Monday, October 8, 2007

Preview of Dinesh D'Souza's "What's So Great About Christianity?"

Annoyed apparently by the recent thrashing Christianity has gotten in the popular bookstore these days, and no doubt havng learned well from his colleague-in-dissembling Ann Coulter on smelling an opportunity to sell books to the credulous masses, Dinesh D'Souza announces the release of his new Book: What's So Great About Christianity?" Here's his opening salvo, as he urges Christians to get out there and defend the faith:

"My new book What’s So Great About Christianity starts hitting the stores this week. It’s the first comprehensive answer to the atheist books out there, such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great...

Today’s Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God’s presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear different language from that spoken in church.

Instead of engaging this secular world, most Christians have taken the easy way out. They have retreated into a Christian subculture where they engage Christian concerns. Then they step back into secular society, where their Christianity is kept out of sight until the next church service. Without realizing it Christians have become postmodernists of a sort: they live by the gospel of the two truths. There is religious truth, reserved for Sundays and days of worship, and there is secular truth, which applies the rest of the time."

Indeed Dinesh has a moment of unusual clarity here. Many Christians have indeed withdrawn into a bubble of sorts, with Fox News on the TV delivering "the truth", conservative websites delivering the desired "facts" on a daily basis, and talk radio gurus like Rush and Michael Savage reminding them how evil everyone who disagrees with them is. They then go to church on Sunday, with all their carefully culled friends, and spend great times in comfort patting each other on the back and echoing their sentiments on all the issues of the day.

Of course, once they enter the secular world where we all have to get things done, they discard their bubble of banality to get the job done. Loving Jesus might get you by on Sunday, but when you get into the lab, the factory, or the board meeting, no one cares what Jesus thinks of you or vice versa. They care (mostly anyway) about what you are able to do in the real world. The irony here is rich, for it seems to pass over the heads of those like D'Souza as to why this would be? Simple: Christianity, stripped of it's secular components (like laws against murder and theft), is irrelevant to modern life. He can't admit this of course, and instead tries the laughable persecuted-Christians gambit, with an appeal to Gould's Nonoverlapping Magisteria concept:

"Many Christians have ... sought a workable, comfortable modus vivendi in which they agree to leave the secular world alone if the secular world agrees to leave them alone. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould proposed the terms for the treaty in his book Rocks of Ages when he said that secular society relies on reason and decides matters of fact, while religious people rely on faith and decide questions about values. Many Christians seized upon this distinction with relief. This way they could stay in their subculture and be nice to everyone. "

The problem with this, as has been pointed out many times with regard to NOMA, is that Christians do not stay within the values realm. They want their dated view of the world enforced at the point of a gun on everyone else by the government. They conveniently skip over Jesus' admonishment to "give to Caeser what is Caeser and give to God what is God's", and instead try to enforce their values of what constitutes a person (abortion, cloning, stem-cell research), and what constitutes science (creationism, global warming denial), on the rest of us. Thus:

"But a group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a powerful public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice. A new set of antireligious books—The God Delusion, The End of Faith, God Is Not Great, and so on—now shapes public debate."

As it should. Atheists, and the much larger group of nonreligious people who think there is more science to be found in the peer-reviewed journals than in the Bible, have been silent far too long. Religion should have to defend itself as any other subject should: in the public arena, with evidence and logic, not faith and tradition. This of coursed disturbs people like D'Souza, because they have been used to a favorable double standard for so long, one that placed religious claims beyond reproach, that just asking for a fair fight seems to them like playing dirty.

Speaking of playing dirty, note D'Souza's comment on the atheists that "many of them [are] evolutionary biologists". Of Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, ony Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. So why would D'Souza make such a claim? It's simple manipulation: Dawkins is the most incendiary of the bunch (though nowhere in the same league as the most incendiary of the Christians), so D'Souza would no doubt like the entirety of the New Atheism to be associated with Dawkins, in the same way global warming deniers would like the issue of global warming to be associated with Al Gore. Don't be too hard on D'Souza, for he can't win this battle with evidence and logic, so he has to stoop to such rhetorical tricks.

To his credit D'Souza rejects NOMA along with the rest of us, and sees that there is no middle ground on many of these factual issues:

"The atheists have a point: there are not two truths or multiple truths; there is one truth. Either the universe is a completely closed system and miracles are impossible, or the universe is not a closed system and there is the possibility of divine intervention in it. Either the Big Bang was the product of supernatural creation or it had a purely natural cause. In a larger sense, either the secular view of reality is correct or the religious view is correct. (Or both are wrong.) So far the atheists have been hammering the Christians and the Christians have been running for cover. It’s like one hand clapping."

