Thursday, December 1, 2011

The 'New' Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don't Hold Water?: A Refutation


I am at it again. I've set my sights on yet another Christian author who has published one more in a long line of books seeking to refute the New Atheists. This one is titled The 'New' Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don't Hold Water?, by Michael Poole, published by Lion Hudson plc, 2009.

I found this book to be poorly organized and the noted sources are a little difficult to understand at first, but other than that it is well written. The author has organized the arguments he will address by having each chapter devoted to a particular argument made by the New Atheists, which he designates as 'A' for “argument” or “assertion,” along with a corresponding number. It's certainly a different format for a book like this, and is a little annoying, but those are my opinions about how the book is laid out. As for the arguments themselves, let's find out...

However, before I begin I'd like to thank John, also known as “Hendy,” who currently blogs at technologeekery, for accepting my invitation to proofread early drafts and for advice on grammar. Thanks a bunch John!

Chapter 1: Un-natural selection or 'Down with sex!'

A1 Religion is evil because many bad deeds have been done by religious people.

In this first chapter Poole disagrees with Richard Dawkins' and Christopher Hitchens' complaints about the many evil deeds done by religious people. However, I feel that Poole has erected a strawman of sorts. The New Atheists do not view the bad deeds done by religious people as the reason religion is bad, it is the beliefs themselves that cause many people to do bad things, hence the many examples they give in support of their argument.

For example, in The God Delusion, Dawkins says,

You don't have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to 'respect' it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings. [1]

Poole counters by arguing that the New Atheists should have given a more balanced treatment by citing the many good things religion has done, such as the “abolition of slavery,” “the starting and foundation of schools and hospitals,” etc. (11) I disagree with the first claim, but the second and third are closer to the truth. [2]

My second complaint is that Daniel Dennett did provide several examples of religious people doing good things (and Poole even acknowledges this) so it's not as if the New Atheism as a whole disregards the sometimes good things religion has done. They just seem to believe that the bad outweighs the good, and that is my opinion as well.

He also complains about Hitchens' subtitle: “Religion Poisons Everything,” which I believe is a poor argument since it's obvious that it was worded in that manner to sell more books. Obviously Hitchens knows that religion has lead to some good things but, again, believes the bad outweighs the good. However, I do agree that the subtitle is an over exaggeration.

I believe Poole has erected another strawman when referring to Daniel Dennett's book Breaking the Spell. He wrties,

The investigation of the functions served by religion - functionalism - is not, in principle, a threat to the truth-claims of religion. It is a partial, but valuable, study of one aspect of the behavior of individual and collective humankind. Given Dennett's beliefs, he suggests

The three favourite purposes or raisons d'etre for religion are

comfort us in our suffering and ally our fear of death

explain things we can't otherwise explain

to encourage group
cooperation in the face of trials and enemies

Religion serves these three functions, and why not? They say nothing about the truth or falsity of the beliefs themselves. (13-14)

Dennett's main purpose was not to investigate whether or not religion is true but the origins of religion. Even the chapter where Dennett is quoted is titled “The Roots of Religion.”

In order to make his point about why such “argumentation is bad” he gives an example. He argues that “sex produces page after page of stories about broken promises, rape, adultery, promiscuity […]” and argues how illogical it would be to conclude that “sex is bad for you and sex poisons everything.” (15)

The problem with this argument is that it's based on a strawman as I've already explained so this argument is irrelevant. Even still, this argument is absurd since sex in and of itself is not a human activity that comes with certain beliefs which might influence behavior. Rather, it is the beliefs we often have about the inequality of women, or seeing women as purely sexual objects, that are often a cause of sex crimes, and not sex itself. Religion, on the other hand, does come packaged with certain beliefs that can cause immoral behavior.

Finally, Poole tries the “They're not a true Christian” defense against the numerous atrocities done by Christians or because of Christian beliefs. He writes,

In short, [Jesus] is saying: if people don't do (or try to do, since we are all fallible) what I teach, don't believe them if they claim to have faith in me, and to be one of my followers. (16)

Obviously, Christianity as its practiced today is much more than what Jesus preached and because there are so many varieties of beliefs within the religion of Christianity itself it's absurd to argue that such and such person isn't a true Christian if they don't hold to your particular set of beliefs.

Chapter 2: 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so

A2 'Faith is irrational' and 'demands a positive suspension of critical faculties.'

The author cites several quotes by the New Atheists stating how faith is “unevidenced belief,” but disagrees with this claim. He essentially uses semantics to argue his case here, saying that “credulity” would be a better word to use than faith to describe belief without evidence. Poole writes,

The above views of faith do not reflect how the word is generally used in everyday life. […] [W]e might express our faith in a surgeon, a close friend's reliability […] (18-19)

These beliefs he uses as examples of “faith” are actually not “unevidenced” beliefs, but are beliefs that are reasonably held due to certain facts. Perhaps both the surgeon and the close friend are trusted because they have proven themselves to be reliable in the past? However, religious beliefs often have no evidential support to speak of. Any claims of evidence are often found to be faulty, such as “design” arguments. Therefore, religion can be said to be based on “blind faith.” After all, it's been shown quite extensively that Christianity is built upon exactly this kind of faith, “belief without evidence.” [1]

The final argument Poole uses is the claim that atheists have “faith” too. Faith in our senses. This argument has the same problem I spoke of above. Based upon past experience our senses can be trusted and have been proven to be reliable most of the time. In addition, the scientific method has often been helpful in correcting any issues with our senses not accurately representing the world, such as the common example of ghost sightings. Here, our senses are seemingly leading us astray but the scientific method can be used as a way to check to be sure our senses are not deceiving us.

