Saturday, November 22, 2008

Novak's Lame Case for God

Michael Novak has written a book intended to make the case of God to the godless. If Ken Blackwell's summary is indicative of the content, Mr. Novak will fail miserably. His book seems a simple rehash of the same old misrepresentations and flawed arguments that atheists have been swatting like flies for centuries:

"In the book, Mr. Novak discusses faith and compassionately engages, with great charity and respect, the new atheist movement. This is a movement led by authors such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. From my readings of their work, the answers they give to metaphysical questions are frequently lacking and often consist only of mean-spirited insults hurled at the reportedly 92% of us who believe in God. Mr. Novak, however, sees the positive in the popularity of these anti-religion books, as they challenge believers to question and carefully exam their own faith."

Blackwell's tired first claim, that the New Atheists' (tm) arguments are merely mean spirited attacks, is refuted by Novak himself. Personal attacks are hardly the means by which one challenges believers to question their faith. Obviously there is a lot more to the atheists' writings than personal attacks, and Blackwell is just another apologist who refuses to deal logically with the arguments made. Instead, he charges into battle, ignorance flying high:

"Modern atheists, with their supposed adherence to the ideals of the Enlightenment and scientific inquiry, can be surprisingly irrational in their suggestion that all we see on earth, from simplest forms of life to the greatest products of human intellect, is out of total randomness and is therefore without meaning or purpose."

This is wrong in all respects. There is nothing irrational in noting the evidence, from fields as disparate as geology, astronomy, chemistry, and of course biology, that life began long ago on this planet in very simple forms, and gradually became, through descent with modification, the teaming life we enjoy today. Rejecting all of this because of the scribblings of ignorant desert tribesmen writing before we even knew the world wasn't flat - now that would be irrational.

Second, the history of life is not one of randomness, but of a cruelly absolute, discriminating environment killing what lacks the ability to survive and replicate itself. In Blackwell's world of total randomness, we'd expect six eyed dogs and children born with skin that isn't able to contain water. The man simply has no understanding of what "random" means in this context.

Finally, the notion that life as currently understood is without meaning and purpose is either trivially true, or blatantly untrue depending on what exactly Blackwell is getting at. It is no coincidence that people spouting this "meaningless" gibberish rarely explicitly explain what they mean. For if "purpose" and "meaning" mean "created with intent by someone", then obviously our lives are lacking. How is this negative? Would being created for the purpose of being a slave somehow be superior? Such an argument is a nonstarter, refuted completely by a simple "So what?" Perhaps this lack of length and complexity is why so many backers of this bilge categorize atheistic arguments as "frequently lacking". If so, they are taking away exactly the wrong message. If your entire argument can be refuted so succinctly, the problem is with you, not your critics.

Nonetheless, the final nail in this delusional coffin is provided by the facts of atheists' lives being full of purpose and meaning. I know it is unrealistic to expect pious people to actually note observable reality, but Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett's lives hardly consist of them sitting in the corner, sad, dark, and lacking in motivation. They certainly had the purpose of writing books. The simple fact is that none of the negative claims made about atheists stand up to even the slightest critical scrutiny. Blackwell is living in a fantasy world.

"Mr. Novak correctly understands, as did many of America's founders, that it is divine providence from which freedom and civilized society flow. And for any faults one may find with Christian regimes throughout history, they pale in comparison to the abhorrent atrocities of the dogmatically atheists regimes of China and the former Soviet Union. Without the guiding moral compass that faith provides, those regimes slaughtered millions. And modern society, without a Judeo-Christian ethics, would have little reason to oppose, for example, to the despicable eugenics movement as espoused by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger."

[Yawn] One wonders how many times this ridiculous argument must be shredded before people like Blackwell will stop repeating it. China and the Soviet Union were not atheistic regimes: they simply substituted the state, the party, Mao and Stalin as gods, to be obediently unquestioningly followed. The modern western European states are the closest things we have had to atheistic regimes, and their record of slaughter pales in comparison to that of the religious regimes of the Middle East, and recently, America. After all, the great conflict of our time involves, not atheists, but competing religious factions. But as usual, these inconvenient facts are ignored. Again, far be it for me to insist Blackwell check with reality before spouting off about what atheists do, but many of us have no difficulty opposing eugenics programs, or any of the traditional moral boogie men people like Blackwell like to toss at atheists. Novak and Blackwell are simply making shit up.

"Mr. Novak proclaims that those who claim to adhere to science and reason owe a great deal of gratitude to the Christian church, as it is the home of the scientific method. And great scientists such as Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein were anything but atheists. In fact, Einstein once described atheists as "creatures who-in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses' cannot hear the music of the spheres." Mr. Novak poignantly states new atheists do not seem to accept that a vast majority of intelligent, highly-educated people are quite religious."

Bullshit. The evidence suggests that the more intelligent and highly educated people become, the less religious they become. Scientists are far more atheistic than is the general population, and it only takes a cursory view of the world to see the very strong correlation between religiosity and ignorance. Again, Novak and Blackwell are making shit up.

What about those scientists? Well, it is foolish to ever take opinions of people who lived hundreds of years ago as relevant to what is reasonable for a person living today to believe. Kepler lived 400 years ago, Newton 300 years ago. Sure they believed in God. Practically everyone alive then did. Newton also believed in alchemy, and that angels kept the planets in their orbits. One can only imagine what he thought of women's rights, slavery, and the possibility of man-made flight. It is beyond foolish to assume these people's opinions would be the same were they alive today. Einstein also had no sympathy for traditional religion, and did not believe in a personal god. Why, might you ask, don't people like Novak and Blackwell make references to more recent scientific geniuses when making this point? Because the atheistic makeup of modern scientists refutes their claim, so they dishonestly ignore the data.

Speaking of ignoring the data, Blackwell and Novak do so in the most blatant way, parroting the baseless claim that US citizens are not free to express their religious views in public:

"Influential English writer and Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton once opined that 'Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. But in practice, it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.' This is clearly the intention of the ACLU and other anti-religious campaigners, who file lawsuits at the mere mention of Christmas in our public schools or the sight of a courthouse daring to display the 10 Commandments."

What sort of delusional world are these people living in? The United States is a country where piety is de facto required to hold public office, where athletes regularly thank invisible beings for aiding their victories without rebuttal, and where a huge proportion of issues (abortion, stem-cell research, evolution science education, etc.) are filled with religious arguments and adherents. Of course, the important detail left out of Blackwell's summation is that it is the government that many of us fight hard to keep from making laws respecting religions. Privately, and in the public square, religious people have and exercise the same 1st amendment rights everyone else has. That some of them are under the erroneous impression that said right comes with an exemption from criticism does not change the facts.

It also does not change with the 1st amendment requirement that government action requires secular purposes. This protects us all, religious and nonreligious alike.
It is a pity people like Novak and Blackwell cannot understand this. Perhaps if they spent more time examining the real world, instead of making up shit in their head (commonly called "faith"), that would change.


Kevin said...

"If Ken Blackwell's summary is indicative of the content, Mr. Novak will fail miserably."

No argument there. The summary argument is pretty miserable.

A Christian myself, I shudder every time an apologist walks up to the plate to take on the proof for the existence of God. I have never seen anything intellectually honest since Blaise Pascal (I think, therefore I am...), and I don't think that is valid.

ScienceAvenger said...

That was Rene Descartes. Pascal came up with Pascal's Wager.