Submitted by kellym78 on March 13, 2008 - 5:24pm.
Vox has published his criticisms of my critique here. It's possible that I may need to clarify some of the points to which he objected, so I'll get to that and then we'll get ready for round 2!
ETA: Here is Vox's response in its entirety. He didn't seem to mind in the comments on his blog, so here ya go.
|I am going to be going through this book one chapter at a time in order to keep the posts relatively short and still allow for a detailed analysis. I mentioned that plan to Vox Day, who kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, and his suggestion was to read the entire book first before beginning. After getting about half-way through it, I didn’t see anything that necessitated that, but just as an FYI, if any of my points of contention are dealt with in later chapters, I’ll note that in later posts. |
It seemed only fair. A few people have attempted to write chapter-by-chapter reviews and it became readily apparent that they didn't understand the difference between the rhetorical stage-setting of the introduction and the subsequent criticism of the various New Atheist arguments. Each chapter review kept getting progressively shorter as the arguments become more specific and the reviewers' ability to avoid damning ones that made their heroes look bad became impossible until they fell silent before reaching the first specific chapter on Sam Harris, chapter eight. Here's hoping Kelly isn't foolish enough to cry strawman when I'm quoting a specific argument made by one of the Unholy Trinity in its entirety.
|The first thing I noticed about this book is that Day’s writing style is quite humorous, and if I may, even endearing. This is troublesome as many readers will fall into the trap of getting caught up in the seemingly personable style and disregarding critical inquiry of the content. Day comes off as the friendly but mischievous antagonist in what he terms “an intellectual deathmatch” (p. 3) between himself and the “Unholy Trinity” of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. I must also note a point of agreement before I continue into the actual substance of the book: I appreciate Day’s regard for the autodidactic learner and his insistence that one not be swayed by degrees and credentials as they don’t necessarily make one’s arguments more or less valid. (p. 3) This is a point far too often missed by the pseudo-intellectual crowd who seem to desire a type of hegemonious rule over knowledge itself with authority to speak on a subject deemed only by universities. (I won’t go into the bass-ackwards logic at play there…at least not here.) |
Yes, given that the Appeal to Authority is a known logical fallacy, it's ironic that a crowd given to crying ad hom, "strawman", and "correlation is not causation", often when they don't apply, should so quickly resort to it. It's also interesting, although I suppose it might have been expected, that it takes a female atheist to recognize the fundamental humor in the book that escapes most of her quasi-aspie male comrades. One can present an intellectually serious argument and still have a good time, thought-provoking books don't actually have to be boring.
|So, on to the good stuff. Day starts out by letting the reader know that he doesn’t care if we go to hell, which would seem to be against the mandate of his deity who commands his followers not only to care, but to grieve for the lost souls in the world and try their damnedest to convert us. At any rate, all you atheists can put your guard down because this guy doesn’t want to convert you and doesn’t even care if you go to hell. Nice try. He even goes as far as claiming that he is tolerant of, and even likes, the variety of beliefs and one-way entries to heaven, but that it is the atheists (embodied by Dawkins, et al.) who don’t. I can only speak for myself here when I emphatically state that I do not care what anybody believes—just keep it out of my government and out of my face. If it wasn’t for the intrusion of religion into public policy and the stubborn insistence to continually remind us of our future in hell, I wouldn’t even waste my time correcting them. |
Actually, we're only supposed to make sure you have heard the Gospel, if you're not inclined to listen, we're permitted to shake the dust from our sandals and move on in good conscience. Moreoever, I never claimed to be a particularly good Christian, the reason I'm less annoying than the door-knocking fundamentalist who wants to talk to you about Jesus is because I care less about your fate. My libertarianism pretty much goes to the bone. As for the idea of an "intrusion" of religion into public policy, this is hardly any such thing given the concept of democratic rule. Either Kelly must reject the idea of rule by will of the people or she must accept that religion has a place in public life. I suspect she is subject to a parochial American view, but even in America, the unalienable rights are endowed by a Creator God and contorted Supreme Court reasoning notwithstanding, it is only Congress that is not permitted to make a law about establishing religion, the sovereign States and various other governmental agencies know no such limitation.
