Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day

I ran across this fairly new title because I'm subscribed to the atheismsucks blog. I read the preface... and wow... the guy (a computer game designer, interestingly enough) makes some pretty bold remarks, attention grabbing enough that I think I'll stop at Borders and get it on the way home. The blog provides a link to a free downloadable copy, but I'm not a fan of reading books on pdf, I prefer the real thing. Here's a few of them from the preface...



...my purpose in writing this book is not to defend God, or even to 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 these three men. I do not make this triple charge of fraudulence lightly, nor is my doing so a fearful response to their churlish disregard for what to me and millions of other individuals is the central element of human existence.

There is simply no more fitting description of the cerebral snake oil that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are selling to the unwary reader—and the media—under the false label of science and reason. I am confident that no one, not even the most purely rational, uber-skeptical agnostic or card-carrying ACLU atheist, will take serious exception to my charge by the time they finish this book.

It took me some time to decide what this book should be titled. Part of the challenge was due to the fact that it addresses the philosophical and ideological arguments of three very different men. If the book were to solely address Sam Harris, I should likely have entitled it The Incompetent Atheist. In the case of Christopher Hitchens, I could have reasonably named it The Irrelevant Atheist. And given the way in which the eminent Richard Dawkins has apparently decided to abandon empirical evidence, the scientific method, and Reason herself in embracing a quasi-medieval philosophical ontology, The Ironic Atheist would surely have been most fitting.

In the end, I settled upon The Irrational Atheist for the following reason. This book is a direct challenge to the idea that atheism is the proper philosophical standard for human reason, that being an atheist is an inherently rational perspective, and that attempting to build a civilized society without religion is a rational object.

This is not a theological work. The text contains no arguments for the existence of God and the supernatural, nor is it concerned with evolution, creationism, the age of Earth, or intelligent design. It contains no arguments from Scripture; in attacking the arguments, assertions, and conclusions of the New Atheists, my only weapons are the purely secular ones of reason, logic, and historically documented, independently verifiable fact. This is not a book about God, it is about those who seek to replace Him.

At first glance, it may seem crazy that a computer game designer, one whose only significant intellectual accomplishment of note is to have once convinced Michelle Malkin to skip an opportunity to promote herself, should dare to dispute an Oxford don, a respected university professor, a famous French philosopher, a highly regarded journalist, and an ecstasy-using dropout who is still working toward a graduate degree at forty . . . okay, perhaps that last one makes sense. As Gag Halfrunt is reliably reported to have said of the immortal Zaphod Beeblebrox, I’m just zis guy, ya know?



That's got to be the most challenging and abrasive intro I've seen in these types of books. We'll see how it turns out.

15 comments:

demian said...

A minor point, the author jokes about Dawkins being the 'irrelevant atheist'.

New York Times best seller, 'God Delusion' is currently ranked #135 at Amazon and it's been out for over a year. Accomplished speaker, author, scientist, documentarian and a worthy subject for writing a book.

...yet still irrelevant. The author shows his lack of rationality before even reading the book.

At any rate, I look forward to your comments on it.

Bryan said...

I'll give a running commentary on this book as I work my way through it, highlighting what I think to be noteworthy points.

I got through the first three chapters last night - A Pride of Atheists, Defining Science, & The Case Against Reason

Overall, describing the author's style, I'd use words like caustic and controversial. It's unusual in the sense that it feels like a really long well-edited blog post, in large part I think because of how many times he refers to blogs on the web in footnotes - something that's not altogether common in books. In addition, he seems to have that tone that a lot of programmers/software engineer types seem to have. His footnotes are unique in many cases in that he uses them for nothing more than make a joke or to be satirical about some situation in the core text. He's also a libertarian, so a lot of those views come through as well. I would also say that he's studious and thorough with citing resources and statistics... also likes to use the math in many instances to support his points.

Following are topics/quotes of particular interest to me or those that grabbed my attention in some way:


* The first chapter starts like this:

--quote--
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. Jesus Christ does, too, if you’ll accept for the sake of argument that he went to all the trouble of incarnating as a man, dying on the cross, and being resurrected from the dead in order to hand you a Get Out of Hell Free card.

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.

So, it’s all on you. Your soul is not my responsibility.
--end-quote--

For those who are annoyed by the tendency of Christian's to be patronizing and oddly and overly concerned with someone else's soul, you obviously don't have to worry about that touchy feely conundrum with this guy.


