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The Making of an Atheist – How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, James S. Spiegel

The title says it all, doesn’t it? How often have we atheists seen the strawman that we are nonbelievers because we do not want to be held accountable to a higher power for our actions? Sorry, but I hold myself accountable to myself, and I am one harsh critic.

It gets worse than the title, though. From the author’s website:

Sigmund Freud famously dismissed belief in God as a psychological projection caused by wishful thinking. Today many of the “new atheists”—including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens—make a similar claim, insisting that believers are delusional. Faith is a kind of cognitive disease, according to them. And they are doing all they can to rid the world of all religious belief and practice.

Christian apologists, from Dinesh D’Souza to Ravi Zacharias, have been quick to respond to the new atheists, revealing holes in their arguments and showing why theistic belief, and the Christian worldview in particular, is reasonable. In fact, the evidence for God is overwhelming, confirming the Apostle Paul’s point in Romans 1 that the reality of God is “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20, NIV).

So if the evidence for God is so plain to see, then why are there atheists? That is the question that prompted The Making of an Atheist. The answer I propose turns the tables on the new atheists, as I show that unbelief is a psychological projection, a cognitive disorder arising from willful resistance to the evidence for God. In short, it is atheists who are the delusional ones.

Unlike Dawkins and his ilk, I give an account as to how the delusion occurs, showing that atheistic rejection of God is precipitated by immoral indulgences, usually combined with some deep psychological disturbances, such as a broken relationship with one’s father. I also show how atheists suffer from what I call “paradigm-induced blindness,” as their worldview inhibits their ability to recognize the reality of God manifest in creation. These and other factors I discuss are among the various dimensions of sin’s corrupting influence on the mind.

I’ve been told that The Making of an Atheist is a provocative book, but I didn’t write it to provoke anyone. I simply wanted to tell the truth about this issue. Anyway, since the new atheists are bold enough to trumpet their claim that theists are delusional, it seems appropriate that someone should be willing to propose that the opposite is true. As they say, turnabout is fair play. [Emphasis mine.]

While it is true about what Freud said about belief, Harris, Dawkins, et al do not make the claim that belief in god is a psychological disorder. When they use the word ‘delusion’ it is taken to mean ‘erroneous belief’ and not ‘mental illness’ as Spiegel thinks. And Freud’s views in general (including this one) have largely been discredited. His importance is in kick-starting psychoanalysis, but his views have been supplanted by evidence-based ones.

According to the author (a professor of philsophy at a little-known university in Indiana with no expertise in psychiatry and doesn’t even rate an entry in Wikipedia…), we are nonbelievers because we have “daddy issues”. The evidence for god is plain to see, according to Spiegel. One can only hope he actually presents said evidence in the book (I certainly am not aware of any evidence which I would consider slam-dunk for the existence of god(s), or even equivocal evidence, for that matter…), but I have my doubts it will be more than the bare assertion given above.

And this “turnabout is fair play” thing – what is this, a playground? What an infantile comment to make. It’s like PeeWee Herman, an adult, saying “I know you are, but what am I?” The difference is PeeWee is supposed to sound infantile and absurd. That’s the joke.

Am I prejudging the book? Indeed. From what I read, Spiegel is one of those “But they know, really know, in their hearts that god is real” kind of people. However, I can not possibly see how this is knowledge, but belief. And belief, even if it is believed so much that it seems like knowledge, isn’t knowledge. We can only attach confidence to what we call knowledge as being knowledge when it is independently verified. Till then, you can call it anything you want, but it ain’t knowledge.

I can also tell you what I expect Spiegel to give us in order for me to agree with him. Spiegel is not an expert in psychiatry (far from it), and expertise does count for something so long as one does not go so far as to fall into the Argument from Authority fallacy. But it is correct to take what a lay person has to say on a subject for which they have no expertise with a big grain of salt (okay, a big bag of salt) as compared to someone who has spent their whole lives studying the subject. I expect to see controlled studies (and more than one) not only showing an association between psychological trauma and atheism over believers, but a causal effect. Without any of this, my predisposition will be totally justified and the book will be nothing more than Spiegel’s baseless opinion, an opinion specifically designed to shore up his own biases.

One argument that theists like to pull is that Dawkins isn’t knowledgeable enough on ‘sophisticated’ theology (as if there were such a thing) to be able to pronounce judgements on them. But that is just so much bullshit. Dawkins does what theologists should be doing – testing their own hypotheses! Besides, Dawkins says it right in the book they love to attach this criticism to – he is going after the typical sky-daddy view of god that the vast majority of people have. It would be a verbose book indeed if he went after every version of god, including the so-called ‘sophisticated’ ones. (For Terry Eagleton, it’s apparently so sophisticated that he doesn’t seem able to answer what to me would be a simple yes-or-no question: does he pray? Eagleton seems to have outwitted himself with his own ‘sophistication’…), and I’m sure he firmly believed he sounded so erudite and witty when he was nothing of the sort. Dawkins (and others, like Physicist Victor Stenger) are far more qualified to perform hypothesis testing than these perveyors of sophistry.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Soviets declared rejection of communism a psychological disorder and institutionalized people on this basis. I see little difference. Neither has evidence going for it that I can tell.

