Thank you for taking the time to read my latest response to a group of Christians’ rebuttal to the New Atheism. This review takes an in depth look at each essay in the book True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism, edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, with contributions from William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, Matthew Flannagan, and Chuck Edwards, and others (Patheos Press, 2012).
Over the last seven years I have written a total of nine complete responses to books replying to atheistic arguments, or seeking to provide evidence for Christianity. This will be my tenth. Other books I’ve reviewed include God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists: Proof that the Atheist Doesn’t Exist, by Ray Comfort; The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity, by David Marshall (coincidentally a co-author of the present book I’m reviewing); The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, by David Aikman; and The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, by Theodore Beale (also known as Vox Day).
I began reading and reviewing books all those years ago as one of the means by which I sought out the truth about god, Christianity, superstition, and the truth claims of religion. I wanted to see how well the opposition argued their case and if I found their arguments convincing. As I finished with each review I found an abundance of logical fallacies, factual errors, misquotes, and quotes taken out of context. I kept reading more books by Christian apologists in the hope that someone might challenge my emerging disbelief, but none succeeded. After careful review each and every book was riddled with the aforementioned problems. This book is no exception. Despite the many glowing reviews (as of this writing the book has a majority of positive reviews on the website Amazon.com), and despite the continuous pronouncements to the contrary, the New Atheists come out on top and their Christian opponents flounder once again.
Chapter 1: The Party of Reason, by Tom Gilson
Update: June 18, 2014: After doing some thinking about the recent debate with Mr. Gilson I’ve come to suspect that Mr. Gilson was not forthcoming with his real intentions in the section I critiqued of the first chapter of True Reason. In his reply to me he claimed that his intentions in the first chapter were to argue that Richard Dawkins attempted to respond to design arguments in their entirety, and that his argument was not limited to biological evolution. He also claimed that Dawkins’ intentions, based upon this argument, were to claim that god does not exist. However, this is not at all apparent from Mr. Gilson’s chapter. In fact, he says nothing in the section I critiqued about god. Nothing. And after the discussion I looked over the chapter once more and noticed something interesting, which makes me believe that Gilson was in fact making the argument I originally subscribed to him. In his chapter in True Reason he writes,
I picked up the book [The Blind Watchmaker] because of its subtitle: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. I had no idea how he – or anyone – could make a case for that, but I had heard good things about Dawkins as an author, and I was rather hoping he could bring it off. I was looking for a serious challenge, and if he had a way to disprove design in the universe, I wanted to test my mettle against it.
Dawkins’ skill as an author is plainly evident in this book. Although in places his reasoning seems quite a stretch – he tries, for example, to illustrate evolution’s unintelligent capacities by drawing an analogy to an intelligently designed computer program – still he makes a passionate and fascinating case for evolution.
But it was his argument against design I was looking for, and although he touched on it here and there, he never really landed on it until the end of the last chapter: Evolution, he says, makes God superflavous, thus there is no design in the universe. That’s his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design in the universe, therefore it came about without design.
Did I mention that I was disappointed? I practically sputtered out loud, “Dawkins you rascal, you’ve led me on for three hundred pages with a promise of an argument against design – and this is all you’ve got? What a let down!
Later on the eminent philosopher Alvin Plantiga would offer his own wry assessment of the book. At best, he said, its argument wold show, “given a couple of assumptions,”
that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design.
But the argument form
p is not astronomically improbable
is a bit unprepossessing. I announce to my wife, “I’m getting a $50,000 raise next year!” Naturally she asks me why I think so. “Because the arguments against its being astronomically improbable fail! For all we know, its not astronomically improbable!” (Well, maybe it is pretty improbable, but you get the idea.)
This then was my introduction to what was to become to New Atheism. (2-3)
The relevant quote is this: ”Evolution, he says, makes God superflavous, thus there is no design in the universe. That’s his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design in the universe, therefore it came about without design.”
Here, he clearly is referring to the topic of discussion in The Blind Watchmaker, so why did he argue Dawkins was trying to rebut all forms of the design argument, rather than just biological design? And where did the argument against god come in? As I told him in our discussion, he said absolutely nothing about arguments against god. So, you be the judge. It appears in the chapter that Mr. Gilson did understand the point of Dawkins’ book – that he was arguing against biological evolution only – but he seems to make a completely different argument in my discussions with him.
My suspicious are further heightened since this is not the first time I have come across such shenanigans by a Christian apologist.
Either way, each of the arguments he brought against the book in our discussion were just as poor as the one in his chapter, so ultimately I suppose it does not matter, but on the other hand, it would be nice to meet a Christian apologist who doesn’t distort his own arguments just so he doesn’t have to admit error (assuming, of course, that is was happened).
