The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve been looking at atheist sound bites lately and I’d like to post on something tonight that’s similar to that, but is not in itself a sound bite. I got the inspiration for this in posting earlier today on TheologyWeb.com in reply to a skeptic there who was pointing out the importance of fairly representing the other side. Do they? I wish to look at Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins as two such examples:

Let’s start with Dawkins in “The God Delusion.” Here in the bibliography of books cited and recommended, I only count three that I could in any way consider evangelical authors.

Michael Behe of “Darwin’s Black Box.”

Alister McGrath: “Dawkins’s God”

John Polkinghorne: “Science and Christian Belief.”

How fares the index?

“Answers in Genesis” is cited once.

Thomas Aquinas is mentioned a few times, but I can assure you as one who studies at a Thomistic school that Dawkins badly misrepresents the Thomistic arguments. He frankly does not have a clue.

Augustine on two pages

Michael Behe gets mention on four pages in a row.

G.K. Chesterton on one page

Francis Collins on one pages

James Dobson on one page (And I would not count him an apologist)

Dostoyevsky on one page, though I would not necessarily name him an apologist either.

Dons Scotus on one page and I know that page and it never references his arguments.

Philip Johnson on three pages.

C.S. Lewis on two pages.

Alister McGrath on one page. (McGrath is also probably Dawkins’s main critic, seeing as they are both at Oxford and McGrath is an atheist turned Christian trained in the sciences and a theistic evolutionist. Dawkins’s only citation of him is incredibly weak as he doesn’t really acknolwedge McGrath’s arguments.)

Henry Morris on one page.

Blaise Pascal on four pages.

John Polkinghorne on three pages.

Karl Rahner on one page.

Richard Swinburne on seven pages.

Kurt Wise on three pages.

Note that these are only citations. It does not mean actual interaction with the argumentation. I have been doing some more checking lately and looking at what Dawkins says about Thomistic arguments. For instance, he says the problem with omnipotence and omniscience together is that God cannot change His mind. I really don’t see this as a weakness but as a strength. The point is that Dawkins cites a poem by Karen Owens that shows how apparently silly it is that God cannot change his mind.

Who is Karen Owens? No citation is given. No description whatsoever. A google search of Karen Owens along with Richard Dawkins points to a trustee in Richard Dawkins’s own foundation. What are their educational credentials? How old are they even? Don’t have a clue. Dawkins presents this as an authority, a move I consider dishonest.

If Dawkins is bad however, Sam Harris in “The End of Faith” is worse.

Harris’s bibliography?

Augustine’s “The City of God” and “Confessions”

Rene Descartes “Discourse and Method and Meditations.”

Paul Johnson “A History of Christianity.” (I believe I have heard he’s a Christian. I’m not sure.)

Bruce Metzger: “The Oxford Companion to the Bible.”

Blaise Pascal “Pensees.”

Richard Swinburne “The Existence of God.”

Might sound more impressive, but consider the index. I have each reference listed with how many pages they appear on.

Augustine, 8.

Rene Descartes, 5.

Soren Kierkegaard, 3.

Blaise Pascal, 5

The new atheists in these works are not interacting with Craig, Geisler, Habermas, Licona, Plantinga, Moreland, Kreeft, Zacharias, and numerous others. The argument is entirely one-sided.

As a student who still writes research papers, one of the first things I do when I have decided on my topic is to go and order books from the other side. I want my opponents to have their views presented in the best possible light so I can show all the more how weak that they are.

These books do not do that at all. Richard Dawkins does not interact with Alister McGrath, for instance, who is one of his strongest critics being an Oxfordian trained in the sciences. I find it hard to believe that Harris is a graduate from Stanford in philosophy when I read a book with such poor argumentation as the one that he wrote.

If I was a professor and a student turned in assignments to me written like these books are, that student would fail that assignment. The poor research and weak argumentation should have these authors being seen as shameful disgraces. Instead, there are actually pastors who apparently wrote to Harris saying they deconverted upon reading his book, enough to convince me that they should not have been pastors to begin with.

When I encounter an atheist who cites these books as authoritative, I already know that this is someone who does not take research seriously. The sad reality is that their works get absorbed by the atheists on the net and lower the quality of the debates. It’s really hard to have a serious discussion with someone when they think the question of “Who made God?” is an ultimate stumper that Christians have never answered.

If an atheist wishes to be an atheist, very well. Take my advice in this however. Distance yourself from the new atheism. Read instead the old atheists like Mackie, Martin, Nielsen, and Flew. (Granted, Flew did deconvert, but he was a giant in atheism in his time) These writers took theism seriously. They were not driven by an emotional hatred of theism and were willing to acknowledge some good Christianity had done for the world.

