the curious case of The Irrational Atheist

It seems to be axiomatic that any heated discussion on the Internet will inevitably degenerate into a mutual barrage of insults. Last year I was watching one such meltdown in a blog comment thread, and I noticed the majority of the commentators had ganged up on some guy operating under the pseudonym of Vox Day. His online persona, at least, seemed like an argumentative college student, but he definitely could write an entertaining insult.

A little research revealed that Vox Day was actually a guy named Theodore Beale, with a life story that made him look like a refugee from a cyberpunk novel. Beale’s father was a technology executive in prison for tax evasion, while Beale the Younger had been in a moderately successful rock band, shifted to computer game design, and eventually became a Christian libertarian political columnist under the pseudonym of Vox Day (bad pun) with a Christian libertarian blog called Vox Popoli. He must be a libertarian, because I’ve never met a libertarian who didn’t enjoy argument ad nauseum, and Day seems to have picked online fights with numerous individual science fiction writers, a few editors, the SFWA, several individual atheists, numerous atheist message boards, several individual feminists, numerous feminist blogs a couple of scientists, and, I don’t know, he probably invaded Russia in winter just for the thrill of it. (I get the impression that if he’d lived 150 years earlier, he’d have been helping William Walker conquer Nicaragua.)

So when I saw that he had a book coming out, naturally I had to read it.

The book is called “The Irrational Atheist”, and it’s a Philippic against the “New Atheist” – militant atheists like Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”), Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”), Christopher Hitchens (“god is Not Great”), and Daniel Dennett (“Breaking The Spell”). I have to say right up front that I’ve always found these guys to be creepy. Especially Sam Harris, when he advocates for “benign dictatorship” of a global government.* They seem like the forerunners of something worse. Ever hear of Houston Stewart Chamberlain or Arthur de Gobineau? In the late 19th century they wrote about the transcendent glories of superior Race and superior national blood, and a few decades later high-ranking Nazis cited them favorably as they rounded up various untermenschen for extermination.

People complain about anti-intellectualism in America, but intellectuals don’t exactly have a bang-up track record.

But back to the main point: Day’s book does a fairly solid job of dismantling the key arguments and assumptions of the New Atheists, albeit with a fair amount of snark. Does religion cause most wars? Are atheists more moral than believers? Is science the key to a better and more enlightened world? He does a solid job of addressing all of these points. Day quite obviously claims to be a Christian, but “The Irrational Atheist” is not a Christian apologetic (except for the last chapter – God as the Ur-Hacker). He cites things that are incorrect or simply wrong in the arguments of New Atheism, only rarely turning to the Bible as an authority (and then only to expand a point about religious belief).

Particularly persuasive are his arguments that religion only causes a small subset of wars. Some, of course, are explicitly religious, like the Thirty Years’ War, the French Wars of Religion, and various Sunni-Shi’ite Muslim civil wars. However, something like 90 percent of wars are caused by the more mundane reasons of power, economics, and territorial disputes. Day also takes a very convincing look at the track record of atheist political leaders, who show an appalling tendency to turn into murderous lunatics once their power is secured. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre was explicitly religious, but the average 20th-century atheist dictator can beat that body count by an order of magnitude. (It is also interesting to note that Charles IX, the massacre’s instigator, died begging God to forgive the blood on his hands. One doubts that Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, and Kim il-Sung ever repented of everything.)

I liked the book, but I doubt it will change anyone’s mind. You can’t prove that God exists. But you can’t prove that He doesn’t exist, either. I suspect this book will be most useful to people who view the militancy of the New Atheists with deep suspicion.

-JM

*Never, never trust anyone who claims he needs expanded political powers to right some sort of evil. That never ends well, not ever.

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7 Responses to the curious case of The Irrational Atheist

  1. Mike Harmon says:

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Mike Harmon

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  3. Samuel Skinner says:

    I’ll defend Harris. Giving the Afghanis a democracy was a bad idea. The “liberated” government puts people to death for aposty!

    1) Many of the arguments he cites are wrong (for example the suicide bombing argument he makes takes 2003 stats- Harris used 2005; yep Muslims made up the differance quickly). Also none of the new atheists claim religion causes the majority of wars. As for the morality parts, it could be because poorer people vote democrat.

    2) None of them prove god exists.

    Use the net to find a counter arguments and evalute them. Hey, I did it for libertarianism (for the record libertarians are wrong, but free market stuff is a good idea… just hard to do).

  4. Samuel Skinner says:

    Hmm… looked up Harris- turns out he is a little nutty. So I wouldn’t rely on him for science data. Aside from that… you have a Ben Stein poster? Great, a creationist… no wonder you found The Irrational Atheist convincing.

  5. Jonathan Moeller says:

    Harris is nuts. A global government? Never trust anyone who advocates acquiring power to solve some sort of evil.

    The Google ads are entirely contextual. You should see what comes up when I write about killer bees.

  6. Samuel Skinner says:

    Actually power and politics does work for some thing- we eradicated small pox that way. Unfortunately I don’t think a global government is a good idea because of the lack of an outside problem (no where for dissedents to flee) and the extreme inequality. Mankind may get a global government, but it is probably going to happen when we no longer need it- after all the EU fromed when there was no danger of an interEuropean conflict (except civil wars).

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