Refuting Fundies via Amazon
Comments and ratings greatly appreciated. Here are some of the reviews I am most proud of.
Quote:Copouts, Evasions and Hidden Assumptions Aplenty
CS Lewis is held by many to be the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. Unless one is morbidly naive, or has yet to encounter the counterarguments to Christianity in particular and theism in general, I honestly cannot see where his appeal lies.
The Problem of Evil is an insurmountable one for Christians (and all other theists who believe in a perfectly loving, all-powerful and all-knowing god). There have been intense and motivated efforts over the past two millennia to defend such a position rationally, and they have all failed. Miserably. Utterly. And in many cases, dishonestly.
Some approached involve invoking an unknown "greater good" defense (which throws god's omnipotence under the bus. An omnipotent deity could simply actualise a desired goal without needing to use suffering as a "middle man"). Attempts to shift the problem by asserting that human happiness is not the goal of life (but knowing god is) removes the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of god (if you love someone, you don't want them to suffer. It really is that simple). On page 104, Lewis concedes that not everyone suffers equally. He does not give a reason for this, and indeed, admits that our puny human minds cannot understand why god would allow some to live decades in comfort and luxury while others suffer for months or years on end. To quote Lewis himself: "The causes of this distribution I do not know; but from our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do NOT (emphasis Lewis', in italics). Our Lord Himself, it will be remembered, explained the salvation of those who are fortunate in this world only by referring to the unsearchable omnipotence of God."
That's not an explanation. Lewis is falling back on the ancient and ubiquitous appeal to ignorance. God's mysterious ways are beyond us. Well, by that "logic," he could send all Christians to hell and everyone else to heaven, and Lewis, by his own admission, would just have to suck up an eternity of torture.
The old canard of free will is often invoked. Unfortunately, free will is meaningless unless everyone has an equal amount of it. This is undeniably NOT the case. Not everyone is given the same lifespan, physical strength, mental acuity, political clout, financial resources, and so on. Lewis is pontificating from the luxurious confines of his residence, funded by conveniently gullible sheep. This has certainly damaged his ability to empathise with the billions who live on less than a dollar each day. And the thousands who starve to death every time the Earth completes a full rotation.
Lewis also, perhaps unwittingly, advocates a social Darwinism in which the rich and physically powerful are able to murder, rape and steal from weaker individuals (and are therefore less able to exercise their own free will to prevent their own suffering). Lewis worships a cosmic pedophile who revels in granting freedom to abhorrent individuals while getting his jollies from seeing the most vulnerable suffer and die in agony (only to get thrown into even more torture in the Christian vision of hell).
Lastly, a loving god would take away free will from those who would willingly surrender it in return for a life without suffering. Funnily enough, Lewis seems to believe in a heaven without suffering but with all the bells and whistles of freedom. So why not create that universe from the get-go and stick with it? Why create a universe with even the possibility of corruption? It certainly is not something a perfect god would do. Then again, a perfect god would not blackmail beings he supposedly loves for eternal worship.
While Lewis is usually a good writer, capable of spinning yarns to attract the attention of children and young teenagers, he also assumes that there is a deep, overriding purpose behind suffering. This purpose is so important that it is more critical to his god to NOT end suffering now, but to let things run their "natural" course until his plan is complete. In service of this goal, he creates a short story that is akin to an essay on theistic evolution, and how man is ultimately responsible for the Fall and his own corruption. If god knows everything, including the future, then he orchestrated the fall (and everything else) before setting his plan into motion. Arguing that god exists outside of time is a lazy copout, nothing more.
As a 'loudspeaker' for the Christian god, pain has done more to drive people away from him than anything else. An all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good god would not allow any suffering, even in the service of a so-called "greater good." And if such a god desires suffering for a greater good, then it would follow logically that his followers should cause suffering to convert more people. After all, that is god's best tool for getting our attention, is it not? Fortunately, CS Lewis and most Christians today do not follow this logic to its end point. Those who do open hospitals and hospices and waste money on bibles rather than food (explaining why only 25% of tithes go to benefit indigent people around the world). CS Lewis realised this, which is why he asserted, in chapter 7, that while evil acts can lead to "greater" goods such as pity and compassion, the individual who commits evil is not justified simply because positive benefits will flow.
The hypocrisy here is glaringly apparent when Lewis moves on to depict his god as using good men as "sons" and evil men as "tools" to achieve his goals. Such an obvious double standard is patently hypocritical and serves to do little except expose Lewis' advocacy of divine fiat for what it is - blind obedience (which is the antithesis of sound moral reasoning).
His childishly puerile attempts to justify hell are perhaps the only thing worse. According to Lewis' theology, pain is used by god as a teacher, a "flag of truth in a rebel fortress" (p. 122). This obviously misses the point - an omnipotent god would not need to use pain. If a tri-omni deity knows good from evil without needing to suffer, why couldn't he have simply created humans who were likewise omniscient? This is yet another obvious point that is glossed over by a highly overrated apologist.
Quote:Chock full of Lies, Deceit and Emotional Manipulation
I listened to this audiobook twice before writing this review (it's only about 150 minutes long).
