ABSTRACT. Like Ravi Zacharias, James S. Spiegel wrote a book. Good for him, too. Like Zacharias’s book, Spiegel’s (The Making of an Atheist , subtitled “How immorality leads to unbelief”) it is filled with the same flawed cosmological and moral arguments that all of us atheists have seen. But he makes the claim (and it’s an old one, too) that atheists are led to their unbelief through bad relationships with their fathers. In essence, we atheists all have “daddy issuess”. This causes us, so he claims, to reject father figures. But there are massive flaws in this argument. His sole evidence is a list subjectively characterizing the relationship of selected atheist thinkers with their fathers. Spiegel makes not even a pretense of providing us with a control group (e.g., believers and their relationships with their fathers). It is an ad hoc argument all the way. Additionally, it is one thing to reject a god that we believe exists because we had bad fathers. It is quite another to reject the claim of a god’s existence on the same basis. I don’t think Nietzshe rejected the existence of his father just because they didn’t get along. Supposedly, Spiegel is a philosopher. (It should come as no surprise that Taylor U is a evangelical Christian institution…) Maybe he is, but not in this book. For those looking for a philosophical and not a Christian apologetic book on why there are atheists, look elsewhere. Spiegel has definitely taken off his philosopher’s hat for this one, if indeed he even owns one. What Spiegel is really trying to do, it seems to this atheist, is to avoid addressing the shortcomings of his Christian theology by slandering us atheists as being psychologically damaged. It is pure ad hominem and in this way can convince himself that he has no need to respond to those of us who see no justification to his god claim. He claims that atheists are sufferring from “paradigm-induced blindness”, yet fails to see that this argument cuts both ways. Claiming atheists are damaged goods and glossing it over with a bunch of psychobabble is nothing short of Christian bigotry.
In some ways, the gay community is far more advanced in promoting itself than the atheist one. We atheists are less likely to be voted into political office or desired as a spouse for one’s children. At one time homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder. If Spiegel had his way, it would still be so for atheists. And that, my friends, makes this man a bigot.
Spiegel starts his book off rather well, though I disagree with just about everything he says. Certainly, he is a much better writer than Zacharias, who claimed in his book The End of Reason, that his early atheism was solely responsible for a suicide attempt. Whatever, Ravi. But after the introductory chapter, the book goes rapidly downhill. I’m only going to touch on the major points herein, as I don’t think Spiegel’s book is worth even a cursory amount of analysis. Spiegel claims to be a philosopher, but doesn’t seem to know that there are two major types of naturalists: methodological and metaphysical. It is clear that he is talking about the latter in this book, of which I do count myself a member. He also doesn’t think much of positivism. Of course, it is positivism which drives Science, and for good reason. Claiming something to be true in the absence of evidence is unscientific, a conclusion of Science itself. A lack of positivism allows all sorts of nonsense to pop up: conspiracy theories, homeopathy, anti-vaccination insanity, and so on. Of course, Spiegel must pooh-pooh positivism in order to hold onto his own unsubstantiated beliefs, but it all rings hollow. If positivism is wrong, then we must believe in all manner of beliefs, even contradictory ones. This is irrational.
Spiegel claims that atheism is irrational because all of the evidence points to a god. Poppycock. His evidence amounts to cosmological apologetic arguments like the fine-tuning argument and cosmic origins. Flawed arguments are not evidence. Like Zacharias, he thinks the universe began as a singularity. Too bad quantum mechanics tells us this is an impossibility. Spiegel describes the Big Bang as matter exploding. That’s right- he actually says this nonsense (pg. 44):
Astrophysicists tell us that about 15 billion years ago – give or take a few billion years – [Spiegel can’t be bothered to fact check that it’s actually 13.7 bya] all of the matter in the universe was condensed into a single, infinitesimal point. Then BOOM (or bang, no one is quite sure which), the matter exploded at roughly the speed of light, and the universe has been expanding ever since. The Big Bang theory essentially confirms the biblical idea that there was a beginning to space and time.
The bible talks about space and time? Much more convincing would be that the bible gave us the equations for that moment, as unintelligeable that would be to its authors. That there are superficial similarities that can map onto what we know of the universe from Science is hardly a confirmation. And because the universe could not have started out as a singularity, the point at which space expanded (not “matter exploding” – yeesh!) is not t=0.
I’ve already dealt with the “fine-tuning” nonsense in my review of Zacharias’s book. But at least Spiegel has heard of multiverse hypotheses. Spiegel is correct – these are largely suppositions. But there has been recent confirmation of predictions made by Smolin Selection Theory, so it is not without merit. Nor do multiverse hypotheses contradict known Physics, whereas gods certainly do.
Spiegel goes on to criticize abiogenesis (he doesn’t seem to be aware of the word, but what he’s describing is clear that), citing the odds of life forming from non-life (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were the culprits cited) to be 1 in 1040,000. What Spiegel doesn’t tell you is that the calculation is for a random set of what Hoyle thought to be the minimal number of enzymes for the simplest cell. But Hoyle is out to lunch. No one is suggesting that life randomly formed, except those (like Hoyle) who try to mischaracterize abiogenesis. The earliest cells would have been lipid bilayer membranes containing a self-replicating RNA molecule. For instance, the work of Jack Szostak shows how life can come from non-life in a very plausible way, and is tantelizingly close to creating protolife in a way which can most certainly have occurred naturally. After that, natural selection kicks in and nothing is truly random anymore. Too late for Spiegel, I make this impassioned plea to budding Christian apologist authors: LEARN SOME FUCKING SCIENCE BEFORE YOU SPEAK ON THESE MATTERS!!!!
