D’Souza’s absentee God

A while back, Dinesh D’Souza found himself at a loss for words in a debate with Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens had posed him a question for which he had no glib answer. But, as he writes on townhall.com, he now thinks he’s got one.

Here is the thrust of Hitchens’ point: God seems to have been napping for 98 percent of human history, finally getting his act together only for the most recent 2 percent? What kind of a bizarre God acts like this?

I’m going to answer this argument in two ways. First, I’m going to show that Hitchens has his math precisely inverted. Second, I’ll reveal how Hitchens’ argument backfires completely on atheism.

Yeah, well, at least he’s going to try.

Here’s his first argument, borrowed from Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

[I]t is not the number of years but the levels of human population that are the issue here. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever been born is approximately 105 billion. Of this number, about 2 percent were born in the 100,000 years before Christ came to earth.

“So in a sense,” Kreps notes, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. If He’d come earlier in human history, how reliable would the records of his relationship with man be? But He showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population, so even though 98 percent of humanity’s timeline had passed, only 2 percent of humanity had previously been born, so 98 percent of us have walked the earth since the Redemption.”

There are a couple of problems with this argument. In the first place, what law says God is only allowed to show up one time, and has to pick the “right” moment to do so? That’s like a dad “proving” his love by showing up once, and only once, when his kid is 5—old enough to remember the encounter, but still with most of his life ahead of him. That’s love? My dad showed up all the time, and God theoretically ought to be able to do so as well. 98% is good, but it’s not perfect. Why would a perfect God have an attendance record that was less than perfect?

Secondly, and more importantly, God hasn’t been showing up for the 98% either. Of the 105 billion people who have ever been born, we know of maybe a few dozen who claim to have actually seen Him in real life. We have some ancient documents that claim to relate the testimony of these alleged witnesses, but their reliability is somewhat compromised by the lack of correlation to what we find when we observe objective reality (not to mention internal inconsistencies and a frank bias in the reporting). So of the 98% of humanity that has been born since the Bible times, virtually all of them (plus or minus 0.00000005%) are people for whom God has not shown up either.

There’s probably a third problem as well, given the population growth is always exponential. Kreps’ “woo-woo” awe at God’s perfect timing in showing up just before “the exponential explosion in the world’s population” is probably overblown. But I’ll leave the math as an exercise for any interested reader.

D’Souza’s second argument falls even flatter. It’s a bit longish, but you have to read the whole thing to truly appreciate the scope of D’Souza’s superstition.

So here is the problem. Homo sapiens has been on the planet for 100,000 years, but apparently for 95,000 of those years he accomplished virtually nothing. No real art, no writing, no inventions, no culture, no civilization.

How is this possible? Were our ancestors, otherwise physically and mentally undistinguishable from us, such blithering idiots that they couldn’t figure out anything other than the arts of primitive warfare?

Then, a few thousand years ago, everything changes. Suddenly savage man gives way to historical man. Suddenly the naked ape gets his act together. We see civilizations sprouting in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and elsewhere. Suddenly there are wheels and agriculture and art and culture. Soon we have dramatic plays and philosophy and an explosion of inventions and novel forms of government and social organization.

So how did Homo sapiens, heretofore such a slacker, suddenly get so smart? Scholars have made strenuous efforts to account for this but no one has offered a persuasive account. If we compare man’s trajectory on earth to an airplane, we see a long, long stretch of the airplane faltering on the ground, and then suddenly, a few thousand years ago, takeoff!

Well, there is one obvious way to account for this historical miracle. It seems as if some transcendent being or force reached down and breathed some kind of a spirit or soul into man, because after accomplishing virtually nothing for 98 percent of our existence, we have in the past 2 percent of human history produced everything from the pyramids to Proust, from Socrates to computer software.

Do. Tell. D’Souza completely ignores the obvious way in which knowledge builds upon itself, and instead leaps to a superstitious conclusion that can’t even claim a Scriptural pedigree: man evolved with no soul or spirit, and then “some transcendent being” poofed a magical soul into him. The opening vignette from 2001 A Space Odyssey meets the Good Fairy from Pinocchio. Wow.

So, the soul is actually some kind of spiritual parasite that invades a host body (i.e. soul-less man), takes control of its higher mental functions, and drives it to do things it otherwise would not do. How does this parasite propagate itself from the host organism to the host’s offspring? Does each little sperm and egg cell have its own soul? Were the original men, the men without souls, made in God’s image too? Did it change God’s image when the host body was invaded by the spiritual parasite? What does the parasite get out of the relationship anyway?