Now, given the relative health of Christianity in America compared to the many Western nations with state churches, I believe in keeping government involvement with religion to a minimum, because government actually does poison everything. Otherwise, you can be sure that Washington will do for the churches what it has already done for the inner cities and public schools. Finally, I note that the tagline on Kelly's site: "Believe in God? We can fix that." tends to undermine her assertion of indifference towards the beliefs of others. And certainly, the five atheists whom I am specifically addressing don't agree with her, as can be seen in the stated purpose of their books.
|Day asks a series of questions regarding the tolerance of religious beliefs and I would like to briefly address them. Does your “insanity” affect me? Yes, for the aforementioned reasons among others. Last time I checked, people didn’t condemn others to hell or kill people over the Minnesota Vikings making it to the Super Bowl, so I don’t find that analogy compelling. To put a little spin on your plea for tolerance, all I ask, and all the vast majority of atheists ask, is to be left alone to disbelieve what we choose to disbelieve and to live how we decide to live. It’s very gratuitous of you to want to allow all of the “insane” people freedom to believe whatever they like, although labeling all of humanity as insane is a bit of a stretch, but once one realizes that the patients are running the asylum, what should be done? |
Kelly hasn't shown how MY beliefs affect her in any way. I don't even live in the same country as she does and I haven't voted in more than two decades. No one can condemn Kelly to Hell except Kelly; if she's walking down the road towards a house on fire and I point out that she's going to end up getting burned if she continues along her present path, it's not my accurate observation that dooms her, but her own actions. If you believe in the primacy of human freedom, there is simply nothing to be done, Kelly's seemingly innocent question is the seed from which so many authoritarian horrors, some theist, some atheist, have blossomed. Either people have the right to believe in ridiculous things and behave in ridiculous manners, or the Pope has the right to burn you at the stake because you refuse to submit to his infallible dictates. Everything in between is merely a different answer to the question of who is to play Pope and who is to play torch.
|Day starts his list of the evils of atheism by blaming the philosophers of the Enlightenment era for paving the way for “the murderous excesses of the French Revolution and dozens of other massacres in the name of human progress,” which I find to be amusing given that were it not for such revolutions, we would still be living in feudal societies and caste systems quite antithetical to his own libertarian ideals. I wonder where he got those ideas regarding man’s free will and right to exercise it. Could it be…the Enlightenment? The irony is almost overwhelming. This is a point he brings up often. The philosophers of the time certainly did effect the populace, but not by advocating war or revolution. Senseless killing is certainly not rational, nor is being swept away in nationalistic fervor. If waking people up to the reality of their circumstance by giving them a vision of hope for a better tomorrow is a crime, it is one that should be committed more often. The people of the Enlightenment era were simply alerted to the fact that, to paraphrase Rousseau, despite being born free, they were “everywhere in chains.” The people reacted to this knowledge with revolution, and violence is an unfortunate byproduct of the overthrow of established regimes. If these things had not taken place, there would be no United States of America, no democracy, and certainly no libertarianism. Vox Day himself could be similarly vilified by the benefactors of his philosophy for espousing such views, assuming we lived in a world where the Enlightenment had never occurred. |
As with the five atheists analyzed in TIA, history is not Kelly's strong point. Feudalism and caste systems were not ended by the Enlightenment, indeed, the former is largely a fictional concept of medieval governmental structure popularized by Montesquieu in the 18th century and is as historically dubious as the long-discredited concept of "the Dark Ages". The caste system never existed in Christendom and it still exists today in a number of Asian countries. Kelly's statement about free will reveals a shocking ignorance of the concept, as it is not an Enlightenment idea in any way, shape, or form, it is a Christian one. In fact, its very existence is denied today by New Enlightenment thinkers such as Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Were she even slightly familiar with Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, (http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/aquinasFreeWo.htm) or Augustine, (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm), or Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire (http://history.hanover.edu/texts/voltaire/volfrewi.html), she'd realize that she is, in a very Harrisian manner, demonstrating the precise opposite of what she wishes to prover. The Enlightenment free will of Hume and Rousseau is holdover from the Christian traditions of their Christian societies, it was far from a new concept. Democracy predated the Enlightenment by literal millenia, and the statement that "senseless killing is certainly not rational" is a meaningless tautology that says nothing about the fact that most of the mass killing committed by atheist revolutionaries is perfectly rational given their stated goals of remaking human society according to the precepts of their new and shinier morality.