The author also references Richard Dawkins' lectures titled Growing Up in the Universe and argues that Dawkins has also used the word “faith,” essentially trying to discredit his argument, saying that, “faith is a word used by religious and non-religious people” to mean “trust.” He quotes Dawkins saying that one must “put your faith in the scientific method. There's nothing wrong with having faith... there's nothing wrong with having faith in a proper scientific prediction.” (21)

What Dawkins meant in his lecture by “faith in the scientific method” was that based upon what we know about the laws of physics he knew that when he swung a ball, suspended by a string, away from his face it wouldn't swing back and strike him due to the knowledge we have of how objects behave due to these laws.

I don't feel this semantics argument is an effective one because no matter which word one uses, what matters is how one comes to believe certain things and whether or not there is reliable evidence for those beliefs. The scientific findings of science Dawkins spoke of in his lecture had solid evidence backing his statements, which is a far cry from the claims of religion. I will get to those supposed evidences later on in the book.

Chapter 3: People who live in glass houses...?

A3 Religious beliefs are memes, mind viruses, self-delusion, placebos, wishful thinking and indoctrination.

Poole argues,

But if belief in a God is a 'mind virus' that we may not know we have, then the double-edged sword that cuts both ways dictates that belief in no God is also a 'mind virus' that we may not know we have. This leaves the awful possibility that the atheist, too, may be living a life of total self-delusion without knowing it. (24)

Rather than trying to argue that these claims about religion are false, Poole attempts to argue that non-belief could be called a mind virus, a self-delusion, etc. but doesn't elaborate on his argument about exactly why this is so. Sure, this could “cut both ways” but where is the evidence that it does? He provides none.

Once again, Poole argues that the “double edged sword” cuts both ways when Dawkins argues how religion is “wishful thinking.” He says,

Furthermore, Dawkins claims that 'people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they'd like to be true.' But here comes the double-edged sword that cuts both ways. Change 'theological' for 'atheistic' and where does that get us in the debate? (25)

Again, no argumentation can be found detailing exactly why what he says even remotely applies to atheists.

Next, the author complains about Dawkins', and other atheists', use of the words indoctrination and brainwashing when referring to the teaching of religion. Once again, Poole argues that Dawkins is doing the same thing through his lectures Growing up in the Universe and the series on Charles Darwin called The Genius of Charles Darwin. Poole points to some “anti-religious” comments Dawkins made in both series. I've seen the entirety of The Genius of Charles Darwin and part of Growing up in the Universe and Dawkins was educating the children, trying to get them to view the world outside of their religious bubble and encouraging them to view the scientific evidence for evolution. That's what education is supposed to do: encourage children to learn of the evidence for evolution and allow them to accept it or reject it on their own, not threaten children with hell if they don't believe your views, as is often done with religious beliefs. Of course, Poole doesn't mention that aspect of religious “education.”

Another complaint by Poole about the Genius of Charles Darwin series is that Dawkins did not tell the students that one doesn't have to choose between either belief in evolution or belief in god. True, theistic evolution is a common belief, but it wasn't mentioned by Dawkins because, frankly, it's a view that has not a shred of evidence for it so Dawkins rightfully rejects this viewpoint. (28-29)

I am shocked that a theist finally understands Dawkins' views on “child abuse” and did not falsely characterize Dawkins as some evil atheist who wants to stop parents from teaching their own kids religion. He even says, “It is reasonable not to stick the labels of the parent's faith on to children who are too young to have made individual commitments.” (26) However, he uses the same “double-edged sword” argument and says that atheism “could also owe a lot to the gullibility of young people.” (26) He provides no evidence this is the case.

He further argues that many children “are taught to question and think through their beliefs; and some, after careful thought, arrive at belief in God or retain their existing belief in God.”

He also argues that, through interactions with other children who have different beliefs, children often learn to question their beliefs on their own. Having said this Poole says, “So perhaps the dangers are not as real as Dawkins seems to think.” (26)

Yes, but the fact is that countless parents do scare their children with hell if they do not believe as they do and that's the point! Arguing that, 'Well, parents don't always do what Dawkins describes' is no argument to the fact that many parents do precisely what Dawkins is complaining about.

Once again, yes, many children do remain with religion despite learning of other views, but at least they did so without pressure from their parents and threats of hell, which is what Dawkins was complaining about in his chapter on children and religion. Even Dawkins would support this (though he would highly disagree with their decision and see it as the wrong one, but at least they were not forced into that belief). As he wrote in The God Delusion,

If, having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they grow up and decide that the bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege. The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think, not their parents' privilege to impose it by force majeure. [1]

Chapter 4: '...and may be used in evidence.'

