Prager On Atheism and Islam

Why are people lapping up these new books on unbelief? Dennis Prager has it all figured out: It is not due to their eloquence, originality or persuasiveness that these books have become best sellers. I believe other factors are at … Read More

By / July 17, 2007

Why are people lapping up these new books on unbelief? Dennis Prager has it all figured out:

It is not due to their eloquence, originality or persuasiveness that these books have become best sellers. I believe other factors are at work. First and most significant is the amount of evil coming from within Islam.

As for those 'other factors?' Secular indoctrination has come to fruition and the traditionally religious have become devotees of irrational spirituality. How easily he glosses over the fact that all of the new atheist authors include as evidence new scientific knowledge that had not yet been incorporated into public discussion on the plausibility of religious claims.

Daniel Dennett slaughtered the monotheistic conception of the self in his earliest neurophilosophical works like Elbow Room and Brainstorms. His explanation of Grey Walter's discovery of the brain's readiness potential–in other words, the brain's knowledge of a choice a split second before the subject becomes consciously aware of it–does incredible harm to religious notions of free will. In fact, neuroscientific research can only be carried out on the assumption that what's going on up there is chemical and electrical, not super- or supranatural. As data on the brain comes in, the need for a concept of a spirit or soul to understand human behavior shrinks.

Many religious claims have been debunked outright as the body of scientific knowledge has grown, but most didn't so devastatingly undermine the whole system. What makes these new books so weighty for readers isn't the supposed specialized evil of Islam–it's merely that the evidence now makes religion's most cherished and fundamental assumptions untenable. Those that could once be recuperated through intellectual acrobatics are now out of the question. Unless, of course, you're willing to deny the evidence outright–which many people like Prager unfortunately are.

I've not yet read The God Delusion, but Mr. Dawkins has spoken before about what happened after he published The Selfish Gene in 1976. Since Dawkins was such a thoroughgoing unbeliever, he didn't quite expect to be recieveing letters from people the word 'round blaming him for the loss of faith's comforts. He thought he was just doing his job, publishing biology books. The damnable problem was, as much as his readers wanted to disagree with him theologically, he hadn't made a theological argument (Terry Eagleton seems to think this makes Dawkins argument incomplete–as if the quality of a nuclear engineer's work depended their deep reading of Goethe). He had published a book based on the results of scientific research that suggested it makes sense to think of natural selection on a genetic level. Dawkins didn't have to talk about God much, but his readers could do the math–where were they and their precious immortal souls in all this?

So the arguments are indeed original. They are not repeats of David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Bertrand Russell. They are polemics backed up by evidence–evidence that has yet not been compiled in a case against spiritualism until now. Many intellectually rigorous minds have been wrestling with these questions for the last four decades or so. The authors seemed to think it was simply time to pool the evidence.

Prager's piece could itself be used as evidence for one of Christopher Hitchens' favorite points: that religion is tribalism and sectarianism made Divine. Saith Prager: 'Why are atheist books so popular? Because of those wacky Muslims killin' folk!!' Such a deep and 'eloquent' analysis. Prager thinks it is only the religious who will be able to confront religious evil:

…with Islamic religious violence increasing, Western secularism increasing, and liberal religion merely echoing secular values and its non-confrontationalism, there will be fewer and fewer people capable of confronting religious evil.

Religious texts are wildly contradictory things–in them you find invitations to some of the worst and some of the best behavior. Confronting evil, religious or not, requires first and foremost the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. It requires an injunction against maintaining faith in falsehood even as truth stares you in the face. Such a command appears, believe it or not, throughout the Qu'ran. It will matter little whether the value of truth is upheld and enshrined by atheism, Islam, Christianity, or any other religion. As far as I'm concerned, you can call it what you like as long as you never, ever, do what Prager does here: ignore the evidence. 

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