I often worry about attacking straw men. When positing my arguments against a position, I often wonder is this position I’m attacking really the best the other side has to offer? Surely there must be a more educated and reasonable version of this put forth by someone who’s actually an expert in the field. I am confronted with feelings of disappointment rather than vindication when it turns out the “less refined” argument I am debating against actually encapsulates everything their experts have to back them up.

This disappointment gripped me thoroughly as I read an article by columnist and best selling author, Reza Aslan. The article is posted here. In it, Aslan speaks out against “the new atheism” and its heroes, Harris, Hitchens, Denett, and Dawkins. One would hope that a distinguished writer like Aslan would be able to display the best that the religious and their apologists has to offer, especially as this is the exact topic with which Aslan has acquired his writing accolades. But where I hoped to find well thought out and more in depth reasoning, I found only the same weak arguments delivered with a slightly better vocabulary and smoother writing style than the unknowns I’d been debating with previously. But, as I do still want to avoid any chance of straw-manning, here is my reply to Reza Aslan, champion writer for the anti-secularists.  Sit tight, its a doozy.

Aslan starts by talking about a bus-board that reads ‘THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE’ saying that he

laughed, amused that atheists in the UK were miming propaganda techniques perfected by evangelical groups.

My objection to this comparison is two-fold. First, he is making use of a type of ad hominem known as the ‘you too’ fallacy. Theists engage in this fallacy relentlessly as they seem quite happy to rebound any criticism of religion and use it on science.  Atheists are just as stubborn in their beliefs as theists are.  Science requires as much faith as religion does.  Atheists use as much propaganda as evangelicals do.  These ‘you too’ statements are fallacious because they depend on where the objection is coming from, not on what the objection is; even if theists were correct in saying that non-theists are guilty of the same logical flaws, it doesn’t mean that theists get a free pass to engage in those flaws.

Which leads me to my second objection, that non-theists are NOT valid objects of the ‘you too’ defense, even if it weren’t fallacious. Aslan figures that a bus ad is equivalent to evangelical propaganda? One: Bus ads are universally used by organizations of a multitude of platforms from cancer research foundations to community events to the sale of cookies. It isn’t fair to suddenly consider this medium a condemnation worthy strategy the moment a secularists to uses it.

Two: Even if bus ads are propaganda, theists employ much more dastardly methods. There are no atheist camps where children are scared/scarred with threats of eternal torture if they believe in a god. There are no weekly gatherings where atheists sing repetitive songs about the non-existence of gods and how the only reason that any good in the world exists is because of this deistic absence. There are no atheists on street corners or on tv crying that if one is a believer it is impossible for that person to act in a moral fashion and further, the believer is evil and deserves some cosmic punishment, if only such a thing existed.

If you engage in a ‘you too’ fallacy, but the subject on which you use it is not, in fact, also doing it, what you have done is admitted that what you are doing is wrong as well as shown that you are unable to accept responsibility for this wrong doing and must resort to some Fruedian projection in order to cover up your own shortcomings.

I have only covered the first two introductory paragraphs and there is more intellectual dishonesty, misrepresentation, and flat out wrongness than I would allow from even wayward trolls that happen to slime across my posts. Surely this poster boy for religious apologetics can do better than this. Surely that multitude of perverse sophistry was just a mis-step, the rest of the article will be full of good solid….ohhhh fiddlesticks…

It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism–an atheist fundamentalism.

Fiddlesticks and nut-bunnies…

Rolling many levels of poignant idiocy into such a small bundle of words seems to be a great talent for this guy. I won’t go on about how ‘fundamental atheism’ makes as much sense as ‘hard-core non-tennis-player’ or ‘devout non-stamp-collector’ because, while a valid point, there is a much more urgent point to be made. And if this expert writer had done any kind of research, he might have discovered that Dawkins had already made it. For his exquisite and eloquent rebuttal (or since it was made prior this article ‘prebuttal’ perhaps?) please look at his opening speech at an international debate here and part 2 here.

