Friday, August 28, 2009

Book Review: Atheist Delusions, The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies

Following is my review of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, by David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press, April 2009). Hart (who also wrote The Doors of the Sea which I reviewed here) is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher who is currently a professor at Providence College. Those who read into the subtitle a dismissive tone (“its fashionable enemies”) do so correctly. Hart sets out to dismantle the underpinnings of today’s “New Atheist” authors, showing how their works rest less upon rigorous scholarship, and more upon the ethos of our age.


The Dismantling of New Atheism


In Atheist Delusions, Hart raises a powerful polemic against contemporary unbelief popularized by the so-called “New Atheists”. It is also, perhaps, the most formidable defense of Christian faith I have ever read.


I am a Christian skeptic. I tend not to believe things because someone told me it is so. I prefer to test everything, weigh everything in the balance of reason and evidence. I believe that God gave us minds to use! The result of all this is that I sometimes call much of what passes for Christianity into question. When I read what atheist skeptics are saying (as I often do), I find them to be correct in many of their assessments of belief.


Within this context, I found in Hart's book a powerful force drawing me into a much deeper appreciation for the place of Christianity in history, and the uniqueness of the Christian message. It also opened my mind (frighteningly!) to what a truly post-Christian era will look like. It is this flow of history, both in retrospect and in prospect, as seen through Hart's analysis, that greatly strengthens my assurance in the truth and viability of the essential message of Jesus.


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once remarked that “history has to be rewritten because history is the selection of those threads of causes or antecedents that we are interested in.” And so the rewriting of history will always reflect prevailing current thought. This phenomenon is nowhere more blatant than in the selective retelling of history presently in vogue among the New Atheists. Hart’s book offers a scholarly retort to the history of Christianity in the West being offered up by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, and Harris. I suppose that the Holmes observation might apply equally to Hart’s work. I will leave that case for others to make. But having read from the New Atheists, and having read Hart, I found Hart’s retelling of Christianity’s story to be the far more compelling.


Much of this book draws a contrast between the paganism predominate in the pre-Christian era, and the Christian “revolution” which supplanted it. It is popular in some quarters today to cast a nostalgic eye upon the supposed virtues of paganism, and to lament its overthrow. Hart demonstrates conclusively how preposterous these notions are. He does not gloss over, nor deny the sad history of injustices and crimes which have been committed in the name of Christianity, a litany of offenses which seems to completely engross the enemies of belief. Notwithstanding these blemishes, and with great skill and scholarship, Hart takes us on an enlightening stroll though history; he reveals how Christianity has advanced the sciences, social morality, and in particular, humanitarianism, far beyond the highest prospects of paganism. It is the Christian understanding of humanity, the elevation of what it means to be human, that is, in Hart’s view, Christianity’s most significant contribution. Against this backdrop, Hart paints the horrific prospects of inhumanity which lay before us in a post-Christian era. Here he finds an ally in Nietzsche's more thoughtful atheism. Hart deeply respects the intellectually honest unbelief of Nietzsche who clearly saw the frightening nihilistic consequences of the “death of God.”


In contrast to his respect for Nietzsche, Hart laments the shallowness of today’s trendy unbelief. “ ... the tribe of the New Atheists is something of a disappointment. It probably says more than it is comfortable to know about the relative vapidity of our culture that we have lost the capacity to produce profound unbelief” (page 220). This “tribe of New Atheists” has published a spate of atheistic titles over the last decade. Hart has offered a persuasive rebuttal. The gauntlet has been dropped. I anxiously await a scholarly response from the halls of unbelief. I doubt that one will be written.

66 comments:

Steven Carr said...

So the book never even attempts to shows that there is a god, which seems to be the main claim of atheism.

How can you refute atheism except by producing this alleged god?

Cliff Martin said...

How can you refute atheism except by producing this alleged god?

And exactly how do you propose to refute theism? Since neither atheist nor theist can rely upon certain proof, we are left with logical inference, aren't we.

If you thought Hart's book was just another stab at some sort of theistic proof, you missed his point entirely. And no doubt, you were disappointed. But did you read it?

Steven Carr said...

On page 232, the author lists the evils produced by Christian America - nuclear weapons, lobotomies, experiments on prison populations.

And, of course, the author produces not one shred of data that the people who introduced lobotomies and nuclear weapons into the world were atheists.

These things came from Christian America - 'One nation under God'

I think Mr. Bentley Hart will be ignored by atheists, as he is not worth talking to.

Cliff Martin said...

