Day v. Dawkins, et al

Via Brent Rasmussen comes word of a new e-book written by WND’s very own Vox Day. Rasmussen was impressed.

I strongly encourage Dr. Dawkins, Dr. Dennett, Hitch, Harris, and M’sieur Onfray to respond to TIA. It is not your run-of-the-mill “flea” book looking to make a quick buck riding on the coattails of The Amber Heard Fan Club*. It’s the real deal, it’s substantive, meticulously researched, it brings up real problems, and it addresses these problems without falling into the trap that other fleas have fallen into in the past. That is to say, relying on theology or the Bible to make their counter-arguments.

Obviously, I am not one of the above authors, but with an intro like that, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to give the book a look-see, especially since you can get a copy via free download. So let’s have a look, shall we?

Vox begins with an interesting and cogent statement in his preface. One reader (of his WND columns) asked why he was so obsessed with Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris.

After all, the Creator God of the Universe is presumably capable of defending himself, and the elephant is what it is, regardless of what I, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, or anyone else might imagine it to be based upon our different experiences of it.

Indeed. God is presumably capable of defending Himself against any mortal man or men who might challenge His existence. Why, then, does Vox need to undertake His defense? Unfortunately, he never quite gets around to answering this one. He merely denies that he is defending God, and claims that he is, instead, defending those who read the works of Dawkins et al from being “deceived” by their alleged errors. God, apparently, is either unwilling or unable to do so, and so Vox has to assume this mission on God’s behalf. That’s just the way God works.

Of course, if God cares about the innocent, misguided folks who read The God Delusion even less than Vox cares about them, that puts God in a really bad light, because as far as Vox is concerned, the rest of the world can go to hell—literally.

I don’t care if you go to Hell.

God does, assuming He exists, or He wouldn’t have bothered sending His Son to save you from it…

Me, not so much. I don’t know you. I don’t owe you anything. While as a Christian I am called to share the Good News with you, I can’t force you to accept it. Horse, water, drink, and all that.

Vox would like us to think that he’s merely sticking up for what’s right, for what’s fair, for individual freedom of belief.

I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t both be perfectly cool with that.

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are not so much cool with that.

I’m not asking you to respect my beliefs. Why should you? Maybe you think I’m insane because I believe that Jesus is coming back one of these days, but does my insanity actually affect you in any material way?

In other words, it’s “cool” for Vox to believe that non-believers are going to suffer eternal agony for their lack of faith in God, but it’s not “cool” for Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens to believe that Christians are deluding themselves. Oh please. Look, Mr. Day, if you’re going to jump into the debate and try and prove that the New Atheists are a bunch of misguided and irrational geeks, at least spare us the hypocritical posing about “can’t we all just get along.” The Irrational Atheist is an attempt to prove that Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are factually wrong in their conclusions about religion. We’ll see whether or not that accusation is justified, but the fact that Vox is even trying to do so means that the issues involved are not merely matters of personal, subjective beliefs. So spare us, please, the posing.

Now, let’s get to the meat of the matter, or at least a quick overview of the meat.

I am confident that I will convince you that this trio of New Atheists, this Unholy Trinity, is a collection of faux-intellectual frauds utilizing pseudo-scientific sleight of hand in order to falsely claim that religious faith is inherently dangerous and has no place in the modern world.

I am saying that they are wrong, they are reliably, verifiably, and factually incorrect.

So much for “All I ask, all the vast majority of the billions of people of faith on the planet ask, is to be left alone to believe what we choose to believe and live how we decide to live.” Which is it going to be, Mr. Day? If the good and proper approach is to leave people alone to believe whatever they choose, then why can’t you leave Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens alone to believe what they like, and to share their views with others? Why do you have to drag in things like reliability and factual verification? If the beliefs of the New Atheists deserve to be subjected to factual scrutiny, and not merely left up to one’s personal choice of what to believe, then why aren’t your own beliefs subject to the same scrutiny?

Ah well, there’s no escaping the inherent and pervasive hypocrisy here, so let’s move on. I have a few things to say about Mr. Day’s stated central thesis.

Vox wants to show that it is an error to claim that religious faith is inherently bad. This is a thesis that I might actually agree with, to some extent. It is not religion, per se, that is dangerous and unhealthy. Rather, certain elements within religion are dangerous and unhealthy, namely superstition, self-righteous intolerance, and the willful inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. These factors are clearly and demonstrably detrimental, and do indeed deserve our condemnation and rejection.

The problem is that most religions (Christianity being a significant non-exception) not only reflect these unhealthy elements, they actually encourage and require them. Since no God shows up in real life to give us an objective basis for our faith (and to thus change it into something subject to factual verification), men have no alternative but to rely on fantasy, intuition, superstition and hearsay as the sources for their religious doctrines about God, morality, behavior and so on. You can make a case that there are elements of religion which are not harmful, and that there are individual people within any given faith who do not manifest the more harmful aspects of their religion, and that there are factors outside of religion which are just as bad as the harmful elements within religion. But there’s no escaping the fact that, in God’s persistent and universal absence from real life, supernaturalist religions cannot be effectively cleansed of the detrimental effects of superstition, intolerance, and subjectivism.

I’m still in the early chapters of TIA, so we’ll see what kind of evidence Vox has to back up his claims. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a point or two in his favor, if his thesis is that religion isn’t all bad. We, however, will not be approaching the evidence with the goal of finding inconsistencies in the New Atheist arguments so that we can leap to the conclusion that the “Unholy Trinity” has it all wrong. If there are discrepancies, the most honest and objective approach is to take these discrepancies into account.

When early researchers first discovered the atom, they thought that it was the smallest possible particle of matter—an indivisible unit, hence the name “atom” (indivisible). This conclusion was not entirely correct, but it was not entirely wrong either. Further study of the discrepancies between theory and observation ultimately yielded the discovery of subatomic particles and an improved understanding of physics. Had we used the early discrepancies as grounds for rejecting atomic theory entirely, we would have impaired our understanding of the facts. The theory was largely correct in broad outlines, and merely needed further refinement.

Vox has told us that his goal is “convince you that this trio of New Atheists, this Unholy Trinity, is a collection of faux-intellectual frauds utilizing pseudo-scientific sleight of hand in order to falsely claim that religious faith is inherently dangerous and has no place in the modern world.” Our goal, by contrast, is going to be to get to the truth of the matter. It might be slow going, but it should at least be interesting.

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