Monday, 8 June 2015

Losing the will to review: Evidence Unseen or Arguments Unconsidered?


When I announced this book review project in September last year I made a proviso about reviewing James M. Rochford's Evidence Unseen:
...I've decided to read it and (if in my opinion it merits a review) to review it here on the blog.
I reviewed the introduction in March, and continued reading last weekend. Does it merit a review? It's going downhill fast. I had hoped for something substantial, but if the first chapter is typical I'm tempted to give it up as a waste of time. Rochford's arguments are ill-considered and sloppy, relying too much on emotion rather than logic. He refers often to atheists, "atheistic thinkers" and even an "atheistic ethical philosopher" as if they are a breed apart. I can only assume that atheists are not his target readership:
Yet, a certain tension of which they are unaware plagues them: While they are content in their atheistic worldview, they are not consistent with it... [Loc 325]
Basically telling atheists that they are psychologically defective. They are plagued with a tension — but they're unaware of it? This looks like classic projection.
If God doesn’t exist, is it possible to have a life that is ultimately significant? Unfortunately, it isn’t. [Loc 331]
Nothing unfortunate about that, as far as I know. Like many Christian apologists Rochford seems obsessed with ultimate absolute objectivity. It doesn't exist.
If the Christian God is real, then we have the hope of eternity. [Loc 368]
What is emerging here is a massive argument from consequences.
Of course, if the Christian God exists and all humans are made in his image, as the Bible teaches (Gen. 1:26-27; Jas. 3:9), then this would be both objectively true and truly important. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then human beings would hold nothing in common that could make them truly equal. [Loc 391]
This comes after a section trying to debunk "equality" — saying that people aren't really equal (when what he's actually saying is that people aren't all the same — which is true). But just because people aren't the same, that's no excuse for not treating them then with equal fairness, especially before the law.
But if everything in nature is only natural, then how can a naturalist call murder, rape, or genocide unnatural? [Loc 433]
I'm not aware that naturalists do call murder, rape and genocide "unnatural" — seems like he's setting up a straw man here.
...when we claim that morality comes from chimpanzees... [Loc 454]
Um ... we don't. More straw-manning.
Atheist Richard Dawkins argues... [Loc 455]
A Dawkins quote! (Just goes to show that Dawkins continues to rattle theists' cages.)
If morality is truly objective, then it is binding over people whether or not they agree to it. [Loc 501]
Now we're getting to the nitty gritty. Let's define "morality" and "objective", shall we? Apparently not — we're straight on to an argument with Sam Harris:
Why should we think that the flourishing of the human species is ultimately the greatest good? [Loc 508]
This is pretty easy if we're actually members of the human species ourselves (barring any quibbles over the use of "ultimately"). Then we get the seven dying patients in need of organ transplants versus one healthy person:
...wouldn’t it make sense to capture a healthy young man in the lobby to harvest his organs—the seven organs the dying people needed—to “maximize happiness”? [Loc 512]
Actually no, it wouldn't make sense — unless you're content to live in a world where you might be randomly killed so that your organs could be harvested.
While we might not know the right moral action, we still know that one must exist. [Loc 526]
By using the term "right" this is begging the question. There may be a preferable action, based on circumstances and consequences — an action that would be preferred by those affected by the consequences.
Many atheistic thinkers will openly admit that morality is not objective in a universe without God. [Loc 533]
It depends what you mean by "objective". If you mean independent of any single individual, then I'd disagree, because in a universe without God, morality can indeed be independent of any single individual. That's not to say morality is relative, or absolute. It has to be more nuanced than that (certainly more nuanced that a list of rules in a book).
“If thought is the undesigned and irrelevant product of cerebral motions, what reason have we to trust it?” [Loc 564]
This a C. S. Lewis quote. But as usual with Lewis, his facility with words outruns his analytic capacity. What he's saying is circular, because trust and reason are part of thought. And even if thought is undesigned, it certainly isn't irrelevant to the one who's thinking. Naturally this comes back to the theistic aversion to determinism and lack of free will. There's quite a lot in this chapter about determinism and free will, and what the consequences are if they are true. Rochford uses them to illustrate the horror of naturalism, but I couldn't help reading that section as a likely true account of reality.

That concludes my "review" of Chapter 1. It's not deep, but then the chapter reviewed is ridiculously superficial. And I should probably come clean and say that this concludes my review of the entire book. From the introduction and first chapter I infer that the rest of Evidence Unseen will be more of the same — not worth the bother.
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