As for my Christian brethren, while our opposition is lazy, it is not necessary for us to lower our level of study. We will continue to study and see this as an opportunity. If atheism sees this as its pinnacle, then our serious studies in all fields if we do so can allow us to, as it were, corner the market. We need to have people of high education in every body of knowledge out there.

I also wish to let readers know that tomorrow I could be heading out to spend Christmas with in-laws. It all depends on what my doctor says due to my recent surgery. If you do not see a new blog in awhile, do not worry.

26 Responses to “The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists”

  1. The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists (via Deeper Waters) « Attempts at Honesty Says:

    […] The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists (via Deeper Waters) I just learned of this post and thought it is worth reposting. Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We've been looking at atheist sound bites lately and I'd like to post on something tonight that's similar to that, but is not in itself a sound bite. I got the inspiration for this in posting earlier today on TheologyWeb.com in reply to a skeptic there who was pointing out the importance of fairly representing the other side. Do they? I wish to look at S … Read More […]

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  3. philwynk Says:

    You wrote:

    “As a student who still writes research papers, one of the first things I do when I have decided on my topic is to go and order books from the other side. I want my opponents to have their views presented in the best possible light so I can show all the more how weak that they are. ”

    Good for you; never stop doing this. Believe me, you will be tempted to.

    I made a similar decision, although after my student years. My version was “If I can’t refute the very best the other side has to offer, I have no business claiming I’ve refuted anything.”

    However, this seems to be a uniquely Christian thing to do. I don’t know many atheists who do the same, though I suppose I’ve met a few. More and more, I regard the intellectual divide between Christians and atheists as moral rather than intellectual: Christians have submitted to the painful process of admitting and repenting their personal weaknesses, whereas atheists deny that they exist and remain completely subject to them. This has a profound impact on one’s ability to think. Sin makes one stupid.

    This not only explains a great deal of the intellectual divide, but the political divide as well. Without being specific, one side seems to be offering arguments while the other throws eggs. One side seems to embody thoughtful acknowledgment of the universality of personal, human sin and the social means of managing it, while the other pastes the letters “E,” “V,” “I,” “L” indiscriminately on the foreheads of corporations and religions.

    At the end of the day, everything is about righteousness. You pursue it, or you don’t. If you do, you become wise. If not…

    • apologianick Says:

      Thank you very much for this comment and I agree, it is more moral than anything else. I invite you to come to TheologyWeb.com and visit the Deeper Waters section where we have a thread about this post.

  4. philwynk Says:

    I wrote a comment and it landed in your spam filter. Will you retrieve it an post it, please? Thanks.

  5. Apologetics and Strawmen « Loftier Musings Says:

    […] ApologiaNick. (2007). The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists. […]

  6. Cory Tucholski Says:

    I’ve been saying that the New Atheist flagship books were terrible since I started in apologetics four years ago. Dawkins’s The God Delusion made me laugh out loud when I realized that the central argument was “Who made God?” I couldn’t believe that was the central argument; I thought I missed something. Until I read an essay in Philosophi Christi (vol. 10 #1, 2008) that was written about The God Delusion. In it, Gregory Ganssle writes that Dawkins essentially presents two arguments against God: “Who made God?” and “A universe created by God would be different than what we see.” The first, however, is Dawkins’s favorite argument, referenced far more often than the latter.

    I, for one, can’t believe that pastors de-convert because of New Atheist argumentation. Much of their work reminds me of questions my second grade classmates used to ask the priest when he came to talk to our class about basic theological issues. It’s sad.

    • apologianick Says:

      I can believe pastors de-convert because most pastors don’t have a clue about theology. It’s based on a strong feeling that God called them to preach. They only think emotionally then and they go from fundy Christian to fundy atheist. Not all pastors are like that. Mine certainly isn’t. Too many are however.

  7. Thank God For The New Atheists « Deeper Waters Says:

    […] the new atheists don’t know how to do good research. I have written further about this here. It’s not just that their bibliography is lacking. Consider how for the new atheists, an […]

  8. The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists (via Deeper Waters) - Attempts at Honesty Says:

    […] The Shoddy Research of the New Atheists (via Deeper Waters) By Mark McIntyre On December 21, 2010 · 1 Comment I just learned of this post and thought it is worth reposting. Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve been looking at atheist sound bites lately and I’d like to post on something tonight that’s similar to that, but is not in itself a sound bite. I got the inspiration for this in posting earlier today on TheologyWeb.com in reply to a skeptic there who was pointing out the importance of fairly representing the other side. Do they? I wish to look at S … Read More […]

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  11. Some Tips On Research | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] For an example of interacting with the best scholarship on the issue, consider the new atheists. The new atheists regularly have a habit of NOT interacting with the best of their opposition. I believe I have demonstrated that in this post. […]

  12. tildeb Says:

    Irony is strong in this one, Padawan.

