Against All Gods

Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds, Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong about the New Atheism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010). $15.00, 119 pages.

Toward the end of Against All Gods, Phillip Johnson writes this: “[E]very position about the nature of life and its origin has difficulties. Therefore, the question is not whether we can find a position that has no difficulties, but rather, which set of difficulties we prefer to embrace.”

For several years now, the “New Atheists” have highlighted what they believe are the “difficulties” in theistic worldviews, especially the Christian theistic worldview. For many of them, rationality is more or less identical to the deliverances of science, and what science delivers most clearly is evolution. Since evolution explains the biological complexity of the universe without reference to God, God is an unnecessary hypothesis. Continuing belief in him, then, is an exercise of irrational faith.

Johnson and Reynolds push back against these conclusions by pointing out several difficulties within the “Darwinian worldview” itself. Among other things, they point out that faith is not irrational. Rather, it is human, a necessary component for all human intellectual endeavors. Further, the deliverances of science cannot determine once for all the nonexistence of God since those deliverances shift over time. Also, if the Darwinian worldview acts as a “universal acid” on traditional beliefs – the phrase is Daniel Dennett’s – then it acts as a universal acid on all beliefs. If there is an evolutionary explanation for belief in God, then there is also an evolutionary explanation for belief in evolution. If the evolutionary explanation invalidates the former, it invalidates the latter as well.

One needn’t agree with Johnson and Reynolds’ Christian theism, as I do, to appreciate the difficulties with atheism they raise in this small book. But surely at least one of the goals of a liberal arts education should be self-criticism: knowing what’s doubtful about one’s own position. For years, criticism of theism has been an implicit and explicit part of a liberal arts education on many college campuses. Taking the first steps toward criticism of atheism in the same way would be a sign of educational progress.


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