Saturday, November 3, 2007

D'Souza's Warped Interpertation of History

In his latest article pimping his book What's So Great About Christianity, Dinesh D'Souza recounts a debate he had with Christopher Hitchens in which Hitchens was asked about the contributions of Christianity and atheism on various cultures. In reviewing this exchange, D'Souza makes a mistake common to Christian apologetics. He essentially gives Christianity credit for everything that involves Christians, whether the Christianity itself was to credit or not.

For example, if I am a vegetarian, and I produce a mathematical proof for a previously unsolved problem, is this a triumph for vegetarianism over the meat eating philosophy? Were we to apply D'Souza's reasoning when crediting Christianity for everything under the sun, it would indeed be considered such. However, a much more reasonable analysis would look at whether the proof was born of uniquely vegetarian principles and behavior, or whether it came from mathematical methods common to all mathematicians, whether they digest flesh or not.

Likewise, if Christianity is to be rightly credited with scientific, philosophical, or political achievements, it needs to be shown how Christianity uniquely contributed to, or influenced these events. It is no more reasonable to say "Person A was a Christian and discovered X, therefore Christianity gets credit for X", any more than it would be reasonable to say "Person A refused to tie his shoelaces and discovered Y, therefore we should not have scientists tie their shoes." In statistics, we express this principle as "correlation does not imply causation", meaning that just because items A and B are often seen together does not imply that A causes B, or even that B causes A. There could be another cause C which cause both, or their association could be coincidental.

So whenever anyone claims Christianity was responsible for something, it is not enough to merely show that those responsible were Christians. One must show a causal link between the two. Now consider this sweeping statement by D'Souza:

"If we look at the history of Western civilization, we find that Christianity has illuminated the greatest achievements of the culture. Read the new atheist books and make a list of the institutions and values that Hitchens and Dawkins and the others cherish the most. They value the idea of the individual, and the right to dissent, and science as an autonomous enterprise, and representative democracy, and human rights, and equal rights for women and racial minorities, and the movement to end slavery, and compassion as a social virtue. But when you examine history you find that all of these values came into the world because of Christianity. If Christianity did not exist, these values would not exist in the form they do now."

That is quite a statement, and D'Souza needs to support it with solid evidence, not mere hand waving and assumptions that anything done by Christians was caused by Christianity. Sure Christians were involved in getting equal rights for women, as were atheists and members of other groups. But where is the evidence that they were motivated by their Christianity to do so? The Bible very explicitly says that women are not the equal of men, from Eve being created second, and blamed for the fall, to the admonishment that women should never have authority over a man and to learn in all submission and silence (1 Tim 2:11-12). Those Christians that fought for equal rights for women did so in spite of their Christianity, not because of it.

Likewise, where is the evidence that those Christians who fought for individual rights and the right to dissent were doing so based on their Christianity? The Bible says nothing about either. But it does place taking the Lord's name in vain, or even thinking impure thoughts, as sins. Does that sound like a promotion of the individual and dissent. Once again, a sober examination of the evidence suggests that those Christians who fought for individual rights did so in spite of their Christianity, not because of it. Each of the claims D'Souza attributes to Christianity can be dismantled in similar fashion by a simple analysis of the facts. The Greeks had democracy long before the birth of Jesus, so obviously Democracy would exist were there Christianity or not. Science depends on doubt, falsifiable experimentation, and public discussion of results, none of which are even remotely Christian principles. And so on.

D'Souza is following in the footsteps of his philosophical stablemate Ann Coulter, and is simply making shit up. There are good reasons why D'Souza spends so much time talking about historical issues. It is easier to distort reality. Thus he speaks of Christianity's supposed great influence of the past, while ignoring it's destructive influence today. He focuses on scientists and other serious thinkers of the past because that is the only place he can give the appearance of a solid case. He depends on the ignorance of his readers concerning the dominance of Christianity hundreds of years ago, and how atheists were rare at best, to try to make it look like Christianity used to win the intellectual war, when in fact it more or less had a monopoly on thinkers in the cultures he mentions. The fact that the Christian view is a minority view at best in modern intellectual life is one D'Souza doesn't want to touch with a ten foot poll, except to assert an anti-Christian conspiracy for which there is no evidence.

At the end of this article, D'Souza asks a question that once again reveals his complete lack of understanding of the issue:

"The real question to ask is, what does atheism offer humanity? In Tonga, as in America, the answer appears to be: Nothing. "

Yes, that's what atheism is. It is nothing. It is not a philosophy, nor is it a world view. It is simply a lack of belief in gods, the same as most people's lack of belief in elves, and just as impotent to be responsible for all the crimes D'Souza would lay at its feet. This is why blaming anything on atheism is absurd. Authoritarianism kills, be it atheistic (Stalin) or Christian (Hitler). Atheism is impotent. All it does is remove a barrier to rational thought which, as any honest evaluation of history shows, results in far more good for humanity than blind faith in talking burning bushes, virgin births, dead people coming back to life, and the books that describe those myths.

1 comment:

Harriet said...

What does atheism offer? How about every single scientific discovery, which was made by assuming a natural cause for something?