Godless despotism reached its apotheosis in the 20th century, killing millions and wreaking destruction on a scale unequaled in human history.
These crimes no doubt did much to taint the flavor of atheism associated with this murderous movement and the particular political forms in which it was manifested: fascism and communism.
Still, bad ideas die hard. So despite its legacy, atheism’s 21st century adherents are espousing a new version that, though less terrifying than the ethos that inspired Pol Pot, is just as vehement in denouncing all things religious.
True, proponents of the new atheism support democracy, free markets and civil liberties—up to a point. Like their philosophical forerunners, however, they blame religion (especially Christianity) for society’s ills.
Light of Truth
But there is a bright side to all this, as Louis Markos points out in his aptly titled Apologetics for the 21st Century.
Just as great Christian writers and thinkers arose to counter the godlessness of the previous century, the new atheism has inspired similar champions of faith in our own era.
Markos lays the groundwork for examining contemporary apologists by looking first at several of their forebears: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers.
Drawing on his own background as a literature professor, Markos presents these great English writers as more than cold philosophers or religious scolds. They were master storytellers whose quest for truth took them beyond the scientific materialism of their age.
Seeing human creativity as a reflection of the divine creator, Lewis and his colleagues forwarded the premise that myth and narrative also offer a powerful means for exploring reality. Specifically, the story of man as a rebel and Christ as the incarnate God who suffers for and ultimately redeems his unworthy creatures rings true not just because it fits the facts, but because it satisfies the longing for such a tale embedded deep within us.
To the New World
Turning from England, Markos then examines several American apologists of the last few decades. He notes how, in keeping with the times, these writers make their case for God by drawing on a wide range of evidence, rather than relying merely on logical arguments.
Among these are two men notable for sharing another similarity with Lewis. Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel initially struggled with agnosticism and atheism before an intellectual consideration of the gospel led them to embrace it.
Markos, however, goes beyond simply surveying the works of these and other champions of Christian orthodoxy. He also delves into thorny issues that make defending the faith in the 21st century especially challenging.
This first of these is Darwinian evolution. Though it’s true that some Christians accept a form of evolution in their worldview, the reality is that the scientific establishment sees Darwin’s theory of life origins and development as completely closed to the supernatural. The new atheists, in particular, latch onto Darwinism and its foundation of philosophical materialism as their greatest argument against God’s existence.
Counter to this assertion, Markos considers the rising intelligent design movement, which asserts that science itself points toward a creator. One of the founding writers of this school, Phillip Johnson, undermines the theory of evolution by critiquing the evidence, particularly the fossil record.
Authors such as Michael Behe go further, asserting that living creatures display what is called specified complexity through systems that work toward a specific purpose and could not have evolved gradually. Others point to the information embedded in the genetic code and reason it must have had an origin in intelligence.
But Markos does not end with the battle over evolution. He goes on to examine one the great ironies of our postmodern age: how an obsession with scientific materialism, combined with the fraying of traditional values through various waves of social upheaval, have led some to doubt that it is possible to determine the truth and others to seek a reality not necessarily based on fact.
Markos shows that Christianity offers something for even the hardened skeptic and would-be mystic. For those wearied by the notion that truth can only come from a science lab, for example, there is Christ himself. He not only offered proof for his claims by working miracles, Christ actually was Truth embodied, the Word spoken not just to bring the cosmos into being but to sustain it for the purposes of his (and our) Heavenly Father.
And for the neo-pagan searching for hidden knowledge, magic and beauty, there is the Bible. Through prophecy, paradox and myth, scripture offers eternal truth and unimaginable splendor to those who would earnestly study it—and humbly submit to illumination by the Holy Spirit.
Put simply, Markos’s survey is broad, but not shallow. He presents his insights on apologetics not as an academic exercise, but as a believer who looks to these arguments to inform his faith.
Yet ultimately Markos does not treat apologetics as an end in itself. He challenges readers who are intrigued by arguments for Christianity to dig deeper by exploring scripture. There, he assures us, diligent seekers will find assurance that God exists, and more: “He is alive and still at work in the world.”