I was given this book by a relative so I decided to give it a read. It is a small book, very small book, so it didn’t take long to get through. However, it is dense with fallacies and half-truths along with a vehement anger toward Sam Harris while attempting to take the high road, which the book never achieves.
Ravi Zacharias is a supposed atheist turned Biblical apologist after spending his younger years in India finding absurdities in Hindu gods, and life in general, leading to his suicide attempt. However, he is handed a Bible in his weakest moment in life and quickly clings to this “hope”, although not with any sound reasoning. Those attempts would come later.
This book is in response to the Sam Harris book The End of Faith, but Ravi throws in a little bit from Harris’ other book Letters to A Christian Nation. The references are so random, I often don’t know which book he is responding to. It doesn’t make much difference, as Ravi is firing shots like a blind man in a dark alley, hoping to land a hit somewhere. Ravi’s anger toward Harris is so intense, his arguments are not well organized and he veers off into random thoughts and heavily mined quotes trying to add some level of weight to his arguments. The irony here is that Ravi is so frustrated by Harris that he exhibits the same level of childish name calling that he seems to loathe Harris for – at one point flat out comparing Harris’ thinking to that of someone running a Nazi concentration camp. The high road is nowhere to be found.
I am going to try and dig through the arguments that Ravi is attempting to make, as I think they can be discovered through all the mudslinging.
Ravi claims that “atheist philosophy” leads to moral bankruptcy and meaningless lives ending in suicide for all! So, clearly Ravi doesn’t hang out with many atheists and certainly uses a lot of selective observation to make these wild accusations. First, there is no such thing as an atheist philosophy. I think this is the point that the religious can’t seem to grasp. I don’t read Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens the same way Ravi reads Matthew, Mark and Luke. I don’t think these are messages from some supreme moral being that I must follow or else taste the flames of atheist Hell. Harris can present concepts that I can either accept or reject based on my own reasoning and willingness to agree based on arguments and evidence. No mind control needed, I am completely free to think as I wish. What a concept! Second, the logical conclusion to atheism is not emptiness and suicide. Ravi is able to find a few hopeless and depressed characters like Voltaire and Nietzsche, but these are individuals with their own issues. Again, atheism is a lack of belief and does not take any steps toward ideology. You can be an atheist and a humanist, or a sadist or a Communist – all of which are not mutually exclusive.
Ravi calls upon the evils of science to make his point about nothingness, as if you accept naturalism and materialism, you must realize that there is no ultimate meaning in life. We are all just molecules in motion. Ravi doesn’t like that idea, so he calls upon a god concept to save him from the hopelessness. Whew, that was close. Ravi whips out the standard God of the gaps arguments while talking about cosmology and biology. Of course Ravi has not studied any of this in great detail and has no real understanding of it. As he says on page 38 “After years in the academy I have learned a trade secret: If you know enough about a subject, you can confuse anybody by a selective use of the facts.” This was an attempt to burn the atheist position, but Ravi might need some bandages.
This was not the only time Ravi tried to make a point about atheists but only managed to reveal his own hypocrisy. On page 39 he demands that meaninglessness does not come from pain but an overload of pleasure. Isn’t that what the Christian idea of Heaven is described as? There is no pain in Heaven so existence there will be meaningless? Whoops. He calls atheism a “false comfort” while not realizing that his religion offers only the same thing. He accuses Sam of appealing to your emotions, yet starts his own book with a fake story where a newly proclaimed atheist causes his mother to kill herself (all due to reading Harris’ book). It’s not even a real story! Ravi proclaims that God’s perfect design allows us to experience pain so we will understand pleasure, except of course for the little girl who has a rare disease which keeps her from feeling pain. Did God not design her too? Whoops again.
Ravi also has a habit of finding examples that are not well researched, but part of the apologist bubble where urban legends run wild. He cites the story of Stalin shaking his fist at the heavens before dying as proof he was just an angry atheist who knew God was real. Yeah, but that likely never happened. He also claims that Peter Singer believes that a pig is of more value than a child. This is a half truth, as Singer states this opinion dependent upon when consciousness begins. This is Singer’s personal opinion but Ravi likes to pretend this is more evil atheistic philosophy. He also talks about a pharmaceutical that is being tested that will allow the user to live free of guilt. Again, no citation or name of the drug and no hits on Google. Another example of an urban legends which Ravi swallows up to make his case against moral relativism.
The ideas in the book are nothing new, these moral arguments have been around for centuries. Ravi has a quick fix for these philosophical conundrums, just add some God. Don’t know where the universe came from? Just add God. Don’t know where love comes from. You guessed it, God again! See how easy this is! You atheists are way over thinking this stuff. Atheists are fine with not knowing everything, we don’t need the easy answers, we would much rather know the truth.
The sad part is that this is really just another smear campaign against atheists (something Ravi accuses Harris of quite often, but still can’t see the hypocrisy). No Christian book is complete without comparisons to Hitler and sex traders and everything wrong with the world – all due to these morally bankrupt atheists. After seeing the God’s Not Dead movie which echoed a lot of these themes and gave grumpy faces to those mean, evil and “angry with the God they know exists” atheists, it is no wonder we are the most distrusted group (just behind rapists). How can we (as 10% of the population) compete against an army of Christian leaders telling their sheep these lies about us?
I have an atheist community. A small part of the population willing to wear that badge, even if they are looked down on and judged and even if they are not the caricature depicted in these movies and books. These people are not morally bankrupt, they do not live empty and meaningless lives. These are people who go on nature hikes, have picnics, sort food for the hungry, give blood and just genuinely enjoy life. Are these the people on the brink of suicide that Ravi is talking about? I don’t think he gets out into the world much.
One last thing that was very telling for me was the story of Ravi’s minister-turned-atheist tutor at Cambridge. Ravi asked why he (as an atheist) would study at a school of divinity. The man replied “There are big bucks in the God racket”. So when you publish a book the size of a long blog post and charge $14.95, nobody knows that better than Ravi.