Paul's Reviews > The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens

The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day
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Jun 14, 08

bookshelves: apologetics, the-new-atheism
Read in April, 2008

For the most part, Day attempts to show the factual errors in many of the claims made by the new atheists. He succeeds.

This doesn't do much for me. I'm not saying that this is wrong, in principle. But it doesn't move the discussion where it needs to go, in my opinion. Rather than looking at the statistics of, say, how many wars have been caused by religion, one can simply point out that even if this were true the Bible claims that men are sinners and will do evil things. So, to point out that men do evil things is confirmation of the biblical claims about anthropology rather than disconfirmation.

I'd also rather the discussion go to the philosophical presuppositions rather than ending at statistics. I know Day said this wasn't his goal...but.

He also seemed a bit too dismissive of a few theological arguments viz. the ontological argument, experiential argument, etc. These are much stronger than he leads on. Furthermore, some of them need not be taken as reasons for the unbeliever to believe but, rather, reasons why the believer believes. In other words, they can serve as reasons or evidence for the believer, thus serving a value for him.

One of the reviewers below commented that we do have scientific evidence that our mother exists. Well, we don't. Saying that, "You've seen your mom, you've hugged your mom, and your mom has told you she loves you," doesn't count as scientific evidence. Hugging some person who says she is your mom doesn't entail that she is. And, furthermore, in this objection, since the Bible is taken to be God's revelation that he exists and loves us, then I guess we do have "scientific evidence" that God exists and loves us--he told us he did! Now, if the reviewer says: "But you can't trust that the Bible is his word," then you can't trust your "mother's" word. Furthermore, why should I believe you have a mother? You could say that you have seen her. Okay, but then people say Jesus, who was God in human flesh. So, we could just ask them. if you are saying that everyone must personally see another's mom in order to conclude they have a mother, then I must believe that 99% of the people I see don't have mothers!

Unfortunately, the reviewer misunderstands Day's argument. Day states that: "While it is reasonable to state that you have not seen any evidence for God's existence, it is illogical and incorrect to assert that no such evidence exists" (IA, 253).

Okay, so Day is clearly implying that he believes said evidence does exist. He says it is fine to say that you have not seen any. What would one "base" this claim on? Says Day: "Once can certainly state that no scientific evidence for God exists, based on its absence from scientific literature" (ibid, p. 253)

So, are we following? Day is saying that the person who says "there is no evidence" is justified in saying that in the sense that said person has not seen the evidence for God in the "scientific literature." That would be the published journals, books, etc.

Day then goes on to rightfully claim: "But then there is no scientific evidence that your mother exists, much less that she loves you" (ibid, 253). Here's the point: Sticking with Day's context, he is claiming that there is no scientific evidence that your mother exists "based on" the scientific journals!

Day isn't claiming that there is no scientific evidence that could be produced whatever. Just as he wasn't admitting that about God. His context is that one can't reason from the evidence that they've seen to the conclusion that there is no evidence whatever therefore we should suspend belief in God, or else the person, if consistent, would have to reason that way with respect to their own mother.

And, the broader evidentialist constraint as applied to religion is false. There are many things that we don't have propositional evidence for, such as: the existence of a past, other minds, the reliability of memory, sense perception, etc. Moreover, the evidentialist theists boils down to an infinite regress. If you must have evidence for any belief to be rationally held, then what is the evidence for this belief? If you give it, then do you believe that the evidence supports your first belief? If so, then to rationally believe it you must provide evidence for this new belief. Ad infinitum.

In this Day would be correct. Unfortunately he doesn't go through what I just did above. The absence of almost any philosophical analysis made this book far weaker than it could have been.

I also have no idea why the subtitle read: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. The book mentioned Dan Dennett just as much as Hitchens, and Michael Onfrey only slightly less.

Now, there was some funny rhetoric employed by Day, but this got old real fast. I'd say Wilson's response to Harris employed rhetoric much better.

Though I thought the book could have been more potent, it will serve useful to have in your library as a reference to some statistics in response to some statistical claims made by the New Atheists. But I doubt anything in here will convince any New Atheist of any major flaws in the arguments of Dawkins et. al. That's because she flies by the seat of her emotional pants in rejecting Christianity. Argument isn't always effective against emotional temper tantrums.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin religion does not cause war--men do and always will. religion is just a belief system, and can be twisted anyway by man or woman to his or her desire/goals. that is what is happen with the Koran and it's belief system. i am roman catholic, and do not belief it to be the one true faith. true faith in God is one of peace. men war. men are greedy. men sin. men kill. i never thought God spoke to people, but he did to me, and he has proven himself to me as well. i just wish my faith was 100% of what he deserved in return. i have a science mind, and that keep doubt in the background, no matter what i do or experience.


