Intro: This series is an atheist review of an important anti-Christian apologetics book, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" (TCD), that is likely to be popularly discussed across the web. My review focuses explicitly on the weaknesses of the esteemed skeptical anthology and should be seen as supplementing the positive reviews from folks like Ken Pulliam, Jim Walker and the many 5 star reviews on Amazon. With all the hype there needs to be a range of internet contributions and sober assessment. How is the substance of the book framed? Is the polemical strategy a success? Have the most typical Christian objections to certain skeptical themes been addressed or ignored and amplified carelessly? Have well known inflammatory hot spots in the debate been dealt with tactfully? Have common atheist biases and prejudices been checked or are they overwhelming the actual arguments? Have the same standards that apply to Christians equally applied to the authors? Are the arguments in the book persuasive to outsiders or do they merely reinforce atheist group-think? Are weaker arguments distractingly in the mix with stronger arguments? Has an adult conversation been started/continued or have the ugly age old political cycles been perpetuated? Are mainstream Christian readers treated with respect as though they could be smart, informed people who think their worldview stands a chance in the debate? Would I recommend this book to a Christian friend or family member without having to apologize for its contents? Etc. Those are some of the important questions I'll be addressing.
I may briefly summarize the strong points of each chapter and add my comments if that helps readers understand whatever issues come up. Occasionally I'll point out things that I just think are interesting in their own right (or things I don't understand and need help with). Also, I'll be reviewing the book in light of just about every other response to TCD on the web (as sort of informal post-market research) and responding to Christian objections I find.
I think this will be the best that I personally can contribute to advancing our collective conversation about these important roadblocks to solidarity in our culture.
The following is a "CliffNotes" page of my review. TCD has 5 different sections
, so I'll be breaking this up accordingly (although I've lumped in Dan Barker's Foreword and John Loftus' Introduction here). I've copied and collected all the contents pages from each post
so there can be a meta-overview that is easily accessible. It will be easy for those interested to have an idea of the book's various failings and will also work well for me to skim through to find links to particular sections when I need to self-link in future posts.
If anyone knows the html coding for collapsing sections of a post, I'd love to apply it here.
Contents of the Contents Page (that's dizzifying...):
Dan Barker's Foreword:
I respond to John Loftus on Dan Barker's reputation: Is Dan Barker a dick?
Loftus believes I've insulted Barker with my original review. I point out why Barker deserves the criticism.
Barker tells instead of shows: Are atheists really that interested in the facts?
In a contentious context, no one listens when you tell them what to think. You have to show them why they should think it. Barker goes way overboard trying to tell us just how desperately interested in the facts the contributors of this book are.
There might yet be hope for the book: Is TCD intellectually challenging and respectful in tone?
Christian reviewer, James McGrath gives me some confidence that perhaps Christians won't be terribly offended by the contents of TCD. Although he's an overly tolerant guy.
Barker is careless with his praise: Does TCD defend the mythicist position?
Barker bothers to bring up mythicism (the idea that Jesus never existed as a historical person) in a book that does not defend mythicism. I demonstrate what a horrible misstep this is in terms of our Christian audience.
Outro: Not rated.
Barker sets a fairly bad precedent that is unfortunately continued so far throughout TCD (I'm only on chapter 5 at this point) of "telling" instead of "showing." Ultimately that means an underlying tone of the book is "us vs. them" when we could have been all in the same boat reasoning together.
Introduction, by John Loftus:
Loftus fails at diplomacy: Is the title, "The Christian Delusion" an ad hominem attack?
I would tolerate a sensational title if the authors took more responsibility for the internal presentation of the information and arguments. Unfortunately that didn't happen enough.
Loftus fails to frame his introduction to TCD: Are there no mainstream Christians?
Loftus attempts to shuffle mainstream Christianity out of the deck to make it look like skepticism has made much more headway than it actually has.
I respond to Christian sensibilities: Has Christianity stood the test of time?
Presumably Loftus is attempting to counter the claim that Christianity always persists despite its most ardent critics, but that doesn't mean it does so because it is true.
Loftus is pretentious and cynical: Will TCD change Christian beliefs?
Loftus imagines that Christianity will mutate into yet another form because of the contents of TCD. No offense, and I hope the book has impact, but I doubt that'll be the case to a significant enough degree to warrant Loftus' claim.
Loftus fails to prove his point: How significant are the versions of Christianities that concede to ...
Loftus could potentially save his point if he could show just how significant the demographics of arbitrarily rational Christian groups really are. He doesn't do this.
I respond to Christian sensibilities: Do atheists need new arguments?
Many of the old arguments still apply. Theists just think they got over them.
The introduction amounts to sloppy, educated sh*t talk. Loftus wants to intimidate and overwhelm average Christian readers, but is probably going to cause himself more problems than it's worth.
Chapter 1, "The Cultures of Christianities," by David Eller:
I guide the readers over the journey to figure out what exactly Eller's argument even is. Then we realize his argument is outright fallacious.
Turns out, Eller declares premature victory over all Christian arguments and evidence with sentence two of chapter one of TCD. Christians are not impressed.
