?

Log in

No account? Create an account
The Irrational Atheist - a review - Zarbi [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
zarbi

free web stats

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Links
[Links:| The Tufted Titmouse The Rehtorical Ranter Billy's Occasional Blog Philip's Tea Fuelled Madness Big Al Anna Banana Strawmen MPhil Diacanu Quine The Critical Thinker's Speakeasy Skepticality Quetz The Erudite Redneck Ivellios The Philosophical Neuron Russell Blackford The Bald Black Hole ]

The Irrational Atheist - a review [Feb. 24th, 2008|06:48 pm]
zarbi
[Tags|, , ]

Prompted by the impressive work put into a review by a fellow poster at richarddawkins.net, I have decided to take up a challenge put forward a short while ago and review a book which attempts to demolish the arguments of the so-called "New Atheists" (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens). This is the book "The Irrational Atheist" by "Vox Day". As the book contains some strong views, the review will be hidden behind a "cut"... click to expand.


How to approach a review “The Irrational Atheist”? Well, let's consider what the book is supposed to achieve. It's stated purpose is to “dissect the unholy trinity of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens”. This seems somewhat at odds with the content, which covers Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and Onfray, but I guess the word “Trinity” has a certain ring to it.

I have to say that having read the book, it is still hard to determine what “dissect” is intended to mean. The best I can come up with is “try and show they are wrong about lots of stuff”. Fair enough. No-one should be surprised if three (or five?) atheist writers don't make a mistake or two over the years. The problem for Day is that he is attempting to see dogma where there is none. You don't score points by pointing out fallibility when there has been no claim of perfection, or by showing differences in the viewpoints of people who never claim any kind of unity. This kind of “straw man” approach is common in the book. But, anyway, how is this dissection attempted? If one ignores the ad-hominem attacks that make up close to half the writing, it is by attempts to show that the Trinity are factually wrong in a considerable number of cases. In fact, a very large number of cases indeed. The book is apparently full of facts. There is no doubt that it has required a considerable amount of knowledge and research to write. The question is, is this mountain of facts relevant to the points being made? Well, much of the time, no. The facts are mostly used to very carefully take to pieces straw man arguments. Where factual information is absent or inappropriate, Day attempts logical and philosophical arguments. Do they work? Again, no. These failures are interesting, and I will discuss some in detail.

So, let's now take a look at the book in detail. My approach will be to sum several chapters (anything less than a brief summary would involve a piece equal in length to the chapter), and then discuss in detail anything of particular interest (at least to me). I am not going to deal with all the book, as I believe a sample of the work will reveal its nature.

Preface

Don't be misled into doubting your faith by the fraudulent, error-filled writings of these three men. This is not a work of theology, and contains no arguments for the existence of God. This book is an intellectual deathmatch.

One might think there is nothing much to see yet apart from some posturing, however, there seems to be a little inconsistency here, as arguments for the existence of God are scattered throughout the book, especially chapter 15, in which Day discusses the problem of the Contradiction of Divine Characteristics... “confusion of which is also the root of a much more serious theological error”.

A Pride of Atheists

I don't care if you go to hell. You aren't my responsibility. God gives us free will. Does my belief in Jesus affect you? Vox's First Law: Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from insanity. Richard Dawkins accuses me of child abuse because I teach my children than God loves them even more than I do. Harris might want to kill me. Hitchens says I am poisoning everything. Hitchens is drunk and wrong. Onfray is French and wrong. A history of atheism. The New Atheists are attempting to replace religion with.. what?. Harris is a bit of a Buddhist. “High Church Atheism” may be a mental disorder. Agnosticism is reasonable. Atheism of all variants requires a focus on material phenomena. The New Atheists' arguments are invariably involved with science.

And so after some evidence-free statements of theology (in a book that supposedly contains none) the straw man arguments begin.

A belief in Jesus does seem to affect other people. A believer follows a set of principles that they feel are based on that belief. That helps to empower others to do so as well. However, their version of following Jesus may not be the same as a nice, compassionate, gentle version. It may include some very unpleasant bits of the New Testament. It may include oppression of others because of gender or sexual orientation.

