isaiah 11:1), and triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9).” Most of these references are so vague as to be open to multiple interpretations, but some of them are clarified in other Old Testament passages. In his book Bible Prophecy, Tim Callahan notes that the rest of Micah 5 portrays the time of this ruler of Israel as a time when
…princes of Israel will rule the land of Assyria with a drawn sword, and verse 8 says that the remnant of Jacob will be like a lion among the nations. Clearly, the Messiah was to be a military leader like David, and his kingdom was to be established in the time of Assyria, the Philistines, Edom, Moab and Ammon.37
Bart Ehrman has commented on the amusing interpretation of Zechariah 9:9 by the author of Matthew, whose misreading of the passage seems to have resulted in his depiction of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt, straddling them both.38 This is especially interesting in light of Rice’s admission that the New Testament authors “often connected Old Testament scriptures, which related to events in the original author’s timeframe, to Jesus since He in even greater fashion fulfilled their meaning.” (p. 181) I don’t doubt that these authors did see Jesus as the fulfillment of Hebrew scripture, but this is very much a faith assumption, and it still leaves open the question of to what extent the gospel writers misconstrued Old Testament passages or embellished their own accounts of Jesus’ life.
Chapter eight contains a mishmash of assertions, figures, and facts strung together in a virtually incoherent manner. Although pastor Broocks concludes the chapter confident that he has shown the Bible to be “a trustworthy witness to the existence of God,” his other remarks suggest that the divine inspiration of scripture is predicated on a belief in the resurrection of Jesus, which is itself predicated on a belief in god. Which is it? If the main reason the Bible can be trusted is that god inspired it, then it’s circular to claim that the Bible constitutes evidence for god. It’s essentially saying the Bible is reliable because it’s from god and we know god exists because of the Bible. The alleged preservation and accuracy of the Bible cannot argue in support of a god anymore than the historicity of Troy argues in favor of Zeus. Thus, it is truly baffling what purpose is served by chapter eight. I might suspect it exists to defend a very precise type of Christianity, which will also be the subject of the last two chapters.
Chapter 9: The Grace Effect
Life was cheap. That’s the best way to describe the world of two thousand years ago. It was not becoming less evil but becoming insidiously and callously more indifferent to human life. Children were sacrificed in pagan rituals, women had little more value than livestock, and slavery bound at least one-quarter of Rome’s population. The world was covered in thick darkness in a spiritual sense. (p. 185)
Then along came Christianity. And this religion, founded on life-affirming teachings like ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘do unto others as you’d have done to you’, ended slavery, instituted rights for women, and abolished child sacrifice, right? Well, not exactly.
Disturbingly, the apostle Paul could still bring himself to instruct the slaves among the church at Ephesus: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5) Despite any teachings on equality, forgiveness, and mercy, slavery persisted for many centuries after Christianity overtook Rome. Likewise, Paul forbade women from speaking in churches and gave them a role subordinate to men (1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:34-35), and the predominantly Christian world persistently denied women the right to vote until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many historians see allegations of child sacrifice in the ancient world as propaganda tactics, but the Rome of two thousand years ago was likely not participating in any such rituals, as a senatorial decree against human sacrifice was enacted by Licinius Crassus in 97 BCE.39
For chapter nine, Rice has to engage in some creative revisionism to present the rise of Christendom as a monumental and purely ethical feat. Dismissing the role of Constantine in spreading Christianity through Rome, our author states that “within the first thirty years after Christ’s resurrection, the world would be turned upside down by this committed group of His faithful followers.” This misleading remark gives the impression that Christianity exploded across the empire in just three decades. However, we’ve already noted that even Christian historians like Robert L. Wilken are doubtful of this, and in 1998 Keith Hopkins published a paper in the Journal of Early Christian Studies arguing that Christians composed only 10% of the Roman population by the year 300.40 One can speculate as they please on the appeal of Christianity that might have aided its influence, but there is simply no evidence of a miraculous growth taking place in the first three centuries of the religion.
What is the argument at the heart of this chapter, though? Broocks borrows a claim from Larry Taunton about what he terms the “grace effect”. “Simply defined,” Taunton explains, “it is an observable phenomenon – that life is demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes.” (p. 190) What does authentic Christianity look like? Unfortunately, pastor Broocks offers zero discussion of this, and all Mr. Taunton offers, judging from Amazon reviews of his book, are subjective judgments, such as condemning the Orthodox (inauthentic) Christianity in the Ukraine, a country burdened under much suffering. Without a clear and distinct definition of authentic Christianity, not to mention a practical standard for what makes life “demonstrably better”, Taunton and Broocks are merely playing at sociology, pretending to document some observable phenomenon. Of course, Christians of different affiliations have been arguing for centuries over who the ‘true church’ is, and who the ‘real Christians’ are, so it’s understandable why both men are reluctant to do the hard work and actually be responsible in making their claims.
