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Thursday, December 3, 2009

What’s So Great About Dinesh D’Souza?

Chapter 1A Rebellion of Sorts


What’s So Great About Dinesh D’Souza?
A Literary Critique and a Pen Warmed Up in Hades

               Dinesh D’Souza in his book What’s so Great About Christianity takes great effort to misrepresent Darwinian theory and atheism nearly every chance he gets. In this critique I’m going to reveal D’Souza’s bag of tricks, expose his rhetoric, and show how he does a great job of running in circles, shifting the blame, and avoiding having to offer any real tangible answers to the atheist’s inquiries concerning religion.

Disouza’s Distortion: Exposing D’Souza’s Bag of Tricks
               In What's So Great About Christianity D'Souza opens with a discussion on why he feels Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Steven Pinker, and E.O. Wilson, all Darwinian scientists, are wrong, but as we will see, D'Souza doesn't offer any scientific evidence for why he thinks their science is flawed. This is something I find amusing coming from a Christian apologist who already nurtures a preconceived bias towards scientific thinking in general, Darwinism in specific. In the second chapter of his book D’Souza quotes Pinker’s account that there may be Darwinian explanations for religious thinking and the very evolution of the idea of God, or at least, according to Pinker, the idea of God may be a byproduct of some pre-existing condition or human need, and may have a naturalistic origin just as language does.[i]  Although D’Souza ignores such logic and sticks to his guns. Firing away another volley, without having even provided any dependable or convincing argument, D’Souza immediately goes on to say about Pinker’s theory that, “This is another way of saying there is no Darwinian explanation.”[ii]
               Wait a minute, he says what? How does D’Souza know this? Especially after having failed to provide any convincing support for his argument, we must ask, has he put on the white lab coat and exhausted all the possible investigations of the Darwinian explanatory hypothesis? Not likely. Has D’Souza offered clear cut evidence which puts such a testable theory to rest? Not at all. So this makes D’Souza’s next comment about Pinker’s notion of the human brain having a “religion module” like it does a “language module” sound all the more ludicrous when he espouses, “After all, if a “God module” produces belief in God, how about a “Darwin module” that produces a belief in evolution?”[iii] This phrasing is a bit awkward since technically a “Darwin module” should create a belief in Charles Darwin, not in Darwinian evolution.
               Never mind that the modern theory of evolution is a proven fact,[iv] this realization is avoided here as not to jeopardize D’Souza’s derision of his favorite scapegoats—Darwinian scientists and evolutionary biologists. However, I must interject, turning a bunch of white lab coats into punching bags is a waste of time and energy. D’Souza could better serve is argument if he spent less time nagging and more time showing some actual proof. Contrary to what tricky Christian apologists might say, it is completely rational to believe in vigorously tested and well supported scientific theories when there is of yet no disproof to falsify them. Case in point: you believe in the theory of gravity, do you not? If not, then you might like to test it by climbing to the highest object in your area and testing the theory: let me know if it works or not.
               Unfalsifiable propositions, such as the belief in God, however, are weak theories which must be rejected on the basis of a lack of support. But this doesn’t mean we can’t try to better understand them or why such beliefs exist in the meantime. D’Souza seems to purposefully brush this point aside so that he may not have to actually get his hands dirty with the bulk of evidence we do currently have.
               D’Souza is not beyond resorting to guerrilla tactics to spin the facts in his favor either, even as they often times actually contradict or even disprove his preconceived notions. In his 2009 book The New Atheism, Victor J. Stegner points out the conservative D’Souza’s liberal use of quote mining, that is, taking a quote out of context for the very purpose of making it sound like it supports your point whether or not it actually does; and whether or not you actually understood what the quote was in reference to. This time D’Souza is doing some fanciful mental gymnastics as he misapplies a Stephen Hawking quote, Stenger clarifies, “D’Souza has glanced at A Brief History of Time, mining quotations that seem to confirm his preconceived ideas. He quotes Hawking as saying, “There must have been a Big Bang singularity.” D’Souza has lifted it out of context and given it precisely the opposite meaning of what Hawking intended.” Stenger goes on to add, “Hawking was referring to the calculation he published with Penrose in 1970, and D’Souza cut off the quotation.” This act of editorship makes it look like Hawking is confirming that the big bang actually happened when in fact the full quote reveals just the opposite.

