This is a response to the online book, The Best Religion For the Task At Hand by Damien Harrison, whose online personality is The Tall Friendly Atheist Dad. Writing a book is a huge task and Harrison should be commended for making the effort to write and publish his book. The book can be purchased for $10.99 Australian here. Should anyone read this review, it should be noted that critiques are of ideas, application (or misapplication) of reason, and not of the author himself
This will be a strange book review as the book that Harrison wrote was in response to an article that Lita Cosner (Sanders) of Creation Ministries International wrote in response to a conglomeration of online videos by God-deniers. So, this is a response, to a response to a response.
You’ll see throughout this response that Harrison is not solely responding to Cosner. He is attacking Christianity at large. I’m not interested in defending any arguments by Cosner, but I will be pointing out throughout that Harrison has no grounds for judging others because of his assumptions on origins and his failed epistemology. There are many times Harrison purposefully mischaracterizes Christian teachings and displays no more than a surface-level understanding of the Bible. You can see his quotes from his book in red italics below with my responses in the default back text
In the Foreword Harrison begins with an uncharitable definition of creationism that only God-deniers hold. It’s not just uncharitable, before taking on her arguments, Harrison has poisoned-the-well. He’s taken Cosner and painted her with a brush of derision so his audience will see her as incompetent
“Creationism – the strand of Christianity that dismisses the findings of numerous fields of science simply because the conclusions reached by the evidence don’t line up with a literal reading of the Bible…Furthermore, creationism is wrong for the reasons it thinks it is correct.”
Those, who hold to creationism (The Bible should be interpreted contextually) do not dismiss findings as is asserted, but are skeptical of the assumptions with which naturalists interpret facts. Harrison is hypocritical and irrational in his thinking, because shortly thereafter, he falsely accuses Cosner of engaging in the poisoning-the-well fallacy
Harrison misquotes her and then falsely accuses her of a fallacy. Costner did NOT poison the well. She presented the case that atheists have no logical ground and linked to an article that explains step-by-step why. It’s not clear why Harrison would leave out that crucial bit of information in his response, but atheists have no logical ground for holding to standards of honesty. It’s not a good start (or a good look) from Harrison to lead off with poisoning-the-well fallacy and then falsely moan when he feels poisoned
This misrepresentation persists. The difference is in the presuppositions. The science is not disputed. To say that what can be known about the distant past (millions of years ago) has the same veracity as arithmetic and physics that can be measured in the present is a false equivocation. We find this conflation in many online discussions and Harrison builds his case upon this false assumption. To assert something to be “wrong”, one must have an epistemology that can justify knowledge, morality, logic…which atheism/naturalism does not. How can the accidental aggregation of stardust declare anything to be absolutely right/wrong?
“To make myself clear, the purpose of this book is not to defame, slander, belittle or impugn any particular person or organisation. Its purpose is to criticise BAD theology by demonstrating how MORALITY and governance based on socially-restrictive theology leads to DETRIMENTAL outcomes on both a personal and societal level.”
We’ll just have to stick around to see if he can indeed make sense of words BAD, MORALITY and DETRIMENTAL. If he maintains his atheistic naturalism, we can expect only an inconsistent sermon about things that he finds icky or personally distasteful since that’s all that atheism can conjure up
“However, I do hope that this book becomes one data point among many in a body of opinion that slowly turns the cultural tide away from beliefs in magic and superstition, and towards a more HUMANE approach to culture and politics.”
Magic? You mean like the naturalistic explanations of the cosmic evolution, dark matter (sciency-sounding moniker for superstition), 1st star, abiogenesis, the emergence of consciousness, the emergence of morality/altruism, the emergence of reasoning from non-reasoning source, purpose… ALL of those are magic for the naturalist since nature does not produce any of those.
