What do I think of James Lindsay’s book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Remember the old days when Peter Boghossian was heavily pushing the idea of street epistemology? Good times. Good times. Well now his main fan James Lindsay has decided to follow in his footsteps. Lindsay’s book even has a foreword by Boghossian as well (And I did review Boghossian’s book here.). Unfortunately, Lindsay’s book falls drastically short of Boghossian’s, which is saying a lot since Boghossian’s was a train wreck to begin with.
Lindsay’s main idea is that everyone is wrong about God because we’re talking as if theism even makes any sense whatsoever and that we know what we’re talking about when we talk about God. Of course, one would expect at this point to see interaction with sophisticated systematic theologies such as those in the past of people like Augustine and Aquinas, or even today people like Erickson or Grudem or McGrath. If you are expecting that, you are going to be disappointed. Actually, if you’re expecting any engagement with contrary opinion, you are going to be disappointed.
The laugh riots really begin on page 17. What we are told there is that the New Atheists succeeded in their quest. It defeated theism at the level of ideas and destroyed the taboo of atheism. At this, we can see that James Lindsay is in fact the Baghdad Bob of atheism. The new atheists can’t hold a candle to the old atheists of the past. All we got from the new atheists was a rant largely about topics they did not understand, much like people who critique evolution without bothering to read the best works in science.
Of course, in all of this, don’t expect Lindsay to do anything like, you know, actually interact with the arguments for theism. If you expect to see the ways of Thomas Aquinas interacted with or a refutation of Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument or a response to the twenty ways listed in Kreeft and Tacelli, you will be disappointed. For new atheists, it’s enough to declare victory and then stand up and have the celebration.
From this point on, rather than actually engage in arguments and evidence, which like many atheists I encounter Lindsay doesn’t seem to care for, it’s best to jump straight to psychology. Why do we believe in something that’s so utterly obviously false? (A step forward I suppose. Boghossian wanted us to be listed as having a mental illness.) The problem here is you can psychologize anything. We could come up with psychological reasons for atheism, and they could apply to some people, but that does not refute atheism any more than psychological reasons for theism refutes theism.
Well let’s try to find some interesting parts and see what can be said about them.
On p. 60, we are told that many theologians and apologists will argue that theism has evidence, but that is false. There is a note here and one would expect to see some reply to some arguments or perhaps at least a book dealing with these arguments. Well, one would expect that were we dealing with a real sophisticated argument for a position. Considering we’re dealing with a fan of Boghossian, we’re not surprised to find another assertion.
Lindsay’s main argument is that we might have some arguments for theism and even if we did succeed at that, how do we get to what religion is true? Yes. You read it. That’s his argument.
Of course, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Avicenna would have all used the same arguments for general theism. That’s because theism itself is a metaphysical and philosophical claim so metaphysics and philosophy work there. First point to establish is that if theism is established, then atheism is false. Even if we could go no further, we would still have refuted atheism.
Second point is that Lindsay’s argument is just weak. Maimonides, Avicenna, and Aquinas could all then point to historical reasons for their faiths since all of them claim that events happened in history. I as a Christian would face my “All but impossible” task, in Lindsay’s words, by pointing to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. A Muslim could point to why he thinks the Koran is the Word of God and a Jew could point to the Torah while showing problems with the New Testament. It could be that any of the arguments would work, but it shows that it is not all but impossible.
Again, if we were dealing with a real case, we would see some interaction. We are not, so we do not. High schoolers just starting apologetics study could have answered the question of Lindsay.
On p. 70, Lindsay says we have a right to shoot bull wherever we see it. Indeed we do. I make it a habit of doing such and I make it a point to shoot it down from atheists as well as theists. That’s one reason I’m doing this review. There’s a whole lot to shoot at.
On the very next page, he writes about a debate Sean Carroll had with William Lane Craig. This is a debate that I really didn’t care for. For one thing, as a non-scientist, I suspect most people in the audience spent a lot of time during the debate saying “What the heck are they talking about?” Lindsay is convinced Carroll won. Maybe he did. For Lindsay, this is a huge victory.
Well, let’s go to another debate. This is the one that took place between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew. In fact, someone with an interesting opinion on that was James Lindsay himself. What does he say?
“I also won’t comment about winners because I think the idea of winning a conversation is stupid to the point of being embarrassing for people that we make a sport of it.”
Well Unbelievable? is a debate show with a moderator so apparently, it’s stupid when we talk about a victory on Unbelievable? It’s not when we talk about it between Carroll and Craig. Got it.
