I was perusing through my recommendations on Amazon a few weeks back and saw this book on sale for 1.99 on Kindle. I jumped on it for a few different reasons. First off, I’m a fan of Ravi Zacharias. I heard him speak here in Ogden several years (maybe several SEVERAL) years ago and I was quite impressed. Some of his views are bit more conservative than mine, but he comes at it from a principled stance, so even in the instances where I don’t agree, I still have the utmost respect for him.
Secondly, this book is his response to the “New Atheist” movement, specifically to two books written by Sam Harris: “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.” I’ve read both of those books by the way. I’ve read many of Richard Dawkins’ books. I’ve read Hitchens as well. You see, I read all these books because I was PART of the “new atheist” movement. If you’re a regular reader or a friend of mine, you knew that already.
Some years ago events in my life led to me, an aspiring future pastor, to question the existence of God. During part of this time I plunged myself into the writings of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and such. In these books I found the same kind of anger that I was experiencing in my own life. Now, these works disguise this undercurrent as something like a secular version of righteous indignation, but it really is anger, furious, maddening anger. I bought in hook, line, and sinker. These works are also very condescending toward anyone who does not share their opinion. That gave me an excuse to belittle others and put myself on a pedestal as well. (Funny how that tends to happen when you think there’s no God.)
You can sum up the argument like this: Religious people are nothing but backward thinking, stupid, baboons. Religion is responsible for most of, if not all of, society’s ills. If we’d just get rid of religion we’d be better off because nobody would stand in the way of the progress of science.
Nowhere is this argument more epitomized better, and in the most angry and condescending manner, than in “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris. You may remember Harris as the man who famously said in an interview with The Sun Magazine that if he had a magic wand and could do away with religion or rape, that he’d do away with religion. You know, any REASONABLE person would say that, right…….RIGHT?
Anyhow, “Letter to a Christian Nation” is just filled with that kind of angry, inflammatory talk. It’s mainly this book that Zacharias trains his thoughts on in “The End of Reason.”
Look, before I go any further, I want to point out that I’m not trying to write some hit piece on Sam Harris. He has a right to his opinion as much as I do and as much as Zacharias does. This is America, and he has the right to use extreme examples to help illustrate his points if he so wishes. I share some of his concerns about religious driven hate and violence around the world and in our own country. Zacharias points out in his book that he shares these concerns as well. The difference is that I don’t for one second believe the religion is the either the biggest or the only cause of trouble in our world. Many social issues, economic issues, and territorial issues have caused (and still cause) much of the ills in our world, and slapping a religious label on it just gives someone an excuse to rally people to a common point. Nationalism and patriotism are often used in this same way. Any serious student of history, sociology, or psychology knows this.
So back to the subject at hand, when I read “The End of Reason” I tried to look at it from two vantage points. First, I wondered if this book would have changed my mind had I read it in my hardcore, angry atheist days. Second, I wondered if it would help bolster my faith at all today.
On the first count, the answer is a definite NO. There is nothing in this book that would probably convince an angry member of this new atheist movement that they are wrong. I didn’t see anything that would have convinced me back then. To be fair to Dr. Zacharias though, that’s not necessarily the intended audience of the book. I feel as if he’s writing more toward Christians, from a Christian perspective, about questions raised by Harris and others. To me he got closest to hitting the mark with two different sections. In one section he quotes Donald Page from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Science as calculating that odds that our universe coming from an “accident” (like the Big Bang) and just randomly taking a form suitable for ANY kind of life is 1 in 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power. Gamblers, would you put a bet on that? I don’t think so. That odds are so small as to not even really be measurable, let alone comprehended. Also, the odds of the random formation of any enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface is 10 to the 20th power. However, life needs about 2,000 enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all by random chance in one trial is 10 to the 40,000th power. Again, not worth betting on.
Of course, anybody with a any kind of logical mind doesn’t recognize this as a proof for God, really, much less the Christian God in particular, but it really does call into question the current “scientific” suggestions on the origins of life. Near the end of the book Zacharias brings up another interesting thought. If we were to point a powerful telescope at any planet in the galaxy or universe, and on the planet we saw rocks arranged in the perfect form of a triangle, nobody in their right mind would conclude that the rock formation just resulted from chance encounters with wind or other forces. Some kind of intelligence would be assumed.
Now I’m not arguing for “intelligent design” garbage that talks about the earth being only 6,000 years old. Nor am I discounting the biological evidence for evolution and natural selection. I don’t know where Dr. Zacharias stands on that. Probably between me and the creationist extreme. All I’m saying is those are the two arguments that MIGHT have phased me back in my hardcore atheist days.
Did this book bolster my faith now? Yeah, it did. Again, I find the figures and hypothetical situation above to be compelling. I do feel like there is an intelligence and a designer. I personally believe that this intelligence is the Hebrew/Christian God revealed in the incarnation of the person Jesus Christ. If God wants to use a “Big Bang” he sure can. I’ve read some Brian Greene, some Richard Dawkins, and others, and none of them can really say what was before the Big Bang. It had to be something though. Something doesn’t come from nothing. Science itself tells us that.
Dr. Zacharias goes into these any many other aspects of Harris’s work, often giving point by point rebuttal. I’ll admit that a lot of it is based in philosophy and a lot of that goes over my head. I’ll leave that to people who are more into that kind of thing to judge.
So overall, I gave the book 3 stars out of 5. I liked it, and I thought it could really be useful to a Christian with questions about the new atheist movement. However, I think it might not be quite as accessible as he would have liked it to be, but maybe I’m just bad at philosophy. So if this kind of thing interests you, check it out and see what you think.