Friday, June 12, 2009

The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens

By Vox Day, 305 pages hardcover, Benbella Books, $19.96, ISBN 1-933771-36-4.
Vox Day's book succeeds because he locates the split between science-based atheism and Judeo-Christian belief in meaning. Atheists and believers are ultimately fighting over the meaning of scientific and technological advancement and its proper use.
Rather than getting swallowed up in the endless debates around biotechnology, cloning, and evolution, Day takes a wider view and looks at the basic presuppositions of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and other atheists.
Avoiding a proof for God's existence or some other worn-out way of ending the atheist-believer debate, Day goes on the offensive and plays the game of these atheists, accusing them of being the irrational ones, despite their pride in being rationalist heirs of the Enlightenment.
Rather than building his own theological argument, then, Day deconstructs many atheist arguments, eventually concluding late in the book: “Predicated on an unreliable human attribute that may not even exist [rationalism], rejecting the foundation of Man's most successful civilization, ... and refusing to learn from its past disasters, atheism is not so much the basis for an irrational philosophy as for an insane one.”
In his painstaking criticism, he characterizes atheists as irrational because of their major inconsistencies and wrong assumptions on which their entire arguments stand.
He saves most of his acid for Sam Harris and the latter's Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith. Harris, Day notes, has the most basic facts wrong about the religions he disdains: “Harris repeatedly demonstrates an inability to distinguish between the relative significance of the Old Testament to Christians, while raising issues that have been debated by theologians and philosophers for nearly 2,000 years as if they were new and no one had ever thought of them before.”
He derides Harris for an ignorant, amateurish reflection on the Christian understanding of theodicy, which is the attempt to understand how evil and a good God can exist at the same time.
Day highlights the cracked foundations of the atheist house. He goes so far as to question “St. Darwin” himself, focusing, as he repeatedly does, on the irrational and even emotional origins of basic anti-Christian beliefs. He points out that Darwin came to believe that God had nothing to do with “the operations of the natural laws” of evolution after the death of the scientist's young daughter.
The Irrational Atheist shows that the House of Atheism collapses fairly easily, but not by aggressive evangelism or pious-emotionalism. The book applies to atheists the same standards of consistency and intellectual integrity that atheists pretend they are applying to Christianity.
Day also in a sense protects Christianity against atheist abuse by claiming that we are all irrational: “But the ultimate atheist irrationality us the idea that Man himself is rational.”
The author, an evangelical, briefly develops the wonderful Christian anthropology that mainline churches turned away away from in their socialist-feminist rush to create God's kingdom on earth. Day notes that none of us make sense because of our sinfulness, passions, and mystery: “you are not a robot, you are a human being. Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing one who uses his intellect to construct reasons in post facto defense of his irrational desires.”
Day opens the way to a deeper sense of mystery and, as importantly, to the unavoidable fact that humans as fallen creatures inevitably slip up. He never loses sight of the Christian view of why atheists have gotten so many things wrong.

As a Protestant, Day does not take advantage of the enormous intellectual tradition available at the hands of faithful, practicing Catholics. While many Protestants endeavor to fight back against secularism, without this Catholic strength they often fall somewhat short. The Irrational Atheist would have been enriched with this fuller perspective.

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