* He argues against the position set forth by Harris in The End of Faith that religion, if not eliminated, will likely lead to man's extinction ('antithetical to our survival' was his terminology). He does this by pointing out that:

--quote--
...in only 3 percent of the time that religion has been on the scene, science has managed to produce multiple threats to continued human existence. Moreover, the quantity and lethal quality of those threats appear to be accelerating, as the bulk of them have appeared in the most recent sixth of the scientific era. It is not the purpose of this chapter to examine whether religion exacerbates or alleviates these scientific threats—that appraisal must wait for a later chapter. Harris’s extinction equation, which states that S+F=EXTINCTION, is not inherently wrong. But his conclusion is, because it is Science, not Faith, that is the factor
in the equation that presents a deadly danger to Mankind.
--end-quote--

He then follows this up by answering the five kinds of responses he's received to this line of argument. (He himself points out that the five classes of responses he answers are not strawmen he's built, but actual responses he's received on his blog and elsewhere.)

Another quote from the book in this vein...

--quote--
I hope the reader will note that this book is not named The End of Science for a very good reason; I am not anti-science or even anti-scientist, nor am I arguing that the elimination of all science is a moral imperative for humanity. I am merely following the logic of Sam Harris’s extinction equation to its proper logical conclusion, which is that if the world truly is in imminent danger, the only reasonable answer is for humanity to put an end to science.
--end-quote--

* The last thing I'll mention he made note of that was of interest to me was an observation about how unsuccessful all efforts to completely stamp out religion have been historically.

--quote--
When considering the suggested conflict between science and religion, the first and most important is: Which science? In the previous chapter, a distinction was made between three aspects of science: scientage, scientistry, and scientody. Of those three aspects, which one can be most reasonably said to pose the greatest threat to humanity? And the second question is, if one or more aspects of science do pose a genuine danger to Mankind, then what should we do about it?

These questions are not rhetorical, even though they may strike the reader as being more outlandish than the calls for an end to faith to which this book is a response. If one troubles to consider the situation through the broad lens of history, two facts immediately become
apparent:

- There are a lot more religious people than scientists.

- Religion has never been stamped out anywhere despite a number of vigorous efforts that lasted for decades. Science and technological development, on the other hand, have been successfully
brought to a halt on several occasions in the past.

...

[The last paragraph of the third chapter concludes with:]

Religion does not threaten science so much as science threatens itself. By combining increasingly authoritarian arrogance with an encroachment upon intellectual spheres they are manifestly unprepared to invade, scientists and their thoughtless science fetishist followers risk starting a genuine war they cannot possibly hope to win.
--end-quote--

Canadian War Machine said...

Bryan,

I like your play by play so far, keep it up.

not sure i understood this reference:
"In the previous chapter, a distinction was made between three aspects of science: scientage, scientistry, and scientody. Of those three aspects, which one can be most reasonably said to pose the greatest threat to humanity?"


can you better explain the 3 aspects of science?

Anyway, we can probably all agree that science has developed quite a toolkit of powerfully destructive forces and in anyone's hands (Jew/Christian/Muslim/Atheist), It has made the world potentially more dangerous. Arguably, science's positive develpoments have still had a net benefit on humanity so far.

Also, I don't think Harris or any of the author's arch nemesis atheists ever call for banning religion, they are trying to persuade readers into abandoning their faith.

In any case, debates as to whether science or religion should be/can be "stopped" (whether rhetorical or sarcastic), while marginally useful in argument, are definitely not pragmatic in the real world. I think everyone (at least everyone who reads this blog) can agree that science and religion, at large, aren't going anywhere.

For me, as a soft atheist, I fully believe that some people can NEVER leave their faith. They won't be able to sleep at night without answers to unanswerable.

Bryan said...

scientage, scientistry, and scientody - straight from the book

--quote--
What we understand as science consists of three separate and distinct aspects, a dynamic body of knowledge (scientage), a process (scientody), and a profession (scientistry). This three-in-one works together in a unified manner that should be recognizable to the sufficiently educated, wherein the body of knowledge reigns supreme, the process offers the only way to the body of knowledge, and those who blaspheme against the profession will not be forgiven. And, as this analogy suggests, it is the process that is the significant aspect insofar as humanity is concerned.
--endquote--


Regarding this comment that you made: "Also, I don't think Harris or any of the author's arch nemesis atheists ever call for banning religion, they are trying to persuade readers into abandoning their faith."

