Sunday, May 29, 2016

The New Atheism Toasts itself, Again

Are they getting worse, or am I growing more cynical?  It seems I had a more favorable perception of atheists before I wrote The Truth Behind the New Atheism.  I had an image of atheists as mostly intelligent and well-read, at least.  But since then, it seems (with some admirable exceptions) that so many atheists have done their darndest to live down to the worst complaints in that book, or take them as a ceiling for logic and civility, then sink below it.

Another "review" of my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, appeared on Amazon three days ago.  It appears that the reader, an ardent atheist who confesses his unwillingness to believe in God no matter what at the outset of his essay (about where the honesty ends), has at least scanned the book.  He knows roughly some of the topics I cover.  But he is relentless in misrepresenting both the book and its author. 

Willliam: Let me state at the outset, unambiguously, that I am an atheist. There is nothing that David Marshall can write that will convince me that supernatural, magical beings are responsible for the world, or that deities can visit he earth, perform magical acts, raise people from the dead (much less themselves), and so on...

There isn't much point in attempting to deconstruct Marshall's obnoxious attempts to convince otherwise. Others have done a better job than I could possibly muster. For example, read Marshall's review of "The Christian Delusion" and the responses from John W. Loftus and H. Avalos.

So, why bother to write a review of a book that I find obnoxious that is a reflection of a small mind? Because I find books like "The Truth Behind The New Atheism" to be dangerous. The world we live in can not tolerate ignoramuses who teach nonsense that flies in the face of reality. David Marshall is not an original thinker who has anything new to say with respect to Christianity or philosophy, and neither is he an historian, regardless of his self congratulating claims.

"The Truth Behind The New Atheism" is filled with a long list of famous people and ideas that are serially deconstructed by employing logical fallacy, innuendo, ridicule, patronage, and coded statements. I cannot find a single statement of any real substance, and certainly not any that are backed by a logical argument requiring any thought. Instead, I find smoke and mirrors and mostly appeals to a reader's prejudice and bigotry. Allow me the following quote to explain my use of the word bigotry:

“The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of an eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

It's all here: the attacks against science, the ridicule of scientists and freethinkers. We get the standard pap against evolution - Darwin questioning his own theory, as any good scientist is required to do. Intelligent design. The atheistic Nazis and Communists. It's all here. I especially enjoyed Marshall's distinction between magic and miracles. Miracles are good; magic is bad! Miracles are about producing food from thin air, curing disease by rubbing dirt into a blind man's eyes, raising people from the dead. Never mind that stuff about turning water into wine or walking on water or foretelling the future.

I find it hard to believe that any of this can sway the mind of anyone with a decent education or questioning mind. Any more so than I am going to sway the mind of David Marshall.

So, why does David Marshall bother? Does David Marshall really believe these things? Who knows. There is no way to tell for certain, regardless of how vehemently David will protest or throw a barrage of nonsense at us. At best it represents a form of mental masturbation. It might make Marshall and those who enjoy watching feel better, but personally, I'm done.

William - not Susan who is much kinder than both of us put together.

My response: Like several other highly critical reviews on this site, this one perfectly exhibits some of the flaws common to the New Atheism that I describe in this book, and is therefore welcome and enlightening.    

I can't say that William "makes an art form out of lying."   His falsehoods are, in fact, generally inartistic and crude.  If amateurs can ape the bile of a Dawkins, it is harder to copy his excellent style.

William has nothing good to say about my book -- and hardly a thing that is true.  The first several points below may, unfortunately, sound like bragging. I apologize for that.  But lies do need to be answered.  We will, in the process, come to issues more important than my personal reputation: for one thing, the integrity of the New Atheism, or rather fundamental lack thereof.  

For while a poor response to my book, this review does provide an excellent snapshot both of the New Atheism in general, and of Hector Avalos' style in particular.  William repeats Avalos' tendency towards ad hominem, his abject dismissal of opposing arguments, his inability to distinguish major and minor points, and his poor exegetical skills -- though William takes that to the extreme of failing to accurately represent much of anything I say.  

