What do I think about David Glass’s new book “Atheism’s New Clothes” by David Glass? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
When Brian Auten said he was giving away a book from David Glass about Atheism’s New Clothes at the price of a review, I was eager to do so, especially since the book came with a high recommendation from Tim McGrew, someone who I take extremely seriously in the apologetics world. My copy of Glass’s book came in recently and within a week of starting it, I had had it read and on the first day was messaging a friend of mine saying “You must get this.”
The title of the book comes from what is known as the Courtier’s reply from that great beacon of philosophical learning that goes by the name of P.Z. Myers at his blog “Pharyngula.” The reply goes as follows:
” I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.
Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.
Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.
Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”
The basis behind this is that it’s ridiculous to say you have not read on it. Glass correctly says it is a wonderful piece of rhetoric (p. 27), but does not count as a response. The whole idea behind it is as that it is obvious that there is no God just as much as it was obvious to the little boy that the emperor was naked. It’s a wonder that something that is so obvious has been passed over by the majority world. It doesn’t matter if the new atheists think this is the case. The question they need to ask is why I should think this is the case.
Glass points to the emphasis on science that the new atheists make on page 20. He correctly shows that it has taken the place of religion. This is a criticism I have often raised where it has become the new priesthood. Glass also says on page 21 that the problem with the new atheists basing their atheism on science is that the question of if science leads to atheism is a question of philosophy and not of science.
On the same page, Glass points out that in the past, atheists have looked at the arguments for God’s existence in great detail. The new atheists do not. To make matters even worse for them, they don’t even really look at the arguments from philosophical atheists for atheism. Glass points out that Dawkins does attempt to deal with theistic arguments in chapter 3, and as critics have pointed out, this is the weakest part of the book. (Yes. Anyone who quotes Dawkins as an authority on say, the Thomistic arguments, does not know what they’re talking about.)
All of this is in the first chapter describing the new atheists, and I personally think this is the best chapter in the book.
Glass goes on to deal with the definition of faith that the new atheists put forward. He argues persuasively that the new atheists have redefined faith as belief without evidence, and then shown how silly this is, which is in fact something any Christian philosopher or scholar would agree with, and yet in thinking that they have shown how silly this concept is, the new atheists think they have destroyed the notion of faith.
On page 39, Glass shows how Sam Harris briefly points out that Paul Tillich has a different definition of faith, but says that anyone is free to redefine faith as they want and bring it into conformity with some ideal. As Glass points out, this is in fact what Harris himself has done, as well as the rest of the new atheists! Nowhere do you see any NT lexicons cited that will say that this is what the biblical writers meant by faith. It is something they believe without evidence. Perhaps we should remember what Hitchens could say. “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
An amusing example on page 40 is Glass citing Harris who says:
“Of Hebrews 11:1, Harris claims that ‘read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass (‘things hoped for’) or for which one has no evidence (‘things not seen’) constitutes evidence for its actuality (‘assurance’)’ ” He then goes on to set up a scenario where he thinks Nicole Kidman has a love for him and that this must be the case. How else does one explain the feeling?
As Glass points out, this is probably the clearest example of someone making the text say what they want it to say. Absent is any real exegesis of the text, yet this does not stop the new atheists! If one approached a science experiment the way they approach the Bible, the new atheists would be outraged, and rightfully so. It is because of their presupposition in advance that religion is ipso facto nonsense that they think the text does not deserve any real study.
After this chapter, Glass goes on to talk about science and faith. Is there really a conflict?
Glass does a fine job of showing there is no ultimate conflict. Of course, there are times the fields overlap and can seem to be contradict, but this has not been established. This situation also exists with science and history or science and philosophy. The idea that there is a major conflict came from people like Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the 19th century. A better look could be found in a work edited by the agnostic Ronald Numbers called “Galileo Goes To Jail.”
Glass on page 84 shows that this is readily apparent in their problem with miracles, something scientists like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc. never had a problem with. The new atheists claim that belief in miracles means one rejects science presupposes that all events are brought about by natural laws. Of course, this would follow if there was no God, but that is the question being raised. It is saying “It is irrational to believe in miracles if there is no God.” Is anyone seriously disagreeing with that?
In fact, Dawkins says the last word was written on this by Hume. (It’s strange that for the new atheists who claim to want to use the latest research, that they look at the 18th century and don’t look to see if any interaction has taken place since then.) I refer the reader to my review of “Miracles” by Craig Keener that can be found here.
The next two chapters deal with the origin of the universe and fine-tuning respectively. This is not my area of expertise as the arguments are scientific rather than metaphysical. I leave that to the reader who has an interest in that area. The next chapter we will look at deals with the Boeing 747 argument of Dawkins.