So in the end our [Hawking and Penrose] work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a big bang singularity. It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe—as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account. (A Brief History of Time, p.50)

               So D’Souza is caught red handed painting the white roses red. And to set the record straight Stenger, a well respected physicist himself, reminds us, “The main promulgator of the false notion that the big bang was the origin of time is the Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who has been writing about cosmology and theology…” and puts the issue to rest by letting us know, “I debated Craig in Hawaii in 2003 and pointed out his error, which he has never acknowledged and continues to ignore.”[v]
              Christopher Hitchen’s has stated that Dinesh D’Souza seems to understand the Atheist position, however I must respectfully disagree.[vi] I believe I have shown quite precisely how D’Souza purposefully misunderstands the Atheist position, as to completely misrepresent it and thereby maintain the antiquated stereotypes of a generic and impotent atheism. How many Christian readers, I wonder, read D’Souza’s diatribe of Atheism and buy into the deception? Likewise, how many Creationists have bought into William Lane Craig’s falsified cosmological claims? Why do Christian apologists love to distort the truth and keep failed theories on life support? Frankly, because if they didn’t they’d have to do more than just mislead their listeners, they’d have to flat out lie to them. And if that occurs, what purpose do we have believing the mad ravings of a liar? As for their intended audience, do they simply nod along with every unwarranted smart-alecky quip or sophist sounding comment, agreeing not because they have offered any compelling evidence, but because they all share their convictions? How many believers do not even question apologists like D’Souza and Craig and their misrepresentation of Darwinian Theory, Atheism, Cosmology, or all the “embittered souls” of shallow nonbelievers who, according to D’Souza, have no capacity for finding purpose or meaning in life?[vii]
               D’Souza must take his audience for a bunch of brainless bobble-heads with such a patronizing tone and attitude as this. As disconcerting as this is, upon my fifth reading of D’Souza’s book I just can’t see what’s so great about Dinesh D’Souza. He talks and writes as if he were talking to children or else a blinkered band of patsies. For every Christian who recommends me What’s So Great About Christianity I must recommend all the books and writers that D’Souza berates but rarely, if ever, quotes from. And as Victor J. Stenger has already observed, D’Souza often deliberately distorts the information and spins it in his favor.

