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The Atheist Debater's Handbook Paperback – June 1, 1983
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In purchasing this book I had sought brevity of argument, and I was a little disappointed. Although the arguments are not long it doesn't provide the simple one or two line "debating points" some readers might be looking for to help them negotiate the next pair of door-knowking Mormons or Witnesses they encounter. People seeking dot-point replies to theistic assertions will not find them in this book. Should something that requires the reader to make their own summary list be called a "debater's handbook"? Maybe. But, it's too detailed to qualify as "atheism for dummies".
The Atheist Debater's Handbook is dry reading. Given that there is a pretty strong element of the ridiculous in lots of religious belief, a little humour would not have gone astray. As an undergraduate student a professor once described an essay I wrote as a "tradesman-like effort"; I'd say the same of this book. It is solid but unspectacular.
He does not mention the kind of "formal debates" he is referring to, but I note that his "Suggested Reading List" includes only two: The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God and The Warren-Matson Debate on the Existence of GOD.
He states early on, "the atheist may claim to know that God does not exist because no good reason has been given to support the belief that he does. Certainly... ignorance is not a good reason to believe that God exists." (Pg. 23) He argues, "The theist would do well to avoid the subject of science altogether. The evidence science does provide actually contradicts traditional theism... Bacteria and viruses which kill human infants, if unchecked, would keep infant mortality high thus diminishing effective reproduction so that the human population would fail to exceed its food supply... The theist must, therefore, see the plan of God in the array of horrible diseases primarily responsible for infant mortality. The painful death of children must have been deliberately planned by God." (Pg. 24-25)
He suggests, "God is certainly not self-explanatory since reference to his essence does not explain why he HAS that particular essence." (Pg. 63) He rejects a version of "Pascal's Wager" as follows: "There are many alternatives that it fails to consider. For example, God may exist but he may damn anyone who 'bets' on his existence merely for reasons of prudence... Furthermore, it may be that a mere belief in God is not enough to ensure salvation. A further requirement may be the belief in a particular religion. But WHICH religion? Again, there are many alternatives." (Pg. 97)
He observes, "Theists may claim that evil is a necessary by-product of the laws of nature and therefore it is irrational for God to interfere every time a disaster happens... But the death of a child caused by an electrical fire could have been prevented by a miracle and no one would ever have known. Only a minor alteration in electrical equipment would have been necessary." (Pg. 103-104)
He critiques the story of Jesus' resurrection: "We are told in Matthew 28:1-15 that the soldiers who were guarding Jesus's tomb became extremely frightened when an angel descended from heaven and announced the resurrection. But the soldiers were nonetheless so unimpressed that they allowed themselves to be bribed by the Jewish priests to keep quiet about it and instead claim that Jesus's disciples came and stole his body while they were asleep. How could the soldiers have the courage to tell lies about someone whom they had just witnessed with their own eyes to be dangerously supernatural?" (Pg. 121)
This is an excellent (although more than 30 years old) compendium of brief atheist arguments, and will be of considerable interest to atheists, skeptics, and other freethinkers---and may even be of interest to Christian apologists who want to study the "other side."