How to Be an Atheist (Foreword by J. P. Moreland): Why Many Skeptics Aren't Skeptical Enough - eBook
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Publication Date: 2016
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Finding TruthAge: 45-54Gender: Male5 Stars Out Of 5I Read How To Be an Atheist, and Now I Believe In Moral SubjectivismMay 22, 2016Finding TruthAge: 45-54Gender: MaleQuality: 0Value: 0Meets Expectations: 0
Mitch Stokes is a Senior Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame under the direction of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen. At Yale, he earned an M.A. in religion under the direction of Nicholas Wolterstorff. In fact, being trained by Plantinga, van Inwagen and Wolterstorff mad J.P. Moreland positively gush at Stokes credentials. That is high praise indeed. Stokes is the author of A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, and the current book under review, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Arent Skeptical Enough.
Many militant atheists pride themselves on their reliance on reason and science to tell them the truth about the world. They are especially confident of their views of science and what it can tell us about morality. Stokes argues that if they were to put their skepticism where their mouths are, they would be a little more hesitant to assert that science has proven that naturalism is true (and therefore theism false) and that morality is real.
How to Be an Atheist is a short book of just over 200 pages, broken into three parts. In part one Stokes shows the problem of relying on reason and science as articulated by one of the heroes of the Enlightenment, David Hume. In part two, science is examined to see the limits of what it can tell us, especially with respect to what is unobservable. This section includes a helpful explanation of how theories, which are neither easily dismissed claims nor iron-clad laws, are inferences that try to make sense of what has been observed. (Stokes also holds advanced degrees in engineering, so there is no anti-science bias here.) Also noted is the fact that many of the areas of physics most often cited as evidence for naturalism are instrumental rather than realistic, which is to say, the theories involving quantum mechanics and such are models used to make sense of what can be observed, but do not even claim to accurately describe what cannot be observed. In the third section, Stokes argues that if naturalism is true, then morality, actual good, bad, right and wrong, does not exist. They are merely expressions of human likes and dislikes.
It is this third section that prompted the title of this review. Stokes argues that all values are personal. The thing that makes something good (in a moral sense) is a value holder. Likewise, a duty or obligation is only held between persons. Many atheists would affirm this. However, this is not to say that morality is ultimately grounded in human persons. After all, if all morality is mere human preference, which human? Why this one and not that one? Why yours and not mine? It is not hard to see why this can lead right back to a kind of moral anarchy. As Stokes notes, Christianity has held to what is called Divine Command theory of ethics which is the idea that which is good, and that which we are obliged to do and prohibited from doing, is good, obligatory, or prohibited because God has commanded it. He further notes that the common Euthyphro objection is resolved when we understand that God commands what he does because his nature is good.
All this is not to say that morality is relative. Moral standards are person centered (or on Stokes view, Person centered.) Whatever the standard, whether a behavior measures up is an objective reality. However, it is not the behaviors themselves that are intrinsically good or bad, but these values are derived from the Value Holder, God himself.
Stokes book is highly accessible, well reasoned, and fun to read. Stokes has a flare for mixing humor into a technical subject. He is generous in his treatment of those with whom he disagrees, and sets quite the example in this. I highly recommend this book.
contemplativereflections4 Stars Out Of 5Book Review: How to Be an AtheistApril 28, 2016contemplativereflectionsQuality: 0Value: 0Meets Expectations: 0In "How to Be an Atheist," Mitch Stokes dissects the scientific and moral arguments of those who embrace naturalism and evolutionary theory. The book is divided into two parts with the first half investigating the scientific evidence and the latter half covering the assertions on morality. The thesis of the book is that naturalists employ a high level of scrutiny and skepticism to those with a religious worldview but do not measure their own claims by the same stringent standards. In other words, because naturalists believe that they have scientific evidence and logic on their side, they find their own perspective to be much more reasonable and common sense than those of creationists. In the first part, Stokes raises many examples showing that despite major advances in technology and science, humans still know very little about our universe and its origins. Although naturalists often use complex theories in disciplines such as quantum physics to explain what goes on in the world, the author states that even the most cutting-edge theories, such as M-theory and string theory, fall short in providing explanations to every phenomenon and occurrence we observe. In the second part, Stokes explains how most naturalists appeal to a form of moral nihilism or moral subjectivism when trying to make sense of how morals and values operate in our world. However, the author warns that when we view morality as a matter of taste or preference, we are treading on dangerous ground as it opens up many undesirable possibilities. Conversely, Stokes asserts that the morals we uphold in society are not based on individual tastes but on the objective morality that can be found in God and His nature. The book is not an outright defence for Christianity but an appeal to naturalists to take a closer look at the substantial deficiencies of their worldview in the areas of science and morality.
I would readily recommend this book to both Christians and non-believers. The contents may be hard to digest at times for those unfamiliar with philosophy and physics but Stokes is diligent in making the material readable by providing simple illustrations and helpful explanations. I appreciate the author's plea for readers to seriously re-examine science and its claims as we are often prone to simply accept what we are taught in school or media without utilizing proper skepticism and digging deeper into the evidence. Ironically, as more discoveries are being made through modern science, we find that we actually know much less than we thought we knew about the universe. Stokes argues that the faith required for naturalists to believe in science is equal to, if not much greater than, that required of those who believe in God. For Christians who may feel inadequate when discussing scientific or moralistic arguments with non-believers, this book serves as a suitable tool to help believers engage in these conversations. For those who put their faith in naturalism, the contents of this book may provide the motivation to seriously reconsider the assertions that naturalism and evolutionary theory make.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a free review copy of this book from Crossway.
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