Some evidence against that position... (from http://voxday.blogspot.com/2008/02/more-atheist-reviews-of-tia.html)

--quote--
If Harris is only talking about killing people in legitimate self-defense, then what does his argument have to do with belief, faith or any other non-material concept? If there is material action of one sort or another to indicate a threat justifying a lethal response, then there's no need for the subject of belief or faith to even enter into the conversation. Moreover, my position is supported by an email I received from Sam Harris last November confirming that it is in fact immaterial belief that is relevant to his argument, not any subsequent material actions inspired by that belief. I have no problem with self-defense, I am criticizing pre-emptive lethal self defense based on one individual's beliefs about another individual's future actions. It can only lead to a destructive circular logic, and as I've noted in the past, one might very reasonably justify the murder of Sam Harris through the application of his own argument here.
--endquote--


I'll keep on updating the thread with the stuff I find particularly interesting or attention getting.

Bryan said...

quick notes on Chapter IV - The Religion of Reason

* The chapter starts with this [rather funny] exagerrated quote about the 'low esteem' atheists are held in by the rest of the world:

--quote--
Atheists often express anger and bewilderment at the low esteem in which they are collectively held by the rest of the world. This is a matter of particular frustration for the New Atheists, as they lament the Gallup poll in which it was determined that Americans would rather vote for a toothless, illiterate, homosexual Afro-Hispanic crack whore with a peg leg than a well-qualified atheist with executive hair.
--endquote--


* The author expresses his thoughts about atheist morality...

--quote--
Most atheists abide by the morality of the culture that they inhabit, not because they have taken the effort to reason from first principles and miraculously reached conclusions that bear a remarkable similarity to the moral system of those around them, but because lacking any moral system of their own, they parasitically latch on to the system of their societal host.
--endquote--


* The author on the grave danger of allowing atheists to hold powerful political positions...

--quote
While the atheist next door is likely to limit his rejection to the specific aspects that proscribe premarital fornication or gluttony and indulge himself in the sort of everyday moral failure to which even the most devout Christians are susceptible, history demonstrates that the ambitious atheist who seeks political power is significantly more likely to reject the moral proscription on things such as slaughtering large numbers of people who stand in the way of establishing a godless utopia. The peg-legged crack whore, on the other hand, only wants to shift agricultural subsidies from cereal crops to coca plants and poppies and install disco balls in the White House.

This is why the philosopher John Locke reached the conclusion that atheists could be tolerated in civil society, so long as they were not permitted to hold positions of political authority. Locke, who died in 1704, never lived to see just how astute his observation was; tens of millions of lives in dozens of nations would have been saved had his wisdom been heeded.
--endquote--


* The New Atheists unwillingness to consider open discussion or criticism of their positions.

--quote--
The New Atheists harbor no similar dedication to open discussion, let alone criticism. To them, science is but a means to a specific end, something to be prostituted in order to sell the secularist Enlightenment morality that they see in competition with the Christian faith. Having already sold out science, they reject any sense of scientific responsibility and thus will tolerate no skepticism, let alone outright opposition. Dawkins is the worst offender—his prickly reaction to criticism is not to address it, not to discuss it, but to disdainfully dismiss it, unread.
--endquote--


* The ultimate goal of the religion of reason...

--quote--
So, what is the ultimate goal of the religion of reason? And is it a rational one? Sam Harris’s description of the result of this inevitable humanist progress is precisely the same as the end prophesied by the humanist and New Atheist icon Bertrand Russell eighty-four years ago. It is not the end of faith that is the ultimate goal, this is merely a necessary prerequisite to the economic, cultural, and moral integration required for establishing the world government that the devotees of Reason hope will bring a permanent end to war.
--endquote--

More interesting than the previous quote is what is referenced in the footnotes from this section of the text.

--footnote-quote--
“I believe that, owing to men’s folly, a world-government will only be established by force, and therefore be at first cruel and despotic. But I believe that it is necessary for the preservation of a scientific civilization, and that, if once realized, it will gradually give rise to the other conditions of a tolerable existence.” Bertrand Russell. “Icarus, or, the Future of Science,” 1924. Russell also called for the United States to use its nuclear monopoly to institute an international authority ruling the world in peaceful hegemony in his 1945 essay “The Bomb and Civilization.”
--end-footnote-quote

Whew... and this Bertrand Russel guy seems to be a person that is held in high esteem in the devout athesit community.

