A Theologian Answers the Atheists–or tries to

Writing for the online edition of the National Catholic Register, Fr. Thomas Williams attempts to answer the New Atheists:

One of the more irritating aspects of these books is the studious avoidance of arguments and examples that would contradict their preconceived thesis. The selection of data is so thoroughly biased that one often has the sensation of reading cheap propaganda…

One example that illustrates this well is the authors’ silence concerning the many marked benefits of religion to humanity. The atheists deliberately ignore the mountain of evidence available — empirical evidence — that ties charity to religious and specifically Christian belief. The founding of schools, hospitals, orphanages, universities, hospices and general aid to the poor has marked Christianity from the outset, yet finds no acknowledgement in these works.

Perhaps that’s because this is a spurious argument.

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XFiles Friday: “Materialism makes reason impossible.”

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 5)

Geisler and Turek began their formal apologetic with a critique of the postmodernist idea that truth cannot be known, using the “Road Runner” strategy of pointing out the fact that postmodernists are standing on thin air. If truth cannot be known, how could you know that it were true that truth cannot be known? Rhetorically speaking, the postmodernists look down, see the yawning chasm below them, and tumble like the hapless Coyote of Saturday morning cartoons.

This tactic backfired badly on Geisler and Turek, however, when they themselves turned around and embraced the postmodernist idea that science is only as reliable as the philosophy it’s allegedly enslaved to. The whole focus of their book is to show that the scientific evidence vindicates their philosophical (theological) approach, but by their own argument, their conclusion is not objective and is simply predetermined by their own underlying philosophy/theology.

Perhaps at some level they instinctively sense the hole they’ve dug themselves into, because their next step is to try and up the ante by claiming that materialism makes reason impossible. It’s a desperate bluff, but one that just might work on some people.

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TIA: The New Luddites?

According to the diary of early Mormon disciple Abraham Cannon, Joseph Smith once preached a sermon on the so-called “Word of Wisdom,” a divine “revelation” which forbids the use of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Afterwards, he went out and “tried the faith” of Nauvoo residents by boldly riding around town smoking a cigar.

Vox Day spends much of chapter 2 of The Irrational Atheist arguing that there is no threat to science, either as a profession, a body of knowledge, or a methodology (and therefore Dawkins & Co. are making much ado about nothing). He then writes in Chapter 3:

THE CASE AGAINST SCIENCE

…[T]he New Atheists harbor nearly as great a love for science as they do a hatred for religion. Like the science fetishists who regard science as a basis for dictating human behavior, atheists like to posit that Man has evolved to a point where he is ready to move beyond religion… A more interesting and arguably more relevant question that none of the New Atheists dare to ask is whether science, having produced some genuinely positive results as well as some truly nightmarish evils over the course of the last century, has outlived its usefulness to Mankind. Man has survived millennia of religious faith, but if the prophets of over-population and global warming are correct, he may not survive a mere four centuries of science.

Joseph Smith would be proud.

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slacktivist on self-deception

I’ve been reading slactivist’s ongoing review of Left Behind for some time now, both because it’s fun to read his ascerbic comments on the non-quality of the writing and because I enjoy finding out what’s in the book without having to endure slogging through it myself. The latest installment, however, opens with a particularly trenchant analogy.

Imagine trying to convince yourself that curling and cricket were more popular in the U.S. than baseball and (American) football.

But that’s not the good part.

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A partial response from Vox

It seems I’ve had something of a preliminary response from Vox Day regarding my analysis of his book The Irrational Atheist.

It’s certainly better than 90 percent of them out there. He is certainly is very methodical, for which I commend him, but methodical and accurate are two different things. But that you might know I blow no smoke, let me give you an example of the ease with which I will refute him. He quotes me and writes:

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 other words, atheists claim that God does not exist, but atheists are dishonest, therefore God exists.

I never make any such argument. Nor would I, because it’s a logical fallacy. Indeed, as I warned the reader, the book contains no arguments for God’s existence. And as I also point out in the book, God exists or does not exist regardless of what the New Atheists or I happen to believe. A better description of my argument would be: because these specific atheist arguments are fallacious, one cannot dismiss the possibility of God’s existence based upon them.

Vox is quite correct as concerns his formal argument. The logical arguments he constructs are explicitly designed not to address the dicey issue of whether a God who never shows up in real life can be properly said to exist. Despite the verbal disclaimers, however (“I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”), it seems quite clear to me that his meta-argument is intended to bolster faith in God and to discredit atheism in general. Indeed, Vox himself has a blog post entitled “Why We Write” in which he boldly declares, “the New Atheist books are the thesis. TIA and the other Christian polemics to come are the antithesis. The synthesis will be a combination of a stronger and more intellectually-hardened Christian faith with an enervated atheism, robbed of its militance and inclined towards a more civilized agnosticism.”