Steven,

I'm quite sure that neither Hart nor myself with agree with your assessment that America is "Christian." Far from it. But, nice try.

Steven Carr said...

You no more need to refute theism than you need to refute the doctrine of reincarnation or karma or phlogiston or the universal ether.



And Christianity , like Mormonism and Islam, is based on Frauds and Lies


But get your imaginary god to do something.

He used to kill children (see 2 Samuel 12)

Nowadays he can't even strike Dawkins down with swine flu.

Steven Carr said...

So America is not a Christian country.

America is an atheist country?

Why do they have 'In God we trust' on their coins?

Why has every President been a Christian?

Why do Christians often claim that only 1.5% of Americans are atheists?

Cliff Martin said...

Steven,

"So America is not a Christian country.
America is an atheist country?"
Do you really think that there are no other alternatives? A country must be either “Christian” or “Atheist”?

"Why do they have 'In God we trust' on their coins?"
Good question, especially in light of the many examples of America explicitly not trusting in God. I don’t know the answer to your question, but stamping a motto into coinage does not a Christian nation make.

"Why has every President been a Christian?"
By whose definition? Several were deists. I find few of them to have been serious followers of Jesus.



"Why do Christians often claim that only 1.5% of Americans are atheists?"
I don’t know. Ask them. I don’t make such claims, I’ve never heard such claims (though I do not doubt they exist), and I have no idea why anyone would make them, nor do I get your point. How exactly does this relate to your contention that America is a Christian nation?

Rather than going on and on with your tiresome diatribes, please use this space to respond either to Hart’s book or to my review of it. Thank you.

Rich G. said...

Steven:

On page 232, the author lists the evils produced by Christian America - nuclear weapons, lobotomies, experiments on prison populations.

And these things are evil because...?

Rich G. said...

Steven:

And Christianity , like Mormonism and Islam, is based on Frauds and Lies

You didn't prove anything more than that there are parallels and similarities. Now how do you propose to prove that the parallels are falsely applied?

Cliff Martin said...

Steven,

"On page 232, the author lists the evils produced by Christian America - nuclear weapons, lobotomies, experiments on prison populations"

Yes, you are correct that Hart does list that very series of horrors, scientific "achievements" and man upon man atrocities. But the accuracy of your observations ends there. Your logic breaks down on a number of points.

1) Hart does not attribute these developments, as you do, to America.

2) America is not the Christian nation you suppose it to be. Hart makes no such claim, and neither do I.

3) Hart makes no claim that these horrors were perpetrated uniquely by atheists, so of course he presents no data to back up a claim he does not make. He does claim that such scientific developments "[follow] from making an ideology out of science" which is in his view "a special achievement of secular rationality." The data to back this up can be found in atheist writings everywhere. Atheists love to point out that 20th century science was dominated by secularists. You can't eat your cake and have it too.

4) Far from being "Christian" developments, Hart maintains that these horrors "required the scientific mind to move outside or 'beyond' Christian superstitions regarding the soul and the image of God within it." In other words, it is Hart's precise point that these developments are part of the post-Christian mentality into which western cultures are descending headlong.

You would do well to read more carefully.

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > ... the most formidable defense of Christian faith I have ever read.

"In a larger sense, moreover, nothing I argue below - even if all of it is granted - implies that the Christian vision of reality is true." page x


Cliff > I suppose that the Holmes observation might apply equally to Hart’s work.

'This book is in no sense an impartial work of history. ... What I have written is at most a "historical essay," at no point free of bias, and intended principally as an apologia for a particular understanding of the effect of Christianity upon the development of Western civilization.' page ix


Cliff > ... he reveals how Christianity has advanced the sciences, social morality, and in particular, humanitarianism, far beyond the highest prospects of paganism.

Where does he reveal how Christianity as Christianity has advanced "devices like the heavy saddle with stirrups, the wheeled plow, the rigid horse collar, heavy armor, and the nailed horse-shoe" (page 73) ?

Were "both the Hellenistic and the Islamic scientific cultures so technologically static" (page 74) as the author tells us ("Aristotle ... thought all invention exhausted") or would there come an Archimedes?


Cliff > Hart deeply respects the intellectually honest unbelief of Nietzsche who clearly saw the frightening nihilistic consequences of the "death of God."

'... Nietzsche ... cherished "Enlightenment" virtues ... prove also to be destined for oblivion.