Bryan said...

Demian pointed out to me that he thought Day's assertions that the New Atheists weren't open to discussion or criticism was absurd based on how willing they seem to be to hop on the debate circuit, etc. I believe this to be a fair critique of what I quoted before, but in part that's probably because I'm guilty of providing the quote a bit out of context. The author does provide some evidence (how convincing it is I'll leave up to the reader) that I'll now provide to try to be fair by him in terms of not quoting him out of context.

So taking up where I left off with the last quote...

--quote--
Dawkins is the worst offender—his prickly reaction to criticism is not to address it, not to discuss it, but to disdainfully dismiss it, unread. When Douglas Wilson published his response to Letter to a Christian Nation, Dawkins lost no time in labeling him “Sam’s Flea.” According to Dawkins, arguably the most visible representative of science today, any published criticism of him and his fellow militants can only be driven by the desire for book sales.15

The [15] footnote cited is this:

“Fleas” and “parasites” are Dawkins’s favored means of referring to his critics. On March 4, 2007, at http://www.richarddawkins.net, Dawkins posted an entry entitled “Was there ever a dog that praised his fleas?” in reference to the “three new parasitic books released in response to The God Delusion.” If the supercilious old fart ever wants to see who the bigger dog is, I’ll be delighted to throw down with him. Oxford Union or the Octagon, it’s all the same to me.
--endquote--

demian said...

Okay, here's the deal. The new atheists have been good about debating anyone that wants to come forward. Hitchens has done so in a self-serving way to promote his most recent book. Dawkins has been doing less of this.

You see here's how it works. A Christian will say that they will debate the issue using nothing more than reason and logic. With lots of confidence they'll step into the circle.

There is a back and forth but eventually they end up retreating to the land of no logic where certain things don't need to be explained and gullibility is a virtue. Often times they don't get there until they embarrass themselves. The analogy "it's like playing chess with someone who thinks you're playing checkers is a good one."

It makes you wonder why they just don't stay in the land of faith and leave it at that. Keep believing what you believe by all means it's your right but don't suit up for a logical debate because we all know how it goes.

I think Dawkins has come to this conclusion and really I'm not sure that I blame him.

For grins if you're looking for an embarrassingly stupid argument for the existence of god:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=Of90cKxSeuw

Bryan said...

"...don't suit up for a logical debate because we all know how it goes."

Thanks for the advice. Forgive me if I ignore it.

I don't even have to bother watching the Kirk Cameron thing, I've heard you talk about it before. Although, the fact that you pick him as if he's some sort of heavy hitter on the theistic side is amusing to me. At least I make an effort to try to find out what the accepted and revered leaders of your absences-of-faith have to say about the matter. You pick a softball like Kirk Cameron... that's like bragging to your buddies as a kid that you got in a fight with a girl and won.

If you have any interest whatsoever in challenging yourself by seeking out and considering serious arguments from competent apologists on the Christian side, they're not all that difficult to find. I can run through a couple right off the top of my head... D'Souza, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler just to name the first few that popped in.

You act as if the atheists have a monopoly on logic, which is just a joke... it's a wonder I can get out of bed and make it into work every day listening to your description of me. The simple fact is, you don't.

In the short time that we've been having these exchanges, you've taken the ludicrous position that murdering an innocent child for grins isn't necessarily absolutely wrong. It's laughable that a person who is so adamant about denying the existence of an absolute moral authority will go to the length of not being willing to label something as absolutely morally wrong which we all know to be by simple common sense and by virtue of us being the humans that we are.

Moreover, I've already pointed out (by borrowing the quote from the Stand to Reason site - another serious and competent Christian apologetics resource) that it's not just Christians who must answer for themselves.

--quote--
If a person gets God out of the equation, then he has got to say, for example, that everything comes from nothing. He's got to say that life comes from non-life. That order comes from chaos. He's got to say that natural law comes from randomness. He's got to say essentially that the effect is greater than the cause. Now all of these things are patently absurd. These are problems that a person rejecting a form of theism must engage. It's a whole set of things that they don't have to face if they believe in theism.
--endquote--

You have something better than "don't suit up for a logical debate" to answer any one of the aforementioned logical absurdities?