    On a topic about criticizing New Atheists for doing shoddy research, imagine my surprise (not) to check the bibliography for Harris’ End of Faith that I know to be quite extensive (28 page of listings with more than 100 different authors before clearly the letter D in alphabetical order).

    Now, you say

    “If Dawkins is bad however, Sam Harris in “The End of Faith” is worse.

    Harris’s bibliography?”

    You then list six. Only six.

    Misrepresent much? Well, forgivable when it comes to New Atheists, right? If your motive is pious it must be all right, I presume.

    You continue:

    “The new atheists in these works are not interacting with Craig, Geisler, Habermas, Licona, Plantinga, Moreland, Kreeft, Zacharias, and numerous others. The argument is entirely one-sided.”

    And, of course, many of your readers will assume you speak truthfully. You don’t. It’s not one-sided at all.

    As a New Atheist, I know better than to make such an assumption that religious folk rend to represent New Atheism honestly. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming contrary to this assumption. Of course, my skepticism was rewarded with at least two examples of shoddy research by you, namely, Habbermas: (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity,The Past as Future, On the Pragmatics of Communication) and Zakaria (The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad) but of what is of greater concern to me is the presumption you make that these works by New Atheists should be aimed at such writers and not according to those necessary to balance their own theses.

    Dawkins, a biologist sick and tired of having his field of study attacked by religious creationists and given a Chair to promote the biological sciences in the public domain has a target set on creationists and ID advocates… not religious apologists.

    Harris, writing in response to 911, takes a much more political and science-based approach to why faith exercised in the public domain is a growing danger to us all… demonstrated by the piety of those flying passenger jets into civilian buildings. His bibliography represents investigating this thesis and Craig’s or Geisler’s academic contribution to this approach does not warrant a citation. Craig only later admitted to supporting divine command theory and Harris only then took it upon himself to dismantle why this argument in a separate undertaking is such a problem for all of us.

    Presenting the New Atheists with such shoddy research as you’ve undertaken here demonstrates the need for more – not less – New Atheism advocacy. What is clear by your presentation is that you presume the Courtier’s Reply approach is the way for apologists to succeed in refuting our growing successes in the younger cohorts. You’d be wrong,(thankfully) but you’ll find that out over time as we approach religion’s tipping point in the public domain.

    In the meantime, (I shouldn’t even need to say it) deal with the log in your own eye.

    • apologianick Says:

      Ah Tilde. You know I laugh every time? Let’s see how bad you messed up this one.

      Tilde: Irony is strong in this one, Padawan.

      Reply: Oh let’s see about this.

      Tilde: On a topic about criticizing New Atheists for doing shoddy research, imagine my surprise (not) to check the bibliography for Harris’ End of Faith that I know to be quite extensive (28 page of listings with more than 100 different authors before clearly the letter D in alphabetical order).

      Reply: Oh silly. Nothing was said about not having a bibliography. What was said was the bibliography did not research the other side. Since your reading seems to be problematic, let me show that.

      “I got the inspiration for this in posting earlier today on TheologyWeb.com in reply to a skeptic there who was pointing out the importance of fairly representing the other side. Do they? I wish to look at Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins as two such examples:

      Let’s start with Dawkins in “The God Delusion.” Here in the bibliography of books cited and recommended, I only count three that I could in any way consider evangelical authors.

      Did you notice that? I don’t care how many they cited if they did not bother to cite those who are most contrary to their opinion? A good writer will present both sides. The new atheists give you one side.

      Now, you say “If Dawkins is bad however, Sam Harris in “The End of Faith” is worse. Harris’s bibliography?” Tilde: You then list six. Only six. Misrepresent much? Well, forgivable when it comes to New Atheists, right? If your motive is pious it must be all right, I presume.

      Reply: Oh? You think there are more evangelical authors that I missed? Well feel free to name them. Unless you want to continue to misrepresent.