I do plan on getting a copy just for the entertainment value, but I have little in the way of expectations.

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22 Comments

  1. I saw that you mentioned this book in the little debate you were having (still having, apparently 🙂 over at urbanpastor, and I just happened to be at Borders this morning, so I looked for it. No luck. They didn’t have it. Nothing on my Kindle either. I did see that Spiegel has written a couple of other titles though–including one with the following title: Gum, Geckos, and God: A Family’s Adventures in Space, Time, and Faith. Ummmm, I think I’ll just wait till you finish it to tell me how it was.

    • It may be presumptuous of me, but I find it difficult to suspend judgement on the book before I get it, since the author has already summarized his text. However, should the author meet my criteria, I would indeed accept his hypothesis. Don’t hold your breath. I will endeavor to be fair, but that doesn’t mean I won’t treat the book harshly should it not meet my criteria. If he does have the requisite controlled studies to cite, I will eat my hat. Suffice it to say, I am not looking for the salt shaker just yet.

      That is not to say I take this as what Christians think atheism is all about. If I give that impression, I certainly do not mean to. Atheist and believers alike can be as asshatish, and so far my view of Spiegel is leaning very much to asshatish since he has given me enough info to make that call.

      Thanks for stopping by. Good comments don’t go unappreciated here.

  2. Though I regard myself as a highly inclusive Christian, my only real concern is whether someone else is ethical. I don’t care what they believe. I care what they do.

    I think the conflict between science and Christianity is an imagined one, hyped up to sell books or for some other vested interest. Orthodoxy doesn’t represent most followers of any religion.

    I enjoyed reading and thinking about your post.

    (I blogged about Darwin, forgiveness, and 3D movies lately.)

    • I completely respect that, thought I don’t agree that science and religion (let alone Christianity) are compatible. They are completely different ways of looking at the universe and to do one excludes being able to do the other. That there are scientists who are also religious doesn’t help much, since it is something very human to be able to hold two incompatible ideas simultaneously.

      I do indeed appreciate the comments and thanks for stopping by!

      • Speaking as a health care tech (all I work with are scientists) I’ve never found the two to be incompatible, because they are independent in scope of interest.

        How God works (and whether there is a God at all) is beyond empirical study. Faith (not religion, they are different) is something undertaken for the emotional comfort of a believer. It is just a way of hoping (not knowing) there is something bigger than we know in the universe.

        Mainstream Christians do not take the Bible literally, period. That’s only the province of Evangelicals, and in fact is only a phenomenon of about 150 years duration. Throughout most of the past two millennia, scripture was used as wisdom literature, as teaching stories if you will, rich in hidden meaning and symbolism and NEVER to be taken literally. My own particular church teaches scripture-tradition-reason as three vital aspects which must ALL be considered in the examination of questions IN A RELIGIOUS CONTEXT. Other contexts get examination by their own rules. That isn’t a matter of balancing two incompatibilities.

        Religion is ritualization as a means of faith practice. Science, at least in my life, is the practice of empirical, provable, replicable means to combat disease, injury and infection, and research in order to be able to create newer, more effective treatments.

        The two things aren’t even as close as apples and oranges. It’s more like apples and moon rocks. No overlap at all. (Thanks for the stimulating discussion.)

      • You know that religion and science-based medicine don’t cross, but tell that to someone who should know better, like Dr. Harold Koenig. He (an actual M.D.) thnks that medicine will eventually come down to “prayer and Prozac”. I’m serious. I’ve blogged about him elsewhere (and it’s dinner time, so I can’t find the link right now). It is truly scary.

        The point is, the two (science and religion) can’t be used simultaneously, and (being an atheist) don’t see any use for religion in viewing the universe.

  3. Am I prejudging the book?

    Kind of hard not to, with that introduction.

    Personally, life’s too short to waste time on stupid books, so you’re a better man than I for reading it. I wouldn’t be able to get past the dust jacket.

    I think the conflict between science and Christianity is an imagined one

    Funny. I actually agree. Christianity is what you do on the playground (swing back and forth, go up and down and round and round) while science is what we all do in real life. Unfortunately, there are so many people out there that want to keep playing on their playground, or worse yet, drag the damn playground into my work life.

    For example, try to tell the constituents of Dover School District (PA)that the conflict between science and religion is imaginary. After they got done paying $1M in attorneys fees, only to have religion rudely shoved back onto the playground, I suspect they would not agree with you.

  4. OOops. Forgot to check the notify box, to come back. 8)

    • Well, let’s see if I am actually able to stomach the arguments before judging whether I actually am better. It is not a forgone conclusion by any means. I can’t read anything by William Lane Craig without erupting into a tantrum at how studpid he can be and then throw the book into the garbage. I will certainly never read anything by Dinesh D’Souza, if his arguments are as bad as when he was demolished by Hitch. But I well endeavor to try!

