Posted by jlwile on July 19, 2009
As I have said previously, it is hard for me to fathom anyone who has scientific training and does not believe in God. The natural world, in my opinion, screams out His existence to anyone who examines it even in a cursory way. Indeed, it was science that brought me not only to a belief in God, but also to faith in Christianity. Thus, when I encounter someone who actually knows something about the natural world and does not believe in God, I am fascinated.
The only blog I read regularly, for example, is PZ Myers’s blog. He clearly knows a lot about the natural world, and yet he remains an atheist. In the same way, I have read every one of Richard Dawkins’s books. Both Myers and Dawkins are interesting writers – Myers being more of a sledgehammer and Dawkins being more of a jeweler’s hammer – and I think they are both a grand testament to how well people can compartmentalize their thinking. They are both adept at keeping their knowledge of the natural world quite apart from their logic and reasoning. If they were ever to put the three together, they could not remain atheists. Since they resolutely keep their scientific knowledge separate from their logic and reasoning, I have always referred to such atheists as “irrational.”
Enter Vox Day** . I read what seemed to be a ridiculously fawning review of his book The Irrational Atheist and, as a result, I almost didn’t buy it. After all, I seriously doubted that any book about the obvious absurdity of the atheist position could be as good as the reviewer claimed. However, before rejecting his book because the review I read seemed too good to be true, I decided to see what my favorite atheist (PZ Myers) had to say about the book. Now Myers regularly writes long, scathing reviews of books that he thinks he can refute. Thus, I assumed there would be a long review of Day’s book. Instead, all I could find was a short entry saying that he couldn’t even finish the book. Well…any book that is too terrifying for PZ Myers to finish is definitely worth a look!
One of the first things I learned by reading the book is how disingenuous PZ Myers really is. Remember…I decided to get the book because Myers was too terrified to finish it. Here is what Myers said:
I’ve also read Day’s horrible little book, The Irrational Atheist. Well, to be honest, I read a few chapters of dreck, then flipped through the rest rather quickly. It’s actually the “Vox Day Hates Sam Harris” book, with occasional potshots at other New Atheists, and it’s really not very good. You would think that if he had a strong rational argument with evidence for any gods, then he would have put it in there — nothing would more seriously deflate one of us scientific atheists who claim there is no evidence for god than, say, presenting credible evidence for god. That was what I actually skimmed through the book for, but it wasn’t there.
Well, the introduction to the book tells the reader:
…my purpose in writing this book is not to defend God, or even argue for the truth of my particular religious faith. Instead, I intend to defend those who are now being misled into doubting their faith or are fooled into feeling more secure in their lack of faith on the basis of the fraudulent, error-filled writings of [Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens] (pp. 1-2)
So had Myers actually read even the first couple of pages of this book, he would know that the point of the book was not to “present credible evidence for god [sic].” I seriously doubt Myers read much of the book at all, however, as it eviscerates his heroes. In the end, someone who actually reads the book clearly understands that the only way Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens can make the arguments they make is to make utterly irrational claims, hoping no one like Vox Day calls them on it.
The second thing I learned while reading this book is that a lot of our commonly-held, everyday beliefs are simply dead wrong. For example, I am guilty of thinking that suicide bombers are mostly Muslim. The data say such a notion is completely false. In fact, most suicide bombings have been perpetuated by the Tamil Tigers, a secular Marxist group. Thus, the majority of suicide bombers are atheists. While people decry “religion” as leading to all the terrible violence you see in the news, in fact, it is mostly atheist people and regimes that perpetuate violence.
For example, a common atheist argument is that religion is bad because religion is the cause for most wars on the planet. However, a quick look at the data shows quite the opposite. Vox Day discusses a three-volume compendium entitled Encyclopedia of Wars. It attempts to cover a significant percentage of all the wars that have been recorded in human history. Throughout this massive, scholarly work, there are 123 wars that the authors characterize as religious. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? The problem is that the Encyclopedia of Wars covers 1,763 wars! The wars that the scholars categorize as “religious” amount to slightly less than seven percent of all wars. Thus, contrary to the claims of atheists, religion is not the primary cause of war.
In fact, Day makes a very interesting point about how atheists “point the finger” towards religion as the root of all sorts of terrible dangers, all the while ignoring that the real dangers the world faces comes from the main object of veneration for most atheists: science. Day brilliantly puts it this way:
The five major religions of the world…have approximately 4.85 billion adherents, representing an estimated 71.3 percent of the world’s population in 2007, and they have been around for a collective 11,600 years. During the vast majority of those 116 centuries, the world has not been in any danger of extinction from weapons of any kind, nor has the human race been in serious danger of dying out from pollution, global warming, overpopulation, or anything else. Despite 116 centuries filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of diverse religions, all competing for mindshare, resources, and dominance, the species has not merely survived, it has thrived…In the last sixty years, science has provided a veritable witches’ brew of potential dangers to the human race, ranging from atom-shattering explosive devices to lethal genetic modifications, designer diseases, large quantities of radioactive waste… (pp. 44-45)
Now you can quibble with his timeframe and certain specific threats (like global warming), but his point is clear. While religion has been around for a long, long time, it has not threatened the human race with extinction. Science hasn’t been around all that long, and it is already on the verge of killing us all. Thus, when atheists say that religion is the problem, they are clearly wrong. If the human race is threatened by anything, it is threatened by science.
Now of course, I don’t really think the human race is threatened by science. It is threatened by immoral people who can use science or the fruits of science. However, by showing that science gives the immoral people of the world the tools to destroy it, Day clearly shows the intellectual vacuousness of the atheist argument that religion is inherently bad. In fact, neither religion nor science is inherently bad. It is how individuals use science or religion that can be bad (or good). If you read my review of Ben Stein’s documentary, you’ll remember that I took Stein to task for the same kind of intellectual vacuousness when he tried to link Darwinism to Nazi atrocities. The fact that Hitler used Darwinism as a justification for murdering lots of innocent people makes Hitler bad; it does not make Darwinism bad.
Even though I have been raving and raving about this book, I do have to say that there are some negative aspects to it. Day is an excellent writer, but at times he wants to be “too clever.” Thus, he tends to say stupid things in an attempt to be provocative. For example, he takes an unnecessary swipe at atheists by claiming that there is “evidence to suggest” that one form of atheism (the form that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens profess) is just a form of autism. Then, he quotes an internet poll for his evidence. This, of course, is nonsense. If you are going to call atheism some mental disorder, you had better have some serious data to back up such a claim. An internet poll is not anywhere close to serious data.
Despite some negatives, however, this is an excellent book. In fact, it is so good that there is no way I can limit myself to just one post on it. As a result, I will continue my review of the book in at least one more post.
**Vox Day is the nom de plume of Theodore Beale, a computer game designer. He has a lot of views with which I disagree (a medieval view of women, for example), but he is clearly very intelligent and quite knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics, including history, war, and philosophy.
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