Or perhaps not. There really is little point in extravagant and doom-fraught prognostication.' page 238

"As such, some would argue, nihilism is potentially the most peaceful and pluralistic of intellectual conditions, precisely because it presumes no system of beliefs that ought to be imposed upon others and no single correct path to truth that others ought to be made to tread." page 21


Cliff > This “tribe of New Atheists” has published a spate of atheistic titles over the last decade. Hart has offered a persuasive rebuttal.

Hart has offered a few pages of derogatory comment, presumably in the hope that it will help promote his book - nothing about Dawkins' book, nothing but ridicule of the title of Hitchens' book, but he does seem to have read Harris's book and he obviously read Dennett's book.

Should Hart's writing be exempt from the ridicule he applies to others?

What should we think when he tells us that Richard Dawkins' "memes" are an "inane concept" (page 7) and later tells us they are a "justly famous metaphor" (page 237) ?

What should we think when he harangues Dennett for speaking of religion in the abstract (pages 7-8) "When, therefore, Dennett solemnly asks (as he does) whether religion is worthy of our loyalty, he poses a meaningless question" and later finds it meaningful to speak of the secular order "freed from the authority of religion" in the abstract (page 106) ?

"So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves..."

Thomas said...

This month's Christianity Today also has a review.

Enjoyed your comments. I am interested in the book.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

I apologize for not having time to respond to all of your comments. So I just picked one to follow up on:

What should we think when he tells us that Richard Dawkins' "memes" are an "inane concept" (page 7) and later tells us they are a "justly famous metaphor" (page 237) ?

Apparently, in your haste, you failed to read the full sentence on page 237. Hart refers to "memes" as a being a metaphor, and goes on to say that Dawkins "unfortunately does not quite grasp it is a metaphor." IOW, Hart does not accept Dawkins ideas about memes, neither on page 7 nor page 237. If you read his statements again, you will find that Hart is fully consistent.

Isaac Gouy said...

> Apparently, in your haste, you failed to read the full sentence on page 237.

I read the full sentence on page 237.


> Hart refers to "memes" as a being a metaphor

Yes I quoted him as saying they are a "justly famous metaphor".


> and goes on to say that Dawkins "unfortunately does not quite grasp it is a metaphor."

I didn't think it charitable to draw attention to that snide remark - where does Hart show that Dawkins doesn't quite grasp it is a metaphor?

Isaac Gouy said...

> not having time to respond to all of your comments

Then start at the beginning, how you can think it "the most formidable defense of Christian faith I have ever read" when the author goes out of his way to tell you "nothing I argue below - even if all of it is granted - implies that the Christian vision of reality is true"?

Rich G. said...

Steven Carr:

And Christianity , like Mormonism and Islam, is based on Frauds and Lies

Yesterday I was in a restaurant, and happened upon an article comparing and contrasting the coincidental similarities (and there are many) between the accounts of the assassinations of President Lincoln ans President Kennedy. If I follow your logic you use in your web page, am I to conclude that the story of JFK's death is a fabrication based on the accounts of Lincoln's?

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

"Hart has offered a few pages of derogatory comment, presumably in the hope that it will help promote his book - nothing about Dawkins' book, nothing but ridicule of the title of Hitchens' book, but he does seem to have read Harris's book and he obviously read Dennett's book."

Which is more important to debunk, one selected book or that author's overall philosophy as presented over the span of numerous books, papers and public appearances?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

I didn't think it charitable to draw attention to that snide remark - where does Hart show that Dawkins doesn't quite grasp it is a metaphor?

Perhaps your omission was based on charity, but it also concealed Hart's entire point, and resulted in an apparent quote-mining contradiction. To say that Dawkins notions of memes is a metaphor is to say it is not a real mechanism of evolution, but merely symbolic. Is it not plain to any reader (it was to me) that Dawkins view of memes is that they are more than mere metaphor? Such statements require proof? Makes me wonder if you understand the terms, memes and metaphor.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

For me personally, Hart's treatise powerfully demonstrates the truth of Christianity in terms of its fruit historically. That validating Christianity was not Hart's purpose in writing, or even assessment of his book is beside the point. I found it to be what I found it to be.

I might similarly read the Book of Mormon, and conclude based upon the reading that is untrue. My own conclusion would be totally unlike the writers' intention, and their own conclusion.

By the way, have you ever heard of understatement?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Your objection re. Hart's own modest view of his book has left me wondering ...

When I consider how forceful and validating Hart is, in light of Hart's own limited scope and purpose in writing (not to provide ultimate validation of the "Christian vision of reality"), I anxiously await the day when (and if) Hart sets out to offer a full-on apologetic of Christianity!

