The Delusion of Disbelief
|Great and terrible|
|On our shelf:|
The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness (ISBN 9781414317083) is a Christian book authored by David Aikman, published in April 2008 by Tyndale House Publishers. It is a mis-quoting, quote mining response to the "New Atheism" and best-seller The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.
Chapter 1: The Four Horsemen
In response to the big atheist authors Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett being called the "Four Horsemen," Aikman has decided to call them "The Gang of Four," referring to communist leaders. He argues that the four authors have attempted to scientifically invalidate theistic beliefs. In this book, he aims to confront the sudden "atheistic propaganda."
Chapter 2: The Attack of the Four Horsemen
In this chapter, Aikman argues "the four horsemen are not a coordinated or coherent group," despite each giving massive kudos to the others in their books. He demonstrates that they contradict one another, and have different opinions on the same religion, which is not surprising, since every atheist is unique with their own set of views, beliefs and opinions.[note 1]
Aikman tries to demean the authors, explaining Harris is not a scholar and Hitchens had been a Marxist and a Trotskyist (and therefore he must be evil). Rational people understand that one's political views have nothing to do with one's claims about religion and reason, except when they do.
Chapter 3: They Don't Like God
In this chapter, Aikman asks why do the "new" atheists seem hateful or hostile to God, a being they do not believe in to begin with.
Many people think Voldemort from Harry Potter is a twisted evil monster, but that does not mean Voldemort exists in reality. But why are atheists angry? Perhaps they are tired of the religious hypocrisy, religions suppressing people's rights (including atheists), religion causing the death of thousands across the world, battling to have their doctrine being taught in science classes, and such.
Aikman scolds Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris on their critiques of the Bible, and claims they don't all agree (which means, in his mind, they must all be wrong), such as Hitchens doesn't feel there is any truth to the Bible while the others do to some degree.
Next, he berates the atheists because a few of them talk badly about Mother Teresa and other religious individuals.
Aikman blasts Hitchens for not accepting that people of faith can do good things because of it. While this is not technically wrong, it is important to know that people of faith have also done bad things- something Aikman fails to recognize.
Chapter 4: The Science Problem
Aikman criticizes Hitchens, Harris, Dennet, and especially Dawkins. Aikman critiques Dawkins for being "angry" and not being favorable of scientists who find justification in religious belief or scientists who tolerate religious belief. Aikman names and quotes Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and Owen Gingerich, author of God's Universe.
Near the end, Aikman argues that Christianity laid the foundations for future scientific discoveries. However, the Greeks were responsible for the development of science.
Chapter 5: The Problem of Wicked Atheists: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot
In this chapter, Aikman provides an argument that atheism basically caused communism and more.
...the twentieth-century ideologies that produced the greatest totalitarian evils, communism and Nazism, both grew out of a sustained philosophical rebellion against religious faith - in essence, atheism. That philosophical rebellion was birthed in the eighteenth - century French Enlightenment and first gained expression in political life during the 1789-1799 French Revolution; it attained its apotheosis in the Bolshevik regime that came to rule Russia after October 1917." (page 101)
However, this does not fit the definition of atheism. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in god(s), not anti-theism or anti-religion. Communist leaders were influenced, obviously, by Karl Marx, who in turn was influenced by Friedrich Hegel, who was influenced by deists during the Enlightenment.
Aikman makes it appear that the Reign of Terror in France was caused by a bunch of atheists. However, this is not the case. Georges Danton stated
We never intended to annihilate the reign of superstition in order to set up the reign of atheism...I demand that there be an end of those antireligious masquerades in the Convention" (Source: The Story of Civilization: The Age of Napoleon, by Will and Ariel Durant, page 74).
The cause of the religious persecution was that some members of the Convention believed that "all religion [was] counter-revolutionary," and so they launched the movement of dechristianization, which was soon stopped by Robespierre (Source: A History of the Modern World, by R.R. Palmer and Joel Colton, pages 361- 362).
The cause for communism on the other hand, may be a bigger problem for Christianity than atheism. Communism can be found in Acts 3 of the Bible. Marx's position on religion was that "the state should regard each person's religion as a 'private matter,' and not discriminate on grounds of religious practice or affiliation." Also, "with the coming of socialism, but not before, religion will spontaneously disappear" but after the communists gained power they found religion wasn't going to wither away as easily as they originally thought, so they began to initiate anti-religious campaigns. This (like so much else that communist governments have done) totally went against Marx's teachings.