The D’Souza Demoralization: If God doesn’t exist then we’re all screwed
               As a person of letters I can’t help but cringe at D’Souza’s overly simplistic use of Dostoevsky’s oft reported quote that if God is not, everything is permitted.[viii] This bald face assumption can only be made if one entertains a belief in God, and more importantly further assume God is a wellspring and source for morality, yet it makes little to no sense outside of this context. Besides, if an everlasting morality stemmed from God, religious people would be on a road to loving more aptly, but this, we do not find in religious circles or in the religious climate of the contemporary world we do live in. Which leads us to only one conclusion, even the vilest atheists are less despicable if only because they never lied about where their morality comes from.
               Possibly the best-known and most attributed Fyodor Dostoevsky passage is widely believed to be from The Brothers Karamozov, and maintains that, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” This quote is popular among religious activists who campaign that morality implies an external source, presuming God is that source. David E. Cortesi perfectly articulates the appreciation of such an impression when he states, “This sound-bite sentence has propagated widely into popular religious debate… Like any good sound-bite, it neatly encapsulates the fears and hopes of a diverse audience: the believer‘s fear of, and the nonbeliever‘s hope for, a secular moral system.”[ix]
               Although this theme is certainly present in the early chapters of The Brothers Karamozov, the quote itself is apocryphal as the main character Ivan only ever states that if there is no God then there is no immorality thus imploring us to make the logical conclusion that minus one God (i.e. the assumed source of universal morality), then “everything is lawful.”  Again, the argument begins from the religious assumption that morality cannot exist without God and it negates any alternatives, so we are led to believe that without God then anything is permissible. Like Elizabeth Anderson, I fully disagree with this proposition that without God anything goes. Ironically, the opposite seems to be true:
This objection is as old as philosophy. Plato, the first systematic philosopher, raised it against divine command theories of morality in the fifth century BCE. He asked divine-command moralists: are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right? If the latter is true, then actions are right independent of whether God commands them, and God is not needed to underwrite the authority of morality. But if the former is true, then God could make any action right simply by willing it or by ordering others to do it. This establishes that, if the authority of morality depends on God‘s will, then, in principle, anything is permitted.[x]
               If god exists then everything and anything is permitted—for the believer. And this is exactly the case the majority of religions make when they invoke the name of God for the total of their human endeavors. Our real evidence is plainly shown by the fruits they bear. We can judge that on average the religious proponents of faith, and the goofball characters running it, are not very friendly to anyone let alone one another.
               Their endeavors have often been to subjugate, control, oppress, divide, and conquer in the name of God and they have gone through about every excuse in the book to make it permissible. When called on their heinous actions they always fall back on the declaration that God allows it, or at the least forgives them for it, and so they are pardoned to act as they will. Ex-minister Dan Barker phrases it this way:
If morality means anything, it means that we are accountable to others. Christians believe that we are accountable not to people, but to God. Since God is nonexistent, then they are accountable to no one. Even if god does exist, they are in practice not directly accountable to anyone in the real world, which amounts to the same thing. Since bible believers are accountable to God and not to humanity, they can ask for forgiveness from God for any crimes they commit against humanity. In other words, they can act with impunity.[xi]
               Unremitting excuse making often gives the theist a way to avoid having to accept real world responsibility for their heinous actions or hurtful words. Or else, they may opt to idly sit by as others within their faith become extremist and violent—allowing them to use the excuse that it is their zealous friends who are fanatical fundamentalists, not them, and that they are merely sweet innocent moderates thus weasel out of the horrible aspects of their faith based beliefs by shifting the blame.