|Day goes on to criticize atheism, which he oddly traces back to The Apology of Socrates, which only reveals the etymological roots and certainly not the birth of the lack of belief in god, for not having changed over the years. This is an obscure point. How would the lack of belief in something change exactly? Along with that, he tosses in a few jabs with comments as to the “ultimate destination” for atheists being “hot” and a little argumentum ad populum for good measure. Apparently our “godless jihad,” armed by “raging, red-letter infidels,” consists mainly of writing books and speaking out publicly about our lack of faith. We better be careful to keep the death toll from rising exponentially due to an increase in paper cuts. |
Kelly misses the interesting point. If atheism is nothing more than simple lack of belief in god, a concept that I acknowledge, but dispute for various reasons, then there should be no significant similarity between the views of one atheist and the next. And yet, when one examines the views of one of the first, self-conscious atheists, Jean Meslier, we see that his views across a wide spectrum of philosophical, political and epistemological concepts are virtually identical to those put forth by the leading atheists nearly 300 years later. This is why it is so easy to identify the High Church Atheist, because his atheist dogma is covers far more intellectual ground than Kelly's limited atheist doctrine could possibly permit. The fact that atheists still don't believe in God isn't remarkable, the fact that 279 years later so many of them are still - despite ample evidence of failure - calling for new moralities, new societies, global dictatorship and rule by a scientific quasi-priesthood is astounding. As for the godless jihad, it's called metaphor, and it's worth noting that neither St. Bernard nor Osama bin Laden are known to have done any more than write and speak out in public.
|He makes the argument that atheism leaves a void in people which must be filled with some belief, no matter how silly or contradictory. He supports this by using a Barna poll about beliefs on life after death and a CNN exit poll to show that people improperly self-identify with certain groups. If his conclusion is accurate, how is it more damaging to atheism than it is to religion? Would it not also be the case that the “billions of individuals” who believe in Jesus are also incorrectly identifying themselves, rendering all such labels meaningless and simultaneously destroying his earlier appeal to popularity? Day claims that “the normal individual tends to put significantly more time into living his life instead of thinking about it and cataloging its abstract aspects.” I agree, and I think that is problematic. It’s akin to being criticized for engaging in introspection, which is not only healthy, but necessary. Somehow related to this is the definition of atheism from the three “representatives” of atheism and their nuances, but I haven’t figured out how it is related, seen as how most arguments centered around definitions tend to be promptly settled by a dictionary. |
I don't think the problem of self-identification is an inherent problem atheists or Christians, or for anyone except those who would attempt to make arguments based in any way upon those self-identifications, such as, for example, the specific individuals I am criticizing in TIA. This question of self-identification doesn't necessarily reduce the number of Christians, as larger studies of the sort required for global numbers are not based on self-identification, but rather church affiliations and so forth. I'm not criticizing those who engage in introspection here, but rather those who think that because they are interested in studying the matter, those who are not given to such introspection should be somehow obliged to identify their beliefs according to the abstract classifications of intellectuals.
The problem with the dictionary definitions is the one I have already pointed out: there are common characteristics of atheists which can be readily observed by even the most casual observer which indicate that either a lack of god belief is causing the development of these characteristics, it is the result of those characteristics, there is some underlying factor that causes both the characteristics and the identification, or that the mere lack of god belief is an insufficient description of the totality of atheism as it is actually practiced.
|The pinnacle of this segment is the fact that Sam Harris, leader of all atheists everywhere at all times, practices Buddhism. If anybody else is thinking, “Yeah, so?”--you’re not alone. Is this a criticism of atheism or Sam Harris’ personal beliefs? For all of his ranting about these Buddhist beliefs, he fails to take into account that there are many types of Buddhism, some of which involve no deities and focus instead on personal development. The entire point is irrelevant, though, as Sam Harris’ assertion that Buddhism is not a religion per se says nothing at all about atheism. At least he acknowledges that atheism is neither a religion nor a philosophy—right before he divides us into “churches.” |
First, I should clarify that neither Kelly nor I are saying that Harris is a Buddhist per se, he merely practices certain esoteric rituals from the Buddhist tradition. The primary significance of the contradictory definitions of atheism provided by Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett is to show a) the broad variance of how atheism is defined even by its leading advocates, and b) to lay the groundwork for later demonstrating that some of Sam Harris's arguments about atheist societies directly contradict his earlier definition(s) of atheism quoted in this first chapter. (See TIA p. 121). And Harris's careful distinction between Buddhism the atheistic non-religion and Buddhism practiced as a religion is not irrelevant because it suggests that there may be a need to make same distinction between atheism the atheistic non-religion and atheism practiced as a religion as well.
