November 2008By Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the 17th century.
The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. By Vox Day. Benbella Books. 320 pages. $24.95.
In The Irrational Atheist, WorldNetDaily.com columnist Vox Day uses logic and facts (not theology) to refute the "unholy trinity" of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. What makes Day's book entertaining is his exuberant language -- the rhetorical fireworks with which he takes on the new atheists. High spirits and clever phrasing provoke continual chuckles, as for example when he remarks that not since the craze for Marx and Freud "has there been so much enthusiasm about the non-existence of God," and that this new evangelism is directed at "atheists whose lack of faith is weak." He employs mock praise, too, as in, "Hitchens and Dawkins became atheists after long and exhaustive rational inquiries into the existence of God, both at the age of nine." Yet the humor doesn't get in the way of subtle analysis, for he lays bare Dawkins's "incessant shell games," Harris's "exercises in self-parody," and Hitchens's "epic feat of intellectual self-evisceration."
Day divides atheists into high-church and low-church varieties. The "unholy trinity" belong to the high-church type -- i.e., they are university men who hate religion and demand that others enlist in their "anti-theist jihads." The low-church atheists describe themselves simply as of "no religion." In reply to the high-church boast that atheists are more moral than theists, Day points out that, while it is true that high-church atheists comprised only two-tenths of one percent of the criminals imprisoned in England and Wales in the year 2000, the low-church type made up 31.6 percent. Measured against their ratio in the overall population, this meant that atheists were four times more likely to go to jail for crimes than Christians. This is a sample of how Day explodes the false claims of the new atheists.
Perhaps the most engaging chapters in this book are those about war. The high-church atheists assert that religion causes war, but Day proves otherwise. He shows that over the past 232 years, 671,070 American soldiers have died in 17 wars, of which only one-half of one percent can reasonably be attributed to religion. This amounts to the deaths of 14 soldiers per year. Turning next to the Encyclopedia of Wars compiled by C. Phillips and A. Axelrod, Day examines 1,763 wars fought from 2325 B.C. to modern times. Of these wars, only 123 can reasonably be attributed to religion -- 6.92 percent of those recorded. Since half of these religious wars were waged by Muslims, this means that, apart from Islam, the world's religions are responsible for only 3.35 percent of all wars. "The historical evidence is conclusive," Day concludes. "Religion is not a primary cause of war."
Here is yet another glimpse of how Day uses facts to confute the "unholy trinity." Whereas Dawkins declares that atheists have the highest regard for works of art and architecture and not one of them in the world who would "bulldoze" places like Mecca, Chartres, or York Minster, Day replies with staggering evidence that atheists are far more likely than theists to destroy the landmarks of civilization, as when they razed 41,000 of the 48,000 churches in Russia, and 7,000 of the monasteries in Tibet.
Although Day is an evangelical, he is remarkably sympathetic to Catholics, who are usually the chief targets of atheists. Day scoffs at the way Dawkins, in the space of a couple of pages, dismisses the 3,000-page Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas: He says that Dawkins waved "a dead chicken over the keyboard" and tried to make readers believe he had "seriously considered" the Summa and found it "wanting." Day also thinks it unfair that the Spanish Inquisition is ballyhooed as the high point of human wickedness. He points out that the Great Leap Forward and the Holocaust, both caused by atheists, resulted in 43 million and 6 million deaths respectively, whereas the Spanish Inquisition resulted in 3,230 deaths in three and a half centuries. And then, in the single year of 1936, Spanish atheists murdered 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy -- "more than twice the number of the victims of 345 years of inquisition." Summing up, Day reveals that 52 atheist rulers in the 20th century, from 1917 to 2007, were responsible for a body count of around 148 million dead -- "three times more than all the human beings killed by war, civil war and individual crime in the entire 20th century." And so it turns out that "the average atheist crime against humanity" is "18.3 million percent worse than the very worst depredation committed by Christians." To support these powerful refutations, Day offers footnotes on virtually every page.
The "unholy trinity" are fond of saying that religion and science are incompatible, but Day shows that they have been compatible for centuries, both before and after the Galileo incident, which he sees as exaggerated by the Church's enemies. The enemies of religion prefer to forget that, in 1794, revolutionary atheists inspired by the Enlightenment beheaded Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry.
Today, atheists are raising fears that mankind faces extinction unless religion is abolished, but Day replies that it is science that has put mankind in such danger. Men thrived with religion for 12,000 years, but they "may not survive four hundred years of science." Though science has been around for only three percent of the time that religion has, it has produced a "panoply of mortal dangers," including designer diseases and weapons of mass destruction.
Ironically, for all their supposed reliance on reason, the new atheists believe in improbable things like "multiple universes." Day observes that this is "an utterly non-scientific theory invented solely to get around the problem of the anthropic principle." Faced with the unwelcome fact that there are 128 fortuitous coincidences in the fundamental constants of physics, which suggests that the existence of life is no accident, atheists postulate "a potentially infinite number of universes" just so "our wildly improbable universe" can be found to be "mathematically probable." Here again, they use a double standard -- the multiverse theory is just as "unfalsifiable" as the "God Hypothesis," and far "more improbable."
Vox Day wisely concludes that there is no proof at all that a society can be established and survive on "an atheist foundation," while there is "a fair amount of evidence to the contrary."
One caveat: At the end, Day touches briefly on theology and tries to solve the mystery of suffering by limiting God's omnipotence and omniscience. This amounts to reducing a great mystery to a problem. For the full account, see the section in the Catechism on Divine Providence (#302-324).