Friday, March 30, 2007

Even More Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Michael Patrick Leahy's book is a substantive critique of the work of Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation. Leahy shows how wrong minded and frankly lopsided Harris' view of reality ends up being. Good intellectual stuff."

Dr. Bob Harrington
Lead Pastor of Harpeth Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee

Letter to an Atheist now on sale !

The book cover is done, the text is in the last stage of polishing. It's off to the printers Monday, and we're taking pre-publication orders now !

Pre-publication orders will ship to you on Thursday, April 12.

To order online now, go to the online store of Harpeth River Press

What a great Easter present ! (OK, it won't arrive until a week or so after, but you get the idea.)

The perfect gift for the graduating high school or college senior !

Even More Advance Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Michael Patrick Leahy skillfully debunks Harris' charge that serious Christians and Islamic radicals should be equally feared; He also exposes the bigotry and distortion typically shown by secularists when addressing Intelligent Design. More importantly, Leahy shows that Harris' proposed utopia, in which religion is caged and tamed by the secularists, has already been shown to produce a world that most do not care to inhabit."

Ralph Seelke, Ph.D.
Professor, Biology
University of Wisconsin-Superior

Thursday, March 29, 2007

First Pre-Publication Sale of Letter to an Atheist

The Williamson County, Tennessee Public Library System has just purchased 3 copies of Letter to an Atheist !

More Advance Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Finally, a strong Christian voice addresses the intellectual dishonesty of atheistic evangelism."

Christine Schaub
Best selling author of The Longing Season, the story of John Newton and Amazing Grace.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Advance Praise for Letter to an Atheist

"Mr. Leahy has used a logical, step-by-step, reasoned, and well-referenced approach to engage and refute an attack on Christian positions and principles. The material is well worth reading and debating. I was especially impressed by the defense of Christians' track record in opposing slavery. With the recent public attention to the life and contribution of William Wilberforce, this chapter could not be more timely.

In addition, Mr. Leahy's description of my own position regarding vaccines is accurate. I appreciate his clarification of the issues for discerning readers.

Though many of the details in Mr. Leahy's book, and their implications, can and should be debated, Mr. Leahy must be commended for bringing so many important issues into the open, giving us the historical background, and setting a healthy, positive tone for the debate.

A must-read for Christians and non-Christians who truly seek the truth about the toughest long-standing issues confronting humanity."

Reginald Finger, MD, MPH
Independent medical researcher

One of several back jacket book blurbs for Letter to an Atheist. Publication Date: Thursday, April 12, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

New English translation of the Koran supports moderate view of feminists

Hot off the presses from Reuters, as found through the Drudge Report ! Excellent timing to see that this new version of the Koran will be published the same month as Letter to an Atheist.

NEW YORK (Reuters)
- A new English-language interpretation of the Muslim Holy book the Koran challenges the use of words that feminists say have been used to justify the abuse of Islamic women.

The new version, translated by an Iranian-American, will be published in April and comes after Muslim feminists from around the world gathered in New York last November and vowed to create the first women's council to interpret the Koran and make the religion more friendly toward women.

In the new book, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, a former lecturer on Islam at the University of Chicago, challenges the translation of the Arab word "idrib," traditionally translated as "beat," which feminists say has been used to justify abuse of women.

"Why choose to interpret the word as 'to beat' when it can also mean 'to go away'," she writes in the introduction to the new book.

The passage is generally translated: "And as for those women whose illwill you have reason to fear, admonish them; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!"

Instead, Bakhtiar suggests "Husbands at that point should submit to God, let God handle it -- go away from them and let God work His Will instead of a human being inflicting pain and suffering on another human being in the Name of God."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Encouraging comments

We're on target for an April 13, 2007 publication date for Letter to an Atheist.

The folks at Lightning Source (the local "Publisher on Demand") have been very helpful, and we're putting the finishing touches on the proofing, editing, and book design. Looks like it will all be uploaded by April 1, which will get the first 50 to us by Friday the 13th (lucky day, yes ?). The joint book signing with Christine Schaub at Landmark Booksellers on Main Street in Franklin, Tennessee will be on April 15th at 3 PM.

Initial feedback from readers for book jacket blurb have been very positive.

Bonnie Calhoun of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance encouragingly suggests "this could be big !" and counsels finding an agent and a more established publisher. If the first edition from Harpeth River Press does well, we may get an agent and a new publisher for the second edition.

