Friday, February 25, 2011

The Irrational Atheist: A Refutation


Introduction

I think of this book, The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (BenBella Books, Inc., 2008), by Vox Day (also known by his real name, Theodore Beale) as a boogeyman of sorts in the atheist community. Since the book's publication I've noted few works (online or print) that attempt to refute the book, though there are a few out there [1], and most of the reviews I've seen argue that Vox often resorts to strawmen throughout the book but fail to give any real specifics. The reviews that fail to give reasons for disliking the book cause me to doubt whether or not they even read most of the book. A lot of the reviews harp about a few minor issues in the first few chapters but don't go into any of the later chapters. Other reviewers read it and find that Vox seems to demolish the New Atheists. One of the most notable of this last type that I've found is the atheist blogger Brent Rasmussen who wrote on his blog about the book, Unscrewing the Inscrutable,



Suffice it to say that by the end of the chapters dealing with the individual authors, I was happy that it was over. It was a thorough, detailed, dispassionate (with a little snarky levity thrown into the footnotes for flavor), and completely disheartening take-down of some of the best arguments that the godless have put into print - on their own terms, without using the Bible (in the first part of the book, that is), or any other sacred text to do it with. Amazing. And depressing. It is not my place to defend their books. I truly hope that they do find time to defend and clarify their books, specifically to the counter-arguments and claims made by Vox day in TIA, though, because they really need to. Trust me, it wasn't pretty. [2]


Since the book's publication I've wondered how good of a case Vox actually makes so in 2008 I decided to read the free PDF version and write a review but I wasn't able to get very far. The reason was because I found that reading many pages of text on a computer screen made my eyes hurt and it made reading very difficult, which lead to some difficulty in comprehending what Vox was arguing. Also, while reading bits and pieces of the book it seemed that Vox just used a lot of the same arguments others use and I became disinterested in the book.

Since then, I've heard more people argue how Vox gives the New Atheists a real beating and I've seen Vox boast on his blog about how no one has dared try to refute his entire book. I grew tired of all this boasting so I've decided to finish the chapter by chapter rebuttal I started those few years ago. This time I bought the book (used, and pretty cheaply by the way) so I woudn't be deterred due to eye strain this time around. All I have to do now is get past Vox's manure language. Yes, I know Vox and his groupies always argue that he was more than justified in using the language he does because the atheists in question often are rude towards theists, but Vox just made it personal. The New Atheists only ridiculed religious beliefs and some Christians' lapses in reasoning. They did not get personal like Vox did and that really subtracts from the book I think. Though, I must admit that some of Vox's insults are...let's just say creative and slightly entertaining...in a rude bullying kind of way, but I still feel he went overboard and was inappropriate.

I will go through the entire book and see what Vox's case is truly made of. Are all of the positive reviews just a case of people taking Vox's word and not checking his facts, or are the critics right, in that the book is mostly one long strawman? Read on to find out.

Chapter 1: A Pride of Atheists

This first chapter has Vox discussing the meaning of atheism. Vox writes,


So, is there more to atheism than the simple meaning of the word, which literally means “without the belief in the existence of a god or gods”? The concept appears simple enough. A-Theism. Without theism. As Brent Rasmussen, an atheist who writes at Unscrewing the Inscrutable, describes it:

Atheism describes a person in which god belief is absent. That’s all. Nothing more. Black or white. On or off. There or not there.

This is a perfectly reasonable definition in theory, but in practice it’s not quite that simple. As bizarre as it may sound, researchers have learned that nearly half of those who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic nevertheless believe in life after death as well as in Heaven and Hell, beliefs that have historically been considered to be a fairly strong indication of theism. The Christian pollster George Barna somewhat sardonically notes that given this apparent lack of consistency about their stated beliefs on the part of those questioned (this was far from the only serious contradiction revealed by the polling), the significance of the labels with which individuals identify themselves may not be as relevant as is ordinarily assumed.

Barna’s skepticism regarding self-identification appears to be justified, for it turns out that there are not only atheists who believe they will go to Heaven, there are also those who lack god belief but who do not describe themselves as atheists. In fact, if one did not turn a jaundiced eye upon the presumed accuracy of religious self-identification, it would be very difficult to account for the large discrepancy between the number of self-identified atheists and the much larger group of people who keep turning up in polls under the group described as “no religion.” Now, there are three ways to interpret these two data points: (1) there is a substantive difference between being an atheist and not being religious, (2) many people without religion still cling to a belief in God, or (3) there are a large number of individuals who simply don’t know what to call themselves.

Given the large number of American voters, 26 percent in the 2004 election,8 who cannot figure out if they are Democrats or Republicans even after making a selection between the two parties, Occam’s Razor suggests that the third explanation is the one most likely to be correct. Richard Dawkins would surely concur, as one of the stated purposes of his book is to encourage those who are not avowed atheists to come forward and publicly identify themselves as such. But this is likely to be a vain endeavor. Since the normal individual tends to put significantly more time into living his life instead of thinking about it and cataloging its abstract aspects, one can hardly expect him to devote the time and effort required to assemble an internally consistent belief system that is labeled correctly according to objective definitions approved by intellectuals. (10-11)


This is a complex topic and the definition varies depending which source you're reading or whom you're talking to. However, when looking at the original Greek atheism means a "without" or "not" / theos "god." [1] Furthermore, when you look at the different forms of religion, one can easily see that not all religions subscribe to a belief in gods, so that makes them a-theistic, but they are still belief systems that contain elements of the supernatural. Take animsim as one example, which is one of the oldest forms of religion which posits that “some or all physical beings, objects, or phenomena have [a] non-physical dimension.” [2] This is a religion that is a-theistic or lacks belief in any gods, but still contains beliefs about what could be considered supernatural phenomenon. By taking these facts in consideration we can discern an accurate definition for atheism: it is a lack of belief in gods, just as Brent Rasmussen stated above. Atheism is purely a negative and that is all. Because of this Vox's argument that atheists sometimes believe in heaven, or supernatural phenomena does not disqualify one from being an atheist because, just as the religion of animsim disbelieves in gods but still believe in spirits and supernatural phenomenon of some kind, atheists disbelieve in gods but can sometimes be found to believe in supernatural phenomenon.

Despite the various beliefs that atheists often hold (the lack of belief in god/s being the only real similarity between atheists) once you get to the end of the chapter you see why Vox sought to confuse the reader about how atheists define themselves and what they believe.

He cites statistics from the English and Wales prison system arguing that “[an atheists'] Low Church counterparts are nearly four times more likely to be convicted and jailed for committing a crime than a Christian.” (20) However, the way he came up with this statistic is he cited the 31.6 percent of individuals who marked “no religion” for the Inmate Information System, claiming these individuals are atheists; they're just too confused about their beliefs apparently to mark “atheist” on the questionnaire, according to Vox.

This is very presumptuous. Vox even said himself how the system was very specific and had a classification for atheist already so wouldn’t atheists mark themselves as such? Though, maybe Vox is right about people being confused about their beliefs? He is right that a lot of people don't think much about it, but that still doesn't excuse his presumptuousness in claiming “no religion” is the same thing as atheist. Typically “no religion” on a questionnaire means that a person does not believe in any particular religious denomination, though can sometimes mean atheist or agnostic, but without a breakdown of each individual who provided an answer we can't know which percentage were actually atheists and which were people who had a belief in god but for whatever reason didn't belong to any religious denomination.

Vox further tries to undermine the moral fortitude of atheists by citing various studies. Vox writes,


Studies have shown that those without religion have life expectancies seven years shorter than the average churchgoer, are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, and be depressed or obese [...]. (20)


Actually, the fact is that for most of those categories the studies are mixed. However, in most studies it seems atheists are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke. Though, there are several other studies that show the opposite conclusion that Vox wants to paint.

A study from 2010 found the following,


Over the course of 4 years, those in the study had 152 events related to heart disease or clogged arteries, including 9 deaths, 42 heart attacks, and 24 strokes. That rate of such events -- less than one percent per year -- was lower than in the general population, which the team expected because they excluded people who were already diagnosed with heart disease and related conditions.

However, neither the rate of heart disease events, nor the number of certain risk factors -- such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure -- differed among those who were more or less religious or spiritual. The only exceptions: Those who went to religious services, otherwise prayed or meditated, or were highly spiritual were more likely to be obese, and less likely to smoke.

Given that many religions discourage smoking tobacco, the smoking finding was not difficult to explain, Lloyd-Jones said, and is consistent with earlier studies.

The reasons for the obesity finding, which is similar to some previous studies but the opposite of others, are less clear. "We're not sure whether it is that religious people are more likely to gain weight through activities they pursue, or maybe heavier people seek out religion as a result of stigmatization," Lloyd-Jones said. [3]


Regarding morality, Michael Shermer states,


Not only is there no evidence that a lack of religiosity leads to less moral behavior, a number of studies actually support the opposite conclusion. In 1934 Abraham Franzblau found a negative correlation between acceptance of religious beliefs and three different measures of honesty. As religiosity increased, honesty decreased. In 1950 Murray Ross conducted a survey among 2,000 associates of the YMCA and discovered that agnostics and atheists were more likely to express their willingness to aid the poor than those who rated themselves as deeply religious. In 1969 sociologists Travis Hirschi and Rodney Stark reported no difference in the self-reported likelihood to commit crimes between children who attended church regularly and those who did not. In 1975 Ronald Smith, Gregory Wheeler, and Edward Diener discovered that college-age students in religious schools were no less likely to cheat on a test than their atheist and agnostic counterparts in nonreligious schools. Finally, David Wulff's comprehensive survey of correlational studies on the psychology of religion revealed that there is a consistent positive correlation between 'religious affiliation, church attendance, doctrinal orthodoxy, rated importance of religion, and so on' with 'ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, dogmatism, social distance, rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, and specific forms of prejudice, especially against Jews and blacks.' The conclusion is clear: not only does religion not necessarily make one more moral, it can lead to greater intolerance, racism, sexism, and the erosion of values cherished in a free and democratic society. [4]


Other studies that shine some light on the question of morality is the following. In the July/August 2007 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine published the results of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital that religious doctors were no more likely (and even slightly less likely) to employ their craft among underserved patients than were physicians with no religious affiliation. Specifically, Farr Curlin, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and his colleagues surveyed 1,820 practicing physicians from all specialties: 31% of physicians who were more religious practiced medicine among the underserved, compared to 35% of atheist, agnostic, and nonreligious doctors. Religiosity was measured by religious service attendance and self-reported "intrinsic religiosity" questions that measured the extent to which individuals embrace their religion as the "master motive that guides and gives meaning to their life." Curlin noted his own response to the data:


This came as both a surprise and a disappointment. The Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist scriptures all urge physicians to care for the poor, and the great majority of religious physicians describe their practice of medicine as a calling. Yet we found that religious physicians were not more likely to report practice among the underserved than their secular colleagues.


Finally, to quote Phil Zuckerman,


Although some studies have found that religion does inhibit criminal behavior (Baier and Wright 2001; Powell 1997; Bainbridge 1989; Elifson et al. 1983; Peek et al. 1985) others have actually found that religiosity does not have a significant effect on inhibiting criminal behavior (Cochran et al. 1994; Evans et al. 1996; Hood et al. 1996). ‘‘The claim that atheists are somehow more likely to be immoral,’’ asserts Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (2007, 306), ‘‘has long been disproven by systematic studies.’’ Admittedly, when it comes to underage alcohol consumption or illegal drug use, secular people do break the law more than religious people (Benson 1992; Gorsuch 1995; Hood et al. 1996; Stark and Bainbridge 1996). But when it comes to more serious or violent crimes, such as murder, there is simply no evidence suggesting that atheist and secular people are more likely to commit such crimes than religious people. After all, America’s bulging prisons are not full of atheists; according to Golumbaski (1997), only 0.2 percent of prisoners in the USA are atheists – a major underrepresentation. [5]


As I've shown, Vox used shoddy methodology to arrive at his conclusion about atheists in prison and numerous studies prove the opposite.

Chapter 2: Defining Science

In this chapter Vox begins by discussing what science is and after a brief discussion of the topic he finally decides on a definition he likes: the Oxford English Dictionary's, which is,


[…] the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. (30)


Vox concludes,


Science is systematic study done through observation and experiment. Therefore, if the if the study is not systematic, or if observation and experiment are not involved, it is obviously not science by this definition. (30)


He then goes on to discuss the relationship between science and religion and forcibly argues that religion is not the threat to science as the new atheists claim. Vox says,


But before proceeding, it is intriguing to at least consider the possibility that it is not the threat to science as process that so offends scientists, but rather the potential threat to science as profession that has whipped some scientists into an angry lather.

After all, scientists understand better than most how their bread gets buttered, and no one, not even the most dedicated idealist, is ever pleased with the possibility of that butter being taken away. It seems unlikely, however, that the passion of Richard Dawkins and the fervent militancy of Sam Harris in defense of science can be tied to any such fears. This would make little sense, since neither Sam Harris nor Christopher Hitchens are even scientists, Daniel C. Dennett has tenure, and the success of Richard Dawkins’s many books has surely put him well beyond any petty pecuniary concerns. And regarding any potential fears for the profession as a whole, not even the most die-hard Young Earth Creationist or Intelligent Design advocate is calling for a ban on carbon dating or experiments in evolutionary biology, let alone mass defundings of public science programs and corporate-sponsored research. Nor can their concerns be realistically tied to any fears for science as a body of knowledge, the occasional rhetorical sally aside. The protest of a biology textbook or a nineteenth-century novel notwithstanding, no one on either side of the debate is advocating the willful destruction or even reduction of the knowledge base. As for the process, the very existence of the Intelligent Design movement is a testimony to a respect for scientific methodology and an attempt to make use of it for marketing purposes, not a desire to destroy it. (33)


Further, Vox says,


Since we have already established that the opposition of Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris to religion does not stem from any rational fears for science as a body of knowledge, a profession, or a process, and that there was no significant historical enmity between science and religion, it is apparent that the New Atheists’ stated desire to destroy religion must stem from another source. And given the way in which their opposition to religion so closely resembles that of their rationalist antecedents, it is reasonable to suggest that they are not so much interested in defending science as they are in advocating an outdated, nineteenth-century meme. (38)


Vox concludes,


Despite how it is commonly portrayed by the New Atheists, the rationalist war on religion cannot properly be described as a war between science and religion; it is more akin to a tug-of-war between rationalists and religionists over the way in which science is to be henceforth used and the purposes to which science is ultimately harnessed. (40)


I would agree that the conflict between science and religion has often been inflated throughout history and even in modern times, though to say there is no conflict I think is naive, because there are still many religionists who do oppose some scientific research. One very good example of a threat to the “process” of science are the Discovery Institute's goals they made so very clear in their leaked document titled The Wedge Strategy where they clearly outlined a series of five-year goals that culminated in their desire to see “intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science” and to have this very obvious religious belief “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.” [1]

Despite these pockets of conflict, I agree with Vox that the so called “conflict thesis” is inaccurate, but to argue, as Vox does, that religion is in no way a threat to science is demonstratively wrong, as the Discovery Institute's own document proves.

Vox's last quoted statement I don't find particularly insightful, or a blow to the new atheists, since even secularists and scientists have made the same point and I haven't seen any cases of the new atheists denying this. In fact, Richard Dawkins cites Jerry Coyne in The God Delusion as making just this point,


[…] To scientists like Dawkins and Wilson [E.O. Wilson, the celebrated Harvard biologist], the real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition. […] [2]


Furthermore, to say that the new atheists argue that science and religion have always been at “war” is plain false. While reading each of the books Vox seeks to rebut I couldn't find a single case where either author claims that science and religion have always been at war or in opposition to science. Now, they do rightfully argue how religion has sometimes stifled scientific progress, such as with stem-cell research, etc., though they have not argued that science and religion have always been antagonistic towards one another. This seems to me why many have argued that Vox makes use of strawmen, though I'll try to be charitable here and venture that Vox is likely arguing against the many atheists who do make such claims in various books and especially on the internet.

Of course, now that I've granted Vox this leeway did Vox in fact make use of strawmen through the first half of his book? Yes, as it relates to the new atheists and what they've said in their books. But also no, since there are many atheists ignorant of history. However, since Vox's targets are the new atheists and not random atheists on the internet, I think it's safe to call this a strawman on Vox's part.

Vox argues that part of the new atheist's complaints regarding religion and science is that they do not want to see religion and science reconcile:


[…] I suggest that the New Atheists are not actually particularly interested in defending science in itself, but are deeply afraid of science reaching a friendly rapprochement with religion. (38)


I would disagree with Vox here because the new atheists have made it clear what their complains are regarding science and religion.

Sam Harris writes, after citing the National Academy of Science's statement that there is no conflict between science and religion,


The truth, however, is that the conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science. Our religions do not simply talk about “a purpose for human existence.” Like science, every religion makes specific claims about the way the world is. These claims purport to be about facts – the creator of the universe can hear (and will occasionally answer) your prayers; the soul enters the zygoyte at the moment of conception […] Such claims are intrinsically in conflict with the claims of science, because they are claims made on terrible evidence. [3]


Richard Dawkins makes similar arguments about the incompatibility between science and religion. The fact is that science contradicts many of the beliefs held by theists of various faiths and that's where the incompatibility lies. They are also upset over the fact that certain groups (such as the intelligent design proponents) are trying to change scientific methodology.

However, Vox disagrees and cites the magazine Nature as stating that science is growing fastest in Iran, “a country not exactly famous for its militant atheism or general disdain for religion.” (40)

Where science and religion usually conflict is when the truth claims of religion are contradicted by the facts science uncovers. The science that is taking place in Iran is nuclear research and shouldn't conflict with their beliefs. Ironically and half seriously, if Sam Harris is right that Islamists may send a nuclear bomb our way to destroy the infidel, this research is perfectly compatible with their religious faith.

In fact, many experts also believe that Iran has sought to weaponize the program, though this is not clear. For example,


Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for nonproliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says if Iran were to stockpile sufficient LEU they would be able to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium for production of a single bomb "within a couple of months," a timeline Albright agreed with during a February 2009 interview with CFR.org. [4]


However, even this research was viewed 'suspiciously' at first. When this scientific research was first started up again after the revolution in 1979 the “Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was religiously suspicious of nuclear technology” but this nuclear research seems to be mostly driven by “security fears” and “nationalism.” [5]

Where religion and science have mostly been in conflict have been when science contradicts their beliefs. This has been seen with the Christians' fight against stem-cell research, evolution, and many religionists' past protests against vaccinating against the human papilloma virus as just a few examples.

I don't think Vox's argument is very persuasive for that reason. Nuclear research doesn't seem to conflict with their religious beliefs and there is a strong drive to develop this technology for the reasons previously mentioned.

In sum, it seems to me that Vox misunderstands the criticism of the new atheists as it has to do with the relationship between science and religion. They aren't arguing that religion has always battled science, but that whenever science contradicts religions' beliefs it causes conflict and religion either tries to struggle against it, as with evolution, or accept it, as many religious denominations have done with evolution. If they accept it, they are being hypocrites because their dogmas do not originally contain such beliefs about the world. The integration of new scientific knowledge into their belief systems when they contradict what their doctrines say is the origin of the religious moderate, or as I like to say, religious hypocrite because they are abandoning the very source of their beliefs: their holy books.

At the end of chapter Vox writes,


There is also genuine cause for doubting whether Enlightenment atheism and science can honestly be considered as fundamentally compatible as religion and science have been for centuries. It is worth noting that it was neither Christians nor Muslims but revolutionary atheists inspired by Enlightenment ideals who beheaded the man known today as the father of modern chemistry, Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, in 1794, declaring “La République n’a pas besoin de savants ni de chimistes; le cours de la justice ne peut être suspendu.” [The Republic has no need of scientists or chemists; the course of justice cannot be suspended.] (42)


This is an odd complaint seeing as how the Reign of Terror was mostly political and had nothing to do with your place in society; anyone seen as a “counter-revolutionary” was targeted. Besides, the vast majority of individuals leading it were Deists, not atheists, so how could “atheism” be held responsible? In the case of Lavoisier he was killed because he was a tax collector, not because he was a scientist. [6] It also seems that Lavoisier never made such a statement. Jean-Pierre Poirier writes,


Legend has it that he commented, “The Republic has no need of scientists; justice must follow its course.” It is now known that the statement is apocryphal. (emphasis mine) [7]


Chapter 3: The Case Against Science

Vox starts this chapter arguing how he believes the human race can better survive religion than science because of the threats to humanity that its created. Vox writes,


A more interesting and arguably more relevant question that none of the New Atheists dare to ask is whether science, having produced some genuinely positive results as well as some truly nightmarish evils over the course of the last century, has outlived its usefulness to Mankind. Man has survived millennia of religious faith, but if the prophets of over-population and global warming are correct, he may not survive a mere four centuries of science.

The five major religions of the world, in order of their appearance on the scene, are Hinduism, traditional Chinese folk religion, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. These five religions have approximately 4.85 billion adherents, representing an estimated 71.3 percent of the world’s population in 2007, and they have been around for a collective 11,600 years. During the vast majority of those 116 centuries, the world has not been in any danger of extinction from weapons of any kind, nor has the human race been in serious danger of dying out from pollution, global warming, overpopulation, or anything else. Despite 116 centuries filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of diverse religions, all competing for mindshare, resources, and dominance, the species has not merely survived, it has thrived.

There is no aspect of Hindu teaching that has produced a means of potentially extinguishing Mankind. The occasional eleventh-century rampages by the Sohei of Mount Hiei notwithstanding, Buddhism provides no method of destroying the planet, while Christians have been waiting patiently for the world to end for nearly 2,000 years now without doing much to immanentize the eschaton except for occasionally footing the bill for Jews making aliyah. Islam, for all the danger it supposedly presents, has not produced a significant military technology since Damascene steel was developed in the twelfth century and even that is of nebulous connection to the religion itself.


I find this argument strange since earlier Vox admitted the scientific advances of the largely Muslim country of Iran, who I noted earlier is engaging in nuclear research, and because of this it seems to me that Sam Harris' equation seems more of a possibility. Vox continues,


Modern science has only been around for the last 350 years, if we date the scientific method back to the man known as the Father of Science, Galileo Galilei. One could push that date back considerably, if one wished, to Aristotle and Archimedes, or forward to Newton and the Age of Enlightenment, but regardless, the dire threat to Mankind described by Harris only dates back to the middle of the twentieth century. In the last sixty years, science has produced a veritable witches’ brew of potential dangers to the human race, ranging from atom-shattering explosive devices to lethal genetic modifications, designer diseases, large quantities of radioactive waste and even, supposedly, the accidental production of mini black holes and strangelets through particle collider experiments.

So, in only 3 percent of the time that religion has been on the scene, science has managed to produce multiple threats to continued human existence. Moreover, the quantity and lethal quality of those threats appear to be accelerating, as the bulk of them have appeared in the most recent sixth of the scientific era. It is not the purpose of this chapter to examine whether religion exacerbates or alleviates these scientific threats—that appraisal must wait for a later chapter. Harris’s extinction equation, which states that [science + faith = death], is not inherently wrong. But his conclusion is, because it is Science, not Faith, that is the factor in the equation that presents a deadly danger to Mankind.

While the jury is still out on the precise nature of the threat caused by global warming, there can be no doubt that the scientific method is at least in part responsible for it, along with the threats supposedly posed by overpopulation, pollution, and genetic engineering. Religion simply cannot be held accountable for any of those things, not even overpopulation. What could be more absurd than to claim that the Bahá’í are in some way responsible for any damage to humanity caused by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider? Not even the most militant New Atheist would dare to set himself up for public ridicule that way. And yet, making religious faith the significant variable in the Extinction Equation is no less ludicrous.

[…]

It is not the combination of religion and science, then, but rather the combination of scientists and the scientific method that has created this panoply of mortal dangers to Mankind. (44-45)


Next Vox tries to predict five responses to his argument:


1) The first response is an ad hominem one insisting the individual is only questioning the inherent munificence of science because he is stupid, anti-science, or incapable of understanding science. Like most ad hominem responses, this one is invalid because it doesn’t even begin to dispute the issues raised. Neither the level of my intelligence nor my personal opinion about science is a factor in the question of whether some aspect of science is responsible for posing a threat to humanity. One need not understand a human being or the operation of the human body to comprehend that a particular individual is guilty of committing murder after witnessing the act.

2) The second response is to wonder how it is possible to live in the modern world, make use of modern technology, and still harbor any doubts that the benefits of science are worth whatever their costs might happen to be. After all, we have electricity, computers, television, X-rays, automobiles, antibiotics, vaccines, and many other valuable things thanks to science. Science has increased our lifespan, it has significantly increased the average individual’s chance of surviving childbirth and childhood, and it has made those longer lives considerably more comfortable.

I do not dispute any of this. But I do note that this is a fundamentally illogical response, since if humanity is in danger of being wiped out by the weapons that science has also produced, then there will not be anyone to continue enjoying those scientific benefits. It does not matter how many wonderful contributions to humanity have been produced thanks to science, because wiping them all out is the equivalent of multiplying their sum by zero. One could certainly argue that the threat to humanity from science is not really all that dire, but then it would be necessary to admit that religious faith poses no threat to humanity, either, thus demonstrating Harris’s thesis to be entirely bankrupt.

3) The third is to argue that science cannot be held responsible for the evils it enables because to do so is to confuse facilitation with prescription. It is claimed that although science made the atomic bomb possible and scientists designed, tested, and built the bombs, it does not follow that science is responsible for the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A variant on this is to argue that because the evils are not performed specifically “in the name of science” or in the interest of a scientific agenda, they cannot be blamed on science.

There are three errors inherent in this third response. The first is that causal factors do not depend upon motive. No reasonable individual would accept the argument that cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer because no one smokes “in the name of Marlboro” or in the interest of a cigarette agenda. The distinction between motive and method may be significant in a court of law, but is largely irrelevant when considering if a particular problem exists and how it can be best resolved. The second error is that the presence of the danger is solely due to the existence of these dangerous weapons and technologies; while blame for any decision to actually use them should rightly fall upon the various politicians and government leaders who make those decisions based on a variety of reasons, blame for their existence can only lie with their creators.

The third error is that numerous evils have historically been committed, justified, and utilized by scientists “in the name of science,” as demonstrated by the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the attempts of hypothermia researchers at the University of Minnesota and Victory University to use Nazi data obtained at Dachau, and the Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy, which was produced with the bodies of 1,377 executed criminals sent to Professor Eduard Pernkopf at the University of Vienna by the Gestapo.

Although the defenders of science inevitably claim that unpleasantries such as Nazi science, racist science, and the 64,000 forced sterilizations done at the behest of American eugenicists should not be blamed on science because it is today considered “bad science,” it is worth noting that religious individuals who commit acts in complete contradiction of their religious tenets are never absolved of responsibility for their crimes on the basis of their “bad theology.” The fact that Richard Dawkins and other atheists have publicly called to reconsider the legitimacy of eugenics also serves to demonstrate that the historical evils of eugenics are properly blamed on science and scientists.

4) The fourth response is to claim that it is unfair to blame science for the actions of some scientists. Of course, it must then be equally unfair to blame religion for the action of some religious individuals. And it is spectacularly unfair to blame the adherents of one religion for the actions of a completely different religion, especially when those adherents are being actively persecuted by the members of that other religion. It is wildly irrational to argue that a religious moderate is somehow responsible for the actions of religious extremists he does not know and has never met, but that one scientist cannot be blamed for the actions of another scientist, not even one who belongs to the same professional organization or university and with whom he presumably has some influence. Also, one must always be careful to distinguish between the three aspects of science. Whether one is holding a particular scientist or the scientific method itself accountable for a particular scientific misdeed, this does not necessarily impute any blame to other scientists.

5) The fifth and final response is to declare that knowledge, regardless of its risks, is always better than ignorance. As Dr. P. Z. Myers puts it: “That’s a deeply cynical view that Day has—that ignorance is better than knowledge, because awareness hurts and technological progress brings great risks. I guess I must be more optimistic than a weird Christian nihilist, because I think it’s better to aspire to a better world than to give up and slide back into some benighted religious illusion.” (47-49)


I'm surprised that Vox did not predict what I believe is the strongest response to this argument about science being the discipline that should go the way of the dodo rather than religion: The very fact that its going to be science that saves us from its unintended consequences. Despite all of his arguments - some I agree with by the way - the fact of the matter is that science is our best chance of survival. Even now scientists are looking for planets to move to due to the ever increasing risk of massive over-population and the potential threat of global warming. [1] If science goes and religion stays, what does Vox think religion will do to help save us? We can all pray that global warming will stop. We can ask god to stop HIV/AIDS and cancer. Vox’s proposal does not sound like a smart idea. [2] After all, it's people that kill people, not the method or weapons themselves. While people continue to believe absurd things we will continue to be at risk. Because of this it's the people we must change through writing, informing them, and judging from the more secular nations of this world it seems that we can improve our society if we follow the example of our more secular neighbors.

Some might try to argue that if we quit science a lot of these things will stop, but things like global warming and pollution, etc. will remain even if science stopped. Without science to help, we'll be in an even worse position.

Later on Vox writes,


I hope the reader will note that this book is not named The End of Science for a very good reason; I am not anti-science or even anti-scientist, nor am I arguing that the elimination of all science is a moral imperative for humanity. I am merely following the logic of Sam Harris’s extinction equation to its proper logical conclusion, which is that if the world truly is in imminent danger, the only reasonable answer is for humanity to put an end to science.

But which science? While the body of knowledge certainly contains the danger, since atoms are not given to accidentally colliding and it is difficult to smash one without knowing exactly how to do it, the mere knowledge cannot be said to be the cause of the danger. Scientage in itself is static—it is its relationship with scientody and scientists that makes it dynamic. Knowledge does not give birth to itself. Athena may have appeared on the scene fully armored, but she still had to spring from the brow of Zeus.

The method of science, on the other hand, is directly tied to both the theoretical basis for the threats to Mankind as well as the specific applications of the various scientific theories required to develop them into lethal weapons. (54)


Since I already gave a response in answer to his argument that science should end, and one that I believe is the most logical and moral, I don't feel I need to address which science should go since I stated my case that science is the only thing that could save us anyway.

Furthermore, with Iran's nuclear research booming Sam Harris' equation seems more likely and an end to religion may be the better bet. I'd also like to note that I know Vox is not actually advocating an end to science. He is simply trying to be clever and use the same argument Harris uses against religion, but as I noted, I believe science is the thing that should stay and not religion for the above reasons.

At the end of the chapter Vox goes back to his strawman (at least as it relates to the new atheists) about the war between science and religion, which I've already addressed so I won't repeat myself.

Chapter 4: The Religion of Reason

‭In this chapter Vox tackles the subject of morality and Vox’s main argument is that atheists have no standard of morality and have to latch on to the morality of their culture. This, in turn, can lead to totalitarian governments, and is done all “in the name of Reason.”