The book begins with a disingenuous foreword from Lee Strobel, whose "magnum opus", The Case for Faith, has already been thoroughly debunked. Not only does Strobel have a strong vested interest in Christianity, but apologists like Zacharias and Craig would lose their livelihoods if they lost their faiths.
For a full refutation of Strobel's work, simply google "case against faith."
There is no evidence for Christianity outside of the bible, theologians and New Testament "historians." I would trust them no more than I would trust Muslim apologists.
Ravi opens his "case" with an emotional tug, introducing us to a fictional case study about how atheism can lead to pain, suffering, family breakups and suicide. Wow. His only saving grace here is his clarification that his story is indeed completely fabricated.
He touches briefly on the Problem of Evil and Suffering, ONCE AGAIN IGNORING the definitions of "omnipotence" and "omniscience." He presents the example of CIPA - Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, with Anhydrosis. Doesn't he believe in heaven? Will we be suffering in heaven? If not, then this planet, this life is just a soul-filter for his deity.
Free will is no excuse - if god exists, then he valued Ted Bundy's free will more than that of his victims.
He then attacks Harris' statement on eradicating religion before rape. Well, eliminating religion would certainly reduce the rape rate. Just take these verses from the "good" book:
Genesis 34:31: Dinah's brothers, to justify the massacre of a town for the rape of their sister, say: "Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?" To the author of Genesis, rape is a crime against the honor of men rather than against a woman.
Deuteronomy 22:23-24: If a betrothed virgin is raped in the city and doesn't cry out loud enough, then "the men of the city shall stone her to death."
Deuteronomy 22:28-29: If a man rapes an unbetrothed virgin, he must pay her father 50 shekels of silver and then marry her.
And how DARE Ravi equate atheism with paedopillia and eugenics!? Without a single solid quote (save Peter Singer's) to back this up!?
He equates the ENTIRE sex industry with human trafficking. Unsurprising that such a socially fascistic conservative is also so Puritanical, and disrespectful of informed consent. In *every* jurisdiction with easy access to pornography (and lower rates of religious sexual repression), sexual crimes have either fallen or remained constant.
When it comes to slavery, his pat platitude non-answer is that Jesus was silent on slavery as he was on many other issues. What a cop-out. What Ravi is implying here is that if he lived in the US before slaves were emancipated, he would either do nothing to free the slaves, do nothing to protect slaves who escaped, capture and hand over escaped slaves, fight on the side of the Confederates, or perhaps a mishmash of those options.
Even if atheism is a naked Emperor, at least there is substance behind it.
Ravi seems to have inspired Dinesh D'Souza's belief that Christianity made it possible for religious freedom to exist. Utter bunkum. A look at religious theocrats of WLC's stripe and the Tea Party would completely refute this. Mr. Craig would have us trust the internal witness of the holy ghost over proper evidence.
Ravi addresses the issue of abortion by giving his god a pedestal above his own moral law: "God has the power to restore life. I don't." Wow. So it someone killed god, under Ravi's "clenched fist" morality (a phrase from this very book), Mr. Zacharias would have to bow down and worship that individual. Ravi has no case for objective morality here.
Almost every minute of this audiobook is filled with the very demagoguery and lies that he condemns. Harris is quite right to be angry and emotional when it comes to Christianity; after all, which segment in society has the most clout, and which is trying to strip and deny civil rights from everyone else?! Conservative, gay-loathing Christians, naturally.
While respect is warranted towards individuals because of their contribution to society, their religious beliefs (baseless by definition) do not deserve any such preferential treatment.
Although Ravi's suicide attempt was tragic, wouldn't Christianity and its eternal carrot of Heaven be more likely to encourage one to leave this life sooner rather than later? Ravi also doesn't seem to view the many millions of atheists who have NOT ended their own lives and who HAVE found meaning in their mortal lives to be worthy of comment.
Avoid at all costs, save to refute Ravi and his disciples.
Quote:Nonsense and Callous Bile
During his introduction, Ravi regales us with a story about his family's Border Collie, GK, named after one of their favourite authors, GK Chesterton. Immediately I was struck by their callous attitude in forcing a member of their family to suffer the ravages of a natural death from cancer rather than put it quietly and peacefully to sleep. Sadly, Ravi takes a similar stance when he addresses the readers in the greater part of this book.
The author attempts to delineate "true" Christianity from the Christianity practiced in some churches today, and blames this for the reason people are leaving it in droves. He won't even entertain the idea that Christianity is false. The superficial saving grace in his book is his call to churches to be more supportive and understanding of those who have fallen away and "sinned" (a vacuous religious concept to begin with). He criticises the liberal media for condemning the Pope's stance unequivocally condemning contraception, asking if they would show compassion to someone who had used a condom and contracted HIV. In doing so, Ravi is denying the human impulse towards pleasure, one that he believes his god bestowed upon us, and is giving tacit support to a Puritanical worldview that has made the AIDS crisis worse. Condoms reduce the rate of HIV transmission, this is an undeniable fact. Why he would lend succour to a malicious prick who covered up and perpetuated child rape and indirect murder speaks volumes about the author. Perhaps he should write a new book on his own shortcomings and failures as an apologist and evangelical preacher.
