I’m sure by now most of the readers of this blog have heard of the controversy that engulfed Mr. Derbyshire this summer when he wrote about an important issue concerning the fate of Western civilization. Indeed, Christians who are passionate about their faith should be particularly concerned with Mr. Derbyshire's views.
I’m talking about, of course, his piece on heaven written for the June 2012 issue of The American Spectator. The piece purports to be a review of a book by Peter Kreeft on the subject of heaven, but is really no more than one long ignorant sneer. I have read “the Derb” for many years now and I generally find his writing to be full of wit and erudition. But when it comes to the subject of religion, he turns into one of the shallowest of the so-called “New Atheists”.
So I was particularly interested to read the letter section of the next issue of The American Spectator which contained the following letter from the conservative lawyer Roger Clegg. I should note, with some satisfaction, lawyers have a long and distinguished history of writing apologetics both here and in England and Mr. Clegg’s pithy response to Derbyshire’s awful piece carries on in this proud tradition:
MR. DERBYSHIRE DEMANDS "evidence" of God and Heaven ("Heavens to Betsy," TAS, June 2012), but since there is plenty of evidence what he really seems to want is proof. Well, proof he will not get, but of course he can offer no proof either. And, as I say, there is plenty of evidence.
Consider, to give just the most obvious example, the Gospels, not to mention the rest of the New Testament and the Old. Now, you can attack their veracity, just as a lawyer in court can attack the veracity of some document, but you cannot say that it is not evidence. And their veracity actually holds up rather well, by the way.
Mr. Derbyshire also attacks C.S. Lewis, but offers little besides name-calling, and with that limited to Lewis's mythic and poetic children's stories, not his more forthright apologetics. Of these, Mr. Derbyshire apparently started to read, but never finished, only one.
And of the latter, Mr. Derbyshire says only—in response to Lewis's famous liar-lunatic-lord trilemma—that perhaps Jesus was just "mistaken." Now here again, Lewis did not purport to offer proof, but only a way of evaluating the evidence. And it is, pace Mr. Derbyshire, quite persuasive. To think (mistakenly) that one is God is not like thinking (mistakenly) that it is Tuesday instead of Wednesday-it is the kind of mistake that only lunatics make.
Mr. Derbyshire, poor soul, is trying very hard not to believe. So as Mr. Lewis said, he risks God concluding for him, "Very well—THY will be done," and thus to Hell rather than to Heaven with him. Why run such a risk? Why not follow his fellow mathematician Blaise Pascal, and choose instead to cultivate one's faith rather than try so hard not to? There is much more to win than to lose.
- Roger Clegg, Fairfax, Virginia
Unfortunately, rather than maintaining a dignified silence, in recognition of the fact that Clegg got the better of him, Derbyshire doubles down with the infamous New Atheist ploy known as the “one god further objection”:
John Derbyshire replies:
I AM OBLIGED to Mr. Clegg for his attention to my piece. I should like to offer him some satisfaction, but alas, in between submitting that article and seeing Mr. Clegg's response, I was directed by a friend to the book Mere Odinism by Cnut Snorri Leifsson. I found C.S. Leifsson's arguments entirely convincing, and am now a devoted worshipper of the Æsir and Vanir.
I urge Mr. Clegg to abandon the false, womanish, and oriental religion of Yahweh and embrace the true European faith of Odinism. I hope he will do so; I hope, after our earthly dissolution, we shall meet together in Freyja's fields, and quaff many a jug of mead together with the heroes of Valhalla, as scop and gleeman regale us with heroic ballads of our ancestors. Now THAT'S a heaven!
I ought to tell him further that I have changed my name in honor of my new confession and should henceforth be known as Johan Bloodaxe.
To a teenage atheist who thinks he knows it all, this kind of thing sounds convincing; but our former colleague, the brilliant philosopher Ed Feser explains why it is nonsense in great detail in this classic blog post over at his own wonderful blog. I would add, in addition to what Ed said, that it is curious Mr. Derbyshire continues to ignore the challenge that C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft and Roger Clegg put before him – the clear evidence that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” [1 Corinthians 15:3-8]. If he finds this Biblical evidence lacking or unconvincing, why not tell us how and why? He claims to be in love with empirical data and cold, hard facts and yet when confronted by smart Christian apologetics, he retreats to jokes about Norse gods. Surely Mr. Derbyshire can do better than this.