Irrational Atheist – Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris and, Hitchens, by Vox Day
This is one of those books that has gotten polarized reviews. Some of those reviews are based on the first three chapters (in some case only pages), and nothing more. The reason for these not-so-indepth reviews is the tone in which Vox Day, a pseudonym, obviously, starts describing the Unholy Trinity. Calling names and hurling alphabetical excrement is never a good way to draw in the reader. Even if one's opponent – The Dreaded Unholy Trinity – does it, there's no need stoop to the same level. Of course, some will find it extremely entertaining.
Irrational Atheist is available for download on Vox Day's site.
*prepares for consternation and uproar*
To the great shock of many who have not read Day's book, it must be said the he does make valid points. That is, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens have made baseless assertions in their books. I'll offer one of many, hopefully to encourage others to read and cope with the others.
Since I live in Finland, I don't know much about US's crime rates and justice system, nor social wealth. That didn't prevent me from seeing that the next point is valid. Vox addresses, among other things, an argument from Sam Harris:
"While political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the "red states" are primarily red because of the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians. If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and social health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don't. Of the 25 cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in "blue" states and 38 percent are in "red" states. … Of the 22 states with the highest rates of murder, 17 are red"
To which Vox offers a detailed explanation. Harris has committed Ecological Fallacy. When one looks at _counties_, not states, one can see that blue counties have higher murder and robbery rates. The dangerous cities Harris lists as examples of dangerous places residing in red states, are in fact in blue counties.
"District of Columbia, which voted 91 percent blue in 2004, also happened to possess the highest murder rate in the nation, which at 35,7 per 100´000 was nearly seven times the U.S. national average of 5,5."
21 of the top 25 Most dangerous cities are in blue counties. 12 of the top 25 Safest cities are in blue counties.
"By applying his metric to the state-wide voting instead of the more precise and relevant county, Harris exaggerates the number of safe blue cities by 20 percent and minimizes the number of dangerous blue cities by an astounding 70 percent!"
In the end, this and several other points are irrelevant to atheism and the existence of God. But this is not Vox Day's fault. Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens themselves offer these arguments as justification on the dangers of religion. Those arguments are exaggerations. To call religion a poison is to paint with too wide a brush. Religious belief can justify both good and bad behaviour, depending on how good and bad are defined. The real danger comes from fundamentalism, secular or sectarian version of it.
I'm not the best person to describe the problem, since I've had very little contact with dangerous belief. Finland has one of those cultures where talking about one's ”personal relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour” causes embarrasing pauses and coughs. ”Normal” people don't talk about issues like that with other people.
Fundamentalism, a strict maintenance of the doctrines of any religion or ideology, encompasses political ideas as well as religious interpretations of sacred texts. Fundamentalism should be the target for Unholy Trinity as well as an serious thinker.
Vox's greatest axe-grinding comes from the fact that atheism does not offer a foundation for a moral code. Thus atheism spirals down to either moral paratism or amorality. In my view this is partly a correct observation. A lack of faith in God (or however you want to define atheism) does not, in itself, explain how one should behave. Morality and ethics are separate systems from atheism.
This is why blaming atheism for the multitudes of horrors in Asian communist countries just doesn't work. I'm prettaay, prettaay sure that the people listed in Appendix A (Murderer's Row, p. 289) didn't think: ”Gosh, there is no God. Let's kill loads of people.”
This is why there are atheist who wave banners for war, while other atheists are pacifists. Atheists can be pro-communism, while other atheists enjoy capitalism. These mixed signals can confuse critics of atheism. The situation is not, however, any different for theists. Religious arguments can be, and have been, made for slavery and against slavery, for war and for peace, for killing babies and saving them.
Vox Day seems to be those kind of theists who can't understand how anyone can find meaning outside God. This lack of belief in God creates a moral vacuum, where rational and consistent atheists have to be sociopaths or commit suicide. I have never understood this line of reasoning.
This is not to say there are no atheists who are rational, that there are none who are true to their godless convictions. Friedrich Nietzsche is the foremost example, but there are certainly others who do not fear to determine their own moral compass. Today, we call them sociopaths and suicides.
I personally detest hurting other people. I try to be help those who need help. I don't need an order from a deity or any authority outside myself to behave. My system is far from perfect, I'm ready to admit that, but so far I've managed to avoid suicide and murder.
Implications of belief and theistic morality, or lack of them, have little to with the central issue: the existence of God.
Nowhere does Vox offer evidence for the existence of God. He reserved the issue outside of his book right from the start. A pity, since revealing how irrational atheists are would have been so much easier.
At times Vox does set up a glaringly wrong caricatures of his opponents. For instance, on page 146 he writes:
”Richard Dawkins is perhaps one of the last men on Earth who should be discussing what is the right and proper wau to rise children, given that the number of his wives outnumbers his offspring. But while he can accept both child abandoment and childhood sexual abuse with dispassionate fortitude, it is the horrible crime of raising children in the faith of their fathers that upsets him due to his belief that the fear of Hell is more psychologically damaging than childhood sexual abuse in the long term.”
What's wrong with this picture? Does Dawkins really approve of sexual abuse? I beg to differ. Dawkins does think that one of the two is more damaging, but claiming that he accepts the less damaging is a bit of a stretch on any standard. Hopefully I have misunderstood Vox Day.
The good and informative chapters deal with Inquisition (Spanish version didn't kill as many as popular media claims), Crusades (more politics behind the facades than religion) and tackling Hitler's mind – or lack of it. To my great relief, Vox isn't one of those theists who tries to push Hitler into the atheists' camp. Hitler was neither a christian nor atheist, but a mix-match of pagan ideas. He did say a lot of things, but clearly to appeal to the audience of the moment. This explains why nazis were building their own churches while at the same time undermining christianity.
When Vox Day writes of these issues the text is rather good and certainly educational to Average Joe. One of the best mindgames deals with virtual reality and artificial intelligence, where Vox Day explains how omnipotence and omniscience are not really a contradiction. More of that later.
Less informative issues circle around atheists' social autism, where data is collected from the commentors of Pharyngula-blog. The Irrational Atheist varies greatly in context, but at the end of the day (no pun intended), it is still worth the invested time. This is a book which will be quoted in countless online religion vs atheism debates, so it is better to be prepared than shoving your head in the sand.
The book also underlines the need for atheists to come up with a easy to understand and positive basis for secular humanism. Just criticizing theism doesn't build atheism's base.
Vox Day has commented on this review on his own blog.