Glass points out that Dawkins has said that science has set us free from religion, but instead his Boeing 747 argument is a philosophical argument, one that comes from Hume in fact. If it is science that deals the death knell, why is it that Dawkins wanders into philosophy? If Dawkins is allowed to give a philosophical argument against God’s existence, shouldn’t he consider more seriously the philosophical arguments for God’s existence? Before someone says that he has done that in chapter 3 of The God Delusion, I suggest you realize that his understanding of the arguments is incredibly shallow, even of the ones I don’t agree with, such as the ontological argument.
It would have been good for Glass to give more arguments on how a doctrine like the simplicity of God can deal with much of this. The argument is metaphysical and it is my contention that much of our problem in the debates we have today in many areas is that we have neglected the area of metaphysics. Interestingly, most people who I debate with don’t even know what it is, but they know that it is nonsense!
The next chapter is on evolution and the origins of religion. Glass is correct in showing that the origin of an idea does not go against the truth of the idea. Suppose that God exists. Could it not be the case that He would wire our brains through an evolutionary process in such a way that we would come to realize that He exists? (This could be expanded later on with Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism that Glass gets into later on.)
Glass points out on page 188 that Dawkins brings up cargo cults and says that it seems that Christianity almost certainly began the same way and spread with the same speed. Any evidence of this? Nope. It is amazing how far one can get without evidence! All you need is a theory that you think is plausible. Dawkins, of course, does not bother reading something like Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity.”
Chapter 8 deals with morality and the problem of evil, an area the new atheists lack in, especially since we have something like “The Moral Landscape” by Harris. In fact, Glass points out that if goodness is well-being, then if religion promotes goodness for people and their well-being, then it would seem that Harris should be in favor of religion. Dennett has even shown some beneficial aspects of religious belief.
Glass shows that the new atheists have this idea that for the Christian, the only place they get moral guidance is from the Bible. I have argued against this position for some time. It is my contention that something is not moral because the Bible says so, but the Bible says something is or is not moral because it is. Glass also points out that the new atheists when looking at tyrannical societies like Stalin’s, say that Stalin’s behavior was the kind of behavior religious people have (Even though Stalin was staunchly anti-religious) and so their reigns of terror are the fault of religion anyway!
Glass also shows that the new atheists do not spend much time with the problem of evil which is usually the best argument used against theism. The new atheists have not on their own established any metaphysical basis for morality. When it comes to looking at the claims, the new atheists once again ignore evidence. For the new atheists, evidence is only something a Christian has to provide. The new atheist doesn’t have to.
The ninth chapter is about the Bible. The reason many chapter reviews are getting sparse now for me is that many of these arguments are dealt with by other authors. This is not to say Glass does a bad job of that. He does a great job. Taking care of the new atheists today is like shooting fish in a barrel. As I have said before, we should thank God for the new atheists. They are injuring their own side and helping to wake up ours.
One amusing point in here is that the new atheists argue that the Bible was written by ignorant men. Glass responds that this is in fact the case. The writers were ignorant and we’ve never said otherwise. As can be expected, the new atheists do not deal with evidence. When the new atheists make a claim about the Bible, it is obvious who they go to. It will be a writer like Bart Ehrman, John Loftus, Robert Price, or Dan Barker. Interacting with any Christian scholarship that opposes is out of the question. After all, such people are ipso facto deluded and why waste time with people who are deluded?
Much of this continues with the tenth chapter on Jesus and the resurrection. Glass amusingly tells of how Dawkins says the Da Vinci Code is fiction, and rightfully so, but when Dawkins talks about the formation of the canon, one would be hard-pressed to really show the difference between the two views. Again, it is another case where the new atheists ignore evidence. In fact, Dawkins and Hitchens even say it can be questioned if Jesus existed at all. To say that is a serious question in NT studies would be like questioning descent with modification to biologists.
Fortunately, Glass does give the positive case for the resurrection of Jesus and how NT historians do take the claim seriously. It is the central question of Christianity and it is one that is historical and it is a wonder that the new atheists do not spend more time on it. Well, it would be if it wasn’t for the fact that the new atheists have reached a verdict beforehand so why bother with evidence?
The final chapter is on the question of if life has meaning. This is not an argument I use so I will not be critiquing on it.
The person who is highly familiar with Christian apologetics will get some out of this book and is thus worth reading, but there will also be much that has been seen before. This is not the fault of Glass of course. It’s just that there is so little in the new atheists that there is not much that needs to be said. Still, the book comes with great recommendations from people like Paul Copan and John Lennox and for good reason. The first chapter I still think is the best and I’m pleased to see chapter two is there as I do think Glass is pioneering some in this field.
In conclusion, I do recommend this book and I look forward to seeing what else Glass comes out with.
David Glass’s web site can be found here.