Update: June 11, 2014: After receiving some comments by the author Tom Gilson, it has come to my attention that I misinterpreted his argument addressing Richard Dawkins’ book The Blind Watchmaker. As you can read below, Gilson cited the subtitle to the book, “…Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design,” and argues that Dawkins did not successfully respond to the argument from design. Having read the book in the past I knew it was about debunking the argument for biological design, and I had assumed, with his having read the book, that Gilson was aware of this. So, when he writes in his chapter in True Reason that Dawkins did not successfully address the design argument I assumed he was referring to biological design, and not design in general. But, as Gilson makes clear in his reply to me, he believes Dawkins’ book was supposed to be about rebutting the argument from design, in all its forms, apparently, thus disproving the existence of god. Due to the poor wording of his chapter this was where the confusion on my part came in but now I see what Gilson was arguing. Unfortunately, this fact does not help his case since his entire argument is based upon a strawman. Dawkins’ book addressed the issue of biological design only and Gilson had no effective response to it. You can read my amended arguments and response to Tom here.
This first chapter is more of an introduction of sorts. Tom Gilson introduces the reader to True Reason’s main thesis: “Reason is the New Atheists’ weakness, not their strength. Their books, articles, and debates are riddled with fallacy, appeals to emotion, and mishandling of evidence. Their claim to reason is often much more a matter of public relations than competence in reasoned discourse.” (1) Gilson states up front the main argument of the book: “the New Atheists’ ownership claim on the brand of reason is an empty one. They don’t practice it at all well, and in fact as we shall see, reason fits poorly within their presumptions and presuppositions. Reason rightly belongs to God and to the Way of Christ.” (7)
My head is spinning reading these words. I cannot count how many times I’ve found Christian apologetics literature to be full of historical inaccuracies, factual errors, strawman fallacies, and horrible reasoning. Despite this, I have always had an open mind and am always on the look out for new books and new arguments that have the potential to change my mind.
Gilson says he read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker because he was “looking for a serious challenge” against the common argument from design. After finishing the book he writes how he was “disappointed” because Dawkins did not directly address why nature is not designed. “That’s his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design, therefore it came about without design,” a let down Gilson writes. (2)
I’m greatly puzzled by Gilson’s statement. The book is Dawkins’ attempt to respond to Creationists (and by extension Intelligent Design proponents) who argue that there is no possible way natural processes could have crafted such elegant features (therefore the Christian god must be responsible). He responded to them by showing them how. Gilson quotes Alvin Plantinga who ridicules Dawkins’ conclusion,
At best, he said its argument would show, “given a couple of assumptions,”
that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design.
But the argument form;
p is not astronomically improbable;
is a bit unprepossessing. I announce to my wife, “I’m getting a $50,000 raise for next year!” Naturally she asks me why I think so. “Because the arguments against its being astronomically improbable fail! For all we know, it’s not astronomically improbable!” (2-3)
I’m perplexed. How else might Dawkins rebut the claims of Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates who argue that some feature of evolution could not possibly have occurred naturally, than to demonstrate how life evolved via natural means? Are they perhaps arguing that god-guided evolution is one possibility that counts against Dawkins’ assertive conclusion that no Creator is responsible for the apparent design in nature? If so, this is highly illogical reasoning because it is up to the theist to reasonably prove their god exists. By creating a non-falsifiable argument by stating that their god is responsible for evolution gets them nowhere. There isn’t any way to reasonably disprove such a hypothesis. All Dawkins must do is cast serious doubt upon the argument and he succeeded in doing that. As a matter of fact, Dawkins made the same point in The Blind Watchmaker:
Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. […] But many theologians who call themselves evolutionists […] smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him some sort of supervisory role over the course that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course, human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change.
We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his intervention always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main things we want to explain, namely organized complexity. 
Did Gilson read the book in its entirety? Dawkins responded to his criticism in the book, but it appears he did not read it. He certainly had no response to it, only ridicule.
But, perhaps I’m being hasty. Perhaps Gilson did read this response, but felt that Dawkins’ ‘God is too complex’ argument missed the point because Gilson believes that god is a simple entity and is eternal. In that case, I would point out the fact that natural selection is known to exist. There is tangible evidence for it. There is not any such evidence for the Christian god. I would put my money on the explanation that actually has some evidence backing it up. Therefore, god is most likely not responsible for evolution.
The rest of the chapter provides a brief outline of the subjects discussed in the following chapters.
Be sure to stay tuned in for Chapter 2…
1. The Blind Watchmaker: Why The Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, by Richard Dawkins, W.W. Norton & Co., 1996; 451