Perhaps I should be more specific about what I wrote in the review. The attack of the new atheists upon Christianity is most effective when it centers down upon the the history of and the ill-effects of Christianity upon Western societal development (and it is often only the ill-effects they are able to see through their darkened lenses). Their view of history results not only in their chosen atheism, but leads them to a militant anti-christian polemic. They assert that the world would be a better place without Christianity. The rest of the new atheist polemic is built around straw-man errors and/or logical blather.

All this is my opinion, of course. But my opinion matters here. My point is that I find their historical arguments to be the only effective ones. I think Hart would agree. And that is why he leaves aside all the other contentions, and limits his focus to historical scholarship (or in their case, the lack of it).

So, when I characterize Hart's book as validating to my personal faith, it is against this backdrop. He annihilates the strongest (and only meaningful) argument of the new atheists (again, in my view). Thus it becomes, as I wrote, "perhaps the most formidable defense of Christianity I have ever read."

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > ... Dawkins view of memes is that they are more than mere metaphor?

1) In that case Hart was wrong to say "Richard Dawkins's justly famous metaphor" because there would be no such metaphor belonging to Richard Dawkins.

2) Hart's general comment Richard Dawkin's inane concept of "memes" (for a definition... swipes down "memes" as metaphor along with anything else that fits that definition.


Cliff > Makes me wonder if you understand the terms, memes and metaphor.

Hart referred to the definition of "memes" in the Oxford English Dictionary so that's the definition I read.

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > I found it to be what I found it to be.

When what you found it to be is something the author tells you is not there, in all humility you should seriously consider the possibility that you misread the book.

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > All this is my opinion, of course. But my opinion matters here.

Here's the misunderstanding - I thought this was intended to be a book review, rather than a blog entry about how a particular book fits into your opinions.

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

"When what you found it to be is something the author tells you is not there, in all humility you should seriously consider the possibility that you misread the book."

I just found this on my Day-by-Day Calendar:

De Baumarchais's Motto
"It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them."

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

"When what you found it to be is something the author tells you is not there..."

All I had to do was read just the first page of Hart's introductory remarks to see the falsity of your statement.

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

I just started both David Hart's and Antony Flew's books, and was surprised by the parallels and agreements between them about the current [deplorable] state of Reason as used by popular atheists. I think I will have to read (and re-read) them simultaneously as each seems to bring clarity to the other.

Rich G.

Cliff Martin said...

Rich,

I look forward to discussing both books with you sometime (hopefully!) soon.

Lest your comment tick off atheist readers of this blog unnecessarily, let's agree to this:

Not all atheists abuse reason. And many popular Christian authors do.

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

"Not all atheists abuse reason..."

Agreed. My comment was my synthesis of the introductory comments in both books, and was not intended as an indictment of all atheists.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G.> All I had to do was read just the first page of Hart's introductory remarks to see the falsity of your statement.

Perhaps when you get to the second page of Hart's introductory remarks which include the remark I quoted...

Meanwhile might you share those of Hart's introductory remarks that impressed you so?

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

I got way past that, and did not find any language that forms the kind of positive denial that you are claiming.

No, I won't answer your question unless and until you answer mine directly.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. > I got way past that, and did not find any language that forms the kind of positive denial that you are claiming.

I wonder how many times we get to repeat this before it becomes a copyright violation?

"In a larger sense, moreover, nothing I argue below - even if all of it is granted - implies that the Christian vision of reality is true." page x

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

I'd already read that - several times. Taken in context, the author's statement still does not say what you are trying to force it to.

Rich G. said...

Point of clarification:

To state that: "nothing I argue below - even if all of it is granted - implies that..." [Hart]

is not equivalent to: "something the author tells you is not there..." [Isaac]

Isaac Gouy said...

By coincidence I came across some remarks that made Hart's "technology" comments on page 73 seem stranger still:

"There is a persistent myth that the Romans never developed an effective horse harness..."

"The Romans did not develop windmills, but watermills were common from at least the first century... There were water-powered saws to cut marble and other stones..."

page 47, How Rome Fell, Adrian Goldsworthy

I suppose one explanation for Hart's example of waterpower in the Cistercian monasteries of the 12th century and silence on the colossal Roman Barbegal mill is that the sources he chose date from 1962 and 1976.

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

"By coincidence I came across some remarks that made Hart's "technology" comments on page 73 seem stranger still..."

What do you think Hart was saying with his comments about technology?

Cliff Martin said...