Humane? I guess we’ll have to read ahead to see why one clump of cells (Harrison) thinks that other clumps of cells (Cosner) are worth protecting in a universe “that exhibits the properties one would expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, just blind, pitiless, indifference”
It’s rich that Harrison would project his own Nazi propaganda onto Cosner as if Christianity were simply “propaganda”. When in reality Harrison who dislikes the Germans for claiming that “Jews weren’t persons” literally claims that developing humans in the womb are “not really persons”. The irony is completely lost on Harrison when out of 1 side of his mouth he denounces the Nazis then with a forked tongue he uses the Nazi dehumanization of millions and millions of tiny unborn victims
Doubling down on a bad argument, Harrison then poisons the well with a false attribution of “Hitler was a Christian”. His citation of this long refuted fiction is based solely on the top half of his link. Should one venture to the second half of the link, a rational person will see that Hitler loved manipulating the church for his own Darwinistic purposes, but hated the actual teachings of the Bible and Christianity. As long as the term Christian served his propaganda, he was willing to hold the moniker. Harrison would have shown himself to be a diligent scholar rather than something of a propagandist himself by showing the actual scholarly writings of the Nazi leader by Richard Weikart. But his research was as deep as a hair’s breadth and as wide a particle from which he thinks consciousness arose.
P38 “Humanists take an active stance against slavery, genocide and torture and specifically because Humanists understand the needless harm, suffering and risk to life that these things have been shown to cause. When your goal is human well-being, when you know that certain actions result in harm and suffering, and when you have the power to reduce harm and suffering by neither participating in nor endorsing those actions, it’s simple – your morality is already superior to that of the Bible”
Defining the goal would be the appropriate place to start. He stated that the goal of humanists is to reduce harm and suffering of humans. That’s not a bad goal. In fact, most people would agree, but we have to dig a little deeper to see if there are any internal contradictions within this religion and how they handle mutually exclusive situations.
P41 “Bible actively endorses and celebrates things like slavert, genocide, and torture”
What Harrison fails to address is the slavery has existed since sin entered the world. People have treated others cruelly so long as they can get away with it. Outside of God’s revelation there are no justifiable transcendent limitations placed on humanity for how to we should treat one another. Throughout the Pentateuch limits were placed on masters that ultimately ended up being “Love your neighbor”. Outside of Israel, there were no restrictions on indentured servitude or slavery. For a more detailed understanding of the “active endorsement if slavery” see
P45 Harrison takes the least charitable and least contextually-relevant reading of all texts to support his perpetual caricature of Christian theology
P47-48 “If a religious text happens to endorses (insert bad things) … that religious text deserves to be roundly criticised”
Using what transcendent standard should the criticism be based? If those doing the criticism hold the same view (atheism) that has caused more death, suffering, and hatred than any other view, why should that criticism be heeded?
Chapter 4 was the personal incredulity fallacy and essentially said “Since some Christians failed to keep the Sabbath, then Christianity is false.”
It’s a ridiculous chapter
Chapter 5 “Is God a Homicidal Maniac?”
With a title like that, (sarcasm font begin) there’s SURE to be no emotional or inflammatory arguments made by the author (sarcasm font end)
Cosner’s Actual argument: False Atheist Premise: That God routinely orders killing, and for arbitrary reasons”
Harrison criticizes Cosner for moving the goalposts but misquotes her argument leaving out the weightiest element of the argument
Harrison (partially) quoting Cosner “That’s a false premise. God does not routinely order killing”
Notice how Harrison (arbitrarily?) left out the word “arbitrary reasons”. God has never killed anyone for arbitrary reasons.
I have had the privilege of having my writings critiqued by Harrison. One of Harrison’s favorite weapons is to claim: “yOu didN’t QuoTe tHe wHoLe cOnTexT!!!!!!”
It’s a shame that Harrison didn’t bother to apply that critique to himself, but do atheists even have a moral standard by which to make sure they uphold consistency or honesty?
Strawman arguments and uncharitable literalism (ignoring genre/context) persist throughout the rest of the chapter.