‭Vox writes,



Regardless of what one thinks of a politician’s religion, the mere fact that he has one offers the voter essential information about where his moral and ethical lines are theoretically drawn. This doesn’t mean that he is actually bound by them in any way, but at least the voter has some idea of where his limits should be. The voter has only to call upon his personal knowledge of the religion’s tenets, to read the religion’s holy book, or to ask an acquaintance who happens to share the politician’s faith to obtain a basic understanding of what the religious politician’s ideas of right and wrong are and what policies he is likely to pursue.

In the case of the atheist politician, however, the voter not only has no information, he has no easy means of obtaining that information. As I pointed out in the first chapter, it is atheists who are quick to assure us that there are absolutely no similarities between atheists, that the mere absence of god-belief in an individual is not information from which any reasonable inferences can be drawn. This is an erroneous assertion, as there is no shortage of evidence to the contrary, but there is a grain of truth to it that applies in this situation.

Anyone can behave according to any moral system without needing to subscribe to the beliefs from which that system is derived.

One doesn’t have to be an Orthodox Jew to keep kosher, just as one doesn’t need to be a Christian to believe that committing adultery is wrong. Most atheists abide by the morality of the culture that they inhabit, not because they have taken the effort to reason from first principles and miraculously reached conclusions that bear a remarkable similarity to the moral system of those around them, but because lacking any moral system of their own, they parasitically latch on to the system of their societal host.

[...]

So, while atheists indubitably possess morals, it is the inability to know which specific morals they personally subscribe to and which they reject that renders them rightly suspect. The problem is rooted in the fact that no atheist possesses a universally applicable morality, since one cannot be derived from either his atheism or from science. However, this does not mean that the New Atheists do not subscribe to a specific moral system that makes the same sort of universal claims as the moralities derived from religion, for they do, and it is not a new morality, but one that has been around for centuries. (62-64)


Many will surely disagree but I don’t believe in any form of “universally applicable morality,” at least for the most part. I do believe that, in general, most people are good and try to do the right thing, and do not harm, steal from, or murder others. The majority of us all know this and follow these basic moral guidelines. But Vox is more concerned about where an atheists’ morality comes from. Well, despite what Vox says, it does come from a process of reasoning, but at the same time also comes from the societal conditioning that all children are put through so they will “fit” in with the rest of society. Most of the moral precepts of the Western world actually predate Christianity, such as the well known biblical precept "Do to others as you would have them do to you,” which was spoken centuries earlier by the Buddha and even by the Greeks: "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing," spoken by Thales.

I'd also like to briefly discuss a likely reason it seems that atheists get their morals from Christianity. The reason is because most people have similar views about a variety of moral issues and this appears to be because of the similarities in our biology. Yes, I'm referring to the work of Marc Hauser, author of Moral Minds. So, not only has Christianity borrowed morals from Greece and Tibet, but many humans throughout the world make similar moral decisions because evolution hard-wired rules of thumb into our brains so we could better cooperate in groups. Much of morality is dependent upon our feelings of empathy for others and many studies have shown that when we see someone in pain our mirror neuron system becomes active when we “directly experience a disgusting event or observe someone else experiencing disgust, with parallel findings for the experience of pain and empathy toward others in pain.” [1]

Most (if not all) Christians seem to not understand that there are only two ways to gain moral insights: objectively and subjectively.

Objective is defined as,


The view that the objects of the most basic concepts of ethics (which may be supposed to be values, obligations, duties, oughts, rights, or what not) exist, or that facts about them hold, objectively and that similarly worded ethical statements by different persons make the same factual claims (and thus do not concern merely the speaker’s feelings). To say that a fact is objective, or that something has objective existence, is usually to say that its holding or existence is not derivative from its being thought to hold or exist. (emphasis mine) [2]


Subjective is defined as,


Pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual. [3]


Given the fact that objectivism regards things that exist independently from the human mind, this seems to be falsified both philosophically and scientifically (See here). All things depend upon a conscious agent to bring things into existence and that includes moral values. If no human being were alive none of our moral beliefs would exist. Say another species evolved that species very well could have very different morals than us. Even other human societies have differing moral values and so this is also falsified without even bringing up Prime.

The fact that morality is subjective seems to bother many Christians and other theists because they believe that if this is so there is nothing to ground our moral precepts. This is false, however. One method of grounding our morals is the social contract. A group of individuals comes together to live in a society and in order to create order they must decide on a set of rules to live by. To do this they utilize the social contract and each individual agrees to abide by it. If any rules are broken the social contract has been violated and whatever consequences that have been set up in advance can be implemented. With this, morality has a foundation in the social contract and does so without reference to any supernatural agent.

As far as what atheists view as a good set of moral principles can be found in various books such as Atheism, Morality, and Meaning by Michael Martin and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, which Vox chose to ridicule, rather than actually acknowledge Dawkins' moral principles. (70-71)

Christians believe that a god must be in place in order to create an objective set of morality, but Plato refuted this argument centuries ago with his so-called Euthyphro Dilemma which is so named because it comes from Plato's Euthyphro, in which it's asked, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" This essentially means, "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?" This is also called the divine command theory. The problem is that this form of morality is still subjective because morality would then consist of whatever god commands on a whim. I've covered this elsewhere in more detail. [4]

Because morality is subjective it’s an error to say that Christians have a source of morality that is universal and objective. I’ve covered this in the past [5], but when one looks at the history of Christianity, their moral beliefs have changed over time, just as the rest (or at least most) of society at large. One obvious example is the acceptance of slavery. For centuries Christians used the bible to defend slavery. One example is Thornton Stringfellow who wrote in his book, Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery,


I affirm then, first, (and no man denies,) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command: and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction, under the gospel dispensation; and that the principle relied on for this purpose, is a fundamental principle of the Mosaic law, under which slavery was instituted by Jehovah himself [...] [6]


Of course, now most Christians view slavery as wrong and so do the majority of other people.

As for a moral foundation, our morals come from human reasoning. This is not a new concept. The social contract and Kant’s Categorical Imperative, among others, are secular, reason-based theories of morality. No divine hand necessary. Now, I am not saying that atheists must follow these theories, but it proves that morality doesn’t need a god for there to be a foundation for morality.

The fact that certain groups of Christians can’t always agree on moral issues is also proof that even Christianity does not have an all together coherent body of moral rules for its followers. [7]

Vox makes a big deal about the French Revolution and socialism but doesn’t tell his readers that the socialist, ‘utopian’ society originated with Christianity. One early work on this subject was Utopia written in 1516 by (now, Saint) Thomas More. Being inspired by this and other writings, Christian sects in sixteenth century Germany and Switzerland abolished private property and “adopted an authoritarian regime in Munster.” [8]

Prior to this, even the bible condones and instructs Christians to live in a communal fashion (Exodus 16:16-18 and Acts 2:44-45) and Thomas Aquinas “recognized the right to property for personal 'use,' but believed that any superfluity should be distributed to others who are in need. The right to property is therefore strictly speaking a right of administration or stewardship. The possessor of wealth is an administrator who should distribute it according to his judgment for the good of humanity. Possessions are not merely private property for personal enjoyment: 'Quantum ad hoc non debet homo habere res exteriores ut propias, sed ut communes.' The holder of wealth therefore has a continual duty to practice almsgiving according to his individual conscience. Wealth is held in trust for the public good. Property is not an indefeasible right: where death threatens or there is no other source of sustenance, it is permissible to take what is necessary for others. Such an act cannot be considered robbery or theft." [9]

He makes reference to the European Union as a “good measure of Enlightenment morality in action” and argues that their rights are on shaky ground since they’re not rooted in anything tangible. Vox writes,


The Convention is a cornucopia of Enlightenment rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of slavery, the right to liberty and security, the right to freedom of expression, and so forth. Unfortunately, these rights come with strict caveats that leave holes in these theoretical protections large enough to drive a truck through . . . or an overcrowded train rattling along the tracks pointing toward a gulag. Nor do they come as unalienable rights endowed by a creator, they are merely notional rights granted by the forty-seven signatory governments that belong to the Council of Europe, subject to the political and legal processes of those governments. Some of the limitations are even articulated in the explication of the rights themselves, while Article 17 ominously prohibits what it terms “the abuse of rights” granted in the Convention.

“Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society. . . .” (Article 9) “The exercise of these freedoms [of expression], since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society. . . .” (Article 10) Similar caveats restrict the rights granted in articles 5, 6, 8 and 11.

The multiple references to the need for a democratic society to limit human rights is particularly ironic, as for all its democratic pretensions, European integration has been pushed inexorably forward without the democratic consent of many of Europe’s peoples. Every significant step in the integration process has been the result of negotiations between the bureaucratic and political elites, and when the people have been given the opportunity to express their opinion democratically and rejected the results of these negotiations, they have either been forced to vote until they get it right, as was the case in Denmark and Ireland,or simply ignored and overrun with semantic games. (73-74)


The European Union is not some atheistic creation; it is secular, just as the U.S. is secular and does contain many Christians of various sects, Jews, and Muslims. [10]

Like most human created documents they likely will have loop holes (and the fact is that most governments are the same regardless of how they were founded and will usually find ways to violate the rights of the citizens whom it was created to protect anyway), but the united states citizens' rights are not “endowed” by any “Creator.” Vox is confusing the secular Constitution (that has not a single mention of anything religious) with the Declaration of Independence, where the phrases "Creator" and "Nature's God" are mentioned. The problem is that the Constitution is the only document that is the law of the land and is the only document that matters regarding the rights of the people. The Declaration of Independence is simply an historical document that was sent to Great Britain to inform them of their reasons for wanting to separate from the British Empire. Regardless of the actions of both governments they are both secular and their rights are grounded in a “social contact,” created “by the people” themselves.

At the end of the chapter Vox says,


So, what is the ultimate goal of the religion of reason? And is it a rational one? Sam Harris’s description of the result of this inevitable humanist progress is precisely the same as the end prophesied by the humanist and New Atheist icon Bertrand Russell eighty-four years ago. It is not the end of faith that is the ultimate goal, this is merely a necessary prerequisite to the economic, cultural, and moral integration required for establishing the world government that the devotees of Reason hope will bring a permanent end to war.

But world government and a subsequent end to war is not a rational goal given the way it flies in the face of everything we know about human history and human nature, to say nothing of the grim results of past monopolies on legal violence. While Harris attempts to argue that the humanist dream is feasible based on the historical example of slavery, his argument requires ignoring the inability of modern society to bring an end to the sex slavery and human-trafficking that persist today in even the most civilized Western nations. The terrible tragedy of the New Atheists is that they are laboring to lay the foundation for yet another reprisal of the very horrors they think to permanently prevent in the name of Reason. Voltaire may have been correct to write that “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” but a more meaningfully rational statement would be to say: If you commit atrocities, then you believe absurdities. (76-77)


This is a strange criticism since none of the new atheists have said that what they hope to achieve is an end to war and some perfect society (at least to my knowledge). While they do believe one without religion would be better they are not that naive to believe that problems would not still occur. It’s just that hopefully with a purely rational discourse people will be able to make better decisions, instead of allowing ancient myths to control the tone of a debate on public policy, government, and science.

Chapter 5: Sam Tzu and the Art of War

As he did in the second chapter Vox is attacking a strawman argument in so far as it relates to the new atheists. I would certainly agree that there are many atheists, particularly on the internet and even in some books (one being Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness, by James Haught, Prometheus Books, 1990), who argue that religion is the number one cause of violence, but Vox did not provide a single quote by the new atheists making such a statement.

Vox begins the chapter by admitting to several cases of religious war,


For who can today hear the term “religious fanatic” and not immediately think of the suicide bombers of the Islamic jihad, who have struck terror into hearts around the globe? Nor are the modern jihadists the first religious fanatics to be inspired to deeds of astounding horror, as witnessed by Raymond of Aguilers’s account of slaughter-maddened Christian knights riding through blood up to their knees after the fall of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, or the more recent example of the Basij Mostazafan, an Iranian teen militia famous for voluntarily clearing minefields with their own bodies during the Iran-Iraq War.

And yet, even in these examples, one can see the first visible cracks in the argument. The First Crusade was a long time ago, it has been more than a thousand years since the massacre at Solomon’s Temple took place. In that millennia, many wars have been fought, very few of which have involved unarmed youth militias inspired by insane devotion to a god. Moreover, from a military perspective, suicide attacks are a negligible tactic. They are not intended to win battles, much less wars, and even if one goes as far back as the Japanese kamikazes of World War II, one will not find a single battle that is recorded as having been won by suicide tactics, with or without the presumed benefit of religious fanaticism.

Even so, Sam Harris insists that religion is a uniquely dangerous source of the intersocietal tensions that produce wars:

Religion raises the stakes of human conflict much higher than tribalism, racism, or politics ever can, as it is the only form of in-group/out-group thinking that casts the differences between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religious faith. Consequently, faith inspires violence in at least two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe that the [C]reator of the universe wants them to do it. (80-81)


I find Vox's statement that Harris is discussing war to be an odd interpretation. Harris explicitly said he is discussing religious conflict, in which war could be included, but it's clear he is simply discussing acts of violence, not all out war. The Microsoft Encarta Dictionary (2006) defines the word conflict as a “continued battle” or “disagreement or clash,” which would surely describe those religious disputes, and the definition says nothing about war explicitly.

Prior to the above quoted paragraph Harris writes,


Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflict (emphasis mine) [1]


Vox next makes use of this argument about war and argues that there were only six murders in the U.S. attributable to a hate crime. Because Vox has distorted what exactly Harris is discussing, which was violence in general, and not war (which implies death) Vox cites the following FBI statistics,


Harris frequently points out the extreme religiosity of American society compared to the rest of the world, which therefore makes the United States an ideal subject of investigation on this particular point. Fortunately, the FBI not only keeps track of how many murders take place in the United States in its Uniform Crime Reports every year, but also records who committed them, how they were committed, against whom they were committed, and why.

In 2005, there were 16,692 American murders. Of these, precisely six were attributed to hate crimes, a definition that encompasses all racial, religious, sexual orientation, ethnic, and disability motivations for criminal actions. Of the other 10,283 murders for which the motivations have been determined, none were attributed to anything that could conceivably be related to a belief in a deity’s desire to see a particular individual dead. Instead, the two most frequent motivations were arguments (36.7 percent) and felony offenses such as robbery and narcotic drug laws (21 percent). Unless the vast majority of arguments that end with one interlocutor murdering the other are inspired by erudite debates between individuals belonging to divergent schools of soteriological thought, it is obvious that Harris is wildly incorrect about the frequency with which religious faith inspires murderous actions. (82-83)


Because Vox has distorted what Harris was talking about he attempts to argue that acts of murder are the only categories we should look at. However, as I pointed out Harris was discussing acts of violence in general and not necessarily the killing of another. When looking up the FBI's statistics on hate crimes in 2005 I found something interesting. Out of the 1,314 crimes related to religious bias in 2005, 114 account for acts of assault. If you include acts of intimidation that is another 340 incidences for a total of 454 acts of violence or threats of violence. [2] It's also noteworthy that, while Vox would like to downplay the role of religious violence in the U.S., the fact is that out of the 7,160 incidences of hate crimes 17.1% were related to religious bias, the second highest motivator. Race was the first with 54.7%. [3] This trend is steady with religion being the second highest motivator for hate crimes from 2006 as well, except there were a total of 173 acts of assault. If you include intimidation (379 incidences) it rises to 552 acts of violence or threats of violence due to religious bias. [4]

Vox is surely a slippery one but if you actually read what Sam Harris says the distortion of his argument is not hard to see. Harris was discussing religious conflict in general but Vox claims he is discussing war, which he then switches to the subject of murder. Vox says next, summing up his argument,


Unless the vast majority of arguments that end with one interlocutor murdering the other are inspired by erudite debates between individuals belonging to divergent schools of soteriological thought, it is obvious that Harris is wildly incorrect about the frequency with which religious faith inspires murderous actions. (83) [emphasis mine]


Harris was not only discussing “murderous actions,” but also religious conflict in general, which could include a number of things and raises the number of incidences dramatically.

Next, Vox argues against Harris' claim that the intercommunal violence throughout the world is due to religious beliefs.


Harris appears to find somewhat more promising ground on which to do battle with his concluding notion, wherein he blames intercommunal conflict on religion.

Second, far greater numbers of people fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliation: Muslims side with other Muslims, Protestants with Protestants, Catholics with Catholics. These conflicts are not always explicitly religious. But the bigotry and hatred that divide one community from another are often the products of their religious identities. Conflicts that seem driven entirely by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are often deeply rooted in religion. The fighting that has plagued Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims vs. Christians), Ivory Coast (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few, recent cases in point.

This long list might appear to be persuasive, were it not for the fact that the list of potential examples to the contrary is considerably longer, to say nothing of the fact that nearly every example given here includes Muslims. To Sam Harris, all religions might be equally mythical and therefore the same, but it is hard to fail to notice that it is not the Jains, Mormons, Hindus, or Christians who are actively stirring up violence all over the world. In fact, Harris even left out a few relevant examples, such as East Timor, while mistakenly assigning religious motivations to at least four of the conflicts mentioned.

1. The conflict in Palestine is primarily ethnic, not religious. Atheist Jews, who represent 22.9 percent of the Israeli population, are targeted by their Arab enemies as readily as the ultra-Orthodox. (Another 21 percent call themselves secular and do not practice any religion, but nevertheless profess to believe in God.) Moreover, the violence in Palestine began with the secular Zionists attacking the Christian British.

2. The conflict in Northern Ireland is primarily ethnic and political, not religious, being a holdover from the British colonial establishment of the Ulster Plantation in 1609. Indicative of this is the fact that more people were killed in the intra-nationalist Irish Civil War of 1922–23, which pitted Catholic against Catholic, than the 3,523 deaths resulting from the thirty-two years of the modern inter-denominational troubles.

3. Although foreign Muslims have come to the aid of their co-religionists in the Chechen war, the cause has absolutely nothing to do with any religious conflict between the Chechen Muslims and the Orthodox Russians, but the fact that Chechnya has been seeking independence from Russia since it was forcibly annexed in 1870 by Tsar Alexander II. While the Chechens tried, and failed, to take advantage of the collapse of the tsarist empire in 1917, they have been marginally more successful in the more recent set of wars for independence they have waged following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

4. In Sri Lanka, the political divide is linguistic, not religious. Tamil-speaking Hindus and Christians are allied against Sinhalese-speaking Buddhists and Muslims. The government’s main rival, the revolutionary Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, are secular Marxists seeking political independence for a Tamil-speaking state. The LTTE’s own Internet FAQ settles the matter conclusively, stating in no uncertain terms that the Tamil Tigers is not a religious organization.

To list the many historical counterexamples that disprove Harris’s contention would require a book of its own, but a short list of territorial conflicts between co-religionists would have to include the Roman wars of the Italian peninsula, the Renaissance wars of the Italian city-states, the wars of the Greek city states, the wars of the petty German principalities, the eleven Russo-Swedish wars, the English War of the Roses; in short, nearly the entire history of European warfare. It is simply not true that most conflicts that “seem entirely driven by territorial concerns” are “often deeply rooted in religion.” They almost never are. (84-86)


Vox argues that the conflict in Palestine is primarily ethnic, not religious, and argues that the majority of Jews are secular, therefore religion couldn't be the reason for the fighting. However, Vox doesn't mention the fact that the bible, which most Jews surely are inspired by, says that god had given Palestine to the Jews and they are simply trying to gain what was given to them by their god. Even those involved in the affair such as British and U.S. politicians viewed the conflict in religious terms. For example, Arthur James Balfour, author of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, supported the Jews because of biblical reasons. Barbara Tuchman writes that “in Belfour the motive was biblical rather than imperial.” [5] Even the U.S. held the same belief. As an example, Congressman John D. Dingell of Michigan addressed a synagogue in Detroit as follows:


From my earliest childhood I have always been taught to believe that Palestine was the ancestral, the historic, and the God-given land to the Jews; and I was taught moreover, that it was ordained by God that some day the Jews of the world would return to their homeland....The Balfour Declaration clarified and gave additional substance to a practical, though not a new idea. [6]


Update – 12-28-11: I was able to track down a quote of former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, stating that “the 'Land of Israel' are guaranteed to the Jewish people by Holy Scripture.” This additional quote helps to confirm Avalos' argument that this conflict is based on religion, and not simply political motives. (Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, by James Bovard, Palgrave, 2003; 287)

Update – 7-27-12: While reading more in depth about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict I've discovered more quotes from Israelis citing religious reasons for their belief that they are the rightful owners of Israel. For example, the current president of Israel, Shimon Peres, has written, “There is no argument in Israel about our historic rights in the land of Israel. The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our Land.” In addition, Mordechai Nisan, an Israeli scholar of Middle East Studies at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written, “At the very dawn of Jewish history, contact with the Land of Israel established the principle that the presence of non-Jews in the country is morally and politically irrelevant to the national right of the Jews to settle and possess the Land... The Bible states the Jewish right regardless of non-Jewish presence.” (Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians, by Noam Chomsky, South End Press, 1999; 54; 444)


Hector Avalos sums up the situation by arguing that, “it is untenable to see the conflict between Palestines and Jews as simply a secular or political fight for land. The main argument for Palestine as a Jewish homeland is inspired by religious claims from the Bible.” [7]

Regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland, Vox argues that it is primarily ethnic and political, and I would agree that a portion of the violence stems from a political cause. However, there is certainly a religious element to it. Up until the early 1500's the conflict was primarily political but when Henry VIII “broke with the Catholic Church and joined the Protestant movement in the 1530's, the clash acquired a religious dimension, of English Catholics subduing Irish Catholics.” Due to the conquest of Ulster, it created the establishment of the Plantation of Ulster, England's first real “overseas” colony, and the two communities' religious and political tensions caused a rebellion in 1641 by Catholics demanding religious freedom and property rights, which led to the deaths of thousands of Protestants.

There was further violence due to the “era of religious extremism and political revolution” and led to the murder of thousands of people. These actions were defended and justified as “godly vengeance for Catholic massacres of Protestants at the beginning of the rising.” [8]

Vox tries to downplay the number of people killed by arguing that “more people were killed in the intra-nationalist Irish Civil War of 1922–23, which pitted Catholic against Catholic, than the 3,523 deaths resulting from the thirty-two years of the modern inter-denominational troubles,” though due to the population in Ireland of roughly four million the more than 3,000 lives caused by the conflict would be equivalent to half a million deaths in the U.S. [9]

The Chechen war has largely been a fight for independence as Vox rightly argues but he neglects to mention that ever since 1995 “Chechen commander Shamil Salmanovich Basayev was using the language of Jihad against Russia, which attracted volunteers from across the Muslim world. […] [James] Hughes argues that what began as a separatist, nationalist struggle with little if any specific religious aspects increasingly became radicalized as a Islamist struggle.” [10] So, while the struggle has not always had a religious element to it, it has morphed into one that does.

Finally, Vox discusses the situation in Sri Lanka, which he claims an internet FAQ settles the question, but as of January 31, 2011 I cannot find this website nor the FAQ. However, Vox again ignores some important facts. First, he is correct that the Tamil Tigers want independence, but the story of how these two groups, the Tamils and the Sinhalese, began to inhabit the island is tied in with the religious background of Buddhism and the Sinhalese. Similar to the conflict in Palestine with the Jews, who believe god gave them that land, the Sinhalese's own “national scripture/chronicle,” the Mahavamsa, tells the story of how their people came to inhabit the island first and how Buddha granted these islands for the spread of Buddhism saying,


Vijaya, the son of king Sinhahahu {sic}, is come to Lanka from the country of Lala, together with seven followers. In Lanka, Oh lord of Gods, will my religion be established, and carefully protect him with his followers and Lanka. [11]


While the Mahavamsa is not “not considered a canonical religious text, the Mahavamsa is an important text in Theravada Buddhism. It covers the early history of religion in Sri Lanka, beginning with the time of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. It also briefly recounts the history of Buddhism in India, from the date of the Buddha's death to the various Buddhist councils where the Dharma was reviewed.” [12]

While not purely a religious conflict, it has its roots in religious tradition since it is because of that tradition that the Sinhalese believe they were the first inhabitants of the land and the Tamils settled later, taking up parts of the land that the Buddha set out to claim for the spread of Buddhism. Vox only addresses one of the groups responsible and ignores the Sinhalese, a group that is influenced by their religious text.

Earlier Vox criticized Harris saying,


It is simply not true that most conflicts that “seem entirely driven by territorial concerns” are “often deeply rooted in religion.”


While Vox is right to say that Harris overstates his case a bit there have been many cases of religious differences that have been tied up with other political and territorial disputes and Vox seems to be wrong about most of these conflicts that Harris cited.

Next, Vox discusses the “in group/out group enmity” that Vox claims the new atheists argue is one of the main causes of religious wars. He says,


But while the points raised by Harris on religion and the art of war are obvious and easily dismissed, Richard Dawkins is rather more subtle. Having wisely refrained from directly suggesting a causal relationship between religion and warfare (and in fact, as was previously demonstrated, he actually contradicts Harris on that very point), he nevertheless cannot stop himself from slyly implying in numerous places throughout The God Delusion that this “divisive force” is nevertheless somehow responsible for the fact that wars take place, mostly due to the way in which it supplies labels for “in-group/outgroup enmity and vendetta,” which aren’t necessarily worse than other labels such as language and skin color, but are “often available when others are not.”

The problem with this is that in-group/out-group enmity has next to nothing to do with either waging or inspiring war. Most endo-exo rivalries stem from basic territorialism and the will to power, not rival group identities; the champions of reason have it backward. Consider the rival groups we currently identify as “French” and “German.” As recently as 814, they were a single ethnic group known as “the Franks.” While the French national identity was forged early on, thanks in part to the open geography of France, there was no German nation as such, instead there was only the multiplicity of principalities known collectively and inaccurately as the Holy Roman Empire, which over time came to be dominated by the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty in the south and the Kingdom of Prussia in the north. (87-88)


Again Vox tries to confuse his readers by arguing that in-out group hostility does not cause wars, but again, the new atheists have not said this. They've only argued that it often causes conflict and hostility, not necessarily all out war. And judging by the FBI statistics I cited earlier, religious bias (thus an in-out group view point) is the second leading cause of hate crimes in the U.S. Therefore, this “in-group/out-group enmity” does in fact inspire its share of violence.

To end the chapter, Vox discusses the Crusades and its inspiration.


The Crusades have long been the sine qua non of the atheist case against religion on the grounds of its causal relationship with war. And it would be foolish to insist that any war conceived by a monk, blessed by a Pope, marked by the sign of the Cross, inspired by the battle cry Deus le volt, and fought against a rival religion in order to reclaim a holy site did not have anything to do with religion.

Still, it must be noted that the consensus among modern historians is that religion was not anywhere nearly as central to the Crusades as is customarily thought to be the case. Sir Charles Oman points out various times when, following the Crusaders’ establishment of the four principalities of Outremer, alliances between Christian kingdoms and Muslim emirates flowed freely across religious lines; indeed, without the vicious internecine Muslim rivalries that existed at the time, the First Crusade would never have succeeded in taking Jerusalem nor would the Crusader lands carved out of Muslim territory have survived for nearly 200 years.

While Oman sees religion as only one of the “many complicated impulses” that led the European nations to invade the Levant, John Julius Norwich goes so far as to write of the First Crusade: “The entire Crusade was now revealed as having been nothing more than a monstrous exercise in hypocrisy, in which the religious motive had been used merely as the thinnest of disguises for unashamed imperialism.” (88-89)


Vox states that, “it would be foolish to insist that any war [fought to] reclaim a holy site did not have anything to do with religion,” but that's just what he tries to do. If you look at the available sources about the first Crusade one of the reasons (aside from the attempts to punish for past abuses and to defend the church's authority) was to reclaim Jerusalem, the “holy land.” This can easily be seen when you look at the available sources of Pope Urban II's speech prior to the first Crusade. While there was no exact reproduction of Urban's speech, the five different versions that were written down (and several years after the fact), there are clues as to the religious motive of the first Crusade.

A few of the versions of Urban’s speech cite a clear religious motive for the Crusades: recapture the holy land. This is seen in one of the accounts written by Guibert of Nogent, who argues that certain places are more sacred than others:


If among the churches scattered about over the whole world some, because of persons or location, deserve reverence about others (for persons, I say, since greater privileges are accorded to apostolic sees; for places, indeed, since the same dignity which is accorded to persons is also shown to regal cities, such as Constantinople), we owe most of that church from which we received the grace of redemption and the source of all Christianity. […] Most beloved brethren, if you reverence the source of that holiness and glory, if you cherish these shrines which are the marks of His foot-prints on earth, if you seek [the way], God leading you, God fighting in your behalf, you should strive with your utmost efforts to cleanse the Holy City and the glory of the Sepulchre, now polluted by the concourse of the Gentiles, as much as is in their power. [13]


Another version of the speech, this one by Robert of Rheims, expresses similar motivations,


Let the holy sepulchre of the Lord our Savior, which is possessed by unclean nations, especially incite you, and the holy places which are now treated with ignominy and irreverently polluted with their filthiness. Oh, most valiant soldiers and descendants of invincible ancestors, be not degenerate, but recall the valor of your progenitors. […] This royal city, therefore, situated at the centre of the world, is now held captive by His enemies, and is in subjection to those who do not know God, to the worship of the heathens. She seeks therefore and desires to be liberated, and does not cease to implore you to come to her aid. From you especially she asks succor, because, as we have already said, God has conferred upon you about all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of heaven. [14]


To quote Hector Avalos, and to sum up,


In short, […] sacred space has been singled out as a prime motivator for violence in Christianity. The bounded space called Jerusalem receives its sanctity from belief in biblical tradition, especially that concerning Jesus Christ. All the propaganda meant to motivate people to fight was permeated by the idea that holy space existed and that it could not be inhabited by everyone. The belief that Jerusalem was special, a sacred space, was based on belief in unverifiable forces and/or beings (holiness, God's commands). Thus, fighting for this sacred space during the Crusades constitutes a prime example of religious violence. [15]


Chapter 6: The War Delusion

Vox begins this chapter by citing a quote of Sam Harris',


Thus began an influential nineteenth-century essay by Ingersoll, the famous American freethinker and atheist. While Ingersoll’s assertion might be contested by modern atheists who deny that America was ever a Christian nation, and by sociologists who have conducted numerous polls confirming European post-Christianity, many people surely agree with his general sentiment that religion is the primary cause of war throughout the world. Sam Harris agrees enthusiastically, or at least he appears to do so at first glance:

A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. It seems that if our species ever eradicates itself through war, it will not be because it was written in the stars but because it was written in our books. . . .

