Book Review: A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists

Myers’ book (if you believe the Amazon reviews), “bridges the gap” between Christianity (which he doesn’t define outside of some very broad strokes, but he seems to be some flavor of Protestant) and the “new atheism” of Dawkins and Dennett who have been quite vocal in their opposition to religion in general and Christianity in particular.  They’ve been throwing around words like “evil,” “worst,” “ridiculous,” and “injustice” in reference for a few years now, ever since Dawkins started garnering more mainstream attention after speaking at TED.
Apparently this is shocking to some people.  I’m not sure why, Jesus Himself said that would happen (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, Luke 6:22, Luke 21:17).  But enough people got their feelings hurt that Myers wrote a book full of reasons why everyone should play nice.
Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m all for civility, kindness, gentleness, truth in love, and self-control when it comes to debating issues, even so-called hot-button issues (which quite frankly, need it the most).  But on matters of irreconcilable differences, let’s call a spade a spade and explore those differences, rather than attempting to reach an unsatisfactory compromise.
Myers’ basic premise seems to be that an “enlightened atheist” and a “progressive theist” are ultimately after the same goal, which is broadly defined as that being what serves the widest social good: liberty, equality, a chicken in every pot, etc.  However, the unspoken assumption (and I must stress it is an assumption, as he doesn’t make the argument explicitly, merely uses the results of the argument liberally), is that the justification for that end is irrelevant compared to the end itself.
And that boggles my mind, both from a theological standpoint, and a philosophical standpoint.
In reverse order, the idea that one can argue from a flawed premise, arrive at a correct conclusion, and be on solid epistemological ground nonetheless is simply philosophically unacceptable.  That is not the way it works.  If your premise is flawed and your conclusion is correct, you are either in error, or have stumbled upon an exception rather than a rule.  It’s fruit of the poisoned tree either way.  For a far more eloquent explanation of this, please see the sidebar by Dr. Bahnsen.
Theologically speaking, we don’t need to go any further than the most frightening passage in the Bible to refute this: Matthew 7:21-23.  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
Plainly, it not a matter purely of WHAT you do, but WHO you know.  When you stand before the Lord in judgment, there is no answer you can give in reference to your works that will save you.  There is only a name.
Myers book is filled with many humorous, interesting, and thought-provoking passages, and for that may be well-worth the evening it would take to read it.  But it seems to miss the obvious and most-critical point that the unbelieving world won’t be saved by some sort of “new ecumenism” whereby both believers and unbelievers join together to combat the ills of society.  We’re called to be in the world but not of the world.  The point is not to agree with the WHAT and ignore the WHY in the name of harmony and warm fuzzy feelings.
As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
I have a few other issues with the book.  Myers holds to some interpretations of scripture that are far more liberal and socially-oriented than what I believe, but mostly to his credit, (with a couple glaring exceptions), he differentiates his opinions from his dogma openly and candidly.  I am far more concerned with a justification for the tenants of Christianity that manages to somehow avoid basing itself on the Word of God.
Because to my mind, that is ultimately the difference between an absolute justification and a mere excuse.
Autonomy Is No Ladder to Christ’s Supreme Authority
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen
The Christian’s final standard, the inspired word of God, teaches us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). If the apologist treats the starting point of knowledge as something other than reverence for God, then unconditional submission to the unsurpassed greatness of God’s wisdom at the end of his argumentation does not really make sense. There would always be something greater than God’s wisdom – namely, the supposed wisdom of one’s own chosen, intellectual starting point. The word of God would necessarily (logically, if not personally) remain subordinate to that autonomous, final standard.
Ludwig Wittgenstein confessed that a devastating incongruity lay at the heart of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. If he was correct in his eventual conclusion, then the premises used to reach that conclusion were actually meaningless: “anyone who understands me eventually recognizes [my propositions] as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up by it)” (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961 [1921], section 6.54, p. 151).
In similar fashion, Evangelicals sometimes utilize an autonomous apologetic method which does not assume the authority of Christ, treating it like a ladder to climb up to acceptance of Christ’s claims, only then to “throw the ladder away” since Christ is now seen as having an ultimate authority which conflicts with that autonomous method. Their method is used to reach a conclusion which is incompatible with what their method assumed – the self-sufficient authority of man’s reasoning.
Penpoint I:1 (October, 1990) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

Book by David Myers

Review by Stephen Rodgers

Myers’ book (if you believe the Amazon reviews), “bridges the gap” between Christianity (which he doesn’t define outside of some very broad strokes, but he seems to be some flavor of Protestant) and the “new atheism” of Dawkins and Dennett who have been quite vocal in their opposition to religion in general and Christianity in particular.  They’ve been throwing around words like “evil,” “worst,” “ridiculous,” and “injustice” in reference for a few years now, ever since Dawkins started garnering more mainstream attention after speaking at TED.

