How do you promote your book when its ideas are flawed and easily refutable? Simple. You put out a press release, let Google Alerts do their magic, and sit back and relax until everyone wants to know more about how anyone could *seriously* believe what you’re saying.
That’s a page from the playbook of Dr. Paul Vitz, the author of the (newly updated!) book Faith of the Fatherless. In it, he makes the argument that we became atheists because we were disappointed in our fathers.
A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries — Freud, Friedrich Nietzche, Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, among many others — shows that this “defective father hypothesis” provides a consistent explanation of the “intense atheism” of these thinkers. A survey of the leading defenders of Christianity over the same period — G.K. Chesterton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edmund Burke, among others — confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers. Vitz concludes with an intriguing comparison of male and female atheists and a consideration of other psychological factors that can contribute to atheism.
His book — and I’ve been skimming through an electronic copy of it — is not much more expansive or elaborate than that. Vitz cherry-picks atheists whose biographies attest to fathers who were delinquent or absent throughout their lives… and then points to Christians whose dads were around (he calls them the “control group”).
And that’s about it.
Using the same amount of scholarly rigor, he could’ve also made an argument for facial hair leading to godlessness. It makes just as much sense.
There’s simply no solid connection between absent/bad fathers and a desire to follow the evidence where it leads.
But that didn’t stop Vitz from drawing hasty unfounded conclusions:
Nevertheless, there has been a large positive response to the New Atheists, perhaps, in part, because of the increase in dysfunctional families, especially fatherless families.
Forget 9/11. Forget religious opposition to LGBT rights. Forget the rise of the Internet. We all just have daddy issues.
Sometimes, even when daddy issues aren’t present, Vitz pushes examples into his theory, anyway. Look at how he explains the atheism of Richard Dawkins:
… when he was nine years old at his rather strongly Anglican boarding school Dawkins’ reports a personal experience of sexual abuse by his pedophilic Latin master, certainly associated with the Anglican church. This experience would have set up strong negative associations with religion at his early age. Also, at that time, he was separated from both his father and mother, as was typical in boarding school. Furthermore, before his conversion to evolutionary theory, he showed such antipathy to attending required chapel at boarding school that a housemaster warned the school authorities that forcing him to attend chapel was doing him “positive harm”. In short, before he really understood scientific evidence or much logical argument against religion, he already had a strong negative emotional reaction against religion. This would have primed him for his later “atheist conversion”.
Yep. If only Dawkins had had his father close by, he would’ve remained in the church.
Same with Daniel Dennett! His father was killed during World War II when Dennett was only five. But clearly that impacted him… as you can tell from a random blockquote from one of his essays:
Young Daniel was five years old at the time; shortly afterward, his mother took him back to Massachusetts. In addition, Dennett has written:
In my youth some of my friends were the sons of eminent or even famous professors at Harvard or MIT, and I saw the toll it took on them as they strove to be worthy of their fathers’ attention. I shudder to think of what would have become of me if I had had to live up to my father’s actual, living expectations and not just to those extrapolated in absentia by my friends and family.
This is surely an odd statement. There is no sense of positive loss. Instead, he congratulates himself on not having a father. Indeed, he “shudders” at what would have happened if he had had a father. Psychologically speaking, I would term his response a rationalization and act of denial.
He’s congratulating himself? Not at all.
He’s “shuddering” over the idea of having a father? Not even close; he’s just describing the pressure he would’ve been under if he had to live up to the legacy of his war-hero father.
(Meanwhile, Sam Harris is later mentioned as a “Probable Exception” to the “defective father” hypothesis.)
But none of that is as bad as when Vitz explains how atheist women respond after losing their faith in God:
Furthermore, we should expect women, in developing an ideological substitute for God as male, as Father, to emphasize female relationships in this world as well. Lesbianism, so common among feminists, and the feminist emphasis on “sisterhood”, can be seen as flowing philosophically from the rejection of divine patriarchy. It is the expression in this world — in the horizontal interpersonal realm — of the position that feminists have taken with regard to the vertical dimension of belief in a matriarchal goddess.
This whole time, Vitz ignores the main reason most of us become atheists: There’s just no proof of God’s existence. We thought about the issue, decided God was just a fairy tale, and that was that. Our relationship with our fathers had nothing to do with it. And our sexual orientation didn’t spring from our decision.
If psychology students ever wrote what Vitz wrote and turned it in to their professors, they’d be laughed out of school.
If you’re Vitz, you bypass the people who might criticize your faulty thesis, and go straight to the press release. Because why get your work peer-reviewed when you can just spew bullshit on your own?
Don’t buy this book. It’s a joke. There’s more reason and logic in the Bible than in Vitz’s work.
To paraphrase one Amazon reviewer, the only people who will buy into this shoddy hypothesis are the same folks who think Creationism is science.
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