A best selling novelist has read most of it, and likes it.... As the topic is a bit controversial, we probably want be seeing a blurb from this novelist, but the vibe is excellent.

Awaiting word from several academics and theologians.

You should be able to buy Letter to an Atheist at around May 1.

The key focus now is to generate a crowd for the April 15 book signing. We'll be sending out about 300 postcard invitations around April 1. If you want to get on the list, drop us a note here in the comments section and we will add you to our database.

A corresponding article -- Ten Factual Errors and Misrepresenations in Letter to a Christian Nation Sam Harris Will Never Acknoweldge or Refute -- will also be sent to major publications around April 1. Turns out there are more than two dozen of these errors, but in the interest of brevity I pared the article down to the top ten !

The total page count (including appendices) has jumped up to 176, so we've decided to increase the price point from $12.95 to $14.95. I don't think the extra $2 will be the deciding factor on how well the book sells. That will hinge on publicity and marketing, I think.

Thanks to all the friends and supporters who have been so encouraging throughout this process. Apologies if I have not been as quick to respond as usual. This finishing a book thing -- well, it's not like giving birth exactly, but there are some similarities in the processes. Focused, intense, painful, and ultimately (we hope) rewarding !

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh Happy Day !

The first draft of Letter to an Atheist is done and out for review !

What a relief.

Though the schedule for editing and printing is still fairly tight, it looks like we will make our publication date of April 15 with a few days to spare !

It's 117 pages of text (26 more than Letter to a Christian Nation), with another 33 pages of appendices. While it could always be better, I feel fairly comfortable saying that with some additional editing, it should be a pretty interesting little read by April 15 !

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lewis asked What Went Wrong ?

In his 2002 masterpiece of the same name, Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis (1916 - present) asked the question What Went Wrong ?

By that he meant why did the Muslim world, which dominated military, economic, scientific, and technological affairs during the Golden Age of Islam (750-1250 A.D.) find itself behind other major civilizations in all these areas in the subsequent seven and a half centuries ?

Lewis argues that Muslims have been preoccupied with answering the question -- Who did this to us ? They have, he says, offered a series of outside groups to blame for the overall decline -- from the Mongol hordes, to imperialistic Europeans, to Jews, to Americans.

Lewis rejects this explanation, as well as explanations that offer the dramatic rise of the West while Islam failed to advance at the same pace.

He also rejects the argument that the decline is inherent to the Islamic faith.

The medieval Islamic world offered only limited freedom in comparison with modern ideals and even with modern practice in the more advanced democracies, but if offered vastly more freedom than any of its predecessors, its contemporaries, and most of its successors.

What caused the decline then ?

Some indeed have posed the question in a different form -- not "What has Islam done to the Muslims?" but " What have the Muslims done to Islam ?, " and have answered by laying the blame on specific teachers and doctrines and groups.

For those nowadays known as [Islamic fundamentalists] the failures and shortcomings of the modern Islamic lands afflicted them because they adopted alien notions and practices. They fell away from authentic Islam, and thus lost their former greatness.

Those known as modernists or reformers take the opposite view, and see the cause of this loss not in the abandonment but retention of old ways, and especially in the inflexibility and ubiquity of the Islamic clergy...

A more usual approach to this theme is to discuss not religion in general, but a specific problem: the place of religion and its professional exponents in the political order. For these, a principal cause of Western progress is the separation of church and state and the creation of a civil society governed by secular laws...

To a Western observer, schooled in the theory and practice of Western freedom, it is precisely the lack of freedom--freedom of the mind from constraint and indoctrination, to question and inquire and speak; freedom of the economy from corrupt and pervasive mismanagement; freedom of women from male oppression; freedom of citizens from tyranny--that underlies so many of the troubles of the Muslim world.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Controversial Professor Leuba

James H. Leuba (1867-1946) was a native of Switzerland who emigrated to the United States. From 1898 until 1933 he was a Professor of Psychology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

An admirer of William James, he became one of the founders of the academic study of the psychology of religion. An atheist, he believed that religious phenomenon could be studied as physiological events, and spent a great deal of time making a connection between drug use and religious mysticism.

He generally attempted to show in his research that the more educated a person was, the less they were inclined to believe in God.

Leuba figures prominently in two major controversies, both resulting from his famous 1916 study The Belief in God and Immortality.

