The Smugness of Doubt

Book Review

The Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, by Vincent Bugliosi.

Among the dark panoply of contemporary anti-Christian authors, Vincent Bugliosi is seldom mentioned, which seems strange for an author with such a high profile. He’s a criminal lawyer who prosecuted the infamous Charles Manson case and afterward wrote the number one NY Times bestseller Helter Skelter telling the story. Two other Bugliosi books, And the Sea Will Tell and Outrage: The Five Reasons O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder, also reached number one best-seller status.

There was a passage in Outrage where he asked the “God, where are you?” question. It drew a disproportionately large reaction, he says, and this seems to be what led him to write Divinity of Doubt: The God Question. The book is his answer to that question, which is that there is no answer to the question, and anyone who thinks there is an answer is an idiot.

And so he freely and deeply excoriates the New Atheists, getting much (not all) of his criticism of Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens right. That comprises one chapter in Divinity of Doubt. He closes that chapter on p. 60 with this nice summary:

Before I leave atheism, let me ask this question: who is more irrational, the theist or the atheist? Although I believe they are both irrational, the theist wins the most irrational honor. I say that because nearly all atheists reacthed their clearly untenable conclusion after some rigorous thought, whereas most theists, Pavlovian to the bitter end, reached theirs without exercising their mind at all, determined to elevate ignorance and vapidity to a virtue.

Which leaves me scratching my head, for the whole point of that chapter had been to expose unthinking New Atheist illogic and ignorance. Just a pages earlier (p. 57), for example, he had informed us that Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens “have virtually nothing of value to say.” He went on to add,

What strikes me about these three atheist authors is that each is afflicted with the very same auditory idiopathy that apparently whispers in their ears that they can write a book about atheism without, remarkably, having to deal with most of the issues…. What’s even more astonishing is that they have gotten away with it, and very well indeed. This can only be attributed to the extreme gullibility of their millions of readers…. The fact that they have do not confront most of the major issues and present an intellectually sound case for their position is apparently irrelevant.

I suppose it’s also irrelevant to his judgment that atheists have “reached their … conclusion after some rigorous thought.”

His problem with the top-selling New Atheist authors is that they don’t understand what they are criticizing. Thus it is more than a little ironic how little he understands of Christianity. He dismisses the free will defense against the problem of evil by noting how few authors in history have brought it up—never mind that Alvin Plantinga’s version of it has been almost universally declared decisive, with respect to the so-called “logical problem of evil.” Bugliosi does seem to be aware of Plantinga: “creationist Alvin Plantinga would demur that evolutionists are not religiously neutral” (p. 67). He seems also to have heard of (ahem) “Catholic philosopher William Lane Craig” (p. 87) and Craig’s defense of the cosmological argument. (Craig attends a large Baptist Church near Atlanta.)

Actually Bugliosi, to his credit, gives considerable credit to the cosmological argument in Aquinas’s original “First Cause” formulation; but the teleological argument is a huge failure in his mind (pp. 83, 85):

If God, per Christianity, is all powerful and all-intelligent and can bring about whatever he pleases, why in the world would he create this incredibly complex system of 122 [fine-tuned] constants to provide life on earth? You mean he couldn’t create an earthy that was self-sustaining and relied on none of these things? That to do so would be beyond his power? …

If God is intelligent, as the Christian God is supposed to be, what conceivable reason could he possibly have had for creating prodigiously large, dead bodies floating in space throughout eternity? The answer has to be “no reason.” An intelligent being, by definition, would not crate anything … that are [sic] lifeless and serve no purpose …. If God created all of this dead matter in the universe, is there something seriously wrong with him?

The first question has theological and philosophical answers, the first of which is that it’s a supremely silly question. The teleological argument is not about what God could or could not have done. It doesn’t argue from the existence of God to the kind of universe that God must have or could not have created. Rather it begins with the kind of universe we find ourselves in, and proceeds from that point to the conclusion that this kind of universe calls for a supremely intelligent being as its cause. How Bugliosi could have gotten that so backward is beyond me

The second question is perhaps equally as silly, but since I have it available I’ll link to a theological answer. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s hard about it. “No reason,” he says. Really? How limited is this attorney’s imagination, anyway?

