“Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There Is No God”
by Anthony DeStefano.
Nelson Books (Nashville, Tennessee, 2018).
222 pp., $24.99.
Readers of “Inside the Atheist Mind” expecting a tame rebuttal to atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are in for surprise.
Pulling no punches against disbelievers, Anthony DeStefano offers a clear, forceful and hopeful vision of faith while characterizing atheists as, among other things, arrogant, ignorant, ruthless and cowardly. He devotes each chapter to one such characteristic for close analysis of their logic and use of Christian history. The resulting clarity and consistency strengthen the argument.
Atheists are basically bullies, DeStefano says, who engage with the weakest parts of Christianity, such as fundamentalist beliefs in biblical inerrancy: “When atheists ridicule the book of Jonah as a moronic myth, they don’t prove that the Bible is wrong, that believers are gullible, or that God doesn’t exist. All they prove is that they are too shallow and slow-witted to understand more sophisticated ways of reading.”
Atheists are cowardly, he says, for avoiding richer, more sophisticated ways of reading the Bible because these are harder to criticize. They misrepresent how most Christians actually understand and use the Bible.
The author strengthens his own argument by going deeper than this simple deconstruction. He points out the spirit and motivations of atheism revealed by their arguments. When discussing atheists’ use of science’s achievements against religious belief, he notes: “Their thinking is shallow. They use long, scientific descriptions to explain the mechanism by which they think life developed and then jump to the irrational conclusion that they have explained the cause of life itself. In philosophical terms, they confuse process with agency.”
DeStefano follows a long line of Catholic thinkers, including St. John Paul II, in defining and highlighting the dangers of scientism. As DeStefano’s above words indicate, scientism is the use of science for nonscientific ends. Using science to try to answer metaphysical or theological questions such as why we are here or whether the universe has a creator is unscientific because it rests on faith. Such speculation lies outside the boundaries of science.
In reality, atheists in fact do indeed have faith. “Atheists … believe that life came from nonlife, consciousness came from nonconsciousness, and thought came from nonthought. Those are much more stupendous miracles than any of the Gospels report, but atheists won’t concede they are miracles. … Their faith is so restrictive that it doesn’t allow for the slightest deviation from the doctrine of materialism.”
The author argues convincingly that it is atheists who are inflexible and closed to any challenges to their entrenched perspective. He furthers this argument by referring to notable Christian scientists and other thinkers over the centuries for whom faith was not incidental but central to their scientific success.
Despite the strong language, the author does provide nuance when also getting to the heart of the matter. DeStefano strongly criticizes agnostics for refusing to make a decision on God, for it is this decision that holds the key to the Christian life.
Basing the Christian vocation on this decision has significant ramifications. This leads to strong criticism of “functional atheists,” people who claim to be Christian but who really adhere to current secular standards. Refusing to make a clear decision, they try to have it both ways, belonging to the culture of death while claiming Christian faith. These functional atheists have provided an opening to atheists:
“If these believers practiced what they professed to believe,” DeStefano writes, “the fruits of their faith would be so abundant that atheism could never gain any kind of foothold in society. … It would be crowded out and suffocated” because “in the presence of truth, error always flees.”
Christians can best confront atheism by examining the weak spots in their own faith, in other words. Since we have control over how we live our faith, this aspect of the argument is inspiring at a time when atheists always seem to be winning in the public arena. The author’s strong faith makes “Inside the Atheist Mind” hopeful rather than whiny or defeatist.
DeStefano’s strong, often sarcastic language may be off-putting to some readers expecting a more disciplined, polite theologian. Such informal language may also make “Inside the Atheist Mind” quickly dated. Yet apologetics must take many forms. Despite the sometimes grating language, this book will be appealing to readers tired of the common milquetoast Christian treatment of atheists.
Welter has degrees in history and theology, and teaches English in Taiwan.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Catholic college prof’s true-to-life soccer book optioned by Netflix
NEXT: Deacons called ‘messengers,’ ambassadors between a bishop and his diocese
The phrase in the cover is enough to know that DeStefano does not understand atheism, at the same time, the concept of atheism is so simple that I find it hard to believe that DeStefano doesn’t understand it himself, so I can’t avoid to think that he just wrote the book either out of honest ignorance and passion or just to sell books to a passionate group.
Chocked full of insults. If an atheist offers an argument I see no rebuttal. Just an angry rant. The article still provided zero evidence.
All you need to shut-up atheists is evidence for one of the gods. Arguments are not proof, and neither are ad-hominems, which merely demonstrate the feebleness of the theist case.
As for “more sophisticated ways of reading.” people rarely come to religion as a result of sophisticated arguments, it is usually the result of childhood indoctrination. The Church realises the importance of getting them young, because if they don’t then these more sophisticated arguments are unlikely to be persuasive, because they are still badly flawed.
Atheism is non-belief in a god or gods. So a “forceful rebuttal” of atheism would need to include hard evidence for a god. Does DeStefano provide it? Apparently not, since the scientific community has not suddenly thrown out all its theories that contradict the Bible upon the publication of this book.
The reality is, there’s no evidence for a god, so there’s no reason to believe a god exists. De Stefano resorts to the exact same bullying tactics that he accuses atheists of. He seasons this with plenty of ad-hominems and straw men. In his attempts to demonize atheists, all DeStefano does is show that he is a hypocrite.
I find this review highly disconcerting. I had been hoping for a more truthful take on the content of the book. It’s all just a bunch of straw-man and ad-hominem fallacies, without any real substance. There are many quotes that have been mined, and it’s really just an over glorified insult.
I wonder what DeStefano’s representing as the mind state required to be an atheist ?
It sounds like he is making the usual error, of representing atheists as necessarily claiming that no gods exist.
Of course this is false. The minimum requirement to be in an atheist state of mind, is to reject the claims that 1 or more gods exist.
Note this is not restricted to the desert sky god Yahweh. It seems that the reviewer has fallen for the same mistake.
All other political or philosophical positions which an atheist might also represent are commentary.
The central issue is who has the burden of proof ? It is always those making the claim.
Theists of any stripe claim their particular god or gods exist, yet they have failed to demonstrate this. Hence the plethora of religions seen in the world today, and in the past. If DeStefano’s atheist bashing book has succeeded in demonstrating the existence of 1 or more gods, the scientific world will doubtless reward him with a Nobel Prize.
Obviously I’ve not read this (yet), but DeStefano may be arguing against a straw man.
An Atheist is just someone who doesn’t accept the claims there are a god. That’s all.
Atheism has no tenants or dogma, it’s the response to a single claim.
It would be like writing a book ‘Inside the Christian Mind’ and then only addressing the Evangelical movement. Easy to do but not really accurate.
For example these quotes:
“Atheists … believe that life came from nonlife, consciousness came from nonconsciousness, and thought came from nonthought.”
Many, perhaps most Atheists belief that life came from nonlife. It seems nonsensical to assume a god did it when the case for god hasn’t been established. I wonder what evidence DeStefano has for his version of abiogensis?
Still, good on DeStefano for having a go, although if he starts with the premise that Atheists are “arrogant, ignorant, ruthless and cowardly” then I think he’ll have a hard time convincing any of them. Perhaps the intention is to just preach to the choir?