While it hasn’t shown up in my recent reviews and reading, I have a long standing interest in apologetics. Specifically, I’m partial to presuppositional apologetics. One strategy within this school of apologetics (though not necessarily limited to it), is assuming the premises of the opposing argument to then tease out how it doesn’t make sense of reality. As you might gather from the title, that’s kind of what Mitch Stokes is up to in How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough. I particularly enjoyed his previous book, A Shot of Faith to The Head and even used it in an apologetics elective that I taught a few years back
Originally an engineer by training, Stokes then studied religion with Nicholas Wolterstorff and philosophy with Alvin Plantinga. To say that Stokes might know a thing or two about the connection between logic, science, and religion is a bit of an understatement. In this book, stokes has chosen to focus on the limits of sense, reason, and science when it comes to applying skepticism with rigorous consistency. He then shows where the atheistic assumptions in these fields lead when it comes to morality.
The bulk of the book splits time between the nature and limits of science and the bankruptcy of naturalistic (and often-times science based) accounts of morality. What I think Stokes ultimately succeeds in showing is that if you want to take some of the basic premises of materialism (or naturalism if you prefer) seriously, it leads straight to nihilism in the moral realm. If you value consistency, you have to swallow that pill. Atheists might value skepticism, but they need to put their money where their mouth is in matters that are most important.
Stokes writes with a very conversational style, and hopefully in a mode that would make this book gift-able to your non-Christian friend. I say that because that seems to be the intended audience, making this a bit of an anomaly in the Crossway catalog. While you could try to internalize and then regurgitate Stokes’ arguments in your next apologetic discourse, it might serve your conversation partner better if you y’all read the book together and then discussed it.
I am predisposed to agree with Stokes, so I have a hard time seeing his conclusions inescapable. In my view, the path of skepticism necessitates embracing nihilism if you want to remain intellectually honest. Stokes shows that in a way that I don’t think is terribly oft putting, and I hope that it can be used to further apologetic conversations rather than simply giving the faithful more fuel for the fire. Not that those of faith don’t need affirmation that the Christian faith is more coherent in the moral realm. Rather, this particular book seems like it might be better used in outreach even as it encourages believers that might read through it first before passing it on.
Mitch Stokes, How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough. Wheaton: Crossway, February 2016. 256 pp. Paperback, $18.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!