By Joseph Minich
There is a quite a market for books criticizing atheism. Why write another one? The answer for this is to be located in the first sentence. “There is a market for books criticizing atheism.” If we step back a moment, this ought to strike us as peculiar.
Shouldn’t God be so obvious that arguments over His existence were saved for technical philosophical manuals? That is to say, if God really exists, wouldn’t we expect it to be the case that His existence were not particularly controversial – rarely in need of explicit defense? There is no similar market, for instance, for books defending the existence of gravity. Even though, like God, we cannot see gravity, we apparently don’t have the same anxiety about its existence. The existence of God, on the other hand, is an item of our belief about which we apparently (whether we like it or not) feel some degree of vulnerability. Nevertheless, this is historically peculiar. Enduring Divine Absence is meant to consider the features of our modern order that render these instincts, in respect of the God question, plausible and prominent.
This book is written for three types of people:
First, I think the book would actually be challenging for atheists. In the book, I do get around to presenting what I take to be a compelling case for the existence of God, but more importantly, I offer a deflationary account of the typical reason(s) that atheism seems rationally compelling. To wit, it is not because philosophical dismissiveness is justified or that the Godless cosmos is obvious. It is rather that we have been shaped by various historical forces to find atheism plausible – and even attractive. This deflationary account of atheisms plausibility and attractiveness does not disprove atheism. But it does reposture atheists such that they might take the philosophical arguments, which do disprove atheism, more seriously.
Second, I think this book will be helpful to those who are struggling with atheism itself. Much of it was birthed in my own struggle, and I suspect that several of its lines of inquiry will help and minister to those who find themselves similarly tempted. Certainly there is no smoking gun for our intellectual and spiritual quandary, but I hope that by exegeting our context and our own selves well, we can be put in a place to more confidently navigate through these challenges with greater confidence and maturity. Concerning the latter, one important dimension to my argument is that I do not state that the solution to our problems is to recover a previous social order. Rather, a significant aspect of our calling is to become spiritual adults in both mind and will.
Third, and finally, I think the book will be useful for those who do not struggle with atheism, but want to know how to minister to those who do without dismissing them. In some contexts, this can be a particularly vulnerable temptation and quite scary to those who are around them. What I seek to show in this volume is that such temptations are par for the course in our context, and while as dangerous any any real life is, no cause for automatic alarm or discouragement. Indeed, in such experiences we have the privilege of watching the faithfulness of God in reality itself – as our increased contact with it reinforces our Christian faith through and through.
Certainly the book doesn’t accomplish everything. There are much better books that make the positive arguments themselves. But my hope is that it accomplishes at least clarifying the situation which gives rise to our particular struggles – and shows how God ministers to this through a fine-grained attunement to reality itself and to the gospel.