While searching online for a book as part of my research for my own book, I stumbled across another one with the provocative title How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough by someone named Mitch Stokes whom I had not heard of before. But what struck me was that a book that, at least from its title, purported to be advocating atheism advertised a foreword by J. P. Moreland, someone whom I had heard about.
I knew that Moreland was a theologian and a strong proponent of intelligent design. In fact, I had met him at a conference organized by the intelligent design people when I was invited to be on a panel that was to debate ID advocates like Michael Behe and Jonathan Wells, and Moreland was part of their ID team. This was in the days when the ID people thought that their view could win in debates. So I was surprised as to why Moreland was providing a foreword to a book promoting atheism.
But I soon learned why by reading Moreland’s foreword and Stokes’ introduction. It turns out that Stokes, far from being an atheist, is actually pretty religious. Moreland excitedly informs us that Stokes “has a BS and MS in mechanical engineering (with five patents!), so he understands science well”, which right away tells you something about Moreland’s ability to judge expertise in science. Stokes then went on to get an MA in religion and another MA and PhD in philosophy where one of his dissertation supervisors was theologian Alvin Plantinga, a strong proponent of the ontological argument for his god’s existence. This argument tries to prove god’s existence using pure reason alone. Here it is:
The first, and best-known, ontological argument was proposed by St. Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th. century C.E. In his Proslogion, St. Anselm claims to derive the existence of God from the concept of a being than which no greater can be conceived. St. Anselm reasoned that, if such a being fails to exist, then a greater being—namely, a being than which no greater can be conceived, and which exists—can be conceived. But this would be absurd: nothing can be greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived. So a being than which no greater can be conceived—i.e., God—exists. [emphasis in original-MS]
I kid you not. That is the basic argument though through the ages various people such as Plantinga have added bells and whistles to it. As I have said many times before and argue (shameless plug coming up!) in my forthcoming book The Great Paradox of Science, the existence of any entity is an empirical question and such questions cannot be answered using pure reasoning without any supporting data. Just because you can conceive of something or because something is possible to exist cannot lead to any firm empirical conclusions as to its existence.
What this book is apparently arguing is that if atheists turn the skeptical attitude on atheism and stop taking science so seriously but instead take it seriously “for the right reasons”, we will become convinced of the truth of god’s existence. Stokes’ main argument seems to be that old chestnut that if there is no god, then there can be no objective moral standards. But since there are objective moral standards, there must be a god. QED. As Stokes says in his preface:
I’ll argue that if naturalism is true, then there are no [objective moral] standards. Most atheists, however, will be loath to agree. Their reluctance is understandable; but if they’re serious about their skepticism – about following reason where’er it leadeth – they’ll reluctantly agree.
Or at least I would if I were an atheist.
In other words, a religious believer has written a book giving advice to atheists that if one is a true atheist, one cannot help but become a religious believer. Got that? If so, you are far ahead of me. The only people who might persuaded by this line of reasoning are those who find the ontological argument convincing.