The D’Souza Delusion: Atheism is to Blame
               If a believer brings up Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao or any other quasi-atheist extremist-lunatics as having committed the worst “atheist” atrocities the world has ever seen, how are atheists to respond?[xii] If we cited the numerous religious atrocities the religious adherents might point out that the numbers, after having been tallied, are not even close to being equal. True enough, so called “atheist” regimes have killed far more than religious regimes, albeit for different reasons—none of them pertaining to a lack of belief in supernatural beings, and only in isolated incidents where economic hardship and political corruption was rampant. But religion as a whole has killed far more over the course of history, and the differentiating aspect is that it continues to do so.
               The literary critic in me sees D’Souza’s book as purely rhetoric and polemic which is completely without content. D’Souza’s theology is unsophisticated, and worse than this he relies on outmoded, not to forget largely disproved, theological considerations such as Paley’s watch and Pascal’s wager.[xiii] Quaint, but entirely flawed, premises like these don’t help to substantiate D’Souza’s gradoise assumptions any. Furthermore, in chapter nineteen entitled “A License to Kill: Atheism and the Mass Murders of History,” D’Souza does a masterful job of carrying on his campaign of misinformation. In fact, this section is so rich with untruths and falsities of every sort that to actually write an expose on it correcting each of D’Souza’s historical and philosophical errors and ill-informed conclusions, would probably fill three volumes greater than the total sum of his inconsequential book.[xiv]
               At the beginning of chapter nineteen of What’s So Great About Christianity, D‘Souza fallaciously writes that atheism is the crux of the mass murders of history, stating:
While they regularly fault religion for its role in promoting conflict and violence, secular writers rarely examine the role of atheism in producing wars and killing. It‘s interesting that we routinely hear about how much historical suffering religion has caused, but we seldom hear about how much suffering atheism has caused. Five hundred years after the Inquisition, we are still talking about it, but less than two decades after the collapse of “godless Communism” there is an eerie silence about the mass graves of the Soviet Gulag. Why the absence of accountability? Does atheism mean never having to say you are sorry?[xv]
               How does not believing in the mighty Zeus, the ancient Zoroaster, the Norse god Thor, the pagan god Mithras, or Greek goddess Athena (or any other god: forgotten or currently worshipped) lead to the Soviet Gulag is what I‘d like to know? How does a cognitive position based on reason and a rational deduction that we cannot prove the existence of God, let alone those lofty claims which are so regularly made on his behalf, lead to the consequence of mass murder? D’Souza obviously has some explaining to do but intentionally gets it wrong in order to deliberately assault atheists in a petty move to reiterate the religious propaganda which so adamantly wants us to believe that atheism is void of morality. Yet this patent subterfuge to spread untruths while making erroneous claims only seems to work on the stupid. Something which D’Souza knows, which begs the question, does he genuinely take his audience for illiterate dupes?
               D‘Souza‘s claim that God is a source of morality (so religious believers all have an innately built in morality) and that atheism is devoid of morality because it isolates itself from the source, is a metaphysical assumption to begin with, not a scientific statement. The question we need to ask is: when we look at the great religious excuses which have allotted for such heinous crimes on the behest of religion over the course of history are we supposed to derive God‘s great morality from these atrocious examples which have scarred the annals of history? Let’s be clear, to hold religion accountable for crimes enacted out of faith, such as honor killings or murdering in the name of God, anti-Semitism,[xvi] and any other heinous act is not only necessary, but our moral obligation.
               Finally, after tossing out accusation after accusation against nonbelievers, D’Souza proclaims, “It’s time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the main source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the worst mass murders of history.” I think we can be certain that D’Souza himself has misunderstood the gist of the atheists’ point. It’s not about who is accountable for the worst or most accumulated crimes against humanity—since one injustice is equal to any other(s)—but that it is the legitimate concern of reasonable people that the corrupt and baleful ideologies built into religious thought and/or practice do, in fact, continue to actively cause harm in the world.
               It is for this reason that front page headlines reporting on religious atrocity are splattered across nationally syndicated newspapers around the globe. Exactly because it’s not a bygone affair. If it’s not religious zealots flying planes into buildings, it is fundamentalist yahoos blowing up clinics and assassinating doctors. If it’s not another lawsuit against yet another pedophile Priest it’s a cover up and a scandal. If it’s not a child-witch-hunt it’s the disgusting policies and perpetration which aids in spreading one of the most horrendous and hideously lethal viruses known to mankind. If it’s not slanderous libel aimed at demoralizing homosexuals, it is violent oppression and dehumanization of gays. If it’s not an assault on basic human liberties, such as the freedom of speech, it’s the continuous attempts at murdering apostates and skeptics in order to squelch scrutiny. If it’s not the attempt to supplant education with bogus religious theories and claptrap, it’s the outright opposition to erudite knowledge and understanding. If it’s not the suppression and oppression of the female, it’s the continued practice of sexism and physical abuse of women. It’s domination, plain and simple. It’s, regrettably, the surf mentality and the abject worship of authority.
               D’Souza needs to pull his head out of the sand and look around him, perhaps read a newspaper once in a while, because clearly it’s not the lack of belief in the supernatural which is the ongoing cause for human suffering—it is the exacerbating practices guided (but mostly dictated) by religious superstitious belief that is. Maybe no one religion is singlehandedly to blame for all the suffering in the world, but the gamut of religious culture is certainly not without its fair share of the blame.

The D’Souza Dilemma: The UFO Debate
               Debating publically is Dinesh D’Souza’s forte, it’s true. But it seems that the outspoken D‘Souza finds that believing in UFOs is somehow not equal to the faith of believing in the God of Abraham, something he’s repeated in numerous debates with nonbelievers. Whereby putting faith based claims in God next to faith based claims in UFOs, D’Souza feels we are somehow doing an injustice to the religious experience, and haven’t grasped the weight of why so many people believe in God (he obviously has already forgotten the Darwinian theories currently being studied by Darwinists such as the aforementioned Dan Dennett and Steven Pinker).[xvii] But who is D’Souza to say that his personal experience is more authentic than that of, say, the ex-astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s personal experience?

