Dinesh D’Souza (yes, the guy that referred to President Obama as a “grown-up Trayvon” that America should “survive”) is a former White House policy analyst and a research scholar at Stanford. He was often the punching-bag at debates with the late Christopher Hitchens. I believe he has also debated Sam Harris and I’m sure many others. He wrote What’s so great about Christianity?, a rebuttal to several books commonly grouped together as the “New Atheist” collection. They include both Hitchens and Harris, as well as Dawkins, Dennett, Stenger, and a handful of others. Flipping through the sections and scanning the table of contents I can see it includes many of the more current Christian arguments against atheism and rationalism. My goal is to rebut each short chapter of D’Souza’s book in order and with references, beginning with the introduction.
D’Souza begins reminding Christians that they must know what they believe and be able to communicate and explain Christianity to skeptics. He is correct to point this out. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has shown that when it comes to facts about religion, atheists are the most informed. Clearly Christians know the least about what they claim to believe when compared to the people who claim not to believe. As a rationalist this points toward a very obvious conclusion, but I’ll just let that go for now.
D’Souza, unsurprisingly, frames several arguments as black or white. Christians commonly see things in this polarized way. You are either a brother or a sworn enemy, nothing exists in between. He states that “Either the universe is a completely closed system and miracles are impossible, or the universe is not a closed system and there is the possibility of divine intervention in it” (xiv-xv). This is textbook false dichotomy, he also begs the question by including his miracle nonsense with his system types. The universe could be a closed system where miracles are possible, or it could be an open system where miracles are impossible. Or what all evidence points toward today, a closed system where miracles are the wishful-thinking of one tiny insignificant group of evolved, self-aware apes on a single planet in an unremarkable back alley of rather boring solar system. Please enjoy this short vignette:
The saddest bit in the introduction is a laughable biblical reference. He refers to Atheists as money-changers that must be driven out of the temple. This just fails to make any sense at all. The money-changers provided a service to temple-goers and were just one part of the religious money-sucking machine that hopefully peaked with today’s mega-church super-structure personality cults. The prosperity gospel preachers are today’s money-changers, John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, the list goes on an on. Even many Christians see them for what they are. To label atheists as the temple money changers is to completely misunderstand either the purpose and symbol of the money changers or to misrepresent the atheists, or both. D’Souza writes that atheists want to “discredit the factual claims of religion” (xv), another laughable line plucked from many. What claims does “religion” make that are not, in truth, the claims of psychology, sociology, or some other science? Does he really think that “thou shalt not murder” was original thought? Nobody else had considered not murdering everybody? What factual claims does “religion,” a naked concept, make? None.
D’Souza lists what he plans to demonstrate in his book with a handy numbered list, conveniently recreated here, with my comments in italics:
1. Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. OK, the first part I will give him, but he should have stopped there. Religion is a major cultural cornerstone and it has been argued satisfactorily that Christianity could be considered the foundation of Western civilization and thought. Some people want to claim that rationalism was born of Christianity, those people are unaware of the pre-Socratics I suppose. I would argue that rationalism, which found an outlet in monastic tradition, and breeched Christianity like that alien baby-thing in the first Alien movie, was the real foundation of Western Civilization, but that is a big claim to make and I would need more to argue that point. Where D’Souza went wrong was adding that bit at the end about Christianity being the root of our most cherished values. That is just plainly incorrect. How could it be that Hindus share many of the same values? Also Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Taoists, humanists etc…
Christianity is just one of many value systems that are rooted in universal human values, values that survived because of natural selection. D’Souza is misinformed and demonstrating truth in his statement will doubtlessly prove very difficult.
2. The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. I imagine he plans to seriously cite articles from Answers in Genesis, and the Discovery Institute. This statement is an example of the way Christians have been historically guilty of moving the goal posts. Evolution was the devil until the evidence was too great to argue with, then it was god’s handiwork. I’m sure it’ll be easy for D’Souza to make these kinds of claims, and unfortunately such claims are completely unfalsifiable, making them basically immune to reason.
3. Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it. See above, I guess he dedicates a whole section to Darwin. I find it odd that Christians continue to attack a 150 year old theory, as if it hasn’t been built upon and clarified by thousands of dedicated scientists, from anthropologists to zoologists.
4. There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. He is right, science just makes them so improbable that it would be absurd to believe in them.
5. It is reasonable to have faith. I imagine in this section he will use the word faith vaguely when it suits him and then specifically when he tries to make a point that ties in to Christianity. The English language is not perfect and sometimes people use the multiple meanings of words to confuse those that aren’t paying attention.
6. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. This is an old argument, thoroughly trounced by Hitchens in several of his debates and in his book “God is not Great,” which I thought I had a copy of around here somewhere… I will likely post a video of Hitchens rebuttal to this question when this section arrives because he has already put it far more eloquently then I ever could.
7. Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. Well that is just mean. I’ll have to work hard to overcome my cowardly moral escapism to find what will likely be gaping holes in that argument. Christians imagine Atheism as a complete value system and, ironically, attempt to discredit it that way.
The very last paragraph of the introduction is my favorite. Here D’Souza addresses the non-believers specifically. He asks “You have been engaged in the pursuit of happiness for a very long time; ever wonder why you haven’t found it?” “How long did you intend to continue this joyless search for joy?” Older societies had much less and felt abundant; why do you, in the midst of plenty, continue to feel scarcity pressing down upon you?” (xvii) This will only work on people very susceptible to suggestion. Notice advertisers use the same tactic to sell you things you didn’t know you needed. At least he comes out and tells the readers honestly he is intending to convert them, what he doesn’t mention is that it is with fear, coercion, and misdirection.