Now on to the attacks on the Trinity. Dawkins does not say that raising children in a religion is always abuse (I will refer later to an article where he discusses these issues). However, he says without qualification that labelling children as being of a religion before they are of an age to make that choice themselves is abuse, as it leads to problems such as segregation and stereotyping. Hitchens does not say that Vox is poisoning everything, and Harris does not, I am sure, once mention harming Vox, or, indeed, any typical believer. As as for Hitchens, he is a polemicist, and has a certain style. “Religion poisons everything” is a “get bums on seats” phrase to sell the book. I am not sure “Religion poisons some things, taints others, and has a slight negative effect elsewhere” would have done the trick. And as for Harris, he considers the question of whether some views are so extreme that they should be eliminated. Whatever one's thoughts on this, it is a question that can be discussed. The prospect of a suicidal religious fanatic in possession of a virus-building kit (something that is not too far-fetched) is troubling. I am sure Vox Day holds no such extreme views, and is not a threat to the future of humanity, and neither do the majority of believers. After over-generalising the views of the Trinity, Day takes this approach himself; not content throwing an ad-hominem at Hitchens, he sneaks in a dig at the whole of France, presumably as an attempt at humour. Now, as for the New Atheists wanting to replace religion with something else, it is reasonable to discuss how one finds inspiration in life, and to discuss personal views on ethics without that being taken as an imposition on others. To show the possibility of a life without Gods seems to be taken as preaching only by those afraid that more will manage it. The “accusation” that Harris follows Buddhism is easily refuted, as Sam has written about this in his article “Killing the Buddha” (link) It is typical of Buddhism that this was published on a Buddhist site, but the message from Sam is clear: “Students of the Buddha are very well placed to further our understanding on this front, but the religion of Buddhism currently stands in their way.”.

The context of Sam's article helps to deal with the issue of atheism and materialism. By no means all atheists are materialists. Atheism means one thing only, the lack of belief in gods, and it can certainly be associated with mysticism and faith. Religions don't have to be theistic. Materialism tends to lead to atheism for obvious reasons, but it is not the only route. Sam Harris clearly isn't even a religious atheist.

As for agnosticism. Well, it is a word that has less meaning the more you consider it. It seems a reasonable term at first, but only because it usually has a context, which is a specific theistic religion. Without that context, what does it mean? What is one agnostic about? A general agnostic would either be a busy person, as having a point of view on all gods currently the object of belief by someone would require substantial research, or would have some vague free-floating feeling of “something more than this”, which is hardly worthy of the word. Agnosticism is really only reasonable if one can be sure of what one is agnostic about, which is close to being a contradiction.

Defining Science

Science is linked to atheism. Dawkins has a problem because he gets too excited about science. Science is about observation and evidence. And falsifiability. “All swans are white” can be falsified, but “all gods speak aramaic” can't. This is a problem with science, and falsifiability. Let's stick with PZ Myer's definition of science, or at least the “science is a process” part. Not even creationists are advocating the willful destruction or reduction of the knowledge base. ID (Intelligent Design) is a testimony to respect for scientific methodology. Science doesn't conflict with religion. The Dark Ages weren't that dark. Science and religion are in a tug-of-war about how science should be used. The Catholic Church wasn't that bad to Galileo. Enlightenment Atheism and science may not be compatible as atheists beheaded the chemist de Lavoisier.

There is so much confusion and misrepresentation here it is hard to know where to begin. That Dawkins (and many, many others) find pleasure in discovery and how science can fuel the imagination should be no reason to critcise. It is in our nature to explore, and science is the best way to do that if you want to understand what you find. The idea that there is a flaw in science and falsification because it can't address the matter of Divine Linguistics is absurd. As Myers says, science is about building on an expanding body of knowledge. We try to falsify attempts to expand that body of knowledge. Science doesn't work on fiction, or statements that have no meaning. “Goldilocks met three bears” is not falsifiable, but that does not threaten the process of science. To claim that creationists aren't wanting to reduce knowledge, and that ID is anything to do with respect for science is simply false, as shown by the Discovery Institute “Wedge Document”, combined with the Dover trial demonstration that ID is based on religion. The strategy is to replace a scientific approach with one that is religious, suppressing scientific materialism. Science and religion aren't in conflict about how science should be used. They are in conflict about when science should be used. Stem cell research? Keep out! Evolution? No way! Religion is trying to stifle the use of science where it conflicts with its view of morality, or when it discovers inconvenient truths, like evolution.

