Monday, October 27, 2008

Thumbs down on the anti-Dawkins book

I'm not doing a very thorough job either of reading or responding to my self-imposed book assignment. Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker's Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God is a very confusing and frustrating book to read. Chief among its flaws is that it practically requires side-by-side reading of The God Delusion, because of all the references. It makes no case at all for itself, but goes into Dawkins and just sets up confusing arguments that seem intent on blinding the reader with cloudy logic. Where Dawkins untangles an argument, Hahn and Wiker wad everything back up and call that a proof. I can't count how many times they write something like "and here's where Dawkins makes a ridiculous error" and then they just state the counter argument and call it a day.

In this, my final post on the matter, I will cite only one particular passage to illustrate my point:
First of all, as we've already noted, in coming over to Dawkins' side, we have thereby embraced a cosmos indifferent to good or evil. As a consequence we immediately face a dilemma: we have no moral grounds for condemning the actions of God (He doesn't exist) or the characters in the Bible (good and evil don't exist). Since God doesn't exist, there is no reason to work up a froth of indignation against Him, anymore than against the lunkheaded Zeus in Homer's Iliad. Obviously, the indignation, on whatever grounds Dawkins may have it, must be directed at the historical people represented in the Bible and in turn the believe the text to be holy.
Yet now another, more amusing problem arises. It would seem that a good many of the complaints made by Dawkins against the God of the Old Testament could, with equal justice, be made against natural selection itself. That is, the very complaints that bring him to reject the Old Testament are the ones that brought him to reject Darwinism itself as a moral foundation and guide. To say the least, he puts himself in a paradoxical position. (pg 122).
I didn't make that up, I didn't pull it out of context - Hahn and Wiker just said that it is a paradox for Dawkins to be upset at the God of the Bible because natural selection is just as cruel. Clearly this is an absurd argument. The cold, uncaring cruelty of the universe cannot be compared to the cruelty of God as recounted in the Bible. Even if God's actions were not cruel, this is an absurd thing to say. Kind of like comparing a girl who was kidnapped, raped and beaten to death to a girl who died in a rock slide and say 'See? They both died. Nature is just as cruel as man."

This is not a book review. If it were, I would fail it on nearly every account possible (although I did find the cover art to be pretty flashy). It is difficult to read and the points that are "made" are so brief and cursory that they involve little more than stating Dawkins' point and laughing at it. I am truly sorry that this book was so poorly written and badly organized. I am sorry that the authors seem to discount evolution out of hand, and then try to tie Dawkins to it (evolution is as certain as anything else in science). I am sorry that their definition of 'reason' is not exactly what mine is. Maybe I'm simply misreading it. Maybe my heart is hardened and my mind clouded by the Devil - or is it God who does that? I think that the book would have been better if it hadn't simply assumed the outcome and twisted the logic to connect their various preconceived dots. I said at the outset that I would read the book with an open mind, and certainly I tried, but there's only so far that I can stretch my imagination.


ddjango said...

As much as I dislike Dawkins, I agree with your review wholeheartedly - especially re: the part you quoted here.

The concept of "cruelty" is homocentric. It means "unkind to humans." To attribute such behavior to a g*d de facto diminshes that g*d - a diminution that is anathema to worship. To attribute it to the universe is simply conceited.

nathaniel wallace said...

In fact, this is something that the authors even mention. They cite (and paraphrase) Peter Singer: "...all species with significant "brain power" should be treated the same morally. While this may be big-hearted, practically speaking, it ends up rather morally macabre, because it really means treating human beings like other animals." (pg 136).

Again, the authors don't make any new or interesting arguments; they simply phrase everything in terms of their own presuppositions.