I thought we were in trouble. Guy P. Harrison’s introduction to his new book 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian set alarm bells a-ringing. “This book is not an attack on Christian people,” the first line says. Fair enough. But then there were all sorts of weaselly, mealy-mouthed words that seemed to shout “Retreat!” “Humble and far less threatening,” forsooth. “Clichéd and cartoonish angry atheist attack on crazy Christians,” indeed! “No interest in scoring debate points,” even so! “Proud to say I’ve walked away on friendly terms,” for fuck’s sake. Despite assurances punches would not be pulled, I was positive I was in for 324 pages of forelock-tugging, bowing and scraping deference to Christianity. This looked like it was going to be one of those kumbaya books, and I almost packed it up and sent it back to Prometheus Books with a note saying, “No. I can’t do this.”
But I read on, with much trepidation, and within about twenty pages wondered if any Christians would make it so far. Guy wasn’t kidding when he said he was pulling no punches. Despite the occasional irritating elbow thrown at “both sides” (with no evidence that our side ever did anything equivalent), this is mostly a full-on series of knockout blows. Oh, it’s all very civil. But we all know civil language doesn’t mean the content itself is gentle. I don’t know if I’d give this book to any Christian whose faith wasn’t already wavering, because I suspect they’d close it after two pages and never open it again. But it’s an excellent addition to any skeptic’s library, because it gives us 50 questions to use as wedges to insert into any cracks of faith and hammer home.
I like that he led off by asking, “does Christianity makes sense?” That’s an excellent question to explore beyond your Christian conversation partner’s first, “well, of course it does!” And the questions, simple on their surface, keep getting harder, as do the points Guy makes about each one. He presents the atheist/skeptical perspective regarding each question clearly and completely. No quibbles from this New Atheist.
By the end of the book, the common arguments most Christians make for their faith are out cold. Miracles? Dispatched. Prophecies? Punctured. Loving God? Revealed as a complete shit. Intelligent design? In tatters. Good only with God? More like good without God. Pascal’s Wager? A foolish gamble indeed. The Bible? As The Doctor once said, “Atrociously writ!” Guy says it’s not about the content or contradictions. “No, the real reason the Bible hasn’t been able to convince everyone everywhere that Jesus is the only path to heaven is that it is poorly written and structured.” That’s it. That’s the only argument we need; the rest is mere detail. If God existed, he would have been a better writer, and selected excellent editors.
Guy makes a clear and convincing case for skepticism throughout the book. One of my favorite moments is on page 107, where he says, “One unfounded belief sets us up to fall for the next one.” Absolute truth. He hits hard at verses in the Bible used to degrade and subjugate women, and he won’t let modern Christians get away with saying all that’s in the past. He hammers away at the notion that Christianity has anything to fear from science – why would it, if it’s true? By the end of the book, any Christians still unwilling to subject their faith to the rigors of modern science should be feeling thoroughly ashamed, and wondering how true their faith could possibly be if they’re unwilling to let science near it.
Geology gets its rock hammer in – you lot will love the discussion around the “Did God to drown the world?” question, wherein geologists get more than a mere mention. Guy displays a clear understanding of how the geologic record works. Allow me to quote a bit of the passage on page 239 that left me all warm and fuzzy:
Ten thousand years is an extremely thin sliver of time in geology. It’s certainly not so long ago that modern geologists would not have confirmed the flood. A global flood would have been an extraordinarily massive event in the Earth’s history with a colossal impact. It would have left behind a very clear and obvious record. Evidence for it would be everywhere, and the world’s geologists would be the first to see it.
You bet we would!
I also learned of the “Well to Hell,” which I’ve never heard of (pages 257-8). How did I miss this? It’s hilarious – and it provides some teachable moments in geology that I’ll be putting to good use soon. “Center of the Earth,” my arse. Snortle.
The “scientists are arrogant” trope is dispatched with no muss or fuss on page 252. Hard to come over all arrogant when you’re running around admitting and correcting mistakes, and saying you haven’t got all the answers, innit?
This book also contains some shocks for us atheists. As in, “There is no such thing as an atheist.” It’s true! Who are the gods we believe existed, thus killing our atheist cred? Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Ramses II, among others, all of whom were really-real historical figures deified after death. Checkmate, atheists! (This came by way of showing how crappy definitions of God are – see page 167, and chortle along.)
Upshot: I think this is a handy volume for atheists and skeptics to own. I’d encourage brave and/or questioning Christians to get it, as well. And if you want to send the die-hard believer in your life into screaming apoplexy, this might be the ideal gift. Regardless, these are excellent questions, thoughtfully answered from the skeptic’s perspective with plenty of stories and statistics to illustrate. It’s not a kind book. But it deeply respects the Christian’s intelligence, which is more than we can say for the religious leaders who feed their flocks nothing but pap. I’ll be recommending it to anyone who wants to know more about the skeptic’s perspective, or counters to common Christian tactics. And I’ll happily pull it out the next time missionaries darken my doorstep. Combined with the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, I have a feeling I might scar a few innocent young things for life.
Funny how they always seem to skip my apartment… Perhaps I should put a note on the door saying I have a Bible and a few simple questions. Heh.