The remainder of chapter nine is a list of 10 ways in which modern lives experience the so-called grace effect. The list includes dignity, protection of children, elevation of women, abolition of slavery, education, charity, care for the sick, ethnic unity, liberty, and “strong serving the weak”. Expectedly, Rice just asserts that all of these things are missing from worldviews and societies that reject his very American conservative god. If one were to raise the objection of the child abuse scandal of the Catholic Church, for example, it would be easy enough for our author to respond, ‘But Catholicism is inauthentic Christianity; I’m talking about grace, not religion.’ This may give certain kinds of believers a little comfort in confirming their own biases, but the grace effect is a completely meaningless concept because of its absence of any measures.
Broocks lays out a number of one-sided arguments that require little effort to expose. He paints a terrifying picture of all non-Christian countries (assuming the US is Christian, though it’s not), neglecting to discuss the higher status of women in ancient Egypt, the emphasis on education in ancient Greece, the preservation and revival of Greco-Roman knowledge during the Islamic golden age, and other details that would ruin his Christian supremacist parade. Commenting on biblical slavery, Rice relies mostly on assertions again, ignoring important problematic passages like Exodus 21, Ephesians 6:5, and 1 Timothy 6:1-2. Rice refers to Taunton, who cites a hotly debated and now challenged study on charity among the religious and non-religious.41 Broocks even goes so far as to implicate a racist root in evolution when he points out that the subtitle of Darwin’s Origin of Species is By Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Actually reading the book will make it perfectly clear, though, that by “races” Darwin means species, the former being an antiquated word for the latter.
I suppose the point in chapter nine is to argue that we all have it so good in ‘Christian countries’, and the reason for this is Christianity itself, yet further grounds to believe in god. But even setting aside the vicious assumptions made about history, the so-called grace effect doesn’t have what it needs to be taken seriously as a sociological hypothesis. Taunton or Broocks would have to actually do the dirty work of reviewing a wealth of ancient sources, dealing with the scholarly literature on the reliability of those sources, separating out confounding variables such as political or economic differences, and a whole lot more. In place of this, Rice makes extensive use of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity, but the historical musings of Stark on the emergence of Christianity cannot uphold the wild and broad claims of the grace effect.
Where is the evidence that godless lives and societies are, on the whole, worse than Christian ones? The closest Broocks ever comes is citing the study on charity, yet there is plenty more available, including well-known studies by Phil Zuckerman and Gregory Paul. There is simply no excuse for such a careless treatment of a question that has empirical answers on offer. As it stands, the grace effect can’t even be compared with the placebo effect, so lacking it is in anything substantial.
Chapter 10: Living Proof
The final chapter in God’s Not Dead opens with lines from a Newsboys song of the same name: “My God’s not dead, he’s surely alive / He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion”. This perfectly captures the gist of reverend Rice’s book, built more on unsupported assertions than on anything else. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously declared the death of god, expected that many would refuse to acknowledge this death, that the reality of god’s non-existence was still “further from them than the furthest star.”42 The fact that belief in god persists and even grows in some corners of the globe is not like atheist kryptonite. There are a number of possible explanations for why religion continues to survive, and most of these do not invoke the truth of any one particular religious faith.
Nevertheless, Broocks relays several interviews he’s had with missionaries in chapter ten, peppered with typical evangelist presumptions about why people have converted:
“Hundreds of students are coming to Christ each month in South Africa. These are people who have heard the arguments both for and against God and are choosing to believe.””Each year thousands of students are turning to God because of the overwhelming evidence that Christ is indeed the truth.”
Although our author later assures us that people only leave the faith out of “apathy and indifference”, it apparently isn’t even a possibility that anyone would convert to evangelical Christianity for any reason other than a good reason. However, there are many books detailing the thought processes of former Christian ministers who lost their faith, like John Loftus’ Why I Became an Atheist, Dan Barker’s godless, and Jerry Dewitt’s Hope After Faith. The internet is also full of similar stories, so that one can judge for himself or herself on the reasons why a person walks away from evangelicalism. On the other hand, there are plenty of testimonies told by born again Christians that show far less of a concern for reason and evidence than Broocks would like us to think.