Sam Tzu and the Art of War

The New Atheists attempt to lure religion from from ground where it is strong to where it can be attacked more easily. Atheists have more to lose in war. Religious fanatics don't count for much these days. Suicide bombers are useless in war. No battle has been won by suicides. Harris says religion is uniquely suited to provoking conflict. Not the same motivation for a national leader and raping and murdering troops. Religious conflicts may not be so bad as your opponents can convert. Children are brought up to demonize others for reasons other than religion. A few lunatics kill because they think God wants them to. There aren't many religiously-inspired crimes in the USA. Conflicts that appear religious are mostly ethnic, and geographical. Rome didn't need soldiers inspired by religion, as they were paid so much. Books on military strategy don't mention religion much if at all. Religious faith is not a danger because religion does not cause war. Thousands of people dying for loyalty to one version of religion is insignificant compared to the billions who have been killed for other reasons. Almost no-one in the USA has died in a religious war. Ontological argument not important as rejected by Aquinas and later by Hume and Russell. New Atheist arguments linking religion with war is ontological. These arguments are hypocritical from scientists.

A chapter full of facts, but misses the point by confusing “war” with “conflict”. There have been countless violent conflicts fueled by religion down the ages, recent examples being the Irish troubles and the civil wars in Yugoslavia. These were partly cultural, but religion is a key part of that culture. The conflicts are indeed often geographical, but as religions are frequently segregated geographically, that is not a convincing argument that religion isn't involved. The India/Pakistan situation is one where geographical conflicts are a direct result of segregation because of differences in religion.

But any concentration on the historical role of religion in conflicts is missing the point. We are in a changed world, in which small groups individuals can have considerable power, as was shown on 9/11. Religion-inspired maniacs didn't have that kind of weaponry centuries ago. Although it is not a main argument of the chapter, it is worth dealing with this mention of the ontological argument. It is simply wrong to claim that it had little influence because of a rejection by Aquinas. If this were the case, Bertrand Russell would have not, at least for a while, considered the ontological argument sound.

Darwin's Judas

This, to me, is a key chapter, as it deals with issues of the argument from design – something I have researched in some detail. So, I shall get the section of chapter before that out the way first:

Dawkins is past it. There is a contradiction in a Darwinist being an anti-Darwinist about human affairs. Dawkins won't engage in serious discussion of theology. Even the return of Christ would prove nothing to him. Why is Dawkins attacking theological reasons for belief in God that he claims most people don't know about? How to falsify the God hypothesis (e.g. Christianity disproved by Christ's crucified skeleton). Camile Paglia disagrees that secularism can inspire. Dawkins states that religion is a primary cause of war. Dawkins claims that an atheist wouldn't bulldoze Mecca, or York Minster, but atheist soviets destroyed churches. Dawkins claims that people won't become selfish without God, but Onfray argues for hedonism. Dawkins equates Christian Theocracy with Islamic Facism. Catholicism is more damaging than child abuse; shown to be false by comparing suicide rates. Dawkins has unfounded faith in Sam Harris.

What a chapter. Skipping the personal attack, there is no problem at all with being anti-Darwinist about human affairs, because human culture does not have to act in a Darwinian fashion. This criticism is as absurd as to state that Einstein should be criticised for resisting gravity by flying. Darwinian evolution is almost certainly responsible for the development of minds, but Natural Selection does not plan. It has no way to know what such minds may be capable of. As for the issue of serious discussion of theology. Well first, that was clearly not the purpose of The God Delusion. (As I can't speak for Richard Dawkins, I can only express my views of why I believed the God Delusion was written. These may not be correct, but at least it shows there are arguments against Vox Day's position)

It seemed to me that The God Delusion was to explain Dawkins' view of religion, and to include why, from a scientific viewpoint, he believed that a theistic god was very unlikely, so unlikely that it was not reasonable to believe that such a god exists. Why not discuss theology in detail? Well, because although it may be interesting for some to consider the nature of possible gods, there is little point engaging in such discussions if you don't accept the serious possibility of the existence of a god of some kind, unless you want to research theology, or play word games. Why attack some theological points, even though most people aren't theologists? Because it helps to show the kind of arguments that theologists use, and there are theologists in prominent positions in societies (such as the Archbishop of Canterbury). It is surely useful to expose the nature of their thinking to the public, if only to start a debate about the value of such approaches to truth.

