The Problem of God

Answering A Skeptic's Challenges to Christianity

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Mark Clark
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , August
     2017.
     272 pages.
     $17.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780310535225.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

TheProblem of God claims to be the latest and most persuasive book for convincing non-Christians and non-believers that they must become Christians. To accomplish this, the author, Mark Clark, attempts to tackle ten concerns or “problems” that people have with Christianity, which include: science, God’s existence, the Bible, Christ’s existence, theodicy, hell, sex, hypocrisy, exclusivity, and Jesus. Clark draws very heavily on the work of prior apologists in trying to address these problems (to the point of not introducing any original arguments), interweaving their apologies with engaging stories. The end result is a book that superficially might seem compelling to someone who has very little knowledge about atheism, biblical criticism, philosophy, science, religion, and/or logic. The book is also likely to appeal to sexists, homophobes, and Christian fundamentalists.

Those last two sentences may seem strongly-worded but are easily defended. Clark’s antagonist throughout the book is a caricature of atheism, which he tries to validate by claiming that he was, himself, raised an atheist. I’m skeptical. He attended Christian summer camps as early as nine years old (127) and spent most of his teenage years attending Christian services. Many of the stories from his supposedly atheistic childhood and teenage years seem incredible, probably because they are, like the invitation from a pagan friend to join her in making sacrifices to Satan and having an orgy on a school night (208). Clark reveals his ignorance of nonreligion by conflating atheism, skepticism, secularism, naturalism, and agnosticism. He insists that skeptics believe nothing (16), that atheists reject “anybody who believes in God” (210), and that all nonbelievers do is spend their days thinking about their rejection of God (147). He also regularly attributes strawman arguments to atheists and, erroneously, claims that society (presumably Canadian society) is predominantly secular, which doesn’t align with survey data.

The book is filled with factual inaccuracies, from absurd claims like historians saying the Bible is the most reliable book of antiquity (65) to suggesting that the Bible opposes polygamy and is pro-sexuality (174). Ironically, Clark claims at the beginning of the book that he will avoid logical fallacies like strawman arguments, but the logical fallacies in the book are legion. In my reading, I tallied over one hundred. Clark is particularly fond of false dilemmas (and, ironically, strawman arguments), but regularly employs others, like the No True Scotsman fallacy (83, 153), hasty generalizations, and a particularly poorly argued red herring about atrocities committed by atheists versus those committed by Christians (194; whether atheists committed atrocities or not doesn’t justify Christians committing them). 

As a young, hip pastor in Vancouver, I thought for sure Clark would be accepting of science. Instead, Clark invokes quantum mechanics as the mechanism for the resurrection (33), claims God is the only logical explanation for the big bang on the basis that “it’s better than nothing” (55), and uses an argument from ignorance to justify why God must have created amoebas and not evolution (57). Clark’s understanding of evolution is juvenile (35). Literally, my nine-year-old son has a better understanding of evolution (I quizzed him after reading this book). 

The well-worn technique of misquoting or misrepresenting those who disagree with an apologist also shows up, with the two clearest victims being Stephen J. Gould (35) and Stephen Hawking (59), though Bertrand Russell makes frequent appearances as well (125). Clark cherry-picks quotes from sympathetic philosophers and scientists (e.g., Francis Collins, 56) to defend his arguments, using appeals to authority when he does so by emphasizing their credentials. He also cherry-picks quotes from nonbelieving scientists to negatively portray them, like when he suggests the eugenics movement was the logical consequence of evolutionary thinking (50). 

Clark is not above self-contradiction when necessary. To justify his claims that the supernatural exists, Clark points to other religions (173), but repeatedly denies the truth claims of all religions but his own. Most of these religions are dismissed with virtually no discussion, like Hinduism, the beliefs of which are described as “naive and dangerous” (111). He never directly addresses the concern that he would not have been raised a Christian if he had been born in “Saudi Arabia or India” (211), presumably because there is no good answer to that problem. I initially thought I might find some agreement with his treatment of sex until he asserted that women do not own their bodies after marriage (159), a claim that reinforces rape culture. He also describes homosexuality as “extreme sexual perversion” (165) and blames under-achieving men on women’s sexual liberation (166). 

Clark employs another false dilemma and strawman argument to insist that atheism leads, inevitably, to moral relativism, which he attacks viciously (45). However, he later insists that the Bible cannot be judged by modern standards “because, when we reject the Bible for cultural reasons, we are prioritizing one cultural belief over another” (82). This obvious contradiction does not prevent Clark from repeatedly insisting on the tired trope that atheists are amoral and that is where secularization leads. The low levels of corruption and crime in highly secularized countries around the world illustrate just how detached from reality Clark is.

Clark’s most utilized rhetorical weapon is to simply assert that Christianity has evidence and is true (a.k.a. the fallacy of proof by assertion). By stating it over and over again, Clark seems to think this will convince readers. It reminds me very much of Donald Trump, who seems to believe that repeating lies will convince people they are true. About thirty pages into The Problem of God, I wasn’t sure if the author was being willfully dishonest or was just ignorant. By the end of the book, I had my answer: he is both. If this is the best Christian apologists have to offer, atheists can sleep well at night.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ryan T. Cragun is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa.

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mark Clark is the founding pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada. Starting in 2010 out of a school gym, it is now one of the fastest growing multi-site churches in North America. Mark combines frank and challenging biblical preaching with real-world applications and apologetics to speak to Christians and skeptics, confronting questions, doubts, and assumptions about Christianity. His sermons have millions of downloads per year from over 120 different countries.

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