I tell this story as an illustration of how I have begun to feel about the various analogies or arguments used to justify popular level atheism, or what has been branded in recent years as the ‘New Atheism.’ Let me provide you with a smattering of samples:
‘Atheism is not a belief. It is the absence of a belief in God.’
The atheist, therefore, does not need to bear any burden of proof when it comes to asserting their non-belief. Rather, the burden of proof rests solely on the shoulders of the theist. After all, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’
‘Believing in God is like believing in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.’
Some of us out grow all of these silly ideas, but religious believers fail to mentally mature beyond the infantile concept of a benign deity.
‘We are all atheists in regard to Zeus, Thor and Artemis. I just go one God further by including Yahweh in my pantheon of non-existent deities.’
“Religion Poisons Everything.”
Religion is a purveyor of violence, oppression and intolerance in our world.
‘We can be good without God.’
These are all atheistic soundbites that are prevalent in our culture, saturating the blogosphere and inundating our Facebook and Twitter feeds. These slogans may look as though they can bear up under scrutiny, but what if as soon as you put any intellectual weight on them, as soon as you ask a few prying questions, they collapse like the step in my stairs under the pressure and are exposed as vacuous non sequiturs not worthy, in some cases, of the massive intellects who have uttered them? What if that were the case?
The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist
Enter Andy Bannister and his book, “The Atheist who Didn’t Exist; Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments.” These atheistic soundbites have always deserved an intellectual flogging and Bannister has provided them with a lashing in this fast paced, witty, mostly well-mannered and humorous work. And, make no mistake about it, Bannister’s book is funny. But it is a witty, cutting humour that is, at times, ironic and, at other times, uproariously ridiculous. In this way, the book fits comfortably in the fine-tradition of British humour, at least as I have enjoyed it.
I am reticent to compare anyone to the literary giant G.K. Chesterton, but I will risk the comparison here because Andy’s humorous insights and his rhetorical flourish occasionally flirt with the mastery that is found in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy though, admittedly, Bannister’s book may more closely reflect the purpose of Chesterton’s Heresies. Maybe this is an overly generous comparison. But no more generous than Andy continually referring to the above atheist slogans as actual arguments.
I also credit Bannister with finally figuring out what footnotes are for. Scholarly interaction? Referencing other works? No! Boring. Tired. It has been done. Instead insert jokes. One-liners. Pop-culture anecdotes. Beat up on Justin Bieber. Share insights irrelevant to the arguments being espoused in the main text. That is what footnotes ‘ought’ to be for. I actually read the footnotes with giggles instead of groans which was a first for me.
All of this leads to what may be an apologetic triumph. A book that you will not only read without the help of a self-appointed friend enlisted to slap you in the face every half-hour to keep you from nodding off, but one you will laugh your way through, while also having your intellect stimulated and your belief strengthened.
Filled with Facts
Not only is Bannister’s book funny. It is filled with facts. Let me give you a brief example of the pesky facts that Bannister marches out to disavow the overly pedantic claims of some of the New Atheists. Let’s take, for example, the idea that religion poisons everything or that religion is the greatest source of violence in the world. More, specifically, perhaps you have heard it said (as I have) that religion has caused most of the wars in history. That claim is certainly helpful and comforting, if one is an atheist. But is it true because, as Andy elsewhere reminds us, the psychological comfort of an idea has no necessary bearing on its factual accuracy.
Enter facts. The Encyclopedia of Wars, records in three ponderous volumes around 1,763 wars between 8000 BC and 2003 AD. To quote Andy, “Of these, the editors see fit to categorize only 123 conflicts as ‘religious’. That’s less than 7 per cent in over ten thousand years of history – if religious types are really out to get us all, as Hitchens claims, they’ve got some catching up to do. Indeed, even many of the wars we’re quick to tag as ‘religious’ often had secular or political goals.”
But wait a second, one might protest, Andy is talking about history. Surely only science provides us with reliable facts and objective truth about our world. This is another well-worn slogan of popular level atheism. Well, science is great, the greatest tool humanity has yet to discover for explaining how the physical universe operates when left to itself. But that above statement by scientists is not quite right as Bannister helpfully points out. Not only is it not itself a scientific utterance and, therefore, provides us with a textbook example of self-referential incoherence, it has other disastrous consequences that Bannister kindly highlights for the reader, like leaving us intellectually impotent to adjudicate meaningfully on lifes most profound questions. This is all representative of Bannister’s approach. Not only does he tell you why these assertions are off-base he points out, as the subtitle suggests, how disastrous the logic of these slogans would be, even to reason and science itself, if they were true reflections of sound argumentation. Thankfully, Bannister convincingly shows us again and again that they are not.
This book is not an introduction to the reasonableness of Christianity. These pages contain a lot of reductios  regarding the atheist position, but there are scarcely any robust arguments for the truth of the Christian worldview except, of course, a few notable hints in later chapters that point the reader in this direction. If that is what you are looking for you will have to search elsewhere. Those books have been written. And Andy is not shy about recommending those resources to the interested reader. The purpose of his book is more along these lines:
“To clear away some of the weeds of bad arguments so that a more sensible dialogue can be had. Because here’s the thing: the “God Question” is arguably the most important question that anybody can think about.”
In this stated purpose the book succeeds magnificently and also preempts the charge of just disemboweling caricatures or erecting straw-men to mercilessly mock, as Dawkins, himself, has so frequently done. I mean, Bannister does do this, in a sense, but he is forced into it by the popularity of these atheistic sound bites and the enormous books sales of men like Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. As a result, arguments that probably deserve nothing more than an eye-roll get an entire book from Bannister. For which one can certainly be grateful because it lead to him writing a masterful work of apologetics to clear away the debris that block a meaningful, illuminating dialogue about the God question from occurring at a popular, cultural level. In this Bannister is a helpful friend to the believer and the non-believer; though regarding the latter, one must be willing to have a slew of sacred slogans skewered and satired by the wit of a brit.
The writing of many books is endless. So, what is unique about these pages? Well, Andy Bannister wrote it and there is only one of him. These pages are original because Andy Bannister is original. Sure, this type of book has probably been written before. But, as far as I know, it has never been written like this before and because of that this work is a welcomed breathe of fresh air blowing through a discipline that is crucial in our day and age but can also feel stale, repetitive and, frankly, boring as hell.
I think we may need more apologists like Bannister. I heartily recommend, “The Atheist who didn’t Exist” to you. One last parting word of advice. It helps to read this book with an English accent in mind. The arguments are far more convincing when you do so and I am sure it would please the author.
Share this Post
 I use the word ‘giant’ in the most literal sense possible. Chesterton was big enough to swallow three Andy Bannister’s before breakfast.
 I’m just jesting, of course, but I did truly find his footnotes refreshing.
 Andy Bannister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. p. 106
 Even the historical sciences? Hmmm.
 I am referring here, not to a spell from the Harry Potter books, but to a form of argumentation known in Latin as reductio ad absurdum. See Wikepedia for a defintion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum
 p. 27
 What I mean is that the intellectual atheist would say that Bannister is attacking straw men because you won’t find much of this popular level nonsense in the writings of the late J.L. Mackie or Kai Nelson or William Rowe. But who has time to read these brilliant non-theists? Very few. Dawkins and his ilk are much more readily digestible for the everday atheist so someone has to provide an intellectual antitode to ease the conceptual indigestion that can result from spending too much time feeding on the words of the four horseman of the atheistic apocalypse. Bannister does well at this.