Apparently this is shocking to some people.  I’m not sure why, Jesus Himself said that would happen (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, Luke 6:22, Luke 21:17).  But enough people got their feelings hurt that Myers wrote a book full of reasons why everyone should play nice.

Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m all for civility, kindness, gentleness, truth in love, and self-control when it comes to debating issues, even so-called hot-button issues (which quite frankly, need it the most).  But on matters of irreconcilable differences, let’s call a spade a spade and explore those differences, rather than attempting to reach an unsatisfactory compromise.

Myers’ basic premise seems to be that an “enlightened atheist” and a “progressive theist” are ultimately after the same goal, which is broadly defined as that being what serves the widest social good: liberty, equality, a chicken in every pot, etc.  However, the unspoken assumption (and I must stress it is an assumption, as he doesn’t make the argument explicitly, merely uses the results of the argument liberally), is that the justification for that end is irrelevant compared to the end itself.

And that boggles my mind, both from a theological standpoint, and a philosophical standpoint.

In reverse order, the idea that one can argue from a flawed premise, arrive at a correct conclusion, and be on solid epistemological ground nonetheless is simply philosophically unacceptable.  That is not the way it works.  If your premise is flawed and your conclusion is correct, you are either in error, or have stumbled upon an exception rather than a rule.  It’s fruit of the poisoned tree either way.  For a far more eloquent explanation of this, please see the sidebar by Dr. Bahnsen.

Theologically speaking, we don’t need to go any further than the most frightening passage in the Bible to refute this: Matthew 7:21-23.  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Plainly, it not a matter purely of WHAT you do, but WHO you know.  When you stand before the Lord in judgment, there is no answer you can give in reference to your works that will save you.  There is only a name.

Myers book is filled with many humorous, interesting, and thought-provoking passages, and for that may be well-worth the evening it would take to read it.  But it seems to miss the obvious and most-critical point that the unbelieving world won’t be saved by some sort of “new ecumenism” whereby both believers and unbelievers join together to combat the ills of society.  We’re called to be in the world but not of the world.  The point is not to agree with the WHAT and ignore the WHY in the name of harmony and warm fuzzy feelings.

As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

I have a few other issues with the book.  Myers holds to some interpretations of scripture that are far more liberal and socially-oriented than what I believe, but mostly to his credit, (with a couple glaring exceptions), he differentiates his opinions from his dogma openly and candidly.  I am far more concerned with a justification for the tenants of Christianity that manages to somehow avoid basing itself on the Word of God.

Because to my mind, that is ultimately the difference between an absolute justification and a mere excuse.


Editor’s Note: The article below is included to provide a contrast, and represent a more Biblically-based approach to reason and the Christian worldview.


Autonomy Is No Ladder to Christ’s Supreme Authority

By Dr. Greg Bahnsen

The Christian’s final standard, the inspired word of God, teaches us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). If the apologist treats the starting point of knowledge as something other than reverence for God, then unconditional submission to the unsurpassed greatness of God’s wisdom at the end of his argumentation does not really make sense. There would always be something greater than God’s wisdom – namely, the supposed wisdom of one’s own chosen, intellectual starting point. The word of God would necessarily (logically, if not personally) remain subordinate to that autonomous, final standard.

Ludwig Wittgenstein confessed that a devastating incongruity lay at the heart of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. If he was correct in his eventual conclusion, then the premises used to reach that conclusion were actually meaningless: “anyone who understands me eventually recognizes [my propositions] as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up by it)” (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961 [1921], section 6.54, p. 151).

In similar fashion, Evangelicals sometimes utilize an autonomous apologetic method which does not assume the authority of Christ, treating it like a ladder to climb up to acceptance of Christ’s claims, only then to “throw the ladder away” since Christ is now seen as having an ultimate authority which conflicts with that autonomous method. Their method is used to reach a conclusion which is incompatible with what their method assumed – the self-sufficient authority of man’s reasoning.

Penpoint I:1 (October, 1990) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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