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By Arizona Atheist November 6, 2010 http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/ Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative
The Truth Behind the New Atheism (Harvest House Publishers, September 1, 2007) is a Christian apologetic work by David Marshall that aims to refute the New Atheism as a whole. Despite many errors being pointed out by skeptics such as myself and others, Marshall has refused to admit a single error even when they're as plain as the nose on his face. Sure, as he's told me a few times (one example is in this thread on Amzon.com), he has admitted a few typos and whatnot but that's not what us critics are complaining about. We're talking about bona fide factual and logical errors on his part. Many of these are undeniable and he still refuses to acknowledge them. We're not sure why he does this. Perhaps it's an enormous case of confirmation bias? Perhaps it's something to do with his ego? Either way, Marshall is definitely as stubborn as they come at admitting mistakes. This document was written to give anyone who may be curious about the book a quick guide to a handful of the errors Marshall makes and to expose his dishonest rhetoric. You may even be familiar with Marshall from participating at the Amazon.com Customer Discussions. Marshall seems to mostly hang out at the The God Delusion forum where myself and other critics have tried in vain to point out an error – any error – that Marshall may actually admit to, but to no avail. I had been trying for about two and a half years, and others longer. That might seem like a long time trying to talk some sense into a brick wall, but I thought surely after a time he may grudgingly admit one of his errors, but sadly he
has not. For the last three years I have been working on a detailed refutation of this book and I have edited and refined the arguments within, mostly because I've contemplated getting it published and want to make sure my rebuttals are as effective as possible and my research is as thorough as possible given my lack of resources. Currently I'm undecided about going that route but perhaps Marshall would finally answer my arguments if I actually had a book published refuting his? Who knows. At one point I had hosted the document here at Scribd.com but several months ago decided to move it solely to my blog. Due to the large size of my review some people may not have read about many of the arguments Marshall makes so I've decided to write this exposing just ten (plus a bonus) out of his many other errors. The following rebuttals are mostly condescend for space and ease of reading so if you'd like a more detailed rebuttal to these and other arguments please read the full rebuttal at my blog: The Truth Behind the New Atheism: A Refutation For any criticisms or critiques please contact me via my blog. I hope you enjoy this brief exposé of The Truth Behind the New Atheism. 1. Marshall claims that Richard Sternberg was “shunned, lied about, and kept from doing research” because he allowed a pro-intelligent design paper to be published in a scientific journal. (42) The only truthful statement here was that Sternberg allowed a paper on intelligent design to be published in a scientific journal. What Marshall doesn't tell you is that Sternberg had ties to Meyer and the intelligent design movement. He also bypassed the proper peer review process and published the article himself. There is a lot to this story so that's all I will say about it and I will direct you to an excellent article on the subject by Ed Brayton: Creating a Martyr: The Sternberg Saga Continues This lapse of Marshall's research is continued throughout the entire book. Even though information was available about the incident at the time of the book's writing (even the emails countering these very allegations) Marshall failed to find out the other side of the story and swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. I wonder if Marshall will realize the irony about this and his insistence that “human testimony” is a reliable method of getting information? Doubtful. 2. Marshall argues that Richard “Dawkins admits his own intention to 'focus on,' or intrude in, other peoples' families.” He also accuses Dawkins of believing that “children have a right to be indoctrinated into thinking [religions are] all evil, no matter what their parents say." (184-186) Nowhere is this ever stated in any of Dawkins' writings, in fact the opposite is found. Allow me to quote from The God Delusion, page 327: "If, having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they grow up and decide that the bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege. The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think, not their parents' privilege to impose it by force majeure." Dawkins is expressing his belief that you should educate a child, not indoctrinate like many religious
types do. Of course Dawkins does not want to stop anyone from doing anything. His only goal is 'raising consciousness' of his view that the labeling of children is child abuse, not that teaching them religion is. Even in The God Delusion Dawkins makes specific claims about how children should be taught about religion, though should also learn about science too, and not be exposed to just one view point so they can more freely make up their minds once they're able to. When directly asked in a 2003 interview if he'd want to stop children from learning religion he stated quite clearly, "Well, I wouldn't want to have the thought police going to people's homes, dictating what they teach their children. I don't want to be Big Brotherish. I would hate that." I don't think you can get any clearer than that. What Marshall says about Dawkins is an outright falsehood. 