OK, I have awakened from my statistics-induced coma. That is why I stopped on p. 21 before, because there Vox introduces a statistical argument. You know, there are soul-crushing horrors, there are obscene and inhuman soul-crushing horrors, and then there are statistics. I used to think that my distaste for them was due to being too stupid to understand them. But the more I have understood them, the more I have concluded that my aversion derives from the fact that all statistics lead to arbitrary, mathematically based generalizations that actually have almost no correlation with concrete, specific reality.
So, I finished Chapter 1, and I started working on my next book, The Annotated Vox Day. I started a database of all the arguments and supports in The Irrational Atheist, with the thought that it may prove useful in the future, considering how many of the critiques and responses revolve around claims about the book’s logical integrity. Now then, most books aren’t worth that kind of detailed analysis; so if it turns out that The Irrational Atheist is either too anticlimactic or too boring to warrant this treatment, I’ll just leave the annotations unfinished.
I was pleased to see that Kelly also has little regard for Vox’s statistical argument, as summed up by her remark that “by using the same flawed data, many conclusions can be drawn about a population of unknown people who happened to check ‘no religion’ when filling out the Inmate Information Survey.” However, it’s kind of a cheap shot, seeing as how any statistical argument is ultimately meaningless.
The first interesting point in chapter 1 is the discussion of what atheism means. It is clear that most of the Shouting Atheists should stay out of the whole business of defining what they are talking about, and should just move on to making goofy YouTube videos about televangelists. They are trapped between their desire to be elitist, superintelligent, intricately rationalistic, and snarky, and their desire to be populist, universalist, and rooted in the Deep Time of evolutionary biology. This is an old, old problem in the theory of rationalistic thought, and no Public Atheist involved in this discussion is smart enough to know how to untangle it. Vox cleverly shows how contradictory and pointless their attempts to define atheism are.
It comes down to the fact that doubting the existence of God is quite natural and is therefore addressed head-on by sources such as the Christian Bible; but stating emphatically that God does not exist and cannot exist is merely an arrogant rhetorical pose in reaction to high-church dogmatism. This is functionally the reason for Vox’s designation of the Lite-Brights as “High Church Atheists”: they are merely the dialectical opposites of Meslier’s 17th-century religious dogmatist adversaries.
The Lite-Brights attempt to appropriate natural law theology as New Morality, popular common sense as Philosophical Naturalism, scientific hypothesis as Dogmatic Materialism, and agnostic doubt as Oppressed Atheism in a superficial, politically motivated publicity ploy. This is why, when pressed by someone like Vox, they have little to say to support their beliefs. They are just playing a political game.
The next interesting point in chapter 1 is the description of the Apocalyptic Techno-Heretic. I was astounded to read about this because none of Vox’s critics seem to have addressed it. I think it is because they don’t understand it. I understood it immediately when I read it, because it rather accurately describes my views as a teenager. Also, it fits in nicely with Apocalypse Culture, the stomach-churning, mind-blowing gonzo journalism anthology by Adam Parfrey that I encountered in my twenties.
Finally, there is the fascinating Atheist Creed at the end of chapter 1:
The Atheist Creed
“Nothing exists but natural phenomena. Thought is a property or function of matter. Death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. There are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature. There are no forces, phenomena, or entities which transcend nature. There are no forces, phenomena, or entities which are supernatural. Nor can there be.” [p. 26n]
Is this the materialism of Lucretius or the pantheism of Spinoza? No, this is supposed to be modern atheism! I wish Vox had provided a source for this, because my first temptation was to think that he made it up in order to make the atheists look stupid. I found something similar to it at http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/, with an interesting addendum: “Humankind is on its own.”
Oho! That last point seems like enough to sum it up. What we are really talking about here is dressed-up twentieth-century Humanism, the idea that Man is the measure of the entire universe. No wonder they hate the idea of God: it is clearly an affront to their own claims of supremacy. It would also help explain Harris’s secular Buddhism. But, it remains to be seen what Vox will do with this tidbit, and whether he can prove that his subjects subscribe to it.
Finally, I note that here Vox proves that his bait-and-switch polemical game is effective against these shallow thinkers. Netizens who believe that Free Republic and DailyKos demonstrate the height of rhetorical sophistication are easily fooled by Vox’s seemingly reactionary polemical bait into underestimating him. Then he produces something clear and forthright that snaps the trap shut.