Saturday, May 1, 2010

Review of 50 Voices of Disbelief

There's a review of this book (to which I contributed) from David Hart of First Things available here.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

By David B. Hart

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.

Take, for instance, the recently published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor.

To be fair, the shallowness is not evenly distributed. Some of the writers exhibit a measure of wholesome tentativeness in making their cases, and as a rule the quality of the essays is inversely proportionate to the air of authority their authors affect. For this reason, the philosophers—who are no better than their fellow contributors at reasoning, but who have better training in giving even specious arguments some appearance of systematic form—tend to come off as the most insufferable contributors. Nicholas Everitt and Stephen Law recycle the old (and incorrigibly impressionistic) argument that claims of God’s omnipotence seem incompatible with claims of his goodness. Michael Tooley does not like the picture of Jesus that emerges from the gospels, at least as he reads them. Christine Overall notes that her prayers as a child were never answered; ergo, there is no God. A.C. Grayling flings a few of his favorite papier-mâché caricatures around. Laura Purdy mistakes hysterical fear of the religious right for a rational argument. Graham Oppy simply provides a précis of his personal creed, which I assume is supposed to be compelling because its paragraphs are numbered. J.J.C. Smart finds miracles scientifically implausible (gosh, who could have seen that coming?). And so on. Adèle Mercier comes closest to making an interesting argument—that believers do not really believe what they think they believe—but it soon collapses under the weight of its own baseless presuppositions.

Continue reading. Thanks to Dawkins site.

PS If Hart weren't a twit he would have noticed that my particular version of the problem of evil is immune to the "incorrigibly impressionistic" dismissal he used in the above review, for then the problem of good could be dismissed in the same way - which of course it can't. This is one of the many strengths of this particular version of the problem of evil, in fact.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is really boring that there are some well known arguments once again for 2+3 being equal to 5. But, there are some people out there, who cannot calculate. - Maybe this collection is boring, but the message is necessary and true. - And perhaps there will be a future, where some source of evil has lost its powers, the intrinsically misleading belief in some god or another.
Science is not a univeral remedy, but much better than all beliefs without any solid evidence.

Smörgåsmåsen said...

The sad thing is that Hart apparently isn't even a christian.

Anonymous said...

Can't see the forest for the trees.

Calling him a twit, that really adds weight to your argument!

Stephen Law said...

"Twit" was not a premise, anon. It was a conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Nice cover. So if someone calls you a twit (or worse), it is okay if you couch it you call it a conclusion and not a premise? And what is this conclusion based on, the fact that he disagrees with you? Kinda proves his point, if you ask me.

Michael Fugate said...

He or she who has no name,

What is Hart's point?

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