  5. Thought you might like to bounce over to this blog for a while. Have fun! Oh, and try to read some of the previous postings and the corresponding comments–priceless!

    http://eternian.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/darwinists-atheists-hinder-science-again/

    • What’s that guy got against ‘Arminians’? I had never heard of them before. Never has anyone needed so much what he rails against. A lie on a psychiatrist’s couch could do this person good!

  6. I will start out this comment openly: I attended Taylor University and have taken a couple classes with Dr. Spiegel. I’m a fan of the guy.

    I even voted on what cover he should use for the book last year when he was writing it.

    However, I was still initially turned off to the idea of this book, like many of you were. I doubted that the premise would do little more than burn bridges between atheists and theists, destroying what little philosophical dialogue we have. (Not that the new atheists authors have built many brides of their own, but that is no excuse for anyone else to not be respectful.)

    However, one of my classmates recently explained to me the purpose of the book. And I think that his explanation served as a helpful correction to my reaction to the book.

    The intent of this book, I now believe, is not to provide a de facto argument against God. I highly doubt that the author will present case studies in order to “prove the falsity” of atheism.

    Rather, the purpose of this book seems to be to defend the rationality of Christian belief (de jure): stating that theism/Christianity, if true, works in a certain way, as explained by the Bible. It is an extension of Alvin Plantinga’s (a recently retired Notre Dame epistemology prof) Warranted Christian Belief. View the book as theology-colored epistemology, rather than an argument for or against the existence of God.

    That being said, I don’t think that this book will do anything but provoke those who don’t already believe in God; but the book wasn’t written for atheists anyway. I think that atheists should only read it if they want to fuel their irritation with theists or if they want to better understand the reformed-theological account of epistemology/belief/disbelief. Or, if you simply wanted to increase the sales of the book, I’m sure that would be welcomed as well.

    Of course, I haven’t read the book yet either. So I suppose it might surprise me, proving my ideas of it incorrect.

    Also, in defense of my school, Taylor University, although “a little-known university in Indiana,” has been ranked as the number one bacheloriate in the Midwest, according to US News and World Report, for something like the 5 year in a row. That’s more or less irrelevant, but I needed to say it somewhere.

    And in response to John Gault, you probably couldn’t find it at Borders because it wont be released until February. . .Although come February, I doubt that the book will appear in the stores, as Borders’ and Barnes and Noble’s philosophy sections are quite sparse.

    • Are we talking about the same book? There is nothing in Spiegel’s own commentary about this book being a work of apologetics. The central thesis (not only in his commentary, but what is actually in the book exerpt that can be read at amazon.com) is an infantile and pathetic attack on atheists, and he does nothing to counter the points made by the likes of Harris (Spiegel gets it wrong – the book which is considered the first shot by the so-called New Atheists is The End of Faith (which strangely does not get mentioned, even though he does mention Letters to a Christian Nation) and not Dawkin’s The God Delusion).

      Whether or not the book was written to be read by atheists is completely irrelevant. I don’t care if Spiegel’s intentions were that it was to be read by Martians. Central to his book is a claim that I believe he can’t back up – that atheism is a psychological disorder. None of what he has written is at all backed up by empirical data so far as I can see, something which is central to making claims such as this. In short, from the sophistry-laden excerpt of his book and from what he wrote on his website, it is clear that Spiegel is stuck in straw man atheism and atheist stereotypes. The idea that I as an atheist should ignore the blatant propogation of bias confirming bullshit just because it isn’t for atheist consumption is nonsense. What Pat Robertson said about Haiti was for Christian consumption, too. Should I let Pat know what a vile and heartless asshat he is, or give tacit consent by ignoring it?

      The book is an exercise in deflection from the fact that he has little to offer in rebuttal to reasoned arguments against god claims, and all he does is try to label them as irrational without showing that they are in order to slither out of his burden of proof. I doubt the book will even give us the evidence he thinks is a slam-dunk for the existence of a god, only assert that said evidence exists. That is just so much hubris.

  7. In case you missed it on the Tag Surfer, this post just went up, entitled “The Atheist Lie”.

    http://davebunnell.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/the-atheists-lie/

  8. Me? Pushing buttons? Perish the thought. 🙂 I just like it when you show up to comment on the same blogs I do because you inevitably make me look like the “good cop”. 🙂

  9. After asking Dr. Spiegel whether 1) his book included arguments for God and 2) whether the book was intended to expound on Plantinga’s de jure question (whether Christianity is rational/if it is true, how it works/i.e., what I suggested in my post), he responded by saing,

    “While I do include a general review of three major categories of evidence for God (the ones that prompted Antony Flew’s conversion to theism) the book is more a moral-psychological account of atheism and doesn’t deal with either the de jure or de facto issue per se, though it certainly is inspired by Plantinga”

    So I guess I was wrong in my understanding of the book, both in regards to whether he would at all address arguments for God and whether or not the book focused on the de jure question.

    You were write, Shamelessly Atheist. I was wrong. My bad.

    • S’okay. I’ve been known to be wrong as well. I will prepare myself for the feelings of righteous indignation that I am sure will come with reading it. If his book does not meet the criteria that I have given for being convinced that I am ‘damaged goods’ (and I fully expect this), expect my review to be scathing.

      The word ‘scathing’ is a euphemism.


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