“(Full disclosure: I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word “faith” is not available.)”
It certainly is available. You just have to be able to, you know, go out and research and study it. Unfortunately, Boghossian did not do that. He had anecdotal evidence. McGrew actually went to scholarly sources. We’re sorry to hear that Lindsay does not consider that good enough.
“McGrew, the far more experienced debater, came off tighter in what he had to say and hid his weaknesses well, better than did Boghossian.”
And Tim McGrew’s other debates prior to this that we have are…
I think he told me he did some debating in high school. I suppose that counts in Lindsay’s book. Obviously, McGrew had to have more experience. I mean, how else can we explain what happened? It couldn’t be that (SHOCK!) McGrew actually had better arguments and Boghossian was uninformed? Nah! Can’t be that! Let’s look for an excuse!
The comments section, which I participated in, is immense damage control. If I think a theist lost a debate, and I think they do sometimes, I can admit it. It doesn’t change the truth of theism. It just means we had a bad debater at that point.
On page 87, Lindsay refers to Harris’s work of The Moral Landscape. The book is hardly what Lindsay thinks it is. All of my reviews can be found here. Michael Ruse, who I consider to be a much better thinker, trashes the book as well here. Strange also that considering how Lindsay wanted to show a debate earlier, he said nothing about Craig’s debate with Harris.
Naturally, we soon come to faith. Ah yes. The favorite weapon of the new atheist. Just pick your bogus definition that you have no evidence for other than anecdotal experience and run with it! A real researcher would go to the Lexicons and the study of the Greek language and see what the New Testament writers meant by faith. Lindsay does no such thing. Lindsay has studied the meaning of faith in the New Testament about as much as I have studied Brazilian soccer matches. For my take on faith, go here.
On p. 100, Lindsay talks about Poseidon falling away as we gained more knowledge of how the world works. Well this is odd. I thought science didn’t really get started supposedly until we got out of those horrible dark ages. (That is in fact false. Go here.) Is it really scientific knowledge that destroyed Poseidon?
No. What actually destroyed it was Christianity. As Larry Hurtado shows us in Destroyer of the Gods (For my interview with him, go here.), the reason we speak about asking if you believe God exists and not the gods is because of Christianity. Christianity became a dominant worldview and with it monotheism. When monotheism dominated, Poseidon died out. It was known then that the true God was in charge of this and science started to take off as we sought to understand how God works in the world.
This helps deal with a common misnomer. Skeptics like Lindsay think that Christianity is in danger the more gaps science fills in. The early Christian scientists saw no such danger. They thought they were establishing theism more by filling in the gaps. They sought to know how God did His work. Lindsay will need to search the medieval literature to see where a gap exists and they just plugged in “Goddidit” for an answer. One could say their answers were bad and wrong as science was just getting started, but they were still trying to be scientific.
One such case of this is with evolution on p. 118. Lindsay is convinced that if you establish evolution, well you destroy Adam and Eve and you destroy original sin and then everything else falls apart. Sadly, Lindsay is just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists he wants to argue against. The ludicrousness of this can be shown in that I can have a case for the resurrection of Jesus and be told “Well, that can’t be true because of evolution.” How does that explain the data? It doesn’t.
Meanwhile, I and many other Christians have no problem whatsoever if evolution is true. I don’t argue for it or against it. I just don’t care either way. It doesn’t mean that Adam and Eve were unreal figures and the fall never happened. If I am wrong on Adam and Eve, then oh well. At the most, I only lose inerrancy. I still have the resurrection of Jesus and my Christianity is just fine. That’s the benefit of not being an all-or-nothing thinker, like Lindsay is.
p. 120 tells us that Jefferson in his writings referred to Nature’s God and the Creator and not to YHWH or Jesus or something specific. Of course. Jefferson was a deist and he was not wanting to establish a theocracy. That doesn’t mean that God was seen as an add-on. God was essential. Jefferson himself even held worship services in the White House.
On p. 122 we start to explain concepts like goodness finally. Interestingly, Lindsay points to how we feel about these things, almost as if they’re intuitive to us. Perhaps they are, but absent in any of this is even if they are, why should we think those feelings explain reality? Some people strongly feel God, and yet Lindsay would disagree that they are feeling God. If the God feeling is a falsehood of sorts, why not the feeling of goodness?
The real question one should ask at this point is “What is goodness?” Here, we come up empty again. Lindsay doesn’t begin to answer the question. If there is goodness, how do we know it? No answer once more. Even stranger, in an atheistic universe where we just have matter in motion, why should there be such a thing as goodness to begin with? If Lindsay praises the new atheists, why not go with Richard Dawkins in River Out Of Eden?