               Mitchell was the sixth person to walk on the moon, and even holds a Doctorate of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, yet still ardently espouses a dogmatic faith in the existence of UFOs. I don‘t doubt the education or intelligence of Mitchell, an ex-Nasa Astronaut with a PhD, but I do, however, doubt the credibility of his claims. Likewise, I don‘t see how apologists like D’Souza can make more or less similar claims and say his hold up in the face of the evidence where Mitchell‘s do not. Either you have good reasons for believing in what you do, or your do not.

               To paraphrase D’Souza’s oft made point, if there were as many UFO believers as God believers then such an overwhelming majority would prove to be something worth taking seriously as an evident indicator that something bigger was going on. On the other hand, because those who believe in UFOs are merely a minority and so few in number they cannot possibly be correct about the perception of their own experiences, in D’Souza’s opinion. As if being a minority somehow negates the credibility of the experience.

               I think D’Souza misses the point, however. Both assertions, the one about God and the one of UFOs, are strictly faith based claims. Each of them is based on equally questionable experiences and so both are equally valid in regards to each other, but in themselves are not validated claims. For the single reason that Mitchell may have very well seen a real UFO, even as millions more believe in God than share his affirmation in extraterrestrial transport, this doesn‘t make his experience any less pertinent. If it did happen, and UFOs turn out to be real, he may be entirely right in believing what he does. The same can be said with those who believe in God, but the point which needs clarifying is that this percentage of those who believe one belief or another is not proof that the beliefs themselves are accurate. Keeping in mind, we must admit that the experience alone isn‘t adequate evidence to support the claims of religious believers and UFO buffs.

               Contrary to what D’Souza holds to be apparent, there isn’t a grain of evidence which could right this instant prove the existence of God real, let alone Mitchell’s UFOs. Or as the sociologist Phil Zuckerman has phrased it, “Belief in God may be widespread the world over, but that does not make it natural or somehow a necessary or inherent part of the human condition. Ubiquity must never be mistaken for biology.”[xviii] Of course, this doesn‘t mean the evidence isn’t forthcoming—it is merely lacking—but men of faith rarely ever want to admit this because it would call into jeopardy everything else they believe.

               U.F.O sightings are merely unexplained events, and the fact that nobody knows better doesn‘t rule out the fact that it wasn‘t a U.F.O they saw. But diminishing down to the most sensible explanation we might find it less likely to be that than something else, perhaps a weather balloon. Waiting for all the evidence to come in is the first and best way to discover what it was or might have been initially. However, religious miracles are much trickier to get around, because, like God the biblical account of them cannot be fully disproved either. Not because they are by definition miraculous, but because we have no genuinely reliable report of them that could aid us in discovering what the most sensible explanation may be. Which Hume suggests is another reason we should deny such reports, they can either be faulty or entirely made up, and so simple word of mouth reports should not be trusted.


