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Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Irrational Atheists, a review

It did take me a little longer to read and review The Irational Atheists then I intended. Baby was somewhat uncooperative with food last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, which took away from my intended reading time and some other plans, then Josh was working on the CPU, so this is the first chance that I got to post. As always, I write my review with my target audience, my parents, in mind.

The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (TIA) by Vox Day

Target Audience: Atheists weak in their faith and agnostics, though a Christian who is actively exposed to secular humanism and other atheistic philosophies will find the book useful in their discussions with others.

Key assumption and theme: This is not one of those "Trust me, this is what atheists believe" books. Day assumes his readers are familiar with the popular atheist thinkers and philosophies of the day. He asserts the atheists have spoken for themselves and interested parties may readily obtain copies of their published works. This book dissects popular arguments made by atheists against organized religion and particularly Christianity.

Format: TIA takes on an approach not unlike Chesterton's approach in Heretics . Each chapter addresses a different topic and/or philosopher.

Theological background: Vox Day is a non-denominational Christian who has been influenced by the open-theism theology of Dr. Greg Boyd. Therefore, the times Day writes about theology, he does so through this theological bias. Of course, it's his book, and his choice. As a Confessional Lutheran, I find some of Dr. Boyd's theology difficult to accept, but my preferance for Confessional Lutheranism does not detract from my enjoyment of the book.

It was my original intent to give a chronological review of TIA. However, something caught my attention towards the end. Day correctly points out that we do not take advantage of, are not capable of, and I add are not interested in, examining all of the evidence for or against a specific issue. As a personal example, Becky is still insistant that The Great Gatsby has this symbolism in it. Unfortunately, my 11th grade English teacher did, as well. I, on the other hand, thought the mention of "yellow" and "green" and whatever added great descriptive detail to the picture Fitzgerald intended me to see in my mind. Who knew there was deeper moral content then people who have extra marital sex die (a similar theme to Anna Karinina... but if all you get out of a work of literature is the assurance that the 10 commandments are good to follow, you learned something). Anyway, the point is, you can provide a person with evidence of a particular topic, and some people just won't get it, or don't want to get it, which is another story.

I would have to say my second favorite part of TIA would be the chapters Day devotes to science. Often Dad would teach us that there is a difference between good science and bad science. Good science, he taught, would add something of value to the body of knowledge and had a process by which someone else could mimic the results. Day has the same view of science. Though I do not know if it was Day's intent to do so, I see some parallels between his opinion of some scientific discoveries and the account in Geneisis of the Fall of Man. "Eat of this tree and you will become like God" seems to have been at the back of Day's mind as he wrote of science. In particular, Day points out the problems in knowing too much about genetics and weaponry. As an aside, if you are looking for someone to provide young earth creation evidence, this is not a book for you. Day does not address evolution. And it is a better book for it. I have attended too many anti-evolution events where the goal is not to convert people to Christianity, but to young earth creationism. And that is a mistaken goal. Day, in my opinion, rightfully stays away from evolution.

Day also discusses war and totalitarian governments. In his discussions of both, he examines whether communist, atheist, or secular humanist establishments are more moral then the religious. His conclusion is no, and that these non-religious estates are worse.

Day ends his book with a breif discussion of arguments used by both atheists and evangelicals in regards to God, that because is omnipresent and omnipotent that He is responsible for evil and "The bad things that happen to good people." The conclusion of the atheist is that God is torturing people, while the evangelical believes bad things happen in life to the good of humanity. Day takes a point of view that I am not comfortable with (and I'm not particularly comfortable with the evangelical point of view either)... that bad things are perhaps a random act or caused by an evil force. His point of view is influenced strongly by Dr. Boyd's teachings and also Day's own occupation as a computer software (particularly games) programmer. I'm not particularly familiar with the details of Dr. Boyd's theology, as such, I will refrain from discussing it further until I've had a better chance to examine it.

Day asserts at the beginning and conclusion of TIA that it is the goal of atheist pilosophers to squash the influence of Christians in society. A particular astute observation from pages 5 and 6: "I believe in living and letting live. If you'll leave me alone, I'll be delighted to do you the courtesy of leaving you alone in return.... I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and there's no reason why we shouldn't both be perfectly cool with that. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are not so much cool with that." Day's point, and I'm leaving out some of the quote, is he is not going to go and create an economic or physiological disincentive for you to reject your faith, but others are willing and trying to create disincentives for you to reject your faith.

Day provides a valuable service to Christians, particularly those who are not capable of pulling apart arguments against God. I strongly recommend the book.

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