One last lesson for “atheist” Curtis White: It’s about the evidence, stupid

July 9, 2013

This will be the last time I write anything for Curtis White. He’s already got much more attention than he deserves. I already pointed out a spectacular shot he placed in his own foot in a disgraceful and inaccurate hatchet-job on the late Christopher Hitchens. Here I will deal with a very popular and straight-forward error that White naturally felt compelled to jump the queue of religious apologists and theologians, and make as well.

White proclaims:

Like Hitchens, I am an atheist, if to be an atheist means not believing in a CEO God who sits outside his creation…

and then accuses Hitchens in God is not Great of reducing religion to a “series of criminal anecdotes.”

In the process, however, virtually all of the real history of religious thought, as well as historical and textual scholarship, is simply ignored as if it never existed. Not for Hitchens the rich cross-cultural fertilization of the Levant by Helenistic, Jewish, and Manichaean thought….

Leave aside the fact that White didn’t read the book closely enough to notice that it frequently celebrates the influence of Greek philosophy on both Judaism and Christianity, and laments that more of it was not carried further into human history.

Instead, let us move on to the fact that the central issue here is that… (ahem…)


It doesn’t matter whether your god is a nasty horrid CEO God, or some non-dualistic pantheist God that usually involves name-dropping Spinoza. 

The evidence that is not there for the CEO God is also not there for a pantheistic Spinozan God.

True, Hitchens did not specifically address the particular nebulous version of God that Curtis White may or may not at times believe in. And neither did Richard Dawkins (who White also takes a few ill-directed swings at), but don’t be such a flabby layabout. Don’t just sit there smugly and say “I don’t believe in that CEO God either.” Think for yourself man. Check how your non-CEO God stacks up against the arguments against the existence of gods in general.

And maybe indeed a case could be made that at times Hitchens (and maybe more frequently Dawkins) tend to overstate the dangers of religious belief. (If my internet was working at home and I wasn’t writing this in a hot stuffy internet cafe, I might even have sought out the opening sequence to one of Dawkins’ documentaries where he argues that a procession of believers at Lourdes is a slippery slope to suicide bombing, but I won’t. Anyway, Curtis White should have done that, and if he didn’t bother why should I?)

But White and many others conflate the two issues. Pretty much the whole of science fails to suggest any kind of god. And the more clearly any idea of God is imagined, the more clear the evidence against it becomes. 

White fails to deal with any of this at all. But it’s an issue of central importance to the whole argument. If there is no good evidence for God’s existence, there is also no good reason for believers to have political or personal power over me or anyone else. This, above all is the reason that Hitchens was so uncompromising. 

And some believers — some — are also courageous enough to ponder these issues deeply and sincerely. Curtis White, in that short extract from his absurdly titled book The Science Delusion, demonstrates he is not in that category.

Posted by Yakaru



  1. I’ve just read Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, and this is one of the tricks he mentions there, redefining god to mean something different from the belief being criticised. And as you point out, it’s a waste of time: there’s no evidence for the slightly-less-obviously-dumb-ass god he just pretended was our invention. Hey yeah, what is that, a straw man by proxy? He just pretended we erected a straw god to critically doubt, because we can’t find anything against the real one (which he’s just made up based on avoiding that criticism). It’s the same mindset that engages in the confirmation bias of religious belief generally, in prayer for instance. We pray for god to help us, but if god doesn’t help us in the way we asked him to, we redefine what the prayer was meant for, or what kind of help it was we might have received (the patient died anyway, so this must be a lesson in growing through suffering, praise the lord, and, after all, they’re with god now, so we should be happy) – as a stop-gap, there’s always “it’s a mystery”, “god moves in mysterious ways” – anything but consider that we might be talking to ourselves. Incidentally, I wonder how many more The Science Delusions there will be. Did he not know Rupert Sheldrake got there first? It’s so bothersome for our Scientism Propaganda Department – now someone has to write The Curtis White Delusion … or was that a ’70s soul album?

  2. Nicely done. Did you see the Salon piece a few days ago which seems to borrow from your piece?


  3. I am chuffed to read that Carlo Dellora (? the author of the Salon article) is an honours student at the University of Melbourne, possibly a student in the Arts faculty ?

    I think it just goes to show that a degree against your name (a Ph D in particular) does not count for much if an undergraduate (i.e. a bachelor´s degree candidate without any degree at all yet ?) can successfully pick apart pieces of a book written by a professor of English with a Ph. D.

    I am beginning to suspect that when Prof White retrospectively claimed his book The Science Delusion was written as satire, he may have been trying to disguise his own bungling. (I originally was inclined to believe he was being satirical, still I have not read his book.)

    Curtis White on Christopher Hitchens, again: “In the process, however, virtually all of the real history of religious thought, as well as historical and textual scholarship, is simply ignored as if it never existed. Not for Hitchens the rich cross-cultural fertilization of the Levant by Helenistic, Jewish, and Manichaean thought….”

    (virtually all) ?
    (virtual / real) ?
    (as if) ?
    (rich cross-cultural fertilisation) ?

    It reads like rhetoric and cliché to me.

    What is the difference between real history and unreal history or virtual history ?

    What is the difference between a CEO God (sic) and a non-CEO God (sic) and God (sic) ?

    What is the difference between religious thought, religious delusion, religious propaganda, religious bigotry and religious hypocrisy ?

  4. I’m also annoyed by that behavior, lettersquash. I’d call it a specific form of mobile goalposts.

    I’m also fond of calling vague gods “metaphorical vapor.” They just sit there in the ether, doing nothing except maybe acting as a symbol for something. Naturally, this raises the question of why they’re so important or why belief in them is supposed to have some kind of profound effect. Okay, I can reify the concept of liberty as a toga’d woman bearing a torch. Big whoop. Doesn’t change anything except provide a vague symbol I can use to communicate ideas. In that case, “gods” are essentially slogans.

    On another level, it’s kind of bluff trolling: The believer sits there giggling, pretending they’ve set up some huge prank, feigning anticipation in hopes that we’ll break down and panic from the phantom prank. Their real intended prank is causing that panic. It’s a way they can rile up people without having to engage in a serious discussion. They “win” if we visibly express annoyance or frustration at extracting information about their position.

  5. @Letteraquash,

    Yep, there’s certainly a lot to be learned from Breaking the Spell. It certainly influenced the way I approach this blog too. Especially the stuff about religions “evolving” to evade criticism. New Age ideas evolve according to what’s marketable. If it sells it’s “spiritual”. Same with the slick marketing. People don’t realize was a well oiled highly evolved bunch of sales techniques they’re up against with all these grinning New Age fiends.

    Anyway, people like Curtis White should familiarize themselves with the territory before opening their trap.


    Thanks for the link to Dellora’s article. He’s certainly on White’s case. It’s the smugness that pisses me off the most too, I think.

    @Donald T.,

    For an English prof, Whites certainly failed “reading for comprehension 101”. And his writing is an utter disgrace. How many times in that piece did he call Hitchens a liar? How many lies did he actually identify? And I’m stunned that he could be so stupid to claim that piece was a satire. If that’s the case it’s an even worse piece of writing than I thought.

    @Bronze Dog,

    The great German biologist Ernst Haeckel referred to God once as a “gaseous invertebrate”. T.H. Huxley translated some of his work into English, but asked if he could tone down some of the anti-religious polemic. It was too much even for him!

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