Moving on to the issue of proof of the falsehood of Christianity, it seems to me to be naïve to suggest that the religious views would generally be succeptible to change by proof. There has been little evidence of it in the past. For example, if a tomb was discovered labeled “Jesus”, then I doubt that this would convince some, even if the skeleton had marks indicating crucifixion. Apart from the fact that this was not a punishment uniquely applied to Jesus (as the Bible states), I can imagine the response of some Christians: “That can't be Jesus because he rose from the dead”.

It is worth pointing out an article by Dawkins on the child abuse issue. This will, I hope, reveal Day's tendency to take qualified statements as generalities, and should put other claims of his into perspective. The article is here http://richarddawkins.net/article,118,Religions-Real-Child-Abuse,Richard-Dawkins and I recommend those who are concerned about Dawkins' attitude to read it carefully.

And now on to what is, to me, one of the more interesting sections of the book. The chapter continues:

The anthropic principle is an embarrassment. Dawkins is not suitable to discuss probabilities, as he has issues in this regard. Dawkins' use of the large number of possible planets to allow for the appearance of life even if life is unlikely is poor for an intellectual. The argument from improbability for a designer is wrong. Designers need not be more complex than things they design. The “Ultimate 747” argument is based on information, but information can be easily generated. (here, let me show you with some BASIC code and a fractal). The physicist Martin Rees can calculate the parameters of the universe, but he is less complex that it. Complexity is meaningless here because rice contains more genes than humans. The “sky crane” argument is simply a justification for faith in physics. Multiple universes increase the complexity.

This is wrong. This is not just mildly wrong, it is wildly and extravagantly wrong. It shows profound misunderstandings, not just of the arguments, but of biology and physics. The anthropic principle is not an embarrassment – it is an exploration of gaps in our knowledge. It has been misused, but at its mildest, it says nothing more than that we need to explore models of the origin of the universe which lead to conditions for life, because that is the universe we know exists. That is hardly a controversial statement. Dawkins' use of the vastness of the universe to explain life was appropriate – it was, for me, one of the most powerful messages of The Blind Watchmaker. Most people have little idea of the vastness of the cosmos; it is so immense that it really does defeat arguments from improbability. Dawkins was not necessarily saying that life was improbable, just that if it was, there really isn't the problem that many claim. Day's use of the generation of complexity from simple origins actually works well against his own case. It shows one of the mechanisms for how a complex universe can arise from a far, far simpler origin. Day states that fractals don't require human intelligence to produce their complexity. Well, indeed. I agree. This illustrates the point that a complex universe doesn't require divine intelligence. As for Martin Rees being less complicated than the universe for which he can (or so Day says) calculate the parameters. This is an astonishing sign of Day not realising the power of his own arguments. Assuming it requires any parameters at all, the Universe at its origin would require nothing more than the parameters, and, perhaps, a quantum kick to get it going. Martin Rees (a considerable intelligence) is hugely more complex than the universe – at its origin, which is kind of the point.

Before I close the discussion of this chapter, I would like to deal with the genomes of human and rice. Day actually goes into more detail than I have mentioned in the summary. But it is worth noting that number of genes can actually be quite a revealing measure of complexity. We may believe ourselves to be considerably more complex than, say, a rice plant, or a supposedly “lower” animal such as a frog. But we aren't. In some ways, we are simpler. We regulate our body temperature, so have to produce less variety of enzymes to deal with different environments. It is a mistake to think that evolution always proceeds in the direction of higher complexity, and much complexity is hidden.

Finally, I shall deal with the multiple universe issue. This is, in my view, widely misunderstood. Multiverses can be simpler than a single universe, in fact, so much simpler that there can be no complexity at all. This may sound strange, but let's go back to Day's useful example of a fractal. Consider the example of the Mandelbrot set, a beautiful fractal that is known far beyond the realms of mathematics and science. It is generated from a very simple mathematical procedure. Now, imagine attempting to limit the range of the set, by only generating, say, a quarter of a given area. That involves additional constraints, increasing the complexity of the generating process. It is important to realise we are dealing with how the generation is done, and not the results. According to the controversial view of one physicist, Max Tegmark, it may be that all possible universes exist, and require, in total, no parameters at all – zero complexity at the point of origin.

To conclude...

