Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist

Theodore BealeA friend recommended that I read The Irrational Atheist after I praised David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions.  I’ve now finished it (technically, I started reading it and then my Kindle read the rest of it to me on a long, solo car trip to SC the other day).  It is a strange, fascinating, eclectic, hard-to-categorize work by an author who deserves all of the same adjectives.  Vox Day is Theodore Beale, a game designer, science fiction writer, musician, provocateur, and polymath who has also written on economics and, in this work, on the new atheism.

My criticism of the book is limited and primarily stylistic.  Let me go ahead and get this out of the way:  this book REALLY needed a better editor!  Some of Day’s ramblings, while fascinating, kept the book from being the tight argument it could have been and lent the book the feel of a late night stream of consciousness soap box screed by a brilliant but overly-caffeinated buddy about three hours after everybody, especially said buddy, should’ve gone to bed.  I have the sensation, after reading/hearing the book, that Day, if he could hone his thoughts a bit more succinctly, could pen an absolutely devastating verbal sniper assault on pretty much any target on which he set his sights.  Instead, what we have here is a literary sawed-off-shotgun blast.  Actually, that’s too precise.  Day writes like a blasted blunderbuss.  It is exhilaratingly chaotic, but a bit messy.

For instance, Day’s foray into the open theism of his friend and former pastor Greg Boyd is unfortunate, not because the subject isn’t interesting and not because Day might not have interesting thoughts on the matter, but rather because his excursus on that particular theological debate was really not essential to his basic argument (though he employs it in response to one of the atheist writers).  The issue of open theism is too big for an excursus, but the book, The Irrational Atheist, is too big for the treatment that open theism deserves.  It would have been better for Day just to give a brief nod to his opinion that the view of exhaustive providence assumed by the atheist to which he was responding was not, again, in Day’s opinion, the only or best option.

Some of the ramblings, like the meandering exit Day takes to discuss one of his earlier game designs, will likely feel as forced and strange to other readers as it did to me (if I may presume to assume such).  His brief, occasional, and controversial nods to issues of race and gender will likely strike some readers as unnecessarily distracting (though Day apparently traffics confidently in such provocations).  Day has a wild and intriguing mind. Perhaps the editor just gave up in sheer frustration!

Again, those are largely stylistic quibbles.  The fact is, when Day does focus, which he does for most of the book, what he does is utterly spellbinding, effective, educational, destructive, and exhilarating.  Simply put, this…was…an…AMAZING…book!  It’s certainly near the top of the list of titles critiquing the new atheism that I would recommend.

Day works through the arguments, positions, and assumptions of “the unholy trinity” of atheism:  Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.  He also deals with Daniel Dennett (who, along with “the unholy trinity” usually makes up the fourth of the “four horsemen of the new atheism”) and some lesser known writers.  His critique of these men and their works is something to behold.  Quite honestly, what Vox Day does to Sam Harris’ writings is one of the most devastating deconstruction jobs I have ever seen in print, especially in his treatment of Harris’ arguments concerning the supposed tendencies toward crimes in red and blue states.  He hammers, relentlessly, the shoddy scholarship behind Harris’ premises, as well as the bizarre extremes to which Harris goes.  His treatment of the others is equally unrelenting, though Harris, in particular, seems to have earned the wrath of Day in ways the others did not.  Daniel Dennett seems to get off the easiest, though Day’s handling of Dennett is also effective.

Along the way, Day skewers the new atheists’ platitudes about religious wars, about the Inquisition, about the crusades, about the intelligence of believers vs. non-believers, about the supposed dangers of traditional sexual mores, and more.  What is so utterly fascinating is the statistical data Day employs in his arguments.  It is a refreshingly fact-based approach, though it is not without its moments of genuine literary flourish.

I would definitely recommend Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist.  It’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.

Kudos to the gloriously eccentric Vox Day for this powerhouse book!

Read it!

David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions

This review will be regrettably brief since, for some reason, I have waited a very long time to write this since finishing David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion.  Even so, I wanted to post at least a strong recommendation of the work because of the significant contribution I believe it makes to the literature responding to the so-called “New Atheism.”  In fact, I would count Berlinski’s work up there with (though still beneath) David Bentley Hart’s insofar as responses to atheism go, though the works are very different in so many ways.

It is a perplexing and intriguing book from a modern polymath.  Berlinski is not a Christian and claims no particular religious beliefs at all, other than, I presume, theism.  He is Jewish by birth and a mathematician by profession.  He possesses a frequently humorous, sometimes eccentric and oftentimes dazzling intellect that probably warrants him the admittedly overused monikor of “rennaissance man.” He speaks of mathematics, philosophy, science, physics and theology in ways that reveal significant study in these field, and, refreshigly, he does so with an often-moving literary flourish.

Essentially, Berlinski is skewering the pretentiousness and patronizing absurdities of the assumptions of modernity, and, particularly, of scientific modernity, in this work.  He paints a picture of theories-run-amuck in many quarters of the scientific community.  These theories are then dogmatized, Berlinski suggests, by a thin-skinned and tight-knit community which utilizes a slick media machine to demonize any who dare to question the assumptions and conclusions of this machine.  The victims, he argues, are an unsuspecting public who cower before the double barrell approach of scientific obfuscation and media aggressiveness.

In saying these things, Berlinski is not pandering to ignorant, anti-science bigots who want to be shielded from uncomfortable conclusions.  Rather, he demonstrates his thesis in profound and provocative ways that I can only encourage you to read.  You may or may not agree with all of Berlinski’s conclusions, but I daresay you cannot read this work without appreciating his case that a great many of the mantras of modernity, scientific and philosophical, are buttressed by establishment-driven and media-propagated agendas.

Read this book.


Alister and Joanna Collicut McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion?

Subtitled, Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, Alister McGrath and his wife Joanna Collicut have written a real gem of a book in The Dawkins Delusion? Written primarily by Alister McGrath, one of Evanglicalism’s shining intellectual lights, this small book is a significant contribution to the Christian response to the work of famed British atheist Richard Dawkins.

It is intriguing for many reasons.  I found McGrath’s revelation of the frustration that many atheist academics feel toward Dawkins and his work to be insightful and intriguing.  In short, many of Dawkins’ own colleagues find the frankly unfettered hatred that Dawkins shows religion to be unnecessary and injurious to their cause.  Many also seem to feel that Dawkins’ own form of atheist fundamentalism is not very thoughtful.  Along these same lines, I was struck by Dawkin’s dismissal of significant scientific voices who dare to say that science, by its very nature, cannot dismiss with the possibility of God.

McGrath’s handling of the charge that religion leads men to do evil things was even-handed and thoughtful.  He persuasively demonstrates the fundamental fallacies of such a notion and rightly calls Dawkins to task for such a sweeping and naive assertion.

In all, though, McGrath is strongest in his discussion of the nature of science and its limits.  He did work in chemistry and molecular biophysics at Oxford and speaks with helpful insight to these questions.

If you would like a relatively brief but thought-provoking assesment of Dawkins’ main arguments and the problems inherent therein, check out McGrath’s book.  It is very helpful and very well done.