According to Spiegel, atheists have no basis on which their morality can rest. He claims that our morals ride on the coattails of what his god has given us. At least he’s smart enough to know that if that were not so he would have to explain why it seems that atheists are just as moral as believers. But that is where my respect ends and my questioning of his intellectual credentials begins. I’ll cut him some slack and agree that the Argument from Evil is not a good argument against the existence of gods. But he doesn’t seem to understand that that is not what the argument shows. It is lethal against the claim for the existence a benevolent god. Where I have a real problem with his intelect is when he says this:
…naturalists have no basis on which to call anything evil.
If we take out the religious terminology that I find distasteful, what he is saying is that atheists do not have any basis on which to determine right from wrong, which is patently absurd. I asked my wife last evening how she did it, just to see if it jibed with mine. It most certainly did. We apply labels to actions which are judgements based on whether the action harms or benefits others. It’s as simple as that, and I find it very difficult to believe that this is outside of the grasp of any philosopher. Spiegel claims that only Christianity can show us the way in how we live:
There is also the related problem of moral complacency. Christians – or those of us who so name ourselves [the “no True Scottsman” fallacy…] – do not practice self-denial as our Lord taught us to. We are often greedy and stingy (only 6 percent of Christians tithe), slothful (how much television do we watch?), gluttonous (obesity is as much a problem in the church as outside it; and whatever happened to fasting as a basic spiritual discipline?), and lustful (the divorce rate among Christians is comparable to that of unbelievers, and pornography addiction is a problem in the church too).
The belief that we can not arrive at some of these values through secular means is silly. Obesity is a health problem and eating a balanced diet with exercise (hence slothfulness is undesirable secularly as well) is good for our health. We feel better when we are healthy, do we not? So why would atheists not value this? I just don’t understand how Spiegel can be so obtuse! Worse is the subtitle of the book (How immorality leads to unbelief) looks in light of this. If Christians are just as bad as unbelievers, Spiegel has no answer to the question of why we need unbelief to begin with. His ideas are very confused and ill formed. If these barely philosophical arguments are the best evidence (none of it empirical, by the way) that he can provide, I am justifiably unimpressed.
One of the most hypocritical parts of the book is where Spiegel has no problem saying that the parts of his faith that are incomprehensible – “His eternality, transcendence, and omnipresence” [what about the Trinity?] – are explained away as “mysteries”, yet he admonishes naturalists for not having an evidence-supported theory of cosmic origins? It is at this point that I start to get pissed off. This is just fucking hypocritical.
But I ain’t really mad till I get to his explanation of how obviously intelligent people don’t accept what he thinks are unassailable arguments for the existence of his god. No, it can’t be that he’s wrong. No way. So, what does he do? He faults our collective psyche. Spiegel gives us a long list of atheist philosophers and their character flaws, what characterized how their relationship with their fathers was. Great. What controls are used here? None. Spiegel is being incredibly intellectually dishonest here. He is giving the impression that all atheists share the same qualities with a few cherry-picked data points and the implication is that those who believe have great relationships with their fathers.
I call BULLSHIT! In a previous post, I stated what the book would need to contain in order for me to agree with this stance. Not only has this not been met (there are no controlled studies, no statistics- just a list from which his conclusions are not supported!), it’s much wose than I feared. For someone that claims to dislike ad hoc arguments, the central theme of his book is purely ad hoc! I thus categorically reject his claim as to the source of atheism.
The argument is itself flawed. If I were to reject a god that I actually believed existed, Spiegel might have a point (even if he didn’t do his scholarship well). As the Abrahamic god is described in the bible, I believe I could fully justify that such a god is not worthy of my worship if it were to actually exist. But no one denies the existence of their fathers just because they didn’t get along with them. Spiegel’s thesis fails utterly to explain this. Indeed, he does not seem to have considered this at all. I do not need reject the claim of a god’s existence because I reject father figures. I am still free to reject father figures while acknowledging their existence. If there were evidence that unequivocally demonstrated the existence of a god, whther that god was worthy of my worship would be a separate question entirely, and one that Spiegel does not address at all. I would certainly not worship a god that was as truly vile as the one described in the bible (if it existed), and I fully believe that I can justify that. The standard apologetic arguments are deeply flawed and there is no empirical evidence which demonstrates its existence at all. Thus, it is belief in a god (or in anything, for that matter) which is irrational, not disbelief. Spiegel fails spectacularly. The only conclusion that I can come to is that Spiegel needs a way to discredit those who see the problems and point them out, because that’s all he has left to hold his world view together. In this way, his arguments must then be true by fiat, since he does not then need to respond to them. Or so he seems to think.
The rest of the book is psychobabble and since the underlying thesis has been thoroughly refuted, is of no consequence. Does he provide statistics on atheists versus Christians on family relations? No. Just a self-serving list with his characterization (hardly an objective measure) of their relationship with their pater familias. Does he base his conclusions on peer-reviewed studies? No. Spiegel’s whole argument rests solely on subjective characterization of selected atheist thinkers. His data is cherry picked without even the merest pretense at providing a control group for comparison. Without that, no conclusions can even be validly drawn to begin with! Why would I be convinced of the truth of his arguments when I can quite clearly see this would never pass peer review? Those who already hold beliefs similar to Spiegel’s are the only ones that will be convinced. But Spiegel does a disservice to these people. In espousing his delusion that atheists don’t share this belief, he gives others that have wondered why atheists don’t believe a poor explanation and thus entrench their misunderstanding of atheists and atheism. They now have an excuse to not examing their own understanding of why atheists are such. And what does his arguments say about those of faith but not of Christianity? Perhaps they have “mommy issues”?
You’re arguments are dismissed, Spiegel.