I feel I have dealt with sufficient chapters to reveal the nature of the book, and how the author's case is put. There is much more to the book, but this is a review, not a full-length response. I shall leave that to others with more time and patience! I think the pattern here is clear. Day has attacked the “Trinity” with vigour, passion and energy. But his aim is poor, and he mostly puts considerable effort into dealing with positions that are clearly straw men, or that he seems to have simply misunderstood. There may be a book to be written about the phenomenon of the so-called “New Atheists” that deals with weaknesses in their arguments and their views. That book may well be useful, to help the debate about religion to proceed productively. “The Irrational Atheist” is certainly not such a book.
LinkReply

Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2008-02-24 08:14 pm (UTC)
Steve, I've got to say I admire your resolve. I admit I downloaded the e-book when it came out, skimmed it, then never looked at it again. So far, it doesn't seem like I've missed much.

Your review has another positive aspect- I've just remembered to delete TIA from my computer. It was taking up valuable memory.

Jonathan.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-02-24 08:21 pm (UTC)
Well, the challenge was made, but I did not want to respond at the time, as I didn't want to help promote the book in any way. But sufficient time has passed, and Paula's fantastic effort has made me feel ashamed of my laziness.

It is a rather sad book, as Day has put in such a lot of effort into either accidentally or deliberately completely missing the point about almost everything.

After a rather nasty chapter on Harris, which I shall be getting to soon, I shall be dealing with his cosmology/designer arguments, which should be fun.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-02-25 10:24 am (UTC)
Onfray is French and wrong

Well - that's good enough for me then. I won't be paying any of Onfray's books...

Steve, Thanks for the review. I also downloaded the book, but never got around to reading it. If your sample quotes are anything to go by, I'm glad I didn't print it off and kill a tree.

I'll still give it a try for myself at some point... maybe

Lee
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-02-29 11:30 am (UTC)

Mais oui!

Msr Zara. Je dois vous dire que je encontre votre essay tres agreable. Il-est manifeste que vous-etes un homme tres intelligent et bien lu.

Je vous donne mes compliments.
Le seigneur Anglais de le blog neuron philosophique........
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-02-29 11:38 am (UTC)

Re: Mais oui!

Merci monsieur. Plus très bientôt...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-02-29 11:32 am (UTC)

D'OH!

du blog, non de le blog! Sacre bleu!
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-06 02:30 am (UTC)

Thanks for the review.

I stumbled on this review while randomly googling around. Thanks for posting.

One thing I've learned to look for in authors is a stated willingness (or even eagerness) to be corrected if compelling counter-evidence is produced.

From lurking around Vox's blog to reading reviews such as this, I get the feeling he views intellectual pursuits as a bloodsport where one doesn't so much learn as score points.

Listening to Sam Harris speak soberly and calmly about the lost potential of humankind is about as far removed from a violent commie-atheist church raising as one can get. I think it's instructive to ask: Who is in this game to create a more reasonable society and who is simply obsessed with "winning"?

Great review.

Josh
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-06 04:37 am (UTC)

Re: Thanks for the review.

Thanks for the compliments, but note that it isn't finished yet! I haven't the desire or need to deal with all chapters, but the one directly about Richard Dawkins deserves special attention, as Day attempts to deal with the "argument from design".

I like the "intellectual bloodsports" analogy!

Edited at 2008-03-06 10:20 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-06 10:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks for the review.

Steve

Congrats on the review. It's great stuff. Good enough for me to say that I wish you'd really have written a lot more than you actually have. I don't mean that I wish you'd deal with the other things that Day says in the book (I know it's a work in progress) but that I wish you'd really went to town on the part of the book that you've reviewed already.

Day's book is one of those really irritating books that goes from one strawman to another without stopping to catch breath. The problem with this book is that Day has (I think) managed to give the impression that his strawmen are actually dressed in some kind of garb. Atheists will, of course, immediately recognise, as you have done in your review so far, that this garb is merely the rags of the scarecrow - flimsey and threadbare, not to mention full of holes and weather-beaten. The problem, though, is that some people, especially if they are religious and in the market for any kind of old tat to cover their nakedness, are only too glad to buy.

I think you should go as deeply into the remaining chapters as you are able. (I'm assuming you don't want to go back over the previous chapters to give them a more thorough kicking).

Your review, so far, is certainly worth posting on the Dawkins site. But, as I've said, I think it suffers from too much of the "Day says a lot more about this, but I won't" type of feel to it. Perhaps it's just the impression I got that others haven't and mightn't.

Go on, strip the rest bare – and give it a good pasting, you’re well able for it!