Fifteen falsehoods 

(1) Neither The Truth Behind the New Atheism, nor my review of Loftus' The Christian Delusion (and read our entire conversation on the Amazon page, or on my blog, not just what Loftus and Avalos say) are positive arguments for the existence of God, miracles, or the Resurrection, as William implies. So his claim that I fail to successfully make a case I do not attempt in that book, is simply a straw man.  My goal there is to refute the arguments Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett make against Christianity, and at that, I think the book succeeded quite well.  Among other things, the book's success is proven by the fact that later books by New Atheists largely just blunder into the holes I pointed out in that book.  For instance, Peter Boghossian could have never written anything so silly as A Manual for Creating Atheists if he had assimilated the historical facts I described in Chapter Two.  

For another thing, if my critique of Dawkins et al failed, why are the negative reviews invariably so vacuous, and so often feel the need to misrepresent my arguments?  

(2) My arguments may be grossly mistaken (feel free to show how!), but originality is one quality no honest and informed person who has really read my work can, I think, deny it.  Where else will you find the "insider" history of Christianity I offer in How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test?  Or the 50 qualities that the gospels share, which I analyze in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus?  Or my arguments on this site for "How Jesus Liberates Women?"  My model for how Christianity relates to other religions owes a lot to the likes of Clement of Alexander, Mateo Ricci, and C. S. Lewis.  Yet having read many of the greatest works in this field (have you, William?), I know that no one, not Clement, not Ricci, not Farquhar, Legge, Tillich, Satyavrata, Xu, Lin, Chesterton, or Lewis, has come up with anything remotely like the full model of world religions that I have proposed.  

Anyway, "Marshall has no original arguments" is only a claim that someone who has read all my writing can honestly make. But you haven't done that, have you, William? Because unfortunately, modern atheism has evolved away from desire for truth, and you appear to be one of the unfortunate end products of that evolution. 

I have a phobia for repetition, in fact.  I never simply copy arguments that other writers make, nor accept them uncritically.  I don't even like to repeat myself, which is probably a weakness, which may limit my effectiveness as a speaker.  (Which is why I'd probably be a disaster as a politician.)  To accuse me of "unoriginality" is probably the silliest criticism a skeptic can make.  

(3) "Ignoramus" is also a falsehood.  In a trivial sense, everyone is ignorant of many things, of course.  But in the context of a book about Christianity and its atheist critics, this can  only mean I am ignorant of the subjects I am writing about -- such as (a) the Bible, (b) Christian history, (c) the few scientific topics I cover, (d) atheism, (e) the history of communism, (f) New Testament criticism, etc. 

a. I certainly know the Bible better than Dawkins, or any of the atheists I critique.  I've read it through in English and Chinese, and most  of the New Testament in Greek, also some in Russian and Japanese, and have been reading it for almost half a century.  I demonstrate many clear errors which Dawkins commits: William does not show that I am mistaken.  I have also demonstrated similiar errors on the part of Hector Avalos.  

b. No one has demonstrated any errors that I make in regards to Christian history.  Avalos tries, but he fails.  

c. I do not claim to be a scientist.  But again, no one has demonstrated any serious scientific blunders in this book.  I sent that part of the book to three scientists (all teaching at the university level, none I think a proponent of Intelligent Design) before publication: they made a few minor suggestions, which I mostly followed.  Reviews by scientists have, so far as I know, been quite positive.  

d. I've been reading works by radical skeptics for almost forty years, now.  Among many others: Avalos, Becker, Boghossian, Camus, Carrier, Christiana, Crossan, Dawkins, Dennett, Engels, Epictetus, Feurbach, Freud, Funk, Gould, Harris, Hawking, Hitchens, Jacoby, King, Kurtz, Law, Lenin, Loftus, Martin, McCormick, Myer, Pagels, Mao, Marx, Paulus, Ray, Russell, Sagan, Shermer, Singer, Stalin, Stenger, Tylor, AN Wilson, EO Wilson, etc. etc. 

I've also held many long conversations with atheists, including some on that list, and read their on-line work at length. 

