Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why I Hate Reading Christian Apologetics (Updated!)

I'm currently reading Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God written by Scott Hahn (professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville) and Benjamin Wiker ( Senior Fellow with the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College, a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology). Needless to say it is an exercise in patience. I haven't even finished the first chapter and I have 43 notes on grammar, clarity, fallacies, question bagging, special pleading, contradictions, etc. etc. 

I chose to read this book because I was under the impression that it was one of the better knock down drag out arguments against atheism. Instead, I'm finding it to be one of the most mind numbing, contradictory, pieces of incoherency and gobbledygook I've ever read. Not only do our authors not know how to cite properly, half the time they don't even cite, but what really irritates me is the way they debate Dawkins'. It seems as if they've never read him--but their opinion matters... because they're Christian apologists and theologians! They begin by stating Dawkins' arguments are shaky, and then they quote other Dawkins' critics, often times on totally separate subjects, which have nothing to do with the shakiness of said argument, and then they conclude this has (somehow) definitively proved Dawkins' arguments are shaky and therefore unreasonable! And I'm sitting their scratching my head... wondering if they're actually going to mention any of the arguments Dawkins actually talks about or even cite just one quotation by Dawkins that isn't quote-mined from a second hand source in some other biased author's critique of Dawkins. 

However, in anti-scholarly fashion, they don't even touch on Dawkins before they have concluded he is incontrovertibly wrong. It's almost like a mantra, since every other paragraph thus far has been, "Dawkins is wrong... Dawkins is wrong... Dawkins is wrong..." and yet... they haven't even mentioned why they think this, although they've certaintly quoted, in abundance, why others think so. Nor do they actually provide any examples or critiques of them before they resort to reminding the reader, in case you didn't get it the first time, that "Dawkins is wrong." 

Thanks, but let the reader decide for themselves! Cite Dawkins, and critique his arguments, but don't begin with your conclusion. That's just begging the question. Dawkins is wrong? Oh, yeah? Why? Because Dawkins is wrong. Just one of the many reasons I hate reading apologetics, they think circular reasoning wins out over... actually having to reason.

Now, before I get to my favorite brain liquidizing quote thus far, here are some kindly praise for Answering the New Atheism by some familiar Christian names to consider:
"It has been a great pleasure to me as a long-retired Professor of Philosophy to have been set the task of reading Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God by Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Benjamin Wiker. For this 'task' has been for me not a task but a sustained delight. Rarely, if ever, in my many years as a Professor of Philosphy did I ever have the opportunity to read such a compelling argument." --Antony Flew, Author of There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind

"Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker answer the arguments posed by the New Atheism effectively and decisively. They show, again and again, that atheists like Richard Dawkins are putting forth shoddy arguments, and once those arguments are dismantled by cool reason, there is very little left." --Dinesh D'Souza, Richwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution; Author of What's So Great About Christianity

"Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker patiently, thoroughly pick apart the reasoning of Richard Dawkins until very little is left standing. I highly recommend Answering the New Atheism to anyone who wants to watch scientific atheist bullies get their comeuppance." --Michael J. Behe, Lehigh University; Author of The Edge of Evolution

Although I paid good money for this book, I don't regret doing so. I can always use this as a model of how not to write, and there is no denying that it's a great example of just this. Consider this quote by Hahn and Wiker:

We must emphasize that our main goal is not to make a case for Christianity or even theism (those interested in these kinds of arguments should read Scott Hahn, Reasons to Believe [sic: book titles are always italicized]), but to expose the weaknesses of Dawkins' atheism.

Then a few lines later--in the same paragraph mind you--they write:

Yet, the reader will become aware of a general, natural theological position that emerges from our analysis and in fact, halfway through this book we do provide a different kind of proof of God's existence after exposing the faults of Dawkins' attempts to disprove the existence of God.

You caught the error, right?  In paraphrase: "We must emphasize that our goal is not to make a case for Christianity or even theism...we do provide a different kind of proof of God's existence..." Wait, if by "different" these guys mean they don't provide a proof, then thanks, because that would be in tune with not making a case for theism, i.e. the belief in God. If their goal isn't to prove the reasons to believe in God, then why state that you're going to provide reasons to believe... let alone do it in the same paragraph?

Maybe their method of "proof" is not a reason to believe in God or Christianity, but then, why provide it? I don't understand how providing a proof for God is not making a case for theism. Logic dictates that if your goal is NOT to prove theism, e.g. make a case for theism, then is would follow that you DON'T provide a proof for belief in God, i.e. theism. If, on the other hand, it's not your main goal--then just word it so it makes sense. For example, they could have said, "Although our main goal is not to make a case for theism, we do provide one unique example for God's existence..." problem solved! 