Because Harris is a careless writer, lurching from baseless assertion to errant conclusion with all the elegance of a drunken orangutan, it is always wise to examine his words closely. Most readers, scanning quickly over the paragraph, will conclude that Harris is stating that most martial slaughter has its roots in religion, and because of that, conclude that religion is a threat to eradicate humanity. But the fact that Harris attempts to condemn religion through implication instead of direct accusation is a clear indicator that Harris knows how weak his argument is, and the historical evidence proves that both his statement and his subsequent conclusion are incorrect.

Religion does not endanger our species because religious faith does not cause war.

Harris is far from the only atheist who makes a habit of incessantly implying or even outright stating that religion is the cause of most military conflict, and he is not the only one expressing the belief that if only there was no religion polluting the planet, Mankind might finally know an end to war. (97-98)


Because Vox has failed to accurately interpret Harris' quote I would consider this a strawman. As I explained at the beginning of the last chapter Vox has not cited a single new atheist as saying that religion is a major cause of war. Even here, in the quote used by Vox, Harris is arguing how religion often causes conflict between people (and with the FBI statistics I cited earlier this cannot be denied) and how these conflicts could end up causing a war. The quote Vox uses here is from Sam Harris' The End of Faith and the full quote is this,


There seems, however, to be a problem with some of our most cherished beliefs about the world: they are leading us, inexorably, to kill one another. A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. It seems that if our species ever eradicates itself through war, it will not be because it was written in the stars but because it was written in our books […] (emphasis mine) [1]


It should be clear that Harris was not in any way arguing that religion causes most wars, but human conflict in general. As I showed in the last chapter Harris was correct about most, if not all, of the conflicts he cited, in that they were due, at least partially, to religion. As I conceded, I believe Vox was correct in pointing out at the very least that Harris overstated his case a bit, but the fact remains that religion is often a cause of violence and division in the world. Again, the FBI statistics and the several cases of religious conflicts around the world prove this conclusively.

Vox goes on to argue this strawman by citing various wars prior to the rise of Christianity or Islam (102) and creating a list of wars and showing how only a small percentage were religious (104-105), but this argument is only valid if you're arguing against those who make such claims, and the new atheists do not as I explained at the beginning of the last chapter.

On pages 107-109 Vox quotes a few of the new atheists, just as he did with Harris in the last chapter, and claims that conflict is synonymous with “war.” He's at it again and claims that statements made about religious violence are synonymous with all out war, but as I showed already this is not a logical argument, because war is only one kind of violence and is not the kind of violence the new atheists are discussing in the cited quotes.

The quotes Vox uses are the following on pages 107-109:

”Religion is undoubtedly a divisive force.” - Richard Dawkins

”The religious divisions in our world are self-evident.” - Sam Harris

”Without religion there would be no labels by which to decide whom to oppress and whom to avenge.” - Dawkins

”The only difference between these groups is what they believe about God.” - Harris

”Look carefully at any region of the world where you find intractable enmity and violence between rival groups. I cannot guarantee that you'll find religions as the dominant labels for in-groups and out-groups. But its a very good bet.” - Dawkins

”Religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past.” - Harris

”The problem's name is God.” - Dawkins

”Faith...the most prolific source of violence in our history.” - Harris

Does Vox quote any of these men mentioning war? No. Just violence in general.

I think I've said all I need to here so I will move on to chapter seven.

Chapter 7: The End of Sam Harris

Vox opens this chapter on Sam Harris with his personal attacks so I won't quote all that, but afterwards Vox begins his list of various errors committed by Harris,


In his two books, Harris commits dozens of easily demonstrable factual and logical errors. While detailing these errors in their fullness would fill a book in its own right, perhaps highlighting a few of the more obvious mistakes will suffice to illustrate the case.

1) Factual error. Harris begins The End of Faith by strongly implying that almost all suicide bombers are Muslim. Jane’s Intelligence Review reports that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are not Muslims but a Marxist liberation front that committed 168 of the 273 suicide bombings that took place between 1980 and 2000, have historically been the leading practitioners of suicide bombing. Harris tries to cover up his blunder in the notes section of the paperback edition by claiming that to describe the Tigers as secular “is misleading” because they “are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death.” But the Tamil Tigers themselves expressly claim secular status, a declaration supported by the fact that the recently deceased Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s chief political strategist and ideologue, was a Roman Catholic. It’s also worth noting that slain Tigers are buried rather than cremated according to Hindu ritual. More importantly, there is no definition of “secular” that precludes a belief in improbable things about the nature of life and death or anything else, including the Labor Theory of Value, String Theory, or multiple universes. (116-117)


I'd have to agree with Vox on this one. Even the dictionary defines secular as “of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal.” If they are a Marxist organization they most likely would fit that description. The same with Harris' implication that most suicide bombers are Muslim. It does seem that Harris was doing nothing more than trying to be dramatic with the opening of his book but his facts do seem to be wrong. While Muslims have often been in the news since September 11th for their militant activities I suppose Harris may have been influenced by that, but the end result is that his facts were wrong.


2) Logical error. In Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris borrows from Stephen F. Roberts in challenging Christians with a variant of the One Less God argument. He informs Christians that they reject Islam in “precisely the way” that Muslims reject Christianity, which is also the same reason he rejects all religions. So, either Harris believes that the Christian God exists and is a powerful spirit of evil or he doesn’t know what is almost literally the first thing about Christian theology. Christians WORSHIP the one Creator God, but they BELIEVE in the supernatural existence of many spiritual beings that are often worshipped and are legitimately described as gods. Harris has not read the Bible very closely if he is under the impression that Christians do not believe in “the god of this age,” “the prince of this world,” or any of the rulers, authorities, and powers mentioned in Ephesians 6:12. (117)


To help put Harris in perspective I'll quote the entire paragraph Vox is criticizing.


The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn't it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn’t it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions. [1]


Vox's argument makes no sense at all. All Harris was saying is that Christians disbelieve the religion of Islam because of the same reasons Muslims disbelieve Christianity. They both view their books as the one truth and even make use of the exact same arguments that atheists use against Christianity. As one brief example, I read of a Christian who was explaining why he didn't believe in the Muslim religion because the happenings in the Koran were written down so long after the events they describe. This is the same reason atheists disbelieve in the Christian bible. [2]


3) Factual error. Harris claims “religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last ten years” in these places: Palestine, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Caucasus. However, even if we accept his assertion that these conflicts are all religious in nature, the sum total of deaths in all these places since 1994 is most likely below 750,000. Palestine is often in the headlines, but there have only been about 7,500 deaths on both sides combined over the last ten years. In the Balkans, there were 96,495 deaths (most of which occurred before 2004), while fewer than 100 of the 3,225 deaths in Northern Ireland since 1969 occurred in the last decade. The Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation reports that most of the 102,800 deaths in formerly Indonesian East Timor took place in the 1970s, and the estimated 150,000 fatalities in the 1998–2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean war pale in comparison with the 1.5 million deaths attributed to the “Red Terror” previously committed by Ethiopia’s atheist Derg regime. (118)


Vox is correct here as well, though I feel I must point out that Harris' point was ultimately that there have been an enormous number of people killed because of beliefs that are no more true than those of Santa Clause so that part of his argument holds firm, especially by Vox's generous estimate of over half a million deaths. I looked up the number of deaths myself and came to very rough estimate of 500,000 deaths since 1994.

So, while Harris was wrong on the numbers his point is still valid.


4) Factual error. Harris says that certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one. But since Sam Harris is tolerated and allowed to live unmolested in a nation where 150 million people, by his account, possess such certainty, this is obviously wrong. The statement is particularly ironic given how he argues explicitly against tolerance for the religious faithful. Given the evidence of Harris himself, it is certainty about the nonexistence of the next life that is incompatible with tolerance in this one. (118)


Harris' point is that beliefs have consequences. Let's say for the sake of argument that Muslims create a nuclear bomb and threaten the United States because we're all “infidels.” This would be a very serious problem all caused by an obviously false belief and it shouldn't be frowned upon to criticize and question such beliefs. Especially when they have no evidence. That's the entire point of the new atheists. If no religious groups tried to force their views on, and sometimes even kill, others I have no doubt that they would never have written their books. Despite how the new atheists have often been portrayed in the popular media they are not intolerant; they only speak out because of the effects certain religious beliefs have on our society and well-being.

In fact, a fellow Christian in David Aikman has even made this point himself in his 2008 book The Delusion of Disbelief,


Harris does not advocate explicit suppression of religious faith, but rather seeks what he calls “conversational intolerance.” [3]


Strangely enough, Vox even admits this fact in the footnotes but simply dismisses it and says that it seems “counterproductive” and “obnoxious.”


5) Factual error. Harris claims that human standards of morality are what Christians use to establish God’s goodness. This is incorrect. Christians do not believe that God is subject to human morality This should be obvious from considering the Ten Commandments. Is God prone to have another god before Himself? Does God have a neighbor whose wife He might covet? Who is God’s father and how might He fail to honor him? (118-119)


Vox again misses the entire point of Harris' argument. In the discussion leading up to the part cited by Vox, Harris was talking about the horrible natural disasters that often occur, such as Hurricane Katrina, and wonders why it doesn't shake peoples' faith when god allows things like this to happen. He then brings up a likely counter-argument by Christians: we cannot judge god's decisions since he knows all and probably allowed said catastrophe to happen for some reason unknown to us. Harris then makes the very correct observation that, just as people view the bible differently than they used to, and most people pick and choose what verses they will follow for morality, peoples' judgments about god occur the same way. They judge god's actions (and the bible's morals) based upon their own modern moral values. However, there are some who attempt to defends god's cruel actions in the bible, rather than allow their modern morality to influence their feelings about god. This is just the warped thinking of fundamentalism in action. [4]


6) Factual error. Harris states that “questions about morality are questions about happiness and suffering.” They are not. Questions about morality concern what action is correct in light of the moral system to which the individual subscribes. Questions about Christian morality, the specific moral system Harris is addressing in Letter to a Christian Nation, are questions about what actions are deemed right in the eyes of God. In any case, morality should never be confused with a hedonic metric of happiness or suffering. (119)


I would say this is more a difference of opinion rather than a factual error. I would agree with Vox that questions about morality do often have to do with the moral system to which someone believes, but at the same time Harris has a point in that our morality is often moved by the suffering and/or happiness of others. As I noted earlier, even our innate morality is primed to respond to anothers' suffering and pain. We feel empathy for them and thus we understand what it must be like to suffer like them, and feel moved to help, because we most likely would want to be helped as well. We are biologically programed to respond to happiness/sadness, which is linked to morality. Happiness can be at least a basic guide to finding out what could be a moral action, so long as it does not infringe upon anothers' rights. While not a great principle for basing an entire view of morality on, it can serve as a basic guideline with some caveats added (such as the general principle that something is OK so long as it does not infringe upon others' freedoms or rights), otherwise someone could say that raping a woman makes them “happy” and thus “moral,” which is obviously wrong and immoral.


7) Logical error. Harris claims religious moderates are responsible for the actions of religious extremists. But no individual can possibly be held responsible for the actions of another individual over whom he has no authority or influence and has never even met. (119)


This is patently false. Harris only says that moderates often speak out about the virtue of tolerating all faiths. Respecting all beliefs, even those that sometimes cause violence, is not a wise move. To quote Harris from The End of Faith,


One of the central themes of this book , however, is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. [5]


Later on Harris says,


The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. [6]


Harris says nothing about religious moderates influencing extremists. In fact, a critic of the new atheists, Becky Garrison, author of The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, agrees with Sam Harris to a point about moderation. She writes,


He [Harris] seems to think that anyone who tries to build bridges among those of different faith backgrounds symbolizes one of those squishy sorts preaching a spongy spirituality.

As someone who has spent way too much time trying to get these spineless saps to speak up, I have to say Harris has a point. Like many in the moderate camp, I despise having extremists force-feed their ideology to me as though I were some goose getting prepped to be some fanatic’s foie gras treat. [7]



8) Logical error. Harris asserts that competing religious doctrines have shattered the world into separate moral communities. He also claims that the objective source of moral order is distinguishing between better and worse ways of seeking happiness. However, he cites no evidence that Christians seek happiness any differently than Hindus, nor does he explain, precisely, how Jews seek happiness differently than Muslims. It’s worth noting that Harris has probably caused greater human unhappiness with his books than his fellow atheist, Jeffrey Dahmer, ever did with his exotic diet, so by his own reckoning, Harris is less moral than Dahmer. (119)


Again, it seems to me that Vox is confused here. Harris is not discussing how people of different beliefs find happiness, but rather his belief that science can help us determine objective moral values, which is the subject of his latest book, The Moral Landscape (2010), but since I haven' t yet read it I cannot comment on what his argument exactly is and how he seeks support it.

It's also strange that he lumps two separate topics in one argument, the passages in Harris' book being over 50 pages apart from one another. And it's true that religion often does cause a break in communities due to religious differences. One only has to look at England and the way children are taught in separate “faith schools” and are not able to play with other children of others faiths and the number of instances of hate crimes that occur because of those religious beliefs that I mentioned earlier.


9) Logical error. Harris claims that religious prudery contributes daily to the surplus of human misery while bemoaning the existence of AIDS in Africa and other sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. But this widespread disease is the direct result of the sexual promiscuity that Christians condemn as immoral and which Harris praises as the pursuit of happiness. More to the point, scientific research shows that religious individuals are both happier and more sexually satisfied than non-religious individuals. (119-120)


The error in logic is entirely Vox's. Many Christian missionaries denounce the use of condoms during intercourse and because the inhabitants of Africa are not taught how to protect themselves they unfortunately contract the disease. What the vast majority of secularists ask for is that knowledge of safe sex practices be taught to these people (not to mention everyone else in the world). After all, it was religious beliefs which was largely responsible for the uncontrollable outbreak that took place in at least one part of Africa:


Malawi was under the rule of President Banda for thirty years starting in 1964, during which time little attention was paid to the escalating AIDS crisis. His puritanical beliefs made it very difficult for AIDS education and prevention schemes to be carried out, as public discussion of sexual matters was generally banned or censored, and HIV and AIDS were considered taboo subjects. Between 1985 and 1993, HIV prevalence amongst women tested at urban antenatal clinics increased from 2% to 30%.(emphasis mine) [8]


Finally, as far as the 'religious individuals are happier' argument this doesn't even seem to be conclusive and there are studies that show the opposite. Phil Zuckerman writes,


Many studies report that religiosity is correlated with reduced levels of depression (Koenig 1995; Ellison 1994; Levin 1994), and yet others suggest that religiosity can have a negative or no influence on depression (Buggle et al. 2001; O’Connell and Skevington 2005; Sorenson et al. 1995; Francis et al. 1981; Wilson and Miller 1986). Mirola (1999) found that being religiously involved helps lower levels of depression among women, but not men. Some studies indicate that secular people are less happy than religious people (Altemeyer 2009; Reed 1991; Steinitz 1980), and yet international comparisons show that it is the most secular nations in the world that report the highest levels of happiness among their populations (Beit-Hallahmi 2009; Zuckerman 2008; De Place 2006). According to Greeley and Hout (2006, 153), among Americans who describe themselves as ‘‘very happy,’’ secular people don’t fare as well as religious people, and yet, among people who describe themselves as ‘‘pretty happy,’’ nonreligious Americans actually fare the best. [9]


As far as the claim to greater sexual satisfaction even Vox admits this isn't necessarily true in the footnotes since there is conflicting data and some studies show no relationship to sexual satisfaction and religiosity.


10) Factual error. Harris asserts that the entire civilized world now agrees that slavery is an abomination. Given that there are 700,000 slaves being trafficked across international borders every year, this is a significant exaggeration. In September 2003, National Geographic reported that “there are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Obviously, more than a few people in the civilized world disagree. (120)


This is true, though I wish that Vox would have addressed the larger point of Harris': that for the most part, the majority of us no longer follow most of the brutal and unjust regulations in the bible, and his arguments were to convince Christians that their bible wasn't divinely inspired or a good moral guide. [10]


11) Logical error. Harris says Muslims have “far fewer grievances” with Western imperialism than the rest of the world and that these grievances are “purely theological.” As of this writing, the United States and twenty-one other countries have more than 225,000 troops occupying Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Regardless of one’s opinion about the wisdom of the ongoing occupations, one should be able to recognize that there’s nothing theological about being aggrieved at the military occupation of your country. (120)


Vox does not seem to have dealt with Harris' argument. Harris writes,


It is important to specify the dimension in which Muslim “extremists” are actually extreme. They are extreme in their faith. They are extreme in their devotion to the literal word of the Koran and the hadith (the literature recounting the sayings and actions of the Prophet), and this leads them to be extreme in the degree to which they believe that modernity and secular culture are incompatible with moral and spiritual health. Muslim extremists are certain that the exports of Western culture are leading their wives and children away from God. They also consider our unbelief to be a sin so grave that it merits death whenever it becomes an impediment to the spread of Islam. These sundry passions are not reducible to “hatred” in any ordinary sense. […] And they have far fewer grievances with Western imperialism than is the norm around the globe. Above all, they appear to be suffering from a fear of contamination. As has been widely noted, they are also consumed by feelings of “humiliation” - humiliation over the fact that while their civilization has foundered, they have watched a godless, sin-loving people become the masters of everything they touch. [11]


Harris includes more arguments for his view that they feel “humiliated” in the end notes. Also, in the Afterward he addresses this argument as well and asks why, if several other people and countries suffer just as worse of occupations why is it that the Buddhists, for example, aren't blowing themselves up? He argues it's due to “the specific tenets of Islam.” [12]

As to whether or not this argument holds up is what Vox should have focused on here. He simply ignored it and repeated the argument Harris sought to argue against in the first place about why Muslims attack and hate America as much as they do.


12) Factual error. In Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris twice cites the high American rate of infant mortality in a disingenuous attempt to associate poor health and/or inferior medical science with the American rate of religious adherence, despite his subsequent claim that he isn’t actually making any such argument. Regardless, he neglects to mention that this rate—the second highest in the developed world—is primarily due to the fact that the U.S.A. has the best neonatal care in the world, with the most neonatologists and neonatal intensive care beds per capita. Premature babies have a fighting chance to live in the United States; whereas in other developed countries, most live births below 3.3 pounds are not registered and never appear in their infant mortality statistics. Religious America’s superior medical technology likewise accounts for the world’s highest five year cancer survival rate, which at 64.6 percent for all cancers is as much as 81 percent higher than some European countries and 22.5 percent higher than the acclaimed Dutch health care system. More importantly, while comparing American societal health to that of “the most atheist societies,” Harris forgets that he has defined Buddhism as a form of atheism, therefore the societies to which religious America’s health must be compared are not historically Christian countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, and Belgium, but rather heavily Buddhist countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Vietnam. The U.S.A.’s Human Development Index rank is 10, significantly better than the average rank of 114 for the seven “most atheist” countries, so both Harris’s implied and explicit arguments fail based on his own measures and definitions. (120-121)


A lot of these figures all depend on what you're comparing, which it seems is Vox's angle. It's true that not all aspects of societal health in the European countries are better than in the U.S., but there are several other stats, such as rates of HIV infection as one example, that are. [13] Harris' entire point is that, despite what is a very common claim, atheism does not cause downright destitution and misery and highly non-religious countries are flourishing despite this common myth.

I also found interesting Vox's choice to compare the “atheistic” Buddhist countries to the U.S. but it's clear why he did it. These countries are obviously not flourishing as much, though there is a huge flaw in Vox's methodology. When making comparisons it's best to eliminate as many variables as possible so you can rule out other factors that may skewer the results. Each of the countries Vox cites are listed on the human development index as being either Medium or Low, and in the case of Bhutan, is so low that it doesn't even make it to the Low designation. [14] I found no information in the latest Human Development Report on Laos or Vietnam. By comparing two countries that are both on the high end of the HDI scale (such as the U.S. and other European countries) we can rule out economic issues as a possible cause of lesser societal health advances, since those “atheist” countries are relatively poor, leading to social problems.

In addition, this argument, as proposed by Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation, is used to show that having a lack of religion in society does not erode that society, but that it actually prospers despite being highly non-religious. Sam Harris wrote,


While you believe that bringing an end to religion is an impossible goal, it is important to realize that much of the developed world has nearly accomplished it. Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. According to the United Nations' Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. […] Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nations ' Human development index are unwaveringly religious. (emphasis mine) [15]


Buddhism is still a religion since, as I explained at the beginning of this review, a religion can still be atheistic. Therefore, those countries are not secular and are still highly religious.

Next up is Vox's often repeated take down of Harris' red state-blue state argument,


One of the most oft-cited passages in Letter to a Christian Nation is Harris’s Red State-Blue State argument, in which he purports to prove that there is no correlation between Christian conservativism and social health. Richard Dawkins found the data to be “striking,” so much so that he quotes the following paragraph from Harris’s book in its entirety […] There are several layers of problems with this apparent proof of Christian immorality. The first is that political identity is a very poor substitute for religiosity. As the 2001 ARIS study showed, only 14.1 percent of Americans are adherents of one of the various churches of atheism. Since about half of eligible Americans bother to vote, the maximum potential number of godless blues in the country is 28.2 percent of the total, which would have accounted for 29.4 percent of John Kerry and Ralph Nader’s combined 59,028,109 votes, if every atheist, agnostic, and non-believer in God had voted Democrat or Green in 2004.

But they didn’t. In fact, the exit polls indicated that atheists were less likely to vote than the religious faithful, as only 10 percent of voters in the CNN exit polls described themselves as “no religion.” That godless 10 percent did lean heavily blue, as more than two-thirds voted for Kerry or Nader,22 but a third went red without an imaginary friend providing them with instructions to vote for George W. Bush. […]

If this isn’t sufficient evidence of the foolishness of trying to equate Democratic votes with atheism, the ARIS 2001 survey reported a higher percentage of Democrats among Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Buddhists, and Muslims than among the not religious, of whom only 30 percent reported a preference for the Democratic Party. (However, the not religious tend to describe themselves as political independents, not Republicans.)

So while the data may be striking, the argument based upon it can only be described as strikingly stupid. But just for kicks, let’s pretend that it is not a measure so ridiculously inaccurate as to be completely useless. Let’s imagine that Harris’s metric really is relevant, that an American voter’s 2004 presidential vote truly is indicative of his religious faith, or the lack thereof, and that statewide criminal statistics are a reasonable measure of an individual’s predilection for immoral behavior. This exercise in imagination is necessary, in fact, because only by accepting his measure at face value and examining it in detail can one fully grasp the true depth of Harris’s exceptional incompetence. […]

In other words, Sam Harris should have been looking at the electoral and criminal data by county, not by state.

Consider the red state of Florida. Its eleven blue counties account for 44 percent of the state’s population, but more than 50 percent of its murders and 60 percent of its robberies. The bluest county, Gadsden, voted for Kerry by a 70–30 margin and had the state’s highest murder rate at 12.8 per 100,000, while the two reddest counties, Baker and Okaloosa, averaged a murder rate of 0.7 per 100,000 to go with their identical 78–22 margins for George Bush. And this was the case even though the population of the two red counties is more than four times that of blue Gadsden. (121-124)


It sure seems that Harris seriously goofed here. Aside from this data we don't need to look at states or counties to discern behavior, we can look at more accurate scientific studies that look at precisely what we want to measure: the morality or lack there of, of both atheists and theists. When we do this it's clear that atheists are just as moral – if not a little more so – than theists, as I demonstrated in the first chapter.

Vox continues,


By this point, it should be clear to the rational reader that Sam Harris cannot be trusted with statistics, or even to correctly calculate a tip. But because his many factual and logical errors, however suspicious, could merely indicate that he is careless, proving intellectual dishonesty requires evidence of a deliberate intent to deceive. Of course, intent isn’t always easy to discern, let alone prove, as there must be at least some indication that the deceiver knows the truth that would weaken his argument but is electing to intentionally hide it.

Sometimes such deception is easy to detect. While talking about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in The End of Faith, Harris cites a study showing that abstinence-pledged virgin teens were more likely to engage in oral and anal sex in an attempt to create the impression that those teens were more likely to contract an STD. What he neglected to mention was that while the study showed that 4.6 percent of the abstinence-pledged teens contracted an STD, this was 35 percent less than the 7 percent of non-pledged teens who also acquired one. (127)


It seems to me that Vox is the one being dishonest here. It appears that Vox actually meant to refer to Letter to a Christian Nation and not The End of Faith. I cannot find any mention of any virginity pledge study in The End of Faith but there is such a study cited in Letter to a Christian Nation, but this is not the dishonesty to which I refer.

What I'm talking about is the fact that for Vox's source for the percentage of teens who contracted STD's he sites an article in The Times from June 26, 2007 titled “A Two-Letter Word for Little Miss Pure: It Begins with N,” by Samuel Martin. He accuses Harris of not mentioning this information in the article. However, the crazy thing is that for this study Harris cited Michelle Goldberg's book Kingdom Coming and they do not mention those statistics at all. So, how in the world can Harris be “intellectually dishonest” when the source he actually cited mentioned no such thing!?!

Here is the passage from Goldberg's book that Harris cited,


Most research shows that abstinence programs don't do much to stop teens from having sex. Some do succeed in helping kids delay losing their virginity, which almost all adults regard as a positive thing. Any health benefits, however, are negated by the abstinence movement's relentless anticondom message, which seems to dissuade teens from bothering with protection when they do have sex. According to research by sociologists Peter Bearman and Hannah Bruckner, teens who take virginity pledges - a key component of many abstinence programs – have sex an average of eighteen months later than those who don't. But Bearman and Bruckner also found that in the interim they're more likely to have oral or anal sex, and that when they do lose their virginity, they're less likely to use condoms and to seek medical treatment if they contract STDs. [16]


Now, did that paragraph say anything about the percentages Vox points out? No.

Now, after looking up the actual study [17] Vox is correct about the fact that those who didn't pledge contracted a small percentage more STD's, but again, to insult Harris over information that wasn't in his cited source is just ridiculous. Besides, the fact is that those who did pledge did end up contracting STDs so it's obvious they work about as well as no pledges at all. The researches who conducted the study even agree with this when they concluded,


Contrary to expectations, we found no significant differences in STD infection rates between pledgers and nonpledgers, despite the fact that they transition to first sex later, have less cumulative exposure, fewer partners, and lower levels of nonmonogamous partners. [18]


In fact, this is the very fact that Harris was trying to get across in Letter to a Christian Nation when he cited this study. He wrote,


There is nothing wrong with encouraging teens to abstain from having sex. But we know, beyond any doubt, that teaching abstinence alone is not a good way to curb teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted disease. In fact, kids who are taught abstinence alone are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex, as many of them inevitably will. One study found that teen “virginity pledges” postpone intercourse for eighteen months on average – while, in the meantime, these virgin teens were more likely than their peers to engage in oral and anal sex. [19]


Now, I'm going to try to give Vox the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps he believed Harris should have looked at his source's source, but Harris cited his source accurately. Harris' point was also confirmed by the study. Virginity pledges do just about as good as not pledging in avoiding STDs and they also often teach you bad habits by neglecting protection.

The final argument in this chapter is about the Communist atrocities. Vox writes,


Because the historical record of atheism is so bloody, so recent, and so well-known, Harris is forced to construct a No True Atheist argument in a preemptive attempt to ward off the inevitable response to his assertion that religious faith causes murder and genocide.

....the most monstrous crimes against humanity have been inspired by unjustified belief. This is nearly a truism. Genocidal projects tend not to reflect the rationality of their perpetrators simply because there are no good reasons to kill peaceful people indiscriminately....Consider the millions of people who were killed by Stalin and Mao: although these tyrants paid lip service to rationality, communism was little more than a political religion.

In order to deflect attention from the obvious fact that Stalin and Mao, both undeniably atheists, killed tens of millions of people despite a complete lack of the religious faith that Harris claims is necessary to commit such monstrous acts, Harris constructs a No True Atheist argument.

Harris: Atheists don’t kill people because they have no good reason to do so.
Response: Stalin and Mao were atheists and they killed millions of people.
Harris: Then Stalin and Mao were No True Atheists.

[…]

Instead, he uses several deceptive techniques to try to disguise the fact that he is defending his thesis with a No True Scotsman argument. Notice how much deceptive tap-dancing takes place in just this single paragraph.

• Harris surreptitiously substitutes “unjustified belief” for “religious faith.” Now, “unjustified belief” is one of his many descriptions of religious faith, but obviously there are many unjustified beliefs that are not related to religious faith in any way. The subset is not equal to the entire set, and since the two are not synonymous they cannot be exchanged in this manner; this is the logical fallacy known as the Undistributed Middle. Harris also implicitly swaps “an absence of rationality” for “religious faith,” once more swapping the specific subset in favor of the broader set that includes it.

• Harris states there are no good reasons to kill people indiscriminately, just twenty-six pages after writing that “[s]ome propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” So it’s okay to kill people who believe in dangerous propositions—Harris just wants to make sure that you kill them in a discriminating manner. Unfortunately, he does not inform us precisely which propositions justify execution in his mind, although given the context of the statement and the title of his book, it’s apparent that he has intransigent religious belief in mind.

• Harris states that Stalin and Mao only paid lip service to rationality, but their murderous actions were perfectly rational given their goals. Stalin was seeking to destroy Ukrainian national identity, while Mao was trading agricultural products for the atomic weapons technology. It was his “Superpower Programme” that was the motivation behind the Great Leap Forward, sending food that the Chinese peasantry required to survive to Hungary, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Considering that Mao had hundreds of millions of peasants who he didn’t value and lacked the powerful weapons development capacity that he badly wanted, it was an entirely reasonable exchange, if a diabolical one.

• Harris claims that Communism was a religion. But however convenient and necessary to his argument this claim might be, it still isn’t true. Communism is a political ideology, not a religion, and moreover, the Communisms of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Mengistu, and Kim Il-Sung all differed in the details. While each of the six dictators identified himself as communist, the only belief these mass murderers held completely in common was an atheism more militant than that of Harris himself. (128-130)


I've never taken a liking to Harris' argument against the common theistic attempt of one-upmanship with the Communists-killed-a-bunch-more-people-so-atheism-is-worse-than-Christianity argument. When he says that Communism was a “religion” I think he's more referring to the fact that it was dogmatic like religion, which it certainly was. Stalin held much power and people did what he said, much like the influence of a fundamentalist religious figure. That is how I often find Communism expressed by many and that might be Harris' point. If he actually believes it's a religion I'd disagree, but based upon my knowledge of what many atheists commonly argue I believe this might be an accurate representation of what Harris means. So, while not necessarily a religion it had many commonalities with religion. [20]

I also disagree with Vox's claim that Harris offers a No True Scotsman argument. Harris is not arguing that the Communists were not real atheists, he's simply saying that they were irrational in following their political ideology. However, Vox seems to make Harris' argument seem more complex than it is, seemingly trying to find a No True Scotsman argument in Harris' statement when there isn't one, and there are other issues with Vox's critique as well.