Based upon a quick and cursory study of the history of saddles and waterwheels, I agree with Isaac that on page 73 Hart overstated his case in one or two instances. But his main point is upheld: the Middle Ages brought significant improvements and advancements in technology, and both saddles and waterwheels offer examples of these advancements.

However, the implication that the fault lies in Hart's original sources being too early is dubious; e.g. the earliest Sumerian waterwheels were described in 1932 by H.P. Vowles. No doubt other minor flaws can be found in Hart's book; such is the nature of historical research. But I am undeterred in my view that his scholarship in this arena far outstrips that of the New Atheists.

Sabio Lantz said...

Your choice or wording was perhaps directed toward your converted audience. I hope it helps them to read something to cement their views.

Christian historical atrocities become only "blemishes".

Atheists are not outraged by continual abuse of the Church, but they are "completely engrossed".

Those Atheists! They always blow things out of proportion.

Cliff Martin said...

Sabio,

Christian historical atrocities become only "blemishes"... Atheists are not outraged by continual abuse of the Church, but they are "completely engrossed".

Perhaps an unfortunate choice of words, but the thought should be clear enough: new atheists tend to see only those "abuses of the Church" to the exclusion of the Christianity's positive contributions. Hart's premise is, I believe, that those contributions vastly outweigh the abuses. So I chose the word "blemishes" because in the larger scope of history, they are the atypical exceptions to the rule. Yet the new atheist authors see only those abuses ... thus my choice of "engrossed" (my dictionary defines engrossed as "having all one's attention or interest absorbed by someone or something"). When people see only the data that supports their argument to the exclusion of overwhelming contrary data, they suffer from self-serving myopia.

Abstracted from the rest of history,1) those abuses were certainly "atrocities", 2) skeptics and thoughtful Christians alike are rightfully "outraged"
and 3) those abuses were by no meaningful definition "Christian."

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

"Based upon a quick and cursory study of the history of saddles and waterwheels, I agree with Isaac"

I willing to grant only one of Isaac's points - that Hart's mention of waterwheels sounded overstated. I see no contradiction between Hart's "the heavy saddle with stirrups [and] the rigid horse collar" and Goldsworthy's "There is a persistent myth that the Romans never developed an effective horse harness...". I also agree that if you concede the waterwheels, that does not negate the body of Hart's arguments.

It seemed to me that Isaac is trying to impeach Hart's entire argument based on nit-picking misstatements. I still want to know what he thinks of Hart's overall argument.

Rich G. said...

Sabio:

"Christian historical atrocities become only "blemishes".

Well, compared to the known practices of several 20th-century secular regimes, the "Christian historical atrocities" are only "blemishes".

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. > What do you think Hart was saying with his comments about technology?

First let's note that Hart's "technological innovation" comments take up just one page plus a page of conjecture.

I think he's trying to give substance to his "the Christian world was well ahead" "marked by periods of invention far more prolonged, creative, and diverse" "no previous culture had ever boasted technological advances of such scope and variety" comments.

It's a pity that to raise-up the Middle Ages Hart pushes-down what came before.

It's a pity that after Hart tells us that Aristotle "thought all invention exhausted" he doesn't go on to tell us that Archimedes is example enough to show Aristotle wrong.

It's a pity that we aren't told if "the development of sophisticated earthenware and glass glazing" did more than catch-up with the luxuries of first century Rome.

But it's only two not very good pages.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. > Well, compared to the known practices of several 20th-century secular regimes, the "Christian historical atrocities" are only "blemishes".

Before making that sort of comparison
- is the comparison to be based on raw numbers or proportion of population?
- what counts as a secular regime? (A secular head of state?)
- what counts as a Christian regime? (A Christian head of state?)
- what if the state leaders are not Christian but the majority of the population are?

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

Before making that sort of comparison
- is the comparison to be based on raw numbers or proportion of population?


Doesn't matter.

- what counts as a secular regime? (A secular head of state?)
- what counts as a Christian regime? (A Christian head of state?)
what if the state leaders are not Christian but the majority of the population are?


Not the individual "head of state" but the official position of the overall governmental structure and laws. Technically only individual people are "Christians", but the body of laws and general social pressure may be seen as either pro- or anti-Christian (or even neutral).

Isaac Gouy said...

Arithmetic matters - if the population is 100,000 it's simply not possible for 1 million people to die.

Times with larger population have in raw numbers a greater opportunity for death than times with smaller population.

Plausibly, times with smaller population have in proportion of population a greater opportunity for death than times with larger population.


Rich G. > the body of laws and general social pressure may be seen as either pro- or anti-Christian (or even neutral)

The criteria need to be spelled-out before making that sort of comparison and it seems possible that the context could be both pro-Christian and anti-Christian - which wouldn't make for much of a comparison.