It would be simply disingenuous to pretend that attacking atheists is not part of a broader context of defending faith in God, and I will continue to point out both what Vox explicitly states, and what he leaves as the unstated but obvious implications. The Irrational Atheist is an apologetic, and is being used as an apologetic, whether or not he is willing to admit it. I will, however, take more care to explicitly document which kind of argument I’m addressing (i.e. implicit vs. explicit).

 
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Sharia envy?

Chuck Colson weighs in on the Archbishop of Canterbury and his proposal that British law cede some of its jurisdiction to Islamic courts based on sharia law.

At first I thought the Archbishop misspoke.But it turns out, no. He calls this “supplementary jurisdiction” unavoidable. He compared it to accommodating Christians in areas like abortion or gay adoption.

With all due respect to the Archbishop, there is no such parallel. The only thing that is unavoidable here is his failure to see sharia as it is practiced in the real world, as opposed to in seminars.

In a way, Colson is right. Muslims are only asking for Islamic principles to be applied to other Muslims, whereas conservative Christians are trying to get their sectarian principles imposed on everyone regardless of religion. But there are parallels, even if Colson can’t see them.

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TIA: Bringing new myths to life

Vox Day, in the closing section of Chapter 2 of The Irrational Atheist, wraps up the main point of the chapter by creating a new myth for his followers to believe in.

I suggest that the New Atheists are not actually particularly interested in defending science in itself, but are deeply afraid of science reaching a friendly rapprochement with religion.

It’s a myth that’s bound to appeal to a certain group of readers. Like most myths, it sounds arguably plausible (at least if you’ve got the right preconceptions), and it only requires the most circumstantial of “evidence” for believers to ratify it. And, more importantly, it gives the believer an excuse to reject the New Atheists out-of-hand, without even needing to read their arguments. Why, they’re not defending science at all! They’re only trying to create tension between science and religion! Those bastards!

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Thinking about Tolerance

I’m glad to see that Jaya is continuing her thoughtful comments on my review of Geisler and Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough FAITH To Be an ATHEIST. Her latest post deals with my comments on David Limbaugh’s accusation that liberals are intolerant of Christians.

Yet the Professor misses the point of LImbaugh’s argument. The point, which is clear to any Christian reading it, is that Christians are not always welcome, and their beliefs are not always tolerated.

No, actually I quite understood that this was Limbaugh’s intended point. The problem with Limbaugh’s argument is that it’s not really a valid complaint. Jaya has some sympathy for Limbaugh’s point, being a Christian herself, and indeed even I can sympathize, having been an evangelical Christian for many years. But the “intolerance” and “hypocrisy” that Limbaugh accuses liberals of is the mere fact that they refer to Christian intolerance as intolerant.

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Math homework

Settle down you numerophobes. Daylight Atheism has a very fascinating exercise in critical thinking, and it’s worth reading whether you’re a mathematician or not. If you have a positive result from a blood test that’s 95% accurate, and it says you have a very rare disease, what are the odds you really have it? Surprisingly low!

A more intuitive way to explain this result is this: the test is highly accurate, but the disease is rare. Therefore, the vast majority of people who are tested won’t actually have it – and the number of false positives from that group, though small compared to the size of that group, is larger than the relatively small number of people who actually have the disease and correctly test positive.

Recommended Reading.

 
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XFiles Friday: Three strikes and they’re out

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 5)

By this point, Geisler and Turek have hopelessly confused the crucial distinction between evidence and superstition, and are trying to argue that good science is really bad science, and vice versa.

False science is bad science, and it’s the Darwinists who are practicing it. Their belief in spontaneous generation results from their blind faith in naturalism. It takes tremendous faith to believe that the first one-celled creature came together by natural laws, because that’s like believing 1,000 encyclopedias resulted from an explosion in a printing shop! Atheists can’t even explain the origin of the printing shop, much less the 1,000 encyclopedias. Therefore, we don’t have enough faith to be atheists.

And never mind the fact that theistic evolutionists, whom Geisler and Turek explicitly excluded from their definition of “Darwinists,” look at the scientific evidence and reach the same conclusions. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the evidence of things not seen.” No, it’s the “Darwinists” whose “faith” is blind, because they refuse to give superstitious attributions the same weight as genuine evidence.

The next couple sections continue Geisler and Turek’s downward spiral into empty spin and posturing, but before we move on, I’d like to look at a quick example that might help illustrate the difference between superstition and evidence.

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