This might actually make a good premise for some kind of sci-fi adventure series with lots of studly guys, curvaceous ladies, and high-tech ectoplasmic resonators and stuff, but as an actual explanation for human progress? Sheesh. D’Souza has been through the educational system; he ought to know that you start with the fundamentals like reading and writing, and work your way up from there. The original humans didn’t have language yet, for crying out loud! They had to invent it on their own, and didn’t even have any examples, in the form of pre-existing languages, to go by. Let’s see D’Souza forget everything he ever knew, and then invent an entire language, from scratch, and see how much better off he is with his supposedly brilliant “soul!”

So nice try, Mr. D’Souza, but let’s face it: your so-called “problem” boils down to you offering a distorted and unthinking parody of what early human history was actually like, and of the progress of human knowledge since then. Ape-men around a strange black box may make for good movies, but archeologists and anthropologists have never found a point where human science has deviated significantly from a normal exponential curve (which is what you get in areas, like learning, which build progressively upon themselves). The source of human progress is right there in front of us. Meanwhile, your absentee God, as always, is still absent. Back to square one?

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Posted in Unapologetics. 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “D’Souza’s absentee God”

  1. David D.G. Says:

    I still cannot understand why anyone takes that man seriously. It mystifies me now more than ever, in fact.

    Nice smackdown, and well deserved!

    ~David D.G.

  2. valdemar Says:

    This is reminiscent of Alfred Russel Wallace’s tortuous and ultimately laughable attempts to reconcile Spiritualism, to which he was a convert, with natural selection, which he co-discovered. Wallace tarnished his reputation as a scientist. Of course, D’Souza has nothing to lose in that regard…

  3. B8ovin Says:

    D’Souza was brilliant in his strategy of not putting this argument before Hitch. He would have been much better off if he had kept this his “secret” answer.
    Apart from your wonderful logical destruction, a factual examination erodes the premise. Firstly, D’Souza never defines “real art”, nor does he demonstrate that pre-civilization man did not create it. He also seems to think that because there is no written account of philosophical thought and historical culture it didn’t exist. Primitive rock paintings prove this false. Not only are these abstract depictions of events, they are preserved through an effort. Why? The artists must have had a conception of something beyond themselves to leave a representation of their lives, whether for later generations or for spiritual reasons, the fact that they exist shows thinking beyond what D’Souza claims didn’t exist.
    Further, he neglects the idea that, like modern social groups that maintain primitive lives, early man may well have relied on story telling to pass theological origin myths without aid of written language. There are more than a few examples of bone, shell, wood and feather art in the form of body decoration. What does this show D’Souza? He seems to think that when man reached the point when he could create temples God created in man the ability to understand why temples should be built. The evidence might also be interpreted that when man had the ability to build temples man created something to put in them.

  4. SES Says:

    I’m surprised that nobody has pointed out that the pyramids were built more than 2000 years ago. There are many other examples of (relatively) advanced cultures that pre-date Christ.

    D’Souza’s argument falls in the face of history.

  5. Chris Says:

    I have at most minimal knowledge of ancient history and anthropology, but weren’t human societies basically just hunter-gather societies until about 10,000 years ago? Wasn’t it the agricultural revolution that started modern human civilization? Is D’Souza really that ignorant?

  6. jim Says:

    Seriously, and this guy considers himself a SCHOLAR! And it took him, what, 9 months to dream this one up?

    “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

    Luke 18:16

  7. B8ovin Says:

    Ses- D’Souza includes the Egyptians within his time frame of civilization.

    Chris- You are right, your basic knowledge is better than D’Souza’s, which makes any artistic effort even more impressive as it happens. Even with the effort of bare survival the cave and rock painters were driven to expression. This investment of time seems all the more impressive in that light, and makes the paintings even more of a creation not something less than “real art”.

  8. Nemo Says:

    He undercuts his own argument. If 98% of humanity came after Jesus (and this appears to be roughly correct), and we assume that the average amount of progress achieved by each person remains constant, then it only makes sense that 98% of our progress has occurred after Jesus.

  9. Bacopa Says:

    And please take into account that humans don’t WANT to be civilized. I suscribe to the “hydraulic trap” hypothesis. Primal State level cvilizations all arose in semi-arid river valleys. The river allowed for increased food production and social stratification, but because the surrounding land was dry, discontent people cold not leave to farm elsewhere and they’d been farming for enough generations that hunter-gatherer skills had been lost. Game over; You are now a serf.

    Other state level societies arose out of pressure from agression from state level societies. The Zulus are perhaps the best example in recent times.

    Archeological evidence shows that until the industrial revolution, the average hunter-gatherer or pastoralist was bigger and healthier than the average city swller who succeeded him. For most of history civilization has sucked for most people.