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 facade, 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 lead 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 on why a major cause of atheism is having an abusive or absent father.
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:
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.