In my online interactions with atheists, I hear all the time that the Bible or Scientists, who believe the Bible do not make any testable predictions. Notice how Harrison totally misrepresents Cosner’s arguments:
P73: “Parents will eat their children? Looks like God is endorsing familial cannibalism to me”
Not once did Harrison consider God’s foreknowledge of the future being revealed to Ezekiel even though that is what was clearly being communicated. God has knowledge of the future, and He’s telling Ezekiel that the impending punishment upon the rebellious Israelites will be so severe that they will eat their own family members. God’s knowledge not endorsement, but someone with only a surface-level reading of the Bible wouldn’t know the difference
On p75 Harrison tries to trap Christians on the horns of a trilemma but instead commits the trifurcation fallacy:
- Either the Bible does not accurately represent God (fatal to the fundamentalist cause)
- Christians believe genocide is morally OK (confirming you need to twist your morals to make Biblical morality acceptable)
- God does not actually exist (Rendering the Bible as pure mythology)
Considering that point 2 is false (Since God is the ultimate authority, He cannot commit murder/genocide) and there is at least 1 more option, even though Harrison has taken a class on philosophy, he’s clearly not putting what he learned into practice. There are any number of possible additional options, but 1 of them is 4. God has a sufficient justification to render judgment on a people group. Knowing that the Bible teaches that humans have ALL sinned and no one deserves God’s mercy, it’s not just a people group that can get righteous judgment, but ALL people have rightly earned God’s holy judgment. That ANYONE has received grace is an amazing fact and makes God worthy of praise.
Ch 6 Non-stop attack on reformed thinking. For a rebuttal on reformed thinking see https://carm.org/doctrine-and-theology/unconditional-election/
“I know two people does not a religious orthodoxy make, but if Cosner and my Methodist friend combined represent something approaching the norm of Modern Christian theology, then IT CAN ONLY BE SURMISED that not only does Christianity require you to shun more humane interpretations of morality in favour of being compelled to say nice things about God at every opportunity for the rest of your life, but Christianity also requires you to conclude that picking up sticks is treason and that babies need to be killed because they’re potentially dangerous.”
“Bottom line: If you’re not convinced that Christianity requires you to twist your morality to fit in re-read the above paragraph until you are.”
Essentially, Harrison says that if you don’t believe his atheistic caricature of Christianity, re-read his book until you’re convinced his caricature is actual Christianity.
Harrison starts off this chapter criticizing Jesus for upholding the laws given to Moses. But again, Harrison does so without a consistent & transcendent standard…just his temporal personal preferences.
Harrison misunderstands Cosner’s assertion that the Christian worldview justifies charity. He then proceeds to say that charity & government programs existed long before the Christian worldview became widespread. This is another of his examples of uncharitable and purposeful misreading to push his agenda. Cosner never said Christianity is the source of all government welfare as Harrison implied. But the Christian worldview is the sole ideology that can justify all human value, so that any charity would be expected. Were naturalism true, why help the weak or unfit? The humanist religion must deny one of their core tenets (survival of the fittest) or redefine it to claim to love charity
P87-88 “If Jesus endorses the Old Testament and was even around when it all happened then Jesus the son is just as answerable as God the father in all human rights violations and war crimes”
Anyone else see the problem with Harrison’s logic? Human rights violations. From where do human rights come? If not from God, then there can be no such thing as human rights! As much as Harrison hates Frank Turek, Harrison is literally stealing from the Christian worldview to argue against it. He does the same thing with the concept of war crimes…as if there is a transcendent standard of morality by which criminals must be judged for crimes. How did a cosmos made only of particles produce transcendent moral standards such that Harrison can pronounce judgment on the Almighty? It’s ridiculous of him
Since God’s nature is the source of human rights (humans are created in his image), God has never violated them. Since the transcendent moral standard comes from God’s unchanging character, He cannot criminally break them. God’s judgment for rebellion is just and since Harrison has no rational standard by which to judge the Almighty, his objection is a dismal failure
P90 Back in his early chapters, Harrison shrieked (incorrectly) that Cosner employed the poisoning the well fallacy…and then promptly poisoned the well against her. In his chapter called “What About Him?” Harrison leads off with the assertion that Jesus is a racist and implies that creationists (and by association with Jesus all Christians) are racist with his line “And let us not forget that Creationist white supremacist groups are still active today in Christian America.”
You’ll notice how Harrison insinuated that white supremacists are creationists (and followers of Jesus) so being a creationist/Christian opens you up to being a racist. He’ll hem and haw with “plausible deniability” and say that’s not what he intended, but the well is poisoned.
