Dinesh D’Souza makes two related claims in his latest article. First, even though, as Christopher Hitchens noted, the Judeo-Christian God has been around only for a few thousand years of mankind’s existence, this God has been around for 98 percent of the lives of human beings. Second, the fact that people have progressed so much since then only proves that God is real. Here’s what D’Souza has to say on this second point:
Suddenly savage man gives way to historical man. Suddenly the naked ape gets his act together. We see civilizations sprouting in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and elsewhere. Suddenly there are wheels and agriculture and art and culture. Soon we have dramatic plays and philosophy and an explosion of inventions and novel forms of government and social organization.
So how did Homo sapiens, heretofore such a slacker, suddenly get so smart? Scholars have made strenuous efforts to account for this but no one has offered a persuasive account. …
Well, there is one obvious way to account for this historical miracle. It seems as if some transcendent being or force reached down and breathed some kind of a spirit or soul into man, because after accomplishing virtually nothing for 98 percent of our existence, we have in the past 2 percent of human history produced everything from the pyramids to Proust, from Socrates to computer software.
D’Souza’s arguments often are hyper-rationalistic, and his latest is no exception. It has no grounding whatsoever in reality, and it ignores obvious conflicting evidence and more plausible explanations.
First, while the Judeo-Christian God is fairly young, that God hardly represented the founding of religion. Instead, primitive superstitions held back mankind for tens of thousands of years. The God of the Jews basically evolved from regional polytheism, then merged with Platonic philosophy to give us Christianity. So far as cultural advances go, D’Souza is crediting the Judeo-Christian God for the hard intellectual work of the Greeks, starting with Thales at about 600 BC.
Second, we do not need any supernatural explanation for the success of mankind. In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond explains that, around 10,000 years ago, people in the Middle East started to domesticate plants and animals in a serious way, which obviously has had a great deal to do with human expansion. As far as the population explosion goes, that didn’t happen in a big way until the Industrial Revolution, which was an extension of the Enlightenment, which championed human reason and for the first time since the Christianization of Rome allowed a serious break with religion.
Third, as Greg Perkins explains, even if we didn’t know these facts of history, and to the extent that we don’t know all of the facts, D’Souza is unjustified in pulling supernaturalism from the hat. Perkins asks, “Since when did not knowing the answer to a puzzle entitle us to go and make one up?”
Fourth, D’Souza misidentifies cause and effect. Is a more sophisticated God the cause of a more sophisticated society, or the consequence of it? Obviously, as people gain the ability to not starve to death, they are able to fund the priestly classes.
What’s remarkable to me is how many people seem to find D’Souza’s arguments persuasive. The only people such arguments appeal to are detached-from-reality rationalists and those already devoted to their conclusion.