Vox makes use of that very common criticism of Harris and argues that he believes “[s]ome propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Harris has addressed this criticism on his website, [21] however, Vox takes note of Harris' explanation of self-defense in the footnotes but doesn't buy it. I don't see what's so hard to understand. A preemptive strike is part of self-defense. If you believe someone is going to kill you, it's legal to strike first. The only problem is proving it in a court of law.

Next Vox discusses the common retort that atheism is a lack of belief and can't/doesn't influence people.


Early in The End of Faith Harris writes: “As a man believes, so he will act” and he goes into some detail explaining how an individual’s actions are dependent upon the beliefs he holds. “A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person’s life.” In light of this, it is important to recall that Harris repeatedly defines atheism as being a lack of a belief, primarily a lack of belief in the existence of God. This allows him to inoculate atheism against the historical crimes of known atheists and blame them on the religious faithful in the following manner:

1. Belief is required for action.
2. Atheism is a lack of belief.
3. Therefore, an individual’s atheism cannot cause him to act in a harmful manner.
4. Belief is synonymous with faith.
5. Therefore, all negative actions stem from faith.

It’s a truism! It is self-evident! Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., may have all been atheists, but because they are known to have taken action, they must have believed in something besides their atheism that caused them to act, therefore atheism cannot possibly be blamed for the actions of these so-called atheists. Hallelujah, peace on Earth is in our grasp! (131-132)


First of all, ridicule isn't an argument. Second, it is true that atheism is a negative and contains no beliefs of its own. Because of this, it's only logical that atheism cannot and does not inspire actions. At the very least no one has shown how this could be so. But, many atheists, while relying purely on this argument, forget that there is an even better argument against this old canard about atheists murdering more and therefore atheism is worse than theism: history.

When one researches Communism what do we find? Do we find support for the claim that atheism is what caused the horrible actions of the atheistic Communists? No. The fact is that it was their political ideology which inspired them and there is much evidence of this. As a few examples, why did the Communists target religion? Because they were atheists? No, because of their ideological beliefs in Marx's ideas about the coming of socialism. They believed that religion was just one more “bourgeois” institution and in order to pave the way for socialism all such institutions had to be demolished.

When you look at the quotes of the Communists themselves you can easily see this influence. Here is Lenin speaking about the combating of religion,


The combating of religion cannot be confined to abstract ideological preaching...It must be linked up with the concrete practice of the class movement, which aims at eliminating the social roots of religion...It means that Social Democracy's atheist propaganda must be subordinated to its basic task - the development of the class struggle of the exploited masses against the exploiters. (emphasis in original) [22]


Here is another quote of Lenin's from a pamphlet titled Socialism and Religion from 1905,


Economic slavery is the true source of the religious humbugging of man...The proletariat of today takes the side of socialism, which enlists science in the battle against the fog of religion and frees the workers from their belief in life after death by welding them together to fight in the present for a better life on Earth. (emphasis mine)


Here, again, Lenin is making it clear another reason for the attack upon religion: in order to best develop this socialist utopia they yearned for, everyone had to stop looking forward to the afterlife and focus on this life; make this life better and improve upon it.

In either of these quotes is atheism mentioned as a reason at all? I've yet to find anyone who can supply any quotes showing it was the Communists' atheism that drove their actions, despite some desperate attempts. [23]

In sum, rather than being an “end” to Sam Harris, this chapter seemed to mostly show that Vox is the one who got many facts incorrect and most of Harris' arguments are valid.

Chapter 8: Darwin's Judas

We've finally arrived at the chapter about Richard Dawkins. This chapter starts off with five pages of insults and complaints about how Dawkins supposedly fails to make use of evidence and fails to spell out what evidence would convince him of god's existence. After all that, we finally get to the actual arguments against Dawkins.

Vox begins,


(1) The Ontological Argument for Science-Inspired Art

In Unweaving the Rainbow, Dawkins writes: “By more general implication, science is poetry’s killjoy, dry and cold, cheerless, overbearing and lacking in everything that a young Romantic might desire. To proclaim the opposite is one purpose of this book, and I shall here limit myself to the untestable speculation that Keats, like Yeats, might have been an even better poet if he had gone to science for some of his inspiration.”

Of course, this speculation is as improbable as it is untestable, given the centuries of evidence demonstrating that science is largely incapable of providing the inspiration for passable poetry, much less the sort of great art that religion has reliably inspired for millennia. Forget Irish astronomical telescopes and D. H. Lawrence’s hummingbirds, what could be more profoundly inspirational than the dystopian prospect of Man’s suicidal annihilation by the deadly fruits of his own mind? And yet, in six decades of science’s glorious Atomic Age, the only memorable pronouncement that comes to mind is J. Robert Oppenheimer’s invocation of the ancient verses of the Bhagavad Gita!

[…]

The inadequacy of science and other secular replacements for religion has not escaped the notice of one of the more enthusiastic champions of the arts, Camille Paglia, who despite her atheism insists that religion is an artistic necessity. She explains that whereas the first generation of secular artists, such as James Joyce, Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Proust, achieved greatness through their rebellion against religious tradition, it is their very success that has crippled their successors. She complains that “today, anything goes, and nothing lasts” before declaring that secular humanism has reached a dead end and that religion must be taught in every school. (140, 142)


What kind of complaint is this? It's utterly pointless in my opinion. In the quote cited by Vox Dawkins even admits this is his opinion and states quite clearly that it's an “untestable speculation.” It was nothing more than Dawkins' love of science shining through and him expressing his opinion! I really wish Vox would pick meatier targets to go after. In this chapter on Dawkins Vox complains about an opinion of his. With Harris, he complains that he was wrong about the entire world being against slavery, when that wasn't even the point he was trying to get across.


(2) Martial Victory Through Blind Obedience

Dawkins’s stated belief that religion is a primary cause of war has already been dealt with and refuted in no little detail. But his similarly groundless belief that nations “whose infantrymen act on their own initiative rather than following orders will tend to lose wars” is worthy of highlighting for the way it will be met with a great deal of amusement by anyone familiar with USMC war fighting doctrine or even general military history.

The Marine Corps’ style of warfare requires intelligent leaders with a penchant for boldness and initiative down to the lowest levels.

His theories about war’s implicit causes notwithstanding, it’s obvious that Dawkins hasn’t paid any attention to developments in warfare over the last 150 years, because the Third Generation Warfare waged by the Kaiserheer, the Wehrmacht, and the U.S. Marines is designed around the very concept of personal initiative he claims to be martially ineffectual. Fourth Generation Warfare, which describes the decentralized war of the sort waged by the Viet Minh, the Mujahideen, or al-Qaeda doesn’t even possess a central command structure capable of giving the orders that Dawkins believes are so vital to martial success. As for the relevant empirical evidence, it is almost unanimously contrary to Dawkins’s theoretical assertion in light of how 4GW forces designed around independent low-level initiative have been extraordinarily successful, so much so that the martial theoretician who articulated the concept, William S. Lind, gloomily notes that “Almost everywhere, the state is losing.” (142-143)


Once again, Vox picks on what can easily be considered not even a main part of Dawkins' argument and it also misses the point Dawkins was trying to get across to begin with. Even more, Vox failed to cite the location of this quote so I had to hunt for it. It can be found on page 175 of the 2006 hardback edition.

Dawkins was discussing the origins of religion and attempting to give a possible account of its evolutionary explanation. Where he is quoted, Dawkins is discussing the fact that children are 'programmed' by evolution, so to speak, to obey their parents and other authority figures so as to ensure their protection. He writes,


More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations, and that experience needs to be passed on to children for their protection and well-being. Theoretically, children might learn from personal experience not to go too near a cliff edge, not to eat untried red berries, not to swim in crocodile-infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains that posses the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents; obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders without question. This is a generally valuable rule for a child. But, as with moths, it can go wrong. [1]


Following up his few sentences about the military Dawkins concludes,


If I have done by softening-up work well, you will already have completed my argument about child brains and religion. Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal leaders tell them. Such trusting obedience is valuable for survival: the analogue of steering by the moon for a moth. But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. [2]


All Dawkins was discussing in this chapter was the field of evolutionary psychology and some possible reasons religion persists. There is nothing wrong with taking note of theories that are being proposed by others to help explain a human phenomenon such as religion.

Vox continues,


(3) Atheist Respect for Architecture

It’s not hard to demonstrate that Richard Dawkins has been almost as successful in remaining as ignorant of world history as he has of warfare. He betrays an astonishing lack of knowledge about the Spanish Civil War or the atrocious acts of the previous century’s most notorious atheists when he declares with great confidence:

I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame, the Shwe Dagon, the temples of Kyoto or, of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

[…]

The empirical evidence simply blows away another of Richard Dawkins’s ontological arguments. Dawkins isn’t just wrong, he is spectacularly incorrect. In place of the 41,000 Soviet churches destroyed between 1917 and 1969 I could have as easily cited any of the many thousands of historical examples of similar behavior in atheist-run Spain, Poland, Romania, or East Germany to prove that not only are there many atheists in the world who have done exactly what Dawkins believes to be inconceivable, but that architectural devastation is far more likely to be committed by atheists than by the believers of all the various religions in the world combined. (143-144)


Once again...another very minor point. It's absolutely true that Dawkins is spectacularly wrong but this is yet another minor point among other more important arguments Dawkins made in The God Delusion. Why Vox didn't concentrate on more of the major arguments I have no idea. I suppose it's easier to take pot shots at someone's work, pointing out small flaws, rather than dealing with the major contentions made. This is “safe” for Vox to do. He can declare “victory” by pointing out several minor errors rather than dealing with the majority of his main contentions. That is an amateurish way to write a refutation.

Following that, Vox writes,


(4) The Inherent Goodness of Humanity and Moral Gradients

Dawkins finds it hard to believe that people would become callous, selfish hedonists without God. Setting aside the fact that his most successful atheist counterpart, Michel Onfray, is arguing specifically for a philosophy of hedonism to replace Dawkins’s own compromise with Christian morality, the evidence suggests that this is exactly what should be expected. Dawkins may even suspect as much, since he refers to himself as perhaps being naïve and a Pollyanna while relating a tale of the massive disorder that accompanied a strike by the Montreal police in 1969.

It has been established that Christians give three times more to charity and are less criminal than the broad spectrum of atheists; experiments at the Economic Science Laboratory suggest that this might be because they believe that their actions are known to God. In variations on an envelope experiment designed to test random charity on the part of a subject who was given ten dollars as well as the opportunity to share it anonymously, the knowledge that the experimenter was watching increased the subject’s likelihood of giving by 142 percent and the amount given by 146 percent.

Furthermore, Dawkins erroneously states that behaving in a traditionally moral manner in the absence of policing is somehow “more moral” than the very same behavior when it is witnessed. This confuses action with intent and reveals a basic misunderstanding of the nature of Christian morality. It is an aspect of the common atheist fallacy that I describe as the Argument from Superior Morals in Chapter XIV. (145)


I'm familiar with this common response that Christians give more to charity than atheists, and therefore they're supposedly more moral. However, as I've shown previously, atheists are just as moral as Christians – if not a little more so – as determined by a multitude of studies. As far as the issue of charity directly, Tom Rees, who often writes on the sociology of religion at his website Epiphenom, tackles this issue,


If you look at different countries around the world you'll find that there is, in fact, quite a strong correlation between religiosity and how wealth is shared out. But here's the interesting thing: the direction of the correlation is the opposite of what you would expect if religion did actually lead to more giving. Charity is a form of wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor. But if religion leads to greater charity, it does not appear to have any meaningful effect. So what's going on?

Well, one possibility is that atheists are just as altruistic as the religious - altruism is, after all, an inherently human attribute. Maybe they just don't do charity to the same extent.

A major demotivator for giving to charity is the presence of free riders. These are people who don't contribute, but who benefit anyway. If you give to a heart research charity, then everyone benefits whether they contribute or not. If you give to a charity for the homeless, then unless you give an enormous sum your donation will be a vanishingly small portion of the total. So there is a temptation to be a free-rider yourself. The free-rider effect occurs because the utility of charitable giving (i.e. the benefit that accrues to the donor from giving, compared with the benefit that would accrue from keeping the money) is low.

One way to get round this problem is to make giving non-anonymous. If you do this then the donor benefits because their social standing is increased. Two of the most substantial private donors in recent times, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, both benefited in this way from their donations. Both Buffet and Gates are non-religious. And it's interesting that non-religious doctors are just as likely to work with the needy as religious doctors. This is an environment in which the the donor and the recipient are directly connected - one human to another. And here religion (or lack of it) makes no difference.

Religion can help to counterbalance the free-rider effect. Those religions that include a reward in the afterlife increase the utility of charitable giving to believers, because it provides them with a personal benefit. So religious believers with an incentive to give, even when there are free-riders around.

For altruistic atheists, however, the free-rider effect is much more pertinent. One secular way to get around the free-rider effect is to make giving from rich to poor compulsory, rather than voluntary. In other words, they might prefer that wealth is redistributed via taxation and the welfare state, rather than by voluntary donations. For the religious, this would actually decrease utility because taxation would reduce their surplus cash and so reduce the potential for them to give to charity and reap supernatural rewards.

But is there any evidence that this is true? Well, if it was then you might expect that countries with a high proportion of atheists would have a larger welfare state. And indeed that is exactly what you see. Gill and Lundsgaarde have analysed [sic] a cross-section of countries, and found that those countries with more atheists also have higher state welfare spending.

So you see, it is not true to say that more atheists will lead to a selfish, dog-eat-dog society where the weak go to the wall. Atheists are every bit as caring as the religious. They just go about it in different ways. [3]


As far as Dawkins' statement that it's “more moral” to not be seen being good I shall deal with in the section Vox mentions later on.

On to “error” number five. Thus far, I find this section on Dawkins to be worse than the one about Harris. At least Vox covered more main arguments of Harris'. But in later arguments I'm aware Vox tackles Dawkins' arguments against god so we'll see how he does with those arguments.


(5) The Equation of Christian Theocracy with Islamic Fascism

Dawkins claims that the goal to have a Christian nation built on God’s Law and the Ten Commandments “can only be called a Christian fascist state” and claims that it is “an almost exact mirror image” of an Islamic fascist state. This is preposterous on several levels.

There have been hundreds of Christian kingdoms and principalities that incorporated the Ten Commandments and aspects of biblical law into the foundation of their legal systems, and a tiny fraction of them have been fascist. Dawkins himself lives in one such historically Christian nation; Queen Elizabeth II also happens to be the current Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Fascism is not merely a word that means “scary,” it is a specific historical ideology no less readily identifiable than Marxism or Communism. While there were avowedly fascist governments in the Christian nations of Italy and Austria, there is no such thing as Islamic fascism. Islamic fascism does not exist and it has never existed, either as a political ideology or a practical system of government. The concept is a meaningless term of propaganda used primarily by American neocons and third-rate political pundits seeking to stir up public support for the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism during the lead-up to the Iraqi invasion; it is already falling out of the political discourse. (145-146)


Vox seems to miss the point here. The point of the term “American Taliban” is to compare the similarities between the fundamentalist Islamists with the american Christians who both seek to gain dominance over the political system (at least the Christians do; the “Sharia does not allow politics or political parties” [4]) of the two countries and enforce their fundamentalist views of religion upon society. That's it. There have been several books about the fundamentalist Christians who seek political power and their stated goals. Two books that immediately come to mind are American Fascists, by Chris Hedges and Kingdom Coming, by Michelle Goldberg. Such similarities include their religious fundamentalism of course, their subjection of women, [5] inequality, etc. [6]

While not identical in every detail, their religious fundamentalism and goals of dominance are their main similarities, those differences are mostly trivial as their stated goals are ultimately the same.

Next up is Vox's take on Dawkins and his accusations of “child abuse.”


(6) Catholicism Is More Damaging Than Childhood Sexual Abuse

Richard Dawkins is perhaps one of the last men on Earth who should be discussing what is the right and proper way to raise children, given that the number of his wives outnumbers his offspring. But while he can accept both child abandonment and childhood sexual abuse with dispassionate fortitude, it is the horrible crime of raising children in the faith of their fathers that upsets him due to his belief that the fear of Hell is more psychologically damaging than childhood sexual abuse in the long term. (146)


First of all, the number of wives a man has had does not affect the ability of being a loving and compassionate father. Second, this was an “off the cuff remark” that Dawkins blurted out during a lecture and simply used this personal story as a segue to his actual point, which was the psychological harm of scaring young children with threats of hell and punishment. It's not that raising children in a religious environment in and of itself can be equated with the harm of sexual abuse. Dawkins writes, in context,


Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience. […] But I was reminded of the incident later when I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents' church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst. (emphasis mine) [7]


For the rest of the chapter Dawkins continues to argue how “it is at least possible for psychological abuse of children to outclass physical” and cites Jill Mytton and those she councils as examples. [8] He finishes the chapter explaining how he feels it is wrong to “label” children with the religion of their parents and that “religion is something for [a child] to choose – or reject – when she becomes old enough to do so.” [9] The topic under discussion are threats of hell being abusive towards children and that it's wrong to force beliefs on a child when they're too young to understand them to begin with.

Making use of this strawman Vox writes,


Dr. Jonathan R.T. Davidson of the Duke University Medical Center is not quite so blasé about the psychological damage of sexual abuse, as his 1996 study found that the chances of sexually abused women attempting suicide were three times higher if they had been sexually abused before the age of sixteen. In the same study, Davidson determined that women who had been sexually assaulted were six times more likely to attempt suicide than those who had not. As for long-term effects, the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported that 67 percent of women over fifty diagnosed with major depression who had been sexually abused as children had made multiple suicide attempts, compared with 27 percent of depressed women over fifty who had not been abused. The study also found that middle-aged women who were sexually abused were more likely to suffer at least one other major mental disorder and possess a lifetime history of substance abuse.

As for the proposed psychological damage of being raised Catholic, all of the scientific evidence directly contradicts the notion, despite those compelling anecdotes about filmmakers and failed Romeos. A report in the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded that the religious faithful, most of whom were presumably raised religious, were much psychologically healthier than the irreligious.

Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation....In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder.

[…]

While there is no evidence that being raised Catholic is more psychologically damaging than being sexually abused as a child, there is a great deal of evidence proving the opposite. I suggest, therefore, that the reader would do very well to follow Richard Dawkins’s paternal advice and think very carefully before believing a single word that Dawkins says. (147-149)


Dawkins is simply arguing that it is 'abusive' to force feed children their parents' religion and to scare them with threats of hell. Nothing about how a religious upbringing is on par with sexual abuse. But if it's sexual abuse Vox wishes to discuss let's ask just who is more likely to be a sexual predator?

Here are a few studies that have looked into the religion of sex offenders:


Donna Eshuys and Stephen Smallbone of Griffith University in Australia assessed 111 incarcerated adult male sexual offenders. They categorised them as either atheists, religious dropouts, new converts, and lifelong religious stayers.

Surprisingly, they found that this last group (those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood) had more sexual offence convictions, more victims, and younger victims, than other groups. This relationship persisted after controlling for other factors that might explain it.

A similar study comes from Israel, and looked at Jewish male prisoners. As in the UK, religious individuals were rarer in prison than in wider society (by religious they mean orthodox observant Jews, who made up 3.75% of the prison population, compared with 20% of the general population). However, those religious Jews who were in prison were more likely to be in for sex crimes.

Lastly, Ruth Stout-Miller and colleagues interviewed freshman at a Southern University, and found that those who had been sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions (while those abused by a non-relative were more likely to be non-religious). [10]


Because Vox has failed to address Dawkins' actual criticisms there is nothing else to discuss regarding this topic.

This next “error” is the most ridiculous of them all. He actually takes up an issue with Dawkins praising Sam Harris!


(7) The Infallibility of Sam Harris

As was demonstrated by the unfortunate citation of Harris’s erroneous Red State-Blue State argument vivisected in the previous chapter, Dawkins’s faith in Sam Harris is both ill-founded and poorly rewarded. Even more damaging to Dawkins’s credibility, though, is the foreword to the British edition of Letter to a Christian Nation in which he writes:

If you are part of the target, I dare you to read this book. It will be a salutary test of your faith. Survive Sam Harris’s barrage, and you can take on the world with equanimity. But forgive my skepticism: Harris never misses, not with a single sentence, which is why his short book is so disproportionately devastating.

While my faith has been tested on more than one occasion, I cannot say that the short slog through Letter to a Christian Nation was one of them. (149)


While it's true that Harris did indeed “miss” on a handful of things, as I demonstrated, his books are not as badly argued as Vox would like his readers to believe. Once again, another pointless objection.

Finally, Vox tackles a main argument of Dawkins'. His argument against god. Vox writes,


1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a “crane,” not a “skyhook,” for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.


[…]

While Dawkins’s complaint that the theistic answer to the design’s improbability is unsatisfying because it leaves the existence of the designer unexplained is fair, his subsequent assertion that “A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself” is not. […] There is no reason why a designer must necessarily be more complex than his design. The verity of the statement depends entirely on the definition of complexity. While Dawkins doesn’t specifically provide one, in explaining his “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit,” he refers to the Argument from Improbability as being rooted in “the source of all the information in living matter.” Complexity, to Dawkins, is therefore equated with information.

But as any programmer knows, mass quantities of information can easily be produced from much smaller quantities of information. A fractal is perhaps the most obvious example of huge quantities of new information being produced from a very small amount of initial information. For example, thirty-two lines of C++ code suffice to produce a well-known fractal known as the Sierpinski Triangle.

Despite their informational simplicity, fractals are not only considered to be complex, but infinitely complex. Nor do they require human intelligence or computers to produce them, as approximate fractals can be found in clouds, snowflakes, lightning, mountains, and other natural examples. This demonstration of complexity from simplicity could be termed the Fractal Intelligence response to the theoretical problem of the Complex Designer posed by Dawkins. (152-153, 155)


I would have to agree with Vox here. Even theists point out that in theology they describe god as “simple,” though at the same time, I find the entire idea ludicrous because these mere mortals claim to know the essence of this supposedly supreme being. Sure, theologians have been saying for centuries that god is simple but how do they know this?! While Dawkins' argument goes against the standard theology these arguments do show naturalistic scenarios for things god is usually used to explain, thus making god less likely, but I believe there are better arguments utilizing science to disprove god than Dawkins' arguments anyhow, such as those by Victor Stenger.

Vox continues,


His supposedly “unrebuttable argument” is already refuted at this point, but it’s only fair to follow its last three steps.

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that—an illusion.

5. We don’t yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology.


Dawkins visits the wreckage of his train of thought, pours lighter fluid over it, and sets it on fire by bringing up the multiverse concept, an utterly non-scientific theory invented solely to get around the problem of the anthropic principle. (156)


On the contrary, the multiverse theory was developed long before in 1957 by Hugh Everett III. The “many worlds” hypothesis was a way of using quantum mechanics to explain certain observations. It was not created to get around anything. [11]

I won't bother to address Vox's discussion of Dawkins' final piece of his argument. It's just more ridicule.

While I believe Vox effectively refuted part of Dawkins' argument against god he did little else. Dawkins' argument is one that shows how natural processes have replaced god as the best explanation for the “design” and “fine-tuning” we see in nature, but Vox did nothing to answer this and only focused on the supposed simplicity of god.

Most of Vox's criticisms were incorrect, were directed towards unimportant claims, or were misinterpretations of his arguments. The only thing he got partially correct here was his last complaint against Dawkins.

Chapter 9: A Marxian Apostate

This chapter deals with...or rather mostly avoids the third New Atheist: Christopher Hitchens. Vox starts the chapter discussing Hitchens' debate with Douglas Wilson and how he fails to give a satisfactory answer about morality. He then moves on to arguing that,


[O]n page 150, where Hitchens performs an epic feat of intellectual self-evisceration that is impressive even by the lofty standards of one who has survived the tedious slog through the morass of Sam Harris’s two exercises in self-parody. Incredibly, Hitchens declares that “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence,” thus granting the critic carte blanche to legitimately dismiss the greater portion of Hitchens’s own book.

One would assume that having staked out such a position, Hitchens would have been careful to supply substantial evidence in support of all his arguments. This is not the case. Here is a table of fifty-one assertions made by Hitchens, each made completely sans evidence, taken from every single one of the nineteen chapters of god is not Great. (166-167)


Vox's 51 examples are, I'm sorry to say, mostly pathetic. Not a single one deals with any main argument in Hitchens' book. Most of the statements that are highlighted do have a factual basis and those who are familiar with the subject matter should know what Hitchens is talking about and the evidence for that statement. Vox complains about the following statement made in god is not Great,


We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. (167)


Vox comments in the footnote,


It seems Mr. Hitchens didn’t look very hard. Or, in light of how easy it was to find several such statistics, at all. (167)


As I've shown in earlier chapters this is not the case. The fact is that several studies actually support Hitchens' statement, and Vox's skewering of the prison statistics doesn't help his case against this fact either.

After taking up about four pages of quoting these 'unsupported' statements Vox writes,


Since we are reliably informed that assertions made without evidence can be refuted without the need to supply any refuting evidence, all fifty-one statements listed above are hereby dismissed with prejudice. (171)


Because Vox provided no argument against them, I won't bother to defend Hitchens on those points (with the exception of the one about atheist and theist morality) since Vox doesn't bother to note his specific complaints. Even more, none of these assertions deal with any of the main contentions made by Hitchens in any chapter. Again, Vox is avoiding the main arguments and taking pot shots but this time is even more pathetic since he doesn't give any reasons why he disagrees and fails to cite a single main argument from any chapter. At least with Dawkins or Harris Vox managed to argue against at least one main argument.

Next, Vox repeats what is probably the most common criticism of god is not Great: the subtitle, How Religion Poisons Everything. Vox is right to point out the fact that it seems Hitchens got a little carried away with his rhetoric there. However, I don't agree with Vox's dismissal of Hitchens' story about religion delaying the spread of the polio vaccine. Vox writes,


[…] the only point he substantiates is the way he personally witnessed how religion interfered with the polio eradication programs in India in 2001. And even this turns out to have been a minor setback, as the World Health Organization declared in June 2007 that “in all four endemic countries, type 1 polio has been successfully cornered.” (172)


The problem with Vox's argument is that this was about six years later, and had religion not interfered, polio might not have claimed any more lives and we could have stopped it in its tracks right there. But, as Vox notes, it took several more years to 'corner' it when we may have been able to eradicate it six years earlier if religion hadn't stopped the immunization process. Vox further argues that,


This is no credit to the religious lunatics who interfered and delayed this success, but it also shows that religion is not the lethal obstacle to manifestly decent and worthwhile human endeavors that Hitchens portrays it to be. (172)


This is a completely heartless and cruel statement. People are still dead because of interference with the spread of the vaccine. How many lives could have been saved? Even if the number of people who died was low that's no excuse. Those people still lost their lives due to a superstitious and ignorant belief because of religion. Religion surely has blood on its hands and sweeping it under the rug by arguing that the numbers killed are not that great is just...too immoral and cruel for words. The things religious people will sacrifice to defend their beliefs just amazes me...even if that sacrifice is their compassion for humanity.

Vox then attempts to counter a few arguments from god is not Great. He writes,


1. It wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos.

Hitchens might as well reasonably reject science on the same petty basis, considering the wide range of abiogenetic hypotheses, cosmological creation myths, and astrophysical fiction currently on offer. Is he similarly opposed to DNA because Francis Crick subscribed to the Directed Panspermia hypothesis and an X-Files variant of Intelligent Design dependent upon space-traveling aliens? (173)


First of all, this was proposed in the early 1970's and other more likely theories have been proposed since, such as life arising in the oceans from the thermal vents. Second, in the paper written by Crick and Orgel they say very clearly that there is no direct evidence for this theory yet, but that it's one possibility, and it could explain some aspects of the chemistry of life.

Crick and Orgel write,


Are there many planets which could be infected with some chance of success? It is believed, though the evidence is weak and indirect, that in the galaxy many stars of a size not dissimilar to our Sun, have planets, on a fair fraction of which temperatures are suitable for a form of life based on carbon chemistry and liquid water, as ours is. Experimental studies of the production of organic chemicals under prebiotic conditions make it seem likely that a rich prebiotic soup accumulates on a high proportion of such Earthlike planets. [1] (emphasis mine)


Later on they explain how this theory could explain some curious features of the chemistry of life. One example is DNA.


It is a little surprising that organisms with somewhat different [genetic] codes do not coexist. The universality of the code follows naturally from an “infective” theory for the origins of life. [2]


Crick was proposing a hypothesis that could explain our origins, and gave some reasonable reasons why, though admitted that the existence of a required alien civilization was not confirmed yet. But the larger point here is that there are a variety of theories about the origin of life and until science discovers more evidence we'll just have to be content to say, “We don't know,” and continue searching for answers.

The difference between these scientific theories and the stories of religion is that the scientific theories have at least some evidence going for them. In the case of Crick, they argued that their theory explained some unexplained features of our chemical composition. Shallow thermal vents have the required chemicals and heat to begin a chemical reaction. [3] While there are still unknowns and several theories floating out there, one thing they all have in common is some form of evidence; something religions' fables do not have.

Vox continues,


2. It combines the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism.

This is alliteration, not a genuine objection. And it is incorrect. Orwell’s “boot in the face forever” is arguably the best conceptual expression of the maximum of servility and it is a secular one, given religion’s preference for eschatological scenarios over steady-state theories. (173)


I don't find this objection the least bit effective and it's not even a main point in Hitchens' book anyway.


3. It is the cause of dangerous sexual repression..

There are loads of evidence that it is not sexual repression, but the absence of sexual repression that is dangerous. Abstinence never killed anyone, but AIDS certainly has. Male homosexuals are the least sexually repressed humans on the planet; they also happen to enjoy the shortest life expectancy. While sexual repression might explain the horrific history of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergymen, it does not explain the much greater incidence of sexual abuse by secular educators in the public school system. (173-174)


There have been a few studies, which I mentioned earlier, that show that religious individuals seem to be the most responsible for sex crimes. [4] Just because it's a “secular” school system doesn't mean that the teachers do not have religious beliefs.


4. It is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.

This is an irrelevant and tautological statement. “I object to something in which I don’t believe because it is not true.” All human action is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking, indeed, all technological advancement is. It is not a reasonable basis for an objection to religion; the statement might as easily be applied to the airline industry. (174)


Again, another unimportant objection and the fact is that religion has been shown to ease anxiety, thus giving a foundation for the common argument that religion is believed in for comfort. [5] Therefore, the idea that it is nothing but “wish thinking” in order to ease comfort is strengthened. Besides, his airline industry is a horrible comparison because we've proven we can fly. Science was responsible for this achievement. Where is the evidence for religion's claims? Where is the proof? It's nowhere to be found.

After this failure to point out anything of significance in Hitchens' book Vox finally addresses a few things about the bible, which is closer to hitting a main point but not quite.