One conclusion of this work was that college students were less likely to believe in God after leaving college than upon beginning college. William Jennings Bryant apparently read this study, and became so incensed by the "indoctrination" students were receiving from atheist professors he began looking for an opportunity to defend the faith in an educational setting. He was prepared, therefore, when he was called to prosecute the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925 held in Dayton, Tennessee.

Of more immediate relevance to my book, Letter to an Atheist, is Leuba's survey of American scientists. Using the 5,500 names in the publication American Men of Science (apparently Leuba could not find any American Women of Science in 1914 when the survey was conducted), Leuba sent surveys to 1,000 randomly selected members. He received 750 responses. The results showed that 41.8% of the responding scientists believed in God. Such a response rate suggests a 95% confidence level that the results are correct, plus or minus 4 per cent.

Leuba tried to break down these results even further, separating the scientists into two different groupings: (1) physical scientists and biological scientists and (2) greater and lesser scientists by subjective estimates of the quality of their work.

Leuba claimed that biological scientists showed less belief in God than physical scientists.

He also claimed that "Greater" scientists showed less belief in God than "Lesser" scientists.

A closer look at his methodology suggests that his sample sizes for these different groupings were probably not large enough to make any conclusions with a high degree of confidence.

His sample size for physical scientists was 450, and biological scientists 300.

His sample size for "Lesser" scientists was 450, and "Greater" scientists was 300.

Leuba further complicated his findings by breaking up his study into two divisions of 500 each, each of which received approximately 375 responses. Division 1, for instance, consisted of 375 responses -- 150 from "Greater" Scientists and 225 from "Lesser" scientists. By area of functional expertise, Division 1 broke down approximately as follows: 202 physical scientists, 150 biological scientists, and 23 psychologists, philosophers, and sociologists. Leuba acknowledged that it was an error to include psychologists, philosophers, and sociologists in Division 1, and they were excluded from Division 2. In the same survey, psychologists had significantly lower rates of belief in God, but Leuba did not remove their contaminating influence from the results of Division 1.

The results of his study have been misreported as a consequence.

For instance, Nature Magazine reported in 1998 that Leuba concluded in his 1916 study that only 27% of the "Greater" scientists were believers. This is not accurate.

27% of the respondents to Division 1 reported a belief in God.

35% of the respondents to Division 2 reported a belief in God.

Nature Magazine failed to account for the inherent corruption of the Division 1 sample by psychologists, nor did it address the sample size problem.

The "margin of error" for a sample size of 150 is approximately 9 per cent.

Even if we were to accept the subjective breakdown of "greater" and "lesser" scientists that Leuba performed, the supposed difference between "greater" scientists and the population of scientists as a whole lies within the margin of error, and therefore, cannot be claimed.

One final comment on Leuba.

Though it is of no relevance to this argument, it turns out that he is remembered fondly by one of his students. The actress Katharine Hepburn (Bryn Mawr Class of 1928) recalls Professor Leuba in her memoirs for his kind and avuncular advice to her.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Beaten to the punch on The Dawkins Delusion

Christian theologian Alister McGrath has beaten me to the punch on The Dawkins Delusion. Can't wait to read it !

Yockey on Science and Faith

Science, religion and literature are all legitimate paths to truth. Literature and religion have belief systems which are different, and in a sense opposite from those of science. The truth in literature lies outside the methods of science. The poet says: "the bird of time has but a little way to flutter and the bird is on the wing." The scientist says: "Time is not a bird and the wing is an appendage on the bird, not the other way around."

Scientific beliefs are never absolute. Doubt is a virtue in science and many theories, thought to have been well established, were replaced because tiny discrepancies led to the unraveling of the whole structure of the theory. Faith, on the other hand, plays a central role in religion. The conflict between literature and religion, on one hand, and science on the other, would be resolved if proponents of both realized this difference in belief systems. The new journal, Truth, can play a useful role in establishing a dialogue. We may be surprised how many scientists are really talking religion and how many theologians are talking science.

Hubert P. Yockey 1993

Author of Information Theory and Molecular Biology Cambridge University Press (1992)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thoughts on Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was a funny looking fellow, a combination of Fred Flintstone and John Goodman in appearance. The cartoon like image that his droopy moustache, rumpled academic clothing, and sleepy looking eyes created, however, disappeared the moment he opened his mouth. Anyone who listened to him speak more than two consecutive sentences knew immediately -- this guy was a genius.

