Lessons from the Atheists - Chapter 2

"Lessons from the Atheists"


Chapter 2 : Bad Thinking



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Page Contents







2.1 Introduction


In this chapter I simply want to combine the two Appendices, one from our Appraisal of The God Delusion and the other from our Appraisal of God is not Great, where we listed the key ‘bad aspects' of each of those two books. If you haven't been to those two parts of the site then it will be useful to combine the two here.


When I was much younger I owned a book called Straight and Crooked Thinking which pointed out the many tactics that people use to win arguments. I am indebted to that book. For thirteen years I practiced as a Chartered Building Surveyor. A Building Surveyor diagnoses the problems in a building's construction. I learnt a lot about looking behind the surface. For seventeen years I taught General Law and Contract Law for the Construction Industry at College. Throughout that period I learned to read Acts of Parliament, and interpret and paraphrase seventy-page forms of contract, all in small print! I believe I have gained some experience in assessing the truth, especially of documents. These are my qualifications to dare to criticise these books that have gained such notoriety in both the UK and the USA .


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2.2 The God Delusion


With the above in mind, the following are my complaints about the methodology used by Richard in The God Delusion:


1. Surplus-to-Requirement Arguing


An immense amount of this book actually has little or nothing to do with belief in God being a delusion, which is what the title suggests it should be about.

A considerable amount of paper is used to denounce periphery things, things that do not add or detract from belief in God, but which are obviously things that just annoy Richard. I have commented on this a number of times in the notes, but constantly ask yourself as you read the book, does this really go towards proving the existence or non-existence of God? In separate chapters we will consider these things that came over as secondary targets.


2. Failure to Distinguish between Principles and Practice


A lot of Richard's writing is taking up arms against particular individuals or groups or denominations or even religions, on the basis of things they have said or done which are questionable, NOT on the basis of the specific beliefs .


In the first Appendix of our Appraisal of The God Delusion I have faced the need for the church to put its house in order, but the fact that there are extremists who call themselves Christians in no way detracts from the doctrines and historical background of the Christian Faith. That some so-called believers ignore, forget or disagree with the beliefs of the majority doesn't bring down the central tenets of belief . To use such believers to prove the point only shows the weakness of thinking behind the book.


One of the problems with focusing on extremist language or behaviour, is that it is always that of a minority group and is in no way representative of the main body of believers. Pointing to a minority extremist group, or even someone from mainstream who has a bad day and speaks out of turn, does nothing to detract from the faith of millions or orthodox middle-of-the-road believers.


3. Aiming for an Illusory Target


Now Richard in defence mode at the beginning of the book strongly denies doing this, but denial doesn't stop him doing it. A number of times I have had to say, but we don't believe that! Every time he sets up an extremist group or an extremist belief, we have to say, but we're not like that, we don't believe that, so why bother to say it. But he still does it – again and again! If you are a Christian watch for this as you read.


4. Ignoring Classical Scholarship


A number of these things are inter-related. I have already complained about Richard's use of extreme examples and this applies equally so in respect of the authorities that he uses to bolster his weak arguments. ‘Out there' is an immense wealth of scholarship, men of great learning and wisdom who have researched how the Bible came to be, why it is what it is, and these are men who can be trusted. At the end of the Introductory Page of the Appraisal of The God Delusion , I listed a number of books that are worth reading, and they all come from serious men and women. Yet Richard studiously ignores all this scholarship, possibly because he is ignorant of it, or possibly because it runs contrary to his apparent paranoia of religious things. Prejudice is a terrible thing!


5. Relying upon Liberal Theologians who start from an atheists position


The other side of this same coin is the way that Richard relies upon those antecedents are questionable. I dealt with this issue more fully in another separate Appendix, but anyone who starts from a presupposition that says that God can't speak or work into His world, prejudges the issue. Reputable scientists and scholars take the evidence in front of them and draw conclusions. They don't start with the conclusions. There was, starting from the nineteenth century, a whole school of theologians who started with those presuppositions. Naturally their conclusions were negative. It is this skewed school of thinking that Richard relies upon, which undermines everything he says about the Bible.