A4 'Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue. The more your beliefs defy the evidence, the more virtuous you are.'

Poole begins by stating the following,

In Root of all Evil? Dawkins states that 'Science weighs the evidence and advances. Religion is hidebound belief for belief's sake...' and '...the whole point about faith is that even massive and constantly accumulating evidence cuts no ice.' But is this true? (30-31)

The author cites John Montgomery, Professor Emeritus of Law and Humanities, as stating how he used the “legal standards of proof by preponderance of evidence and proof beyond reasonable doubt” as his criteria for believing “that God exists.” Of course, this is nothing but an appeal to authority and Poole further argues that there are forms of evidence that can be examined. Poole cites the bible and argues,

These testimonies illustrate the point that evidence today will have to be indirect - reported speech. Tests for the reliability of these authors, as well as of other historians such as Tacitus, Pliny and Josephus, draw upon the usual canons of historical evidence. (33)

There are numerous reasons why the bible cannot be trusted, one of which is the fact that these so called “historians” actually got a great deal incorrect as revealed by archeology. Having been proven wrong on many other issues it is only logical to suspend judgment until the facts can be checked. Until then, it's most wise to disregard much of what the bible says. [1]

Next, the author actually believes that he has avoided the same criticism he levels against the New Atheists. In his introduction he quoted Antony Flew,

In an earlier philosophical work, Flew cautioned that it would not to recognize that of a whole series of arguments each individually is defective, but then to urge that nevertheless in sum they comprise an impressive case... We have here to insist upon a sometimes tricky distinction: between, on the one hand, the valid principle of the accumulation of evidence, where every item has at least some weight in its own right; and on the other hand, the Ten-leaky-buckets-Tactic, applied to arguments none of which hold water at all. (9)

Then, Poole argues that his case truly is a case of “cumulative evidence, each having some small value, [that] can add up to 'proof by preponderance of evidence and proof beyond reasonable doubt', while steering clear of the Ten-Leaky-Buckets-Tactic explained in the Preface.” (33)

He then brings forth his so called evidence. He mentions several standard theistic arguments:

1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
2. The seeming fine-tuning of the universe.
3. The existence of beauty and moral values, including principles of obligation and fairness.
4. Revelation.
5. The “evidential value” of religious experiences, including answered prayer.
6. Historical evidence, “drawing on both secular and religious sources.”

Poole fails to go into any kind of detail at all about these supposed evidences. Of course, each of them are horribly bad arguments and do in fact represent a “Ten-Leaky-Buckets-Tactic,” despite the author's denials. Each of these arguments have been dealt with in numerous places. Needless to say, they're all greatly flawed. [2]

In the final section Poole very briefly discusses the resurrection and again cites the bible as his “proof” that Jesus (and others) did in fact become raised from the dead. Once again, the bible is not a reliable book to be basing your beliefs on. Second, there has never been any confirmed evidence of any supernatural occurrences. If they do not occur now, why should we believe they did occur in the past? If supernatural phenomenon occurs at all surely it's on-going and does not just occur in certain time periods, especially not with all of the stories of supernatural phenomenon occurring throughout all periods of history. This is proof people believed in the supernatural throughout the past also, but due to our more advanced technology we are better able now then they were to determine whether or not these experiences were true representations of reality. All evidence to date shows they are not. [3]

Poole dismisses the very scholarly treatments that have disproven the resurrection and says, “Many have attempted to disprove the resurrection story but, so far, without noticeable success.” (38) I suppose Poole has not read the excellent collection of essays by noted biblical scholars in the book The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder.

Like the vast majority of this book thus far, Poole has failed to cite any sources for his alleged evidence. At the end of this chapter he relies on another argument from authority by citing Simon Greenleaf, Professor of Law at Harvard University, on the supposed reliability of the gospel accounts. (39) Once again, the facts entirely contradict Greenleaf's statement.

Chapter 5: Ancient.doc

A5 '...Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci indeed fabricated from start to finish: invented, made-up fiction. In that respect, it is exactly like the gospels.'

[Maimonides, a great Jewish scholar] 'fell into the same error as do the Christians, in assuming that the four Gospels were in any sense a historical record.

Finally, the author decides to defend at least some of the arguments he put forward about the reliability of the bible as a historical source.

Poole cites both Dawkns and Hitchens as dismissing the bible as a reliable source of information, and even chides Dawkins by pointing out that he failed to cite any scholars who agreed with this view. (41-42) Of course, I have given several references by several noted biblical scholars who've come to this conclusion, more or less.

