Reading List: The Non-Existence of God by Nicholas Everitt

The Non-Existence of God by Nicholas Everitt

You only need to take a brief look at the "Reading" Category of this page to realise that I am not one of those atheists who is adamant that there is no god and who uses poor or not well-researched arguments, even if they favour my world-view. So, I was a bit sceptical when I stumbled upon this book. After all, it is called "The Non-Existence of God". But the author is not your garden-variety Facebook atheist, so I ignored my initial reactionary dismissal that this is one of those books which attempt to make grandiose or scandalous claims to boost sales. After reading some reviews online, I decided to buy the book and see it for myself.

So what exactly did I read in this book to take me from a position of scepticisms to recommending it as a part of my reading list? Let‘s find out together.

Well, it is precisely because the author attempts to make an argument - or offer reasons to try and disprove - or rather at least show that at least the traditional notions of monotheistic god are inconsistent and therefore we would have good reasons to abandon them. Naturally, you will say that the normal, garden-variety Facebook atheists do that as well. Yes, they do, but they are certainly less detailed and philosophically careful. In short, unless like some other authors, like Oppy, whose books I hold in high regard as well, Everitt does indeed try to make the strongest case possible for the non-existence of God, without inserting too much of "it seems to me" and "if I‘m not mistaken".

And unlike, say, Dawkins, whose books in my opinion do make similarly grandiose claims, without a strong philosophical foundation, here we see that the author takes extra care to try to disprove the strongest arguments possible. He understands that it does not make much sense to disprove a weak argument and leave the stronger one untouched. Naturally, some would say that Dawkins' books are written for a more general population. 

So, enough introductions, first impressions and comparisons. On to the material. So what exactly do we find in this book?

Well, for starters, I rather like the beginning where Everitt first takes a critical look at some views that claim that in the matters of religion it‘s wrong to appeal to reason. And that is something that is not often discussed - the idea of some religious people that we should not use reason at all but instead rely purely on faith. In this context, he also discussed different kinds of "Faith" that a person can have - a "faith" in something an expert tells you and a faith in something without supporting evidence. And already from this introduction, we can see how much detail the author is going to invest in analysing arguments through the book. Surely, I would not argue he is on Oppy's level but he's still careful and detailed.

After the discussion about reason and definitions of God, Everitt comes to the meat of the book: Arguments. First, as any good atheistic author, he will proceed to discuss the arguments for god and try to show where they are weak:

  • Ontological Arguments
  • Cosmological Arguments
  • Teleological Arguments

These sure are the biggest groups of arguments for god and you probably encountered some arguments from either of the three above mentioned groups while browsing the web. I have also tried to condense my very limited understanding of the arguments and their problems, for example:

These all arguments are covered in great detail in this book as well - and even theists might learn something about it, as he takes great lengths to try to present not only the strongest form of a certain argument, but he goes so far as to try and "fix" some "obvious" flaws in them to make them even stronger - and then he criticises that stronger argument as well. But Everitt also concerns himself with some other arguments you might have not encountered as often:

  • Arguments from Miracles
  • God and Morality
  • Arguments from Religious Experience
  • Arguments against Naturalism

After that he goes on to examine various defining characteristics of god and discusses if there are philosophical problems with them - naturally, of course, he discusses what Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Omniscience mean for the existence of God. And of course, no such book can be considered complete without a comprehensive discussion of problems about evil.

Cosmological Arguments: In Introduction

What I love about it is that he devotes an entire chapter to each of the god's characteristics and in the earlier chapters alludes to a more detailed discussion of a certain characteristic in a specific chapter, so you're inspired to keep reading to find out more. For example, in the chapter about problems of evil he talks about omniscience and alludes to a more detailed discussion about the characteristic itself in the later chapter that follows. It is an approach I wish more authors took. 

I am still of course learning, so I am in no position to say how successful he is, but I can tell you that Everitt will indeed make you think. I caught myself comparing his writings often with other books, for example, I might be reading some other book and then I would return to this one to remind myself what Everitt has to say about a certain topic.

He surprised me as well, in the sense that he bring forward some arguments I never heard about before, like for example, the argument from Scale. What I found interesting is that he also considered and criticised the idea that we should consider theistic arguments as a whole - that even if the arguments are weak, we should consider them together and that would make the case more powerful. I did not hear that theist reasoning before and it was interesting to find out about it. So, you're not simply likely to learn about new attacks and defences for and to the already known arguments, you will likely learn about completely new arguments as well, even if you have had an interest in the issues of god's existence for a long time.

While I am very impressed with the attention to detail he pays to all arguments against the existence of God, I do not believe they are strong enough to successfully convince a reasonable believer. Being an atheist myself, I find it extremely hard to place myself in a believer's shoes again and see things from their point of view, though. I find that theists have reasonable defences against almost any of them.

Regarding his criticisms of the theistic arguments, though, I find them very adequate and I do think that he brilliantly highlights where they are weak. And again, even there I feel fortunate enough to have read this book, as I learned some new criticism as well.

All in all, a book which I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in the Philosophy of Religion.

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