More like a dog that has been beaten for hundreds of years finally raising up and fighting back. The atheists are simply saying that Christians cannot hide behind their religiousity if they are going to make material claims about the world, and attempt to enforce the implications of those claims via the ballot box (or military might). Atheists are simply demanding Christian views be subject to the very same scrutiny any other view is subjected to. But again, having had things their way for so long, people like D'Souza see this as some sort of special pleading:

"The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control the school curricula, so that they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. "

I will be interested to see if D'Souza backs up these outlandish claims with any sort of evidence. Where is the evidence that atheists want to monopolize anything? Who has said Christians cannot have their say? Where is a secular ideology promoted in schools, and where have prominent atheists supported such a thing? This just looks like Coulteristic fiction weaving: when the facts don't support you, simply make them up. Atheists don't want abortion laws, or any other, to be divorced from moral claims. We just don't believe Christian morals deserve more consideration than anyone else's. Atheists, and most thinking Christians as well, want the best science we have taught to school children. That means cosmology and evolution, among many other subjects. If the findings of science undermine Christianity, then Christianity has a problem, not science.

"They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion—and especially the Christian religion—disappear from the face of the earth."

We would love to see Christianity disappear from its privledged position in the public sphere. What people believe about the gods or their eternal resting place matters about as little to us otherwise as do their views on astrology, aliens near Alpha Centauri, or how the Cowboys will do this year. If Christianity is going to used in the public sphere, then yes, it's factual claims will be challenged. If D'Souza finds it troublesome to defend a 6,000 year old earth, animals poofing into existence, talking burning bushes, virgin births, and three-days-dead people coming back to life, perhaps he should get more particular about his sources of truth.

And earth to D'Souza: the bulk of the conflict in the world today revolves around religion, as the aforementioned authors have chronicled all-too-well. Without religion, there would be no civil war in Iraq, no 9/11, and no fighting in Northern Ireland. Is religion responsible for all the ills of the world? Of course not. But denying it is responsible for a lot of them is good old ostrich thinking. It's simple really: once you can get people to buy all that magical nonsense I listed above, getting them to believe the world would be a better place after you've killed all the Jews/Americans/Hindus/Muslims/yourselves, is a piece of cake. It is not religion per se, that is dangerous. It is faith: believing without evidence, that is, and that more than anything is what the New Atheists are bringing to the forefront of the discussion. We are simply tired of being asked to do, or not do, certain things, without being given a reason beyond "that's what I believe by faith". Not good enough.

"Christians must confront the challenge of modern atheism and secularism. This book provides a kind of tool kit to meet this challenge. The Christianity that is defended here is not “fundamentalism” but rather traditional Christianity, what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” the common ground of beliefs between Protestants and Catholics. This Christianity is the real target of the secular assault."

Ah, the big tent approach so favored by the Intelligent Design crew. I'm shocked. I wonder if Dinesh is going to forbid discussion of the age of the earth, or the nature of God, as they do. He says he has written to book for seekers and believers, but also for atheists.

"This is also a book for atheists, or at least for those atheists who welcome a challenge. Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, the atheists have had it too easy. Their arguments have gone largely unanswered. They have been flogging the carcass of “fundamentalism” without having to encounter the horse-kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity. I think that if atheists are genuine rationalists they should welcome this book. It is an effort to meet the atheist argument on its own terms."

I for one do Dinesh. Let's see a rational defense of Christianity. Let's see you discuss atheism fairly, without the fictional characitures that are so prevalent among your writing mates. Let's see this "vigorous" Christianity so balyhooed in defenses about the New Atheist writings, but so absent in actual discourse.

"My modus operandi is one of skepticism, to view the claims of religion in the same open-minded way that we view claims of any other sort...

Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the others, this book will show the following—1) Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. 2) The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. 3) Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it. 4) There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. 5) It is reasonable to have faith. 6) Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. 7) Atheism is often motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. I end this book by showing what is unique about Christianity and how our lives change if we become Christians. "

Well, I can't say I'm impressed. Claiming science supports the existence of a divine being, and supports the notion of supernatural design of living things, is a screaming red flag that ignorance is coming. But who knows, maybe Dinesh will suprise us and explain why a divine designer would give us and chimps the same broken vitamin C gene, why it would wire our eyes backwards, but an octopus eye rightways, and why it decided to fuse two chimp genes in humans. Anyone want to take bets that he quotes Michael Behe and William Dembski approvingly in his book?

