A couple of weeks ago, my fiance and I spent a day driving around to different bookstores. When I explore bookstores, I usually spend most of my time divided between the science section (specifically biology and evolution) and the religion section (there are sometimes atheism-related books on a shelf labeled “comparative religion”). As one might guess, I found James S. Spiegel’s little book, The Making of an Atheist, among the other atheist books. I picked it up thinking it might be Spiegel’s deconversion story only to see the other half of the title, How Immorality Leads to Unbelief. I was immediately intrigued. It’s common to hear people say, “you’re only an atheist because you want to sin!” but this was the first time I’d seen someone write a 130-page book on the idea.
The highlighted quote on the back of the book read, “Perhaps we should consider the possibility that skeptical objections are the atheist’s façade, a scholarly veneer masking the real causes of their unbelief.” I found the idea quite laughable, but for that reason, I couldn’t help but buy it (used, as always) and find out for myself what reasons Mr. Spiegel could possibly have for his comical claims.
The book consists of five parts:
- Atheistic Arguments, Errors, and Insights
- The Irrationality of Atheism
- The Causes of Atheism
- The Obstinacy of Atheism
- The Blessings of Theism
After learning what the premise of the book was about, I expected the author to just be spewing nonsense from the start, but he actually surprised me. His tone was, for the most part, calm. . . normal. I don’t think the book was meant for an atheist audience, but towards the beginning he tried to get the reader to understand some of our arguments against Christianity, specifically outlining the problem of evil and the amount of evil done in the name of religion. Unlike Prof Dave, Spiegel even defined atheism, agnosticism, and naturalism correctly.
Of course, there were several fallacies and points that were just plain wrong once I was able to see past Spiegel’s even tone. I outlined six wild claims he made throughout the book before I lost count:
- Atheists cannot pose the problem of evil without our own objective standard of morality.
- The lack of an afterlife, God, or eternal value, is grounds for only despair; therefore, atheists can’t be happy or lead fulfilling lives.
- Similarly, all atheists should be nihilists and existentialists. Humanists are just lying to themselves.
- It is a cop-out to admit that at bottom, the reason why the laws of physics work as they do is a mystery. It’s totally not a cop-out to say that the reason is God, though.
- A creator is absolutely necessary in order for life to have started at all.
- Transitional fossils!? Irreducible complexity!? I don’t understand how evolution works!
About halfway through the book, Spiegel finally stopped rambling about his apologetic arguments and got to his (equally ridiculous) point: that atheism is the result of trauma and a desire to be sexually immoral, and atheism feeds into an even greater desire for immorality, and so on the cycle goes. The apologetics led to this idea because, in the author’s eyes, the arguments for theism were so fool-proof that someone’s unbelief could not possibly be because of reason or an objective search for empirical evidence. To him, it’s obvious: I mean, have you seen the sky?
Eventually, his arguments just got insulting. Spiegel devoted an entire section of the book to why a major cause of atheism is having an abusive or absent father. He says,
Is there any relevance to the fact that these two atheists grew up without a father? Some recent research strongly suggests that there is. In this chapter we will look at evidence for the claim that broken father relationships are a contributing cause of atheism. We will also consider evidence that immoral behavior plays a significant role in motivating views on ethics and religion. We will see how desires often drive a person’s beliefs when it comes to such issues, and I will propose that herein lies the explanation for atheism
He also presented apologist Alvin Plantinga’s claim that everyone is born with an innate sensus divinitatus, or a sense of the divine, and in atheists, this sense is dysfunctional. His language heavily suggests that if someone does not believe in god, there is something wrong with their brain. Something is broken. Malfunctioned. The chapter is summarized thus:
The hardening of the atheistic mind-set occurs through cognitive malfunction due to two principal causes. First, atheists suffer from paradigm-induced blindness, as their worldview inhibits their ability to recognize the reality of God that is manifest in creation. Second, atheists suffer from damage to the sensus divinitatus, so their natural awareness of God is severely impeded. Both of these mechanisms are aspects of the noetic effects of sin.
On the bright side, I can’t really say that this book was much worse than I anticipated. At least it wasn’t entirely just rehashed apologetics arguments. Spiegel put a new… really sick and insulting spin on an old fallacy. So at least that was new and fresh! If you want to know what other atheists thought of this book (which they probably thought was written by an atheist), you can take a look at its 25 one-star reviews. And you can be glad that we all read it so you don’t have to.
15 thoughts on “Book Review: The Making of an Atheist by James Spiegel”
Thanks for reviewing the book. That way, I won’t need to read it.
It seems like a collection of bad arguments.
I’ll grant him the one about origin of life argument, though I would not word it as he did. Origin of life is still unexplained, and might never be explained. But the other arguments are absurd. I wonder whether Spiegel actually talked to any real atheists about this.
In my case, the core reason for leaving Christianity, was that I found that I could no longer believe the core doctrines.
whether or not he talked to atheists (witih a face mask and protective armor, I’m sure), it would have been with a set of unshakable beliefs in our innate evilness, anyway. We are deranged sinners. Shame on us.