The D’Souza Dodge: or the ‘Blame Sin Blame Game’
               Religious apologists can play with the words all they like, but the fact remains, any intelligent person is going to see through the deception and crafty semantics, and eventually demand some real answers. The empathetic person will maybe even stand up and openly object to such deceitfulness. A virtuous person will likely remind the righteous charlatans and spin-doctors of faith who try to shift all the blame for human suffering onto the atheists to knock it off and stop being such megalomaniacal hypocrites.
               Of course, any apologist worth their salt in rhetorical value also becomes exceedingly predictable. They will often evasively slink out of the difficult discussions, avoid having to answer the problematic contradictions, and dodge the hassle of trying to answer the onslaught of criticisms of religion and religious faith. In fact, when pressed into a corner they love nothing better than to turn the argument around, a useful but obvious maneuver, and insist that such lamentable and atrocious crimes are caused by a status of sin, and conveniently for them, is good evidence that sin is real. By the theists account, as human beings we are all susceptible to such a stupendously morally-crippling sickness. Along with such an undeniable conviction that it is so, they will cite scripture and verse, most commonly Mark 2:17, in which Jesus reveals the banally obvious, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came to call not the righteous, but sinners.”
               Christians revel in the reversal and they almost get a perverted sort of delight out of it as they seem to think such truisms add support to their spiritual beliefs and the claim that we have fallen into the dark clutches of sin. Thereby they once again shift the blame onto human natures, which they see as tainted and stained with sin, thus totally fallible. Using the theological premise that supernatural events brought sin into the world (remember the talking snake?) they duck having to answer for the specific faith-based crimes committed by more than a few religionists. Simultaneously they can use this wild card to drag everyone else down with them.
               No remorse to be found in the hall of shame, for the acknowledgement that we are all in need of salvation is a glorious occasion for the religious person. Now be saved! Repent! Gain eternal salvation! Oh woe! It’s such a pity that bad things happen, but evil is real enough, sin exists, they affirm.
               This tactic cunningly gets around the issue and allows apologists to claim that it’s enough to know that it wasn’t the Christian who sinned,[xix] but the imperfect nature of all mankind that enabled such a shocking display of outright contemptuous behavior, not religion. Instead of taking responsibility and trying to learn how such religious thinking only excuses, even vindicates, bad examples of behavior, religious or otherwise, we have not yet heard an acceptable explanation for the reasons this line of reasoning is even valid in the first place (remember the talking snake?).
               So much for facing the blame squarely—Christians love to invent their “get out of jail free” cards, and by this cheat, are able to pass go without so much as having to apologize for the obvious offense they have caused, thereby monopolizing how the game is played, and thus find themselves in the happy position of getting to avoid any accountability whatsoever. In this way they are free to duck and run, escape having to answer the difficult questions.
               Where does this leave us, an inquisitive skeptic might wonder? Low and behold, it leaves us right back where we started! No amount of askance will get Christians to admit what they don’t want to admit, namely that the institution continues to act despicably corrupt primarily because the beliefs are lapse, or superficial, or inadequate to begin with and lead to all sorts of degeneration of moral sense and ethical behavior. And thus the cycle repeats itself, we sin because we are human, and prone to err, ergo and vis-à-vis, we’re sinners, oh here we go again, around and around and around, it’s the dizzying fun of the “Blame sin blame game!”
               D’Souza relies on this sleight of hand too, espousing that atheist folly is due to a “hubristic modern ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values.” But what’s D’Souza’s point? Is it that Christians are free to get away with sin in the immediate (since in the hereafter they will be put on trial and judged by God who will proceed to dole out punishments, or is he saying that they are all saved in Christ) but that atheists are required to offer penitence here and now, and thereby see how “sinful” they really are, and as a consequence discover within their great shame a need for repentance and salvation?
               It seems that D’Souza is implying that it’s alright for Christian and believers to excuse their actions based on their human propensity to sin, i.e. their human nature, but atheists are not? Maybe he expects us all to be held accountable for our sins because we’re all pathological sinners? Well, I’m sorry to let the cat out of the bag here, but that’s D’Souza’s belief, not mine. It’s not hubris to be an optimist. What’s more, and this is a point which needs to be reiterated, D’Souza only assumes we are all depraved sinners because he believes in God and sin. With such a preconceived bias already in place, I do not see how D’Souza and other Christians can make an objective case for morality at all—not unless they first prove God is real and that he is in some capacity capable of correcting our sinful natures—but this they have yet to do.
               Maybe I am over thinking things, but it seems to me that such rhetoric is a device simply to get you to buy into their premises without them having to consider yours, or any others for that matter. This is pure one-sided subjectivity which is being utilized to curtail the argument in order to increase their odds of wearing the opposition down or else not giving them a proper chance at a well formed rebuttal. Perhaps I’m not over thinking things, perhaps, I’m right on the money? All I know is, this is a tired approach which is overused and is a sign, which says to me, that the believer would rather not take your questions or accept your answers to theirs—it’s a shrewd way of saying they’re right and you, once again, are wrong.
               It seems, at this juncture, a distinction needs to be made. D’Souza’s worry about an atheist spawned immorality is unfounded and so unimportant. On the other hand, an atheist’s worry about a religious caused immorality, or more specifically an already caused and continuing religious injustice, is more than substantial. It’s downright pertinent. Check mate, D’Souza loses the blame game.