In fact, some such testimonies come from the second half of chapter ten, ironically, where Rice tells the tales of several atheists-turned-Christians. One of these individuals describes how a “deep sense of the reality of God” swept over him while sitting in class one day. Another one, a young woman at the time, talks of meeting an intriguing college boy who abstained from alcohol and sex (elsewhere implied to be problems in her own life), eventually going to a church where she found god not “by any fancy arguments”, but by some sort of transformative experience. A third individual mentions seeing a parallel between his situation, receiving a bone-marrow transplant from the only donor who was his match, and the saving blood of Jesus. Yet another comes to the conclusion that “no mind could concoct an individual with [Jesus’] personality characteristics.” The extent to which these people have accepted Christianity on rational grounds is certainly open for debate.
We human beings do indeed love a good story. Inspirational tales are nothing new and probably every religion on the planet has some of their own. Just what is it we should find so compelling about people converting to Christianity, as opposed to converting to Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Shinto, or any other religion? That this question is not addressed should send up red flags. The size of a belief system is no indication of its truth. This is the argumentum ad populum fallacy, or fallacy of appealing to the majority. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how smart some of the people are who adopt a specific belief; what really matters are the arguments and the evidence.
“The unbelieving world attempts to dismiss people’s positive testimonies as admissible evidence for the existence of God,” complains Rice, “yet they are quick to use the painful stories of others as proof God doesn’t exist.” (p. 235) Anecdotal evidence is commonly regarded as unreliable because of the dangers of non-representative samples, of faulty memory, of cognitive bias, and other problems that plague such testimonies. A distrust of this kind of evidence is not a naturalistic presupposition. Even Christian apologists are often quick to dismiss anecdotal evidence from other religions on similar grounds. Suffering is a different issue, not only because theists assert their god is perfectly good, but because measures of pain are far more robust than measures of any spiritual experience.
Like the two preceding chapters, chapter ten argues for god’s existence in a way that is both convoluted and fallacious. One could have made much the same arguments made by Rice in support of the Roman religion during the early years of Christianity. As the empire was on the rise, so were the various Roman cults, and one can imagine the stories that circulated around “the Egyptian” mentioned by Josephus, who amassed 30,000 believers, or Apollonius of Tyana, the miracle-worker who was so popular that the emperor Caracalla built a shrine to him. What was Christianity back in those times but a tiny sect of Judaism? History tells a surprising story, though, and just as we would have been misguided to side with Rome based on their numbers and anecdotes, we are equally misguided if we accept the Christian faith on those same reasons.
Like any good evangelist tract, the book concludes with an invitation to accept the gospel and a call to spread the word.
I decided to pick up God’s Not Dead after seeing the abhorrent promotional tool of a movie under the same name, which even many Christian critics have found distasteful.43 Prior to this, I was unfamiliar with pastor Broocks, though I’m no stranger to apologetics. I have read some sophisticated and intelligent defenses of the Christian faith, as well as some that have made my eyes roll so often I worried they might fall out of my head. I had no idea where on that spectrum this book would fall, at least until I began reading the introduction. This is no Mere Christianity or The Case for Christ, and it’s certainly no Coherence of Theism.
Broocks’ book takes almost every opportunity it can to attack atheists, not with logic but with rhetoric. The nine “proofs” offered for god rest on woefully flimsy foundations made of bald assertions, articles of faith, greatly contentious interpretations of evidence, and logical fallacies. Rice returns over and over to his favorite band of theists, which includes C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, and Hugh Ross, and beats over and over on his favorite band of unbelievers, which includes Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Krauss – no divergent viewpoints are really offered for either camp beyond these figures. In this sense, God’s Not Dead truly is as bad as its companion film, dealing in extreme black-and-white contrasts, taking a highly condescending tone, and backing it all up with very surface-level apologetics.
In terms of structure, the book tends to meander a lot, spanning a wide range of talking points in most chapters. I frequently found myself ready to dive into a claim or argument right about the time the author moves on to another one. Even some of the big philosophical questions of life are given short shrift. Though I enjoyed the history and textual criticism in the chapters on the resurrection and scripture, they overwhelm the rest of their respective chapters, leaving little in the way of cogent arguments. Rice also has a peculiar habit of repeating things said previously, not in summation or for recollection, but as if no one bothered to edit the book before publishing it. As this is intended to arm students and your average believer with defenses of their faith, such issues can hardly be given a pass.
God’s Not Dead will likely not be converting any informed skeptic or atheist, and it will definitely not stand up to the dissection of any competent atheist Philosophy professor in the real world. The obvious appeal of it will be to self-justify, to confirm prejudices, and to deflect some of the weaker objections to faith. I find it sad that this is the approach some resort to when discussing important questions like the existence of god, as if the notion of reasonable people agreeing to disagree is self-evidently ludicrous. At least, if nothing else, this book serves as a further example that professing Christians can be angry and arrogant in their interactions with others, too.