Next the author disputes a few minor complaints about the bible and the place of Jesus' birth by Dawkins and Hitchens. Since it's such a minor point I won't bother to address it. However, Poole further argues for the existence of Jesus and argues that the authors of the bible must have known Jesus personally. He argues that “there appears to be good evidence that the fourth gospel was the work of the apostle John, who was closely involved with Jesus.” (44)

It's highly unlikely that the author of John knew Jesus since the gospel of John has been dated to around 90-120 A.D., a century after the events they describe. [1] Given the fact that most people only lived to about the age of 46 it does not appear likely there are any eye-witness accounts of Jesus' life. To quote Richard Carrier,

In the ancient world, the average life expectancy (for anyone who survived to age 15) was 46 years, while fewer than 1 in 20 would live to 70, and fewer than 1 in 200 would live to 85. Any witness, who survived the war and was at least fifteen years old by 35 A.D. (and thus could recall events of previous years with any kind of reliability), would probably be dead before 75 A.D. (having only a 34% chance of survival, even without an intervening war and persecution), and would almost certainly be dead by 100 A.D. (with only a 1.5% chance of survival, and that's again without an intervening war and persecution, which would have reduced the probability of survival a great deal more). […] Likewise, Josephus himself says 20 years is enough time for witnesses to no longer be available to rebut a story (Life 360; cf. Jewish War 1.15 & Against Apion 1.55). [2]

Poole cites the same authorities he did earlier but in his attempts to bolster his case by citing these individuals he inadvertently weakens it. He writes,

John Montgomery (p. 31), in his paper 'A Lawyer's Defence of Christianity', comments that

In a court of law, admissible evidence is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful. This is in account with ordinary life, where only the paranoiac goes about with the bias that everyone is lying.'

Montgomery mentions how Professor Simon Greenleaf, referred to in Chapter 4,

....applied to these [New Testament] records the “ancient documents” rule: ancient documents will be received as competent evidence if they are “fair on their face” (i.e. offer no internal evidence of tampering) and have been maintained in “reasonable custody”... He concludes that the competence of the New Testament documents would be established in any court of law. (45) [emphasis mine in bold]

As the authorities Poole just cited said, if the documents can be shown to have been tampered with or were shown to be doubtful that could cast serious doubt on the reliability of the gospels. Well, as I've explained already, the gospels have enormous contradictions between them [even between the resurrection accounts, which Poole fails to mention (42)], science has proven much of what the bible says to be inaccurate, and there is clear evidence of tampering. One example is in the gospel of Mark. Mark 16:1-8 is the earliest version of the resurrection story, where women discover the empty tomb, and an angel tells them that the disappearance of the body means that Jesus has risen. In the earliest and best manuscripts the gospel ends there, then later on a scribe adds Mark 16:9-20, which speaks of his disciples seeing Jesus after he has risen. [3] Right here is iron clad evidence of “internal evidence of tampering.”

Poole finishes out the rest of this chapter by citing more “experts” as to the reliability of the gospels. He quotes F.F. Bruce as saying,

...if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. […] Somehow or other, there are people who regard a 'sacred book' as ipso facto under suspicion, and demand much more corroborative evidence for such a work than they would for an ordinary secular or pagan writing. […] (46)

Once again, more statements without any evidence. The fact is that scholars check the reliability of other ancient documents as well and don't just blindly trust what they say. This is often done through archeology. The reason the bible is seen with “suspicion” is precisely because of the work done by archeologists in piecing together fact from fiction regarding the bible, and showing how in numerous cases it is historically inaccurate.

Ending this chapter Poole cites F.F. Bruce and Eric Ives as arguing how the New Testament has many more manuscripts than most other ancient documents (yes, this old canard again...), thus (somehow) proving these documents are reliable. (46-47) Just because there are many copies of something does not mean we can trust what the documents say, since we do not have the original documents to compare with the surviving copies. To quote John Beversluis,

[…] Since the autographa have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on them for 2,000 years, how could anybody possibly know what was in them – much less, which copies approximate most closely to them? Since there is nothing to which existing manuscripts can be compared, the very ideas of the original manuscripts and which manuscripts approximate most closely to them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. I can judge that a photo is a good likeness of you if and only if I have seen you and know what you look like. If I have not, then I am the last person on earth to ask. The situation is not improved by assuring me that there are thousands of photos of you. The fact is that I have never seen you, so tell million photos would not help. [4]

Throughout the majority of this chapter we saw Poole use nothing more than arguments from authority without any evidence to back up his claims. Either that, or his claims contradict the facts outright as I've shown.

Chapter 6: Explaining Explaining

A6 'Historically, religion aspired to explain our own existence and the nature of the universe... In this role it is now completely superseded by science.'

'Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.'

'Religion can only provide facile, ultimately unsatisfying answers. Science is constantly seeking real explanations.'

Poole makes his goal clear when he says,

A common mistake is to regard explanations of processes as alternatives to explanations about the acts of agents, human or divine, rather than as compatible accounts. In connection with science-and-religion issues, this tendency sometimes manifests itself not simply as contentment with one type of explanation but in denying the need, the validity, or both, of other types of explanation. […] Surely, saying “God did it” is logically compatible with saying how it came about, isn't it? (52-53)

Poole argues that “both can be true,” meaning the scientific facts about our world and acts of god. For example, according to the author evolution could very well be true, but that does not mean that god couldn’t have helped to guide it in some way.

The issue with this type of argumentation is that there is not one shred of evidence for any gods and there is no evidence of any tinkering by any supernatural agent. Due to the lack of evidence the supernatural explanations are not rejected because they are not liked, or some other reason, but because there is an enormous lack of evidence for such things.