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

"Arithmetic matters - if the population is 100,000 it's simply not possible for 1 million people to die."

Who's asserting THAT?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

So let me see if I have this right ...

We should consider the atrocities of the 20th century, in which 10s of millions of human beings were slaughtered by regimes built around secularist worldviews as somehow less egregious because, well, gosh, we had so many human beings to spare! Is this what you are suggesting?

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don't mean what it seems your argument implies.

But please remember. When theists point out the sins of atheist regimes in the 20th Century (not to the exclusion of countless examples from earlier history), we do so in response to the new atheist claim that the world would be a better place without religion ... an argument they bolster by focusing upon the sins of religious people. Sometimes their argument leaves one with the impression that religious folk are worse than non-religious folk, a preposterous claim.

Theists like myself are not surprised or dismayed to find evil human behavior anywhere: in materialist regimes, in so called "Christian" nations, in Muslim nations, from within official institutions of religion, etc. Clearly, the horrific legacy of human evils in the history of our race is lamentable. But it says nothing about theism, except that theists can also be corrupted by greed, power, lust, etc., a fact very much in keeping with Christian teaching.

Still, I think Hart builds a rather strong case that, on balance, the total effect of the "Christian revolution" has been profoundly positive. Perhaps we should build a matrix contrasting the evil abuses of Christian institutions and the positive societal and cultural contributions of Christianity, and do the same for secularists. It would be interesting, though doubtless very difficult to do in an entirely fair and unbiased way. Still, Hart suggests that Christianity would win in a landslide. Rather than focusing on such minutia as waterwheels and saddles and comparative population bases, why don't you respond to Hart's central thesis?

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > ... we do so in response to the new atheist claim that the world would be a better place without religion ...

Your response stands or falls on its own merits. (I expect you've often said - two wrongs don't make a right.)


Cliff > Sometimes their argument leaves one with the impression that religious folk are worse than non-religious folk, a preposterous claim.

1) Is is just your impression or is it actually a claim you can point to? (You answer for your impression, they answer for their claim.)

2) Why preposterous? Have there not been evil religions? Think of what the Aztecs could have achieved if only they'd had steel and the population of Russia or China to feed to their Gods.


Cliff > Still, Hart suggests that Christianity would win in a landslide.

Often that seems to be winning by definition, in the same way that earlier you wrote 'those abuses were by no meaningful definition "Christian."'

I never managed to find where Hart identified a particular time period or society which matched his "age of Christendom" - did you?

Cliff Martin said...

Just one response ...

1) Is is just your impression or is it actually a claim you can point to? (You answer for your impression, they answer for their claim.)

Why should this matter. If you will agree with me that religious people are not worse than non-religious people, then we can also agree that there is no basis for the claim that the world would be better off without religion, at least no basis stemming from the history of abuses. Agreed?

On the other hand, if you want to preserve Dawkin's argument based on his litany of the abuses of Christian institutions, then you are making the claim that religious folk are worse than secular folk.

It would be great if we could still have our cakes after we ate them.

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > Why should this matter.

Because you think truth matters?

Because we'd be discussing two different things?

Feelings are hurt just as much by mistaken impressions as by correct impressions. Empirical claims rest on argument from evidence - no evidence, no argument.


Cliff > If you will agree with me that religious people are...

That's an empirical claim - it needs evidence.


Cliff > On the other hand...

That's a false dichotomy. (Is this where I should accuse you of trying to trap me?)

Demanding you provide evidence for the empirical claims you make does not entail preserving whatever argument you've ascribed to Dawkins.

Your claims stand or fall on their own merits.

Dawkins' claims stand or fall on their own merits.

If both of you deal out unsupported generalizations then as the bard has it - a pox on both your houses.

Cliff Martin said...

While I do see your point, I would counter by saying ...

I am making no special claim. I am merely observing that people are corruptible, that we have examples of abuses arising out of various world-views, and that we have no reason to believe that one group is inherently more evil than another.

I do not claim that secularists are more corruptible, or have a more heinous track record, than, say, Christians.

Dawkins, on the other hand, works off of the implied claim that religious people are worse than secularists (and if you argue that he makes no such explicit claim, then his entire argument falls to the ground.)

So, I bear no onus to support what amounts to a non-claim (assuming we all agree that human nature is corruptible.) Dawkins, on the other hand, has the burden of proof when he says believers are more corruptible than non-believers.

Isaac Gouy said...