Bryan said...

Chapter V - Sam Tzu and the Art of War

* The number of murders motivated by religious faith vs. the number of people killed in bicycle accidents or because of a doctor's illegible prescription

--quote--
Since the maximum number of potential [murder] victims of religious faith is six percent of the number of American bicyclists killed annually, and only six-tenths of 1 percent of those killed by doctors with poor writing skills, I wonder if we can look forward to a future book from Mr. Harris decrying the moral evil of the bicycle accompanied by a call for mandatory calligraphy classes for all medical professionals.

related footnote: According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, 784 bicyclists died in 2005. The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine published a study in July 2006 stating that prescription errors caused by poor handwriting kill 7,000 Americans every year.
--endquote--

* On Harris' claim that most conflicts that are driven by territorial concerns are deeply rooted in religion

--quote--
It is simply not true that most conflicts that “seem entirely driven by territorial concerns” are “often deeply rooted in religion.”

They almost never are. For as Jared Diamond, the author of the award-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, informs us, territorial conflicts are predominantly rooted in geography, not religion. To suggest otherwise would be to eviscerate his explanation for how Europe’s technological development managed to leapfrog that of China during the fifteenth century, as it was European political disunity created by geography that prevented the centralized stasis that left a backward-looking China mired in the past.
--endquote--

Bryan said...

Chapter VI - The War Delusion

This was a good chapter that moved along quickly.

* The author, after examining the historical evidence, points out that only 6.98 % of all the wars of recorded history (specifically recorded in the three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod) are attributable to religion.

* The chapter concludes with the following...

--quote--
Regardless of whether one argues that religion is the explicit cause of war or the implicit one, the argument simply does not stand in the face of the historical evidence. History shows very clearly that the vast majority of divisions between different groups of people are not based on religious faith, and that religion is not the dominant label by which most distinct groups are identified. The New Atheist argument that religion is the implicit cause of war fails in every single way.

And it is more than ironic, it borders being completely bizarre that both Dawkins and Harris should insist on the absolute need for scientific evidence to prove God’s existence while simultaneously basing the major part of their case against religious faith on arguments that are ontological, illogical, and empirically incorrect.

The historical evidence is conclusive. Religious faith very seldom causes war, either implicitly or explicitly. God is not the problem.
--endquote--

Bryan said...

Chapter VII - The End of Sam Harris

Yikes! This chapter could not have been more aptly titled. I recall saying in my last comment that the last chapter was a good one that moved along quickly. This is the best one yet, he absolutely pummels Harris... you almost feel sorry for Harris at the end of it... almost. This chapter was so full of merciless refutations and clarity that I can hardly imagine the next chapter being anything but something that slows the pace of the book back down. Some noteworthy quotes...

* On Harris' passionate dedication to reason...

--quote--
Finally, for an individual who claims to be passionately dedicated to reason and names one section of his book “The Necessity of Logical Coherence,” 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. His postulates are often only partially true, and even when the information on which he bases an argument is reliable, the conclusions he draws are seldom reasonable.

But there is no need to take my word for any of this. Unlike Sam Harris, I believe in offering substantial support for my assertions. One might even dare to call it an empirical approach. So, in the best spirit of scientific inquiry, here is the hypothesis: Sam Harris is an ignorant, incompetent, and intellectually dishonest individual who attacks religious faith because it stands in the way of his dream of the ultimate destruction of America. While this may sound more than a little extreme at the moment, allow me to present the evidence, and you, the reader, shall be the judge.

In his two books, Harris commits dozens of easily demonstrable factual and logical errors. While detailing these errors in their fullness would fill a book in its own right, perhaps highlighting a few of the more obvious mistakes will suffice to illustrate the case.
--endquote--

The author proceeds to lay out a dozen specific errors committed by Harris (7 factual and 5 logical)


* On Harris' transformation from an amusing figure to something ominous and malicious...

--quote--
And this is where Harris ceases to be an amusing figure blundering about taking incompetent and illogical potshots at religion and becomes something ominous, something malicious, in which the shadowy seed of the atheists whose monstrous crimes he disavows can be discerned. For if, as I have shown there is some reason to suspect, Harris is aware there are no rational grounds for his case against religious faith, then why is he making it? What is the point? What is his purpose in declaring faith itself to be an enemy?