So no, I don't think I can fairly plead to being ignorant of atheism, either.  

e. Sorry again for pointing this out, but I believe I also know a good deal more about the history of communism than Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, or (and) Hitchens.  I have read key documents from the Russian and Chinese revolutions in the original languages, and have been following communism in its interaction with Christianity all my adult life, including from within Soviet and Chinese societies, which I don't think any of the "Four Horsemen" can say.  In fact, I presently live in a communist society, and take keen interest in its on-going propaganda campaigns and attitude towards Christianity, which New Atheists may be glad to know matches their own, tendentious slogan for tendentious slogan, historical error for historical error.      

e.  Nor am I ignorant of New Testament scholarship.  Previous to writing The Truth Behind the New Atheism, for an earlier book, I analyzed the works of the Jesus Seminar, described twelve fundamental errors they make, and offered an original analysis of 50 characteristics which the gospels share.   Shortly after completing The Truth Behind the New Atheism, I wrote a book on the Gnostics, which New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg said was as good as any book in print on the subject.  I am sure I knew far more about New Testament scholarship when the book William criticizes went to press, than any of the "Four Horsemen."  

So no, call me all manner of sinner if you like, but "ignoramus" is hardly the right accusation.  Nor did I did get my doctorate out of a Cracker Jack box, nor have my books been praised by some of the world's leading thinkers, in a variety of fields, merely for the pictures on their covers.  

(4) William is speaking falsehoods, again, when he claims I am not an historian, or that adopting that job description is mere self-praise. 

History is what I studied for my BA and MA, and constitutes a good 70% or so of my doctoral dissertation.  The Truth Behind the New Atheism itself is largely historical, in the sense that it corrects many of the gross historical errors which the Four Horsemen commit.  My other writings -- published essays, books, and of course my dissertation -- are largely historical in the more positive sense of describing important streams of history.   

In other words, I fit the dictionary definition of "historian" ("An expert in or student of history, especially that of a particular period, geographical region, or social phenomena" -- Oxford) better than, say, Richard Carrier fits the definition of "philosopher," though I would not dream of denying him that title.  (I would simply add the adjective, "poor.")  

What am I supposed to call myself? A car mechanic?  Now that would be a stretch. 

(5-6) William fibs yet again to accuse me of "attacking science" and "ridiculing scientists." Notice that he does not quote any such attacks or ridicule.  If I ever ridicule Richard Dawkins (I don't know exactly what Williams has in mind; it is hard to respond to such a vague slur), it is probably for his amateur history or philosophy, not for his science.  When Dawkins' biases bleed into his science, that may also suffer.  But I never "attack science," and am usually careful when I criticize scientists, recognizing that I am a visitor (even if long-term) tredding into their territory.  The intended implication that I have it in for science, is a pernicious lie, which any honest reviewer should recognize as such almost instantly.  In fact, I have my own young students read Hawking, EO Wilson, Nick Lane, and Darwin, all rock-solid evolutionists and unbelievers, among other scientists.     

(7) I do not say "Darwin questions his own theory" in the plainly intended sense, that he came to doubt or deny it somehow. In fact, I describe him (in the bold black ink of a section title on page 53) as a "Great Scientist."  It is true that one of the things a really good scientist does is to critically examine his own ideas, and Darwin does that.  But I say that myself, I don't need William to explain it, even as I am praising (not "ridiculing") Darwin: 

"One only has to read (Origin of Species) to see that Darwin was a remarkable naturalist: well-read, cautious, observant, informed, and aware of contrary evidence and of weaknesses in his theory." (53)  

But that certainly did not mean what Williams intends other readers to think I mean, that Darwin came to deny or strongly suspect his theory as false.  I never say or imply any such thing.  

Williams may also be referring to my comment on page 75, that "Darwin himself seemed to see (the irreducibly complex argument) as legitimate."  But he did, without "questioning" (except as a scientist OUGHT to question) his own theory.  Similarly, Alvin Plantinga sees the Argument from Suffering as legitimate, without abandoning his Christian beliefs.  

Whatever Williams is referring to, he is grossly misreading Amazon readers.  I never say, imply, or think that Darwin denied or lost faith in his theory of evolution.  

(8) I do NOT call the Nazis "atheists."  Ever.  

(9)  Of course Marxist-Leninist communists ARE atheists.  Of course William points to no error in what I say about either Nazis or Communists. 

(10) How can one "deconstruct" a person, whether serially or otherwise?  

