Review of David McAfee’s Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings – A Sample

In anticipation of the forthcoming publication of David McAfee’s 2nd Edition of Disproving God and Other Secular Writings coupled with my full book length review of it, I thought I would here post the preface to the second edition of my review. Something to whet the appetite I hope:

What follows is a revision of my original review of David’s first edition of Disproving Christianity, Refuting the World’s Most Followed Religion which has now been updated and republished by Dangerous Little Books under the new title Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings. For those of you who may be reading this and thinking that I am simply hounding him, rest assured that this is an agreed upon project by David and myself. In anticipation of a book that we are working on together that will be a dialogue on various issues regarding both Atheistic Naturalism and Christian Theism, we agreed that it would be beneficial to release an updated version of his second edition bundled with my book length review. David and I have a very cordial relationship with each other and often hold public discussion on various internet threads – especially in his Facebook group. I noticed upon reviewing his second edition that David did seem to take some of my original critiques to heart (though not nearly as much or to the degree as one would hope) and he did adjust his tone, phrasing, or arguments to be more accurate on several points.

For those tempted to think that this is only a response by some religious fanatic who cannot stand the thought of their worldview being challenged, I would like to point out that I am not the only critic of McAfee’s work. My good friend, and atheist, Nicholas Bruzzese has also been quite vocal in his criticisms of the book.[1] Nicholas is the host of the Skeptics Testament Podcast and not a Christian by any means. As we will see in this review, the kind of extremely simplistic and all too frequently shallow interaction with the weakest brand of Christianity one can muster is precisely the kind of arguments that Nicholas dedicates so much of his time to removing from the his fellow skeptics.[2]

This next section may seem tangential, but it will lead somewhere good. McAfee’s book, Wikipedia page and his Facebook group page all remind me of a strangely oblivious comment that Richard Dawkins made in the preface to the second edition of The God Delusion where he writes this of the reviews that the first edition received,

It was warmly well received by the great majority of those who sent in their personal reviews to Amazon… Approval was less overwhelming in the printed reviews however. A cynic might put this down to an unimaginable reflex of reviews editors: It has ‘God’ in the title, so send it to a known faith head. That would be too cynical, however. Several unfavorable reviews began with the phrase, which I long ago learned to treat as ominous, ‘I am an atheist BUT…’ As Daniel Dennett noted in Breaking the Spell, a bafflingly large number of intellectuals ‘believe in belief’ even though they lack religious belief themselves. These vicarious second-order believers are often more zealous than the real thing, their zeal pumped up by integrating broad-mindedness: ‘Alas, I can’t share your faith but I respect and sympathize with it. (Dawkins, The God Delusion 2nd edition, p.13.)

What Dawkins seems almost keen to side step is just admitting that while all the non-experts ate it up, most scholars did not (his statement that it was “less overwhelming” is an understatement.) Not to mention that if you read some of the most critical reviews, those by Christians notwithstanding, they were nothing like “second order believers” who were saying anything about some zealous broad-mindedness or even respect for belief. Atheist and philosopher of science Michael Ruse at Florida State University for example wrote a blistering review of Dawkins’ book[3], and several articles about Dawkins’ zealotry thereafter.[4] For one to call Ruse a “second order believer” or even that he is more zealous than the real thing is just bizarre because it is so demonstrably not true. In fact most of Ruse’s critique of Dawkins had to do with his sheer ignorance of the subject he is writing on. Ruse writes, “For a start, Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science)… Dawkins misunderstands the place of the proofs, but this is nothing to his treatment of the proofs themselves. This is a man truly out of his depth.” Is it surprising then that Dawkins receives such poor reviews from scholars for a book in which he cites G.A. Wells as a “Professor [at] the University of London” in order to show that there might be a case against Jesus even existing, without mentioning that Wells is a professor of German with no credentials in either history or the New Testament?

What this all amounts to, it seems to me, is that Dawkins chooses to allow the roar of the crowd (and possibly the checks in the bank) to drown out academic study. Can Dawkins really not see that the problem is not in the critics but in his content? The actor has begun to think that he actually is King Lear. Rather than seeing the reviews for what they were, the pomp of success that comes from people clamoring for any scholar to say something that they can quote mine to support their position regardless of how well researched or rational – so long as it comes as a witty zing from the end of a forked tongue. Could Dawkins really not imagine that anyone could bring a genuine charge against his book?[5]

Here we may find a kissing cousin of what we have just undertaken in reviewing McAfee’s book. McAfee, while he may be quite rational and well researched on other topics, seems wholly incapable of giving a fair or honest reading of anything in or about the Bible, Christianity, or theism in general. His anti-theistic fundamentalism seems to cloud any ability at what may otherwise be quite a rational mind – though this is merely conjecture since I have never read any other of his works. What we find repeatedly in this book are unsupported assumptions, unnecessary woodenly literal interpretation, misrepresentations or misunderstandings of the Bible and Christian doctrine or practice, verses or passages ripped from their various contexts and treated as if they stood alone, an utter lack of research into Christian theology, Biblical theology, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, or even basic Christian responses, as well as a kind of juvenile retelling of very antiquated and long disproven arguments against God. Mix in numerous conflations that ignore many real nuances between various Christian beliefs, denominations, theological systems, etc. or in creating false dichotomies between them, and McAfee has made a real mess for himself to defend. When one thinks that arguments like “what caused God” or “can God make a rock so heavy that even he can’t lift” are actually good or valid, it is obvious that very little has occurred in the way of study or investigation or in the gray matter between the ears on that topic. We also find that McAfee’s own assertions have clearly gone unexamined or even allowed to be scrutinized prior to publication, and it is as if he was either unaware or totally unwilling to deal with the devastating critiques of scholars much more able than I am, who have throughout the centuries responded to these very objections.