Given his declarations that a diversity of religious beliefs cannot be tolerated, that every human being should not be free to believe whatever he wants, and that the killing of those who harbor intolerable beliefs can be ethically justified, the following statement betrays the evil root of his hatred for religion, for the U.S. Constitution, and for the very concept of America itself:

“We can say it even more simply: we need a world government. . . . The diversity of our religious beliefs constitutes a primary obstacle here.”

So you see, the atheist Sam Harris is a believer after all, a utopian would-be philosopher-king cut out of the very same intellectual cloth as those who murdered more human beings in the twentieth century than every war, civil war, and criminal act combined. And in a manner that Harris echoes most disturbingly with his defenses of torture and calls for forcibly imposed dictatorships, they did not commit their crimes in the name of their atheism, but rather in the name of building a new and better humanity to replace the old one.
--endquote--

Bryan said...

Chapter VIII - Darwin's Judas

This chapter starts in on Dawkins. It is far and away the most interesting chapter yet to fellow programmers, as the author uses actual code examples to contribute to a refutation of one of Dawkins hypothoses (the 3rd item I mention below).


* On the abscense of Dawkins' ability to supply any scientific proof or potentially falsifiable experirment that would disprove God's existence...

--quote--
While Dawkins incessantly complains about the lack of evidence for God, he never quite gets around to explaining precisely what proof, presumably scientific, would be sufficient for him. He poses no potentially falsifiable experiment that would suffice to prove or disprove God’s existence nor does he even consider the question of whether any such experiment would conceivably be possible. But if rabbit fossils found in a Pre-Cambrian strata would suffice to disprove evolution, then surely a brilliant scientist like Richard Dawkins should easily be able to come up with a few propositions that would suffice to falsify a specific religion such as Christianity. I suggest a few possibilities:

• The elimination of the Jewish people would falsify both God’s promise to Abraham and the eschatological events prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
• The discovery of Jesus Christ’s crucified skeleton.
• The linguistic unification of humanity.
• An external recording of the history of the human race provided by aliens, as proposed by science fiction authors Arthur C. Clarke and James P. Hogan.
• The end of war and/or poverty.
• Functional immortality technology.
--endquote--


* The author addresses 7 of Dawkins' distinct wrongisms...

1) The Ontological Argument for Science-Inspired Art
2) Martial Victory Through Blind Obedience
3) Atheist Respect for Architecture
4) The Inherent Goodness of Humanity and Moral Gradients
5) The Equation of Christian Theocracy with Islamic Fascism
6) Catholicism Is More Damaging Than Childhood Sexual Abuse
7) The Infallibility of Sam Harris


* Day uses some examples that will appeal to the programmers that read this blog. In a successful effort to refute Dawkins' Argument from Improbability for the existence of God, the author proves that the designer of something does not have to be more complex than the design if information is the measure.

To show this, the author employs what he titles the 'Fractal Intelligence' response and gives a few lines of BASIC code that produces a fractal image known as the Sierpinski Triangle. Another computer-related example he provides to support his assertion is that of packet sniffers on a network. This chapter provides the most interesting read from the standpoint of the 'geek out' factor.

Bryan Noll Chat Account said...

Chapter IX: A Marxian Apostate

Day goes to work on Hitchens

All in all, Hitchens doesn't receive nearly as harsh treatment as Harris and Dawkins both do. This basically stems from the author not really granting Hitchens the privilege of being taken all that seriously, based on his self-refuting nature and the fact that, often, as a substitute for reasoning through any particular topic, he liberally mixes anecdote (instead of data) and his cutting, formidable literary talent to rally the devout troops.

* The author simply points out that Hitchens invalidates most of his own assertions... describing this with the eye-catching phrase "an epic feat of intellectual self-evisceration that is impressive."

--quote--
Incredibly, Hitchens declares that “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence,” thus granting the critic carte blanche to legitimately dismiss the greater portion of Hitchens’s own book.

One would assume that having staked out such a position, Hitchens would have been careful to supply substantial evidence in support of all his arguments. This is not the case.

...

The astute reader will note that many of these auto-refutable statements are not only made without any support whatsoever, they can often be confirmed to be downright incorrect should the reader trouble himself to examine the relevant evidence.
--endquote--

This is followed by a table of 51 assertions (at least one from each chapter) made by Hitchens, each of which the author notes were made without any evidence. The table contains page numbers and quotes.


