Monday, April 7, 2008

Modern Atheists Debunked (?)

My Great Aunt Dorothy Jean (who just turned 90 on March 1) a few years ago lent Demetrios a book entitled, An Atheist Manifesto, together with a companion volume, Positive Atheism. Demetrios, fascinated, read them both, and concluded that the objections to religion were specifically to Western Christianity. The things the author was discussing simply did not apply to Orthodox Christianity.

"But," he added, and I agreed, "If I thought God were who these people think He is, who your Great Aunt thinks He is, I'd be an atheist, too!" Well, okay, there's a logical contradiction there, but you get the point. It's a false god to whom these atheists rightly object!

That's why we don't feel we have a dog in this fight. Nevertheless, for anyone interested, First Things has published a review of a book purporting to demolish the logic of several of today's prominent and popular atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Here is the meat of it.

The Irrational Atheist
Posted by Anthony Sacramone

Just when atheists thought it was safe to enter the public square, a book like this comes along. The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day is not a work of Christian apologetics. It is, instead, a merciless deconstruction of atheist thought—or what passes for thought. That’s the gimmick, if you will, of the book: Day does not accept a single assertion made by any one of the “Unholy Trinity”—Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens—without first pinning it to a sheet of wax as in a seventh-grade science class, dissecting it until there’s nothing left but a case for anti-vivisection legislation.

Day starts off with the charming declarative sentence “I don’t care if you go to hell”—this despite being a Southern Baptist, a group not known for complacency in such matters. But the author wants to make clear that he’s not trying to convert anyone to Christianity, only to ensure that those readers who are susceptible to straw-man arguments, tautologies, clich├ęs, and urban legends understand that the New Atheists—who are on a conversion mission—are not only guilty of all of the aforementioned but also are seemingly incapable of mustering anything stronger by way of Reason in their own cause.

To take just one of many examples, a common trope among atheists is that religion is the No. 1 cause of wars in history. “If religion were an important element of warmaking, one would expect to find a great deal of text commenting upon it,” Day writes. But you don’t. After reading the great war theorists, from Sun Tzu to Von Clausewitz, Day found pages and pages about perseverance, spies, geometry, inspirational music—but virtually nothing about religion.

As for the nature of the wars themselves, talk about specific: Day found 123 wars that could validly be claimed to have religion at their heart—a grand total of 6.98 percent of all wars fought. “It’s also interesting to note that more than half of these religious wars, sixty-six in all, were waged by Islamic nations,” Day offers as an aside.

Of the New Atheists Day examines in The Irrational Atheist, the most irrational, by the author’s lights, is the man who started the atheism bestselling craze, Sam Harris. “Harris is an appallingly incoherent logician. He frequently fails to gather the relevant data required to prove his case, and on several occasions inadvertently presents evidence that demonstrates precisely the opposite of that which he is attempting to prove.” One quick example: Harris asserts that most suicide bombers are Muslims. Yet, “the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are not Muslims but a Marxist liberation front that committed 168 of the 273 suicide bombings that took place between 1980 and 200, have historically been the leading practitioners of suicide bombing.”

Dawkins doesn’t fare much better in Day’s analytical meat grinder. Day sics the anthropic principle on him, which Dawkins rejects because any God capable of fine-tuning the universe so as to make possible the advent of DNA is at least as improbable as the universe in question, because he would have to be a being of unimaginable complexity. Day offers as a refutation the existence of the mathematician who calculated the “goldilocks values” (the cosmic fine-tuning that the birth of man would require) in the first place, this “despite being less complex than the sum of everyone and everything else in the universe.” Day, who creates computer programs, is well placed to demonstrate how “mass quantities of information can easily be produced from much smaller quantities of information”—as anyone familiar with computer-generated fractals understands.

As for some atheists’ resorting to “multiverse theory” in a desperate attempt to answer the probability problem of a human-compatible Earth, “not only is multiverse theory every bit as unfalsifiable and untestable as the God Hypothesis, it is demonstrably more improbable,” replies Day.

Day then aims his rhetorical guns at Christopher Hitchens. When the latter states that “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence,” the former lays out quote after quote of unsupported and “auto-refutable statements” culled from the pages of God Is Not Great. Needless to say, Hitchens is dismissed rather quickly.

Day is kinder to Daniel Dennett, whom he dubs “the pragmatic philosopher.” Despite some of Dennett’s more supercilious comments regarding believers’ intelligence, he, according to Day, is willing to at least “examine” religion in the light of science. Day nevertheless rejects Dennett’s “claims that ‘brights’ have better family values than born-again Christians,” a contention based on George Barna’s flawed 1999 study. The fact that “half of all atheists and agnostics don’t get married” turns such a charge into an “apples and oranges” error. Day cites the more reliable 2001 ARIS study and finds that atheists are “twice as likely to get divorced and have fewer children than any other group in the United States.”

Postscript: Demetrios picked up Hitchens' book one evening at Barnes and Noble and sat down for some 45 minutes perusing it. When he was finished, he expressed disappointment. He had expected some argument worth dealing with, some good intellectual stimulation, and couldn't find any. "I really did not expect a man with such a reputation as an intellectual to turn out to be such a shallow thinker."