Ch8 Here Harrison tries to project his personal temporal preference (which he calls his religion of humanism) onto God. So, Harrison feels justified in condemning God for judging the sin of mankind in the worldwide flood. Does God not have the right to do with his creation as He wills? Why not? I covered this in a separate blog post, Stay in Your Lane. Harrison does not know how to properly do an internal critique. Should he want to correctly show why the Bible is incorrect regarding God’s morality, he must take on the Christian position (for purposes of argumentation) and show how it leads to an inconsistency or an absurdity. But as it is, his objections are just screaming at the air and stomping his feet.
On pg97, Harrison opines loudly and ignorantly about Jesus cursing the fig tree. Lost to Harrison and sadly even most Christians is what Jesus was actually trying to say. For reference, see Isaiah 5. God describes planting a garden and doing everything necessary for it to bear much fruit…to be a delight to the vinedresser. But the vineyard (Israel) fails to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49). Instead, the vineyard is impotent…worshipping false idols and prostituting itself among the nations. As Jesus enters the last week of his life, He is justly judging Israel (the fig tree) never to bear fruit again because of their wickedness and their upcoming unjust murder of the Messiah (Matt 27:25).
P101 “To sum it up, ending the life of a plant or animal for the reasonable sustainment of life isn’t a bad thing – animals eat plants and animals eat other animals all the time. But killing humans in a fit of rage is a bad thing”
Why? According to atheists, what transcendent standard proclaims this to be true? How do you know? Would it be wrong to kill Trump? Putin? Tucker Carlson? Alex Jones? Hitler?
If humans are simply animals, what’s wrong with animals killing other animals? How do you know? What is the distinction between 1 type of animal and another type of animal with regards to killing? Flush with internal contradictions, the humanist, who has a faith commitment to evolutionism, has no rational justification for calling 1 type of interaction between animals as immoral and any other type of interaction between animals as moral. Only in the Christian worldview can the murder of humans be justifiably shown as immoral.
CH9 Harrison starts ch9 with a plan to “fix” Christianity by taking out God, and simply replacing it with secular humanism. All Fixed! He proclaims that the group of people, who are responsible for building, staffing, and supporting more schools, orphanages, hospitals, charitable donations, mission organizations, and general welfare should become more like the secular religion that has done NONE of that. I did find it interesting that there is one atheist orphanage in the world. So, in all of history and throughout all civilizations, there is only 1 orphanage created in the name of atheism. I do understand that humanism and atheism are not completely synonymous, but there is near complete overlap in their Venn diagrams. The orphanage is on tenuous financial grounds. We’ll see if the humanists can rally with actual financial support rather than just keyboard virtual signaling. But it does make one wonder, if humanists are so bent on helping the suffering, why is the only measurable metric of their actual assistance almost completely missing?
Ch10 Not realizing that Christianity is the explanation for all of history, life, origins and the future, Harrison declares that Jesus or his teachings are unneeded because “It is fair to say that if numerous independent cultures came to the same principles without Jesus (in this case The Golden Rule), it indicates that that The Golden Rule didn’t need a Jesus to make it.” (duplicate “that” in original)
But as Christians, we would expect the Golden Rule to be a worldwide phenomenon since humans are all created in God’s image. All humans know what is right/wrong in general because it is written on our hearts (Rom 2:15). So, his objection stems from an ignorance of the Christian worldview or malevolence against Jesus.
Why didn’t Jesus teach people about antibiotics? That wasn’t his purpose. Throughout, the book, Harrison’s assumption has been that secular humanism’s goal, so he asks “Is your morality focused on maximising human well-being and reducing pain and suffering by having a rational understanding of the world around you or is your morality simply focused on making sure the feelings of an infinitely great and powerful God aren’t hurt because someone ate shellfish.”
But that is not the standard. The Bible is clear that God’s purposes are to be glorified by saving unworthy sinners. Jesus’ own words tell us why He came into the word. John 12:47. Paul affirms this revelation in his 1st letter to Timothy. Chapter 1 verse 15
Ch12 Harrison leads off with a howler:
“Because Cosner’s morality is based on the will of the supreme intelligence behind the creation of the universe as revealed in the Bible, there should be no possible way I could counter any of her arguments gained from that theology and methodology”
That’s like saying, “if the speeding laws in a country truly were from the state, there would be no way to argue your way out of a ticket with a police officer”
It’s just ridiculous
Next he does do a very good thing by defining terms. Unfortunately, his conclusions end up as temporal preferences rather than actual objective morality
“In my estimation, the essence of morality should be designed by what is universal to the shared human experience – health, wellbeing and personal and economic freedoms”
It’s fine to love your neighbor, and your enemies…in fact, this is the actual Christian position as opposed to what Harrison has been on about. In fact, my article about why Empathy is arbitrary, inconsistent, and irrational for the atheist exposes the utter lack of foundation from which atheists loudly prattle-on about their virtue. So, on which foundation do they stand to prattle-on? Knowing Harrison’s hatred for Frank Turek, atheists are literally stealing their worldview from God in an attempt to make sense of their assumptions.