I first met Professor Gould in the fall of 1973. I was a freshman at Harvard and had signed up for his introductory Geology course, Natural Sciences 10, or, as it was affectionately known "Rocks for Jocks".

Gould was one of the most interesting and engaging professors I ever had. A scientist who studied all sorts of odd sounding, ancient creatures, he was extremely familiar with a broad range of literature. He sprinkled his lectures with numerous references to the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, leading me to conclude that he was fascinated by that book.

Later in life, of course, he would become known as an opponent to the Creationist movement popular within the "Religious Right." His relationship with the Intelligent Design movement was equally uncomfortable. Phillip E. Johnson quoted his reservations about classical Darwinism liberally in his famous book Darwin on Trial, but Gould vigorously protested that Johnson had not gotten his position right.

New York City born and bred, Gould's father was an avowed Marxist, and that philosophy must have had some influence on his son, though he would often deny that it was a political philosophy with which he had much in common.

Working on the Science, Faith, and Atheangelism chapter of Letter to an Atheist, I am thrilled to be revisiting Gould's work. Looking at his work afresh, especially in the context of the atheangelism of many of his fellow evolutionary biologists, I find myself increasingly drawn to Gould's views in a couple areas, especially in his view that science and religion are separate realms of inquiry. In this he differs from his enemy Richard Dawkins, who sees the two realms intertwined. Science, Dawkins might argue, exists to destroy religion.

Gould and Dawkins also disagreed significantly on evolutionary theory. Gould argued that Darwin's gradualism of speciation was not really reflected in the fossil record. Rather, life evolved in a sort of punctuated equilibrium, in which there would be long periods of relative "stasis" among species, followed by sudden and dramatic changes -- many existing species becoming extinct, many new species springing up.

For Dawkins, evolution is completely explained by natural selection. For Gould other developmental factors played a role.

Janet Browne on Huxley

Janet Browne, now a Professor of the History of Science at Harvard, seems to lend some support to my view of Thomas Huxley as the father of atheangelism in her masterful two volume biography of Charles Darwin.

When [Harvard botanist and Darwin's Dove Asa] Gray went to dine at the X Club he found England's other Darwinists were much more men of the world. Warily, he distanced himself from what he called "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought," by which he probably meant Huxley . . . Huxley was rampaging on miracles and the existence of the soul. A few months later, he was to coin the word "agnostic" to describe his own position as neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but one who considered himself free to inquire rationally into the basis of knowledge. . .

The term fitted him well . . . and it caught the attention of the other free thinking, rational doubters in Huxley's ambit, and came to signify a particularly active form of scientific rationalism during the final decades of the 19th century...

In his hands, agnosticism became as doctrinaire as anything else--a religion of skepticism. Huxley used it as a creed that would place him on a higher moral plane than even bishops and archbishops. All the evidence would nevertheless suggest that Huxley was sincere in his rejection of the charge of outright atheism against himself.

To inquire rigorously into the spiritual domain, he asserted, was a more elevated undertaking than slavishly to believe or disbelieve. "A deep sense of religion is compatible with the entire absence of theology," he had told [Anglican clergyman] Charles Kingsley back in 1860. "Pope Huxley", the [magazine] Spectator dubbed him. The label stuck.

(Source: Browne, Janet, Charles Darwin, The Power of Place, pages 309-310)

Professor Browne clearly saw Huxley's belief structure as a religion. She does, however, seem to accept Huxley's claim that he was not an atheist, a claim of which I am dubious. Judging by Huxley's rabid anti-clericism, the antipathy he expressed for organized religion, and the complete body of his work on the topic, my view is different. I suspect that Huxley's decision to claim agnosticism's distinction as not being atheistic was really part of his on going public relations battle to gain public acceptance for his views. Certainly his tactics were consistent with my description of atheangelism.

Consider for a moment the conversation between English atheist Edward Aveling and Charles Darwin at Darwin's residence in September, 1881:

Aveling urgently asked Darwin if he was an atheist. He preferred the word "agnostic" he replied. "Agnostic was but Atheist writ respectable," responded Aveling, "and Atheist was only Agnostic writ aggressive."

(Source: Browne, page 484)

What Asa Gray called "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought", I call atheangelism when it is combined with the aggressive deliverance of that message to the public in a way that claims moral superiority and ridicules the intellectual integrity of opposing viewpoints.

I spoke with Professor Browne via phone today and asked if she might consider reviewing Letter to an Atheist. She politely declined, citing a heavy academic workload. I described my theory of Huxley as the father of "atheangelism" and Professor Browne had no comment on that term one way or the other.

It would be interesting to see her thoughts on "atheangelism" if she had time to review my chapter on "Science, Faith, and Atheangelism."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Huxley on Abiogenesis

Here are the words of Thomas Huxley, scientist, Darwin's Bulldog, the father of Atheangelism, and coiner of the word "agnosticism" on the concept of abiogenesis -- the creation of life from inanimate matter.

But though I cannot express this conviction of mine too strongly, I must carefully guard myself against the supposition that I intend to suggest that no such thing as Abiogenesis ever has taken place in the past, or ever will take place in the future.

With organic chemistry, molecular physics, and physiology yet in their infancy, and every day making prodigious strides, I think it would be the height of presumption for any man to say that the conditions under which matter assumes the properties we call "vital" may not, some day, be artificially brought together. All I feel justified in affirming is, that I see no reason for believing that the feat has been performed yet. . .

But expectation is permissible where belief is not; and if it were given me to look beyond the abyss of geologically recorded time to the still more remote period when the earth was passing through physical and chemical conditions, which it can no more see again than a man can recall his infancy, I should expect to be a witness of the evolution of living protoplasm from not living matter.

I should expect to see it appear under forms of great simplicity, endowed, like existing fungi, with the power of determining the formation of new protoplasm from such matters as ammonium carbonates, oxalates and tartrates, alkaline and earthy phosphates, and water, without the aid of light. That is the expectation to which analogical reasoning leads me; but I beg you once more to recollect that I have no right to call my opinion anything but an act of philosophical faith.

Thomas Huxley

Deja Vu

As that great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, it's deja vu all over again.

Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snake beside that of Hercules, and history records that whenever science and dogmatism have been fairly opposed, the latter have been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed, if not annihilated, scotched if not slain.

Thomas Huxley

The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.

Sam Harris

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The rise of Atheangelism

Darwin could not have predicted how effectively his theory would aid the rise of "atheangelism".

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, don't bother looking for it in the dictionary. I've just coined it, and here's how I define it:

An "atheangelist" is a person who aggressively evangelizes the cause of atheism to the general public, using the theories of Charles Darwin to support the argument that there is no God. Common tactics of atheangelists include ridiculing the intelligence of those who hold an alternate point of view as well as ignoring or glossing over the legitimate scientific arguments presented by opponents. Atheangelism is a world view and belief structure based on certain key assumptions, which include abiogenesis, the unassailability of Darwinism, and the natural superiority of atheangelism to all other belief structures.

Thomas Huxley was the first atheangelist, and the belief structure was christened in 1860 during his famous debate with Bishop Samuel Wilbeforce. The atheangelist standard since then has been carried by many scientists and social theorists, including Ludwig Bruchner, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris.

More thoughts on Darwin

Charles Darwin has been the central figure in the "faith versus science" controvery for a century and a half. He was very uncomfortable with that role during his lifetime, and, my guess is, he would be even more uncomfortable with that role if he could join us today.

Janet Browne's two volume biography of Darwin paints the picture of an avuncular, modest, private man who followed his scientific thoughts where they lead. A gentleman of leisure due to inherited wealth, Darwin was a devoted family man, well respected member of his small community (Downe), and a good friend to many.

He knew that his theory could lead in a direction of atheism, but welcomed Christian believers and non-believers alike to review and understand the science behind it.

Much has been made of his personal journey of faith -- too much probably. The atheists who found in it the scientific basis to support their beliefs overplayed their hand, in his opinion. And yet, his own personal descent into agnosticism was a fact that men like Thomas Huxley and Ludwig Bruchner did not fail to mention in their quest to destroy faith.

Darwin was much more accepting of the Christian views of others than either Huxley or Bruchner. Indeed, the sense I get from reading of his life is that he was very conflicted on the matter.

Born a Christian, but surrounded by non-believers, Darwin did not abandon his Christian faith until 1851, when his ten year old daughter died. His wife Emma was a strong Christian throughout her life, and one can imagine the tension within the household when aggressive atheists came by to visit the retiring Darwin and his wife played the gracious hostess.

If Darwin were here today, I imagine he might send a gentle note of advice to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. The content of the note ? Probably a suggestion to focus on the science of his theory and not to apply it aggressively and publicly to matters of faith.