The San Francisco Chronicle saw fit this weekend to provide its dwindling pool of readers with some words of wisdom from Dinesh D'Souza. Interesting choice. D'Souza is busy drumming up sales for his new book, What's So Great About Christianity?, just published by Regnery, a pre-eminent source of right-wing blather. D'Souza should feel right at home.
D'Souza has spotted an opportunity to take advantage of the recent higher profile of atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. He's girded his loins and joined the faithful's counterattack against the God doubters. D'Souza assures us in his newspaper article that we are ensouled creatures, not godless products of a mechanistic universe. How does he know this? It's because D'Souza can make a mess whenever he feels like it!
[I]s the long-standing human belief in the soul a fiction? We can answer this question by examining the issue of free will. Let me illustrate. I am sitting at my computer with a cup of coffee on my desk. I can reach over and take a sip if I choose; I can knock the coffee mug onto the carpet if I choose; I can just leave the cup alone and let the coffee get cold. Now I ask: Is there anything in the laws of physics that forces me do any of these things? Obviously not. In Milton Friedman's phrase, I am “free to choose.”Perhaps I could believe this argument if I chose to do so, but I find that I can't. That's perplexing. Even the quote from St. Milton of Friedman doesn't persuade me.
Although I haven't read D'Souza's book-length defense of Christianity, the piece in the Chronicle neither raises my hopes nor piques my curiosity. The author wants us to believe that our rational minds must be more than the operation of neurons. Unfortunately, his argument merely displaces the discussion from rational thought to free will. If complex networks of neurons permit us to think, why shouldn't these networks permit us to make choices, too? How did the notion of a soul get wedged into that?
The book flap for What's So Great About Christianity reportedly sports the following teaser:
Yeah, right. Dinesh is in the same league as C. S. Lewis. Tell me another one. D'Souza is just another apologist for creationism and its bastard offspring, intelligent design.
Provocative, enlightening, a twenty-first-century successor to C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity is the perfect book for the seeker, the skeptic, and the believer who wants to defend his faith.
- Why Christianity explains what modern science tells us about the universe and our origins—that matter was created out of nothing, that light preceded the sun—better than atheism does
- How Christianity created the framework for modern science, so that Christianity and science are not irreconcilable, but science and atheism might be
- Why the alleged sins of Christianity—the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Galileo affair (“an atheist's fable”)—are vastly overblown
- *Why atheist regimes are responsible for the greatest mass murders of history
- *Why evolution does not threaten Christian belief, but actually supports the “argument from design”
- Why atheists fear the Big Bang theory and the “anthropic principle” of the universe, which are keystones of modern astronomy and physics
- How Christianity explains consciousness and free will, which atheists have to deny
- Why ultimately you can't have Western civilization—and all we value from it—without the Christianity that gave it birth.
Don't get me wrong: I do certainly believe that Dinesh D'Souza is one of the greatest intellects to be found in the current stable of right-wing polemicists. That's seriously sad, isn't it?
I wonder if D'Souza has read any of Mark Twain's thoughts on free will. Twain's famous essay What is Man? is in the form of a dialog between a Young Man and an Old Man. The entire text is available on-line from the Gutenberg Project, from which I took this excerpt:
Y.M. You have arrived at man, now?I think I'll read more Mark Twain and less Dinesh D'Souza. Not, of course, that I have any choice in the matter!
O.M. Yes. Man the machine—man the impersonal engine. Whatsoever a man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his associations. He is moved, directed, COMMANDED, by exterior influences—solely. He originates nothing, not even a thought.
Y.M. Oh, come! Where did I get my opinion that this which you are talking is all foolishness?
O.M. It is a quite natural opinion—indeed an inevitable opinion—but you did not create the materials out of which it is formed. They are odds and ends of thoughts, impressions, feelings, gathered unconsciously from a thousand books, a thousand conversations, and from streams of thought and feeling which have flowed down into your heart and brain out of the hearts and brains of centuries of ancestors. Personally you did not create even the smallest microscopic fragment of the materials out of which your opinion is made; and personally you cannot claim even the slender merit of putting the borrowed materials together. That was done automatically—by your mental machinery, in strict accordance with the law of that machinery's construction. And you not only did not make that machinery yourself, but you have not even any command over it.
Y.M. This is too much. You think I could have formed no opinion but that one?
O.M. Spontaneously? No. And you did not form that one; your machinery did it for you—automatically and instantly, without reflection or the need of it.
Y.M. Suppose I had reflected? How then?
O.M. Suppose you try?
Y.M. (After a quarter of an hour.) I have reflected.
O.M. You mean you have tried to change your opinion—as an experiment?
O.M. With success?
Y.M. No. It remains the same; it is impossible to change it.
O.M. I am sorry, but you see, yourself, that your mind is merely a machine, nothing more. You have no command over it, it has no command over itself—it is worked solely from the outside. That is the law of its make; it is the law of all machines.