      Tilde: You continue: “The new atheists in these works are not interacting with Craig, Geisler, Habermas, Licona, Plantinga, Moreland, Kreeft, Zacharias, and numerous others. The argument is entirely one-sided.” And, of course, many of your readers will assume you speak truthfully. You don’t. It’s not one-sided at all. As a New Atheist, I know better than to make such an assumption that religious folk rend to represent New Atheism honestly. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming contrary to this assumption. Of course, my skepticism was rewarded with at least two examples of shoddy research by you, namely, Habbermas: (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity,The Past as Future, On the Pragmatics of Communication)

      Reply: Yeah. Yours is by J. Habermas. With evangelical authors, evangelicals know the reference is to Gary Habermas. Harris does not interact with him at all.

      Tilde: and Zakaria (The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad)

      Reply: You know, this might be a shock to you, but a person whose last name is Zakaria is not the same as someone whose last name is Zacharias. The evangelical author is of course Ravi Zacharias.

      Tilde: but of what is of greater concern to me is the presumption you make that these works by New Atheists should be aimed at such writers and not according to those necessary to balance their own theses.

      REply; If you’re going to write something that is meant to show the bankruptcy of the other side, you owe it to yourself and your readers to reference the other side and their arguments so they know you’re accurately representing them.

      Tilde: Dawkins, a biologist sick and tired of having his field of study attacked by religious creationists and given a Chair to promote the biological sciences in the public domain has a target set on creationists and ID advocates… not religious apologists.

      Reply: Except he is not taking on ID and creationists as he would have done in a work like The Blind Watchmaker, which is an excellent book. He’s taking on theism entirely and he’s not interacting with his opponents. His understanding of Aquinas for instance is hideous.

      Tilde: Harris, writing in response to 911, takes a much more political and science-based approach to why faith exercised in the public domain is a growing danger to us all… demonstrated by the piety of those flying passenger jets into civilian buildings. His bibliography represents investigating this thesis and Craig’s or Geisler’s academic contribution to this approach does not warrant a citation. Craig only later admitted to supporting divine command theory and Harris only then took it upon himself to dismantle why this argument in a separate undertaking is such a problem for all of us.

      REply: Because the obvious reply is if Muslims go and blow up buildings, you go after Christians! That makes perfect sense. Harris presents a straw man view of faith that cannot be backed by lexical research and while trying to present Christians as people who believe without reasons, he does not look at the very reasons given by the leading opponents against his position. Again, this is dishonest.

      Tilde: Presenting the New Atheists with such shoddy research as you’ve undertaken here demonstrates the need for more – not less – New Atheism advocacy.

      Reply: Not a bit was shown to be shoddy. In fact, the answer shows your research is that which is shoddy.

      Tilde: What is clear by your presentation is that you presume the Courtier’s Reply approach is the way for apologists to succeed in refuting our growing successes in the younger cohorts. You’d be wrong,(thankfully) but you’ll find that out over time as we approach religion’s tipping point in the public domain.

      REply: No. I actually encourage apologists to read the other side, interact with it, quote them regularly, etc. They are not to be dismissed.

      Tilde: In the meantime, (I shouldn’t even need to say it) deal with the log in your own eye.

      Reply: Must be hard with that massive redwood in yours.

      • tildeb Says:

        Having read both works, I know that neither Dawkins nor Harris considers only evangelicals ‘the other side’. This should be obvious to anyone who can read… unless one’s evangelical affiliation is so myopic that one dares to assume it is the only ‘other side’ to these theses!

        Harris includes the works of dozens and dozens of reputable theologians – from Armstrong to Wittgenstein, Tillich to Kant – from many different religious traditions yet you seem not just willing but mentally able to dismiss all if not ‘evangelical’? Can your arrogance really run that deeply?

        Your point was that, unlike you, these authors unfairly present only one side and that this is typical of shoddy research. My point was that this understanding has to be based on shoddy research because it simply isn’t the case. Nothing you’ve said here contradicts my point.

      • apologianick Says:

        I have also read both works and by the other side, I of course mean the best critics who could pick up the book. Do they deal with their arguments? Hardly. It’s pitiful the way Harris and Dawkins write and it should be seen as an embarrassment to atheism.

        I also see you cannot accept your error on Habermas or Zacharias, despite being shown so. That’s another trait I notice of internet atheists. They are incapable of being wrong on anything whatsoever.

        You not only didn’t contradict my point, but you confirmed it.

        Please. Feel free to reply again and keep confirming the point.

      • tildeb Says:

        Hey, having read neither Habermas or Zacharias, I presumed they were the same authors you mentioned. I was wrong. My mistake. I’ve made mistakes before and will make them again. I will admit to them when made aware of them. Thanks for the correction.