In discussing the Bible, Hitchens claims that the four Gospels were not in any sense a historical record and states their multiple authors “cannot agree on anything of importance.” His only source is Bart Ehrman, an apostate former evangelical whose Misquoting Jesus is an interesting and respected textual criticism of the inerrant inspiration of the New Testament. But Hitchens is apparently unaware that Ehrman has been forced to admit that the Gospels are in accordance that 1) Jesus was crucified and buried, 2) his tomb was discovered to be empty, 3) his disciples believed they encountered him after his death, and 4) his disciples sincerely believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The reason Ehrman claims these are not reliable historical accounts is because there is divergence between details relating to what time of day Jesus died, whether he carried his cross alone or not, who went to the tomb, and whether the disciples went to Galilee and then returned to Jerusalem. But as the journalist Hitchens should be aware, even eyewitness accounts tend to vary greatly when it comes to the particulars. In any case, it is a substantial exaggeration to state that the Gospels do not agree on anything of importance. (174-175)


I'd have agree with this, though the bible does disagree on several serious issues. One very serious detail that the biblical authors do not agree on are the resurrection accounts. Yes, Vox argues that “ eyewitness accounts tend to vary greatly” but some of the discrepancies are glaring. Who in their right mind would not notice an earthquake or people coming out of their graves, which are in some accounts and not others?

Vox continues and makes an excuse about why no evidence has yet been found for the Exodus,


While it’s true, as Hitchens happily points out, that Israeli archeologists haven’t located archeological evidence of the exodus from Egypt, this was also once true of the “mythical” Nineveh, discovered in 1850, and the “nonexistent” Hittite Empire discovered in 1906. (175)


The old, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” canard. This is an illogical argument because evidence that should be there had something actually taken place would have been found by now. This is especially true since after so much effort has been made to verify the Exodus story, but after extensive digs in various places not a shred of evidence has been found. Finkelstein and Silberman point out the fact that,


[N]ot a single campsite or sign of occupation from the time of Ramesses II and his immediate predecessors and successors has ever been identified in Sinai. And it has not been for lack of trying. Repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the peninsula, including the mountainous area around the traditional site of Mount Sinai, near Saint Catherine's Monastery, have yielded only negative evidence: not even a single shred, no structure, not a single house, no trace of an ancient encampment. [6]


Next, Vox cites errors in Hitchens' book argued by Mark D. Roberts from his website. Again, not a single item on the list is focused on any of Hitchens' main claims. Some of them are just plain idiotic.


Roberts, a seminary professor, also explains that Hitchens made fifteen factual errors and sixteen substantial distortions or misunderstandings of the evidence in god is not Great. He lists the fifteen factual errors as follows:

1. Scholars estimate the date of Jesus’s birth to be 6 b.c., not 4 a.d.


This is irrelevant. This may have been nothing more than a typo and scholars date Jesus' birth between 4 to 6 BC, so all Hitchens got wrong was the era. I also want to point out that Vox, I felt, was a little dishonest in not mentioning the fact that scholars date the birth of Jesus from 4 to 6 b.c., so it's not as if Hitchens' mistake was very significant. Even Roberts mentioned this fact in his critique.


2. Bart D. Ehrman’s name is not Barton.


Come on...are you serious!?!?


3. The four Gospels are in accord regarding thirty-three key facts about Jesus, not zero.


Despite some points of agreement, there are several points of non-agreement as well. Hitchens mentions a few of these. Apparently, there are also enough discrepancies about Jesus' life to write an entire book. Likely many more than Robert's 33 points of agreement. But the point has been made. Hitchens is guilty of an overstatement. [7]


4. Not all four Gospels are supposed to be based on Q, only Matthew and Luke.

5. Jesus was not the only one to mention Hell. Paul, Peter, Jude, and John did as well.

6. Jesus did not invent the concept of Hell. It is mentioned in earlier Jewish writings.

7. The Nag Hammâdi “Gospels” were codices, not scrolls, and they were not written in the same period as the canonical Gospels, but later.


Actually, according to Elaine Pagels, some of the Gnostic gospels are actually earlier. In fact, some scholars believe, such as Professor Helmut Koester, that “the collection of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, although complied c. 140, may include some traditions even older than the gospels of the New Testmament, 'possibly as early as the second half of the first century' (50-100) – as early as, or earlier, than Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.” [8]


8. No one was killed over the debate regarding which of the Gospels should be considered divinely inspired. Hitchens writes that “many a life was horribly lost.”

9. H. L. Mencken was a journalist who had no capacity for judging whether the New Testament documents were tampered with or not. His assertion is by no means “irrefutable.”


The fact is that Mencken was right.


10. Tacitus does mention an Augustan Census in the Annals. Augustus himself mentions three, 28 b.c., 8 b.c., and 14 a.d., in his Acts of Augustus.

11. Scholars do not consider the eyewitness claims to have witnessed the Crucifixion to be fraudulent, let alone patently so.

12. The Apostle Paul never expresses either fear of women or contempt for them.


On the contrary, 1 Timothy says, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14, NIV) Of course, in reality, it seems fairly certain that Paul didn't actually write this, but it was originally attributed to him.


13. It is not true that no Christian authority has ever addressed the perceived “contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament” except in terms of “metaphor” and “a Christ of Faith.”


It all depends on what Hitchens is referring to here, and he is so vague that it's uncertain. However, many Christian apologists do often argue that some of the unethical sayings of Jesus are metaphorical, such as Matthew 10:34-36 or Luke 19:27.


14. All scholars agree that the nature of the Gospels is at least partially literal.


I don't see the problem with this statement. Roberts writes,


[Quoting Hitchens:] Either the Gospels are in some sense literal truth, or the whole thing is essentially a fraud and perhaps an immoral one at that. Well, it can be stated with certainty, and on their own evidence, that the Gospels are most certainly not literal truth. This means that many of the "sayings" and teachings of Jesus are hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay, which helps explain their garbled and contradictory nature." (120)

[Roberts Replies:] Virtually every scholar I've read, including the most skeptical, would agree that the Gospels are "in some sense literal truth." The proof is that virtually every scholar who says anything about Jesus of Nazareth bases his or her history on the "facts" of the Gospels. So when a scholar states that Jesus was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate, this scholar takes at least that part of the Gospel account as literal truth.

It's hard to know what Hitchens means by saying that the Gospels, "on their own evidence . . . are most certainly not literal truth." But whatever he means, this cannot be sustained by a close reading of the Gospels. Now, let me add, that very few scholars, including conservative Christians, would argue that the Gospels are merely literal truth. They believe there is something more in the text. They are literal truth shaped in light of theological conviction. This isn't a new idea. The Gospel writers say this very thing (see Luke 1:1-4, for example).

The "hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay" claim shows ignorance of the oral culture in which the Gospel traditions were passed down. It's an anachronistic mistake. I would point Hitchens to Bauckham's book, Jesus and the Eyewitness, and to Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant Through Peasant Eyes.

Finally, I'd be the first to admit that the sayings of Jesus are sometimes hard to understand. But one who refers to them as "garbled and contradictory" has simply not taken the time to understand them. One can certainly reject Jesus's teaching as untrue, but to criticize them as "garbled and contradictory" says more about the critic than about the teaching itself. [9]


It seems to me that Roberts is splitting hairs. He essentially agrees with Hitchens about most scholars believing that the gospels are partially literal. “By their own evidence” I believe Hitchens is referring to the fact that many of the stories are so incredible, such as the various miracles, it just seems like a case of ancient story telling.


15. Hitchens invents and exaggerates disagreements about the Gospels. The “disagreement” about Peter’s denial is whether the cock crowed once or twice; it is not a matter for scholarly theological debate. (175-177)


Vox misquotes Roberts' criticism here. He was not referring to scholarly disagreements about Peter's denial, but the fact that the bible contains contradictory stories about whether the rooster crowed once or twice. Roberts writes,


The story of Peter's denial, for example, is found in Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, and Luke 22:54-62. The three accounts are very similar, both in English and in the original Greek. The major difference has to do with whether the rooster crowed once or twice. But this could hardly be an example of the Gospel writers disagreeing wildly. [10] (emphasis mine)


Most of these are petty mistakes and do not even come close to addressing the vast majority of Hitchens' complaints. This chapter, at least thus far, had to have been the worst. I won't comment on the rest of Vox's ramblings. It can be safely said that Vox, nor Mark Roberts, tackled any of the main criticisms of Hitchens'. Vox came closer than Roberts, but didn't quite get there. god is not Great's main purpose is to show that religion is false, man-made, and oftentimes harmful. None of these objections do anything to refute Hitchens' main arguments regarding those claims.

As I said previously, and this goes double for this chapter on Hitchens: I suppose it's easier to take pot shots at someone's work, pointing out small flaws, rather than dealing with the major contentions made. This is “safe” for Vox to do (and Roberts). He can declare “victory” by pointing out several minor errors rather than dealing with the majority of his main contentions. That is an amateurish way to write a refutation.

Chapter 10: The Pragmatic Philosopher

This chapter is about Daniel C. Dennett, the last of the “Four Horsemen.” It's immediately apparent that Vox has some respect for Dennett, unlike the other three New Atheists, but Vox makes some mistakes in this chapter as well. Vox starts off explaining how he believes Dennett's book Breaking the Spell was (for the most part) an even-handed look at the question of whether or not religion should be subjected to scientific inquiry. Vox writes,


Breaking the Spell is substantially different than any of the four books on religion written by the Unholy Trinity. Despite being every bit as ignorant of the theological, historical, and demographical basics as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, Dennett’s book is far from a polemic, even if he can’t quite resist giving in to the customary atheist chest-thumping. I suppose one shouldn’t condemn a man who believes he descended from apes for behaving like one; at least the feces-flinging is kept to a minimum. For in Breaking the Spell, instead of assuming that God is a delusion, asserting that religion is bad, and announcing that science is finally on the verge of bringing an end to faith, Dennett merely argues for putting both our positive and our negative assumptions about religion aside in order to take a rational scientific look at precisely what religion offers Mankind.

This is an eminently reasonable perspective, especially in contrast with the wild-eyed scaremongering of the Unholy Trinity, although it is a little strange that it should take an academic philosopher to remind the ex-scientist and the would-be scientist that if one hopes to make a convincing scientific case, it helps to actually gather the evidence and examine it. (180)


Vox brings up his previously mentioned stats about atheists again. He says,


In looking at the matter from an evolutionary perspective, Dennett suggests several possibilities to explain how religion might be of benefit to someone, somewhere. Cui bono? he asks. His first suggestion is to consider the way it can bring out the best in individuals. Religion may not be the only phenomenon to do so, but Dennett does not question that it does. While he suggests that it could be possible to design a synthetic replacement that would do so even more efficiently, the suggestion is weakened by his incorrect insistence that atheists are more law-abiding, more sensitive to the needs of others, and more ethical than others. While this may be true if one cherry-picks the data and looks only at the High Church atheist, there is a plethora of evidence that a comparison of all atheists to all Christians will not favor the former, whether one looks at crime rates, divorce rates, birth rates, democratic participation, or charitable giving. (182)


Sorry, Vox, but I refuted your claims about some lack of atheist morality in my review of chapter one. Regarding divorce rates, the statistics are also mixed. Phil Zuckerman writes,


Some studies report that non-religious people have higher rates of divorce than religious people (Hood et al. 1996; Lehrer and Chiswick 1993; Heaton and Call 1997), but a 1999 Barna study (Barna Research Group Survey 1999, 2007) found that atheists and agnostics actually have lower divorce rates than religious Americans. And according to Kosmin (2008), divorce is a widespread phenomenon that affects the religious and secular in roughly equal measure. [1]


An Associated Press study, using data supplied by the US Census Bureau, also contradicts Vox's claim about divorce rates. The AP reported,


The Associated Press, using data supplied by the US Census Bureau, found that the highest divorce rates are to be found in the Bible Belt. The AP report stated that "the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average of 4.2 per thousand people." The 10 Southern states with some of the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. By comparison nine states in the Northeast were among those with the lowest divorce rates: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. [2]


Next, Vox argues that Dennett is being illogical when discussing his analogy about the ant and blade of grass from the opening chapter of Breaking the Spell. Vox writes,


[T]he philosopher shows himself to be repeatedly susceptible to missing similarly obvious things, usually due to a failure to draw a correct logical conclusion from the evidence on hand. Consider, for example, the way Dennett attempted to explain the ant analogy with which he begins Breaking the Spell to an interviewer for Salon:

Tell us the story from your new book about the ant and the blade of grass.

Suppose you go out in the meadow and you see this ant climbing up a blade of grass and if it falls it climbs again. It’s devoting a tremendous amount of energy and persistence to climbing up this blade of grass. What’s in it for the ant? Nothing. It’s not looking for a mate or showing off or looking for food. Its brain has been invaded by a tiny parasitic worm, a lancet fluke, which has to get into the belly of a sheep or a cow in order to continue its life cycle. It has commandeered the brain of this ant and it’s driving it up the blade of grass like an all-terrain vehicle. That’s how this tiny lancet fluke does its evolutionary work.

Is religion, then, like a lancet fluke?

The question is, does anything like that happen to us? The answer is, well, yes. Not with actual brain worms but with ideas. An idea takes over our brain and gets that person to devote his life to the furtherance of that idea, even at the cost of their own genetics. People forgo having kids, risk their lives, devote their whole lives to the furtherance of an idea, rather than doing what every other species on the planet does—make more children and grandchildren.


It somehow escapes the professor’s attention that it is not the religious portion of the population that is having trouble doing what every other species on the planet does, but rather, the irreligious one. If there is a metaphorical lancet fluke to be blamed for anti-evolutionary human behavior, then it is atheist secularism that most accurately fits the analogy now that the Shakers and Skoptsi are no more. Indeed, the demographic performance of secular post-Christian societies over the last fifty years suggests that from a grand historical perspective, modern atheist secularism will be seen as a fluke indeed. (183-184)


As Vox has done throughout this book, he completely goes around the point of the analogy: that religion is a meme; a “mind virus,” much like the lancet fluke.

Next Vox writes,


Dennett also digs another logical hole for himself when he admits that only a tiny fraction of humanity understands what he describes as “the ultimate talismanic formula of science,” Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. He has no problem with the fact that most people are content to accept this scientific dogma on faith and leave the burden of understanding the details to the priesthood of scientific experts, then, seventy-seven pages later, turns around and declares that it is personally immoral for the religious faithful to practice this very same division of doxastic labor by placing trust in their pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams to make their moral decisions for them. Dennett attempts to justify these contrary stances by stating that the difference is that the scientific priesthood really know what they’re doing, that they understand their formulas and use them to achieve amazingly accurate results, while the religious priesthood do not.

But Dennett is demonstrably incorrect on both scores. Dennett’s two favorite sciences, cognitive science and evolutionary biology, are primarily distinguished by the way in which no one understands exactly how anything works nor has managed to construct any significant formulas, let alone achieve any results demonstrating the precision of the quantum electrodynamic calculations cited in Dennett’s example. Dennett himself confesses that human consciousness is a mystery, a phenomenon that people don’t even know how to think about yet, and while he is rather more sanguine about the achievements of evolutionary biology, he admits that the science which began with the Origin of Species still regards the way in which species begin to be a mystery, too, albeit one with more of the details filled in. (184-185)


There are several problems here. First of all, Vox disregards the topic Dennett is discussing which is the difference between an actual belief in a concept, such as god, and belief in that belief, so Vox has once again ignored a main argument and gone after a lesser point. Second, in his chapter on morality Dennett was explaining that it's 'more moral' to make your own moral decisions instead of allowing someone to tell you what to think about an issue, as many religionists do with their religious authorities. Vox makes it sound as if these two cases of trusting authority are on par with one another but they are not, therefore it's not hypocritical. The reason is because scientific theories that people “trust” in do have evidence for them; they could search for the evidence that evolution is true, or E=mc2. With moral choices, many religionists do not do this and do not think their moral decision through. The bible and their church authority says so and that’s that. Abortion and homosexuality are two common moral issues that many Christians are against, but if you ask why they are against it they do not cite scientific facts or any other reasons. Most times they cite scripture or religious dogma. Allowing someone else to make your moral decisions for you is not a wise practice. Your moral choices are some of the most important decisions you can make and often define who we are and most often affect others, sometimes with disastrous results. The murder of abortion doctors is one such result. This is a far cry from belief in a scientific theory. Moral choices are nearer and dearer to us and how dare anyone decide for us how to shape who we are and what we stand for.

It must also be made clear that Dennett is only criticizing those who hold their moral choices dogmatically and without examining the evidence for that belief. Dennett writes,


That's why those who have an unquestioning faith in the correctness of the moral teachings of their religion are a problem: if they themselves haven't conscientiously considered, on their own, whether their pastors or priests or rabbis or imams are worthy of this delegated authority over their own lives, then they are in fact taking a personally immoral stand. (emphasis in original) [3]


Dennett goes on to explain how if someone wishes to have a place at the table of a discussion about moral issues one should take the personal responsibility to have rational, well thought out reasons for holding the opinions that one does because if one believes that their stand against homosexuality, let's say, is the word of god then you cannot possibly be argued out of that belief. In that case you've become irrational and having you participate in moral discourse is a waste of time since you cannot and will not change your mind, or make concessions since, after all, you believe it's the word of your god. It would be pointless to have such a person at the table of ideas where reasons, evidence, and rationality are the tools by which people ordinarily make important decisions, especially moral ones, that affect others. That's the point Dennett is trying to get across.

I'm not sure of Dennett's reasons for believing that holding moral choices without considering other positions is immoral but I can give my opinion. I believe it's because morality is about human beings as a collective. If you were the only person on earth there would be no such thing as morality since there would be no humans to interact with. The existence of other human beings like yourself necessitates morality. Because your moral choices affect others it is important to make rational, and well-reasoned decisions regarding other human beings. By not taking facts and reason in to consideration and holding fast to a moral choice, or not bothering to look into the matter yourself and just trusting a religious authority, that is immoral precisely because other human beings deserve as much consideration in how they are treated as you'd want for yourself.

Vox next discusses Dennett's ideas about morality. He says,


If Dennett’s weak logic merely provided some ironic amusement with regards to his parable of the parasitic ant, it threatens to become problematic when he attempts to solve the dilemma of moral origins by positing an evolved free will that gives humanity the opportunity to usurp the Blind Watchmaker of natural selection and begin to guide its own evolution. For when asked where society will find its moral foundation, if not from religion, Dennett responds with a tautology:

Rules that we lay down ourselves. . . . Now we can continue to expand the circle and get more people involved, and do it in a less disingenuous way by excising the myth about how this is God’s law. It is our law.

As evidence that moral democracy is theoretically functional, he asserts without evidence that the prison population is distributed according to religious affiliation in the general population, an incorrect assertion that was belied in chapter I. Dennett further claims that “brights” have better family values than born-again Christians based on “the lowest divorce rate in the United States” which depends on the flawed 1999 Barna study instead of the 2001 ARIS study he makes use of later in the book, a much larger study that reaches precisely the opposite conclusion. It is certainly a quixotic assertion, considering that these family value atheists are half as likely to get married, twice as likely to divorce, and have fewer children than any other group in the United States. (187-188)


On the contrary, as I have already demonstrated, Vox dishonestly inflated the atheistic prison population and as far as atheists and divorce I addressed this issue already too.

Vox continues,


The biggest problem is that even if Dennett is correct and there is no magician behind the moral curtain, the positive consequences of revealing this absence may well outweigh the negative ones. Needless to say, philosophers from Socrates to Voltaire and Nietzsche have strongly disagreed with Dennett’s optimistic view despite their similar skepticism about the truth of God’s existence, and what historical and scientific evidence exists tends to support their pessimism. Given that Dennett is not dogmatically opposed to the idea that some knowledge is simply too dangerous to be freely shared with all humanity, it is surprising that he is so willing to roll the dice with civilization in this regard.

In considering the operation of a functional moral system, Dennett simply ignores the practical need for an objective basis and claim to universal authority, Wilson’s “warrant,” if you will. Theists have a perfectly logical and objective basis for the application of their god-based moralities that even the most die-hard rational atheist cannot reject, given the theistic postulate that God actually exists and created the universe. In short, God’s game, God’s rules. If you’re in the game, then the rules apply to you regardless of what you think of the game designer, your opinion about certain aspects of the rule book, or the state of your relationship with the zebras.

Atheists, on the other hand, enjoy no similar logical basis, no objective foundation or universal warrant, which leaves every individual playing his own game and making up his own rules as he goes along. So Dennett finds himself caught in the seemingly senseless act of lauding atheists for behaving in a moral manner according to a morality that he considers groundless and in need of democratic modification.

This is somewhat less senseless than it initially appears, because the primary alternative is to pursue the Harris strategy and claim that atheists are behaving according to a morality that someone could invent if he were to sit down and think hard about it, although no one ever seems to actually have done so. This alternative leaves the atheist to decry actions performed by Muslims and Christians inspired by the dictates of imaginary beings on the basis of a hypothetical morality. Of course the imaginary aspect of his morality does not stop the Harrisian atheist from asserting ontological proof of its existence, to say nothing of its obvious superiority to Christian morality because he hasn’t personally engaged in any Crusades or Spanish Inquisitions. And yet, not only do we know these reason-based moralities don’t exist, we are informed by an unimpeachable source that it is ‘‘quite obvious’’ that they do not exist and have never existed:

“I do not intend this to be a shocking indictment, just a reminder of something quite obvious: no remotely compelling system of ethics has ever been made computationally tractable, even indirectly, for real world moral problems. So, even though there has been no dearth of utilitarian (and Kantian, and contrarian, etc.) arguments in favor of particular policies,institutions, practices, and acts, these have all been heavily hedged with ceteris paribus clauses and plausibility claims about their idealizing assumptions.”

That’s Professor Daniel C. Dennett in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. In that passage, Dennett sounds much more like the great anti-socialist von Hayek demonstrating the impossibility of socialist calculation than a committed socialist desperate to prove socialism is capable of rationally determining necessary price information. But reason can no more deliver functional moral systems than socialism can provide functional pricing models.

One must give Dennett his due for his honesty in admitting that the “universal acid” of Darwin’s dangerous idea tears a huge and gaping hole in the universal moral fabric, and he deserves credit for manfully attempting to lay the groundwork for a means of addressing that hole in the seventeenth chapter of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. (189-191)


First of all, Vox took Dennett out of context. Dennett was explaining how computational moral systems, such as Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics, are not practical because they ask you to do too much calculation for them to be effective in the real world of moral dilemmas. He was not in any way arguing that no reason based ethical system has value. In fact, in the summary of the chapter Dennett writes,


Ethical decision-making, examined from the perspective of Darwin's dangerous idea, hold out scant hope of our ever discovering a formula or an algorithm for doing right. But that is not an occasion for despair; we have the mind-tools we need to design and redesign ourselves, ever searching for better solutions to the problems we create for ourselves and others. (emphasis mine) [4]


Clearly, Dennett says nothing of the kind, that we can't find some moral guidance through reason. Clearly we can, as the social contract is one such example. While I agree it's not perfect, I believe it has some advantages over other theories, mainly in that it gives each individual a choice in their own fate so as to avoid mob rule, which so often is a consequence of so many political and moral systems, even democracy, as we've seen with those religious groups who voted to outlaw same sex marriage.

Second, I completely disagree with Vox that “ [t]heists have a perfectly logical and objective basis for the application of their god-based moralities.” No they don't as I've explained elsewhere. [5] Even their morality is relative. Relative to their god's commands and his desires.

I only have one more complaint about this chapter on Dennett. Vox writes,


The most interesting thing about Breaking the Spell is not the way it differs from the other three atheists’ cases against religion, but the way it specifically refutes them. After Harris does his excellent Chicken Little imitation by clucking about how religion is going to end life on the planet at any moment, Hitchens metaphorically calls the poison control center on it, and Dawkins slanderously asserts that it is worse than child molestation, it comes as a bit of a shock to read Dennett’s calm declaration that the secular proposition that religion does more harm than good, to an individual or to society, “has hardly begun to be properly tested,” let alone conclusively proved. (191-192)


When I read this passage I first believed Dennett was referring to whether or not religious belief was potentially dangerous. After looking up the quote myself it seems that the way Vox presents this partial quote is misleading. Dennett says,


Even the secular and nonpartisan proposition that religion in general does more good than harm, either to the individual believer or to society as a whole, has hardly begun to be properly tested, as we saw in chapters 9 and 10. [6]


I read both chapters nine and ten to see what Dennett was referring to and it wasn't religious violence or how dangerous religion is. In chapter nine Dennett mostly talks about the studies that show religion seems to improve health and notes that it's not known for sure either way yet, and the barriers people put up to the scientific research into religion. I've previously noted several studies about the consequences of religion on health and well-being, both the positive and negative effects. [7] In chapter ten Dennett discusses the subject of morality and religion and concludes that the “presumed relation between spirituality and moral goodness is an illusion.” [8]

Dennett, while seemingly not aware of the several studies I noted earlier about religion and morality, still concurs with the new atheists when he says,


Religion may well not be the root cause of this dangerous yearning [violent behavior]; the Hollywood-inspired desire to lead an adventurous and hence “meaningful” life may play a larger role in multiplying the number of young people who decide to frame their lives in such terms. But religions are certainly the most prolific source of the “moral certainties” and “absolutes” that such zealotry depends on. (emphasis mine) [9]


Some may disagree and argue that the other new atheists believe that religion is the number one cause of all violence, but even Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, said,


Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything. [10]


Propaganda by those who wrongly criticize (and sometimes who rightfully criticize, for they are only human after all and do make mistakes) the new atheists have built up this belief that they all believe religion is the one and only source of all evil and violence, but clearly this isn't the case. However, it seems Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are the two men mostly responsible for this belief, though it is by no means agreed upon by all of them.

After all, as I've shown earlier religion is often a cause of violence, more so than Vox and other theists would like to admit.

To sum up, in this chapter Vox mostly took Dennett out of context and did little else. It seems that Vox's criticisms are getting worse and worse as the book progresses.

Chapter 11: The Robespierre of Atheism

This chapter seeks to rebut the French philosopher Michel Onfray. I must admit that I'd never heard of him before his book Atheist Manifesto came out. I honestly didn't like the book too much and don't recall even finishing it. Because I wanted to get as clear a picture as I could of Onfray's views and claims I read the Atheist Manifesto cover to cover and even here Vox tends to nitpick a bit as he did with the New Atheists. Vox begins his critique of Onfray as follows,


Onfray’s spectacularly absurd assertion that all monotheism, including Judaism, is inherently anti-intelligence and anti-science fits well with this French tendency toward anti-Semitism, which has flared up periodically since the Dreyfus affair in 1894. Philosophy is not science, of course, but one has to wonder just how detached from reality Onfray must be to ignore the undeniable fact that Jews possess the strongest intellectual tradition in human history, have been repeatedly found to possess the highest average intelligence, and account for a much higher percentage of scientific advancements than would be statistically indicated by the small fraction of the global population they represent. I have already shown that it is absurd to claim that Christianity and Islam are intrinsically anti-science in light of the amount of evidence to the contrary, but until reading In Defence of Atheism, it never occurred to me that it might be necessary to defend Judaism from the charge as well.

This is not an exaggeration or a peculiar postmodern definition of monotheism either, as Onfray describes the Apostle Paul’s rabbinical training as “nonexistent” and explicitly points his finger at Judaism, the Torah, and the Talmud in his chapter entitled “Bonfires of the Intelligence.” He argues that because of the leading role played by “the permitted and the forbidden” in all three of the major monotheisms, a logic of licit/illicit is created that imprisons the believer into an anti-intelligent frame of mind. This same prison is the root cause of what Onfray believes to be the monotheistic characteristics of obsession with purity, disdain for the physical world, negation of matter, hatred for science, and hatred for women. It is astonishing, of course, that a French hedonist should believe that none of the 4.5 billion monotheists on the planet can properly appreciate women the way he can.

[…]

Thus, Onfray can blithely set aside the empirical evidence of high-average intelligence and scientific achievement on the part of Jews as well as the Christian roots of scientody—these are mere facts that have no bearing on the higher ontological and epistimemetical truth of his statement that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all anti-intelligence and anti-intellectual. (200-201)


I agree with Vox here about religion and science. As far as Christianity, however, the history between science and religion is not clear cut. There are cases of condemnation but also acceptance. But it is wrong for Onfray to argue that Christianity and Islam have always been against science. Though, I do agree with Onfray that in many cases religion has often used science as a “handmaiden” to theology. Christians, both past and present, often reinterpret their theology to fit scientific findings and argue that science is no barrier to theology. For example, they argue that god could have used evolution to create all the species on earth, thereby leaving the original Christian belief behind and in the process distorting their religious beliefs and the science, rather than allowing the scientific evidence to speak for itself.

Onfray writes,


There exist, of course, men of the cloth who are highly educated in religion, history, and science. But they are dedicated to proving the validity of religious dogma; thus, they only add to a church arsenal already brimming with specious arguments. Centuries of rhetoric, a millennium of theological sophistry , whole libraries of scholastic nitpicking have promoted the use of knowledge as a weapon designed less for honest argument than for apologia. [1]


It must also be said that this dislike of reason and scientific (evidence based) thinking, while not as widespread now, was common to early Christians. For example, in Justin Martyr's First Apology, he wrote,


And that this may now become evident to you— (firstly ) that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things: and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race: and (thirdly) that before He became a man among men, some, influenced by the demons before mentioned, related beforehand, through the instrumentality of the poets, those circumstances as having really happened, which, having fictitiously devised, they narrated, in the same manner as they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proof – we shall bring forward the following proof. [2]


But what "proof" is he referring to? Nothing but the bible. Throughout his Apology the only "proof" he cites is scripture. Justin Martyr's argument summed up is not one of inquiry and evidence, but one of blind faith that the scriptures are true, and that's what he used as "evidence", when he never checked the reliability of such writings to begin with. According to Richard Carrier,


You can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scriptures]. [emphasis in original] [3]


Evidence of this can also be found in the bible:


Far from being told to check things out, the Christian is told “you have no need for anyone to teach you” because Christ “teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as this has taught you, you abide in him” (1 John 2:27). In fact, don't even pay attention to what anyone else says, just what we tell you, for “we are of God, and he who knows God understands us, while he who is not of God doesn't understand.” That was their criterion of truth, “by this we know the spirit of truth” and can distinguish it from “the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). This is dogmatism, not empiricism. Fact-checking is portrayed here as all but ungodly.

[…]

At the same time, the principles of philosophy, science, logic, and forensics are lambasted as foolish. People who rely on them “become futile in their speculations,” and though “professing to be wise,” they are really just “fools” (Romans 1:21-22). [4]


So, while religion has not always been “anti-intelligence” and “anti-science” there have been several cases of this happening, and the history of Christianity especially is riddled with evidence of this such as the above passages where Justin Martyr and verses in the bible would rather have you rely on faith than evidence and reason. Due to my lack of more in depth knowledge of the other religions I cannot speak about them.

