Nearly two years ago, I wrote a review of double-doctor Alister McGrath’s book Why God Won’t Go Away. It ends with an amusing anecdote about a young man who meets Dr. McGrath and asks him to sign one of his theology books. The young man tells Dr. McGrath that he has Richard Dawkins to thank for his conversion to Christianity. He had read Dawkins’s The God Delusion and thought it was so unfair and one-sided that he had to look at the other side. When he did, he become convinced of the reality of Christianity.
While one might pass this off as an isolated incident, it’s not clear that’s the case. Not long ago, I blogged about another person who was raised Catholic but became an agnostic in her teens. She read The God Delusion and similar works, thinking it would drive her to atheism. Once she read Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists, however, she read authors on the other side of the debate. In comparison, she found the arguments of Dawkins and his ilk intellectually deficient, so she returned to her Catholic faith.
Note what happened in both of these cases. Each person decided to look at both sides of the issue. They looked at the arguments of those who claimed there is no God, and they looked at the arguments of those who claimed there is a God. Both decided that those who argued against the existence of God had a significantly weaker position. As a result, they ended up believing in God.
But what makes the arguments of the New Atheists so weak? It’s not just that they have little evidence to back up their claims. It’s more than that. I think one of the reasons their arguments are so weak is that they try to make up for their lack of evidence with insults and bluster. Somehow, they think they are making their case stronger, but to most reasonable people, it has the opposite effect. A few days ago, I ran across a story that makes this very point.
The issue at stake in this case wasn’t the existence of God. Instead, it was the reality of unguided, naturalistic evolution. In his book, Darwin’s Doubt, Dr. Stephen Meyer makes a strong case that the fossils found in Cambrian rock present a great deal of evidence against the idea that life arose as a result of random mutations acted on by natural selection. Of course, there are many in the scientific community who disagree with Dr. Meyer, so one pastor decided to read from both sides of the issue. He started with Darwin’s Doubt. He says that he found it quite reasonable, and it seemed to him that Dr. Meyer knew what he was talking about. He then adds:
The problem is that when Meyer says things like, “the Precambrian fossil record simply does not document the gradual emergence of the crucial distinguishing characteristics of the Cambrian animals,” how on earth should I know if he’s right? I don’t have time to immerse myself in paleontology. I’ll never be an expert. I just have four hundred pages of articulate, self-assured, well-documented evidence for Meyer’s case.
So here’s how I find my way into a conversation on subjects that are not my primary field of study. I read the reviews that are antagonistic to the source and just look at the logic that’s employed. I find that this often gives me the best read on a work. If the critics are sincere, the reviews are usually precise.
So he read several reviews that were supposed to refute the book and tell him how Dr. Meyer was misusing and mischaracterizing the science. That’s not what he found. Instead, he found bravado, logical fallacies, insults, and mischaracterizations of what Dr. Meyer wrote. In the end, he says:
So now I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think the fossil evidence does support the current representation of Darwinism. I think there are some otherwise well-trained scientists who are freaking out, and doing it in widely public and observable ways. Their lack of command of reason is a tell-tale sign that their motives for defending their orthodoxy are not scientific. And I believe the failure of the scientific communities to engage in this conversation in a rational way is a manifestation of power brokering rather than honest intellectual engagement.
I think he is exactly right. Those who want to promote unguided, naturalistic evolution aren’t engaging their critics with reasoned arguments. Instead, they think insults will get the job done, and that speaks volumes for the soundness of their position.