I respond to Eller's response to my review: Should "openly atheistic" books pass their own outsider test for fa...
Loftus emailed the original version of my review to Eller who clearly didn't get the point.
I agree with Christian reviewer, Looney: Can there be a true religion after all?
Despite the hype for TCD, there is in fact a very obvious and typical "somewhere to run" for Christians.
Outro: 3 out of 5 stars
I counter-link Christian reviewer, jayman777's link: What do the smart people among us tend to conclude about religion?
Jayman777 points out that most philosophers of religion believe God exists, but it seems most philosophers in general don't.
I chastise the atheist movement: Should secular humanists be developing a well-rounded culture to sa...
I use the arguments from Eller's chapter on the influence of enculturalization to show that atheists should be working on their own cultural paradigm. Eller might actually agree.
Eller abuses a common atheist metaphor: Would religious people be feeble without their "crutch"?
Eller says we shouldn't use the "religion is a crutch" metaphor, and I point out it doesn't have to be an insult. A wide range of "strong" and "weak" people are bound to be equally encultured by religion, so many people are simply unnecessarily letting religion rob them of things they could just as easily be doing themselves.
Eller is "one of those" philosophers: If years aren't real, does time even exist?
Obviously the idea that the delineation of time is arbitrary makes perfect sense, but after a painful chapter, one does not wish to see things stated so badly in "philosopherese."
Important content for a book like this, but poorly presented. Bad start for the book.
Chapter 2, "Christian Belief through the Lens of Cognitive Science," by Valerie Tarico:
I respond to Christian reviewer, Looney: Does Tarico's chapter 2 contradict David Eller's chapter 1?
Looney tries to say that since religion is so plastic (as Eller argues) how can it also converge on psychologically manipulative techniques (as Tarico argues)? Short answer: Both the similarities and differences need to be explained and the orthodox Christian interpretation is not the best explanation.
I respond to Christian reviewer, jayman777: Can humans be trusted with metaphysical conclusions?
Jayman777 objects that Christians aren't supposed to be any more infallible than atheists, but Tarico's point is that humans can't really be trusted to evaluate far reaching religious claims.
I respond to Looney: Has psychology explained religious experiences?
Looney says he's familiar with how this kind of psychology works and asks why he should care? I explain that though his interpretation is possible, naturalism is a sufficient explanation and in any event there are many Christians who should probably at least be informed about what is attributable to psychology even if God may still be responsible in some way or some circumstances.
I respond to jayman777 (and Looney): Did Tarico only focus on the "born again" experience?
For some reason both reviewers here seemed to think Tarico was only explaining one aspect of religious psychology. While she never claimed to be covering everything, there were several other factors covered in the chapter.
I respond to jayman777: Are skeptics in denial of religious experiences?
Jayman777 complains that skeptics tread dangerously close to being in denial that Christians have any religious experiences at all. I sympathize, but ultimately this is about interpretation of actual experiences and arguments to the better explanation in context of a vast and arbitrary religious landscape (plus all of the anomalous non-religious experiences, too), rather than denial.
Outro: 5 out of 5 stars.
I respond to Looney: Why didn't evolution favor a predominantly atheistic mentality?
I attempt to answer on Tarico's behalf (assuming evolution had much to do with religion at all) that atheism has no content and doesn't enable mental shortcuts for framing the human experience like theism tends to do.
I respond to jayman777:
Awesome chapter. Well written.
Chapter 3: "The Malleability of the Human Mind," by Jason Long:
Long's rhetoric is too high strung: Are skeptics unbiased and believers delusional?
I spend quite a bit of time pointing out how overblown a lot of Long's rhetoric is and what the consequences will likely be for the average Christian reader who may be looking for something to react to.
Long promotes the studies that seem to show that IQ correlates well with atheism (assuming those studies are being interpreted properly), but seems to not recognize how this fits right into how Christians profile atheists.
Outro: 3 out of 5 stars.
I almost gave Long 4 stars initially, but was ultimately overwhelmed by how inappropriate much of his rhetoric is.
Chapter 4, "The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited" by John Loftus:
Loftus' Revisit of David Eller's Chapter 1 and Jason Long's Chapter 3: For Better and Worse?
Loftus seems to manage to retroactively save Long's chapter, and eventually says all the things Eller should have said in his chapter, but still quotes more Eller uncritically.
Loftus Overstates Claim: Are all religions exclusivistic?
Since a great many religions are not mutually exclusive (even in method), Loftus' OTF is left a bit fuzzier than he presents it.
I respond to Christian reviewer, jayman777: What about religious people who convert for thoughtful reasons?
I tediously show how Loftus creates unnecessary problems for himself by lingering on this issue rather than directing readers to an actual intellectual battleground.
Loftus Overstates Claims: Are Christians and atheists too delusional to get it right?
Human psychology seems to be portrayed as completely helpless and it's no surprise that Christians get the idea that they are supposed to "snap out of it" because we hypocritically said so.
Loftus is Too Simplistic:
Outro: My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Despite this parade of polemical missteps, the vast majority of what Loftus says works just fine.
That does it for Part 1 of TCD.