But, Vox's point is well taken. Onfray overstates his case.

Vox's next complaints are as follows,


Some of Onfray’s harshest words are reserved for those he labels “Christian atheists”—it infuriates him that so many God-deniers are so fascinated by the enemy that they adopt the greater part of its values as their own. In nearly an identical manner to the way in which I described the High Church atheist in the first chapter, Onfray describes the Christian atheist as being one who rejects the existence of God and a part of the values derived from Him, specifically those related to “the Pauline hatred of the body.” He declares that this partial atheism is something to get past, in favor of a postmodern atheistic atheism and a hedonistic contract without transcendent obligations or punishment.

Among the values that Onfray wishes to get past are the ideals of charity, temperance, compassion, mercy, humility, love of one’s neighbor, forgiveness, and the “ethical asceticism that rejects power honors, and wealth” as false values. Good and evil no longer apply, except as factors in the attempt to supply the greatest possible happiness to the greatest number. Onfray’s hedonism is the explicit articulation of Harris’s fumbling toward a happiness-based ethic and the realization of Dennett’s moral democracy, but what the Frenchman makes clear in a distinctly Nietzschean manner is that he will brook no weak-minded influence of the enervating Judeo-Christian disease in tempering the illuminated way toward Enlightenment and the new secular utopia. Nothing is forbidden, no action is unthinkable, and needless to say, if an unpopular minority happen to be in the way of the greatest possible happiness of the greatest number, that minority will simply have to go.

This hedonistic metric looks particularly grim when one compares the New Atheists’ need to at least attempt defending past atheist atrocities with Onfray’s singular lack of concern for doing the same. Onfray writes not a single word about any of the fifty-two atheist mass murderers of the twentieth century, he does not even mention Stalin or Mao, despite devoting more than six pages of the book to inaccurately claiming that Adolf Hitler was a Christian, based in part upon the Gott mit uns belt buckle that the German army inherited from the royal house of Prussia. He is obviously unaware that it was not Hitler who gave the Wehrmacht that motto, but Otto von Bismarck, whose imperial standard contained the slogan in 1870; similar Gott mit uns buckles from World War I further prove the falsity of Onfray’s argument. Moreover, the Wehrmacht were not Nazis - the 950,000 - strong Nazi army personally sworn to Hitler was the Waffen-SS, and their motto was not Gott mit uns but Meine Ehre heißt Treue. (201-202)


I have to disagree with Vox's claim that Onfray is advocating, in essence, some utilitarian, totalitarian regime that wants to do away with the minority. Even Onfray says at the beginning of his book that he feels


compassion for the sufferer, coupled with burning anger toward those who perpetuate the deception [of religion]. No hatred for the man on his knees, but a fierce resolve never to collude with those who urge him to adopt this humiliating posture and keep him there. Who would not sympathize with the victims of fraud? [5]


As for the Nazi belt buckles, Vox is correct. The Wehrmacht were simply Nazi Germany's army and navy and didn't necessarily include Nazi members.

Next, Vox complains about a variety of things. He writes,


Onfray reveals some unexpected talents when he diagnoses the Apostle Paul’s sexual dysfunction and psychological ailment from a distance of hundreds of miles and thousands of years. He blames the bombing of Hiroshima on Christianity - though not Nagasaki, for some strange reason - and actually states that “the accumulation of nuclear weapons is not an effective deterrent to war,” despite the ongoing absence of large-scale conflict between any of the nuclear powers since 1945. He claims that Christianity did no more than Judaism or Islam to deter slavery, which will no doubt surprise those who have seen the movie Amazing Grace, which tells the story of how a devout Christian, William Wilberforce, not only managed to deter slavery but caused it to be abolished in England altogether.

It would be interesting to ask Onfray if he sees any causal connection between the European post-Christianity he celebrates and the rise of sex-slavery throughout Europe. Of course, he might not take exception to the latter, after all, what is the abject misery of one woman who is bringing orgasmic delight to ten or more men every night?

[…]

Onfray complains of the apparent logical contradiction between the Fifth Commandment and the later commands in Deuteronomy to smite, destroy, burn, and dispossess. Setting aside the obvious fact that the Fifth Commandment is generally considered to be “Honor thy father and mother” and that neither burning nor dispossessing can be inherently equated with killing, he is obviously unaware of the consensus that the term “kill” in “Thou shalt not kill” is understood in the sense of a murderous killing. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but like any multilingual individual, I’m aware of the implications of the fact that there are five Hebrew variants on the English theme “to kill”: “ratsach,” “nakah,” “muwth,” “harag,” and “tabach.” Moses and the Israelites might have been a bit obtuse at times, but even they would have presumably been capable of noticing this superficial dichotomy that so befuddles the philosopher. Even without the obvious linguistic pointers, the distinction really is not difficult, for example, God is reported to have rewarded David for killing a certain large Philistine (nakah), while punishing him severely for arranging the death of someone he did not even touch (harag). And it would have been very, very strange for Jesus to instruct his disciples to make a priority of buying edged weaponry unless he considered it reasonable for them to make use of it in the appropriate circumstances. (203-204)


I'd agree with Vox's criticisms in the first paragraph, with the exception of Christianity's role in abolishing slavery. Enlightenment ideals of natural rights influenced many people, Christians included, and this is what likely caused Christians to act in complete contradiction to their theology and their bible. Many Christians became influenced by natural rights philosophy and Enlightenment ideals, especially those of Locke. This occurred "well before 1763 - and their constant preaching of him made his political ideas thoroughly familiar to the American public, regardless of whether the latter had read Locke or not." [6] Many years later the Somerset decision came to pass in 1772 outlawing slavery in England. I argue that what had a greater impact upon the abolition of slavery were Enlightenment ideals of natural rights since prior this these ideas Christians largely accepted and defended slavery. Afterwards natural rights became popular and slavery began to be fought against on a larger scale.

As far as Onfray's contradiction between the “Fifth Commandment” and later tales of murder, Onfray is clear. He describes how many people are to be put to death in the bible, such as in Joshua 6:21, which are certainly acts of murder. [7] Onfray did also state that passages in the bible call for acts to “smite, destroy, burn, and dispossess,” as Vox argues but these acts of destruction can also include murder if the inhabitants are still inside a town or home as its being burned to the ground as with the tale of Jericho. Vox misrepresented Onfray's argument here.

I don't have anything to say about this chapter. Vox pointed out several errors but he still tended to nitpick a bit.

Chapter 12: Hitler, The Inquisition, The Crusades, and Human Sacrifice

Vox uses this chapter to defend Christianity against the various charges often leveled against it by opponents of Christianity. He begins his discussion with Hitler and argues,


It is worth noting that most of the statements that indicate Hitler’s Christian faith were made in public, prior to 1934, when he was still a politician running for elected office. Given his subsequent actions once he had secured political power, there is no reason to believe that Hitler meant them any more sincerely than George W. Bush intended to keep his promise to pursue a “more humble foreign policy” three years before he launched an invasion to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East. But Hitler was no atheist, neither was he agnostic; the evidence tends to suggest that he was a pagan who was skeptical, but open to the possibility of acquiring temporal power through supernatural means. (211)


Vox's doesn't cite a source for this statement but while looking through his bibliography I found a book by Robert S. Wistrich titled Hitler and the Holocaust which does make reference to paganism being connected with Nazism but these were not statements by Hitler himself, but historian Richard Rubinstein; the diary of Chaim Kaplan, the Principal of an elementary Hebrew school; and pope Pius XI. [1] Without a direct quote this claim cannot be verified. Even in one of Wistrich's sources, a book by Richard Rubinstein, I found no primary source for this claim.

Due to the various statements made by Hitler it's doubtful we will know for certain what his specific beliefs actually were, however, it is certain that he wasn't an atheist, as even Vox admits. Next, Vox discusses the anti-Christian views of Hitler,


And yet, if Dawkins is not quite able to definitively conclude that Adolf Hitler was not a Christian, Robert Wistrich, the professor of modern Jewish history at Hebrew University, has no such qualms. In Hitler and the Holocaust, Wistrich writes:

Indeed, the leading Nazis—Hitler, Himmler, Rosenberg, Goebbels, and Bormann—were all fanatically anti-Christian, though this was partly hidden from the German public....The conviction that Judaism, Christianity and Bolshevism represented one single pathological phenomenon of decadence became a veritable leitmotif for Hitler around the time that the “Final Solution” had been conceived of as an operational plan.

But the most convincing proof that Hitler was neither an atheist nor a Christian can be seen in two documents that the various New Atheists and Wistrich were probably not aware of at the time they wrote their books. The first of these was prepared by the Office of Strategic Services in preparation for the Nuremburg trials in 1945. Released to the public in 2001, the report from the archives of Gen. William J. Donovan, special assistant to the U.S. chief of counsel at the Tribunal, is a fascinating description of the Third Reich’s methodical plan to coopt, pervert, and ultimately usurp the Catholic and Protestant churches of Germany. As an editor of the Nuremberg Project for the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion described it: “They wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether, but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity.”

The first installment, entitled “The Nazi Master Plan; The Persecution of Christian Churches,” shows how the Nazis planned to supplant Christianity with a religion based on racial superiority. The report, prepared by the Office of Strategic Services—a forerunner of the CIA—says: “Important leaders of the National Socialist party would have liked ...complete extirpation of Christianity and the substitution of a purely racial religion.”

The second document is equally significant. It is the thirty-point plan for a National Reich Church, drawn up by Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi ideologist who was Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories and head of the Centre of National Socialist Ideological and Educational Research. Three of its more significant points are as follows:

1. The National Reich Church is determined to exterminate irrevocably and by every means the strange and foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany in the ill-omened year 800.

2. The National Reich Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany as well as the publication of Sunday papers, pamphlets, publications, and books of a religious nature.

3. The National Reich Church does not acknowledge forgiveness of sins. It represents the standpoint which it will always proclaim that a sin once committed will be ruthlessly punished by the honorable and indestructible laws of nature and punishment will follow during the sinner’s lifetime.

One need not be a theologian to recognize that whatever religion happens to lurk behind a church that does not recognize the forgiveness of sins and is determined to suppress the Bible, it is not Christianity. (212-213)


Just because Hitler was “anti-Christian” doesn't mean he wasn't a Christian. Christians aren't allowed some how to denounce other forms of Christianity? It happens all the time. Some statements of Hilter's can be tied to Christianity...at least his unorthodox version. If this is the case, and Hitler wished to destroy Christian churches as Vox's evidence shows, these acts would be perfectly compatible with the argument that Hitler wished to purge the orthodox version of Christianity to make way for his Aryan version of Christianity. What is the evidence for this? Well, as Wistrich writes about Hitler's hostility to the churches,


Since 1937, it had seemed to Hitler that the churches were allies of Judaism rather than of National Socialism. They persisted, for example, in treating the Old Testament as a major source of Christian revelation, and they had rejected the cult of the “Aryan” Jesus. (emphasis mine) [2]


There is further evidence of this Aryan version of Christianity in notes taken by one of Hitler's secretaries, Martin Bormann. In his notes he made the following entry,


Christ was an Aryan. But Paul used his teachings to mobilize the underworld and organize a proto-bolshevism. With its breakdown, the beautiful clarity of the ancient world was lost. [3]


As Richard Carrier argues, Hitler believed in an “odd” form of Christianity and rejected the other forms, believing that Jesus was not a Jew, but a member of the “master race.” According to one of Hitler's secretaries, Henry Picker, “Nazis, believed Jesus was indeed fathered by a Roman legionary (a story that dates back at least to the 2nd century A.D.) and therefore he was a member of the master race.” [4]

Even if Hitler, it turns out, was a pagan of some sort his inspiration and pure hatred for Jews clearly comes from the long history of anti-semitism due to Christianity as even Vox's source, Hitler and the Holocaust, admits when Wistrich quotes fellow historian Richard Rubinstein. [5] It also seems that Vox was a bit dishonest in citing his source by failing to mention this very relevant fact about Hitler's belief in an Aryan form of Christianity.

So, in reality, despite Hitler's personal beliefs Christianity is still clearly implicated in this heinous crime.

Vox discusses next the Spanish inquisition. He writes,


It is a curious thing considering how often it is brought up in conversation and Internet debate by lay atheists, but in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins conspicuously neglects to detail what he describes as the “horrors” of the Spanish Inquisition. Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett both avoid discussing it altogether. Only Reason’s clown, Sam Harris, is sufficiently foolish to swallow the old Black Legend, hook, line, and sinker, as he attempts to portray the collective inquisitions as one of the two “darkest episodes in the history of faith.” (214-215)


While researching the Spanish Inquisition I'd agree it was not as horrific as is commonly portrayed, and Sam Harris is incorrect about that. Vox argues that the Inquisition was started more for political reasons, rather than religious ones. He writes,


Isabella, in particular, was concerned about reports of conversos, Christians who had pretended to convert from Judaism but were still practicing their former religion. This was troubling, as it was reasonable to assume that those who were lying about their religious conversion were also lying about their loyalty to the united crowns and it was known that some Jews were encouraging Muslim leaders to attempt the recapture of al-Andalus. An investigation was commissioned and the reports were verified, at which point the Spanish monarchs asked Pope Sixtus IV to create a branch of the Roman Inquisition that would report to the Spanish crown. The Pope initially refused, but when Ferdinand threatened to leave Rome to its own devices should the Turks attack, he reluctantly acceded and issued Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus on November 1, 1478, a papal bull establishing an inquisition in Isabella’s Kingdom of Castile. (216)


It seems as if the motivations for the Inquisition were due to the wish to rid Spain of antisemitism and to ensure all “New Christians” would not be tempted to revert back to Judaism by getting rid of all Jews and those who had been baptized, however continued to practice Judaism in secret. [6] I would agree that religious reasons were likely not a large reason (though there are historians who disagree [7]), however, when you look at the Inquisition itself and who it targeted and why it becomes clear that even though it may not have been started due to religious reasons, its function was surely influenced by religious orthodoxy as it punished heretics; those who failed to adhere to orthodox beliefs.

For example, Martin Luther's ideas were rejected in Spain and the Inquisition punished those who were suspected of adhering to Luther's unorthodox views. [8] The same occurred to a sect called Illuminism, which advocated a form of free-thought in religious matters. [9] The Inquisition also banned books that contained unorthodox views. [10]

Of course, it must also be said that the motive for the Inquisition seems to be a hotly debated subject because, even Henry Kamen, one of Vox's sources, says that “Ferdinand's intentions […] will long be the subject of dispute.” [11]

Vox oddly claims that,


The Spanish Inquisition did not attempt to convert anyone to Christianity. It had no authority over professing Jews, Muslims, or atheists; its sole mission was to distinguish between genuine Christians and those who were falsely pretending to be Christians and were actually practicing another faith. (217)


Of course they attempted to convert people! That's what the great purge of all Jews in 1492 was about. To force them all to convert, or leave. The Inquisition's goal was to enforce the coerced conversions of 1492, so I'd say in a round-about way it did try to convert people. It's also not true that the Inquisition “had no authority over professing Jews, Muslims, or atheists.” Non-believers were found to be detainees of the Inquisition in Seville. [12]

Vox argues that only about 3,230 died in all the Inquisitions combined (219), in his attempt to downplay the violence that was done, though that is a cruel defense against the harm that was done to people just because they held differing views.

All in all, while the motives for the Inquisition are hard to discern for certain, the many acts of persecution of Jews, non-believers, witches, and those who simply held beliefs that differed from the orthodox views, these acts can certainly be attributed to religion.

Next up is Vox's discussion of the Crusades. Vox writes,


The Crusades, especially the First Crusade, are undoubtedly the foremost Christian example of religious war. They are not only an example of one of the dangers of religion, they also serve as an excellent example of one of the primary dangers to religion, that of being co-opted and used by secular powers for secular purposes. While the First Crusade began as a religious response to an entirely secular plea for military assistance by the desperate Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, by the end, it was dominated by petty warlords scrambling for land and power. And with each subsequent Crusade, the religious influences and motivations were pushed further and further aside, until by the last four Crusades, neither the Pope nor the common people whose fervor propelled so much of the religious zeal to take the Cross were involved in any way.

Jerusalem aside, the Crusades were surprisingly irreligious. It was not until the end of the Second Crusade, fifty years after the First Crusade took Jerusalem, that the conflict between the Christian Kingdoms of Outremer and the neighboring Muslim principalities was drawn on religious lines. Strangely enough, the fall of Edessa that inspired the Second Crusade took place only because a careless Christian ruler had taken the greater part of his army to the aid of a Muslim ally. Without that single ecumenical but disastrous error in judgment, the Crusades would probably not be viewed today as the foremost example of religious warfare [...] (220-221)


The first half of this statement is true that the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire asked for help, though there are clearly religious motivations involved since this land was also considered sacred, as I noted earlier in the fifth chapter. This was also the case with the second Crusade. After Outremer was captured by Muslims the second Crusade was launched. This event caused some to remark, such as Bernard of Clairvaux that,


The earth is shaken because the Lord of heaven is losing his land [...] the enemy of the Cross has begun to lift his sacrilegious head there and to devastate with the sword that blessed land, that land of promise. [13]


Historian Thomas Asbridge also notes that “Crusading was driven by religious devotion, but a self-serving form of devotion [and presented an] extreme path to salvation.” [14] Even more damaging to Vox’s claim that from the second Crusade on, religion played little, if any part, is smashed since pope Eugenius III’s official letter that sparked enthusiasm for the second Crusade mirrored many of the same themes and motivators as Urban II’s speech. For example, the same ‘heavenly’ rewards (remission of all sins) that were given during the first Crusade were repeated for the Second. Eugenius III’s letter also emphasized that this second Crusade had a “divine mandate” with “authority given us by God” to begin this Holy War. [15] It was clear from the wording of Eugenius III’s letter that what he was attempting was a “recreation” of the first Crusade. [16] Even more, Eugenius III’s letter served as an example for future popes to follow in promoting future Crusades, so to say that religious motivations became less and less is further refuted by this fact. Because of this, even the third Crusade was “governed not merely by the dictates of military science, nor by notions of politics, diplomacy or economy. This was a mode of conflict underpinned by religious ideology.” [17]

Thomas Asbridge writes,


[The] Quantum praedecessores became the benchmark for crusading, presenting an official memory of what Pope Urban II had supposedly preached in 1095 and enshrining certain ideas about the nature of the First Crusade itself. Into the second half of the twelfth century and beyond, the encyclical served to define the scope, identity and practice of crusading because future popes used the document as an exemplar. Many drew upon its style, format and substance; some simply reissued it unaltered. [18]


On page 224 I must object to this statement Vox makes about the Crusades. He says, “It was not an act motivated by faith, it was an act of supreme faithlessness in violation of every Christian precept.” Vox gives no evidence this is true. Of course, the fact is that there was a precedent; the ideology of crusading was not just made up beginning in the eleventh century. The bible contains stories where holy war is condoned by god and even Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34). The church authorities who eventually built the ideology of crusading relied upon the views of the Christian thinker St. Augustine of Hippo, who centuries earlier argued that “war could be both lawful and justifiable if fought under strict conditions.” [19]

In sum, I agree that some battles were fought under the banner of a Crusade simply for purposes of propaganda and used by secular forces to expand power, but others were clearly religious in nature, at least partially. This was especially the case with the first, second, and third Crusades. Vox is only telling his readers one side of the story. Each individual had their own agendas and even though some secular individuals did have expansion of power in mind, the religious figures involved clearly were inspired by religious reasons, particularly the idea of saving the holy land from the “infidel” and salvation.

In this final section on human sacrifice Vox writes,


If one looks at the history of the world, there are two facts that no reasonable man can deny: first, that people do bad things, and second, that religion has been central to people’s lives for as long as history has been recorded. The centrality of religion in past societies means that it has been a mechanism for an amount of these bad things people have done, which occasionally makes it appear that religion is the source of the evil behavior. And while it pains me to make use of a much-overused expression, in this case, it is absolutely true that correlation is not causation.

The Unholy Trinity make no effort to provide any evidence of a causal relationship between religion and the various evils they cite as proof of religion’s historically deadly and venomous nature. Instead, they provide a laundry list of historical events that bear varying degrees of tangential relationship to religion, from the a priori causal to the entirely oxymoronic. The most famous example of the former is probably the Aztec practice of mass human sacrifice to the gods Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, Huehueteotl, Tlaloc, and Xipe Totec, through which the Aztecs were believed to have murdered as many as 250,000 individuals per year toward the end of the fifteenth century. An example of the latter is the ludicrous attempt to blame the brutal atheist repression of religion in the Soviet Union on religious faith.

[...]

A ruling people surrounded and outnumbered by their subjects require a mechanism to enable them to maintain their position of primacy. There is a need to prevent the ratio of the population delta between rulers and ruled from getting out of hand as well as a necessity to inspire enough fear in the subjected populace to prevent it from rebelling on a regular basis. In light of these imperial necessities, it is important to note that the Mexica decision to ally with the Acolhua and Tepanec people occurred sixty years before the bloody reconsecration of the Great Pyramid at Tenochtitlan by the Aztec leader Ahuitzotl, and that it was the fifteen years of Ahuitzotl’s reign that marked the high point of the Aztec Empire. Nor should it come as a surprise that the people who made up most of the involuntary sacrifices were not Mexica, Acolhua, or Tepanec, but rather prisoners taken from their subject peoples and the surrounding enemy tribes.

It is even more significant that according to Bernardino de Sahagún, the Franciscan missionary to the Nahua now known as the father of modern ethnography, the Aztecs did not defend the practice of human sacrifice on religious grounds, but instead argued that it was no different than the European method of waging warfare. This attitude strongly suggests that the primary impetus behind their mass human sacrifice was, as Clausewitz once described warfare, diplomacy by other means. This does not completely exonerate religion from its intimate involvement in the abominable practice, of course, but indicates that the matter must be considered more deeply before we can realistically conclude that religion was or was not the cause of Aztec human sacrifice. (226-227)


First of all, it blows my mind that he argues that the cases of religious violence the New Atheists cite are examples of the logical fallacy “that correlation is not causation,” which is something Vox is very much guilty of in the next chapter. As I showed in my review of chapter 5 there are many cases of religious inspired violence and the New Atheists did cite evidence for their claims as I went over, again, in chapter 5.

Second, it is true that a large percentage of those sacrificed were prisoners, wrong-doers, etc., however, many victims of sacrifice were orphans, slaves, and illegitimate children. [20] Not that this does anything to refute the fact that the sacrifice was done for religious reasons. As usual, what Vox doesn’t tell you is that these sacrifices, while done for various reasons, were often done for explicitly religious reasons.

Michel Graulich writes,


These rituals [human sacrifices] helped the universe function by reenacting the creation of the world and the birth of Venus-Maize, then the creation of the sun that vanquished the forces of darkness in the underworld and rose, bringing the day and the rainy reason assimilated to it; by erecting trees that supported the sky, by nourishing the gods and in particular Sun and Earth, by making offerings to propitiate the earth and rain deities, the Tlaloques, etc. Reenacting the founding myths implied the ritual killing of victims impersonating dema and other deities whose death in primeval times had made the earth, sun and moon, stars, maize and other useful plants appear. Helping the universe to function sometimes called for sacrifices in which deities were rejuvenated or revitalized through their own death (via impersonators) or through oblations of human blood. (emphasis mine) [21]


In addition, allow me to quote anthologist Jack David Eller who confirms Graulich’s claim. He writes,


The justification of human sacrifice were many and familiar, including annual ceremonies (particularly for fertility), the laying of foundations for buildings, and the provision of attendants to follow a dead lord into the afterlife. However, the most unique but central motivation for Mesoamerican human sacrifice was to feed the sun god. (emphasis mine) [22]


Clearly, human sacrifice was used for multiple reasons, and one of the leading reasons was religious in nature, but Vox is surely incorrect to argue that religion had nothing to do with it. Obviously sacrificing to Earth and Sun gods counts as a religious reason and Vox’s empty excuse about rulers using these acts to threaten their subjects is nothing but empty when looking at the facts.

Chapter 13: The Red Hand of Atheism

In this chapter Vox argues his case that atheism was responsible for the many Communist atrocities. I dealt with this argument a few chapters ago and showed that it was the Communists' Marxist/Socialist ideology that influenced the Communists and not atheism, but let's take a look at Vox's arguments to see if they hold up.

Vox writes,


[Quoting Richard Dawkins] What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.

Again Dawkins reveals his historical ignorance, and again, he demonstrates that he is not so much a bad scientist as an atheist propagandist who has abandoned science altogether. For there is not only the smallest evidence that atheism correlates with people doing very bad things, the evidence is so strong that it is almost surely causal. Dawkins, like Harris, focuses on the wrong question. Like medieval philosophers they focus on the explanatory logic of the perceived problem, and they do so ineptly, instead of examining the matter in a scientific manner by observing the relevant evidence. Dawkins cannot think of why a war would be fought in the name of atheism—a more relevant question would be to wonder why millions of individuals would be slaughtered by their own government in the name of atheism—but this is putting the cart well before the horse.

No one really cares why atheists kill innocent people en masse. People are primarily concerned with the undeniable fact that atheists do it with such an astonishing degree of regularity on the rare occasions that they find themselves in a position to do so. (237-238)


I'm not sure what “evidence” Vox is referring to but he's provided no argument whatsoever that atheism was the cause. If he is referring to the prison statistics from the beginning of his book I've already dealt with his manipulation of the data and shown why his claim of atheists being more immoral than Christians doesn't hold up.

Vox continues,


And now for a few microscopic pieces of the evidence that Dawkins cannot seem to locate. Christendom may be considered to have begun in 392, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great established Christianity as the official state religion of the empire. From that date, there were approximately 126 emperors of the Western and Eastern empires until the fall of Byzantium in 1453. If one adds to that total the roughly sixty-five kings who ruled over each of the twenty-seven member states of the geographical area formerly known as Christendom since Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 a.d., one calculates a very conservative estimate of 1,781 Christian kings and emperors ruling as theocratic monarchs over their royal or imperial subjects. This number is probably too small by at least an order of magnitude, given Jared Diamond’s previous estimate of 1,000 European principalities, but it is more than sufficient to prove the point and it would take far too long to do the research required to calculate the precise number. Although those 1,781 Christian rulers, like rulers everywhere, engaged in wars and indulged in murders and committed plenty of other deplorable deeds, very, very few of them ever engaged in a systematic act of mass murder that can be reasonably described as anything approaching the crimes of the sort committed by Stalin. Nor did most of their later successors, who did not rule by blood and divine decree but instead governed with varying degrees of consent from the populace, with the singular exception of a certain German Reichskanzler.

By all accounts, the slaughter of the Protestant Huguenots known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was the most infamous of medieval Christendom. It was the low point of the thirty-six years of the Wars of Religion, which in addition to the religious component was a struggle between the House of Guise and the House of Bourbon for the throne of France. And while the massacre was not ordered by King Charles IX—it was at the instigation of his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, of the famously ruthless Italian family—it was blessed with his approval. The murder of an estimated 10,000 Frenchmen over the period of several months by the French crown horrified all Christendom. Even the king’s father-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor, denounced it, and the young king went to his early grave crying out “What evil council I have followed! O my God, forgive me!”

And yet, had this worst of all the medieval monarchs of Christendom been an atheist, and had he been responsible for killing twice as many of his subjects as he in fact was, he would still not be numbered among the ranks of the fifty most lethal atheist leaders in history. This is not to excuse or justify Charles IX’s historical villainy, but it is necessary to view such acts in perspective, especially when the New Atheists are claiming that it is religion’s potential to inspire murderous violence that justifies their attacks on it.

[…]

The total body count for the ninety years between 1917 and 2007 is approximately 148 million dead at the bloody hands of fifty-two atheists, three times more than all the human beings killed by war, civil war, and individual crime in the entire twentieth century combined. The historical record of collective atheism is thus 182,716 times worse on an annual basis than Christianity’s worst and most infamous misdeed, the Spanish Inquisition. It is not only Stalin and Mao who were so murderously inclined, they were merely the worst of the whole Hell-bound lot.

[…]

Is a 58 percent chance that an atheist leader will murder a noticeable percentage of the population over which he rules sufficient evidence that atheism does, in fact, provide a systematic influence to do bad things? If that is not deemed to be conclusive, how about the fact that the average atheist crime against humanity is 18.3 million percent worse than the very worst depredation committed by Christians, even though atheists have had less than one-twentieth the number of opportunities with which to commit them. If one considers the statistically significant size of the historical atheist set and contrasts it with the fact that not one in a thousand religious leaders have committed similarly large-scale atrocities, it is impossible to conclude otherwise, even if we do not yet understand exactly why this should be the case. Once might be an accident, even twice could be coincidence, but fifty-two incidents in ninety years reeks of causation! No doubt this is why the Unholy Trinity attempt to limit the discussion of secular evil to Stalin and Mao. (238- 242)


All this might sound impressive to the naive, but put simply, all Vox is arguing is that whenever these Communist dictators happen to come into power bad things always seem to happen, and have murdered more than all the Christian acts of war and violence combined. This, he claims, is pretty good evidence of causation. Sorry, but it's not. He hasn't provided a single ounce of evidence that atheism is what drove these people to kill. Out of Vox's list of 52 atheists (found in the first appendix) 50 of them were Communists, while two of them, Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois and Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, were two atheists who were participants in the French Revolution, an event as I noted already was brought about almost entirely by Deists. Like most revolutions, when people want their society changed for the better, it often turns out to be very bloody and violent but again had nothing to do with atheism.

If anyone is abandoning the scientific method and ignoring evidence it's Vox. His entire argument is based upon a fallacy: cum hoc ergo propter hoc; correlation does not imply causation. Despite this, I find it amazing that Vox actually mentions the reason all Communist societies have turned violent but he completely ignores it in favor of his smear against atheism.

He writes,


The reason Communism has so habitually devolved into violence is because it is an impressively stupid vision that violates both basic human nature in the form of the individual’s desire for material betterment as well as the economic law of supply and demand. Its early institution was such a disaster that Lenin was quickly forced to revise some of his more dysfunctional policies, but he was the first in a long, lethal line of Communist leaders who made a practice of always attempting to force their populations to fit the Communist mold instead of adjusting the utopian vision to fit humanity. (247)


Exactly! And when people do not want their property seized the Communists take it by force and further oppression takes place. The answer is right under Vox's nose the entire time, but again, his goal is not historical truth but Christian propaganda.

Vox's further claim that this is a “slaughter in the name of atheist progress” (248) is just plain wrong. Atheism did not cause these atrocities; the totalitarian nature of the Communist structure caused it. After all, as I noted previously, totalitarian governments do not have to be atheistic since Christians formed one of the first socialist authoritarian regimes in history. These Christians “were fanatically intolerant” and “curiosity among them was discouraged by savage punishments.” [1] Clearly, atheism needs no part in these totalitarian forms of authority to turn violent. Therefore, it was the totalitarian nature of these social structures and not atheism that caused the violence and oppression.