Without religion, according to Aikman, there would be no basis for morality and a wide spread of atheism would be very harmful. This first part is refuted by the mere fact that most of the "morals" taught by religion are oppressive and antisocial, such as the oppression of women, murder, homosexuals, slavery, etc. As for the second, Aikman equates communist countries to atheist countries. The problem lies in the fact that communist nations are totalitarian at their very core and these kinds of societies are violent and oppressive to begin with. While countries with high levels of natural atheism (a brand of atheism that is not forced, but is fostered through education, etc.) are much better off than countries that have high levels of religious belief.
Chapter 6: The Christian Worldview Is the Foundation of Liberty
Aikman starts off by claiming Dawkins doesn't know what he is talking about when he says in The God Delusion, that "the greatest of [the 'founding fathers'] might have been atheists." This is indeed not true, but Dawkins asserts that despite their religious beliefs, they were above all secularists. Many of the "founding fathers", such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, were deists and not Christians. This country actually was founded as a secular nation. Aikman disagrees, claiming "...it is clear from their actions in life and from their writings that the founders were overwhelmingly not deists..."
In response, Aikman argues that the "Mayflower Compact is often referred to as the "foundation of the U.S. Constitution...". The Mayflower Compact was written about 150 years before the Constitution. The compact has the words "God" and other similar choice of words. It also identifies the inhabitants of Massachusetts as "Separatists" and the "Strangers", who were to abide by certain rules which would be for the good of the entire colony.
The Constitution refers to how the United States government will be set up, and the rules that the government will follow. The Constitution has no references whatsoever to any religion, other than the fact that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office..." and that "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."
Despite Aikman's claims, it was deism and enlightenment ideas, not Christianity, that had the most profound impact upon the United States Constitution.
Conclusion: New Atheism Offers Nothing New
Essentially, this chapter consisted of Aikman trying to make a case that Christianity is the source for almost everything good, while atheism leads to immorality, uncertainty, and violence. He goes through several pages giving examples of 'immoral' atheists like Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Annie Besant.
Appendix: The Four Horseman and the Bible
In this chapter Aikman attempts to refute the many claims about the Bible's historical and scriptural accuracy made by the "New Atheists." He spends several pages addressing the Ten Commandments.
Moving on to the New Testament, Aikman points out that none of the four horsemen have any detailed understanding of either Christianity or of New Testament criticism. The only biblical critic cited as an authority for his attempts to debunk the authenticity of the New Testament is Bart Ehrman. Aikman does not mention other biblical scholars whose opinions coincide with Ehrman, such as Robert M. Price and Earl Doherty, among others.
He then moves on to refute the following six criticisms of biblical history.
- 1. All the gospels were written so long after Jesus died that they cannot be considered reliable. And in any case, they contradict one another, especially in regard to the genealogy of Jesus and the virgin birth.
Aikman basically claims that because there are more manuscripts of the bible than any other ancient work, people should accept that there is more than enough information to obtain much of the original wording of the bible. This is true on some scholarly level; multiple historical copies allow us to trace and track changes in writing over time. However, this doesn't necessarily have any relationship with historical veracity any more than having multiple first edition copies of any known fictional or biographical work of the last 500 hundred years ensures their accuracy. Historical fact is addressed by additional corroborating or conflicting evidence, certainly not through sheer quantity of the same evidence.
- 2. Apart from the point raised above, the gospels in general are not reliable accounts of what happened.
- 3. None of the gospel writers knew Jesus personally, nor are their identities even known.
Addressing both 2 and 3, Aikman says "early church tradition...ought to count for something in the history of Christianity..." and states that because it's tradition, it can be counted on as reliable—which astute readers might recognize as a gigantic non sequitur.
- 4. The translation of the Hebrew word "almah" as "virgin" is incorrect (as in "a virgin shall be with child"). The correct translation for the word almah is "young woman."
Aikman actually agrees with this version of the translation, but disagrees on the exact context and semantics of it. He says that "young woman" is one who has not been married and was, according to the norms of the time, by definition a virgin. Even if that was true it does nothing to prove that a virgin got pregnant and gave birth. In any case the prophecy more clearly refers to events at the time, rather than in the future (i.e. Jesus' birth).
- 5. Jesus never claimed to be divine.
- 6. The gospels differ in their accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.
Aikman makes three claims. First, there are many things in each of the accounts that are the same; second, he says that the tomb was empty, and so something had to have happened to the body; and third, he claims the stories were not products of a legend, because "legends usually require at least one to two generations to bring to life." First of all, read the four different accounts of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection and take notes of how many things are different. Second, only the gospel says something happened to the body, but how do we verify if a body entered the tomb to begin with? Finally, legends can be the products of just one generation, for instance cargo cults. Some scholars argue that Jesus could be the result of fiction, that is a sect of Jews created a messiah on paper to make it appear that salvation or the apocalypse was near.
- If disagreement matters so much, does it matter that the different Christian sects regularly contradict each other?