How does he explain that if we are born with a belief system in place, it has to be taught to us (indoctrination, if you will) by our family, our culture, our churches)…basically what he is saying, is, we are born good and already with god built in, and our malfunctioning brain at some point kicks in and we are now ready and willing to get out there and pillage, plunder, and set forests on fire.
It also doesn’t explain why so few atheists are in prisons, and why so many Christians ARE.
I’m an atheist. I grew up with a strongly (but not viciously) Catholic mother and family (priests, nuns, etc) all over the place. My father was a non-practicing Episcopalian, but he was as careful to not tread on our religion as anyone.
Anybody who starts sentences with “Every atheist” or “all atheists” do or are that is pulling rabbits out of invisible hats. None of us fit that mold, hell I don’t think there even IS a mold for what constitutes a typical non-believer…
I think I can write about a religion because I practiced one for most of my life. I cannot say much about the non-Abrahamic because I was not one of them and would have to trust what I read. I am convinced that virtually all writing about atheism (etc.) not written by atheists is not intended for atheists, but to convince believers that they do not want to go there. I find much C.S. Lewis to be such, even though he was for a time agnostic. I see much of your blog as an attempt to point out the errors (as gross and obvious as many are), and perhaps to level the field a little. kudos.
My thoughts on Mr. Spiegel’s claims:
“The lack of an afterlife, God, or eternal value, is grounds for only despair…”
As someone who believes in an afterlife, I can tell Mr. Spiegel that the possibility of an afterlife can also be grounds for despair.
Example: If Heaven is a place of perfect, eternal happiness, how will I feel if I get there and find out a loved one isn’t there, too? Will I go on being happy even though I know that the one I love is suffering forever, or will their fate not ultimately matter to me, considering where I am? (Then I realized I was asking the wrong questions. But that’s another matter.)
“…therefore, atheists can’t be happy or lead fulfilling lives.”
Atheists search for truth, do they not? And what does Mr. Spiegel’s Christian faith have to say about searching? Matthew 7:7, for starters.
“Similarly, all atheists should be nihilists and existentialists. Humanists are just lying to themselves.”
Atheists and humanists could also be pragmatists, no?
“It is a cop-out to admit that at bottom, the reason why the laws of physics work as they do is a mystery.”
Do we know everything about the laws of physics? No. So, in that sense, they’re still a mystery.
“Transitional fossils!? Irreducible complexity!? I don’t understand how evolution works!”
Mr. Spiegel, why are you getting all bent out of shape about evolution? Either the god of the Bible is or is not the creator of all. And if he is, why would any aspect of his own creation — like the laws of physics, or the fossil record — point towards him not existing? That makes as much sense as a woman’s newborn baby being used to make the case that she is not a mother.
It’s true. But because I cannot bring myself to believe in his god I drown my despair in beer. Well, I would if I was a drinker.
not quite sure what ‘eternal value’ means…and look at it this way–if there is no heaven (sad face) they there is no hell (happy face).
I think atheists have a basic honesty about their fate, and a willingness to face the idea that death is a step into oblivion, rather than prettied up with singing angels and eternal, endless, harp music, and meeting very good people that we didn’t much like in life, and now are stuck with for all eternity…
Thank you for reading all these bad books so that we don’t have to. At first I thought ‘The questions Christians hope no one will ask” was written by an Atheist ex Christian, but apparently not. If you get around to reading that book I’d be curious to hear about it.
Glad I didn’t have to read it–thanks! Got a thousand more to tackle (dang it). But what gets me is the ideas of morality and all, like there’s this belief that unless you believe in God you can’t be a moral person. I have questions about that, because it makes me feel like they’re behaving right because they’re worried about God’s judgment. And if you’re not doing something because you’re looking over your shoulder to see an invisible higher being wagging their finger at you…then how freaking moral or good are you really? Goodness and morality are what they are. Religion doesn’t have the market cornered on that idea, especially not Christianity.
I’ve been watching mini-docs exposing prosperity gospel preachers all day–mind’s a bit worn out and spirit’s deflated a bit. Tylenol and bed for me now.
Morality is defined as a set of rules or priciples concrning good and bad, period. I do not believe in morality. For me there is no good and bad–there are only personal choices. I can choose to harm myself or others, or I can choose to not harm myself or others. This has nothing to do with rules or principles. Religion might require morality, I only require me.
That’s a good point you made about morality. H.L Mencken once said ‘Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone might be looking.’
Plus, assuming Christianity were real, how many people would still follow Jesus if there was no Hell to threaten them with after they die.
I really like the last little passage in the picture “…you’ll go blind!”
This set of joke-arguments will just keep coming back over time, no matter how often they are dismantled, and their dysfunction explained.
They shamble from their crypts because the popular theist needs them in the confidence game.
To accuse a non-believer in the popular God of papering over a psychological defect with rationalizations is the most transparent sort of projection.
How to make an atheist:
When a mommy and daddy love each other, they give each other a special hug, and 9 month later a baby is born. This baby has no belief in Gods. Congratulations, you have just made an atheist.
To unmake one simply sprinkle your child with a healthy dose of religious indoctrination and exploit their tendency for false patternicity.
Interesting review. Sounds like yet another book about atheists written by the converted for the converted