D'Souza's Comeback

In his previous book The Enemy At Home, Dinesh D'Souza advanced the absurd proposal that conservatives ally themselves with moderate Muslims ("traditional" Muslims, in his words) in a united front against Western leftists and radical Muslims.  To quote from his chapter 1 (available online here):


The only way to win the war is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.  
This proposal is rendered null and void by the fact that there does not exist any significant liberal movement within the house of Islam (it exists within some Islamic countries, but not the religion of Islam), and therefore "moderate Muslims" are actually impious Muslims.  That is, they are Muslims who do not follow the actual teachings of the Koran and the other Islamic authorities that the believer is to engage in, or at least support, Jihad to convert the world. And since there is no faction within the Islamic religion that embraces any significant Western-style modernism, the apparently "moderate" Muslim is liable at any time to become "radical," that is, true to his faith.


But now D'Souza has made a spectacular comeback by penning What's So Great About Christianity, a major contribution to the defense of Western Civilization against the threat of atheistic-based leftism. Indeed, although most liberals and many leftists do believe in some sort of god, the doctrines of the left are definitely based on the nonexistence of the God of the Bible, in which case man alone decides what is true, good and beautiful.  And with no supernatural Authority to restrain him, the leftist finds his way clear to remake society in any way he sees fit.  This, along with the fact that Christianity has been responsible for much of the formation of Western Civilization, is why the defense of Christianity is the defense of the West.


Furthermore, since Christianity is the only force within Western Civilization that has the moral, intellectual and spiritual resources necessary to defend us against the threat from radical (i.e., fully pious) Islam, D'Souza is also indirectly atoning for his previous sin. Although it contains a couple of technical mistakes, What's So Great About Christianity (hereafter WSG) is overall an excellent introduction to the general issues of Christian apologetics, that is, the intellectual defense of the faith. 


The best thing about WSG is its confidence.  The "new atheists" that the book was specifically written to counter have mounted an aggressive campaign that so far has met little effective opposition from Christian pastors and apologists, who are generally trained to offer their "account for the hope that is in" them with "gentleness and reverence," in the words of 1 Peter 3:15.  But D'Souza removes the kid gloves and aggressively attacks all aspects of atheism. Repaying their scorn with scorn is also a biblical position; Christ Himself said (Matthew 7:6), "Do not cast your pearls before swine.
WSG mostly engages in what the late Christian theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer called "pre-evangelism," that is, clearing away false ideas so that the unbeliever actually has a chance to hear the arguments for Christianity.  To do this, D'Souza uses non-biblical arguments drawn from science, philosophy and history to establish both the reasonableness of believing in the God of the Bible (that is, that Christianity could possibly be true if the evidence indicates it), and the positive effect that Christianity has had upon Western Civilization and the entire world.  In this way he nullifies the negative arguments of the atheists who contend that religion in general is patently absurd even before the evidence is examined, and that religion causes more evil than good.


Many of today's young people have heard nothing positive about Christianity and are thus sorely in need of a basic education in the history of Christianity's profound influence on Western Civilization.  This D'Souza supplies in spades.  In part II of WSG, for example, we learn that Christianity was the cause of such essential Western values as limited government (based on Christ's teaching "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God that which is God's (Matthew 22:21), the dignity of ordinary people, and human rights.  All of these concepts were simply nonexistent in the pre-Christian world, but then developed in Western Civilization after it became Christian.


In chapter eight, D'Souza demonstrates what will surely be a scandal to the atheist: Science in the modern sense of the term was created by Christianity. The Christian doctrine that a rational God both created and still orders the Cosmos gives us confidence that its behavior follows laws that we can discover if we are diligent.  And WSG demolishes the number one cliché of the science-versus-religion dogma, the myth of the persecution of Galileo. Galileo was indeed forced officially to recant one of his teachings, but he was not charged with heresy, sent to jail, or tortured.  Indeed, he was not punished for proposing his theory of heliocentrism, but rather for pushing it too aggressively at a time when the Catholic Church was exceptionally sensitive to criticism and controversy in general, and to this controversy in particular.  The idea that the persecution of Galileo typifies the Church's persecution of science in general is simply a lie that was given its current form by a couple of late Nineteenth-Century books of propaganda that have been thoroughly discredited by contemporary scholarship.


