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347 of 388 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Primer In Religious Apologetics, September 23, 2003
This review is from: Atheism: The Case Against God (The Skeptic's Bookshelf) (Paperback)
Though I consider myself a Christian, I do not support the Christian apologetic stance that our faith can be verified through reason, and George Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God" gives ample reasons as to why. Faith should be, as Soren Kierkegaard envisioned it, a purely irrational leap.
The restriction on the length of my review of this book (imposed by
Amazon.com at a 1,000 words) does not allow me to delineate all the positive particulars this book has to offer. Regrettably, I can only emphasize what aspects of this book distinguish it from other works of a similar nature.
One of the most attractive features that I found in Smith's book was his ability to convey complex philosophical dilemmas, that are germane to the realm of theism, without falling into the common practice - which most professional philosophers constantly do - of inundating his arguments with esoteric jargon. Any laymen can peruse through Smith's work without having to open a philosophical dictionary every five minutes. While Smith does put forth his charges against religious belief in a manner that is fairly easy to grasp, he does not sacrifice substantive content, therefore an individual who is more seasoned in the subject of philosophy and theology will not find "Atheism: The Case Against God" lacking by any means. This ability to reach both the philosophical hobbyist and the academician speaks much of Smith's talent as a writer as it does of him as a philosopher.
Outside this book's easily discernable assertions, another noteworthy characteristic of Smith's piece is its originality. In reading other works relating to non-theistic argumentation, I began to see the same routine of arguing for atheism, which consisted of providing a summation of a particular theistic argument, and then find certain fallacies or misrepresentations that the argument may have. Whether the argument happened to be cosmological, teleological, ontological, or moralistic the same technique was employed to engage all of them. Though this is a very effective means of addressing an argument, it is one that has been used ad nauseam. So for an individual who has been exposed to a great deal of such kinds of work, it is refreshing to see this more innovative approach to the whole theistic/atheistic controversy.
If one had to describe Smith's approach in one word that word would have to be "fundamental". As stated earlier, other philosophical works that address the theistic position get bogged down in the various details of theistic argumentation, without striking at the root or presupposition that such arguments are built on. Smith's technique on the other hand address what is at the heart of these arguments.
What is at the root of most theistic arguments for the belief in a
God? According to Smith this is not the proper question to ask. The proper question to ask is what is presupposition of any argument period. The answer to this question is the ability to decipher truth from falsehood.
Yet verification, as Smith so deftly explains to his audience, rests on the use of certain standards, which gauge the reality of any given proposition. Since we exist within a universe our standards must be derived from our perception of the universe. Given this idea, if anything is posited, which exists outside the universe (i.e. God or any form of supernatural entity), the argument is futile. In fact, as Mr. Smith rightly claims, it is not an argument at all. The universe, in the words of Ayn Rand are the "causal primary". One cannot talk about causation (i.e. cosmological arguments), design (i.e. teleological arguments), or moralistic arguments unless one is speaking within a proper context, which in this case is the universe itself. To do otherwise is to regress into a state of incoherence. For example, it is ultimately absurd to talk about a cause to the universe, if we derive the concept of cause from our observation of the universe. To talk about a concept, such as causal relationships, outside the context from which the concept was realized (i.e. the universe) is to divorce it from its context. Thus the theist has rendered his argument ineffective. To paraphrase Mr. Smith "to talk about a cause to the universe is like talking about a bird's flight with no atmosphere." In one crushing argumentative blow after another, with the physical universe as a necessary axiom, Mr. Smith annihilates most of traditional theistic rhetoric, without even delving into the individual fallacies, which are inherent in all of them. Only two words are necessary to describe his approach - "SHEER BRILLIANCE!!!" The theist is left with very few options. He either can retract all his assertions and admit that there is no rational basis for the belief in God or he can attack the very foundation of reason (the physical universe) - thus precluding his right to employ argument. Either way, George Smith backs the Christian apologist and proponents of the supernatural into such a tight corner, that it is virtually impossible for them to escape
A theist, who has read other critiques on theism and agrees with them, may believe that he has some recourse in faith. However Mr. Smith has addressed this issue and shown it as an invalid method for attaining the truth. Clearly Mr. Smith in his book "Atheism: The Case Against God" leaves theists with no options. He has shown theism, and especially the Christian manifestation of it, for what it truly is - a worldview rife with misology. Mr. Smith undermines the old Christian adage that all truth can be found if one believes in God, and instead edifies David's Brooks position that "to explain the unknown by the known is logical procedure, but to explain the known by the unknown is a form of theological lunacy." This book is a must read for anyone pondering the claims of theism seriously.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 28, 2006 11:40:08 PM PST
This is one of the greatest reviews I have ever read. Clear. Complete. Unbiased.

