Chesterton, the New Atheism, and an Apologetics of Common Sense

Marianne Kuipers-Sedee

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Marianne Kuipers-Sedee – Chesterton, the New Atheism, and an Apologetics of Common Sense

    Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was an English writer who defended the Christian and Roman Catholic faith in many of his writings. His work as an apologist was important in his own day, and it has influenced a number of other thinkers since. This study investigates whether his apologetics is still valuable today. To do this, I explore its value as the basis of an apologetic response to the new atheism, a popular contemporary movement that has a highly critical view of religion. Specifically, I make an appeal to Chesterton’s understanding of the concept of common sense, to which he refers across his work. Common sense, for Chesterton, is a way of thinking that calls us to see things as they are. In this study, I distinguish four criteria of common sense that can function as a helpful standard within an apologetic approach today. To compare the rival worldviews of the new atheists and Christianity and decide which is most in line with common sense and, therefore, most plausible, I test them using these criteria.

    My argument proceeds in three main steps. Firstly, I discuss the worldview of the new atheists. I try to do justice to them by always taking on the strongest version of their arguments. This helps me to reach a higher intellectual level in my subsequent discussion with these thinkers. Secondly, I discuss the apologetics of Chesterton. I consider his arguments both in terms of his own background, and with reference to discussions today. My aim is to identify several relevant apologetic ideas and actualize them in our contemporary context. Lastly, I develop an apologetic approach towards the new atheism inspired by Chesterton’s apologetics. This entails entering into discussion with the new atheists and arguing against their positions in favor of positions that are in line with the Christian worldview.

    I conclude that Chesterton’s apologetics is still useful in an apologetic approach today, and that his criteria of common sense are a useful framework by which worldviews can be tested. Satisfying the criteria of common sense leads to a worldview that is more plausible than a worldview that is not in line with common sense. The worldview of the new atheism is less compatible with common sense and is, therefore, less plausible. In comparison, the worldview of Christianity is more in line with common sense and is, therefore, a more plausible worldview.

    Common sense has proven to be a fruitful standard by which to test worldviews. Therefore, in the future, one might consider taking a similar approach to carry on a discussion between worldviews in a fruitful way. Furthermore, the application of the criteria of common sense might also be used in conversations on other topics. With regard to future academic research, I have a few additional suggestions: other worldviews besides the new atheist and the Christian worldviews can also be discussed in light of the criteria of common sense. Also, future studies could explore determining the plausibility of worldviews by applying criteria other than the ones used in this study. Thus, we might arrive at a set of criteria for the plausibility of worldviews that is generally accepted.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Tilburg University
    • Sarot, Marcel, Promotor
    • Knight, M., Promotor, External person
    Award date28 Jun 2021
    Place of Publications.l.
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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