Paul Hi Noran,

I don't use this site as a debate forum. So I'll respond and this will be it.

So, perahps you didn't read my review? I am a Christian.

In fact, I have argued in public before that religion is not the sole or only or main cause of war (we must admit it has been the cause of *some* wars).

My point was that *even if* (note the conditional) one showed that religion is the cause of all sorts of evils, that only provides *confirmation* of the Bible's claims. It cannot serve to *refute* the Bible, *even if* it were true.

I merely suggested that a better or more useful case could have been offered in response to the New Atheist. The problem is ultimately a heart problem. Spitting out statistics doesn't move the scalpel close enough to the heart, in my opinion. We need stronger apologetics than what we find in Day's book.

So, I fear you may have read too fast.

Best wishes,

Paul


message 3: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin i am sorry i misread, for i read the review twice before writing the comment. i was the one that voted i liked the review. i felt it was well written--it engaged me to think about things. you write well and i enjoyed it. there was just one point i had issue with, and i guess i let my emotions run--but again that speaks to the strength of your review. i am very sorry to have upset you.
sincerely, noran warot


Paul Noran, that's okay. I am not upset, at all. I was simply saying that I do not use this site for a discussion forum. No offense.


Alyssa Hey, I'm the reviewer who wrote the mother-evidence stuff. You rightly pointed out that seeing your mom and hearing that she loves you isn't scientific evidence that she is your mother. However, seeing and touching the person, IS evidence (to you) that the person (who claims to be your mother) exists. As far as evidence that she is actually your mother, scientific evidence would be a genetic test that shows she is your mother to a certain percentage of error (I'm not arguing that evidence equals proof). Further evidence would be eye-witness testimony of someone who saw her pregnant with you and also saw you come out of her body, corroborating with what she says herself. Whether or not there is scientific evidence or eye-witness testimony for God is outside my point. Vox Day was claiming that there is no evidence your mother exists, and I just wanted to point out that that is a stupid way to start an argument. I know you agree that this book is horribly written, and that's all I was trying to point out. I feel that anyone who wants to have a serious discussion about religion or Christianity should put this book down and read one of the many books out there that are much more worth arguing about. I'm sure you can agree with me there.


message 6: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin alyssa, he does not want to discuss anything here, which i think is a function of this site, but each to their own--noran


Paul Hi Alyssa,

Well . . . much of that turns on how you define 'evidence.' And, moreover, if we question our presuppositions, we can see that none of the evidence is skeptic-proof.

For example, seeing and touching a person is evidence that she 'exists,' but how does she exist? Perhaps you're in the Matrix? How would you know otherwise? So, she's a computer generated image implanted into your brain by machines bent on sapping you of the energy they need survive. So, this 'evidence' presupposes many things we do not have evidence for. Thus the skeptic could resist your 'evidence.' Or, perhaps you're dreaming? Etc.

I could also point out that a genetic test is only 'evidence' if you grant a whole host of presuppositions, which the skeptic will not do. So, perhaps the world was created only 5 minutes ago, with all of our memories and dna in tact. Thus, this woman would have the dna that corresponded to yours in a "motherly way" and still not be your mother.

One might also point out that certain assumptions of science are being assumed on your end. Scientific evidence, then, seeks to falsify a hypothesis, not establish it (cf. Popper, et al).

I should also point out that Day attached a claim about a mother's love, which you quoted. And certainly there's no "scientific" evidence for that - unless, perhaps, you choose to boil down "love" to something like a "hiccup." But even then, this meets the objections listed above.

And, one should not fail to note that even the very concept of "scientific evidence" is a hotly debated topic. Scientists and philosophers debate the concept of 'evidence' frequently (cf. various Philosophy of Science books). Do we take a realist or an anti-realist stance? Why or why not?

And, even if we grant your point, Day's point still stands. For there are many things we rationally believe without propositional evidence in their favor. For example: the existence of other minds, the existence of a past, reliability of the senses, memory, and induction, and much more.

