17 September 2008

More Confusion from Dishy Dizzy

It's fairly remarkable... since having seen Dinesh D'Souza in a live debate, I've felt much less compelled to shred the inanity he posts to his blog. I guess it's hard to get angry at someone once you've seen in person just how pathetic they are. It feels, as they say, as though a weight has been lifted, and my "heart pressure" is likely the better for it.

Nonetheless, he continues to spew the stupid (already this month he's creamed his slacks over Sarah Palin and poked PZ with a stick), so what the hecks, let's have a look. Today, D'Souza is extolling the virtues of the latest book to critique the New Atheists, Michael Novak's No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. I haven't read the book myself, but from the description it sounds like it's right up D'Souza's alley: No one can know the truth about God, so let's go with Christianity because it sounds nice.

To illustrate the point about everyone's being in the darkness, D'Souza cites a curious example.  He writes:
One of Novak's especially attractive qualities is his ability to find common ground with his opponents. Here he begins by conceding to the atheist that "we are all in the same darkness." No one-not even Moses or Abraham-has set his eyes on God. Novak rejects the certitudes of both the religious fundamentalist and the militant atheist. He intends to explore what he calls "the dark and windswept open spaces between unbelief and belief."
Now, you won't find any argument from me that there's no evidence that anyone in real life has seen God.  But to bring Moses into it? It's unclear whether the reference came from Novak's book or D'Souza, but D'Souza clearly endorses it. 

Ngonongoro bull elephant
I guess Moses couldn't see this elephant, either... (photo by John Spooner on Flickr)
The problem is, according to the Bible, Moses has seen God (for the relevant text, start here). Sure, you may quibble that Moses never got to see God's face, because no man may look upon the face of YHWH and live.  But Moses still got to see God's backside (and they were chatting it up all the while), and that's a far sight better than anyone today can muster.

And even without looking at God's face directly, Moses was a member of God's "Mr. Miracle" brigade. Most of the stuff Moses saw, heard, and did, were it to ever happen in real life, would be good enough to make me convert (to Judaism, of course... I mean, what's so great about Christianity?). Invoking the central priest of a millenia-old desert mythology as an example of a modern, sophisticated theological mind is an odd move.

Furthermore, I'd note that the fact that no one has seen God isn't exactly a problem for atheists. I guess he's trying to demonstrate that both sides come to conclusions in the face of uncertainty and conflicting evidence, but he's only demonstrated conflict for his own side.

The rest is similar to the Courtier's Reply. Novak and D'Souza tell us atheists that we just don't "get" it:
"For a believer," Novak writes, "It does not take a prolonged thought experiment to imagine oneself an unbeliever." The believer knows full well where the atheist is coming from. By contrast, Novak suggests, atheists like Hitchens seem to have no empathetic understanding whatsoever of genuine religious conviction. They have no sense of what belief must be like from within.
This critique is particularly hilarious to see endorsed by D'Souza, who back in April couldn't manage to answer the simple question of what it would take to make him change his position on God. (Barker, on the other hand, had no trouble answering what kind of evidence it would take to get him to believe.)  Though I can't speak for Hitchens in particular, there are millions of atheists who understand very intimately what it's like to feel "genuine religious conviction," because that's what we came from. As for how easily the general believer can see the world from the atheists' perspective, well, let's just say that remains to be demonstrated.

Next comes a likening of religion to literature; both require a suspension of disbelief for immersion in the story and true appreciation. Again: no argument from me that religion requires a suspension of disbelief. And again, and more blatantly: this is just the Courtier's Reply. We're not here to discuss the literary merits of "Macbeth," we're here to discuss whether it's historically accurate. Theology and religion can at times be very interesting, but it's not what this conversation is about.

Digest the rest at your peril (if you can find it... you won't get a link from me). I'll just end with this: kudos to Richard Dawkins for refusing to debate D'Souza. Because at the end of the day, all Dishy's bluster is just about inflating his own ego. In particular, I noted this little bit of projection from D'Souza's post:
Novak expresses admiration for some of the leading atheists, notably Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. (He seems less enamored with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.)
For the record, Harris hasn't (to my knowledge) debated Dinesh, either.

2 comments:

Reginald Selkirk said...

"For a believer," Novak writes, "It does not take a prolonged thought experiment to imagine oneself an unbeliever."

This brings to mind a few things. It is standard boilerplate for an evangelist to claim that they went through a phase of atheism. C.S. Lewis, Francis Collins, Kirk Cameron, Alister McGrath... maybe we should just go with the short list of god-botherers who do not claim to be former atheists.

Also, I see letters to the editor frequently of theists who think they understand what atheism is about, but who make bizarre assumptions, such as atheism = complete disregard for others. Apparently it is difficult for many theists to imagine accurately what atheism is like.

Aaron Golas said...

D'Souza wants in on that trope, too. He claims he gave up his "crayon Christianity" in college, but then re-converted to a more "sophisticated" Christianity. What's so sophisticated and different about it, I couldn't say (and I doubt he could, either).