6. Using only sceptics for his quotes


Associated with this is his constant use of sceptical atheists to back up his arguments. The ensuing view is rather like a socialist going into a Conservative club, entering into a debate with a Conservative member who simply appeals to all the other conservative members to support his argument against the Socialist. If you seek for the truth (a big ‘IF' in the case of this book which appears as more of a rant than a logical argument) you examine all perspectives and consider all views. Referring only to your own ‘club' makes you look silly, especially when it becomes very obvious that most of them have as little knowledge of the subject as you have!


7. Deriding his fellow scientists who disagree with him


A further facet of this same thing is Richard's constant deriding of his own colleagues in the scientific world who clearly disagree with him. He is clearly thoroughly embarrassed by many of them, and seeks to rubbish some, and simply deny what others have apparently said by saying, “I'm sure he didn't mean that”. This comes over as just shear arrogance and the exhibition of an utterly closed mind.


8. Basing many of his arguments on speculation and not scientific evidence


Again this is so prevalent in this book that I devoted a separate Appendix to it. Richard works on the premise that one day everything will prove what he is now saying. The only trouble is that so much of what he is saying is not based on science – and even flies directly in the face of established science – but is pure philosophical speculation. Speculation proves nothing beyond the author has an imaginative mind. Watch out for this as you read because it constantly happens.


9. Failing to Know the Bible


At one point in the book Richard derides theologians as being a waste of time. Sadly he doesn't realise that these are men and women who spend their lives studying the Bible and considering the implications of the revelation found there. He clearly has done neither and his gaffs are really embarrassing. He picks out bits of the Bible that he feels suit his argument and carefully omits the large amounts that run contrary to his beliefs. Those bits he does refer to, he clearly doesn't understand. As the Bible is clearly one of the main planks of a believer's platform of belief, you might have expected him to research its origins and read it thoroughly, but he has clearly done neither.


10. Appealing to the most bizarre use of illogical use of statistics to reach a conclusion


When someone is so intent to prove their point they can get wound up in the most convoluted of arguments and suggest the most bizarre of things. I will comment on this more fully in another of the chapters, but a major illogical way of thinking is that which comes from the evolutionary school and says, given a sufficient big period of time, anything could happen. Well, no, actually it can't, because our scientific community are sure of certain laws of science and to reject those laws to confirm your atheism is not on! I'll say more elsewhere.


11. Having a Dogmatic Approach that is not open to reason


This is a feeling that is conveyed by Richard's writings. I base this comment on a number of the points above. I have actually used the word paranoia earlier. I'm sorry but that is what it seems like. There is a bending of the truth, a refusal to face facts and a refusal to listen to lots of clever and wise people in both the areas of science and theology. Perhaps history will look back at this time and wonder why so many people have applauded one who exhibits such a closed mind. Perhaps it is because he appeals to their closed minds.


12. Using emotion to denounce when he demands a scientific approach


Richard puts himself forward as a scientist and indeed demands that religion be scrutinised scientifically (which I don't have a problem with), yet so much of what appears in this book comes over with such an emotional fervour and hatred of all things religious that one is left with the clear impression that objectivity has been thrown out the window. It is a strange thing that many of us in the ‘religious' world appear to have a greater willingness to objective thought than appears coming from one who purports to adhere to the scientific method which must be objective if it is to have any credibility.


Concluding Comment


Every one of these twelve points is a clear and valid complaint. They are not contrived. They are straight forward observations of the nature of the methodology of this book. I have not attempted to give example here to justify each comment, as that would take up too much space, and so I simply ask you, if you read The God Delusion , to watch out for each of these things.

I have to add that recently I gave up dialogue with an atheist on a Blog site because it became obvious that although he was happy to pour forth his complaints, he was not willing to investigate and find out the true Christian position. In that I felt he was a true disciple of this Oxford academic.



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2.3 God is Not Great


Again we largely reiterate what you will find in one of the Appendices to God is not Great . There is obviously a lot of overlap with what we find in The God Delusion , but I repeat what we wrote in that second appraisal simply as it stood.


a) The deceptiveness of the book


In chapter 1 of the notes, I listed seven deceptions which I reproduce in a slightly shorter version here:


The first ‘deception' is that he comes powerfully and authoritatively, not brooking opposition and stampeding down any opposition. He gives himself the position of almost divine authority.