Getting back to Harrison’s prattling: ”Jehovah’s Witness families have died because of their parent’s belief that…it is better for their child to die…This is an abject failure of theism.”
Did anybody catch what he did there? It’s called a hasty generalization. “Because 1 theistic group did something I don’t like, then ALL theism is an abject failure”
Garrison doubles down on p133 (this is a paraphrase of Harrison’s 7 paragraphs) Westboro Baptist church says mean things, so Christianity is false
On p134 Harrison mocks the Bible as not being God’s Word because “When someone reads the Bible, they are free to interpret the text in any way they see fit”. The inferred point from him then is that if the Bible can be interpreted in many ways, then NONE of them are correct. This is a sweeping generalization, which takes the form: if there are many counterfeits then all are counterfeit.
But Christians do not believe this and the Bible teaches against what Harrison says. The Bible is the revelation of God, and is justification for knowledge being possible at all (2 Tim 2:2, Act 17:11)
P134 Harrison doesn’t think his argument through when he opines about what he believes to be the total flexibility in biblical interpretation
“Case in point: In Isaiah 7:14, the word that is commonly translated as virgin in the verse “.,..the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…” does not mean virgin – the original Hebrew word almah just meant a young woman of child-bearing age without ant reference to previous sexual activity”
Harrison displays ignorance to the word he has grown to loathe – context. In what context was this Word from the Almighty spoken to Isaiah? The king of Judah, King Ahaz was worried about the imminent invasion from the most powerful army in that area of the world. He was considering a bad alliance and the LORD gave Ahaz the prophecy that the nations he feared would becomes desolate. And the sign would be that an “almah” would give birth to a son. Harrison believes it is likely that the LORD said: “a girl of child-bearing age will bear a son” as if that’s some sort of unusual state of circumstances. As if a girl of child-bearing age had ever had a son before as a sign that the most powerful army in that part of the world would be destroyed. Neither myself nor Harrison are Hebrew scholars, but Harrison’s opinion that God would give a sign that a woman would have a son as a sign from God is a lazy and ill-conceived objection. Because the Hebrew word also means virgin, the context clearly shows the word to hold the meaning that all Bible translators, all Hebrew scholars, and all Christians have known for thousands of years.
The Criteria p135
The crux of Harrison’s argument can be distilled to this 1 thing:
He has a subjective opinion that morality is “In my estimation, the essence of morality should be designed by what is universal to the shared human experience – health, wellbeing and personal and economic freedoms”
Let’s call it morality H. We’ll call Christianity morality C
Harrison claims that H > C based on H as the standard. But this is not a valid comparison. To determine TRUTH, a comparison would need to be done against a transcendent standard (T). Since atheism cannot account for unchanging, abstract, absolutes, the best Harrison can say is “My feelings are better than yours”
The strength of Christianity is that it does make a claim to be a transcendental standard. The unchanging, transcendent, absolute Monarch, who created and upholds creation, has deemed certain behaviors as moral and others as immoral. So like it or not: God’s creation – God’s rules
C = T
Therefore C > H based on the standard of T
Jesus said the greatest commandment (Matthew 22) is this “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
IN THAT ORDER. So, we as God’s creation and image bearers are to love God supremely and follow this with loving our neighbors (and even our enemies – Luke 6)
P146 “So it turns out that the best religion for the task at hand of helping inform a human-centric morality that increases well-being…is no religion at all”
While his whole book has been building a case against Christianity and for the religion of humanism, his last line of his book rejects his own premise. It’s a fitting end to a book filled with caricatures of Christianity, baseless assertions, and sloppy logic