(11) The claim that I employ "logical fallacy, innuendo, ridicule, patronage, and coded statements" is too vague to know what to make of it.  William makes it clear, above, that he sees what he likes, when he wants to, and overlooks what he does not want to see, so until we get down to brass tacts, all this verbiage can be set to one side.  (Especially since other, and better-qualified, reviewers, including an atheist philosophy professor, say that the book is actually pretty courteous.)  

But William's claim that he "cannot find a single statement of any real substance" is patent nonsense.  The book is loaded with hundreds of such statements, and facts to back the most important of them up.  I defy any reader to find a single page in which no substantial statements appear: use the "search" menu on Amazon, if you don't have the book.  

(12) As for "coded statements," that is true in the basic sense that all books are written in semiotic code, in other words written language.  But William seems to have something more pernicious in mind, which for some reason he does not wish, ironically, to explicitly share!  Perhaps that is what he means by "coded statements" and "innuendo?"  

(13) Far from appealing to "prejudice and bigotry," I show exactly why Dawkins & Company are wrong, with hundreds of appropriate facts and logical inference.  I give enough evidence to disprove many New Atheist claims: if they are all wrong, it is a wonder that my critics so seldom even try to demonstrate that simple fact.  (Those few that deal with evidence at all, go after the most minor points in the book, or like Williams, claims that actually do not appear in that book at all.)    

(14) Given that William admits his inability to find even a single substantive statement in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, which is loaded with them, and his admission that come what may, he will not change his mind, who is the self-blinded bigot, by Holmes' definition?  Whose eye has contracted so as to keep any foreign light from entering?  

This is a problem.  Like so many modern movements, the New Atheism began in bigotry, by obscenely attacking Mother Teresa and comparing faithful Christians to child abusers, among other things.  Having set such a tone, and such an example, new claimants to the throne, the next generation of Gnus, can only compete on like terms, by becoming ever more harsh, unfair, and even apocalyptic.   

By contrast, I have read the great works of many religions, and have found much truth in many of them.  I have likewise described my profound respect for many atheist writings.  In my Amazon reviews, I often praise even the works of profoundly anti-Christian writers like Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan.  If there is something good to be said about a book with which I fundamentally disagree, I almost always say it -- read my reviews on Amazon.

William, on the other hand, has nothing at all good to say about The Truth Behind the New Atheism -- though calmer, and better-educated, atheists HAVE found much to praise in the book, to their credit, and hopefully to mine. 

So whose eye is contracting?  Not mine, but that of Williams.  That is why, lacking genuine resources for a critical review, he makes crap up and attributes it to me -- I attack science, claim that the Nazis were atheists, and so forth.  His eye has contracted so much, that he not only cannot see what is really in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, but his light-starved retina is projects images based on nothing in the real world.  

(15) The distinction between magic and miracles is well known to anthropology and sociology, as the eminent sociologist or religion, Rodney Stark (among those who recommend The Truth Behind the New Atheism) has explained.  Far from "standard pap," I know of no one else who has distinguished the two exactly the way I do, though Stark, C. S. Lewis, and even Blaise Pascal bring up a few of the points I described (in more detail, in Jesus and the Religions of Man -- from personal research in Asia, BTW, not blindly copying anyone else's ideas.  Though of course every serious scholar learns from other scholars.) 

But mocking miracles makes them go away, in the magical world-view of modern Gnus.

That, or obscenity, to which William, in a last burst of irrational rage, finally resorts. 

Not unexpectedly. As Pascal also pointed out, radical skeptics end up proving Christianity even when they attack it.  Or as St. John put it, "Men loved the darkness, for their deeds are evil."  

The anger, futility, untruth, and vacuity of the most critical Gnu reviews of The Truth Behind the New Atheism so far, serve as a judgement on the philosophy which they prefer to the truth of Christ.

What writing a book critical of the New Atheism has shown me, is that at core  this battle is spiritual, and that what is needed is not better arguments (the Gospel has those), but a opening of closed hearts.  

1 comment:

Grant Alcorn said...


Well done. I give you high praise for being willing to engage these folks who often present little that is worth engaging. Makes me treasure my exchanges with rational generous atheists.

Your summary serves as a timely reminder, that the battle is a spiritual one.