You seem to have abandoned discussion of Hart's book and shifted to your bĂȘte noir Dawkins (you've named Dawkins 3 times in the last two comments, Hart only named him 5 times in the whole book).

Cliff > Dawkins, on the other hand, has the burden of proof when he says believers are more corruptible than non-believer

Show where Dawkins "says believers are more corruptible than non-believer", or show what he actually said that leads you to believe that necessarily follows and say why you think that necessarily follows.


Cliff > and if you argue that he makes no such explicit claim, then his entire argument falls to the ground.

You have to do more than assert "his entire argument falls to the ground".

You have to show "his entire argument" is only supported by "believers are more corruptible" - and so far you haven't even tried to show that Dawkins uses "believers are more corruptible" to support any of his argument.

Cliff Martin said...

Show where Dawkins "says believers are more corruptible than non-believer", or show what he actually said that leads you to believe that necessarily follows and say why you think that necessarily follows.

No.

I'll stand by the logic of my previous post. It works for me, though obviously not for you.

You have to show "his entire argument" is only supported by "believers are more corruptible" - and so far you haven't even tried to show that Dawkins uses "believers are more corruptible" to support any of his argument.

And you, Isaac, have not responded to my reasoning. I readily stipulate that my argument here is not evidence based, but based on the presumed logic of Dawkins' argument. I gave you two alternatives (the only two I see), you replied that it was a false dichotomy, but never showed me how Dawkins' contention (that the world would be better off without Christianity) stands if Christians are not worse than other people.

It will not do for you to continually ask for evidence. (For one thing, my copy of the God Delusion is loaned out at present.) Instead, show me where the reasoning fail.

Isaac Gouy said...

Do you think it would be wrong to bear false witness against Dawkins?


Cliff > my copy of the God Delusion is loaned out at present

Nobody has forced you to claim Dawkins said such and such - you chose to make that claim now. Look in Google books.

You don't seem to have noted anything like it when you wrote a review of the God Delusion.


Cliff > I readily stipulate that my argument here is not evidence based, but based on the presumed logic of Dawkins' argument.

Until you show what Dawkins actually said and say why you think that implies "says believers are more corruptible than non-believer" your argument doesn't even get started - it's a strawman.


Cliff > you replied that it was a false dichotomy, but never showed me how Dawkins' contention ... stands

You may have demonized Dawkins but that doesn't mean I've sanctified him.

If you can argue that what Dawkins actually claims doesn't stand then do so.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

If you can argue that what Dawkins actually claims doesn't stand then do so.

I will repeat myself. You have not yet explained the fallacy of my argument. You've declared it to be a false dichotomy, but have not bothered to tell me why, despite my request that you do so. Here goes again, the two possibilities I see:

1) Dawkins does not believe that Christians (or religious people in general) are worse than secularists. If this is so, then he has no foundation for his argument (which he bases upon his litany of abuses from the history of Christendom) that the world would be a better place without Christianity (or religion).

2) Dawkins does believe that Christians (or religious people in general) are worse than secularists. If this is so, I humbly suggest that the burden of proof lies with the maker of such a claim. I make no special claim. Human nature, and its corruptibility, is the same whether people are religious or not. I make no claim that secularists are worse than Christians. You'll need to explain why you think the onus for proof is upon me.

If you see some third alternative, or can explain how the above is a false dichotomy, I'm all ears.

The thesis of Hart's book is all about demonstrating from history the positive influence, on balance, of Christianity. You are free to counter with evidence to the contrary. I have invited you to do so, but as yet you have produced nothing.

Isaac Gouy said...

Is Dawkins your neighbor? Do you accept responsibility for checking whether the words you've put in his mouth are actually Dawkins' words and apologizing if they are not?


Cliff > You have not yet explained the fallacy of my argument.

1) You seem not to have heard so I'll rephrase. Your first possibility has a hidden premise - the premise that the only argument Dawkins puts forward is founded on "abuses from the history of Christendom".

Perhaps Dawkins argues that God doesn't exist and the world would be a better place without that falsehood?

You have to show that "abuses from the history of Christendom" is the only argument put forward by Dawkins, otherwise your conclusion doesn't follow.


2) Your dichotomy is based on your idea of one group of people being worse [as you said specifically "inherently more evil"] than another.

Although you don't see other possibilities, Adam might.

Rather than divide people, Adam might divide beliefs.

Adam might see that "Christians (or religious people in general)" are not worse [as you said specifically "inherently more evil"] than other people.

And Adam might also see that some beliefs make people prone to act worse (or better).

