Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith, Prometheus Books, New York, 2016, 384 pages.
Prometheus Books has reissued George H. Smith’s book Atheism: The Case Against God, first published in 1979. The new edition has a foreword by the atheist physicist Lawrence M. Krauss.
Smith systematically – and usefully – refutes many “proofs” of the existence of God.
He denies that Christianity is a source of moral good. He says bluntly in his concluding chapter: “The precepts of Jesus simply do not merit a serious or comprehensive refutation.” We agree. The teachings of the biblical Jesus (a fictitious character even if based to some degree on a living person) are not illuminating, interesting, or persuasive. They are not worthy of serious refutation, but in the light of their effects on the history of the human race, they require judgment. Like Smith, we judge them to be bad.
“The major precept of the biblical Jesus is … obedience and conformity. … When Jesus says “believe” he means “obey”. …
“When conformity is required, as it is in Christianity, what are the results? … The sacrifice of truth inevitably follows. One can be committed to conformity or one can be committed to truth, but not both. The pursuit of truth requires the unrestricted use of one’s mind – the moral freedom to question, to examine evidence, to consider opposing viewpoints, to criticize, to accept as true only that which can be demonstrated – regardless of whether one’s conclusions conform to a particular creed. …
“The fundamental teaching of Jesus – the demand for conformity – thus gives rise to a fundamental and destructive teaching of Christianity: that some beliefs lie beyond the scope of criticism and that to question them is sinful, or morally wrong. By placing a moral restriction on what one is permitted to believe, Christianity declares itself an enemy of truth and of the faculty by which man arrives at truth – reason.
“Whatever minor points may be offered in defense of Christianity, they cannot compensate for the monstrous doctrine that one is morally obliged to accept as true religious beliefs that cannot be comprehended or demonstrated. It must be remembered that this teaching is not incidental to Christianity: it lies at the heart of Jesus’ mission, and it has played a significant role throughout Christianity’s history. It was this belief that “justified” the slaughter of dissenters and heretics in the name of morality, and its philosophical consequences may be described as the inversion – or more precisely, the perversion – of morality.”
Smith writes clearly and vividly. For atheists, his book is a pleasure to read. For a religious reader, if any will attempt it, it could be an ordeal – or an enlightenment.
Jillian Becker July 13, 2016