You said, "Further evidence would be eye-witness testimony of someone who saw her pregnant with you and also saw you come out of her body, corroborating with what she says herself." But of course this assumes the notion of identity tover time. But that is a philosophical notion. Thus the 'evidence' only counts, at best, if one assumes that the person that came out of the womb is the same person standing before us today. I should also add that atheists are notorious for pointing our how unreliable "eyewitness" testimony is. This point functions in many of their attacks on the reliability of the Gospels. And, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the reliability of testimony is itself another debatable philosophical assumption. Why think "testimony" is "reliable?" So your "evidence" presupposes a great deal of philosophical notions for their intelligibility. Take away those philosophical assumptions, and the intelligibility of the 'evidence' disappears.

You wrote, "Vox Day was claiming that there is no evidence your mother exists, and I just wanted to point out that that is a stupid way to start an argument." And I think we can see that the point isn't as "silly" as previously thought. it may be "silly" if you don't want to think through the presuppositions inherent in your understanding of the world. But if that is the case, and I'm not saying it is with you, then I would call that notions "silly."

Best,

Paul


Paul Hi Noran,

That may be an accidental feature of this site, it's certainly not an essential feature of this site. I furthermore am not opposed to discussion per se, but more so to debate. I do not mean this site to be another time-suck in which I engage in multiply debates with people of disparate opinions - I do that in other contexts. I am not opposed to any and all discussion here, though.


Alyssa I feel that you are arguing against evidence being equal to proof. Maybe Vox Day should have said there is no irrefutable proof that your mother exists, etc. Evidence is something that leads you to a conclusion. Of course you can always break down any line of evidence by invoking unlikely scenarios like being trapped in the matrix, but it's no way to convince anyone of anything. Evidence is generally regarding as information that comes to us from our senses, and even though each line of evidence can be broken down, if there are multiple independent lines of evidence then you can allow yourself the benefit of the doubt, even allowing yourself to realize that there still is, and always will be, doubt. Evidence does rest on assumptions, but those assumptions have come from experience and ultimately from our senses somewhere else down the line (or at least this is one line of philosophical thinking). I think everyone knows there is really no irrefutable proof of anything, and I think that is what you are saying. So, I agree.
As for this not being a forum for debate, I guess if you don't want to debate you don't have to; feel free not to respond to my comment if you don't want to. I won't feel rejected, I promise. I just wanted to say all this as an addendum to my earlier comments, that you quoted. I still think Vox Day's argument was stupid.


message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Alyssa,

Like or dislike Day, that's your business, but at least treat him fairly.

Now, without debate the more sophisticated points I'm raising, which atheistic philosophers of science would agree with me; and which you seem uninterested in doing the leg work to familiarize yourself on the topic, let's just look at Day's thesis:

Day states that: "While it is reasonable to state that you have not seen any evidence for God's existence, it is illogical and incorrect to assert that no such evidence exists" (IA, 253).

Okay, so Day is clearly implying that he believes said evidence does exist. He says it is fine to say that you have not seen any. What would one "base" this claim on? Says Day: "Once can certainly state that no scientific evidence for God exists, based on its absence from scientific literature" (ibid, p. 253)

So, are we following? Day is saying that the person who says "there is no evidence" is justified in saying that in the sense that said person has not seen the evidence for God in the "scientific literature." That would be the published journals, books, etc.

Day then goes on to rightfully claim: "But then there is no scientific evidence that your mother exists, much less that she loves you" (ibid, 253). Now, I noticed you ignored my point about Day's philiac point. But here's the issue: Sticking with Day's context his is claiming that there is no scientific evidence that your mother exists "based on" the scientific journals!

Now, Alyssa, are you denying Day's claim? Is he really the dolt you portray him as? The "silly" little theist? If so, then please point us all to the journals and myriad other "scientific literature" that provides evidence that your mother exists . . . much less loves you.

Day isn't claiming that there is no scientific evidence that could be produced whatever. Just as he wasn't admitting that about God. His context, Alyssa, is that one can't reason from the evidence that they've seen to the conclusion that there is no evidence whatever therefore we should suspend belief in God, or else the person, if consistent, would have to reason that way with respect to their own mother.

Thus your entire argument against day on this point has been shown to completely miss Day's point. You didn't read him charitably.

I should add that my point wasn't entirely in-line with what Day was claiming, and I may have misled you. I thank you for forcing us to go back to the text and do our exegesis. Anyway, as I stated in my review, Day "didn't get into all of that." That is, I was specifically arguing against the evidentialist thesis and used your claim as a springboard into my critique of evidentialism.

Thus, in closing, I'd say: (a) My broader point about the failure of the evidentialist thesis regarding its bearing on the God debate still stands, and (b) your critique of Day, on this point has been shown to be entirely off the mark. I would thus amend your review in interests of intellectual honesty.

Regards,

Paul


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