In a similar vein, WSG tackles the atheist's allegation that religion, especially Christianity, has been a blight on the human race.  In chapter eighteen, D'Souza makes what is the proper comparison: not Christianity versus an imaginary religion-free utopia, but Christianity versus the few explicitly anti-Christian regimes that have actually existed, to wit: communism and Nazism.  The evidence is clear: crimes in the name of atheism vastly outnumber those in the name of Christianity.


The personal spiritual inadequacy of atheism also does not escape D'Souza's notice. In chapter twenty-three, Opiate of the Morally Corrupt, he observes, based on copious quotes from atheists themselves, that the deepest motive of atheism is probably the simple desire to escape divine judgment.  And atheism is also an unlivable creed, as it denies the existence of the objective morality and meaning that man needs in order to live. To be tolerable, atheism must smuggle in Christian concepts.


WSG contains an excellent overview of the basic evidence for the existence of God.  Chapter eleven, for example, introduces the reader to the anthropic principle, the startling discovery that the basic laws of nature and the basic physical features of the cosmos had to be fine-tuned to an astronomically high degree of accuracy in order for human life to be even possible.  The chances of these conditions being just right by accident are, for all practical purposes, zero, which virtually proves that a Designer had to have superintended it all.  And chapter twenty makes the persuasive case that the morality we know by intuition must be objective, that is, not simply a creation of the human mind.  This being so, it must have an extra-human cause, which must be God.


WSG does not argue for theology proper, that is, specific beliefs about God and religion, but this is as it should be in an introductory book.  Before it is possible to have a useful discussion about God, a crucial preliminary problem must be addressed:


The atheist has not impartially examined the evidence for God and legitimately found it wanting.  The atheist, like everyone else, interprets evidence in accordance with his worldview, that is, the comprehensive philosophical system that he uses to understand reality.  Granted, many people are not consciously aware of their worldview, but to be human is to have a worldview because man, unlike the animals, must live by principles and ideals, even if these ideals are corrupt or cynical.  The atheist, then, misunderstands the evidence for God because of his inadequate worldview.


Therefore the first philosophical order of business in justifying Christianity is to demonstrate the inadequacy of the atheist's worldview.  But "atheism" is simply the absence of belief in God and the atheist, like everyone else, needs an entire worldview in order to function.  In the West the most common atheistic worldview is called "naturalism," which includes the doctrines of materialism (only matter exists), empiricism (all knowledge is obtained by inductive reasoning from data provided by our senses) and moral subjectivism (morality is not objective and fixed, but is created and modified by individuals or societies).


As D'Souza shows, the atheist's worldview is fundamentally inadequate for two reasons: it is illogical, and it cannot account for the facts of reality, chiefly the facts of the origin of the cosmos, the existence of rationality, and the existence of objective morality.  Therefore atheistic naturalism must be rejected, and the way is clear to examine the evidence for God and draw the proper conclusions.


Consider, for example, D'Souza's refutation of Hume's alleged proof that miracles are impossible.  Hume's argument in a nutshell is that a miracle would be a violation of scientific law, but scientific laws are more certain than miracle stories, so we should reject these stories.  But Hume himself supplies his own refutation: according to Hume induction never gives us certain knowledge, because it's always possible that we will observe a violation of the pattern that has held so far. Therefore scientific laws, which are all based on induction, are not absolutely certain, and miracles are possible.


At a deeper level, this argument demonstrates that atheistic naturalism is self-refuting, and therefore false.  Consider the principle that all knowledge is obtained by induction applied to sensory data.  Call this the epistemological principle of induction, that is, induction as a general theory of knowledge.  But it is clear that induction applied to sensory data can never prove the epistemological principle of induction itself.  How could it, when induction only draws probable conclusions of a statistical nature, whereas the epistemological principle of induction makes a statement about all knowledge?


