Let me make a couple of confessions right away about Mitch Stokes’ A Shot of Faith (To the Head):

Confession #1:  I get the giggles from the book’s subtitle, “Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists.” Cranky is just a funny word.

Confession #2:  Some of the arguments Stokes presents make my head hurt. A lot. I felt better when Stokes noted that David Hume — one of the Enlightenment philosophers whose work Stokes dissects — also apparently recognized how headache-inducing some of his logic was, as Stokes says,

“After thinking such thoughts, Hume was known to clear his head with a game of billiards amongst his friends. My guess is that he was also amongst beer.”

This being a Nazarene blog, I am endorsing neither billiards nor beer, but this statement simultaneously makes me feel less of a moron and makes me laugh.

All humor aside, A Shot of Faith is an interesting and useful book. Stokes addresses the arguments of the new atheists, those who are not merely disbelievers but are militantly anti-religion and anti-Church — names such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Stenger, and Harris. The purpose of the book is to provide Christians with the intellectual tools to address the common arguments of atheists. This is done in three sections, each of which tackles a prime atheistic argument.

Section One addresses the chief objection to belief in God, an objection which Stokes identifies as the notion that religious belief is irrational because of the utter lack of evidence for God’s existence.

Section Two addresses the atheist claim that science has shown that God doesn’t exist. Stokes reviews the numerous ways that this claim is supported, and addresses the most significant ones. This section is well-done and if nothing else, Stokes demonstrates that science actually gives us some very compelling reasons to believe in a divine Designer.

Section Three deals with one of the most difficult-to-handle objections to belief in God: the claim that the existence of evil and suffering show that He doesn’t exist. Stokes answers to this are some of the parts that make my brain work very hard to keep up, but here is the gist of it:

  • “There are two versions of the problem of evil, the logical problem and the probabilistic problem.
  • In the case of the logical problem of evil, the existence of God and the existence of evil allegedly result in a full-blown logical contradiction. This problem was solved by showing that there is a logically possible situation in which God and evil exist simultaneously. In particular, it is possible that God couldn’t make free creatures who refrain from evil.
  • In the case of the probabilistic problem of evil, the existence of evil makes it highly unlikely (but not impossible) that God exists. After all, we can’t think of any good reason that he would allow evil. But even though we can’t think of a reason, for all we know, God has very good ones.”

As you might be able to tell from the preceding quote, some of what Stokes has to say is going to be beyond the casual reader. Stokes has a doctorate in philosophy and it shows; much of the book concerns itself with the root philosophical basis of modern atheistic thought and its origins in the Enlightenment period. Yet he has done an excellent job in demonstrating the fallacies that are part and parcel of modern atheist claims. In his conclusion, Stokes is careful to note,

“… the notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards — of which there must be many — their worldview would entirely collapse.

And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape. Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are.

But if the Christian story is true, then there is such a thing as irrationality. And as we saw, those who don’t believe in God are suffering from it. After all, unbelief is caused, in part, by the malfunctioning of the sensus divinitatis.”

This last bit, the mention of the sensus divinitatis, is a significant theme for Stokes. Sensus divinitatis means “sense of the divine,” the term that Calvin used for the inborn tendency to believe in God; Stokes explains that Thomas Aquinas set this in terms of a proclivity to believe in God that was “implanted in us by nature.” While Stokes touches on the reason this innate sense doesn’t function as it ought to in humans — the ravages of sin — he unfortunately doesn’t explore what re-awakens the sensus divinitatis in humans. From a Wesleyan perspective, such an explanation might lead to discussion of prevenient grace, and one of my few real criticisms of the book would be that while Stokes does make clear that restoration of the sensus divinitatis only comes by embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he fails to so much as mention the prevenient work of the Holy Spirit.

Lest one might think that A Shot of Faith is nothing more than an attack on atheists disguised as apologetics, be assured that Stokes reveals his heart in the final words of the book:

” … all of us are damaged goods. Sin has caused some degree of irrationality in us all. And given the extent of the damage, it’s no wonder atheists don’t believe. The real wonder is why anyone believes. The explanation of course, is that God has begun to repair humanity, at an unimaginable cost to himself. And this is really good news.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”