God is not Great - Christopher Hitchens
God: The Failed Hypothesis - Victor StengerThe God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
I decided a short while ago that I should really read up on the arguments both for and against atheism so that I might have a greater and more balanced understanding of the topic. I started off with the 'Atheist's Bibles' first, though my next project is to sit down and read the Bible from cover to cover. I fully expect that to be a drastically longer and more challenging task, but I think the information I will acquire will make it very worthwhile.
I am going to describe these three books in the following way: Imagine you are standing in a formless white void, very much like the 'loading zone' Neo finds himself in in the Matrix. A man appears in front of you wearing a stylish suit and looking extremely fashionable. He introduces himself as Christopher Hitchens and proceeds to give you a long and extremely polished presentation advocating against religion using film, slides, and quotations from books. His speech is powerful, his examples are emotionally wrenching and the whole presentation leaves you stirred up and agitated. This, you sense, is a man who can convince people of things.
Hitchens vanishes, and another figure appears. This time it is a man less polished and more eccentric, with hair a little bit akimbo and a distracted, manic disposition. A blackboard appears and he writes his name - Richard Dawkins - and begins to lecture. He fills the blackboard with diagrams and symbols, drags out sample cases full of tiny fossilized creatures and old bones and insists that you sit in front of an computer screen while he runs a simulation of evolution. You cannot help but be convinced of the truth of his claims within just a short while, and yet he goes on and on with example after sample slamming home the avalanche of data that confirms evolution as correct. You stop him eventually and insist that you believe him, that indeed no one could doubt evolution after seeing his full presentation and send him on his way. He stumbles off dragging his equipment behind him mumbling "But I hadn't even got to the part about the independent evolution of a superior system of vision in the octopus..."
A third figure appears from out of the ether, a man standing at a podium shouting out a speech. He says that the prophecies of the Bible have come true and that obeying religious authorities' literal interpretation of the Bible is the only source of moral guid---- and is stopped in mid sentence by a enormous block of stone the size of a house crashing down on top of him. On the side of the stone chiseled in enormous block letters is the word
You say "Who did that?!?"
A voice booms from the nothingness "I DID."
Who are you?
I AM VICTOR STENGER.
What just happened?
THAT MAN HAD FAULTY LOGIC. HISTORY CLEARLY SHOWS A CONSISTENCY OF MORAL GUIDELINES THROUGHOUT, INDEPENDENT OF RELIGION. HE ALSO FAILED TO ACCOUNT FOR PROPHECIES THAT HAVE NOT COME TRUE, PROPHECIES THAT ARE SO VAGUE THEY CANNOT BE VERIFIED, AND PROPHECIES THAT ARE ONLY VERIFIED WITHIN THE SAME TEXT THEY ARE FOUND. HIS ARGUMENT WAS WEAK, SO I CRUSHED HIM WITH LOGIC.
Wow. When you crush people, are you ever wrong?
WHEN I MAKE STATEMENTS THAT CANNOT BE INDEPENDENTLY VERIFIED AS CERTAINLY TRUE, I GIVE CONFIDENCE INTERVALS. I ALSO USE WORDS LIKE "PROBABLY" AND "ALMOST CERTAINLY" WHEN CERTAINTY CANNOT BE KNOWN.
But do logic, science and statistics really have anything to say about God?
YES. THERE ARE MANY ATTRIBUTES OF THE UNIVERSE THAT COULD REASONABLY BE EXPECTED TO BE DIFFERENT IF A DIVINE CREATOR WAS PRESENT. WE DO NOT OBSERVE THOSE DIFFERENCES, SO IT IS REASONABLE TO BELIEVE THAT IT IS VERY UNLIKELY THERE IS A GOD.
Please don't crush me!
TO AVOID CRUSHING I SUGGEST YOU AVOID MAKING STATEMENTS YOU CANNOT SUPPORT WITH IMPECCABLE LOGIC, REASONING AND EVIDENCE.
Okay then. Well, goodbye Victor Stenger, have fun with your crushing.
The thing about these books is that Hitchens presents some powerful, emotional arguments. He describes many things about religion and atheism that make his points and does so with more skill and finesse than I possess. He is a lifelong journalist and the skill with which he makes his points is evident. Richard Dawkins is a fine writer, though certainly not as good as Hitchens. He is a excellent and thorough scientist though and when he sets out to make his case for evolution it is almost impossible to deny. The thing about Victor Stenger is that he is both a great writer AND a fantastic scientist. He doesn't just give examples and call it a day, he lists his confidence intervals, insists on rigorous scientific testing for both his and his opponents arguments and refuses to overstate his case. He makes an absolutely damning set of points about all the major arguments for religion and does it in a way that is practically undeniable.
So if you are only ever going to read one atheist book, read God: The Failed Hypothesis. Anyone with a scientific background will appreciate his technique even if they don't agree with his worldviews, and it is an entertaining read along the way. The other books are fine and I am glad I read them, but I think God: The Failed Hypothesis really has the last word.
Bible vs. Bible. FIGHT!