Regards.
NMcC
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-06 10:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks for the review.

I appreciate you comments, thank you.

The problem is that I wanted to write a review, not a full response. To be honest, I really don't have the time!

However, I shall see what I can do.

Day's book is one of those really irritating books that goes from one strawman to another without stopping to catch breath.

It is indeed pretty exhausting to deal with. So many words, to so little effect.

Edited at 2008-03-06 11:14 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-07 05:39 pm (UTC)

Kudos, again

Good job with the rest.

I too wish you could have gone into more detail with the remaining chapters (if only because Mr. Day appears to consider anything less than a comprehensive review proof that atheists cannot stomach his oh-so-right arguments), but I appreciate your time constraints.

Oh, and check out my little blog if you're ever super bored (squawkchannel.blogspot.com). It's less serious and not always about science or religion, but it occasionally makes one or two people laugh.

Cheers,
Josh

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-07 09:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Kudos, again

The challenge from Day was for people from the RD.net site to each pick a chapter and do their best, so I feel I have more than done my duty! However, the article here feels incomplete. Even summaries of the remaining articles with some brief commentary may be an idea.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-07 11:45 pm (UTC)
I noticed you didn't really critique his argument on God's complexity that fully.

The problem with saying "designers aren't always more complex than the designed thing" is that it equivocates on what is meant by "designer." If one means a mathematical algorithm, then yes, it need not be more complex. But if one means a conscious, loving, omniscient, and (this is key) intentional designer, then it must necessarily be at least as complex as the thing designed. This "at least", of course, is only a corollary needed if we're being very naive about 'intentional design' or about 'knowing.' Of course, there's nothing simple about consciousness: it's an immensely complex phenomenon, and 'knowing' and 'designing' are complex actions that come out of this phenomenon. Not to mention loving and answering prayers and sending down sons.

So if you want to make God a prime mover algorithm, then that's fine (but why call him God)? However, if you want to make God loving, omniscient, and conscious, then he must be more complex than the infant version of the universe he designed. This is such an important point, I'm surprised debaters don't focus on it more.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-07 11:54 pm (UTC)
I noticed you didn't really critique his argument on God's complexity that fully.

I find it interesting you say that, because I had thought I had covered it in some detail. The issues that seemed important to me were the comparison of complexity between designer and what is designed (with Day wrongly considering the current state of the universe, when he should have considered the original state), and mechanisms for generating order (which was presumably to show that a designer simpler than our current universe could have created it).

As for not mentioning a complex designer, that was deliberate, because in that chapter, Day did not appear go into any details of the nature of the designer. (Although I have to say I found that section highly confused, and it was hard to pin down exactly what was the point he was trying to make).

If I had attempted to link the designer mentioned here to a traditional theistic God, this could have been considered a straw man - "that is not the designer I was talking about". (Of course, there was a slight implication of a designer with a mind when Martin Rees as "fine tuner" was mentioned).

But what you say is a reasonable criticism, as I should have made clear why I was not going further into the nature of the designer. Thanks for pointing this out.

Edited at 2008-03-08 12:08 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-11 01:16 pm (UTC)

Crying strawman

Thank you for your review of TIA, Zarbi. However, in light of your remark that I have put "considerable effort into dealing with positions that are clearly straw men, or that he seems to have simply misunderstood", I should like to know specifically which of this partial list of atheist arguments addressed in TIA were "clearly straw men" or "simply misunderstood".

This should be fascinating, since I assert that in every case, I provided a fair and accurate description of the atheist argument I was addressing when I did not quote it in its entirety. Especially since Sam Harris has conceded several of these arguments already and has admitted that he didn't know about the county data that disproves his Red State argument that Dawkins found so "striking".

Dawkins (12 specific arguments)

Religion is the source of in-group/out-group enmity

The ontological argument for religious war

Religion cannot be falsified

Science is more capable of inspiring poetry than religion

Initiative rather than blind obedience tends to lose wars

Atheist respect for architecture

Christian theocracy is equivalent to Islamic fascism

A Catholic upbringing is more damaging than childhood sexual abuse

The infallibility of Sam Harris

The argument from God's character

The argument from superior morals

The argument from Improbability for the Nonexistence of God (RD-declared central argument of TGD, six-part argument contains 8 distinct mistakes)


Harris (22 specific arguments)

Religion is a uniquely dangerous source of intersocietal tensions

People fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliations.

