Busy day, not a whole lot of time for me to hang about here at the moment. But you know how I like to leave you all something to talk about amongst yourselves while I’m away. And I was thinking, hmmmm, what do I have in the cupboard that will precipitate a lot of conversation while I’m busy? Then I remembered I had this: A Big Idea piece from Vox Day, talking about his latest book, The Irrational Atheist. And I thought, yes, well, that should just work just about fine. Enjoy.
If there is one idea that describes this book, it is irony. Irony piled upon irony stacked on top of yet more irony. Oh, you could certainly point to any number of other abstractions, but what lies beneath The Irrational Atheist is the ironic nature of nearly everything about the book. It’s like ten thousand long-handled spoons when all you need is a pitchfork.
For you see, famous scientists are usually expected to indicate some familiarity with the scientific method when defending their hypotheses, or at least to occasionally offer a modicum of empirical evidence in support of them. Secular devotees of Reason are generally assumed to be able to make competent use of that which they champion so vehemently. And public intellectuals on the lecture circuit are supposed to be at least slightly familiar with the history of Europe as well as the authors of some of Mankind’s most influential written works, including Sun Tzu, Julius Caesar and Petrarch.
On the other hand, it seems that proper little theists are absolutely not supposed to describe their targets as “The Circle of Jerkdom”, much less “The Four Horsemen of the Bukkakelypse”. Non-academics are not supposed to dare to question the sacred dictates of the priest-kings of academia. It is generally believed that the religious faithful are not inclined to make use of logic and reason, but rather rely upon emoting passionately and nonsensically about their ineffable supernatural certainties. And the gamer is not supposed to be inclined to make use of any brain function higher than that required to provide efficient hand-eye coordination.
But it is a strange world, and in strange aeons even atheism may die. There was a single thought that repeatedly entered my mind when slogging through the interminable morasses of The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and Trattato di Ateologia during the course of researching TIA, and it was “I cannot believe so many people are falling for this utterly abysmal nonsense.” This isn’t to say that the level of intellectual incompetence was unvaried, however, as it ranged from the spectacular collection of Harrisian disasters to Daniel Dennett’s mild-mannered coherence marred only by the occasional logical derailment.
Indeed, the very idea that one’s personal opinion has anything to do with the existence or non-existence of God is fundamentally irrational. Whether one contemplates the existence of God, Swaziland or string theory, the truth is ultimately whatever it actually happens to be, our current perceptions and ideas notwithstanding. I can’t prove to you that God exists. I can’t even prove to you that I exist. And if God elects to manifest and show Himself to you in all His radiant glory today, you won’t be able to prove to me or anyone else that He did that tomorrow. But if one cannot reasonably reach a rational conclusion on the God hypothesis one way or the other, one can certainly put specific arguments based on foundations of purported facts to the test. If religious faith causes war, how many wars in the last 5,000 years of recorded human history were caused by religious faith? If religion divides humanity into warring groups, what is the ratio of religious divisions to groups capable of engaging in conflict? If morality evolves, at what speed does it evolve and what is the mechanism by which it does so? If the probability of God’s existence is very, very small, precisely how small is it and what are the factors by which that probability is calculated?
These are not matters for philosophical reflection, they are factual assertions which can be examined in detail, and the results of the examination can then be independently verified by any reader. For example, one may dispute my calculation that precisely 6.98 percent of the wars in recorded human history involved religion, but one can no longer seriously argue that eliminating religion will bring an end to war, or even noticeably reduce the amount in which humanity engages.
But the greatest irony of all is undoubtedly the response with which most atheists have met The Irrational Atheist. For years, atheists have been rightly irritated that theists often refuse to meet them on their own ground, that instead of engaging in a substantive discussion based on scientific fact and reason, theists prefer to hide behind Bible-quoting and theological babble that is meaningless to the atheist. Now, having been given exactly what they have been requesting – nay, demanding – the atheist response has largely been to stick their collective head in the sand and hope it goes away before the intellectual depantsing of their icons becomes general knowledge. This isn’t conjecture, by the way, it was the general consensus of nearly two thousand posts discussing an interview about TIA on richarddawkins.net.
Vox Day adds: “One final irony: I first ‘met’ Mr. John Scalzi when we were on opposite sides of an Internet flame-skirmish. I’ve since come to like and admire the man as well as his work, and we even happen to have a few things in common besides our SFWA membership. One of these is our mutual belief in the positive effect of free ebook releases on book sales, and so if the subject happens to be of interest to you, please note that the complete text of The Irrational Atheist can be downloaded at http://irrationalatheist.com/downloads.html in four digital formats at no charge. Whatever stat geeks may be interested to know that after one month of downloads, the format breakdown is as follows: PDF 61 percent, OO/Word DOC 25 percent, PDB 7.5 percent, LIT 6.5 percent.”