Conclusion: Let it begin with a joke about a mosquito at a nudist colony: on second thought—don’t.
               Although I dislike the term “liar for Christ” it seems that at every turn D’Souza deliberately tries to avoid telling the truth, or at least avoids having to accept the truth of the matter, because the truth of the matter is D’Souza is grasping at straws and is viciously thrashing away at a mock atheism conjured from his own imagination, and therefore is only contending with straw men. By the end of his book I was left wondering, what’s so great about Christianity again?
               In my closing opinion, I find nothing all that great about What’s So Great About Christianity and I am on the fence about D’Souza himself. A master of rhetoric, certainly, but I think perhaps a little too good as it appears he has convinced himself that he’s said everything he needs to say, end of debate. But I can assure you, the debate has only just begun.

NOTES

[i] See Pinker’s book The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.

[ii] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, p. 12

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] See Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True, Richard Dawkins recent work, The Greatest Show on Earth, and the rare gem Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin.

[v] Victor J. Stenger. The New Atheism, p.170-170

[vi] Hitchens’ comment can be heard and seen in the round table discussion between himself and Dawkins, Dennett, and Sam Harris. Video available online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DKhc1pcDFM

[vii] What’s So Great About Christianity, p.13

[viii] Ibid., p.86

[ix] See: David E. Cortesi, “Dostoevsky Didn‘t Say It: Exploring a widely-propagated misattribution,” available online: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/features/2000/cortesi1.html

[x] Elizabeth Anderson, “If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” See: The Portable Atheist, p.335

[xi] Dan Barker, godless, p.202

[xii] We should all be grateful for Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, in which he directs our attention to the significant detail that Hitler's atheism was (and still is) seriously exaggerated. In a speech given on April 12, 1922, Adolf Hitler had this to say:

My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.

Speech cited in Letter to a Christian Nation, p.14, originally from Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20. Oxford University Press, 1942.

Just to set the record straight, we might like to note how by Hitler‘s own words we find the inglorious truth of the matter. Rather than atheism, we find the religious influence of age old Anti-Semitism (as practiced by the Christian Church), superstitious concepts such as Aryanism, and failed scientific premises such as Social Darwinism (not to be confused with Darwinism as the theory of evolution—two totally separate issues), and all of this mysticism, superstition, and religious fueled ideologies were what was behind Hitler’s ideological make-up and pogrom of ethnic cleansing. Not atheism.

[xiii] Archdeacon William Paley wrote in Natural Theology his design analogy about the watch lying on the beach fifty years before Darwin. Darwin comments on how Paley’s view is completely disproved by Natural Selection in his autobiography. Richard Dawkins chops Paley’s argument into nothing in his book The Blind Watch Maker. For a thorough critique which scrutinizes Pascal’s Wager see: The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager, by Paul Tobin.

[xiv] I’m not being snide: I literally mean that D’Souza’s content is utterly lacking.

[xv] What’s So Great About Christianity, p.83

[xvi] The link between Christianity and Anti-Semitism is well documented. See: Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semiticism, by Rosemary Ruether, and The Origins of Anti-Semetism: Attitudes Towards Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity, by John Gager.

[xvii] In his book Breaking the Spell, Dan Dennett offers a Darwinian reflection on the origin of religious thought, and writes an important key note:

So what we may say to those who insist that only those who believe, only those with a deep appreciation of the sacred are to be entrusted with the investigation of religious phenomena, is that they are simply wrong, about both facts and principles. They are mistaken about the imaginative and investigative powers of those they would exclude, and they are wrong to suppose that it might be justifiable on any grounds to limit the investigation to those who are religious.(p.261)

[xviii] Phil Zuckerman. Society Without God, p.56

[xix] Christian theology is often presented in a confused manner when it comes to describing the nature of sin. It’s just a vague and nebulous concept to begin with, so Christians have to do some inventing of their own to make any headway (remember the talking snake?). There is antinomianism which was presented in lay terms above—namely that if God exists then everything is permissible for those who are saved, because they are righteous and sanctified, a holy pardon from having to be liable for their actions—Muslims still use the concept of antinomianism when they practice Jihad. Christians use it when they believe God will forgive them for praying for forgiveness for some trivial transgression such as coveting one’s neighbor’s wife.

