Early on in the 21st Century — which turns out to be a thorny era for organized religion — the “New Atheism” replaced past skeptics’ polite colloquies with fundamentalist-style attacks that demeaned believers as pretty much fools and knaves.
Some radicals even wanted to prevent parents from training children in their family’s religious faith (without imposing the same demand on atheistic families).
Religion writers will recall the so-called “Four Horsemen” of this much-publicized mini-movement in the popular press: neuroscientist Sam Harris (author of “The End of Faith,” 2004), biologist Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion,” 2006), cognitive studies scholar Daniel Dennett (“Breaking the Spell,” 2006), and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great,” 2007).
Though it hardly qualifies as the start of the New Anti-Atheism, a recent book answers that quartet with a more gracious but similarly popular style that ponders God’s existence in brass-tacks terms rather than abstruse philosophical theorems. Turns out to be a highly intriguing and readable project worth media consideration.
As the subtitle signals, the author of “Atheism on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Case for Unbelief” (InterVarsity Press) is no theologian or philosophy professor but an attorney. And not any old attorney.
W. Mark Lanier has appeared on various Best Lawyers lists for his successes as a class-action litigator in some of the biggest product liability cases of our time (click here for details), involving prescription drugs, baby powder, artificial sweeteners, metal-on-metal hip implants and more. Out of court, Lanier teaches an adult Sunday School class at Houston’s Champion Forest Baptist Church and has amassed one of the nation’s largest private libraries on religion.
Lanier offers a courtroom-style case of the sort that wins verdicts, asking his readers as jurors to consider logic, common sense and circumstantial evidence from real life. After wide reading among atheistic authors, Lanier boldly concludes, “I cannot find any real argument of substance that proves there is no God.”
The litigator interacts mostly with ivory-tower heavyweights and downgrades those best-selling Four Horsemen, said to employ “sleight of hand,” “logical fallacies” and emotion-ridden arguments. For example, they accumulate accurate history on atrocities committed by professed believers.
Flipping that argument around, Lanier contends this approach falls flat if we also remember the body counts from modern atheists and skeptics like Hitler, Mao, Stalin, the Kim dynasty or Pol Pot, who ranks #1 in genocide relative to population.
The attorney’s best material reasons that the existence of the traditional one God best explains how the cosmos is configured, the way people are, humanity’s instinct to acknowledge some higher power and the near-universal belief in moral rights and wrongs. Interestingly, he does not think the existence of beauty is a compelling argument for God.
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