Upon completing this book I am reminded of the saying, “if they had better arguments, they would have used them.” Here, if McAfee had better arguments against Christianity he would have used them. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the Christian, this was his A-team, his MVP’s, his hit list – and he even tried to let what he thought were his best hitters to take more than one crack at the plate. But they all failed. So the point still stands: If he had better arguments, he would have used them.

Having spent several years now in David’s company and as a member of his group, frequently entering into discussions on threads, I have noticed the direct relation to the increase in the roar of his fans to the decrease in the reason of his arguments. Graphic after graphic, post after post, his threads ooze with self-assured wit and disdainful mockery all brimming over with appeals to emotion to cover over the vapidity of the reasoning behind them. And yet David seems a little more than just interested in religious affairs. “Obsession” might be a touch strong but gets close. Post after post is an image of a screen shot of some conversation he might have had with a religious person (often a terrible example of one) in which he then makes some pithy snide remark to the effect of “look how stupid religious people are,” without realizing that he has not shown why the comment is wrong, only assumes we all should get the joke, but also that 9 times out of 10 it is just the kind of crazy aunt most religious people would rather leave locked in the attic or having nothing to do with anyway. Would it be fair or honest of me to take some random hate mail I get from a bat-crap crazy atheist about how all theists should be arrested and shot (yes, I get that more often than one might think) and say “Look how backwards and bigoted you atheists are”? As if that person’s atheism even comes close to being an adequate representation of the group? One is often reminded of the school boy with the crush who cannot express his love any other way than to pull the young girl’s hair. He posts several posts a day, all about religion – more so than most of my religious friends… combined.

While I will not shy away from calling a spade a spade and plan on pulling no punches, it is also my hope that this review will be even-handed and honest, even though it will also be highly critical of the style, content, lack of research, and overall shallow nature of David’s critiques of Christianity. There will be times where I will be quite severe with what seem to be really juvenile and shallow misrepresentations that seem to verge on willful distortion but I would like to preface this entire review by stating that I do not intend any of this to be a slight against David’s person. I know him personally and my comments are not meant to insinuate that he is unintelligent, vindictive or immoral. Only that his book is so poorly researched and argued that it is hard to imagine why so many people have given it such critical acclaim. To pilfer a great quote by Chaim Potok, if our arguments cannot go out into the world of scholarship and come back stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I believe that what I am about to present in this review will come back stronger. I am not afraid of truth.[6] Unfortunately for him, I think that David’s arguments will all come back tattered and torn and only a pale shadow of his original intentions for them after being subjected to even a modicum of the rigors of academic scrutiny.

 


[1] The Skeptics Testament Podcast Episode 24 (episode 1:24) – 35min35sec.

[2] I highly recommend Nicholas’ talk to The Vics Skeptics which he subsequently aired on The Skeptic Testament Podcast, Episode 38 (episode 3:1).

[3] Ruse, Michael. “Book Review: Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion.” Isis, Dec.2007. 98(4), pp814-816.

[4] Thomas Nagel, an atheist philosopher at NYU also wrote a blistering critique of Dawkins in The New Republic entitled “The Fear of Religion.” Another good article not directly geared toward The God Delusion but about the kind of atheism it represents, is agnostic scientist Stephen Jay Gould’s article in the New York Review of Books entitled “Darwinian Fundamentalism.” In addition to these I have compiled a list of online articles by prominent philosophers and scientists of all worldviews who have heavily critiqued Dawkins work: http://logical-theism.blogspot.com/2011/08/critics-of-dawkins-unite.html

[5] There is a funny story which Dawkins tells, wholly unaware how foolish it makes himself look. He recalls: “I’ve forgotten the details, but I once piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong.” (The God Delusion, 1st ed. – a comment that it looks like he has conveniently left out of the 2nd edition since I did not find it repeated there, but the cat is still out of the bag.) What Dawkins fails to realize is that the ontological argument is itself an exercise in modal logic. They used modal logic to refute him because his argument was the barefaced twisting of modal logic! It would be like trying to use physics to prove square-circles then make fun of the people who showed you why physics does not do such a thing.

[6] The original quote is from Potok’s pièce de résistance In The Beginning and reads, “Lurie, If the Torah cannot go out into your world of scholarship and return stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I have faith in the Torah. I am not afraid of truth.”

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Tyler Vela

Tyler studied Philosophy and English at Sonoma State University and Biblical/Theological Studies at Moody Bible Institute. He is currently enrolled for my M.A.R. at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Tyler is also the host of The Freed Thinker Podcast and has appeared on several atheistic podcasts such as The Imaginary Friends Show Podcast and The Skeptics Testament.