“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
After all, as Dawkins goes on to say, our DNA neither knows nor cares. It just is and we dance to its music. If it doesn’t know or care, why should we?
These are the kinds of questions one would want to have answered, but Lindsay comes nowhere close. If he wants to accuse theists of jumping too quickly to “Goddidit” (And no doubt some do), then we can say he jumps too quickly to “Goddidn’tdoit). The evidence does not matter. There has to be an explanation without theism.
On p. 156 he defines a delusion as “a belief held with strong convictions despite superior evidence to the contrary.” This is quite fitting because on p. 154, he talks about the problem of evil and says “no amount of theological mental gymnastics has or ever can satisfactorily surmount the problem of evil.” It’s bad enough to say that it has not been surmounted. Most atheistic philosophers would even concede that the logical problem of evil has been defeated. It’s even stranger to say that it never can. Where did Lindsay get this exhaustive knowledge? Never mind the question of not being able to define good and evil which is still another hurdle. It would be nice to see if Lindsay has responses to people like Clay Jones or Alvin Plantinga or any other works on the problem of evil. He doesn’t. Sadly, this doesn’t shock me any more. I’ve reached the point where I expect atheist works to not interact with their opposition. Lindsay does not disappoint.
On p. 180, Lindsay wants to point to the historical record of what religion has done. Absent is any mention of what atheism did in the 20th century. One supposes that Lindsay just wants us to have faith that atheism if established today would be different. All of a sudden, we would all unite in love and harmony and be singing Kum-Bu-Yah.
On p. 181, he tells us that the responses from the peanut gallery that say that faith means something more akin to trust is irrelevant. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s certainly not because of interaction. It’s certainly not because of researching the evidence. Lindsay just wants us to take him on faith that this is so. It’s a shame he provides no evidence. Could we just say this is what Boghossian would call “a deepity”?
On p. 184, we get to something that could be considered an argument. This is that the Bible lists bats as birds. That’s nice. It would be also nicer if Lindsay looked up the words. We translate it as birds often today, but the word really refers to a winged creature. There was not a modern taxonomical idea of bird then. There were just creatures that were not insects but had wings. Last I checked, bats had wings. Now maybe Lindsay has come across some scientific research that shows bats don’t have wings. Still, by the ancient standards, we are just fine. If they were just referring not to a modern idea of taxonomy but to the ancient definition of a creature with wings, then bats qualify.
At 185, Lindsay says street epistemology is for inducing doubt to foster intellectual honesty. Those of us who are apologists are not doing the same thing. We create doubt to manufacture vulnerability and perhaps fear to lead to a conclusion. Nice that Lindsay believes in mind reading. I in fact want to encourage better thinking as well. I just think better thinking leads to Christianity, but hey, apparently Lindsay believes in mind reading. Who knew?
If street epistemology wasn’t bad enough to promote, Lindsay also promotes John Loftus’s “Outsider Test for Faith.” Lindsay says no sources have passed this test. His note reference for this? Just do a google search. None of them are worth citing. Well there you have it! Lindsay has spoken. The case is closed! Of course, he could have interacted with a case, such as the book by David Marshall directly written on this. My interview with Marshall can be found here.
It’s also amusing to find that on p. 198-99 that the Inquisition and radical Islam are put right in line with Stalin and Mao. One would hope for historical sources, but alas, there are none. He could find one such source here. Of course, Islam is central to radical Islam and I would argue a consistent outworking of it. What about Stalin and Mao? Does Lindsay just consider atheism incidental to them? Hard to think that since they were on a warpath against religion entirely.
On p. 210, he points to the opinion of the National Academy of Sciences. After all, very few are theists. Unfortunately, Rob Bowman responded to Victor Stenger on this point here. I will quote a relevant part.
Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.
In conclusion, Boghossian’s book at least had something redeemable in it about political correctness, which I agreed with. Lindsay’s book has no such feature. The main benefit we get from it is that we see further the bankruptcy of the new atheists. Apparently, it is a mark of pride to not interact with your opponents and not treat their arguments seriously. Lindsay can keep up his position. I hope he does. It’ll just further dumb down the atheist community while theists in the academy will be doing our further research and strengthening our position. With the idea of movements like Jesus mythicism and such being jumped on by atheists on the internet, I would not be surprised to see them intellectually bankrupt in a generation or two.
Thanks for helping the cause Lindsay.