My Response to the Dishonest Atheist Critics of My Book (First Things)

This article, “Ye of Brittle Faith,” was published in the February 2017 edition of First Things.  My response was a long time in coming due to a number of distractions, chiefly, the fact that I was (and still am) recovering from a serious accident.  

Sometimes it is not worth responding to critics.  You simply cannot convince someone who is determined not to accept a view that is contrary to his ideological commitments.  But these attacks were personal and absurdly false.  Indeed, they were “fake news” at its worst.  With that in mind, I set the record straight for those who are fair-minded.

On December 15, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died of esophageal cancer. Some remember him as a man of the left who, after 9/11, converted to a kind of neoconservatism; others remember him as an atheist provocateur and serial blasphemer. For me, Christopher Hitchens was much more than either of these things. He was, as he put it, my “debate partner” and friend. This relationship, largely hidden from view, was a surprise to no one more than me. I am, after all, an Evangelical Christian. Even so, after his diagnosis of cancer in 2010, it was my privilege to take two lengthy road trips with the celebrated atheist. The first was from his home in Washington, D.C., to mine in Birmingham, Alabama. The second was through Yellowstone National Park. In both instances, we studied the Bible together and discussed the Great Questions. This relationship is the subject of my recent book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist.

The book received ample praise, with Booklist calling it “loving” and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews hailing it as “beautiful.” The Gospel Coalition declared it “an instant classic” and recently named it a 2016 Book of the Year winner. At the same time, however, the book evoked fierce denunciations by a number of the so-called New Atheists. They seized upon the title as proof that I claim Hitchens made some sort of last-minute conversion. As any reader of the book can tell you, this is not so. I say as much in the opening paragraph. But just in case the reader missed it, in the final chapter I emphasize that it is unlikely that Hitchens became a Christian. The subtitle makes it clear that I believe that Christopher was, in fact, an atheist, albeit a restless one.

That was not enough for the atheist critics of my book. University of Chicago biologist and professional atheist Jerry Coyne published a review on his website titled “A vulture spreads the false rumor that Hitchens accepted God at the end.” The false rumor comes from Coyne himself, since my book says nothing of the kind. When those who had actually read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens accused Coyne of not reading it, he posted this update: “Because people have suggested that I wrote this entire piece without having read any of Taunton’s book, I read the six pages about Hitchens given on the [New York] Times site, and, after writing it, have read substantial sections of the book that someone sent to me.” Six pages? So much for the scientific method.

You can read the full article here.

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