3. Science confirms the genesis account of the universe having a beginning. Marshall writes, “The Book of Beginnings says the universe came from nothing. We have tried alternative theories: everything from an egg, elephants all the way down, 'cosmic crunch,' 'steady state' – but the biblical idea of a cosmic origin has now been vindicated.” (55) If Marshall would have read up on what cosmologists and physicists have been working on the last twenty years or so he would have found out that the conclusion that there was a singularity, thus a beginning, follows from the theory of general relativity, however back in the 80's it was realized that general relativity breaks down once you begin to talk about the size of the universe before it expanded and quantum mechanics must be used to determine its behavior. When this is done there is no longer a singularity and the equations allow for an infinite past. When you take quantum physics into account there is no longer any beginning. Stephen Hawking said as much about twenty years ago in his popular book A Brief History of Time. He writes, “[...] I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account.” (pg. 67 in updated The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Books, 1996) 4. In his discussion of morality Marshall takes issue with the idea of evolutionary morality. He says, “Dawkins and Hauser seem to see morality as one more bit of data about the evolution of a particular species. I may feel it is immoral to let a child drown. But if I see that feeling as an accidental product of evolution, like my appendix, what if I want it out? And if I'm late for work, and the child belongs to a competing race - threatening not just jeans, but selfish genes - it's hard to see how evolution furnishes any argument for saving her. One could conclude, as some have, 'So evolution gives us guilty feelings when we steal candy from children. Now that I understand the blind forces that produced this emotion, and the fact that it has no transcendent value, I'll take what I want.' Evolution doesn't help at all. Dawkins mires us in an even deeper problem, from which the bible rescues us.” (104-105) This confuses me because evolution can help us. While, yes, like other instincts we can rebel against them, evolution has stepped up to give a helping hand. It's been shown how natural selection has crafted the "reward pathways" of our brains to respond when we cooperate with others and act altruistically. Genetic studies have also shown that dopamine genes are involved as well. It literally makes us "feel good" to cooperate and to help others.
Even more proof, using humans and even toddlers experiments have shown how both species tend to help others when in need even without any form of reward, and even those unknown to them, putting the 'purely selfish' side of evolution to rest. No, evolution has crafted both selfish and altruistic behaviors so to say all evolution makes us only act selfish, and only through socialization do we become altruistic, is falsified by the data. Leaving that aside, humans do not need to rely on evolution for morality. Humans have created over time various secular moral systems that can aid us in figuring out right from wrong, no religion necessary. 5. In chapter 11 Marshall tries to make his case for how godless ideologies cause much harm with stories of Stalin, the Unibomber, etc. and how these individuals were lead astray because they had no moral grounding due to a lack of objective moral standards taught by religion. In his conclusion to that chapter Marshall writes, “In conclusion I see no evidence that the world will be better without God. We can try to persuade ourselves Communism was a fluke, that it was 'lack of reason,' not faith, that sent a third of the world into a murderous tailspin. We do share 'deep conscience.' But the logic of ideas – you only go around once, moral relativity, survival of the fittest, the relativity of morality, the tendency to exalt government to the throne of God – can and do subvert what we know is right.” (206) Well, first of all, if the world wouldn't be better off without god then why in the world do some of the most irreligious countries prosper, while one of the most religious countries are not doing as well? I will quote Phil Zuckerman for brevity: "If this often-touted religious theory were correct - that turning away from god is at the root of all societal ills - then we would expect to find the least religious nations on earth to be bastions of crime, poverty and disease and most religious countries to be models of societal health." Zuckerman continues, "A comparison of highly irreligious countries with highly religious countries, however, reveals a very different state of affairs. In reality, the most secular countries - those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics - are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations - wherein worship of god is in abundance - are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor and destitute" (Zuckerman, 2006) And, just as I mentioned previously, human beings can rely on secular moral systems to determine right from wrong. 6. In the first chapter Marshall plays the typical apologist language game when he tries to argue that faith is synonymous with reason and evidence and cites a variety of sources to prove his point, from the bible to Michael Shermer (out of context by the way). On page 18 Marshall cites Isaiah 1:18, “Come let us reason together!” and argues this is an example of the bible supporting “reason, empirical facts, and experiment.” Though, when you read the entirety of Isaiah this has nothing to do with testing some proposition or looking for evidence, but of god trying to convince his followers to obey him! Slyly, it seems, Marshall neglects to tell his readers where this passage is from and it's clearly being taken out of context. 7. Similar to the bible quote being ripped out of context Marshall did the same thing to the popular skeptic Michael Shermer in his book Why Darwin Matters, from chapter 3. Marshall fails to give an