I encourage you to watch the entire debate, but if time is an issue, I would only point out that not once did the opposing side even try to deal with the issues of violent extremism and total resistance to change and how because atheism has neither of these, it is ludicrous to use the term ‘fundamentalist’ when describing atheists. This projection thing I mentioned earlier is becoming more and more prevalent. Trudging on….

The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations. Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism–and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism–is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute.

Sigh…Captain Projection rears his ugly misinformed head once more. The ‘New-Atheism’ authors Aslan is criticizing have dedicated chapter after well-sited chapter to describing the history, content, and consequences of many of the world’s religious institutions. Their expertise on the subject is substantial and outweighs that of most believers, if not also that of most serious theologians. Indeed, even I, an absolute neophyte compared to Hitchens, Harris, etc. have found myself having to teach theists about the dogma that they spout. It is tough to point out the atrocious behaviour commanded in the Deuteronomy when the believer you’re talking with has never heard of that book.

As to anthropological, sociological, and psychological areas that concern the phenomena of religion, no one has ever said that these studies ought to be stopped. Indeed, anything that sheds light on why people would gravitate towards religion is celebrated as worthy research. That does NOT mean the practice is a valid one nor does it mean it ought to be condoned. Rape, murder, and slavery are as ubiquitous as religion throughout the history of human society, and likewise, studies that work to understand these phenomena are ongoing and are to be encouraged. But it is beyond asinine to say that one must accept the notion of slavery to study it, as it is beyond retched to say that because slavery has always been a part of the human world, it ought to be an accepted and respected part of multiculturalism. Can this article get any better? Oh yes it can!

One should be able to recognize the diverse ways in which the universal recognition of human contingency, finitude, and material existence has become formalized through ecclesiastical institutions and dogmatic formulae…Even if one insists on reducing humanity’s enduring religious impulse to causal definitions, dismissing the experience of transcendence as nothing more than an anthropological (e.g. Edward Tylor or Max Muller), sociological (think Robertson Smith or Emile Durkheim), or even psychological phenomenon (ala Sigmund Freud, who attempted to locate the religious impulse deep within the individual psyche, as though it were a mental disorder that could be cured through proper psychoanalysis), one should at the very least have a sense of what the term “God” means.

My goodness! He sure used a lot of big fancy words AAAAAND he mentioned Freud and Durkheim. That must mean he is very smart and did research for this piece!…right? Oh wait….no it doesn’t.

For any of you who found that last quote too tedious and nauseating to read, allow me to translate: “People should learn how religion has affected society…even if you think spirituality is not supernatural, you should know what ‘God’ means”.
I have already dealt with studying the affects of religion, so I will now focus on ‘knowing what ‘god’ means’.

First, not even theists know what god means. A great deal of definitions of god include something like ‘unknowable’ or ‘beyond human understanding’ or ‘outside our capabilities to define’ or something other b.s line that is much more eloquently put with a mystical flair but still boils down to the same thing. Simply put, if something is beyond your understanding, you do not and cannot know what it is. If we use the definition instead of the word ‘god’, theistic claims come out like “Atheists have no answer for why the universe exists, but we theists do. The answer is that “I don’t Know” created it all. See? Everything explained.” Even on the few attributes that theist claim to know about their deity, those few “knowns” are not agreed upon by anyone, varying so much as to have major disagreements within one congregation.

But, even if that weren’t the case, it still wouldn’t matter. If someone had very clear, definite, and precise vision of a Shumpter-jonb, I, as a skeptic, do NOT need to understand that vision in its entirety to discard it. I may not have an understanding of it’s skyscraper devouring habits, the intricacies of it’s flight mechanics, or the physiology involved when it poops out 73 foot tall solid jade statues of Elvis punching a hamburger, yet I have no qualms placing that idea immediately in the “nonsense” bin. Nor would I be wrong in categorizing the person who is telling me this Shumpter-jonb exists (even with his in depth understanding of all those things I just mentioned) as mentally unsound. The point is, it is not up to the skeptic to disprove extraordinary claims and it is definitely not up to the atheist to define for theists what ‘god’ means.