I find it interesting that he can accept the one argument and reject the other. The balance serves him well in his pursuit of agnosticism, for that is his considered opinion on the question of God. There is divinity to doubt, he tells us; and yet I doubt that is so much a conclusion he derives from the evidence as much as it is an attitude he takes in approaching it. He reveals an important, relevant facet of himself in the Preface (p. xiii):

Another thing you should know about me is that I am an extremely critical person. Indeed, you’d have a hard time finding someone as critical as I. I told Geraldo Rivera once, “Geraldo, I’d find fault with a beautiful morning sunrise.” … I am not cynical …. That said, at the first thing I see wrong, I critizice.

Most of what I criticize in this book in my opinion, flows from stupidity and/or ignorance.

Atheists are stupid and/or ignorant, he tells us. Theists are even more stupid and/or ignorant. Bugliosi is critical by nature, and by gum, he sure can criticize. Can he land on a decision of his own? No, that would be (he borrows this from Clarence Darrow) “pretend[ing] to know what ignorant men are sure of.”

And Bugliosi is not one of us ignoramuses. No, not him. he praises the “divinity of doubt,” but he has no doubt of his own intellectual superiority. His numerous misstatements on biblical history, his misunderstandings of textual transmission, his confusions over the relation of faith to science, his distortions of Christian philosophers and philosophy, his limited scope of research into “death” (the English dictionary!), his remarkable misinterpretations of Scripture (Romans 8:3 is false because people still sin!), his historic ignorance of the Galileo affair, his confusion over the moral argument for God and the historic goodness (not unblemished, obviously) of the Church, his whitewashing of atheist atrocities—none of this counts against his serene intellectual superiority over us idiot believers—and atheists, too

And yet in spite of all this—even though through his misstatements, distortions, and outrageous misunderstandings he has followed the very formula that made Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris famous as atheists—he hardly ever gets mentioned among anti-Christian authors. Remarkable, isn’t it?

The book was released in April 2011. It lists for $26.99 in hardcover. You can buy it new on Amazon for $2.42, or used for just a penny plus shipping. Don’t bother.

Don’t bother unless you might care to use it as an introduction to the sad and tragic mind of a man who loves to criticize and thinks he’s good at it. Obviously he’s competent in the courtroom. He’s way out of his field here, however. You might want to pray for him.


Comments 8
  1. BillT

    “He’s way out of his field here, however.”

    At least he shares this with Richard Dawkins.

  2. Debilis

    It is remarkably easy to forget that one cannot doubt except on the basis of a competing belief.

    Failing to see this, and therefore failing to subject that alternate belief to the same level of doubt, is both what leads Bugliosi to such confidence in himself and the New Atheists to demand that they need not defend their Scientism in order to challenge Christianity.

  3. Ray Ingles

    Debilis –

    It is remarkably easy to forget that one cannot doubt except on the basis of a competing belief.

    That’s simply wrong. It’s entirely possible to be unsure of what answer is correct.

    Indeed, it’s even possible to be sure a particular answer is wrong while still not being sure what answer is correct. Consider a suspect cleared of a crime by DNA evidence. That doesn’t mean you automatically know – or believe you know – who the actual perpetrator is.

  4. William Brown

    One must question his qualifications as a defense attorney, if he is capable of so much massive illogic and confusion. Perhaps he’s just good at obfuscation and lying (ie: a “good” lawyer).

  5. JAD

    Did you ever notice how new atheists, internet atheists, and now (God help us!) Vincent Bugliosi, always assert that they are more rational than Christian theists, but hardly ever engage the actual arguments that Christian theists use to show why they are irrational. I guess I am to conclude that they are (at least they think they are) more rational because of who they are, rather than the actual reasoning that they use.

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