1. Rice Broocks, God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty (Thomas Nelson, 2013), p. xii.
2. Ibid, p. 4-5.
3. Adolf Hitler, Iron Chariots Wiki. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
4. Visit the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to find plenty of stories of bravery, sacrifice, and the on-going struggle for recognition among non-religious soldiers.
5. David A. Truncellito, Epistemology, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 5, 2014.
6. Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God (AuthorHouse, 2005), p. 71.
7. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and William Lane Craig, God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist (Oxford, 2004), p. 45.
8. David Sedley, “When Nature Got Its Laws,” Times Literary Supplement (October 12, 2012).
9. Derek Abbott, Is Mathematics Invented or Discovered?, Huffington Post (September 10, 2013). Retrieved May 5, 2014.
10. God’s Not Dead, p. 45.
11. God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, p. 21.
12. Erik Wielenberg, In Defense of Non-Natural Non-Theistic Moral Realism, Faith and Philosophy Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan 2009), p. 23-41.
13. Jane Gregory, “Fighting for space,” Fred Hoyle’s Universe (Oxford, 2005), p. 143.
14. Sean Carroll, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time (Dutton, 2010), p. 3-4.
15. Timothy McGrew, Lydia McGrew & Eric Vestrup, Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument: A Skeptical View, God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (Routledge, 2003), ed. Neil Manson, p. 200-208.
16. God’s Not Dead, p. 98.
17. Alan D. Gishlick, Icons of Evolution? The Miller-Urey Experiment, NCSE.com (2006). Retrieved May 11, 2014.
18. H. James Cleaves & Stanley L. Miller, Oceanic protection of prebiotic organic compounds from UV radiation, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. (Jun 23, 1998), 95(13): 7260–7263.
19. Charles Cockrell & Andrew R. Blaustein, Ecosystems, Evolution, and Ultraviolet Radiation (Springer, 2001), p. 8-11.
20. Trevor D. Lamb, “Evolution of the Eye,” Scientific American (July 2011).
21. Pattern recognition, RationalWiki.org (June 2012). Retrieved May 11, 2014.
22. Mark Isaak, CC200: Transitional fossils, TalkOrigins.org (2006). Retrieved May 11, 2014.
23. Steve Newton, Darwin’s Dilemma: Was the Cambrian Explosion Too Fast For Evolution?, NCSE.com (Oct. 10, 2013). Retrieved May 11, 2014.
24. Noel L. Griese, The Bible vs. Mao: A “Best Guess” of the Top 25 Bestselling Books of All Time, Publishing Perspectives (Sept. 7, 2010). Retrieved May 11, 2014.
25. Erik J. Wielenberg, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe (Cambridge, 2005), p. 31,36-37.
26. Richard Carrier, “Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable,” The Christian Delusion (Prometheus, 2010), ed. John Loftus, p. 309.
27. Richard Carrier, Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic, Freethought Blogs (April 19, 2012). Retrieved May 14, 2014.
28. Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2000), p. 39.
29. Peter Kirby, “The Case Against the Empty Tomb,” The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave (Prometheus, 2005).
30. Josephus, Jewish War 4.81, 7.399.
31. Richard Carrier, The Christian Delusion, p. 300.
32. Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus, 2007), p. 193.
33. Jeffrey Lowder, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, p. 288.
34. Richard Carrier, The Christian Delusion, p. 292.
35. John E. Remsburg, Abraham Lincoln, Six Historic Americans (1906): “I am aware of the fraud committed on Mr. Lincoln in reporting some insane remarks supposed to have been made by him, in 1864, on the presentation of a Bible to him by the colored people of Baltimore. No sane man ever uttered such folly, and no sane man will ever believe it.”
36. Peter Kirby, Gospel of Mark, Early Christian Writings (2014). Retrieved May 15, 2014.
37. Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy (Millennium Press, 1997), p. 138.
38. Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted (HarperCollins, 2009), p. 50.
39. M. Horatius Piscinus, Human sacrifice in ancient Rome, Societatis Viae Romanae. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
40. Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and its Implications,” Journal of Early Christian Studies (1998) 6 (2): 185–226.
41. Hemant Mehta, Are Religious People Really More Generous Than Atheists? A New Study Puts That Myth to Rest, Patheos (Nov. 28, 2013).
42. Nietzsche, “The Madman,” The Gay Science (1882).
43. Debbie Holloway, God’s Not Dead… but Christian Films are on Life Support, CrossWalk.com (Mar. 21, 2014). Retrieved May 19, 2014.