Next, Poole claims that atheists use what he calls a “Gap of a God” and says,

But here we are confronted with something like an atheistic converse of the God of the Gaps. This is the belief that scientific explanations oust explanations of the agency of God, which I shall call Gap of a God. (55)

Once again, where is his evidence for such a belief? The supernatural has never been proven, despite much scientific study.

The reason scientific explanations supersede religious ones is simply because the scientific explanations actually explain the phenomenon while religious explanations simply “beg the question” by making one wonder how or why god did this or that. Religious explanations leave a lot to the imagination when it comes to god. On the other hand, science can explain most phenomenon while taking into account all the how and why questions. This is something that religion can't do when it comes to their pet explanation: god. But there is more than mere practical reasons to disregard religious explanations, there are philosophical reasons too. To quote Donald R. Prothero,

[S]cientists practice methodological naturalism, where they use naturalistic assumptions to understand the world but make no philosophical commitment as to whether the supernatural exists or not. Scientists don't exclude god from their hypotheses because they are inherently atheistic or unwilling to consider the existence of god; they simply cannot consider supernatural events in in their hypotheses. Why not? Because […] once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it. [1] (emphasis in original)

Chapter 7: Where do we draw the boundary?

A7 ' Religion is a scientific theory.'

'I pay religions the compliment of regarding them as scientific theories.'

'I shall suggest that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis.'

Michael Poole opens his chapter with the following,

The first two claims [above] are not recent but seem consistent with the third and three similar ones in The God Delusion. But is it coherent to expect a scientific test for God, who is not a material object? […] The scientific enterprise, by its subject matter of material things and by its methods, does not concern itself with First Causes. […] So there is something odd about turning to science, the study of the natural world, in the hope of answering religious questions about whether there is anything other than the natural world (that is, God) to which the natural world owes its existence. (57-58)

While science does often rely on methodological naturalism science can and does search for supernatural phenomenon and there are materialistic ways to test for supernatural phenomenon.

To quote Donald R. Prothero once more,

[T]here have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophesy, and astrology. All of these nonscientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation (see Isaak 2006; also 2002 for a review). [Philip] Johnson loudly complains that the supernatural has been unfairly excluded from the debate, but this is clearly not true. Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test. [1]

I also greatly favor Victor J. Stenger's statement about this issue. He sums it up by arguing,

Religions make statements about all kinds of phenomena that are legitimate parts of science, such as the origin of the universe and evolution of life. Even the principles of morality are subject to scientific investigation since they involve observable human behavior. […] The gods most people worship purportedly play an active role in the universe and in human lives. This activity should result in observable phenomena, and it is observable phenomena that forms the very basis of scientific investigation. [2]

I don't think much more needs to be said. However, I will note that Poole objects to Dawkins' argument that god must also need a creator if, as theologians say, “everything has a cause,” by stating that, “Created Gods are, by definition, a delusion.” (60) Really? If that's the case, then why do anthropologists find exactly what Poole argues is a “delusion?” The fact is that some cultures have stories about gods who are born and die. [3]

The fact is that science can and does investigate supernatural phenomenon and to date no evidence of anything supernatural has been uncovered, despite much research into the matter. Because of the very facts noted by Victor Stenger science and religion are not “non-overlapping magisteria,” to quote the late (and great) Stephen Jay Gould.

Poole also seems to believe that science and religion are compatible and argues against the claim of the New Atheists that they are in conflict, but he doesn't really develop his argument. He simply notes how many religious believers see no conflict and that there have been many religious scientists. (61-62) Science and religion are in conflict because they both make claims about the origins of the universe, the origins of man, and other questions that are clearly questions for science. In this way science and religion can do nothing but conflict with one another.

Chapter 8: An endangered species?

A8 '...good scientists who are sincerely religious in the full, traditional sense,' both in the United States and in Britain, 'stand out for their rarity and are a subject of amused bafflement to their peers in the academic community.'

Poole takes up what I would consider to be a fairly trivial point about the lack of religious scientists in The God Delusion. However, the fact is that many studies do confirm largely what Dawkins reports. But I am getting a little ahead of myself. Poole writes,

I find this statement surprising. Not only are there many scientists who have religious interests, but many such academics have formed societies to engage in scholarly studies of, and produce publications about, the interplay between science and religion. (67)

He then lists several of these societies and the number of members. For brevity I will not copy the list of each association but the total number of religious scientists in each. The total comes out to 3,721. (68)

There are several studies throughout the years which show that scientists who are religious are fairly rare. A study done in 1998 in Nature showed that 60.7% expressed “disbelief or doubt.” [1] A second study done in 2007 concluded that “52 percent of scientists surveyed identified themselves as having no current religious affiliation.” As for the labels "evangelical" or "fundamentalist," under “2 percent of the RAAS population identifies with either label.” [2] Finally, a study done in 2009 showed that only 33% of scientists believed “in god,” while 18% don't believe in a god but do believe in a “higher power.” 41% don't believe either. [3]

While it could be considered debatable what exactly “rare” means in this context the fact is that scientists are overwhelmingly non-religious.

Chapter 9: Back to the drawing board – but whose?

A9 'Darwin has removed the main argument for God's existence.'