Ravi claims that although his god is sovereign, he has also blessed us with free will. Anyone who has read Exodus should know that this is nonsense. A god who would violate Pharoah's free will to shunt himself up onto a pedestal and cause further gratuitous suffering is not only a deity brimming with malfeasance, but has no respect for free will. On a related note, Ravi complains that if one amputee was cured, this would be unfair to all other amputees, and we would demand more evidence and miracles. What, you mean like what allegedly occurred in the Old Testament? This flimsy excuse holds no water, especially since his god is supposedly all-powerful and could never get weary.
Ravi holds his personal experience (a supposed visit from Jesus while he was hospitalized after a suicide attempt). A cursory examination of NDEs, OBEs and similar experiences reveals that the only religious experiences humans experience is based on the religions that they were raised in. Why don't we see Muslims visited by Buddha or Krishna? I do not doubt Ravi's sincerity when he recounts this, but as he concedes, that doesn't prove the existence of his god. I would bet my life that Ravi would not place the same credence that he places in his own experience that he would place on the personal experiences of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. And besides, if his god is willing to reveal himself, it would be a simple matter to replicate such revelatory experiences for everyone on the planet. But we don't see this. It is very rare for adults who have been raised in religion to break free of the religion they were brought up in. Capital punishment for apostasy doesn't account for all of this, and the benefits of Christian missions and "charities" often do more harm than good. Myths and edicts about how to deal with "witches" have caused African villages to murder their children. The baggage that burdens Christianity and its teachings often end up doing more harm than good. And as for the bible, I found it quite telling that Zacharias does not mention whether or not he is a biblical literalist or whether some verses were not divinely inspired, in his view. And he doesn't even come close to explaining why we can trust the bible, since it was written by fallible humans, rehashed and manipulated depending on the era and translators. Perhaps simply thinks that the sheer quantity of obfuscation he spews forth will be enough to convince the reader.
He initially attempts to tackle arguments for the validity of theism over naturalism. He immediately falls flat at the starting gate by appealing to the sheer unlikeliness of life arising from random chance, and mentions monkeys randomly mashing keys until they produce the works of Shakespeare. According to him, the chances are too high for it to occur naturally during the alleged age of the universe. What he doesn't realise is that incredibly unlikely things occur every day - every person, every sperm and egg combination, is one in several hundred million. Add the chances of our parents meeting, and the thousands of human generations throughout our 200,000-year history, and the odds are far more unlikely than the "astronomical" odds Ravi mentions.
He also rails against secularism and "relativism", although situational ethics would be a better descriptor for what he is decrying here. Moral differences generally stem from the plurality of upbringings and the lack of complete information available or willing to be considered by parties in a given situation. When information is more detailed and situations and players considered more deeply, concurrence towards a single moral outcome is more likely, no matter who is considering the issue. That is why, for example, support for the right to die has risen considerably in Western countries over the past few decades, even in countries that have a majority of Christians, such as Australia.
In attempting to bolster his case for the truth of Christianity, he mentions William Lane Craig. This is a feeble attempt. Anyone who has seen Craig debate should know that intellectual rigour is not his strong suit. The opposite, in fact. Craig has mentioned several times that if the evidence should go against Christianity and the "internal witness of the holy spirit", the latter should take precedence against the former. Such an apologist, who decries the scientific method as being based on "the shifting sands of evidence and argument" himself uses arguments, and has therefore undermined at least half of his own case. There is no such thing as "reasonable faith", and few demonstrate this better than Craig himself. Baseless claims such as "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" don't help him either. There's no evidence for Zeus, Thor or the Greek pantheon, and yet we don't see shills like Craig writing long-winded apologetics for them.
Ravi's chapter on prayer is the longest, and perhaps the worst. In this rambling, incoherent pile of flopped justifications, excuses and blame-shifting, Ravi redefines prayer, and what Jesus "really meant" when he said "knock, and the door shall be opened." Prayer isn't supposed to work "instantaneously or magically." Well, then why pray?! It would seem that Ravi doesn't seem to realise that he is making his god out to be a highly skilled huckster, by redefining his promises and covenants to suit himself.
In the final chapter, Ravi arrogantly assumes that anyone who has reached that point has understood that Christianity has not failed them, but people and/or institutions such as the church have. Well, all I have to say about this is that the actions of those who purport to act in god's name reflect either well or poorly on that deity, and any deity who would not clearly make his will and endorsements known to all is responsible for the impressions made by such believers (assuming, of course, that such a deity exists in the first place). Ravi attempts to gloss over the shortcomings of the CEO, using the employees as scapegoats. He rails against Islam and their mighty birth rate (implying that Christians must outbreed and out-brainwash them), and in a further act of incoherence and mental gymnastics, Ravi mentions the declining fish stocks worldwide. We cannot fix a perceived problem by making it worse. Woman's suffrage in the Muslim world is the only way to both stop the tide of Muslim takeover that he fears, and the scythe of overpopulation that will destroy us from within.