Aslan then compares the claim of the existence of a personal god to actual scientific inquiry.

Is such a possibility any more hypothetical than say, superstring theory or the notion of the multiverse?

I don’t know much about either of these theories, I’m not a scientist by profession. But I did go through high school science classes and I learned enough about the scientific method to know the difference between those supporting theism and the scientist researching superstring and the multiverse. There is undoubtedly a group of scientists trying to come up with ways to test their hypothesis which could produce results that could positively refute them. Then, there is another group of scientists that will look over said tests coming up with confounding variables, outside factors, and other considerations that may cause problems with the results. If the results of the final tests say that the theory is false, it will be abandoned. If the tests are found to be inadequate, they will be revised. And these checks will continue indefinitely until the theory does fail or humanity ceases to exist.

Also, these tests would have to have predictive elements to be of any worth. If a theory only explains past events but is unable to reliably predict future events, it is a big red flag screaming Ad Hoc! Ad Hoc!

Which leads me directly to the idea of a divine creator. It is unfalsifiable, it explains everything that has ever happened, but it cannot predict a single thing with any accuracy. May as well say that the Shumpter-jonb vomited out the universe after digesting a particularly rancid skyscraper (you’d get it if you studied the pooping of jade Elvis statues more).

The new atheists will say that religion is not just wrong but evil, as if religion has a monopoly on radicalism and violence; if one is to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion’s name then one must also blame nationalism for fascism, socialism for Nazism, communism for Stalinism, even science for eugenics.

Overlooking Aslan’s confusion between ‘socialism’ and ‘national socialism’ (despite it being quite concerning for me), I will first point out that no one has ever claimed that religion has a monopoly on violence. Religion has definitely been shown to be a massive contributor to violence (quite possibly the biggest contributor to violence), but that is a very different claim than the ONLY contributor. Boo misrepresentation.

As for his slippery slope examples, there is nothing in the principle ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ that necessitates any kind of colonial, oppressive, or murderous behaviour. That’s just how it happened to come about under Stalin. But there is a very direct line from something like “The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel (Deuteronomy 17:12, New International Version)” to killing people who don’t agree with Christianity. Just as there is a very direct line from something like “The just retribution for those who fight GOD and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the Hereafter. (Qu’ran, Sura 5:33)” to killing people who disagree with Islam.

Now, just because I’ve heard this rebuttal a million times over, I will express that no, I am NOT saying that religion HAS to lead to murder. I am not even saying that most religious people are murderous. What I am saying is that there ARE direct commandments in the majority (if not all) of religions to kill, harm, and oppress others and those commandments HAVE been carried out by faithful people (whereas there are no such direct lines to violence in Aslan’s examples). And there is no way to say that they were wrong in doing so without discrediting faith as a worthy source of moral action. To put it another way, you have to use non-faith based morals to condemn abominable acts of faith.

The only thing left to do is check out how this guy finishes off. I can hardly wait.

What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims–be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth–are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science. That may not be a slogan easily pasted on the side of a bus. But it is the hallmark of the scientific intellect.

um, yeah. We do admit that. Just like we admit it is unknowable and beyond the purview of science weather or not a Shumpter-jonb exists. I covered that already. It’s also why we don’t accept faith or the concept of a Shumpter-jonb.

Well, I have gone beyond you-tube and blog-troll nut cases and went to see what a journalist/international best-seller has to offer. My disappointment is monumental. It just got bigger as I just now noticed “This essay is adapted from the book Religion and the New Atheism.” I can’t imagine reading an entire book of this fancily written bullshit. Oh my….clicking on the link reveals that this essay of Aslan’s is part of series entitled “Studies in Critical Social Sciences”

……fuck

I’ll be angry that people give credit to (and worse, buy into) this kind of misinformed, misguided, fraudulent, and fallacious dimwittery tomorrow.
Today, I can only mourn.