Michael Poole begins,

The final two chapters will consider 'the central argument' of Dawkins' book which sets out to explain the origin of the universe's apparent design without invoking actual design. (69)

He then begins to discuss William Paley and the watchmaker argument, next quoting Charles Darwin as no longer being impressed by Paley's arguments since his discovery of natural selection. Poole then quotes Darwin again from a letter to Asa Gray,

Darwin's theory altered Paley's from of an argument for God from design but did not remove the idea of design altogether. Darwin suggested that the design lay in the laws God created – 'the Creator creates by...laws' – commenting that 'I can see no reason why a man, or other animal, may not have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who forsaw every future event and consequence.' (70)

This quote seemed suspect to me so I looked it up. At the Darwin Correspondence Project website this letter is archived. Here is the latter half of the letter in full so you can see the context.

[…] With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.—

Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws,—a child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by action of even more complex laws,—and I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; & that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event & consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter. [1]

It appears that Poole has correctly interpreted Darwin's views, in that god may have created the laws that govern man, beast, and the universe, but the quote itself appears to take Darwin out of context by wrongly quoting him as saying that he could “see no reason why a man, or other animal, may not have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator […],” seemingly contradicting his own statement quoted by Poole about Paley's argument.

I find the phrasing of the quote strange and I was unable to find the book Poole cited for this quote on the internet, Darwinism and Divinity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985). If anyone has it please check it out for me. Poole says it occurs on page 56.

Either way, citing Darwin's beliefs about his own theory is, once again, nothing but an appeal to authority. Furthermore, much more has been learned since Darwin's time so to cite his opinions on whether or not god has a hand in the workings of the laws of nature is pointless.

Poole continues to argue that it's still possible that this “appearance of design in nature” could have “resulted from actual design.” He argues that god could have created “a universe involving a Big Bang” and all that took place – the particles colliding, etc. - could have been caused by god. (70)

Following this argument, he continues by arguing that even though there are cancers and “[t]he presence of consequences unintended (but not unforeseen) by God does not, however, rule out divine design, even though Dawkins claims that 'natural objects... have imperfections which you wouldn't expect to get on objects designed by a real designer.'” (72)

Poole fails to provide any evidence for this all-powerful being so this argument's fatal flaw is the lack of evidence of Poole's god. With science closing the gaps in our knowledge, the tasks that god was needed for are no longer. Those many tasks are nature's do to now. Given these facts theists have had to reinvent their god. Yes, some theists have made this same argument throughout history, but that fact does not cause the evidence for their god to come bursting forth. That's the key that's missing if Poole's argument is to hold any water.

He continues to argue that god may have created the process of evolution to create life and quotes a few Christians as coming to this conclusion. He also claims the bible contains passages that speaks of evolution, one being Mark 4:26-28, but this is a very vague passage that is only speaking of the fact that corn grows after a seed is planted and man is clueless as to how this process takes place. This is just one out of countless examples of Christians' spurious reading of modern day science into the bible. The mechanism of evolution hadn't been discovered until hundreds of years later so it would be impossible for the bible to contain such knowledge.

The final topic under discussion is Intelligent Design. Because Poole is a theistic evolutionist he is hostile to the Intelligent Design movement and gives a few criticisms I agree with, such as the apparent shrinking of the number alleged “irreducibly complex” systems that I.D. supporters can point to due to our increasing knowledge. However, I find Poole's criticisms of I.D. to undermine his own arguments since our expanding knowledge of the universe itself, and not just of evolution, is closing many gaps, leaving less and less room for a god to hide. In addition, there is no evidence in the universe or our biology of any tinkering of any god, as I mentioned earlier. These facts entirely undermine Poole's argument.

I agree with Victor J. Stenger who says,

[M]ost science-savvy theologians agree with most scientists that intelligent design, at least as it has been formulated so far, is a failure. Theologians are far more impressed by the fine-tuning argument and they have received support from a number of prominent scientists who profess not to be believers but admit that the facts are puzzling and require explanation. [2]

More recently Stenger has published a new book explaining why all of the fine-tuning arguments in use are factually incorrect and he did so without resorting to the controversial multiverse theory. [3]

In conclusion, Michael Poole writes,

In short, evolution is a broken crutch for supporting atheism. (77)

As I've said, there is no evidence of Poole's god so his argument leaves him spinning his wheels and he fails to get anywhere. Furthermore, I am well aware that evolution has been assimilated into Christian belief but the fact is that evolution contradicts the original Christian belief in human origins. The fact that Christians have to reinvent their beliefs is proof that evolution is a problem for Christian dogma. It is intellectually dishonest to include new scientific discoveries into a supposedly truthful revelation from their god about human origins as told in their bible. If this was a revelation from their all-knowing god, why didn't he include the fact of evolution? Not just evolution but all scientific discoveries are a problem for Christian belief. It is not a virtue to adapt to new discoveries when it comes to religion, it is a disgrace.

Chapter 10: Unpeeling the Cosmic Onion

A10 '...some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwin does for biology, rendering God improbable.

'...any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress.'