Despite the fact that the numbers killed by socialist regimes are many magnitudes more than religious ones, the fact remains that we do have evidence that it was religion that has inspired many atrocities. The New Atheists are right on the money on this point. Religion is often bad because it influences people to do horrible things. A case in point is the murder of abortion doctors. We have several examples of these Christian murders saying explicitly that their religious beliefs drove them to kill and one very good example is Paul Hill whose writings are hosted on the Army of God website. He explains his motivation for the killing of Dr. John Britton and defends the murder of Dr. David Gunn by Michael Griffin.


When I first appeared on Donahue, I asked the audience to suspend judgment as to whether the action had been wise, but I took the position that Griffin's killing of Dr. Gunn was justified. I later realized, however, that using the force necessary to defend the unborn gives credibility, urgency, and direction to the pro-life movement which it has lacked and which it needs in order to prevail.

I realized that using force to stop abortion is the same means that God has used to stop similar atrocities throughout history. In the book of Esther, for instance, Ahasuerus, king of Persia, passed a law in 473 B.C. allowing the Persians to kill their Jewish neighbors. But the Jews did not passively submit; their uses of defensive force prevented a calamity of immense proportions.

In much the same way, when abortion was first legalized in our nation, if the people had resisted this atrocity with the means necessary it would have saved millions of children from a bloody death. It is not unwise or unspiritual, thus, to use the means that God has appointed for keeping His commandments; rather it is presumptuous to neglect these means and expect Him to work apart from them.

[…]

I realized that a large number of very important things would be accomplished by my shooting another abortionist in Pensacola. […] But most importantly, I realized that this would uphold the truth of the Gospel at the precise point of Satan's current attack (the abortionist's knife). (emphasis in original) [2]


In a piece Hill wrote titled Defending the Defenseless he said,


During the Nightline broadcast, I defended the shooting [of abortion provider Dr. David Gunn by Michael Griffin] on the basis of the Sixth Commandment (which not only forbids murder, but also requires the means necessary to prevent murder). It is not enough to refrain from committing murder; innocent people must also be protected. [3]


Many are likely fooled by Vox's statistics but in reality it's a smokescreen. He provided no evidence that atheism was the motivating factor, while I gave an example of a Christian murderer who stated clearly that it was the bible that inspired his actions to kill. It is the totalitarian nature of the Communist state and, as Vox rightly noted, the violence that becomes necessary to force the population to “fit the Communist mold.”

Chapter 14: Occam's Chainsaw

I'll quote Vox to open this chapter on his stated purpose. He writes,


Since Richard Dawkins was thoughtful enough to devote an entire chapter to arguments for God’s existence, I thought it was only right to return the favor and take a look at some of the most common arguments one hears from atheists. Some of these are arguments justifying their belief in God’s nonexistence, others are those made in counterpoint to various theistic arguments. All of them are at least partially logically fallacious. However, I don’t intend to precisely follow Dawkins’s example, as I shall focus on current arguments made by living atheists, not archaic ones made by long-dead men and refuted by famous philosophers more than 200 years ago. (251)


Vox's first argument is the following.


The Argument from Authority

There are three versions of this. The first is based on the partially accurate but misleading claim that atheists are more intelligent than theists, a claim that depends on altering the definition of atheist from “an individual who does not believe in God” to “an individual who calls himself an atheist.” This is an implicit argument from authority because there is no point to making any reference to this theoretical superiority except to put pressure on the non-atheist to stop thinking for himself and accept the view of his intellectual superiors. Sam Harris makes the second version of this argument in Letter to a Christian Nation when he writes that 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not accept the idea of God. Again, this has no significance regarding the fact of God’s existence or nonexistence, it is simply intended to pressure the non-atheist to accept the opinion of the elite academy members in lieu of his own. Harris might as meaningfully report that 84 percent of the academy prefers the color blue. Dawkins puts even greater weight behind this argument, spending four pages citing everything from the National Academy of Sciences members, a survey of the Royal Society, the negative correlation of religion with education, and Mensa metastudies.

The third variant, of course, is the invocation of famous atheist scientists such as Albert Einstein, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins. (252)


As I've done throughout the writing of this review I do my best to check Vox's sources for his claims, so I checked both Dawkins' and Harris' books to see what they actually wrote and surprise, surprise, it's not what Vox argues.

Sam Harris was not using the National Academy of Sciences to argue against the belief in god; not at all. It's hard to understand how Vox so misinterpreted this paragraph. Especially since the header to this section was titled, “Are Atheists Evil?” This is what he actually wrote,


If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers. In fact, they should be utterly immoral. Are they? Do members of atheist organizations in the United States commit more than their fair share of violent crimes? Do the members of the National Academy of Sciences, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God, lie and cheat and steal with abandon? We can be reasonably confidant that these groups are at least as well behaved as the general population. [1]


Harris was not using scientists in anyway to argue for the non-existence of god, but was clearly discussing atheism and morality.

As for Dawkins' use of this argument he is attempting to counter the common “argument from admired religious scientists” from theists to justify their belief in god. Like Harris, Dawkins was in no way using these studies to somehow prove there is no god because smart people don't believe. That would, after all, be a horrible argument anyway, as Dawkins even admits. In The God Delusion Dawkins writes,


'Newton was religious. Who are you to set yourself us as superior to Newton, Galileo, Kepler, etc. etc. etc.? If God was good enough for the likes of them, just who do you think you are?' Not that it makes much of a difference to such an already bad argument, some apologists even add the name of Darwin, about whom persistent, but demonstrably false, rumours of a deathbed conversion continually come around like a bad smell, ever since they were deliberately started by a certain 'Lady Hope', who spun a touching yarn of Darwin resting against the pillows in the evening light, leafing through the New Testament and confessing that evolution was all wrong. In this section I shall concentrate mostly on scientists, because – for reasons that are perhaps not too hard to imagine – those who trot out the names of admired individuals as religious exemplars very commonly choose scientists. […] The efforts of apologists to find genuinely distinguished modern scientists who are religious have an air of desperation, generating the unmistakably hollow sound of bottoms of barrels being scraped. […] A reasonable conclusion from existing studies is that religious apologists might be wise to keep quieter than they habitually do on the subject of admired role models, at least where scientists are concerned. [2]


Some atheists may make this claim, but I don't recall seeing any new atheists doing so, and Vox's examples are enormous cases of him taking Harris and Dawkins out of context...again.

Vox continues,


The Argument from Lack of Evidence

This argument is particularly superficial, given the obvious impossibility of personally examining all the evidence relevant to the matter and the equally obvious reality that every individual unquestioningly accepts information without demanding supporting evidence every single day. Daniel Dennett observes that the division of labor is applauded when it comes to the delegation of decision-making in everything from science and politics to legal and medical issues, to which I add that most of this delegation is based on an unquestioning faith in the authority to which the decision is delegated.

No normal individual actually examines more than a very small percentage of the authoritative information that he or she is provided on a daily basis, as evidenced by the explosion of low-fat foods that was soon followed by the ongoing obesity epidemic. Even though the evidence was easy to obtain—I’m eating this fat-free food, but I’m getting fatter instead of losing weight—millions of people chose to blindly trust scientific studies rather than their mirrors and weight scales.

The fact that you may not have seen any evidence of God is meaningless; you probably haven’t seen any evidence of evolution or quantum mechanics, either, and aside from a very few highly intelligent, well-educated exceptions, you’re not capable of accurately judging the evidence even if you did examine it yourself. There is no shortage of those who testify to their personal experience of God, and it is both ironic and an error of logic to argue that their evidence is irrelevant due to your blind faith in something else for which you have seen no evidence. 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. One can certainly state that no scientific evidence for God exists, based on its absence from the scientific literature. But then, there is no scientific evidence that your mother exists, either, much less that she loves you. From my perspective, there’s not even any scientific evidence that you exist. Science is an excellent tool for increasing knowledge, but it is far from the only means of obtaining it because scientific evidence is only one of the various forms of evidence.

In almost every case, an argument from lack of evidence merely indicates in whom one has elected to place one’s unquestioning trust. (252-253)


I can't speak for every single atheist in the world, since I'm sure some percentage are guilty of not looking into the matter themselves, but the vast majority of atheists I've run across have examined the evidence for themselves and can tell you precisely why they don't believe. Even the New Atheists have done this in their books; I've done this on my blog and it's not difficult to find reasons why atheists like me disbelieve in god elsewhere.

How much evidence have atheists examined? It varies. Many atheists spend years, half their lives even, examining and thinking about the scientific and philosophical arguments for and against god. Some have looked at more evidence than others, but they've come to the conclusion that they find no evidence for god convincing. To give a personal example, I've been examining the evidence for god for about six years now and I have a pretty decent grasp of various sciences and arguments for god and I am knowledgeable of why those arguments fail. This is one of the reasons I enjoy writing and doing research for these in depth book reviews. They force me to examine my beliefs and see if the believer has succeeded in challenging my beliefs about the world. In each case I've found their reasons and arguments to be faulty. Therefore I disbelieve due to the lack of convincing arguments.

Vox writes, “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.”

I can't speak for all atheists obviously, but my view is simply that I've never seen any convincing argument for any gods and that's that. I'm certainly open to the possibility of being proven wrong, but that hasn't happened yet. In fact, if Vox asked most atheists I don't doubt that would be the common response so it seems that Vox has a mistaken belief about why atheists disbelieve. It's not that we trust “authority” (we leave that for theists) but because we've examined a decent amount of evidence ourselves and found those arguments lacking.

Vox continues,


The Argument from Hallucination

This is the atheist’s counter to the theistic argument from personal experience. In The God Delusion, Dawkins puts scare quotes around “experience,” by which he means to indicate that evidence based on personal experience is unreliable and even irrelevant. He bases this argument, amusingly enough, on psychology, which is one of the few scientific fields that makes even less use of the scientific method than evolutionary biology. But to simply state, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that “mass hallucination” caused 70,000 people in Portugal to simultaneously see the sixth apparition of the Lady of Fatima is not an explanation, it is merely an evasion. Dawkins’s invocation of David Hume proves nothing, except that from the atheist’s perspective Hume might as well have ended his statement at the comma: “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle.” This isn’t logic, it’s merely a demonstration of a mind shuttered closely to ward off any evidence it cannot explain in terms it understands.

Being one who has personally experienced both what appears to have been a supernatural phenomenon as well as a few chemically induced hallucinations, I can testify that the two are about as likely to be confused as Halloween and Christmas. And by Halloween, I mean the movie, not the holiday. It is certainly reasonable to doubt any one individual’s perceptions, but it is intellectual cowardice to arbitrarily declare all human perception itself to be completely meaningless outside of the scientific researcher’s laboratory. (254)


Ironically, Vox takes issue with the argument from hallucinatory experience based upon findings from psychology, which he claims is unscientific, but fails to make use of evidence for this claim himself. The fact of the matter is that studies have shown that hallucinations do often feel very real. Take this example based upon research of out-of-body experiences.


In the the 1950's a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois, L.J. Meduna, experimented with giving psychiatric patients and normal control subjects various mixtures of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Some of these people saw bright lights, had out-of-body experiences and relived past memories. […] One described everything as 'so real and simple' and another reported 'complete understanding and harmony with God.' [3]


One of the individuals being tested believed what they saw was “so real” and they obviously knew it was an experiment and wasn't real but they still believed what they were experiencing was real. This is evidence that a hallucination can be mistaken for something that feels very real, even when the person knows what they're experiencing isn't.

As for Dawkins' example of such a hallucination, when 70,000 people were said to have seen the sun “appearing to change colors and rotate like a wheel,” it definitely seems strange that many people would hallucinate at the same time, though what they saw couldn't be agreed upon. [4] But, as Dawkins notes, no one outside of Fátima, Portugal saw this, which is surely very odd. This is especially the case when the sun can be seen by half of the planet at once but no one else in one half of the world reported seeing anything. A few explanations have been put forth for this unlikely experience:


No movement or other phenomenon of the sun was registered by scientists at the time. According to contemporary reports from poet Afonso Lopes Vieira and schoolteacher Delfina Lopes with her students and other witnesses in the town of Alburita, the solar phenomenon were visible from up to forty kilometers away. Despite these assertions, not all witnesses reported seeing the sun "dance". Some people only saw the radiant colors, and others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.

Since no scientifically verifiable physical cause can be adduced to support the phenomenon of the sun, various explanations have been advanced to explain the descriptions given by numerous witnesses. A leading conjecture is a mass hallucination possibly stimulated by the religious fervor of the crowds expectantly waiting for a predicted sign. Another conjecture is a possible visual artifact caused by looking at the sun for a prolonged period. As noted by Professor Auguste Meessen of the Institute of Physics, Catholic University of Leuven, looking directly at the Sun can cause phosphene visual artifacts and temporary partial blindness. He has proposed that the reported observations were optical effects caused by prolonged staring at the sun. Meessen contends that retinal after-images produced after brief periods of sun gazing are a likely cause of the observed dancing effects. Similarly Meessen states that the colour changes witnessed were most likely caused by the bleaching of photosensitive retinal cells. Meessen observes that sun miracles have been witnessed in many places where religiously charged pilgrims have been encouraged to stare at the sun. He cites the apparitions at Heroldsbach, Germany (1949) as an example, where exactly the same optical effects as at Fatima were witnessed by more than 10,000 people. There is, however, no agreement regarding the most-likely physical cause for such a visual phenomenon. A mass hallucination is more typically found among small groups rather than 70,000 people. Visual artifacts are commonly reported among large groups witnessing solar eclipses without eye protection, but these reports bear no resemblance to the descriptions at Fatima. [5]


No one is arguing that “all human perception itself to be completely meaningless outside of the scientific researcher’s laboratory;” only that at times our perceptions can mislead us in seeing things that aren't there. This is has been studied quite extensively and there are some mechanisms that are known to cause hallucinations in even perfectly healthy individuals. [6] The fact that this particular incident occurred to thousands of people is strange, but that's no reason to jump the gun and argue it was something supernatural. The largest piece of evidence against this being a real experience is the fact that no one else saw it happen. The hard part is figuring out just what caused it and with no evidence to examine it may not be possible to come to a definite conclusion.

Vox continues,


The Argument from Temporal Advantage

One of the obvious weaknesses in the atheist concept of the conflict between science and religion is the fact that many, if not most, of the great scientists in history were religious men. Even the first great martyr of science, Galileo Galilei, was not an atheist but a Christian. For every Watson and Einstein, there is a Newton, a Copernicus, a Kepler, and yes, a Galileo. Atheists deal with this in two ways, either by simply co-opting them—I have seen lists of famous atheists on the Internet that include Galileo—or by claiming them post facto. Dawkins, for example, implies that had these great religious scientists only been privy to the information available today, they would have abandoned their faith; other atheists come right out and state this directly.

What this argument neglects to take into account is that nearly all of the great religious scientists were not merely religious, but Christians, and that there were far fewer scientists than there are today. The first fact is significant because it indicates that there is likely a difference between the Christian worldview that supported a search for scientific truth and the various non-Christian worldviews that did not. The second fact is even more interesting, as it suggests that the non-Christian worldview of today’s science may in fact be hindering the pace of scientific development rather than helping it. The fact that today there are far more scientists accomplishing far less in terms of significant scientific developments could indicate, as John Horgan has suggested, that science is close to its goal of explaining nature and that there is simply not much more for scientists to do except learn how to make practical use of their theoretical knowledge. Alternatively, one could argue that the religious scientists of the past had it easy, working with a relatively blank slate, and have left only the most difficult tasks for their secular successors.

But the more we learn, the less we actually seem to know. Just this year, we were informed that what had been the accepted model of gene regulation may be less complete than was previously thought when researchers on the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements project discovered twice as many RNA transcripts and ten times more DNA transcripts than expected. Astrophysicists tell us that either 96 percent of the universe is missing or there is something wrong with our understanding of how gravitation affects the 4 percent we can see. And few can manage to keep up with adaptive devo punk-echthroi neo-quasi-Darwinism, or whatever the evolutionary biologists are calling this week’s spin on St. Darwin’s dangerous idea.

To assert that the greatest minds of the past, the original thinkers who weren’t afraid to challenge either orthodox dogma or the intellectual conventions, would automatically abandon their faith in favor of a status quo professed by the masses of over-specialized, under-achieving scientific mediocrities of today is not only a completely baseless assumption, it is egotistic wishful thinking. (254-255)


I find it odd that Vox ignores all of the great scientific achievements of Greek scientists, such as Hippocrates, who predate Christianity. But aside from that, I do agree that some do overstate their case a bit when they have no evidence either way on whether or not such and such scientist from the past would recant their beliefs given modern day knowledge. I think people who come to this conclusion do so, assuming these individuals would adhere to the scientific method and allow the evidence to take them wherever it may lead, but again, this is based on no evidence.

Vox continues with his next argument,


The Argument from Fiction

This argument states that because the Bible and every other sacred text are wholly man-made and as fictitious as anything written by Shakespeare or any other classic from the literary canon, there is no reason to take them seriously, much less base moral systems or societal structures upon them. The problem here is that the Bible has not only proven to be a more reliable guide in many instances than the current state of secular science as well as an accurate historical document, but sometimes a better predictor of future events than the experts on the subject. I bought euros back when they were worth just over ninety cents on the dollar because of the eschatological interpretations of the Book of Revelation that the European Common Market would one day become a single political entity, the endless vows of the European elite to the contrary notwithstanding. Now, the EUR/USD rate is bouncing around 1.45. Maybe it was just a fortuitous coincidence, but on the other hand, if a northern country shows signs of invading Israel, let’s just say I won’t hesitate to short their currency.

It is not an ability to explain past events, but its predictive value that proves the value of a model. And whether one considers geopolitics, psychology, or child development, the ancient text repeatedly proves itself to be a better predictive model than those supplied by the scientific experts.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Earth is flat. But Jesus’s statement in John 8:58, “before Abraham was born, I am!” is a very strange thing for an itinerant first-century rabbi to say, given the way it presages the twentieth-century concepts of multiple universes and existence outside the space-time continuum. (256)


Atheists don't want to base their morals upon the bible or any form of government because the bible in many places condones evil practices that are anti-freedom, such as slavery (Exodus 21:1-5), and forced religious belief under the threat of death (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 & 2 Chronicles 15:12-13). As far as the bible proving events, I've yet to see any proof positive evidence of this, and Vox fails to cite any evidence of this, other than a likely coincidence (which he readily admits may be the case). The bible, as a man made document, often tells tales of human misery, compassion, times of glory, new beginnings and other events that seem to replay themselves out during the course of human existence. This is not a sign of prophesy, but the simple fact that certain patterns seem to emerge in human civilizations throughout time and will likely continue to ebb and flow into the future.

The bible has also been shown to be largely unhistorical. It is true that a number of events have been corroborated but archaeological evidence has revealed that the historical reliability of the bible up to and including Kings has been shown to largely been unhistorical. [7]


The Argument from the Unfairness of Hell

This argument takes the possibility of the supernatural a little too seriously for any of the New Atheists, but one probably encounters it more often from Low Church atheists than one hears all the previous five arguments combined. And since it’s a Low Church argument, it is naturally a particularly stupid one that manages to ignore huge quantities of readily available evidence pertaining to human behavior while simultaneously assuming perfect long-term rationality on the part of every individual human being. This argument states that because Heaven is really good and Hell is really bad, the purported choice that God offers between the two really isn’t a choice, because what sort of idiot would choose to go to Hell? Therefore, it would be unfair for God to send anyone to Hell, and therefore neither God nor Hell can possibly exist.

The answer is the same sort of idiot that chooses to buy lottery tickets, smokes meth, has premarital sex, gambles in Vegas, buys technology stocks, or cheers for the Minnesota Vikings. In short, human idiots, which we all are to greater or lesser degrees. Everyone makes foolish decisions that combine short-term pleasure with long-term pain, and the fact that a correct choice should be completely obvious to any rational individual doesn’t mean that the choice is not a genuine one. Therefore, God is being fair in presenting the choice...which is really neither here nor there since God’s theoretical fairness or unfairness has nothing to do with the fact of His existence or nonexistence. (256-257)


Vox doesn't seem to understand the complaint about hell and god. It's obviously a choice, but it's more of a condemnation of god's character (the next argument Vox tackles) than anything. The reason atheists make this argument is simple and allow me to demonstrate why it proves god to be an moral monster. There is a mother who gives birth to a daughter. The daughter grows up and does some things her mother disapproves of. The mother then gives her daughter a choice: either obey her or she will light her daughter on fire. Now, yes, this is a choice but any sane human being would find this to be at the height of cruelty, and this is the kind of option this supposed loving god is allegedly giving his creations? What person in their right mind would condone such behavior by this mother? Let alone their “loving” god?


The Argument from God's Character

This is another superficial argument popular with Low Church atheists, although it pops up from time to time among the more militant High Church breed. It states that even if God exists, the morality He dictates is so abhorrent to the atheist and inferior to the atheist’s own moral sensibilities that the atheist cannot believe in Him. And in the unlikely event that the atheist is ever confronted by God, he will refuse to acknowledge His divine status let alone His right to rule over Mankind.

I find it very difficult to take this argument seriously, given how the first words out of every angel’s mouth seems to be “Fear not!” I am as arrogant as anyone (and more than most, I’m told), but on the day when I meet my Maker, the Creator Lord of the universe, I fully intend to set new speed records in performing a full proskynesis complete with averted eyes. It’s not so much the biblical confidence that “every knee shall bow” that makes me skeptical about this theoretical atheist machismo in the face of the Almighty, it’s the part about how even the demons believe...and tremble. I don’t know what it takes to make a powerful fallen angel shake with terror just thinking about it, but I have a feeling that neither Richard Dawkins nor Bertrand Russell will be wagging their fingers at God and criticizing Him for insufficient evidence on the day their disbelief is conclusively destroyed.

The argument is totally specious from the logical perspective, of course, because the fact of God’s existence no more depends on the quality of His character than does Charles Manson’s. Things exist or don’t exist regardless of whether we wish them to be or not. (257-258)


Again, as with the last argument, this is more of a condemnation of god's character than an argument against his existence.


The Argument from Moral Evolution

The idea that morals are not defined by sacred texts but have instead evolved naturally is the subject of much pseudo-scientific speculation and a few books, such as Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds, have been written about it. Christopher Hitchens is the foremost advocate of this idea among the New Atheists. While they admit that morality exists, they argue that it has evolved naturally through a material process, therefore it cannot have been acquired through divine revelation. However, like Richard Dawkins’s concept of the meme, the idea of moral evolution is little more than the use of an applied metaphor, a fundamentally unscientific concept that appears to be increasingly popular in the softer sciences today. Hauser articulates a concept of “primitive detectors” that are suspiciously similar to Dawkins’s imaginary “original replicators” that he supposes to have started the process of our moral evolution. But referring to these principles as DNA—Darwinian Nodes of Action—only makes them sound scientific, it does not magically endow them with the material properties of Deoxyribonucleic acid.

There are a number of problems with the idea of moral evolution if we pretend that it is not a metaphor but literal evolution. First, if the mechanism of evolution takes place at the gene level, it is very difficult to understand how one moral would mutate and replicate itself genetically. Second, it is easy to observe that the pace of moral transformation is rapidly accelerating. Less than forty years ago, homosexuality was universally considered an immoral action. Today, there is a substantial minority in the West that insist the belief in either the immorality or the psychological abnormality of homosexuality is itself immoral, a rapid notional transformation that is consistent with neither past moral transformations nor biological evolution. Furthermore, moral evolution depends upon the group selection aspect of evolutionary theory that has largely fallen into disfavor among modern evolutionary biologists.

Either Mankind should expect to start sprouting wings within the next century or the process of human moral development cannot be reasonably described as evolution. (258-259)


Vox seems to misunderstand the idea behind a moral sense. There are no individual moral rules that get passed from generation to generation, but are actually general principles. In his book Moral Minds Marc Hauser contrasts the foundation of our moral sense with the foundation of our innate ability to pick up language. Just as humans are able to pick up language, humans seem innately capable of picking up moral systems, not the rules themselves. Just as humans aren't born knowing the different words of the English language, but innately have the framework for language, we have a similar scaffolding for our morality. Hauser writes that, “we are born with abstract rules or principles, with nurture entering the picture to set the parameters and guide us toward the acquisition of particular moral systems.” [8] Just as these instinctual abilities to pick up language evolved and are a part of all humans, so too are our innate principles of morality, fairness, and justice. And just as many of our other instincts these are usually passed on without any problems from generation to generation, so there should be no obstacle for our innate morality to be passed on either.

The evolution of morality is still being researched and there are still hotly disputed topics, such as the reality of group selection, that are still being hammered out. These disputes, however, is no reason to throw out the idea of an innate morality. The many examples of different species helping others at a cost to themselves is proof that some from of altruism is a part of the nature of the animal kingdom. The seemingly instantaneous and unconscious ability of humans across cultures to choose very similar responses to examples of moral dilemmas is also more evidence of this shared moral sense.

How this moral sense evolved is another question entirely so disputing the sometimes tentative explanations of this very real phenomenon does nothing to refute the idea of our innate morality. That's like saying gravity doesn't exist because the current theory of gravity was somehow found to be flawed. It's the same flawed reasoning when anti-evolutionists deny evolution due to the disputes that take place between scientists, but as Stephen Jay Gould wrote about evolution, the same could be said about our morality,


Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered. [9]


I believe that our morality evolved because according to the bible humans are innately evil; we are sinners in need of salvation. However, science tells us that humans seem to be both selfish and altruistic, casting serious doubt upon the biblical story of the Fall of man and one of the central beliefs of Christianity.

Based upon experiments done with non-related chimpanzees and humans, the test subjects helped others without seeking any reward for themselves.


In one experiment done with semifree-ranging chimps in Uganda, a chimp struggled to open a door locked by a chain. The researchers wanted to see if a second chimp would release the chain to help the first get food. Three-quarters of the time, the chimps in a position to help did just that. “The crucial thing here is they help without any expectation of being rewarded, because they don't benefit from their helping,” lead researcher Felix Warneken [from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology] explains.

The same pattern showed up in a similar experiment with chimpanzees and humans: When a person with whom they had no prior relationship struggled to reach a stick, the chimps handed it to the person even when it required climbing up to a tall raceway. The chimps helped people just as often as 18-month-old German toddlers did in a similar set up involving a person struggling to reach a pen.

“The main finding is that humans and chimpanzees share altruistic tendencies,” Warneken says. In terms of evolution, he adds, this similarity suggests that the two species' common ancestors has these inclinations before culture developed.

And that tells us something about human nature.”There's a widely held belief that humans are selfish in the beginning and only through socialization do we turn into somewhat altruistic individuals,” Warneken says. This work suggests our nature contains the seeds for both types of behavior. [10]


Because we contain the “seeds” of both selfish and altruistic behavior, the evidence points to evolution as the creator of our morality, not any supernatural god or other process (at least the basic foundations; as humans further evolved we took charge of our moral fates and developed moral systems).


The Argument from the Golden Rule

It is often asserted that Christian morality is no different than other ethical systems that are based on the Golden Rule. And it is true that one can find pre-Christian examples of the same concept in the Analects of Confucius, in the Mahabharata, the Dhammapada, the Udanavarga, and even the histories of Herodotus. Still, there are two errors in this argument because Christian morality is not based on the Golden Rule, and because the Golden Rule, which states that a man should not do to others what he would not have them do to him, cannot provide a basis for a functional moral system.

Jesus Christ’s version of the Golden Rule, given in Matthew 7:12, is merely summary advice, not the basis of Christian morality. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This is practical advice given in the context of a general admonishment and it cannot possibly be the essence of Christian morality, for in the very same chapter, Jesus informs his listeners that “only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” will enter that kingdom. He did not say, “only he who does to others what he would have them do to him.” This mention of the Heavenly Father’s will, which also appears in the Lord’s Prayer, foreshadows the true foundation of Christian morality, which was articulated when Jesus answered an expert in Jewish law in Matthew 22:37 […] Obviously, a moral system based on loving the Lord your God and obediently submitting your will to His is a very different moral system and a far more objective one than the Golden Rule, which is not only entirely subjective, but incapable of accounting for either rational calculation or human psychopathy. (259-260)


Vox never explains why such a nugget of wisdom as the Golden Rule cannot be the basis of a moral system. As I argued previously, I believe simple ideas like this (such as the idea of happiness) can lead to the creation of a moral system so long as you include certain caveats. Because human interaction is complex it does necessitate a more complex moral system, but the basic idea is useful for determining a large range of dos and don’ts.

The idea of obeying, essentially, a moral dictator’s rules no matter what is in no way a good moral guide. By this logic, if god ordered an innocent person to be randomly killed this action would then be considered “moral” but we all (maybe not all, but most rational people anyhow) know this isn't moral.


The Argument from Superior Morals

There are many atheists who live lives that are morally exemplary according to religious standards. This causes some atheists to claim that this exemplary behavior is evidence of atheist moral superiority, because the atheist is behaving in a moral manner of his own volition, not due to any fear of being eternally damned or zapped by a lightning bolt hurled by an offended sky deity. However, this is a logical error, because while motivation plays a role in how we judge immoral actions, there are no similar gradations of that which is morally correct. There are many evils, there is only one Good.

For example, the act of stealing a loaf of bread is considered more immoral if the theft was committed by a rich thief who simply didn’t feel like paying for it than if the bread was stolen by a poor man who needed to feed his two hungry children. But the act of driving an injured person to the hospital is no more right when performed by a good Samaritan who just happened to be passing by than by a paramedic team who will be financially compensated for their actions. We may find the one more admirable, being less expected, but it cannot be more morally correct because that would imply that there was some degree of moral incorrectness to a correct action. To do right is to do right, the amount of rightness in the action no more depends upon the motivation than the amount of a woman’s pregnancy depends upon whether she is a married woman whose third round of I.V.F. treatment has finally proven the charm or a high school senior knocked up by the varsity quarterback on prom night.

An atheist can certainly behave better than a theist by the theist’s own moral reckoning. But it is logically incorrect to insist that identical moral behavior on the part of an atheist and a theist is proof of the atheist’s moral superiority. (260-261)


I would agree that an action done, whatever the motivations, results in the same outcome, but I believe Vox is missing the point. In our culture it is usually considered “more moral” to do something out of complete selfishness than because someone told you, or simply because it's your job, as with Vox's example of a paramedic. This does not mean, as Vox says, that this “would imply that there was some degree of moral incorrectness to a correct action.” Rather, it is considered more righteous and more moral to do good without someone having to tell you, or be watching over you. That's the difference. It doesn't mean one action is immoral, just more moral.