Therefore if the epistemological principle of induction is true, then it must also apply to itself, in which case it is false because it cannot be validated inductively.  If it's true, then it's false. And if it's false, then it's also false.  Therefore the epistemological principle of induction is simply false. Not all knowledge is obtained inductively from sensory data.  Knowledge of God is therefore possible.


Similar arguments can be made against the other principles of naturalism, since they are all based on the belief that man is the Supreme Being and therefore man determines what is true, good and beautiful, based only on data provided by his senses. But sensory data can never validate abstract general principles of logic, mathematics and morality, and so naturalism fails to satisfy its own criteria.  Being self-contradictory, it must be rejected.


Ironically, it is on just this point that D'Souza makes a serious error.  In an attempt to demonstrate the fact that human reason has limits, he unwisely turns to Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism.  Kant's theory is confusing at best, and at worst it leads to radical subjectivism and solipsism.  There are easier and healthier ways to demonstrate that unaided human reason is not self-validating, and that there exists a realm that transcends our direct perception but which can be known through intuition, valid deductions from what we know, and by believing what God tells us about it.


For as D'Souza himself demonstrates, consciousness, reason and objective morality (i.e., morality that is valid regardless of what humans believe about it) do exist, and naturalism cannot even in principle account for their existence.  All of these points can be demonstrated rather easily, without introducing the confusing and potentially misleading Kantian concept that we are not directly aware of reality itself but only of our thoughts and therefore reality in itself is beyond our direct knowledge.


D'Souza's other significant error occurs in his discussion of evolution.  His overall position is correct: Darwinian evolution is a highly dubious doctrine that is based on a presupposition of naturalism rather than being a proper conclusion, from the evidence, that God had nothing to do with the development of life. Therefore evolution has in no sense disproved Christianity. But D'Souza muddles a crucial distinction in evolutionary theory and ends up apparently endorsing the evolution that he is criticizing.  Those who are familiar with the evolution controversy will spot that he is not endorsing full-fledged Darwinian evolution, but John Q. Public will likely be confused.


The error proceeds as follows. Although the basic meaning of the word "evolution" is "change over time," the Darwinian theory of biological evolution contains two fundamental beliefs:


  • All living beings are (or were) direct physical descendants of one (or perhaps one type of) original cell, formed in an unknown way billions of years ago.  Call this "Universal Common Ancestry."
  • All changes in the forms of life were caused by non-supernatural (and, before humans began deliberately breeding animals, non-human) forces, specifically the forces of random mutations coupled with natural selection of the fittest organisms.  Call this "Non-Intelligent Design."
D'Souza makes it clear that he does not believe in Non-Intelligent Design, and properly so. The evidence that life requires design by an intelligent being is so overwhelming that one can only deny it if one has a prior commitment to an atheistic naturalism that nullifies all the evidence.  But before making this point clear, D'Souza repeatedly claims that "evolution," by which he presumably means Universal Common Ancestry, is probably true, that it is the only properly scientific way to proceed, and that Christians ought to endorse it.


But of course "evolution" in the context of biology means the full Darwinian theory, including Non-Intelligent Design.  Only the scientific authorities have the authority to say what their evolutionary theory is defined to be, and when push comes to shove, they always say that it includes Non-Intelligent Design.  D'Souza is not free to redefine a key word in the debate, and therefore when he says he agrees with evolution, he is saying he agrees with Darwinian evolution, which actually he doesn't.


Furthermore there is good reason to doubt Universal Common Ancestry, although, unlike Non-Intelligent Design, it could possibly be true, depending on further evidence.  At present the fossil record shows radically new forms appearing suddenly, persisting unchanged through millions of years, and then suddenly disappearing.  The gradual changes that Universal Common Descent would require are not seen, although they could theoretically be found one day. Based on what we actually know, though, Universal Common Descent is false. 
But these errors are only minor.  What's So Great About Christianity is in most respects a splendid book for introducing young people to the proper way to think about Christianity.  With the cobwebs cleared from his mind, the reader is then free to truly encounter the evidence for God and Christ, and to develop a proper love for his heritage of Western Civilization that is formed in large measure by Christianity.
Alan Roebuck is a Reformed (that is Calvinistic) Christian.
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