And how in the world does lack of believe in Thor cause mass murders? Of all the claims of apologists, that one is the most absurd, but I suspect will be representative of the arguments D'Souza presents.


John said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne Australia.
I think the legendary Black Adder summed this book up perfectly in his immortal phrase: UTTER CRAPP.

Put in another way: Lies all the way down.

Also very typical of the sloppy thinking of all right wing religionists who want to turn the USA into an authoritarian theocratic state via their "total truth" claims.

The truth is that Dinesh is a thorough-going reductionist-materialist dressed up in (dangerous) "religious" drag.

Meanwhile please check out this set of critical essays on Christianity.


Plus related references on the science vs exoteric religiosity culture wars.


Anonymous said...

I for one would love to see the rational, logical and scientific proof that a 600 year old man built a big boat and sailed the flooded earth for a year and singlehandedly repopulated the planet. I saw this guy on Hannity and Colmes and anyone who agrees with Sean Hannity has to be either a lunatic or just plain dumb. There is just no scientific proof that the amazing phenamena in the bible ever happened and how can such a "scholar" make such an outrageous claim? My only question for this guy would be "do you have a degree in astrophysics? if not how can you explain the creation of anything?"

Michael said...

What is clear from the original post, and from the two comments, is that none of these posters have read the book. If I'm mistaken, I apologize, but consider that my error is understandable since none of you chose to engage any of the issues raised by Mr. D'Souza's book.


ScienceAvenger said...

What part of "preview" is unclear Michael? I based my comments on D'Souza's own words, such as they are. There's nothing new or persuasive here, as his appearances on TV promoting his book reveal. Last night I saw him try the Courtier's Reply. [yawn]

Anonymous said...

I have yet to hear any atheists answer several of D'souza's claims. I viewed the entire debate between him and Hitchens and neither he nor anyone else can answer from an atheist perspective why we should believe the world is rational. It does not have to be. To believe that it functions according to a given set of laws which can be "spoken" through mathematics is faith. We cannot know that the speed of light is universal in all parts of the universe as empiricism claims it to be. We only postulate that it is because we take it for granted that the world is rational. This is a metaphysical claim. For Christians this is no problem; for atheists, this is a problem.
Also, to be an atheist is just as much a leap of faith as it is to be a Christian. We have no evidence whatsoever of what happens after death. There are strong arguments to support both sides and brilliant people have argued for both sides (Christians do have thinkers, they're not irrational, faith lunatics: Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Augustine, the list goes on). To state that God does not exist is not based on evidence, but a lack of evidence in a field where no evidence can be found. It is a scientific principle that lack of evidence is not proof. I have not heard atheist replies to either of these comments, so, if they exist, could you please inform me. Thank you,

The Magi

ScienceAvenger said...

Jason Rosenhouse has a good takedown of D'Souza's arguments here. Most of those arguments are pretty embarrasingly bad, and I suspect that is part of the reason Hitchens skipped some of them. For example, take D'Souzas wonder that atheists argue against the gods whereas he feels no compunction to argue against unicorns. It should be obvious that this difference is due to the fact that there are no people in the world attempting to force their unicornian views of the world on others.

Speaking of which, it takes no more faith to be an atheist than it does to be an a-unicornist. Likewise, the assumption that the universe follows rational laws of science and mathematics is not a leap of faith, since it is repeatedly verified as such. We couldn't build planes and computers otherwise, which is why this atheist has no trouble with that fact at all. That Christians invent an explanation for this sans evidence is completely irrelevant.

Finally, it is not a scientific principle that lack of evidence is not evidence. It depends on the details. If you claim there is an elephant in the room, yet we can find no evidence of it, that is indeed evidence against it. God is similar to the elephant: the fact that so many reasonable people can see no reason to believe, and that said lack of belief correlates so strongly with education, intelligence, and the advancement of the era in which one lives (notice the strong bias towards antiquity of great Christian scientists) is strong evidence against the existence of gods.

Jakester said...

Well, the world is certainly not rational because people are basically not rational, at least some of the time. Even Scientists and Intellectuals with impeccable credentials and hig IQ are prone to madness. Teh Scientific rational approach society, simplified by our give and take compromise mentality of democracy, may be lacking. People need to believe something higher than random chance and materialism. So we can end up as messed up Woody Allen in our seflishness looking for some psychiatric or easy copout to the BIG PROBLEMS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, or we can try to find God and selflessness. Not that I am endorsing cracker Christianity or cheap partisan hacks who pay some token respects to JC and God and use that as some false height to rain abuse down on their "heathen" adversaries ala Coulter. But Science and Reason will never answer it all, God implies we are imperfect, impotent but important at the same time.

