Sunday 8 March 2015

Evidence Unseen (and probably unavailable)

Back in September I posted about James M. Rochford’s Evidence Unseen — Exploring the Myth of Blind Faith, which was free on Kindle at the time. Here’s my brief review of the introduction. I should make it clear, however, that I’m probably not the intended audience for this book. Over the years I’ve become fairly settled in my atheism, though I’m still on the lookout for new arguments for the existence of any gods. So far I’ve not found anything that’s convincing, but I don’t want that fact to shut me off from considering additional arguments.

Unfortunately the book does not start off well. The acknowledgements are couched in enough obsequious faux humility to induce a bout of nausea. But maybe that's just a style issue.

We begin with “Introduction: Who Needs Faith?” Essentially this is an argument implying the “god-shaped hole”, and it’s in three sections, the first being “Don’t Dump Your Brains Out”. Immediately we come up against the irony of claiming that Jesus used evidence, when the evidence that he did so is merely asserted:
Throughout his life on Earth, Jesus appealed to evidence—such as his miracles, his resurrection, and his fulfillment of messianic prophecy—in order to validate his divinity (Lk. 24:25-27; 44-46).[Location 154]
Rochford is arguing against fideism, which he attempts to refute mostly by quoting from the New Testament. This, to me, is putting the cart before the horse, but Christian apologists seem to do this a lot — placing their evidence for the truth of the Bible subsequent to arguments based on Biblical texts, as if they know the evidence for the truth of the Bible is flimsy but will be more readily accepted after substantial prior grooming.

The second section of the Introduction is “Don’t Be Afraid To Take A Step Of Faith”. Here Rochford is equating “faith” with “trust” — presumably based on evidence — but also claiming there’s a choice involved. There isn’t. If you are disposed to believe things on evidence, then you’ll believe something when sufficient evidence is available, not before. It all depends on what you consider "sufficient", but again, that's not something you can choose. (Check out doxastic voluntarism on Wikipedia.)

The third and final section of the Introduction, “Don’t Give Up The Search”, contains arguments that appear strictly binary: either God doesn’t exist, or the Christian God as described by Jesus in the New Testament does. This is the false dichotomy of Pascal’s Wager, which Rochford fully invokes in the following passage:
According to Jesus, our Creator loved us so much that he died for us. 
Can you even imagine a more egotistical thought? I can’t. God died for us. This is the very height of egotism. If human beings invented this message, then they have imagined the most conceited concept in human history. God died for us. It’s absurd! Hundreds of years ago, people believed the entire universe circled around Earth. While this is pretty self-centered, it doesn’t hold a candle to the message of the Bible; God died for us. How narcissistic would you have to be to believe something like this?
Unless, of course, it's true.[Location 258]
The problem here, of course, is that if it's not true, what is? The non-existence of any gods is not the only alternative. What if Islam is true, or Hindu polytheism?

At the end of the introduction Rochford fires this parting shot:
If you’re a close-minded person, then I doubt any of the evidence in this book will persuade you of the truth of who Jesus was and claimed to be.[Location 315]
The implication is clear (and vaguely insulting), which is why I don't think this book is aimed at atheists. But Rochford seems to be arguing against apatheism here, which is odd, because apatheists won’t be reading his book.

So that’s the introduction. Is it going the same way other apologetics books seem to go? Pretty much, but stay tuned while I continue to read.