The second deceptive approaches is that of the person who appears so reasonable that you are seduced by their niceness and really don't take in the import of what they are saying. That came over very strongly in chapter 1.


A third deception is using half truths. It blends truth with untruth to create an end product of its own making, to suit its own presupposed conclusions.


A fourth deception is to dump so much in one's lap that it is almost impossible to take in individual points when the chapter goes past like a fast flowing river.


A fifth deception is to appeal to extremes of history, silly comments of people whose understanding was less than perfect, or people's inadequacies in general, in respect of religion specifically.


A sixth deception, is to speak in such generalities that it is impossible to tie down the truth.


A seventh deception is to condemn by association. The title of the book is God is not Great but actually very little is about God.


These, therefore, are the strategies that the author uses, purposely or not I don't know.



b) The Wrongs of the Book


There are a number of things about this book that worry me if this is supposed to be a book of integrity. This book, unlike The God Delusion, does not major on science but is more general but it is within those generalities that we find the pages liberally sown with the following:


1. Its Bitter Bias


The further on this book goes, the greater the bitterness being revealed in the writing. The language becomes more and more emotive and there is nothing of objectivity about it; it is all-out crusading!


2. Its One-Sidedness


Far more than The God Delusion this book comes out of the school of closed-mind, dogmatic mantras. So much is this evident that I have near the end commented that “It's like going into the Labour Party headquarters in London and saying, “Tell me why Conservatives are wrong,” or going into the Democrats' headquarters in Washington (is that where it is?) and saying, “Tell me why the Republicans are wrong.” It is so propagandist as to be almost unbelievable.


3. It is Ignorant of the Origins and Content of Scripture


Now the Bible is one of the primary foundation stones for the Christian Faith and one might expect these crusading atheists to have read it and studied it and its origins, but all we find is a quoting of others who have little or no knowledge as well, as if repeating shallow errors might make them solid truth. The lack of knowledge and understanding of the origins of the Bible and its contents is horrific coming from those who dare to criticise it. The only reason they get away with it with the media, is that they likewise are largely ignorant of it. If they weren't all so ignorant of it, then perhaps they might not be atheists!


4. It has its own way of interpreting history


A number of times as I read through this book, I thought, “This doesn't correspond with my knowledge of history! I think he is assuming a whole lot of things here, simply to fit his agenda.” I could be wrong because in a number of areas he is clearly more well read than I am, yet my readings of history suggest that quite a lot of what he says will not stand up to scrutiny and it would be good to have an historian check out much of what he says. I have doubts.


5. It uses the ploy of Extremes


He has no doubt learnt of Richard who is the master of this – focus on extremists and brand the middle ground ‘real article' with the same stamp. It is intellectually very bad! Again, nowhere in this book is there an examination of the experiences of the vast majority of middle of the road traditional Christians whose only fault is that seek to be good!


6. It leads astray by sleight of hand


More than a few times we are led to believe that the author is going to cover a particular topic only to find we have led into a completely different area which has nothing to do with the chapter title or the opening words of the chapter. The biggest criticism in this respect comes with the very title of the book. Hardly anything or very little in the book is about God Himself. It's mostly about how human beings have done their own thing and used religion. If it had been titled, “Man-Made Religion is Bad” I would have been the first to applaud it!


7. It lacks understanding of history


This is a subject that I believe can stand on its own, and so I dealt with it more fully in Appendix 2 of our Appraisal of God is not Great – Church and History.



In addition to these general errors that come up again and again throughout the book, if you read our notes you will find that we have itemised specific lists of errors within chapters at the ends of chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 15, 17 & 18.


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2.4 Conclusions


In the beginning of The God Delusion, Richard obviously seeks to forestall various defensive arguments from Christians by saying he doesn't do this or that, but unfortunately we find him doing exactly what he purports not to do. Having entered into dialogue recently with an atheist on his Blog site, I found exactly the same sort of thing happening.

The faults I have listed above are, I believe, obvious for any fair-minded and open-minded reader. If you have already shut your mind to any possible alternative to your present way of thinking, your defensiveness may close you off from the simple truths here. I hope not.

My biggest concern, I have already mentioned above, is that many atheists (not all!) seem to produce their stock answers - often from the books quoted here - but rarely seem to think through the issues themselves. For this reason they make themselves very vulnerable.



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