actual quote of Shermer's and simply claims that he says Christians are rational in their beliefs. Marshall writes, “Both answers, [people claim design to be why they believe in god] Shermer (a leading skeptic) recognized, are essentially rational.” (24) This is clearly not what Shermer was saying. Yes, Shermer does say that arguments for design are “powerful intellectual justifications for belief” but then he goes on for the rest of the chapter explaining how human beings' tendency to attribute emotional reasons for belief in others, while attributing the same belief in oneself to be rational, my be the result of an “intellectual attribution bias.” And this in turn might be caused by evolution, since human beings seem to be primed to find pattens, or design, and often see pattens where there are none. (39) Shermer then goes on to explain the deep flaws in the design argument, showing that these beliefs about design are actually flawed when looked at more closely. If Shermer truly believed these arguments were based on reason, why does he spend the rest of the chapter explaining why 'design' is not a logical argument for god? 8. In another example of misrepresenting what Richard Dawkins says, Marshall argues the following, “In The God Delusion, Dawkins does offer arguments against Intelligent Design. But he seems to resent the idea of a challenge. The following quotes both appear on page 125: “The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory. Darwin himself said as much: 'If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.'” “Searching for particular examples of irreducible complexity is a fundamentally unscientific way to proceed: a special case of arguing from present ignorance.” Then Marshall continues: “A hundred words or so, and a subject subtitle, separate these two statements. Were irreducibly complex organs to be found, Dawkins admitted in the first, evolution would be ruined. He quoted Darwin as saying the same […], and implicitly challenged critics to find such organs. A few sentences later, he said the search for evidence both he and Darwin admitted would overthrow evolution is 'fundamentally unscientific.'” (63) If one actually reads these quotes in context Dawkins did not contradict himself. He was saying in the first quote how even Darwin admitted that finding an 'irreducibly complex' organ would wreck evolution but also explained how even in Darwin's time and up to the current day all examples of supposedly 'irreducibly complex' organs have failed to stand up to careful scrutiny (that last bit of the quote was cut off by Marshall). Then in the next section he illuminates the ultimate strategy of the intelligent design proponents: arguing that, by default, if an immediate answer cannot be found for some question about how such and such evolved it's automatically thrown out there that 'god did it'. But as Dawkins says a little bit earlier on page 124 that if someone makes such a claim “chances are that you haven't looked carefully enough at the details, or thought carefully enough about them.” And yes, simply throwing out a non-answer like “god did it” IS unscientific since no one has ever explained how god did this or that, an essential part of a scientific theory. Therefore it is unscientific. In addition, on page 128 Dawkins further explains the unscientific nature of 'god of the gap' thinking
and says, “Some biological organ, if not an eye then a bacterial flagellar motor or a biological pathway, is decreed without further argument to be irreducibly complex. No attempt is made to demonstrate irreducible complexity. […] That is no way to do science.” There was no contradiction here. Just Marshall's failure to comprehend what Dawkins was saying. 9. Marshall tries to give an added twist to the "irreducible complexity" concept by claiming that the answer of Dawkins' that half an eye is better then no eye at all, "answers the wrong" riddle. Marshall says "the question isn't what happens when half the complete structure is missing. The question is what happens when half its parts are missing. What good is an eye without an optic nerve?" (74) Well first I must ask, what is the difference between "structure" and "parts"? I see no difference here. Second, according to information I found on the TalkOrigins.org website, an eye doesn't have to have an optic nerve in order to function, and there are animals who have cells without a nerve, so an early stage in human eye evolution most likely didn't "need" an optic nerve to help with sight. Because of this Marshall's entire objection fails. 10. Marshall is discussing a story Dawkins told in The God Delusion about a boy who wore a t-shirt that said “Homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a lie, abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white!” Marshall argues that the t-shirt would "violate the teachings of apostle Paul, who said Christians should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)." (184) Somehow, I don't think so. Paul said quite clearly: "Because of this, god gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (Romans 1:26-28, NIV) 11. (BONUS) In one case Marshall contradicts himself. In The Truth Behind the New Atheism Marshall claims that Dawkins simply doesn't understand the bible. He writes, "Dawkins' most astoundingly wrongheaded reading of the bible may be his claim that care for others is only meant for a 'narrowly defined in-group.'" However, in a document he's written titled The God Delusion: 160 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, and Highly Dubious Claims he claims the opposite when speaking about biblical morality. Marshall says in this document, “[T]he moral assumptions of the ancient Middle East were often at odds with our own. They cared mostly for the 'in-group,' we believe (hopefully) that a man or a woman should not be 'judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (As Martin Luther King put it.) They engaged in slavery; we pay our employees. They educated boys; we education children of both genders.” (58) So, which is it? Does the bible only teach “in-group” morality or not? Marshall can't seem to decide. The fact is that the bible talks about both since the bible was not written by one person, and during long spans of time. But, in general, there was a lot of “in-group” morality taking place at that time as the bible clearly attests.
But, Marshall, as he says in the next paragraph, “does not even begin to answer the really important question” and fails to tell readers just HOW Christians choose between the “good” and “bad” passages, even those supposedly spoken by jesus. Therefore it's not possible to get morality from the bible since the bible itself does not give a criteria to decide which passages to put into practice and which ones to ignore. I thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this short paper exposing a few of the errors David Marshall has made in his critique of the New Atheism.
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