Just as children are praised for doing their chores without being told, or confess to wrong doing without any prodding from a parent, these actions were done without any coercion or force, making them “more moral” than if the child had to be told to do the chores or coerced into confessing the bad behavior. This is often considered acting responsibly and a sign of maturity.

Since we're discussing it, I do believe that atheists are in some cases more moral than theists because many of them state outright that they would commit an immoral action if god told them to. This has even been made clear by Vox himself. He writes on his blog,


Jefferson poses a feeble trap:

If your god revealed to you in a set of flawless communications you could not dispute that you should kill every child you see under the age of 2, would you?

I don't see what the problem is, or why people were avoiding this last night. I mean, of course it's supposed to be a trap but it's a toothless one of no concern to any sufficiently intelligent individual. The answer is yes, and how would you possibly take issue with that position regardless of whether you believe in my god or don't believe in any god?

If I am correct that my God is the Creator God, that we are all his creations, then killing every child under two on the planet is no more inherently significant than a programmer unilaterally wiping out his AI-bots in a game universe. He alone has the right to define right and wrong, and as the Biblical example of King Saul and the Amalekites demonstrates, He has occasionally deemed it a moral duty to wipe out a people. [11]


I don't care what anyone says, this is a completely immoral and illogical (I'm tempted to say bat shit crazy) stance to take. This comment right here proves the sometimes moral superiority of atheists who would never do such a thing even if ordered by the creator of the universe.

Vox continues in The Irrational Atheist, which I will quote at length and respond throughout since there is so much to respond to.


The Irrationality of Atheism

High Church atheists regard themselves as supremely rational individuals. They have from the very start. History’s first confirmed atheist, Jean Meslier, wrote that banishing the “vain chimeras” of religion would be enough to cause rational opinions to fill the minds of the formerly faithful, and anticipated Sam Harris by several centuries with his announcement that the moral precepts of Christianity were no better than those that every rational man could imagine.

Almost 300 years later, forty-three commenters at the militantly atheist science blog Pharyngula reported the results of an online personality test they had taken. Similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator survey, the test was hopelessly transparent and subjective, but provided a useful means of examining how these predominantly atheist individuals view themselves. They reported an average Rational rating of 94 out of 100, compared to an Extroverted rating of 32 and an Arrogance rating of 49. They do not see themselves so much as champions of reason, but paragons! Is this a justified belief?

While the atheist may be godless, he is not without faith, because he puts his trust in the scientific method and those who use it whether he understands their conclusions with regards to any given application or not. But because there are very few minds capable of grasping higher-level physics, for example, let alone understanding their implications, and because specialization means that it is nearly impossible to keep up with the latest developments in any of the more esoteric fields, the atheist stands with utter confidence on an intellectual foundation comprised of things he himself neither knows nor understands.


I've already addressed this statement earlier, and I find it humorous how Vox believes that atheists accept the scientific method on “faith.” As I said before, some atheists may do this, but the vast majority are often very familiar with scientific concepts. This is not taken on “faith” because the evidence is there to seek out if one wishes to learn more about a particular scientific theory. Even if it's a difficult science like physics there are books that explain these theories in some detail and there is always the option to write to a scientist and ask them questions. I've done this myself and have learned more because of it. It's also funny seeing Vox argue how it's often hard for people to understand and keep up to date on scientific discoveries because in most cases it's the theists who distort the scientific method and often do not understand it. They dismiss evolution because there is a supposed lack of intermediates (I can't forget Kirk Cameron's Crock-o-Duck); their mistaken belief that the big bang was the beginning to the universe when quantum mechanics says otherwise, but most theists ignore this and cite scientific publications and opinions prior to the late 1980's, which was when Stephen Hawking realized that quantum effects must be taken into account. [12]


In fairness, he cannot be faulted for this because there is simply too much information available for all of it to be processed by any individual. He can, however, be legitimately criticized when he fails to admit that he is not actually operating on reason in most circumstances, but is instead exercising a faith that is every bit as blind and childlike as that of the most thoughtless, Bible-thumping fundamentalist. Still, it can be argued that this is not necessarily irrational, it is only ignorance and a failure of perception.

The fundamental irrationality of the atheist can primarily be seen in his actions, and it is here that his general lack of intellectual conviction is also exposed. Whereas Christians and the faithful of other religions have rational reasons for attempting to live by their various moral systems, the atheist does not. Both ethics and morals based on religion are nothing more than man-made myth to the atheist, he is therefore required to reject them on rational materialist grounds. He can, of course, make a perfectly rational decision to abide by ethics and morals to which he does not personally subscribe because it would be dangerous to do otherwise in a society where he is outnumbered. This is W. Somerset Maugham’s semi-rational atheism, which states “do what thou wilt, with due regard for the policeman around the corner.”

So the atheist seeks to live by the dominant morality whenever it is convenient for him, and there are even those who, despite their faithlessness, do a better job of living by the tenets of religion than those who actually subscribe to them. But even the most admirable of atheists is nothing more than a moral parasite, living his life based on borrowed ethics. This is why, when pressed, the atheist will often attempt to hide his lack of conviction in his own beliefs behind some poorly formulated utilitarianism, or argue that he acts out of altruistic self-interest. But this is only post facto rationalization, not reason or rational behavior.


I've also addressed this as well, but again, atheists' morality is thought out and rationalized and, while there is some overlap with some religious traditions, most human beings share similar moral beliefs, as I noted earlier, and that explains whatever similarities there may be. After all, most atheists do not share many Christians' beliefs that homosexuality is wrong; that premarital sex is wrong; that a god's will should be followed no matter what, as Vox made very clear earlier. Vox even said himself how Christian morality is based upon the dictates of the Christian god, so how in the world can atheists follow Christian morality when they do not even acknowledge the basis of the Christian view of morality to begin with (the existence of god)!?!?


One need only ask an atheist what his morality is and inquire as to how he developed it and why it should happen to so closely coincide with the dominant societal morality to discover that there is nothing rational about most atheists’ beliefs. Either he has none and is “immorally” practicing Dennett’s doxastic division of labor by unquestioningly accepting the societal norms that surround him, or he is simply selecting which aspects to credit and which to reject on the basis of his momentary desires. In neither case does anything that can legitimately be described as reason enter into the picture. The same is often true of his atheism itself; it is telling to note that Hitchens and Dawkins became atheists after long and exhaustive rational inquiries into the existence of God, both at the age of nine. The idea that there is any rational basis for atheism is further damaged by the way in which so many atheists become atheists during adolescence, an age that combines a tendency toward mindless rebellion as well as the onset of sexual desires that collide with religious strictures on their satisfaction.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that intelligent men of intellectual repute such as Francis Collins and Antony Flew should have rejected atheism at the tender ages of twenty-seven and eightyone, respectively. Atheism is not only irrational, it is quite literally childish in many instances.


Ask any atheist and they can tell you what they believe morally and the means through which they came to those conclusions. Vox is simply ignoring the many atheists' statements about their moral beliefs. I believe that theism, if anything, is the belief that is childish because most theists, like a child, accept whatever their authority tells them. They do not think for themselves as most atheists do. Like I've said previously, an atheist can give you reasons for their moral choices, while a Christian in many instances will simply parrot their bible or religious authority about issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Like a child, they do not think these things through for themselves, and believe what their authorities tell them.


But the ultimate atheist irrationality is the idea that Man himself is rational. Despite the fact that many of our behavioral sciences are founded on this principle, including the dismal science so dear to me, almost all the observable evidence, scientific and anecdotal, forces one to conclude otherwise. Consider how the way in which the educated Western voting class manages to combine total ignorance with fundamental misconceptions to achieve a higher state of irrational consciousness that is breathtaking in its delusionary confidence, the miracle of aggregation notwithstanding. And in Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett describes a Multiple Drafts model of consciousness that renders the most basic concept of Man’s rationality suspect; he notes that the closer one examines the human mind, the more its fragmented and internally competitive nature becomes apparent.

You need only look around to see hundreds of examples of totally irrational human behavior every single day. Indeed, you need only spend a moment of honest introspection to find dozens of examples in your own life. Perhaps you bought an Internet stock in late 1999, or are dating a girl who cheated on her last boyfriend with you. The chances are good that you spent tens of thousands of dollars on a college degree that not only cost you five years’ worth of wages and work experience, but has nothing to do with your job now. You probably vote in presidential elections even though it is statistically improbable and logically impossible for your one vote to have any impact on the final result. And yet despite the irrationality of your activities, you will continue to vote, invest, love, and live because you are not a robot, you are a human being. Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing one who uses his intellect to construct reasons in post facto defense of his irrational desires.

Predicated on an unreliable human attribute that may not even exist, rejecting the foundation of Man’s most successful civilization, trusting a notoriously quixotic institution for a miracle as a means of replacing that foundation and refusing to learn from its past disasters, atheism is not so much the basis for an irrational philosophy as for an insane one. Attempting to build a society on reason is like waging a war on terror; the effort is doomed to failure because it’s a category error. There is no evidence, scientific or historical, that any human society can survive its establishment on an atheist foundation, let alone thrive, and a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.

We are fortunate, therefore, that so many atheist individuals nevertheless continue to openly adhere to conventional religious morals and ethics that they have no rational grounds for respecting. This irrational, if pragmatic, compromise between a public nod to morality and its private dismissal is an ancient one. When Socrates taught his students that knowledge is the only good and ignorance the only evil more than 2,000 years ago, he was fully aware of the potentially dangerous repercussions of this teaching and argued in The Republic that it was necessary to keep such virtuous knowledge to the ruling elite. The knowledge of the nonexistence of morality was the great secret to which only the rulers were to be privy and the justification for keeping their subjects in ignorance for their own good, lest the herd break out into rebellion. (261-265)


Yes, humans are largely irrational, but Vox forgets that theists are just as prone to these irrational tendencies as atheists. However, unlike most theists, atheists learn about these errors in thinking and work to avoid them, and if they do happen, acknowledge it and correct their error. [13] There is also the scientific method that can often help correct false beliefs. Through the scientific method we are able to check the accuracy of what we are experiencing with it's methodology that has proven to be reliable. And as it just so happens, this is exactly the theists' issue. For example, they tout design as a reason for belief when the evidence tells us it's all in their heads. [14] Science has 'corrected' their faulty belief in seeing "design." Unfortunately, it's the theists who act irrationally and insist upon the “design hypothesis” despite the overwhelming evidence against it. While I agree that humans are often irrational, it's actually the atheists who work to apply philosophy and scientific methodology to ensure they are not making a basic error in their thought processes. Theists do not do this.

Chapter 15: Master of Puppets or Game Designer?

In Vox's next chapter, he proposes a very interesting argument for solving the supposed contradiction Dawkins mentions in The God Delusion between god's omniscience and omnipotence.

Vox writes,


[…] [T]he problem with the Contradiction of Divine Characteristics, as we shall henceforth refer to the logical conundrum posed by Dawkins, is that omniscience, or the quality of knowing everything, is the description of a capacity, it is not an action. Likewise, omnipotence, being all-powerful, is a similar description, which is why these nouns are most often used in their adjectival forms modifying other nouns, for example, an omniscient god is a god who knows everything, i.e., possesses all knowledge. But capacity does not necessarily indicate full utilization and possession does not dictate use; for example, by this point it should be clear that an intelligent scientist is nevertheless perfectly capable of writing something that is not intelligent at all.

[…]

This illustrates the difference between capacity and action, and the distinction is a vital one. Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but it is not synonymous with use. Unless one clings stubbornly to an overly pedantic definition of both omniscience and omnipotence, an inherent incompatibility simply doesn’t exist between the two concepts. Indeed, if Daniel Dennett is correct and “knowledge really is power,” then logic not only dictates the compatibility of all-knowledge with all-power, but requires that the two superficially distinct concepts are actually one and the same. In this case, there not only is no contradiction between God’s omniscience and omnipotence, there is not even the theoretical possibility of a contradiction. (272-273)


I would have to agree with Vox here, assuming his god were even real, but that hasn't ever been established. Plus, this was a pretty minor point in Dawkins' book anyway, but I find Vox's argument to be effective and logical.

Conclusion

I've finally reached the end of the book and I am quite surprised by what I've found. When I began this review I had taken for granted the many positive reviews I'd read. I was especially influenced by the atheist blogger I quoted in my introduction to the review, Brent Rasmussen, who even went so far as to say,


I evaluate the books I read, the beliefs I come across, and the philosophies I examine fully, and with an eye towards the facts. I have a highly-sensitive bullshit meter, honed through 20-plus years of discussion, research, study, debate, and arguments with theists (that is, folks in which god-belief of any kind is present.) So, when you read the review below, keep in mind that I was really, really trying hard to find something that I could latch onto and argue intelligently and forcefully against. I was positive that it had to be there. I had my BS meter cranked up to 11 as I read through the book twice in an attempt to sniff out something that I could use - and the damned thing only went off a couple of times, and only when Day was explicitly talking about God and/or Jesus and his personal belief in the Christian mythology. [1]


Near the end of Brent's post he writes,


My advice is to read this book - and then do your damnedest to find something in it that you can argue against. Something beyond "that's stupid!" - which is what always seems to be the first-blush response from an atheist to a theist. (Fucking hell I'm tired of that shit.) I couldn't do it. Maybe you'll have better luck than I did. I hope you do. [2]


I agree that Vox pointed out a handful of relatively minor errors of the New Atheists (and a few big ones) but as I pointed out in my review, going through a book and pointing out little errors in what someone writes, while largely ignoring their main arguments, is not very impressive. Almost anyone can look at any book and point out something that's wrong with it if you look hard enough. For the most part when Vox did attempt to tackle a main argument he either misread the New Atheists or his evidence was seriously lacking – if his source didn't contradict his claim outright, as what happened when I looked at his use of the FBI hate crime data. The data actually confirms the New Atheists' argument about the divisiveness and violence that religion often causes.

But Brent's comments make me scratch my head. He apparently didn't look very closely at Vox's evidence or at the actual arguments made by the New Atheists or else he would have seen how often he took them out of context or outright misread them.

Suffice to say, I think his “bullshit meter” needs a major tuning up if it doesn't necessitate getting an entirely new one altogether because it obviously doesn't work. I don't mean to be so hard on Brent, but one would think that if you're going to investigate a book where the arguments made supposedly have a factual basis it's only logical to check the references yourself and not just assume the author accurately presents those he is critiquing and that their evidence says what they say it does.

This is an issue I believe is what causes so many to believe these apologetic books actually make good on their claim to refute the New Atheists. The people reading them just don't look into the arguments very closely (if at all) to see if what the author writes is accurate. As with every single book written attempting to critique the New Atheists even this one is guilty of taking them out of context and not accurately presenting their arguments. In fact, out of the several books I've reviewed I believe this book raises the bar on how many times they New Atheists were taken out of context.

On the other hand, Vox was successful at pointing out Sam Harris' errors in his Blue/Red State data and the problems with Richard Dawkins' arguments against god. I give Vox kudos on these accomplishments, especially when most others have failed to point out some of those issues, though, when you take this book as a whole most of his arguments were nothing but cases of nitpicking and contained very poor argumentation and quotes out of context.

My final verdict: Despite the hype my analysis is that the book has some value in that it dispels some common myths about science and religion and war and religion (as it relates to those atheists who make such arguments) and points out a handful of minor flaws and a few major flaws of the New Atheist authors. However, overall, Vox is guilty of misrepresenting several of the arguments of the New Atheists and making several logical and factual errors even when he does accurately present their arguments.


References

Introduction

1. Defending the New Atheism

2. The Irrational Human ‭- accessed 1-15-11

Chapter 1: A Pride of Atheists

1. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, edited by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press, 2007; 1

2. Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Free Thinker, by David Eller, American Atheist Press, 2007; 4

3. ‬Being religious may not make you healthier after all - accessed‭ ‬1-17-11

4. The Science of Good & Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, by Michael Shermer, Henry Holt, 2004; 235-236

5. Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions - accessed 1-17-11

Chapter‭ ‬2:‭ ‬Defining Science‭

‭‭1. ‬The Wedge Document ‭- accessed 1-20-11

2. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, ‬Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 67

3. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Alfred A Knopf, 2006; 62-64

4. Iran's Nuclear Program ‭- accessed 1-25-11

5. Iran: A Dangerous Evolution from Theocracy to Military Dictatorship; Violence, State-Sponsored Terrorism and Nuclear Weapons ‭- accessed 1-23-11

‭6. A History of the Modern World, by R.R. Palmer and Joel Colton, Alfred A. Knopf, 1956; 360

‭7. ‬Lavoisier: Chemist, Biologist, Economist, by Jean-Pierre Poirier, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996; 379

Chapter 3: ‬The Case Against Science‭

‭‭1. ‬Scientists Optimistic About Finding Planets That Could Sustain Human Life; ‭An article in ‬‭S‬cientific American ‭explains several ways to curb or stop global warming and several depend upon science to build purely electric cars or cars that run purely on ‬ethanol or hydrogen. Accessed ‭1-24-11

‭2. ‬A world first: Vaccine helps prevent HIV infection

‬Chapter 4: The Religion of Reason

1. Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, by Marc D. Hauser, HarperCollins, 2006; 224-225

2. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, edited by Robert Audi, Cambridge University Press, 2005; 284

3. Dictionary.com: Subjective - accessed 1-26-11

4. Against the Gods: Arguments Against God's Existence

5. Christian Apologists Just Don't Understand Morality, Part 1; Relative Morality and the Social Contract

6. Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery, by Thornton Stringfellow, J.W. Randolph, 1856; 37

7. Making Moral Decisions: A Christian Approach to Personal and Social Ethics, by Paul T. Jersild, Fortress Press, 1990; 16-18

8. Comrades: Communism: A World History, by Robert Service, Macmillan, 2007; 15-16

9. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, by Peter Marshall, Harper Perennial, 2008; 76

10. Wikipedia:European Union ‭- accessed 1-26-11

Chapter 5: Sam Tzu and the Art of War

1. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; 79

2. Table 4: Offenses - accessed 1-27-11

3. FBI Releases its 2005 Statistics on Hate Crime - accessed 1-27-11

4. Table 4: 2006 Statistics on Hate Crime - accessed 1-27-11

5. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005; 132-133

6. Ibid.; 133

7. Ibid.; 137

8. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History, by Jack David Eller, Prometheus Books, 2010; 229

9. Ibid.; 228

10. New World Encyclopedia: First Chechen War - accessed 1-31-11

11. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History, by Jack David Eller; 217-218

12. ‭‭W‬ikipedia.org: Mahavamsa - accessed 1-31-11

13. ‭‬The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials, edited by Edward Peters, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998; 33-34

14. Ibid.; 27-28

15. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005; 185

Chapter 6: The War Delusion

1. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005; 12

Chapter‭ ‬7:‭ ‬The End of Sam Harris

1. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; 7

2. Victor Reppert and John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith: The Debate Continues

3. The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, by David Aikman, Tyndale House Publishers, 2008; 32

4. Here is one example of a Christian who has done such a thing. I discuss it in my paper critiquing arguments for god, here.

5. The End of Faith; 14-15

6. Ibid.; 20

7. The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith, by Becky Garrison, Thomas Nelson, 2007; 59

8. HIV & AIDS in Malawi - accessed 2-2-11

9. Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions - accessed 2-2-11

10. Letter to a Christian Nation; 7-14

11. The End of Faith; 29-30

12. Ibid.; 233

13. 2010 Human Development Report

14. Ibid.

15. Letter to a Christian Nation; 43-44

16. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg, W.W. Norton & Company, 2007; 137

17. AfterThe Promise: the STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges - accessed 2-3-11

18. Ibid.

19. Letter to a Christian Nation; 27

20. Was atheism the cause of 20th century atrocities? by Robert of MakingMyWay.org

21. Response to Controversy - accessed 2-4-11

22. And God Created Lenin: Marxism vs. Religion in Russia, 1917-1929, by Paul Gabel, Prometheus Books, 2005; 90

23. Atheism is Dead Continues to Beat a Dead Horse: Communism & Atheism Revisited

Chapter‭ ‬8:‭ ‬Darwin's Judas‭

1. ‭The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 174

2. ‭Ibid.; 176

3. Atheists are generous, they just don't give to charity - accessed 2-5-11

4. Wikipedia.org: Taliban - accessed 2-5-11

5. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America, by Chris Hedges, Free Press, 2006; 82-83

6. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg, W.W. Norton & Company, 2007; 31-32

7. ‭The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, ‬Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 317

8. Ibid.; 318

9. Ibid.; 340

10. Does Religion Cause Sex Crimes?

11. Wikipedia.org: Many-worlds Interpretation - accessed 2-6-11

Chapter‭ ‬9:‭ ‬A Marxian Apostate‭

1. Periodical: Crick, Francis, and Leslie E. Orgel. "Directed Panspermia." Icarus 19, (1973); 342

2. Ibid.; 344

3. Life's Origin May Have Been a Shallow Affair - accessed 2-8-11

4. Does Religion Cause Sex Crimes?

5. ‭Anxiety Over Loss of Control Can Increase Belief in God...and Government

6. ‭The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of it’s Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Free Press, 2001; 62-63

7. ‭Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), b y Bart D. Ehrman, HarperOne, 2009; 29-53

8. ‭‬The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels, Random House, 1979; xvii

9. ‬god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens: A Response‭, ‬by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts - accessed 2-8-11

10. Ibid.

Chapter 10: The Pragmatic Philosopher

1. Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions - accessed 2-10-11

2. Walking the walk on family values - accessed 2-10-11

3. Breaking the Spell: Religion As a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett, Viking Penguin, 2006; 295

4. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, by Daniel C. Dennett, Simon & Schuster, 1995; 510

5. Against the Gods: Arguments Against God's Existence

6. Breaking the Spell; 311

7. Well-Being, Atheism, and Religion

8. Breaking the Spell; 307

9. Ibid.; 285

10. The God Delusion; 1

Chapter 11: The Robespierre of Atheism

1. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, by Michel Onfray, Arcade Publishing, 2008; 53

2. Justin Martyr's The First Apology - accessed 2-13-11

3. Not the Impossible Faith:‭ ‬Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu.com, 2009; 355

4. Ibid.; 392

5. Atheist Manifesto; 1

6. The Natural Rights Republic: Studies in the Foundation of the American Political Tradition, by Michael P. Zuckert, University of Notre Dame Press, 1996; 151

7. Atheist Manifesto; 163

Chapter‭ ‬12:‭ ‬Hitler,‭ ‬The Inquisition,‭ ‬The Crusades,‭ ‬and Human Sacrifice‭

1. ‭‬Hitler and the Holocaust‭, by ‬Robert S.‭ ‬Wistrich, Modern Library, 2003; 77, 129, 239-240

2. Ibid.; 135

3. ‭On the Trail of Bogus Quotes By Richard C. Carrier - accessed 2-14-11

4. ‭Ibid.

5. ‭‬Hitler and the Holocaust‭; 239-240

6. The Spanish Inquisition: A History, by Joseph Perez, Yale University Press, 2005; 21

7. Ibid.; 21-22

8. Ibid.; 69

9. Ibid.; 75

10. Ibid.; 72

11. The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, by Henry Kamen, Yale University Press, 1998; 45

12. The Spanish Inquisition: A History; 87

13. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land, by Thomas Asbridge, Ecco, 2011; 196

14. Ibid.; 199

15. Ibid.; 203

16. Ibid.; 203

17. Ibid.; 479

18. Ibid.; 205

19. Ibid.; 15

20. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History, by Jack David Eller, Prometheus Books, 2010; 103

21. Graulich, Michel. Aztec Human Sacrifice As Expiation. The Strange World of Human Sacrifice (Studies in the History and Anthropology of Religion). Edited by Jan N. Bremmer. Peeters Publishers, 2007. 10-11

22. Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence; 104

Chapter‭ ‬13:‭ ‬The Red Hand of Atheism‭

1. Comrades: Communism: A World History; 16

2. ‭Why Shoot An Abortionist? by Paul Hill - accessed 2-14-11

3. Defending The Defenseless by Paul J. Hill ‭- accessed 2-14-11

Chapter‭ ‬14:‭ ‬Occam's Chainsaw‭

1. Letter to a Christian Nation; 38-39

2. The God Delusion; 97-103

3. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences, by Susan Blackmore, Prometheus Books, 1993; 53-54

4. Wikipedia: Our Lady of Fátima -accessed 2-17-11

5. Ibid.

6. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas Kida, Prometheus Books, 2006; 110-117

7. The End of Biblical Studies, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2007; 163

8. Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, by Marc D. Hauser; 165

9. Evolution as Fact and Theory - accessed 2-10-11

10. ‭Krakovsky, Marina. “Chimps Show Altruistic Streak.” Discover Magazine January 2008: 63

11. Vox Day: Yes, I'd Totally Kill Toddlers at Blog of the Moderate Left - accessed 2-21-11

12. The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Books, 1996; 67

13. One very good book about this subject is Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas Kida, which is a very good book about how the human mind often causes errors in perception and judgment. Another one is How to Think Straight: An Introduction to Critical Reasoning, by Antony Flew. While a Deist now, Flew unfortunately seemed to forget everything he wrote in this book when he “changed his mind.”

14. Why Darwin Matters:‭ ‬The Case Against Intelligent Design, by Michael Shermer, Times Books, 2006; 38-44

Conclusion‭

1. The Irrational Human - accessed 2-22-11

2. ‭Ibid.

12 comments:

  1. There are some great atheist/secular blogs around but very few who engage so thoroughly and intelligently with Christian nonsense as you do.

    Really appreciate posts like this one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Please, if you see any typos or feel that an argument I made could be better worded, or better argued, please let me know your thoughts so I can edit the review for the final version."

    How would you like to be made aware of the typos? In a comment? By e-mail?

    Looking forward to going through your review. Well done!

    Brian
    Utah

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the compliment. I hope you enjoy the review!

    Brian,

    By email or in the comments is fine. Thank you! I'm looking forward to hear the opinions of those who read it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think you made a mistake in identifying the Israel and Palestine conflict as a religious one by presuming Israel's citation of the Bible was done on theological grounds. I've read somewhere that it was done on completely secular grounds. They cite the bible as a historical document, claiming that they were there first, and not that God gave them the land.

    While it certainly says in the bible that God gave them that land, that's not the argument they are making. Think of it as like Mexico invading Northern America and arguing that they originally owned the land anyway, and were the ones who were pushed out by the current inhabitants in the first place.

    --Miguel

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Miguel,

    Thanks for the info, but what is your source for this claim? But either way, my source, Hector Avalos argues that Jerusalem is an example of “sacred space” and this is based on religious reasons. I think his argument makes perfect sense.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don't actually remember now. But it somehow involved Game theorist Robert Wright. Come to think of it, you may be right, Avalos is a renowned scholar.

    --Miguel

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for the review!
    Just a small comment: Nobody ever seems to challenge the assertion that the French revolutionaries were all staunch atheists.
    If one actually reads a bit about the time one realizes that while they were highly anti-clerical and anti-Catholic, only a small minority were atheists, most were actually deists.

    For starters, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_the_Supreme_Being.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Mr./Ms. Anonymous,

    You’re very welcome. It was (and for the pending sections of the book, will be) interesting and educational doing the research for it.

    Yeah, with Day supposedly being so well versed in history I find it strange that he repeated that very common error I hear from Christian apologists about the Reign of Terror and the French Revolution itself.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Vox argues that the conflict in Palestine is primarily ethnic, not religious, and argues that the majority of Jews are secular, therefore religion couldn't be the reason for the fighting. However, Vox doesn't mention the fact that the bible, which most Jews surely are inspired by, says that god had given Palestine to the Jews and they are simply trying to gain what was given to them by their god"

    And this is the sort of circular reasoning that attempts to debunk Vox Day's logic.
    No, most Jews aren't in Palestine because of religion or being inspired by the Bible telling them that God gave them the land, simply because, I'll have to repeat Vox Day, most of them are secular and don't *believe in the story to begin with*. In fact, Jews weren't all that moved to move there until a certain guy from Austria decided he had exterminate them, their children and their grandchildren, regardless of their religion, in order to establish a utopia without the influence of judeo-christianity. So, again, if you're to credit the conflicts with Israel for the reasons Jews had to return there en masse to start with, credit them to Atheism.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the comment Spharion. I'm very confused by your comment because you ignore pretty much everything I said in response. Especially the following quote by the Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, who said that “the 'Land of Israel' are guaranteed to the Jewish people by Holy Scripture.”

    How can I be engaging in “circular reasoning” when I cite an Israeli as believing as exactly as I argued?

    So, again, if you're to credit the conflicts with Israel for the reasons Jews had to return there en masse to start with, credit them to Atheism.

    This last comment makes no sense. First, because of the above quote, and second, because even if Vox was correct about his “most Jews are secular” argument, “secular” is not the same thing as “atheism.”

    Please, if you return, try reading a little more than just a few sentences before crafting a response.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You would have a stronger argument if you showed where, on the Bible, you have a justification for the Israel-Palestine conflict. A quote by some famous guy isn't really a strong argument. Your points are shallow, and lack a deeper understanding of biblical context, and actually you are a bit short of coherence in many points. If you are really interested in making a point against Christianism, you should know what it is about. The only way to do that is reading the Bible. But, as all atheists, you for some reason just avoid being near it, and that becomes clear in your text. But, if you think you are that good in "refuting" Christianism, you should check Mr. Gary North work. Good luck, you are going to need it.

      Ps. Vox book is pretty weak in his arguments, but also are the atheists arguments about Christianity.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous,

      Thanks for the comment. However, I'm very confused by your comments because I assumed that it was common knowledge that in the bible god gave Jews possession of Israel to Abraham (Genesis 17:8) and to his descendants (Genesis 26:2-5). I should note that I didn't just cite one person. I also cited U.S. officials who view the conflict in religious terms, in addition to the former Prime Minister of Israel. This makes me believe you didn't read my refutation very well (Or you simply viewed my response in the comments where I do only cite one person). These facts completely demolish Vox's argument since his argument is that there is no religious element to the conflict at all. Of course, these quotes, and others, prove otherwise. Just for kicks, here is one more for you. Here is a statement by Mordechai Nisan, who wrote, “At the very dawn of Jewish history, contact with the Land of Israel established the principle that the presence of non-Jews in the country is morally and politically irrelevant to the national right of the Jews to settle and possess the Land... The Bible states the Jewish right regardless of non-Jewish presence.” (emphasis mine)

      Now to this ludicrous statement about how I am supposedly “afraid” of being “near” the bible, this is crazy since I own and am sitting near exactly five bibles (plus a Picture Bible I was given when I was a child) as I type this response.

      I know a lot about Christianity (and so do many other atheists) and one would think that if my arguments (and those of these other unnamed atheists you refer to) were really as shallow as you say you would actually back up your statements with some facts, just as I have done. But of course you don't. I doubt you have any facts that refute a thing I've written in this refutation (or anything else on my blog for that matter) and you're just blowing smoke.

      Delete

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