Religion is a primary cause of war

Religion is an implicit cause of war

Religion endangers the existence of the human race

The ontological argument for religious war

Suicide bombers are almost unanimously motivated by religion

Christians reject Islam for the same reason Harris rejects Christianity

Religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in 10 named locations

Certainty about the next life is incompatible with tolerance in this one

Christians use human standards of morality to establish God's goodness

Questions about morality are questions about happiness and suffering

Religious moderates are responsible for the actions of religious extremists

The objective source of moral order is distinguishing between better and worse ways of seeking happiness

Religious prudery contributes to the surplus of human misery

The entire civilized world agrees that slavery is an abomination

Muslims have far fewer grievances with Western imperialism than the rest of the world.

Religion is responsible for America's high rate of infant mortality

Electoral data from 2004 demonstrates there is no connection between Christian conservatism and social health (Red State/Blue State)

Atheism bears no responsibility for Communist killings

Hitler was a Christian

The Inquisition was one of the darkest episodes of human history


General Atheist arguments

The argument from authority
The argument from lack of evidence
The argument from hallucination
The argument from temporal advantage
The argument from fiction
The argument from the unfairness of Hell
The argument from moral evolution
The argument from the Golden Rule

With regards,
Vox
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-11 09:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Crying strawman

I appreciate that you have taken time to respond. However, I don't feel it is productive to go into a detailed point-by-point discussion here. If you want to post a detailed rebuttal of my discussions, I would be interested to read it.

Regards

Steve Zara ("Zarbi")
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-11 09:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Crying strawman

If you want to post a detailed rebuttal of my discussions, I would be interested to read it.

I'll be happy to do so. But first, I at least need to know which of those 42 arguments you consider to be strawman positions. You made that general comment several times, now I'm asking you to be specific.

Your responses to the Dawkins probability/complexity argument obviously doesn't count, since Dawkins himself describes that as the central argument of TGD and I quote it in full. So, which of the 42 arguments listed are strawmen? You don't have to explain why you think it is, but you do need to tell me which ones in order for me to respond substantively to your review.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-11 09:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Crying strawman

You are free to respond in any way you wish, obviously. I don't feel it is my role to assist you in that response. I have posted a review, and meagre though it is, I am sure it has given you plenty to aim at.

Regards

Steve
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-11 10:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Crying strawman

Let me get this straight, Zarbi. You made four separate accusations of my constructing strawman arguments:

1. "This kind of “straw man” approach is common in the book."

2. "The facts are mostly used to very carefully take to pieces straw man arguments."

3. "And so after some evidence-free statements of theology (in a book that supposedly contains none) the straw man arguments begin."

4. "...he mostly puts considerable effort into dealing with positions that are clearly straw men, or that he seems to have simply misunderstood."

Now, when I ask you which of the 42 specific arguments I addressed in detail in the book were strawman arguments, you "don't feel it is your role" to identify the very arguments you are repeatedly claiming to be strawmen arguments? Are you joking? Do you seriously think even your own RD.Net crew are going to think you are doing anything but blowing smoke?

You know, Zarbi, I am beginning to suspect that you've got nothing, that you simply wanted to badmouth something but couldn't figure out how to make a case against it. I could be wrong, of course, but I can't know that unless you stop hiding behind general accusations.

So, I repeat my request. Which of the 42 arguments listed are strawman positions? Can you name four? Can you even name one?

Regards,
Vox
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zarbi
2008-03-11 10:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Crying strawman

People are welcome to judge me in any way they like based on what I have written.

If you wish to post that I have not responded to your comments here as evidence, that is entirely fair. If you feel that this is evidence of my lack of ability to deal with your arguments, you are clearly free to post that too.

I have written a review. My arguments are there. You are, obviously, welcome to respond in any way you wish.

If you do wish to respond to one particular area of the review, I would like to suggest the argument from complexity. There are many issues here, but one particular point that revealed how I felt your reasoning was flawed was that you were claiming that the designer could be less complex than the universe as it currently is, whereas, of course, we are talking about the requirements of a universe at its origin. I am sure you now realise you were mistaken about this, so a response (perhaps on your site?) regarding this would be helpful.

Regards, and I look forward to reading a detailed response, if you choose to post one.

Steve

Edited at 2008-03-12 09:58 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)