        My main point remains untarnished, however: it is ironic that you would do shoddy research to inform your factually wrong claim that these two New Atheists wrote one-sided books based on shoddy research.

      • apologianick Says:

        Really? So I said they should read the other side, which is what everyone writing does. You look at your best critics today and present their best case that you can. Did the new atheists do this? Nope. Not a bit. Even with looking at ancient writers, they should look at modern authors who can help them understand them. Not done.

        And if you’re unfamiliar with evangelical authors, well I guess then that that shows that you haven’t familiarized yourself with the other side either.

        Case further proven.

      • tildeb Says:

        Yes, arguing that one should read the other side’s best arguments and address those presumes there IS something that qualifies as ‘best arguments’. This is – as I said – the Courtier’s Reply.

        As for getting up to speed with these evangelical best arguments, don’t you count?

        After reading hundreds and hundreds of ‘best arguments’ produced over the past 2500 years, I have yet to find one worthy of title. What I have found is people talking about stuff they can know nothing about and linking what they believe they know to inform claims about reality that have no basis in it. Why might that be, I wonder?

      • apologianick Says:

        No. I don’t count. I am not the best of the best and don’t claim to be. Dawkins and co. need to take on Craig, Licona, Wright, Habermas, etc. and show why their arguments are lacking. Yes. There is such a thing as best arguments. Dawkins would be infuriated if a YEC said there were no best arguments for evolution and thus dismissed Dawkins, and he would rightly be infuriated.

        btw, your finding my writings not worthy isn’t something that’s going to keep me up at night. Thinking that Dawkins and Harris and others count as serious thinkers in religious debates is enough to demonstrate what I’m dealing with.

        What I find with new atheists is they critique arguments they do not understand, which is what Feser points out in “The Last Superstition” which is the most damaging critique of the new atheists that I have ever read.

      • tildeb Says:

        What I meant was that because you are steeped in these best arguments, why can’t you present them simply and clearly so that any reasonable person can understand?

        Or does it take a much more sophisticated guide to go down the very finest of rabbit holes and emerge at the predetermined but correct exit?

      • apologianick Says:

        You have no guarantee I’ll write about what you want me to write about. I have in fact written on the five ways of Aquinas on other posts on here. The problem is if you want to argue about this kind of thing and not do your own independent reading of the other side, I can only suspect one of a few things.

        1. You’re scared of being wrong and don’t want to read the other side for fear of that.

        2. You don’t really have an interest and thus are being lazy and not wanting to read the other side.

        3. You’re arrogant and think the other side is ipso facto nonsense and there’s no need to read it. (Atheistic presuppositionalism.)

        Feel free to present a better one, but for my part, I hear an atheist talk about a book and it’s in my subject area? I want to get my hands on it as soon as I can.

      • tildeb Says:

        I have no clue why you speak as you do. I’ve already said I’ve read hundreds of ‘best’ arguments… covering everything from the philosophical grounding used to help select which writings would become scripture to many of the early Church’s ‘fathers’ to a who’s who of influential theologians over two and a half millennium… including your much vaunted Aquinas (from parts of the Summa Theologica generally and the Five Articles in particular). Given the choice again to read Aquinas or some equivalently pleasant undertaking, I’d prefer shaving with a cheese grater. So I have a much better basis than most Christians to say unequivocally that whenever someone suggests that the onus to defend a thesis of reasonable non belief is to first support a best contrary argument approach when it comes to theology is a load of Courtier’s Reply. That’s a conclusion – not a presupposition – based on academic expertise shared by New Atheists who have done this work. I say again, there is no ‘best’ argument. All historical arguments in favour of belief in some version of the Jewish/Christian god are equivalently built out of faith and all weakened to the point of collapse by reality’s arbitration of them.

        This leads us back to my criticism of your OP, that you accuse shoddy research to be the basis for New Atheism when, in fact, only your own shoddy research could possibly lead you to such an erroneous conclusion.

      • apologianick Says:

        I say it based on what you have said to me here. With regard to Aquinas, most readers don’t understand him because the Five Ways in the ST are a summary of the arguments and Aquinas assumes you already have a working background with Aristotelian philosophy. I recommend a work like Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition” on that.

        As for the charge of shoddy research, none has been shown, and your false assumption that I was wrong on who Harris cited only further demonstrated that. I also get after Christian authors who do the exact same thing. One aspect I check of any work I read that is making an argument is “Do they interact with the best on the other side?”

        The New Atheists do not. They don’t understand the arguments they argue against at all and the old atheists of the past would be embarrassed by them. No shock many of their fellow atheists today already are.

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