Book Review: The Atheist Fairy Tale by Dr. Sonny Hernandez
Perhaps it could be said that those who call themselves atheists are either confused or lying. Truth be told, the Bible says they have lied themselves into confusion (cf. Rom. 1). The reality presented by Scripture is that all men are made in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:27), knowing that He is their Creator (cf. Rom. 1:19), understanding that they will exist forever (cf. Ecc. 3:11), and feeling the condemnation of God's moral Law on their conscience (cf. Rom. 2:14-15). Thus, in any apologetic or evangelistic encounter, ontology is one of the Christian's greatest allies. The fact that unbelievers are men and women created in the image of God means that they have within them the knowledge of the aforementioned spiritual realities. Because of this, professing atheists operate on certain assumptions, or presuppositions, that betray their professed belief (or lack thereof). Only willful suppression of the truth can stand in the way of this. It is for this reason that the Christian's duty is not to offer "proofs" or "evidences" of God's existence to the skeptic, but rather, to expose to the skeptic the reality that he or she already knows God exists. "I know that you know" is the biblical position that Christians are to take when witnessing to professing atheists.
To that end, Dr. Sonny Hernandez recently released a book entitled, The Atheist Fairy Tale: An apologetics introduction on Van Til's research to equip laymen to refute godless presuppositions. I had the privilege of receiving and reviewing a proof copy of the book.
The Atheist Fairy Tale
Not one to mince words, Dr. Hernandez opens the first chapter with a quotation of Psalm 14:1-7, followed by the following statement: "Atheism is a fictitious, inane, and blasphemous religion that denies the existence of God." In this chapter, Hernandez lays the groundwork, based on insight from Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, to recognize that atheism itself is a "fairy tale" (in his words). Comparing the atheistic understanding of the world to "pond scum that developed itself into a self-replicating cell," he exposes the truth that morality, rationality, and intelligibility could not come from a "godless universe, where life happened because of a chemical accident and dumb luck." In other words, the very concept of thought, the very idea of ideas, cannot be justified according to the atheistic worldview.
Toward the end of chapter one, Hernandez condenses the presuppositional apologetic approach into seven items and purposes, with the final item worth noting. What is the point of this intellectual exercise?
That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non-Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he “already knows” but seeks to suppress. This “reminding” process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance.
Of course, since presuppositionalism rests upon a proper understanding of anthropology (the doctrine of mankind), Hernandez departs from his primary thesis for a moment to address the errant techniques and phrases common to modern evangelistic appeals, such praying a sinner's prayer, asking Jesus into your heart, and so on.
In the second chapter, Hernandez addresses worldviews, and begins with an important point: non-theists use their senses and reasoning to justify their beliefs, but cannot explain how they know that their senses and reasoning are valid arbiters of truth. This gets back to the contrast between the Christian and non-Christian worldview—Christians believe in an intelligent Creator (the triune God of the Bible) who has given human intelligence, whereas atheists profess a worldview that lacks this starting point of intelligence and therefore cannot explain the source, let alone the concept, of intelligence itself.
Rather than setting up a strawman, Hernandez cites a lengthy explanation of the origins of life from a professing atheist, Dr. Michael Shermer. After a brief dismissal of Shermer's view, he turns to Van Til to refute the argument, spending the rest of the chapter interacting with several positions set forth from Van Til.
Hernandez ends the second chapter with a very helpful application point (reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and 2 Timothy 2:14-18):
Therefore, when debating professing atheists, it is important to avoid compromise, neutrality, and incessant dialogue so both the theist and non-theist can examine each other's erudition, and interrogate each other.
The seven questions that follow are exceedingly helpful for any believer who finds himself engaging with atheistic family, friends, and acquaintances.
Chapter three goes after the foundation of the atheistic worldview (namely, that there is none) and delves into how knowledge itself is justifiable in such a worldview. This chapter examines Van Til's position on "analogical knowledge," which may be more in depth than necessary for a primer on presuppositionalism. Nevertheless, the chapter ends with a very helpful point-by-point response to Dr. Shermer's objections, not only refuting them, but identifying the logical fallacies presented.
Hernandez finishes the chapter well:
In closing, professing atheists love to assume that life happened as a result of random processes, and are nothing more than evolved animals who are forced to live a “survival of the fittest” life. Yet, they are able to profess their love for their spouse, children, and they claim that things in this world are beautiful. This is the inconsistency with atheism—they have a worldview that affirms human beings as chemical accidents that are matter in motion—yet they do not live in a way that comports with this worldview. After all, chemicals have no dignity, and evolution annihilates the possibility of universal logic.
The fourth chapter identifies the reality that logic can only be accounted for in the Christian worldview. Not only is this demonstrated in a philosophical sense, but more importantly, the three foundational laws of logic (law of identity, law of excluded middle, and law of non-contradiction) are demonstrated from Scripture. As with the other chapters, Hernandez ends with very practical questions that summarize the chapter and equip the reader.
The fifth and final chapter presents an important defense of the authority of Scripture. "How do you know the Bible is true?" This chapter helps to understand why such a question is inherently flawed: it "presupposes" that there is a standard of truth to which the Bible is to be evaluated. But of course, as Christians, we understand that the Bible is the highest standard of truth, which is why it is not subject to anything lesser in order to demonstrate its authority and truthfulness. On the contrary, everything else is subject to the Bible. Hernandez develops this point by first analyzing the presuppositions of skeptics, and then turning over the explanation to Van Til over a series of points.
The appendix, an excerpt of work written by Cornelius Van Til himself, is a great addition to the book. This particular work of Van Til's is entitled "Why I Believe in God." Although I was familiar with Van Til prior to this book, I had not read this particular piece of his. It was a welcome addition. What I especially enjoyed was the fact that Van Til wrote this in a very conversational and winsome way, much like would be expected from the philosopher C.S. Lewis. Since this style of writing will appeal to readers who are fans of Lewis, my hope would be that their enthusiasm would be diverted away from the liberal theology of Lewis, and toward the biblically-based theology of Van Til.
Asking the Right Questions
Admittedly, this book is merely a primer on presuppositional apologetics. And it hits hard and fast. It jumps into the issues quickly and moves from point to point at that same pace. I would liken it to drinking a Red Bull in five minutes as opposed to sipping on a cafè latte over the course of an hour. With that in mind, coming in at 121 pages, you certainly won't have all your questions answered—but this book will at least help you begin asking the right ones.
The book can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Atheist-Fairy-Tale-introduction-presuppositions/dp/1984318241
The ministry of Dr. Sonny Hernandez can be found here: https://www.reformingamericaministries.com