The first half of this chapter discusses the controversial multiverse theory and Poole explains that it is not possible to observe it and if this is so why is it considered “scientific.” (81) I would agree that this proposal has not been proven yet but a multiverse does fit with scientists' current knowledge of the universe, but there is no need to resort to such a hypothesis in order to refute this claim of fine-tuning. [1] In Victor J. Stenger's newest book, The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, he makes his argument by “the application of well-established physics and cosmology” alone. [2]

Poole cites Stephen Hawking as saying that “a minute increase of about one part in a million million in the density of the universe one second after the Big Bang would have meant a recollapse of the universe after some ten years.” (78-79) Poole is obviously attempting to argue this is an example of fine-tuning but this appears to be false. [3]

Next, the author argues that “[t]he idea of a necessary choice between a multiverse or God is another example of the fallacy of the excluded middle […]. The arising of our particular domain within a multiverse would no more disprove divine activity than natural selection disproves divine activity in organic adaptation […].” (82-83)

Once again, I would argue that the multiverse is more scientific than the god hypothesis simply because scientists' findings seem to predict the occurrence of a multiverse but no observations have even hinted that god exists.

The second half of this chapter addresses Richard Dawkins' Boeing 747 argument against god in The God Delusion. Poole argues that Dawkins' argument against god does not apply to a being that is immaterial since Dawkins' argument relies upon the concept of natural selection, a physical process. (83-84) As Poole has done throughout his book he has essentially made his god untouchable and unknowable. Of course, as I quoted Victor J. Stenger in a previous chapter, god is said to work within the world and so we should be able to detect his presence in some fashion, so this argument gets Poole nowhere.

I found the author's next sentence to be amusing. He wrote,

[O]ne general way of deciding God's probability would be to take the 'pointers' to God's existence, outlined in Chapter 4, and evaluate how far they support a cumulative case for God. (84)

According to his own argument god must be horribly improbable since all of his arguments in chapter 4 were shown to be completely devoid of any factual content.

Finally, Poole takes issue with Richard Dawkins' argument of the infinite regress, the same argument Poole quoted above at the beginning of the chapter.

I am confused by Poole's argument. Dawkins' statement was referring to the fact that god should also require a designer, thus god is vulnerable to an infinite regress. God couldn't have just “popped” into existence, according to this argument; he had to have been created as well.

First Poole runs the sequences of the big bang backwards, starting with the fact that the carbon in our bodies was made from stars, to the formation of stars, to the big bang itself. Poole then continues with the following,

All these explanations are, to use William of Ockham's words, 'of the same kind': physical explanations, with no mention of God. There is no obvious indication that the sequence, like the unpeeling of some cosmic onion, is an infinite regress. (85)

It appears that Poole is attempting to argue that the universe has a definite moment of creation, therefore it cannot be eternal (have an infinite regress), which is false, but Dawkins' argument was referring to god, not the universe.

Poole continues after briefly discussing quantum effects,

Summing up, it is questionable whether there is a physical infinite regress within our universe. But whichever way the answer lies, it has little bearing on the flawed 'Who made God?' argument. The idea of 'being made' is conceptually excluded in the case of the Judaeo-Christian God […] (85)

Again, Dawkins' argument was referring to god, not our universe, but the fact is that modern cosmology and physics tell us that the universe is likely eternal. [4]

Yes, Poole seems to like arguing that nothing can possibility disprove his god but, as I've stated a few times already, if god works within this world as theists argue then evidence should be there that we can examine. The fact that evidence that should be there, but isn't there, if god were real, is pretty good evidence of his non-existence. In other words, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

In the final section of the book Poole writes,

On London's 'bendy buses', early in 2009, there appeared the slogan 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life.' […] If God has the same status as tooth fairies and Father Christmas, as Dawkins appears to think, is it necessary to spend so much money trying to persuade people that God doesn't exist? (89)

I'd like to answer this question for him. The reason so much money and time is spent looking to convince people there is no god is because of the physical harm that often comes from that belief, as I explained in the first chapter. In addition, numerous groups who have religious agendas seek to push their religion and/or beliefs on us and those that speak out are simply fighting back against these groups. [5]


This was certainly an interesting book. It was well-written and was an easy read. I just do not agree with most of the author's conclusions and feel that he is deceiving himself, especially regarding his reliance on his very fallible bible. On the other hand, it was a breath of fresh air to read a book seeking to refute the New Atheists that was not filled with misquote after misquote. Michael Poole successfully interpreted their arguments in most cases and, to my surprise, understood Dawkins' actual views on the issue of children and religion. I can't tell you how nice it was to finally find a Christian who did not take Dawkins' words and twist them in order to accuse him of wishing to pass laws to stop parents from educating their children in their religious faith.

I also am delighted to know that Poole is not an advocate of Intelligent Design. That was also a breath of fresh air.

Having said this, I know the book was not intended to be a fully fleshed out argument, hence it's brevity on most issues, so I can understand Poole not going into as much detail as I believe he needed to on most issues. However, I do wish that he would have at least cited more sources where more fully formed and detailed arguments might be found in order to supplement his brief treatment of these issues.