|What Day terms “High Church Atheists” (HCA) consist of the upper echelon of intellectual elitists who also have mental disorders and Asperger’s syndrome, along with being socially inept and never getting laid because they’re too busy destroying the beliefs of their prospective partners. Wow—we’re doomed. Except for the fact that all of those things are pure speculation on an arbitrarily assigned group of people. We also have the “Low Church Atheist,” (LCA) the backwater, inbred cousin that the former wants to hide from the public. The HCA is deemed autistic by one online poll which was answered by 59 people indicating that atheists have an average Asperger’s quotient of 27.9, slightly above normal, but not quite a pathology, along with Day’s own informal survey of 159 of his blog readers. This is not even close to a controlled study from which conclusions can be drawn. The LCA is characterized by their refusal to use the word “atheist”, but that shouldn’t matter since Day already proved that self-labeling is irrelevant. There is a method to his madness, though, because he is about to use this group to skew and obfuscate the prison population studies which show that atheists are less likely to be imprisoned. Earlier in the chapter, he admits that people who answer “no religion” on polls are not necessarily atheist, the validity of self-identification not withstanding, but then wants to lump them in with atheists to get his extra 31.6 percent of the British prison system and then declare that our “Low Church counterparts are nearly four times more likely to be convicted and jailed for committing a crime than a Christian.” (p. 20) Watch out—he’s a slippery one! |
These LCAs also live seven years less than the average religious person, are more likely to smoke, drink, be depressed, fat, unmarried, and not reproduce. Day then assumes that since so many of them are in jail, they must be less intelligent than average. Well, by using the same flawed data, many conclusions can be drawn about a population of unknown people who happened to check “no religion” when filling out the Inmate Information Survey.
Hey, I didn't claim the Aspie thing was a done deal, I merely happened to OBSERVE a few behavioral patterns and then form a HYPOTHESIS. That's what we scientists do, the next step is to test the hypothesis. Perhaps I can apply for a grant somewhere.... Kelly is going through one of the usual atheist dance routines here, including "no religion" or secularism in general as a variant of atheism is routinely done by Sam Harris, by PZ Myers, and it's the very foundation of Richard Dawkins's OUT Campaign and is proclaimed to be the basis for the evangelical aspect of The God Delusion. She may not conflate the two, but the authors addressed in TIA certainly do.
But there's nothing slippery about pointing out the criminal tendencies of the low church atheist. You can argue that they shouldn't be considered a form of atheist at all, but I haven't seen too many atheists who want to wholly disassociate atheism from secularism or irreligion. If Kelly would prefer to divide the two groups into High Church Godless and Low Church Irreligionists, I have no objection. Finally, I note that the negative correlation between imprisonment and intelligence is very well-established with the support of scads of scientific and testimonial evidence, so that it isn't a valid objection. I'm all for better data here; I was simply making use of what was available to me and I certainly don't consider the matter closed on the basis of a single prison survey in one country.
|Day finishes off the chapter with the typical agnostic/atheist dichotomy, as if they are mutually exclusive, but Vox, what difference does it make? You already proved that labels are meaningless and that all people with no religion are atheists, so what’s your point? Congratulations, that was the most convoluted, contradictory mess of confabulated casuistry I have ever seen. Honestly, I am impressed. I like ya, though; it’s kind of cute to see you so clearly grasping for straws. Thanks for the book, too—it’s providing me with plenty of material. |
The fact that labels are not always applied accurately hardly makes them meaningless. As for the point, I'm surprised that it is necessary to explain that if one is attempting to demonstrate the irrationality of certain atheist arguments, it just might be helpful to show that the very atheists who make them can't even agree upon a consistent, rational definition of what the atheism they are championing is, and to show the broadest possible spectrum of atheism in all its irrational glory.
But Kelly is very welcome, and I shall look forward to her next salvo.