Instead, they work against logic, they did emphasize, after all. Maybe it's just ill-conceived wording and incautious phrasing, but for two "scholarly writers" I have to say that this writing is sub-par, if not bordering on the fringe of retardation.

After listing how Dawkins' book The God Delusion is a force of evil, and going on about how Dawkins' rhetoric is equal to that of an "fundamentalist preacher" issuing forth "apocalyptic warnings" they write:

We offer our book for all those swayed into doubt by Dawkins, so that reason may triumph over rhetoric.

Yet this sentence is rehtorical, thus contradicting the author's stated intent to "triumph over rhetoric." Also, it follows several long rhetorical jabs at Dawkins, without support I might add, and I find myself thinking... do these guys actually even know what they are saying? Do the words which come out of their mouths (or finger-tips) connect to their brain stems? I mean, seriously, this is not how you write. 

English theory and the philosophy of language are a couple of areas I am quite familiar with, so let me just point out that good rhetoric is persuasive precisely because it disguises itself with logic and reasonable arguments so well that you wouldn't recognize it even if it hit you in the face. It's the sort of thing you read and nod along to thinking, "That makes so much sense! I totally get that..." even when you might *disagree with the thesis. On the other hand, bad rhetoric is often a sign of a weak or failing argument, and one of the give-aways for a failing argument is when you use a rhetorical statement to attack rhetoric.

Later on they attack Dawkins ability to assess a theory, stating:

For Dawkins, whatever God could do, chance can do better, and that means that any event, no matter how seemingly miraculous, can be explained as good luck. As we shall see, this directly affects Dawkins' ability to assess the latest scientific evidence that points to the existence of an Intelligent Creator.

Several things which strike me as ill-conceived, 1) Dawkins mentions chance in The God Delusion in a discussion of probabilities, he nowhere discusses "luck." Our authors continue to refer to Dawkins "luck" debate throughout the remainder of the chapter, and they even mention they talked to a physicist colleague about probabilities, but then call it luck again. Perhaps they should get their physicist colleague to explain Dawkins' chapter on probabilities to them. 2) I don't know if they are trying to be funny or snide in suggesting that Dawkins, a world renowned scientist, lacks the ability to assess a proper scientific theory. It just seems absurd on the face of it to even suggest it. 3) Since when is I.D. (which they are referring to) even considered a proper scientific theory? Last time I checked the entire scientific community had rejected it on the basis of it being theological conjecture ant NOT a real theory of any kind. 4) I have no clue as to what the authors mean by 'latest scientific evidence that points to the existence of a creator.' What evidence? Which creator? 

Wouldn't this be newsworthy, this just in, headline reads, "Evidence for God Found!" One would think that if there was tangible evidence for God every newspaper, blog, and media outlet would seize upon it and run the story to death. But, as usual, our author's lack the basic references needed to support such a grandiose claim and they don't cite their sources (if they actually have any). So now they've been caught in a series of lies, followed by even more elaborate lies, plus an ad hominem attack (typical of apologetics) on the "ability" of a professional scientist to do his job in accessing scientific theories. But Hahn and Wiker are obviously hoping  for a miracle so that you'll simply overlook these petty jabs and ignore the weakness of their arguments and just buy into what they have to say... don't question... don't even think about it... just take it on faith. Take it on faith that I.D. has heaps of evidence! Take it on faith that Dawkins doesn't know the first thing about assessing a scientific theory--never mind that he's a world renowned scientist who has devoted his life and professional career to advancing science!  

All this in just the first several pages. I'm surprised these guys even maintain jobs in academia, that is, if you consider theology academic. I sure don't. Which probably explains how two Doctors in Divinity/Theology don't know the first thing about writing coherent arguments, let alone proof reading their own drivel before they publish it as a refutation of one of academia's all time best gifted authors, Richard Dawkins. And I'm not saying that as a fan, I'm saying that is my professional view, Dawkins is one of the most talented and rigorous writers you can read. And the first thing they teach you about writing is... read good books, read good authors, and you'll improve vastly. 

However, if you read books like the one Hahn and Wiker published, then you'll have to be slightly perplexed as to how the above reviewers rated it so highly. It's almost as if they didn't actually read it. Or else they have no critical reading skills to speak of. "We liked this book because another Dawkins bashing Christian wrote it. And that's good enough for us." Another reason why I hate reading apologetical works... derivative redundancy.

I'm sorry to say, but Answering the New Atheism is the perfect example of why atheists don't bother with Christian apologists or think all that much of theologians, but more than this, it justifies our not caring in the first place. 

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist