Ian S Markham wrote Against Atheism, Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are fundamentally wrong.

The main point of the book is that their atheism worries about right and wrong and treating people right which seems to be incoherent for you need a God in order to understand properly what morality is. So the argument is that unless you agree with Nietzsche, that compassion and love are nonsense so seek power instead, you are not a proper atheist.

The book in fairness does show that the fruits of Christian religion for most of history have not been good and mentions how nobody thought of religions having to tolerate each other until John Locke. That Jesus didn’t either tells us a lot. Rich coming from the religion that said that good fruits were not enough and grapes need to come from thornbushes. And nobody cares either that Jesus’ logic makes this principle more important even than his rising from the dead.

Incidentally, Markham says how Walter Kaufmann showed that the notion that Nietzsche was Hitler’s favoured philosopher is untrue. He does not tell us then that the justification Hitler came up with must have come from Christianity, albeit liberal Christianity, for what else did he have to do it with?

The book then tries to say that morality tells you there is a God.

“Embedded in the word ‘ought’ is the sense of a moral fact transcending our life and world. So when I say, ‘I really ought to go to my son’s baseball game’, I don’t mean that I want to go. I mean that something is compelling me. – The ought has an external feel. It is as if something outside is making me behave in a certain way.-Slavery is wrong. Now we do not mean by this that we – personally – dislike slavery; we mean that universally the practice should be prohibited. The underlying character of moral language implies something external and universal.”

The external feel of morality and language is what makes them binding so you cannot just change them at whim. But that means that if refusing to steal is not about wanting not to steal but feeling duty bound not to steal that means it is about wanting not to steal but in a different way. It is disingenuous of our author to argue the way he does. He is making morality nonsense even if just in a different way from now Nietzsche did. Its turned into a form of hypocrisy and is not just an absurdity like Nietzsche would call it. Now what does the book say about him?

I am glad he used the example of going to the baseball game. While it would be hardly polite not to go, it is not a moral matter. There is no duty to go. The feeling is not reliable. Not going does not stop you being fair and loving. Who is anybody or anything to tell you that you are obligated to go? Or that you should suffer as a matter of justice if you do not go? Your son wants you to go because you want to not because of this forced stuff.

That is the bottom line. The feeling of being ruled is not like a voice of God. Its goodness has a bad side so it is grey not good and sometimes it is evil. It is never consistent. I could as easily feel it is my duty not to go for I want to have a well-earned rest.

Life experience not just argumentation is what shows the moral argument for God or the helpfulness of the idea of God is wrong.

Nietzsche said that logic was superstition for when a thought comes it is about when it wants not when I want. A thought just comes so it is wrong to say “I think.” You are not the agent but the recipient of the thought. The author still maintains that a thought cannot be a material thing or a property of material things so it comes from something that is not matter, “something spiritual”.

Markham says, "Materialism, then, is absurd.  A thought cannot be a material thing, nor can it be caused by a material thing, nor can it be the property of a material thing.  The only possible conclusion is that thought as such is something independent of matter, that is, something spiritual".

This is in fact all you need to think about if deciding if materialism is right or not.

The mistake here is that as a thought is not like a brick it is not material but that does not follow.

What a thought is does not change the fact that thoughts treat us like machines. They just invade.

Whatever causes them does not respect us or is not about respecting us. That is the point that really matters.

Talking about spirits by default means we should be scared out of our wits. That is worse than just nature pulling strings for at least we know what it is like.

Only tests and science could show if a thought cannot be CAUSED by a material being or thing.  A thought being without parts or composition or physicality does not necessarily mean it has no essential connection to the physical.   We do not really know what the physical means anyway very well.  The table is mostly empty space.  We know that from physics.  Talk about the physical tends to be wrapped up mostly in what the physical does and how the senses pick it up but apart from that we don't know much.  So he should be agnostic in this.  And also with the question if a thought can be a property of a material thing.  Thought can be independent of matter as we know it but how independent?  Independence is a spectrum a lot of the time.  Thought  can be some kind of matter that we don't detect while being independent of matter as we know it.

If a thought were really spiritual it would not prove the important thing that we are spirits or that we can live after death or live forever if we can make it beyond the grave.   It would not prove that it is possible that there is a God, the spirit who brings all things into being.  You cannot use a spoonful of sugar to prove that there must be a universe made of sugar.  Proving a spirit does not prove there is such a thing as one that can create.  You cannot show any spirit has the power to create matter.

Materialism is plainly simpler and has less problems than Markham and his excursion into fundamentalism and arrogance would have us believe.

Nietzsche said that life has no meaning so we have to impose our own meaning. Imposing it implies that whether the meaning is love or even God we are using our violent instinct to do it. If we just impose that is one thing but if we start using the idea of a God backing us up that is adding more violence in. It is like putting meat on the bones of the imposing. It is putting armour on the violence and giving it extra weapons. We would hope the mild violence is what we will stop at. God and so on and prayers and other gimmicks are a refusal to stop there.

The author says that Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, “resent deeply any suggestion that morality is difficult to justify on a non-religious basis.” If their anger is that deep then they are bad people. Sin is called missing the mark and the sinner is driven by good intentions. So if they feel good that makes no difference. The implication is that the three atheists are trying to miss the mark by having a morality without the God who alone justifies morality. They are sinners. Our author is a hypocrite for saying atheists are good though they don’t see they have no reason to be. If the three atheists are annoyed then it is because they know they are wrong and hate God.

“Although I am delighted that there are moral atheists, my fear is that they will start thinking and cease using moral categories.” The book has pointed out that most contradictions are indirect. They exist because if the person was too obvious about them they would be seen through immediately. The book points out that Nietzsche who said that moral rules mean nothing or the world is without God and thus without logic or validity or meaning. There is just science and mechanics. A machine cannot have morals. Morals are not remotely relevant to the machine. He said that everything is all psychology and preferences.

The author shows that Dawkins and co think of God not as being about everything but as an add on that you can discard and it makes no real difference. They do. He correctly argues that Nietzsche realised that everything changes when you abandon God. God by definition should be the being who makes all and who deserves all our hearts. But Dawkins and co are still denying God by turning him into an accessory. So they are different from Nietzsche but not essentially different.

We are reminded of how Descartes argued that there could be a higher power that makes us think that 2 and 2 are 4 but the kept writing as if that was not going to put him off. This reminds of how Nietzsche saw logic and therefore morality as illusions but kept writing too. If logic and morality still force us even if we abandon them or debunk them does it really matter what we think grounds or validates them? No. It only matters to those who wish to feel they control us. They want to weaponise the internal forcing that is hardwired into us.

“Science depends on uncertainty: science cannot prove – with certainty – the existence of the external world.” So, “it simply assumes its reality”.

The author says that Dawkins by preaching materialism in the name of science is not being a biologist any more but a philosopher. But everything is philosophy even if just bad philosophy. And it is possible that materialism is science even if we cannot prove it yet.

The book says that the universe is about 15 billion light years in example and this seems a terrible waste if we are the only life there is. “The surprising answer is that conscious life originates from carbon-based molecules, which are born out of the ashes of dying stars.” The idea then that God’s creative energy instead of planning the path of least resistance took the path of most resistance!

The book then criticises the multiverse theory. But surely a universe in which we virtually do not register means there could be a virtually endless series of other universes? One complaint is that multiverses “cannot be falsified: they are completely resistant to the empirical facts. This is a far cry from the normal kind of explanation sought in science.”

Christians reject the idea that a theory is not a theory unless it says, “Do x or y or z to prove me false. If I say I’m sure of x then I am saying non-x is false so if you verify non-x you refute me.” This is called falsification. If something is claiming to be true then it is by default claiming that some things will prove it false. If it does not tell us or help us with the possible disproofs then it is an ideology not a theory. Yet they use falsification against the multiverse theory. Why? Because the theory is about explaining how the universe seems so orderly. They know that it is trying to be an alternative to a designer or a God. They bitterly oppose falsification in everything else!

The atheist says the Christian won't admit there must be some kind of evil that would refute God's care for his creation and thus his existence.  So faith is non-falsifiable.  It opposes falsification.  Christians then may say, "The atheist won't admit there is some kind of good that shows that God exists and shows that no evil is relevant to showing he does not."

The difference is that evil is the experience that you are at the mercy of harmful forces - alone!  No matter how much love surrounds you, you can still be alone but not if there is a God for God makes all things.  The Christian is looking at the good that happens to somebody else and deciding it must mean there is a God.  That is just theorising. Atheists experience all kinds of good and see nothing that screams, "God is here".   Evil has the stronger voice for it is about experience.

The Christians even try to say, “God or what he does is not subject to falsification theory”. It does not make sense to say the multiverse must be subjected to falsification when your aim is to get rid of a threat to God. If you want to show God is possible or probable then you will want falsification applied to multiverse theory. So if falsification applies to the rivals to God then indirectly it matters to God theory. If you avoid applying falsification theory directly to God that does not change the fact that it ties in with it indirectly. Indirect at times can matter more than direct.

The book says that God letting such a vast amount of evil is insurmountable and says the Christian answer is just to offer God suffering as Jesus on the cross not an attempted answer. Why just Jesus? What if God has become man or human being more than once? This is all about asking you to be touched by what happened to Jesus as if a Jewish child undergoing worse in Nazi Germany cannot centre how you feel about and approach evil. It is really dealing with evil with more evil.

The book says that God is love and this should attract people to God. Unpack that. It is true we all want to be loved. We need to receive love and we need to love. It’s a package and there is no getting away from that. Despite the sacrificial side and terrible risks that come with love we have to love. We have to for we live in a dangerous world. So we want love yes but not as in wanting ice cream. We want it as in survival. The Christian teaching that you cannot have the power to love unless you can also be violent and dangerous seems to tell us that too. Our author tells us we need that evil potential to be able to love. But it is not the same thing. Our needing to respond to a threatening life in a threatening universe is different from saying we are made to be potentially bad or good. One is about surviving and the other is about testing. Without belief in God, we would not be making out the power to be bad is a gift. A gift is to be celebrated whether it is used for good or not so you see the horror that God belief implies.

The book says that sin is an act of denial of our dependence on others and on God and on the environment and thus is “deeply irrational.” Really? Being cut off works as a temporary measure. The self-sufficient person will meet something that ends their independence. But that does not mean that what they did before was wrong for them. You can feel great trying to live forever. You will die but the journey can be the goal.

Markham criticises Darwinian arguments for altruism for why not “be selfish when one can be undetected?” The best way to achieve such selfishness is to decide to line up to God so that what you think God wants is what you want too. It is foolproof.  The Christian belief in a merciful God would suggest that secret evil will be treated better than obvious evil that corrupts everybody else.  If human nature is built in such a way that it cares only what other humans think then even belief in God cannot override nature.  It fits how even believers confess they are often selfish when they think no other human knows.

Now we are subjected to thin defences of religious scriptures.

The book turns to Milgrom who said that the reason for the God-given food laws in Leviticus is to help the people of Israel respect life. This is done by limiting eating to some animals. Limiting further by saying the animals must be killed humanely. Not eating blood “as acknowledgment that bringing death to living things is a concession of God’s grace and not a privilege of man’s whim.”

The ban on inhumane killing would have done. And God could recommend eating animals that are not advanced like cows. A smart man like Milgrom certainly knows better. And to say that a God permits you to kill certain animals for food and that makes it right is religious extremism. It is one thing to do something that is possibly evil and cruel or harmful but when a God is supposed to command it that is a new problem, religious fanaticism. What do we need to be commanded or permitted to kill animals and eat them for? We are going to do it anyway. It's just celebrating blood but not in the way Milgrom suggests!

Then we are told that as there was a covenant between God and Israel had to do things differently from other nations around it so it could stand out. A covenant that makes no cultural difference is not a covenant at all. This is contradicted by saying that the ban on the eating of the pig was shared by all people in that region. But then we are told that cults devoted to dark forces in the underworld did venerate the pig. We should think though that the cultic thing should not be enough to drive the ban on pigs. It was just copied from the other nations roundabout.

The book speaking of original sin which led according to the Book of Genesis to bad things there and then and soon further evils came goes, “It remains an act of disobedience, but it is an inevitable and necessary act of disobedience. In the same way as teenagers necessarily and inevitably push back on their parents, so all of humanity forms our identity by pushing back on God. However, this pushing back carries significant risk and dangers: it can lead to hubris, where we start denying any need for a creator, and to an unregulated sense of desire. It can lead to murder, mayhem, and wickedness.” But if God makes us and we have to rebel then he is to blame for putting that impulse in us. The Bible says God cannot tempt but this is more. Its virtually programming the person to do evil. Are such doctrines sinister and underhand? Is it a polite and manipulative way of getting people to serve a bad God? Jesus then did not save us but lied if the answer is yes.

The logic about Deuteronomy 7:1-7 where utter genocide of other nations is commanded by God and then God says don’t marry with them is terrible. The author tries to make out the marriage ban means the genocide is not utter destruction. The logic would work if genocide didn’t take years but could be done in five minutes!  Markham in his hypocrisy is trying to excuse a command, "Brutally kill them all", with the irrelevant fact, "They were not all dead."  He is as good as saying that the killed ones left the killers no choice!

The author then complains that Dawkins condemned this but didn’t mention that these nations were sacrificing children. So we have an admission that genocide was justified in Christian eyes – and on religious grounds: exterminating a religion for killing children in worship. This is softened a bit, not significantly we must add, by the claim that it would be wrong to kill literally everybody for there had to be members of those cultures who were against the abominations. That is still an alarming view. It presupposes that God really did seem to give the command and the seem is big enough to justify obedience.

Markham needs to tell us what he thinks should be done with countries that are too liberal on abortion.

The book says that proof texting the Qur’an to argue that the true Muslim or true believer will agree with being violent today in the name of religion is eccentric. Then why do a huge number of commentators and scholars do that? Proof texting is careless on the face of it a lot of the time. You need to look at the worldview and the bigger picture. But that does not change the fact that if proof texting is a bad practice it may still show that something is true.  It is not always bad.  And the fact remains that 99% of religions are doing it and 99% of believers depend on proof texts.

The author condemns suicide bombing as deeply evil for “it involves the double sin of taking one’s own life and the taking of innocent non-combatants. To create a culture which celebrates such actions is also wrong. ” To this I would say that to celebrate Jesus’s celebration of the blood plastered Old Testament law of God and of Moses the mass murderer is reprehensible.

The book virtue signals about homosexuality. With incredible psychic powers, it tells us that the writer of Leviticus and St Paul who are supposed to have condemned it did not know about homosexual orientation.  Leviticus keeps it simple, its the sex act that is wrong.  Paul spoke of burning with desire for the same sex so he had some idea. 

The virtue signalling is not inclusive to LGBT who do not want loving relationships.  Not all people do.  In todays world, casual sex is the norm.  It is odd to say the Bible condemns only "bad" homosexuality for that is just shifting homophobia from some gay targets to others some of which are extremely vulnerable.  LGBT sex workers are clearly not privileged in the way those who are able to be affirmed and marry and raise families and be supported are.

Leviticus is hinted to have only banned gay sex for it wanted to be different from other nations but that is a lie. The ban occurs among a whole pile of regulations that follow from holding that the only sex that is right is between a man and woman in marriage. For example, adultery is slammed.  It is not cultural. Also the text condemns actions and is not commenting on whether an orientation or not would make a difference or any love or commitment. The ban on adultery covered couples who were committed too but married to other people.

The notion that the Sodom story only condemns gang rape may think of rape as terrible only when it is man on man for gay sex is just a terrible thing in the first place. If the mob were going to rape why did they go to the door and knock and ask for Lot to send the men out to them? They were just asking!

We conclude that the book is refreshing in admitting nobody can think of an answer as to how God can be good while people suffer and it is really built around the idea of the moral argument for God – ie that if there is no God you can do nothing to show love, compassion or justice really mean anything. Its argument is wrong for it says something about these things forces them on us. That remains intact in most of us and that is all that matters. In other words, if it is the force we want it does not matter if we cannot justify morality. Realising that is not going to change anything. If faith in God gives us the values what are we doing with scriptures that are plainly evil? Needing faith in God does not amount to needing religion.

18 2 2021 amazon review