The Devil's Delusion<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
By Sean McDowell
For the past couple years "militant atheism," as the Wall Street Journal put it, has been on the rise. Figures such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and others have brought atheism to the forefront of cultural discussion through books, blogs, debates, and TV appearances. While their books have been mega bestsellers, there has been a need for critical responses to their views. David Berlinski-a secular Jew-has recently met that need with the release of The Devil's Delusion.
The basic contention of the "militant atheists" is that science has disproved the existence of God. Known as the "God of the gaps" argument, it is widely believed that the more science progresses the less room there is for God. But, as Berlinski points out, the exact opposite is true. He says that scientific progress has "made the world more mysterious than it ever was. We know better than we did what we do not know and have not grasped." While science has certainly progressed, so have the gaps that need to be filled. For example, there is no naturalistic explanation for the following: (1) where everything came from; (2) the emergence of life; (3) the origin of consciousness; (4) the origin of morality; (5) the fine-tuning of the universe (just to name a few). There are certainly speculations about these, but no convincing answers. This is why Berlinski says that the widely held idea that we are nothing more than cosmic accidents is "an article of faith. There is not the slightest reason to think this so." In this brief review, I am going to highlight some of the key insights of The Devil's Delusion.
First, one of the common arguments for atheism is that the more science teaches us about the natural world, the less important a role human beings play in the grand scheme of things. Sagan famously said that earth is merely a pale blue dot that only appears to be significant. Berlinski counters this by pointing out that while astronomical findings have demonstrated that the earth is no more numerous than a single grain of sand on a vast beach, significance, of course, is another thing.
Second, militant atheists love to recount in luring detail the history of religious brutality and persecution. According to these figures, religion is to blame. Nobel prize winning Steven Weinberg famously said: "But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." Berlinski asks, "Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?...If my memory serves, it was not the Vatican." The common denominator of the most blood-thirsty dictators in history, says Berlinski, is that they believed no God was watching them.
Third, one of the persistent problems facing atheists is the fine-tuning of the universe. Probably the most common naturalistic response is to posit that for us to survive the world has to be ordered as it is. Thus, we should be surprised to find ourselves in a universe with such properties. Berlinski gives a creative response based on Elijah's experience of being cared for by an angel (1 Kings 19). Could the angel's appearance be explained solely by the fact that Elijah's exact needs were cared for? Of course not! Berlinski says, "No matter the extent to which we need the laws and parameters of the physical world to be as they are, that by itself cannot explain the fact that they are as they are." Clearly, another explanation is needed. The same is true for our universe.
These are only a sample of the points made by Berlinski in The Devil's Delusion. If you are looking for a solid response to the militant atheism of today, this book will be helpful (it's also humorous and a quick-read). I will close with one of my favorite lines from the book: "If sexual preferences are rooted in the late Paleolithic era, men worldwide should now be looking for stout muscular women with broad backs, sturdy legs, a high threshold for pain It has not been widely documented that they do."
Sean McDowell is a popular speaker, writer and high school teacher. He has written Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World and Understanding Intelligent Design. His website is www.seanmcdowell.org.
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