* A fairly stark insight at Hitchens' irrationality...

--quote--
Hitchens ... announces that religion’s failure to protect children from abuse is “uniquely delinquent,” and on that sole basis claims justification to conclude that religion is manufactured, that ethics and morality are independent of faith, and that religion is not just amoral, but immoral.

His argument, if one can even call it that, isn’t even wrong, it’s not coherent enough to be described as incorrect. It is nothing less than a revelation of a deep-rooted irrationality that harks back to the teary-eyed emotionalism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not cold, dispassionate reason.

It is this emotional aspect that redeems Hitchens as a human being even as it precludes any possibility of taking god is not Great seriously as an attack on religion. The theist critic is left to conclude—and oh, the irony!—that one cannot dismantle an argument that does not exist. For where there is no logic, there can be no logical analysis.
--endquote--

Bryan said...

Chapter X - The Pragmatic Philosopher

* Day holds Dennet in much higher regard than any of the other Four Horsemen

--quote--
It is this lack of pretense and, yes, intellectual courage that makes it necessary for the honest truthseeker of any faith to respect him, regardless of his occasional shortcomings, and his restraint makes the Unholy Trinity’s histrionics look all the more contemptible in comparison. Dennett’s position, that religion interacts with many of the world’s major problems, is a much more reasonable and defensible point than the idea that religion causes all of them.
--endquote--


* Day addresses Dennett's assertion that religion is merely a by-product of evolution (the lancet fluke analogy used by Dennett).

In addressing this Day notes that a creed that "explicitly states 'go forth and multiply' is likely to be inordinately successful in evolutionary terms", which stands in opposition to Dennet's assertion that religion is in some way a evolutationary hindrance or 'spandrel'.

Additionally, Day notes that if there is such a thing as this metaphorical lancet fluke, then it is atheist secularism that best fits the analogy given the data showing how religious Americans are putting far more of their genes into the future than their secular counterparts.


* Day calls Dennet out for contradicting himself when it comes to his assertion that the religious faithful practice a 'divison of doxastic labor.'


--quote--
Dennett also digs another logical hole for himself when he admits that only a tiny fraction of humanity understands what he describes as “the ultimate talismanic formula of science,” Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. He has no problem with the fact that most people are content to accept this scientific dogma on faith and leave the burden of understanding the details to the priesthood of scientific experts, then, seventy-seven pages later, turns around and declares that it is personally immoral for the religious faithful to practice this very same division of doxastic labor by placing trust in their pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams to make their moral decisions for them. Dennett attempts to justify these contrary stances by stating that the difference is that the scientific priesthood really know what they’re doing, that they understand their formulas and use them to achieve amazingly accurate results, while the religious priesthood do not.

But Dennett is demonstrably incorrect on both scores. Dennett’s two favorite sciences, cognitive science and evolutionary biology, are primarily distinguished by the way in which no one understands exactly how anything works nor has managed to construct any significant formulas, let alone achieve any results demonstrating the precision of the quantum electrodynamic calculations cited in Dennett’s example.

So while some sciences have proven themselves worthy enough of our complete confidence that we need not trouble our pretty little heads about them, to claim that we are justified in placing blind trust in cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists, and sociologists because physicists really know what they’re doing is absurd.
--endquote--

Bryan said...

Chapter XI - The Robespierre of Atheism

On to Michel Onfray, an atheist more famous in Italy and France than Dawkins and the rest of the New Atheists combined.

* The author addresses Onfray's book "Treatise on Atheology" and comes to the conclusion that he is a much more dangerous and unapologetic kind than the likes of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens.

--quote--
...in his book, Onfray performs the invaluable task of demonstrating that atheism possesses the inherent potential to be every bit as unrepentantly evil by traditional Western moral standards as Christians have always believed it to be. Not for Onfray the temporizing humanism of Dawkins and company; he spits on their spineless embrace of the greater part of Judeo-Christian morality every bit as contemptuously as Sam Harris denigrates religious moderates for providing aid, comfort, and intellectual cover to religious extremists. Like the modern jihadists who strip away the moderate fiction of a religion of peace, Onfray does not hesitate to reveal the grinning skull of atheist post-nihilism that lurks beneath the obsequious smile of secular humanism.
--endquote--