And Adam might also see that some beliefs are more (or less) corrupting than others.

Perhaps Dawkins argues that children are not "inherently" Catholic children or Sunni children but simply children?

You have to show that Dawkins follows your idea that one group of people is "inherently more evil" than another, rather than Adam's idea that some beliefs make people prone to act worse (or better).


3) the burden of proof

Your claims about what Dawkins does or does not believe, based on your claims about what Dawkins has argued, are no more than innuendo based on gossip until you show what words Dawkins actually said and why they lead you to think Dawkins believes such-and-such.

If you claim Dawkins believes the moon is made of green cheese - the onus is on you to show what Dawkins said to make you think that, not on others to show he didn't say anything that should make you think that.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

The thesis of Hart's book is all about demonstrating from history the positive influence, on balance, of Christianity. You are free to counter with evidence to the contrary. I have invited you to do so, but as yet you have produced nothing.

Isaac Gouy said...

Finish what you started.

Nobody forced you to abandon discussion of Hart's book.

Nobody forced you to claim Dawkins said such and such.

Nobody forced you to make up what Dawkins does or does not believe.

But you chose to - so now you need to make clear whether you understand what's wrong with those comments.

Isaac Gouy said...

I'll finish my comments:

Cliff > The thesis of Hart's book is all about demonstrating from history the positive influence, on balance, of Christianity. You are free to counter with evidence to the contrary.

No, the thesis of Hart's book really isn't "all about demonstrating from history..." - Hart says that would be "undignified" -

"The special glories of Christian civilization - in its arts and sciences, in its institutions and traditions, in its philosophies and ideals - speak for themselves, and it would be undignified to cosset intellectual perversity by pleading the obvious. That Christendom may also be justly be indicted of any number of sins and failings, incidentally, also should not need to be said." p222



And why do you think Hart's introductory comment apply should not apply to his apologia?

"... it is possible to discern when a particular line of interpretation has exceeded or contradicted the evidence altogether and become little better than a vehicle for the writer's own predilections, interests, or allegiances."

When Hart writes "A culture could remain quite contentedly Christian in all its convictions and still achieve space travel" (p232) shouldn't we ask whether there's anything at all about "Love thine enemies" (p219) which might be expected to motivate the decades of weapon development that actually did lead to space travel?

When Hart writes "... the only language of election and dereliction and judgment explicitly invoked by the ideological precursors of the Third Reich was that of natural selection and survival of the fittest..." (p224) shouldn't we ask whether the old language of "blood purity" (p84) was explicitly invoked by the infamous Alfred Rosenberg?

Cliff Martin said...

"The special glories of Christian civilization - in its arts and sciences, in its institutions and traditions, in its philosophies and ideals - speak for themselves, and it would be undignified to cosset intellectual perversity by pleading the obvious."

Thank you, Isaac. You made my point splendidly!

Isaac Gouy said...

You confuse "demonstrating" with asserting.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,

Without question, your command of the English language, and your penchant for precise usage both exceed mine! But your comments so far leave me wondering ...

Are you ever going to respond to the "demonstrations" or "assertions" of Hart's book? Are you ever going to discuss what he is "showing", "averring", "claiming", or "contending"? Or are content merely to expose my imprecise use of language?

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > ... and your penchant for precise usage both exceed mine!

If Dawkins asserted "God does not exist!" would you really understand that to be a demonstration that God does not exist?

We're not talking about "penchant for precise usage" so much as don't say what you mean, don't mean what you say.

Cliff Martin said...

Are you ever going to respond to the "demonstrations" or "assertions" of Hart's book? Are you ever going to discuss what he is "showing", "averring", "claiming", or "contending"? Or are content merely to expose my imprecise use of language?

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

I think you are trying to examine a moose with a microscope, and when you find a mouse hair...

Rich G.

Isaac Gouy said...

Cliff > Are you ever going to respond to the "demonstrations" or "assertions" of Hart's book?

Obviously I have and obviously you choose to ignore that fact, for example -

When Hart writes "... the only language of election and dereliction and judgment explicitly invoked by the ideological precursors of the Third Reich was that of natural selection and survival of the fittest..." (p224) shouldn't we ask whether the old language of "blood purity" (p84) was explicitly invoked by the infamous Alfred Rosenberg?


Cliff > ... content merely to expose my imprecise use of language?

Perhaps you actually say what you mean and when that turns out not to be true, rather than acknowledge the mistake, you fudge.

In the same way that you won't acknowledge there was anything wrong with your comments about Dawkins.