Vox Day - who writes for WorldNetDaily - has published a book, The Irrational Atheist which is available for free online. It’s an attack on Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and other "new atheists". Brent Rasmussen over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable has taken the book very seriously. So I decided to check it out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t start off very well for Day.
Turning to chapter 1, you see the epigraph Vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science attributed to Charles Darwin. Is Darwin actually saying that the "voice of God" is not to be trusted in science? As anyone who has read Origin will know, the quote (when taken in full) says something else entirely:
When it was first said that the sun stood still and world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science.
See? Darwin not making any comment about God. He’s commenting on the fact that popular (or majority) opinion cannot be trusted, a claim very different from what Day is putting in Darwin’s mouth. An obvious quote-mine that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.
Begin as you mean to go on, isn't that the saying?
Perhaps it is a clue that the reader must ignore roughly two-thirds of every sentence contained within his book.
I started to read through the free PDF and didn't find anything compelling enough to make me want to finish. Hey, I'm a busy guy — those kittens aren't going to blend themselves, blood of babies-of-Christian-parents has to be stirred in ye olde black cauldron, etc.
To be a trifle more concrete:
Vox sets about defining science (so he can abuse it), and in the process, he slings some mud at Popper's notion of falsifiability, using the old bromide of the Raven paradox. (You know: the statement "all ravens are black" is logically equivalent to "all non-black things are not ravens", so falsifying the latter is equivalent to falsifying the former, but this means that finding a red apple or white Apple(TM), or any other non-black non-raven, must be evidence that ravens are black.) Suffice to say that primo, I've never met a scientist who was a strict Popperian, and secundo, the slightest familiarity with Bayesian probability or indeed any study of the scientific method which didn't come off the inside front cover of a philosophy textbook reveals Vox's attack to be impotent.
I went through the first two chapters and most of the third. My assessment is pretty much the same as Blake's. In particular, his discussion of Dawkins ranking of positions on the god question (from certain theism and certain atheism) is basically one solid wall of misrepresentation. If the rest of the book continues in the same vein, the fact that Mr. Rasmussen was so impressed with it raises some pretty questions about his judgement.
I didn't have the intestinal fortitude of the above posters and only reached p11. After wading through all the name calling and self aggrandisement. The first use of a logical argument eventually occurred. He concludes that because people can vote for a particular political party and still not label themselves with the name of that party that other people who label themselves as having no religion just don't know what they are. As there seems no connection between the two it appears to be a false analogy. But to clinch it for Vox he abuses poor old William of Ockham as proof. No sign of logical reasoning there then.
Is anyone suprised? After all, Vox has shown his penchant for abusing Holocaust history, so why not Darwin as well, given how hard evolution "skeptics" are trying to equate Darwin and Hitler?
I can now report that Vox's book has given me bad dreams. Well, one bad dream, anyway: I dreamt I was reading a ScienceBlogs comment thread, and somebody was quoting Vox with admiration. The comment read something like, "He demolishes Dawkins and then lets the quotations from Avalos demolish themselves. . ." I remember copying that, pasting it within <blockquote> tags, typing "Oh no he doesn't," and going on to compose a reply in which I pointed out blatant quote-mining.
In the middle of my reply, I woke up.
Maybe I do need a vacation.
I'm about 80 pages into Vox's book, and not at all impressed so far. I fail to see what has Rasmussen so impressed.
Certainly, the "New Atheists" have their flaws, and anyone could point them out. Harris and Hitchens especially annoy me. But does it really take that much of an intellect to notice an inconsistency in Harris's lionization of Buddhism or Hitchens' support for the Iraq War? And count me in as one who does not at all like the term "brights", and as an atheist who does not consider himself as part of an atheist movement.
But how does any of that make Vox Day's book so impressive? His argumentation tactics throughout all I've read so far seem to consist of grossly misrepresenting a claim (such as Dawkins' seven levels of belief), then cherry-picking data (such as his ludicrous description of the "low church" of "atheism", basing it solely on people who identify as "no religion", and then treating this utterly amorphous group as analogous to highly organized movements such as evangelicals and pentecostals and other "low church" Christians), followed by bravado written in some truly awful prose.
He actually claims that intelligent design shows respect for the scientific method. He needlessly attacks global warming several times, even when it is entirely irrelevant. He automatically equates morality with Christian Morality (atheist says "Don't murder", Bible says, "Don't murder", therefore atheist is drawing his morality from Bible).
His discussion of stem cells is grossly misinformed and distorts the issue. He constantly equivocates between "science" and "scientists", as if what can be claimed of one can be claimed of the other (the fallacies of division and composition). His quotations are often taken ludicrously out of context. He deals with the many organized campaigns to deny scientific theories or undermine scientific education for religious purposes as being the same as "unarmed border guards debating agricultural subsidies".
Oh, and then there's this quote from Vox Day in a footnote on page 78:
"Fleas" and "parasites" are Dawkins's favored means of referring to his critics. On March 4, 2007,
at http://www.richarddawkins.net, Dawkins posted an entry entitled "Was there ever a dog that
praised his fleas?" in reference to the "three new parasitic books released in response to The God
Delusion." If the supercilious old fart ever wants to see who the bigger dog is, I'll be delighted to
throw down with him. Oxford Union or the Octagon, it's all the same to me.
And this is all just on the first 80 pages. What the hell does Rasmussen see in this book? Even if Rasmussen agrees that Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris go way overboard in trying to start an "atheist" movement (I tend to feel that way myself), a bad argument for a position you agree with is still a bad argument. And, so far at least, Day's book is simply awful.
I read the chapter on Sam Harris before it was published and blogged on it here:
I caught him in a lie.
Also, someone calling themselves merkur commented on my blog and noted that a lot of the material has appeared in Vox's WND columns or on his blog over the past few years.
No, Norm, you absolutely did not catch me in a lie of any kind. The only person who is telling lies here is you. You emailed me to request a pre-release copy of a specific manuscript chapter, which was given to you for the purposes of fact-check and critical commentary that you never provided. Your subsequent behavior raises serious doubts about your intent to provide any such assistance.
What you dishonestly claim is a "lie" was merely a minor error in an early draft which was corrected before the actual book was ever published. This is why every single person who has attempted to investigate your idiotic claim has been unable to verify it. I remind you, again, that it is unethical to criticize a book based on incomplete pre-release drafts; your behavior accomplishes nothing except to lend support to the stereotype of atheists lacking both ethics and basic decency.