As a student of history, philosophy, science, and religion, Marshall helps his reader to take a step back from the current battles of the theism debates and examine which, if any, of the new atheism arguments hold up to the facts. Many of the arguments of atheists suffer from historical, geographical, and philosophical myopia. An example is the general assumption (often cited by atheists who dub themselves “brights”) that the more learned a person is the more likely he will be an atheist. Is this true? Some statistics point to this possibility in our Western culture. But having spent much of his life in the Far East, Marshall is not boxed in by the observational boundaries which confine so much of our Western thinking. Marshall’s own observations in East Asia suggest that there the exact opposite may be true. In this far more populous region of our world, belief in God rises with education (see pages 40 and 41).
Marshall devotes two chapters to discussing evolution. Evolution has inspired many skeptics, fueling their atheism. Evolution, in their view, has eliminated the need for a Creator. And the views of literalist young earth creationists (with whom Marshall takes exception) have provided atheists with easy targets. In the chapter 3, Marshall acknowledges evolution as the best framework for understanding the history of life on our planet. But he contends that evolution has hardly eliminated the intellectual viability of theism. “For some”, he writes, “evolution has shouted down the voice of God. For others, it allows them to hear that voice in a new and more subtle way” (page 59). This has certainly been my experience. In chapter 4, Marshall argues that evolution is hardly the slam-dunk many believe it to be. Marshall navigates the many “riddles” and unsolved problems with evolutionary theory. Marshall builds a satisfying case that there remains plenty of room within evolution for the handiwork of a Creator, and it seems likely that some riddles may never find naturalistic answers. Those who would level the charge of “god of the gaps” reasoning should pay special attention to Marshall’s critique of how the rules of this argument have been framed (pages 61-66).
Many of the arguments of the new atheists are based upon false assumptions about what Christians believe, and how the Bible should be read and understood. Marshall devotes the middle section of his book to a reexamination of the Bible, and the claims of Jesus, in light of these atheistic arguments. Atheists would do well to develop arguments against the views of thoughtful believers like Marshall, instead of picking off the easy targets of literalist believers, or theists of their own imaginings.
Any analysis of worldviews ought to include a look at the fruit of competing belief systems. While they cannot be used as arbiters of truth, outcomes do strongly suggest the validity of any given view. History renders a laboratory full of data for such an analysis. However, each side of the God debates is often guilty of using selective history. In the final five chapters, Marshall helps us to set the history of theism, and Christianity in particular, into broader terms. New atheists love to cite the moral and ethical failings of Christianity. Indeed, the record includes no lack of atrocities and embarrassing black spots in the history of belief. This fact lines up well with the Christian teachings on the nature of man. Christians (and so-called Christians) have not been immune to abuses of power and other human frailties. But do the Inquisition, the Crusades, the moral failings of Christian leaders, do such blemishes outweigh the remarkable career of Christian Faith? Indeed, are our modern histories of the Crusades, for example, complete and fair? Marshall asks if Christianity has been a blessing to the world, or a curse. He leads the reader on a walk through history building a strong case that, on balance, Christianity has yielded impressive fruit. The correlating question, of course, is what fruit atheism? “Can atheism make the world a better place?” he asks. Certainly, many good and moral people are atheists. Many of these strive to leave the world a better a place. Marshall’s question has more to do with the natural social consequences of an atheistic worldview. And the evidence suggests that atheism does not possess anything like the intrinsic dynamic of Christian belief to move societies in a positive direction. And that fruit which has actually arisen from materialism is dubious at best.
Heavily annotated (there are 16 pages of end notes), and yet easily read, The Truth Behind the New Atheism offers readers up-to-date apologetics, a well-reasoned answer to the brand of atheism that is attracting so much attention in our day.