Brilliant.

Posted on Apr 7, 2007 2:44:19 PM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Apr 17, 2007 4:23:00 PM PDT
Fly By Light says:
What book responds in the most cogent and air-tight way to the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moralistic arguments for the existence of God? Feel free to skip the moralistic argument - the main premise behind that argument (e.g., "Every law has a lawmaker") takes way too much for granted.

Posted on Jul 21, 2007 8:29:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 21, 2007 8:31:19 AM PDT
An excellent review! Thank you for sharing it. As to the comments below,...

"What is at the root of most theistic arguments for the belief in a God? According to Smith this is not the proper question to ask. The proper question to ask is what is presupposition of any argument period. The answer to this question is the ability to decipher truth from falsehood."

This is a central point that many miss in any sort of argument. I have long said that it is perfectly possible to be completely logical and yet thoroughly wrong. The question to be answered is, "What is/are the presupposition(s) behind any argument?" If the presupposition is absurd, the conclusion will be absurd, even though the path to the conclusion can, in spite of this absurdity, be absolutely logical.

Any good novel demonstrates this point. The best are all (have to be!) internally consistent. That is, everything in a novel must follow logically from the book's premise. It doesn't matter if the book's premise is absurd, though, since in such a case it's clearly a work of fiction. The Harry Potter books provide an excellent case in point. They show what a world would be like if that world was a magical one and followed the rules of magic which Rowling posits.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 29, 2007 2:43:08 PM PDT
Rather than attacking the reviewer, maybe you should read the book. It's highly unlikely that your sermon will sway the person who reviewed the book.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2007 3:18:35 PM PST
Enigma says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 15, 2008 5:08:33 AM PST
Wow! Eric T. Fuerst has to be kidding. His last word in one sentence refers to the reviewer as "absurd" and then in the next sentence he says "I suggest you read less about what mere man can say about God and go to what God says about Himself..." That is truly exceptional as a joke or not.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2009 5:58:02 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2010 3:41:16 PM PST
I think you overstate his effectiveness. Smith formulates the so-called cosmological argument incorrectly (or at least in straw man form). That is, he claims it posits that everything that exists requires a cause, rather, than it's stronger/more common formulation that everything than began to exist needs a cause. A subtle yet significant difference, otherwise one can try to escape the argument by asking who made God (by definition an uncaused cause). My point is not that the cosmological argument is immune to criticism, it is just, that Smith doe not do so. Smith's arguments are replete with similar errors/misrepresentations. An earlier reader has highlighted a link that discusses many of Smith's weaknesses (www.tektonics.org/qt/smithg01.html). The site appears to be from a Christian perspective, however, many of its comments appear valid. To get an introduction to arguments for and against the existence of God, readers may enjoy a debate book that presents both perspectives (e.g. God by Craig and Synott-Armstrong is a good example where the atheistic side is well represented. Though Smith clearly has his fans his handling of philosophical and theological issues is quite weak.

Posted on Apr 24, 2009 3:34:00 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2009 12:58:05 AM PDT
Truthseeker, you are now my favorite oxymoron. If you believe the bible is the word of some ancient semetictribal deity, and that it still has something of value to say today, then you sir are a moron. Your dimwitted comment left no doubt about your poor education and ignorance of natural selection. Hey, here's a thought: try thinking.
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