ScienceAvenger said...

Yes, everyone, even scientists, theologins and geniuses of all stripes can err, or be blinded by ideology. That is why the scientific method has been so much more succesful in uncovering truths about the world than the rationalist and authoritarian methods preferred by religions. Religion favors faith and obediance, ignoring man's flaws, while science accounts for them by favoring reason and doubt.

There are plenty of things to believe in that are greater than humans without inventing gods. Gravity, mathematics, time, quantum theory, and the elegance of evolutionary theory, are plenty great.

Ruthie said...

Sorry to revive this old thread but I feel like I HAVE to post this somewhere, because this book drove me insnae.

I picked up this book because I am an atheist surrounded by Christians (both my parents, my fiance, and my two younger sisters) who always insist that I haven't given Christianity a real try, that there are really good arguments for it, that atheism has been disproven/is worse for the world than formal religion, blah blah blah (but oh, I was a Christian from 4 until 17 but apparently that's not "trying, they personally don't have any good arguments because "they aren't good speakers/arguers like I am" or they don't have time to research it -- like I do???). This book claimed that it was a great answer to the atheists and atheists who weren't afraid should pick it up. Well I did. And aside from the lack of factual citations for many of his dubious claims, his poor logic (ok, Christianity is spreading and therefore better because you reproduce more than atheists? In what way does that validate it?), and his obvious (and pathetic) attempts to strike fear into our atheist hearts, I discovered something truly despicable: BLATANT LIES.

In one significant chapter D'Souza claims that atheism has been responsible for more deaths that Christianity, countering our claims that religion is responsible for most murder/war in the world and in history. He cites Stalin, Mao, and Hitler -- which made me stop short. Mao and Stalin I'll grant, they were proclaimed atheists and declared war on religion as part of their platform, but sorry D'Souza, HILTER IS ONE OF YOURS.

Hitler was born and baptized as Catholic and proclaimed his Christianity throughout his career. He was NEVER excommunicated by the Catholic church even up to his death. He emphasizes his particular version of Christianity in part of the Nazi party platform, equivalent to their constitution. He frequently cited that his motivation for extinguishing the Jews was due to his belief that it was part of being a good Christian and following the teachings of Christ.

Obviously this isn't your everyday Christianity, but this is what folks call a "denomination". It's a little different from most, but still religiously, and even Christian, founded. Modern Nazis and white power groups in the US consider themselves good Christians too, for the same reason. You can't throw him back because you don't like what he did.

So that knocks 6 million off the "atheist" death toll and adds 6 mil to yours. Sorry, guys, you still take the cake.

Hitler denial is common in atheist vs. Christianity debates. But it's a flagrant untruth. And if D'Souza subscribes to that, I have no motivation to give his other dubious claims a chance.

Good thing it was only a library book.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

I just read Rosenhouse's alleged "takedown"

Where did this guy learn logic?

Has he read D'Souza's book?

This statement, among all the other blither and lie about the alleged horrors of the Inquisitians and no acknowledgement of Robert Kuttner's balonious statement about "millions" killed in the Crusades and Inquisitions (also false), to wit, as:

D'Souza argues that it is the regularity and orderliness of the universe that argues for the existence of God. But the ID folks tell us that God is found by locating gaps in the orderly working of nature. Well, which is it?

IDists argue no such thing. There is no contradiction. They do not argue from gaps. Big Bang cosmologists might be doing that now that they've hit a naturalistic barrier. But IDists have merely argued that design is the kind of situation that can be gleaned precisley from order and regularity but also that you look for evidence in things not reducable or explainable by purely mechanistic, or rather materialist ideology on such matters. Either God has something to do with the Universe or not. If so, then the evidence ammasses would have to do also with evidence of intentionality. If so, then ID would no more violate some naturalistic or scientific order than a crime scene investigator asserting that the car wreck was deliberate and the gun firing was not accidental or random. Thesse are not as evidential as one might suppose.

Sometimes the evidence of crime is circumstantial and yet sometimes the appearance of the random is just the opposite.

That's why we have investigators to hash things out. And courts.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

ALSO, not to be too wordy again so I'll just do a link:

Personal friend of mine from the UK:

Several things at once addressed here.....

Many thanks.