Finally, I think I've reviewed so many books written by Christian apologists that I can't really seem to find anyone who has any original arguments. They all pretty much say the same thing. That reminds me of a passage in a book by Robert M. Price. He said,

Reading these books and debating [Craig Bloomberg] taught me one thing: with only minor modifications, namely the partisan, opportunistic appropriation of some more recent scholarly theories, today's new generation of apologists are using the same old arguments InterVarsity sophomores are trained to use. Little has changed since the eighteenth century. In fact, every debate I have had with evangelicals has reinforced the same conclusion. What has happened, I think, is that the traditional apologetics have now become as fully a part of the evangelical creed as the doctrines they are meant to defend! The apologetics have themselves become doctrines. The official belief, then, is so-and-so, and the official defense is this-and-that. That is why their books all sound the same and why the new ones sound just like the old ones. [1]

I can relate to Price's thoughts on the matter. I've begun to feel the same way. About every book I read and refute contain almost the exact same arguments, sometimes even using the same language! One example while reading this book stuck out in my mind. I reviewed another book called The Truth Behind the New Atheism, by David Marshall, and he also argued, like Poole, that faith means “trust.” There were other similarities but I won't bore the reader with any more.

To reiterate, the book was a good and easy read but the argumentation and logic was mostly very flawed and numerous facts refuted many of the author's conclusions outright.


Chapter 1: Un-natural selection or 'Down with sex!'

1. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 306

2. Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, by Hector Avalos, Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd., 2011

Chapter 2: Chapter 2: 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so

1. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier,, 2009; 329-351; 385-404

Chapter 3: People who live in glass houses...?

1. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; 327

Chapter 4: '...and may be used in evidence.'

1. Several books lay out this evidence. A few are as follows:

The Case Against the Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2010

Who Wrote the Gospels?, by Randel McGraw Helms, Millennium Press, 1997

The End of Biblical Studies, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2007

Jesus, Interupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), by Bart D. Eheman, HarperOne, 2009

The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Anceint Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Free Press, 2001

The Bible Against Itself: Why the Bible Seems to Contradict Itself, by Randel McGraw Helms, Millennium Press, 2006

Biblical Errancy: A Reference Guide, by C. Dennis McKinsey, Prometheus Books, 2000

2. The following books are good resources on these arguments:

The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed For Us, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2011

The above books on the bible are excellent resources about the historical claims and claims to accuracy about the bible.

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

Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2008

3. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, by Terence Hines, Prometheus Books, 2003

Chapter 5: Ancient.doc

1. - accessed 10-16-11

2. Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?, by Richard Carrier, Chapter 7, Footnote # 31 - accessed 10-16-11

3. Jesus is Dead, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2007; 4

4. The Case Against The Case for Christ:A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2010; 98-99

Chapter 6: Explaining Explaining

1. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero, Columbia University Press, 2007; 11

Chapter 7: Where do we draw the boundary?

1. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero, Columbia University Press, 2007; 11

2. The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2009; 14

3. Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker, by David Eller, American Atheist Press, 2007; 14

Chapter 8: An endangered species?

1. Leading scientists still reject God - accessed 10-16-11

2. Scientists May Not Be Very Religious, but Science May Not Be to Blame - accessed 10-16-11

3. Scientists and Belief - accessed 10-16-11

Chapter 9: Back to the drawing board – but whose?

1. Darwin to Asa Gray, May 22, 1860 - accessed 10-16-11

2. The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2009; 88

3. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2011

Chapter 10: Unpeeling the Cosmic Onion

1. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2011; 227

2. Ibid.; 22

3. The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2009; 95

4. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us, by Victor J. Stenger; 115-147

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


1. The Case Against The Case for Christ:A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2010; 17


  1. Thanks for the mention and great write up. I try to review books reasonably thoroughly myself, so I know how much work these things are! Thanks for contributing to the body of blogosphere knowledge!

  2. Thank you very much for the time spent doing this in such a pleasant way to be read.
    I've started not long ago watching debates and reading about this kind of topics and must say I'm rapidly getting bored and arriving to the same feeling you describe that apologists don't do anything new. It would seem as they were not even listening to the other side on the debates, It is frustrating to see them repeat over and over the same refuted argument as if they were stubborn children. Being some of those arguments a simple insult to human intellect.

    I really wish they would stop the bible references and begin a true search for god if what they want is everyone else to agree with them.

  3. Thanks for the comment! I'm so happy you enjoyed the review! Take care.

  4. "..if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt."

    His argument is silly. Harry Potter? James Bond? Superman? All "generally regarded as authentic beyond all doubt"?

    I find nothing in the gospels which is inconsistent with their being fully fictional. They clearly resemble this more than any other genre. The lack of biographical details, the errors in history, geography and culture, all of these go to their fictional nature. Nothing about them has the ring of truth.

  5. Thanks for reading! I agree, though I think the quote was referring to ancient writers not comic strips or novels, but I get your point. For example Plato had mentioned Atlantis and this has caused people to go out and search for it, but now they believe he was just mistaken. What was it about all secular writings taken seriously without question? Just like the bible secular writings are investigated and often found to be inaccurate.

    “The lack of biographical details, the errors in history, geography and culture, all of these go to their fictional nature.”

    I agree.

    Take care.


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