Then there is legalism, which is the exact opposite, in which one believes that they must obey the commands of God literally, thus following the holy book down to the letter. This breeds religious fundamentalism and also religious fanaticism, which becomes dangerous when it is mixed with antinomianism, because now you must obey the written letter of a sacred text (no matter how egregious, irrational, or antiquated) and by following through with the holy acts—literally—you are pardoned for your sins/crimes, in the sense that God will forgive you. Along with all the conflicting theology, believers often do the predictable thing and make excuses based on both principles, but I feel this creates more confusion than is necessary. It’s much easier to concede that the concept of sin is highly contrived and so not applicable in moral debates or when applied to ethical standards. Anyone who suggests it is is simply blowing hot air up your ass.


6 comments:

  1. Thank you. I was compelled to write it when two more Christians referred the book to me. I thought I would do an critique of it sense I really don't think it's a book which need to be referred at all. Not that I hate it or anything, it's just the longest opinion piece I've ever read, and it gets redundant repeating devotional creeds without ever making much of a point. Mediocre is the word I'd use to describe such a book.

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  2. This all explains rather eloquently where many of the 'talking points' that Christians use against atheism come from. The overwhelming amount of misinformation, fear, and primitive superstition ... well, it's also characteristic of their learning style in general.

    However, it's not all bad. Today I found four separate instances of religious types and atheists behaving decently toward one another, and it was quite refreshing.

    Are there any Christian authors who present a case for living in harmony with others who do not share their beliefs? Because they should be supported, there should be more written about peaceful coexistence.

    I've no problem with being an outspoken atheist and standing up against the lunacy of the far fringes, but I also hope we can work towards increasing mutual tolerance.

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  3. 'Sup Godzilla

    I like your attitude. I would love to write that book. Problem is after 2 or 3 paragraphs of typing, I'm pooped.

    Your premise to me is perfect. But here's where the insanity lies, there are Atheists who feel that Christians should have their kids taken away for "indoctrinating" them with harmful beliefs. And then we have some psycho hardcore Christians who somehow feel the Bible makes it OK for them to be hatin'.

    I do think for the most part Atheists and Christians probably do get along. We are probably getting a taste of the most crazies on both sides when on the internet?

    Whew, I'm spent, later, feeno

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  4. I agree....

    I have also said this one before. Many creationists and Christians also use the argument against evolution by pointing out the various evils of communist and dictator governments are missing a key point.

    The evolutionary theory explored by Charles Darwin and Social Darwinism and Eugenics are two completely different ideas. The Origin of Species was written in 1859. The idea was then applied to humans (which Darwin never intended). Darwin, likely having realized the problems—scientific and social—arising from the study of natural selection in humans, remained decidedly focused on plants and animals, at least publicly. But his cousin Francis Galton, who by the 1860s was an established explorer and anthropologist, found the question of natural selection in humans an irresistible topic of study. So too did British philosopher Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” just five years after Darwin’s publication.

    Galton introduced his own controversial idea—the theory of eugenics—in 1883. At the time, Galton was probably thinking simply in terms of science, using his theory to describe selective breeding in humans as a means to improve the fitness of the human race. However, when his theory was united with Spencer’s socially inclined concept of survival, the result was social Darwinism, a gripping theory about competition for survival among human races and social classes.

    During Galton’s era—the Victorian Age in Britain—eugenics and social Darwinism seemed reasonable. Many negative reactions to Darwinism come from the confusion of Darwinism as a scientific theory with Social Darwinism as an ethical theory. In reality, the two have very little in common, aside from their name and a few basic concepts, which Social Darwinists misapplied. Unfortunately, much of today's opposition to the application of Darwinian thinking to human behavior comes from a fear of Social Darwinism and its implications for many of today's moral codes. However, Social Darwinism in its basic (and extremist) forms are based on a logical fallacy, and do not really follow from Darwinian thinking in any way.

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  5. Tink-

    Thanks for posting that. I think you should do a longer version of it on your blog! Well put.

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Advocatus Athesit

Advocatus Athesit