Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is God a Moral Monster? #1

I'm reading, with a few friends, Paul Copan's new book Is God a Moral Monster? It's a response to the "New Atheists'" criticism of God in the Old Testament as exceptionally perverse. This is a first of a series of posts on Copan's response to them.

By "New Atheists" is especially meant Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. A few others have joined their ranks but have not yet achieved their level of fame.

Not all atheists are like them. Many would not want to be like them. I've had atheist professor friends who would be embarrassed to be included as one of them. And, there are atheists who are far more knowledgeable on philosophical issues of theism and atheism than are, especially, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

New Atheists tend to exaggerate their numbers. Copan says "the number of atheists in America in recent history has remained fairly consistent. According to Gallup polls, 4 percent of Americans were atheists back in 2007 - the same percentage as 1944! Rumors of God's death have been greatly exaggerated. And when we look at the non-Western world, people are becoming Christians in record numbers. The Christian faith is the fastest-growing movement around, often accompanied by signs and wonders, as Penn State historian Philip Jenkins as able documented." (16)

When, in a survey, someone indicates "none" for the question as to one's religion, that does not mean they are an atheist. In my own tiny slice of the philosophical world I have students who are "Nones" but are not atheists. Sometimes, they are a "None" because they are turned off by the church or so-called "Christians."

As for me, statistics are interesting but, were I an atheist, would mean little to me. Why should I really care if 99.999% of the world claimed to believe in God and I did not? That is, if I thought that the proposition God exists is false, I just don't see how a poll would affect me. Conversely, in the biblical book of Acts 99.999% of the world was non-Christian. So? If I claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus I just don't see how the overwhelming statistics against me would affect me if I were told them.

Copan, in Ch. 1 ("Who Are the New Atheists?") give three characteristics of the NAs.

1. While the NAs emphasize "cool-headed, scientific rationality, they express themselves not just passionately but angrily." Dawkins, in his The God Delusion, exemplifies this. He thinks religious people are irrational while   presenting, e.g., counter-arguments to God's existence that consistently misunderstand those arguments. He simply did not put in the work needed to grasp the things he was trying to refute. Surely that is not what one wants by being "rational."

2. The NA arguments against God are "surprisingly flimsy, often resembling the simplistic village atheist far more than the credentialed academician." (17) Rodney Stark writes: "To expect to learn anything about important theological problems from Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is like expecting to learn about medieval history from someone who had only read Robin Hood." (17) And atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse "says that Dawkins's arguments are so bad that he's embarrassed to call himself an atheist." And so on.

3. NAs claim that religion is the root and cause of all evil. But "the NAs aren't willing to own up to atrocities committed in the same of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, yet they expect Christians to own up to all barbarous acts performed in Jesus's name." (18) I've made a post about this here.

The NAs have also addressed the topic of Old Testament ethics. "The NAs commonly raise questions about strange and harsh OT laws, a God of jealousy and anger, slavery, and the killing of the Canaanites - and that's just the beginning of the list." (19)

This is the issue Copan's book is about.