The Magazine

God's Advocate

Dinesh D'Souza goes the distance with the atheists.

Feb 18, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 22 • By PETER WEHNER
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What's So Great About Christianity

by Dinesh D'Souza

Regnery, 348 pp., $27.95

In the last few years we have seen a spate of bestselling anti-God books from a group of prominent writers and first-rate minds, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. These men, deeply hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular, are also formidable debaters. Last fall, I attended a debate in which Hitchens carved to pieces a leading Christian theologian who conceded far too much, defended his faith far too little, and sought common ground where none exists.

Dinesh D'Souza has seen the same thing. "Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, the atheists have had it too easy," he writes. "Their arguments have gone largely unanswered. They have been flogging the carcass of 'fundamentalism' without having to encounter the horse kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity."

D'Souza's horse kick comes in the form of this new book. And quite a kick it is. D'Souza offers a persuasive, scholarly, and intelligent rebuttal to the main charges made by those who proudly carry the banner of atheism. And unlike the work of some leading atheists, D'Souza's book is blessedly free of rancor and reckless statements.

It is also filled with interesting and surprising facts, especially regarding the demographic shifts in global Christianity. For instance, D'Souza notes that Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world today (although Islam is the fastest-growing religion in Europe). In 1900, more than 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and America; today, 60 percent live in the developing world--with more than two out of three evangelical Christians now living in Asia, Africa, and South America. Today there are more churchgoing Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. Christianity is thriving in China and India, nations which have the fastest growth rates in the world--and at current growth rates, China will, in a few decades, become the largest Christian country in the world.

"The vital centers of Christianity today are no longer Geneva, Rome, Paris, or London," D'Souza writes. "They are Buenos Aires, Manila, Kinshasa, and Addis Ababa."

But the core of D'Souza's book is a systematic response to the main arguments put forth by contemporary atheists and the historical figures on whom they rely. D'Souza sets out to demonstrate seven things: First, Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization and the root of our most cherished values. Second, the latest discoveries of modern science support the claim that a divine being created the universe. Third, Darwin's theory of evolution strengthens, not undermines, evidence for supernatural design. Fourth, nothing in science makes miracles impossible. Fifth, it is reasonable to have faith. Sixth, atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. And seventh, atheism is motivated not by reason but a kind of "cowardly moral escapism."

All seven arguments are worth examining--but it is on the issue of evolution, Darwinism, and morality that I found D'Souza's discussion most interesting. He distinguishes between evolution, a scientific theory which is not hostile to religion, and Darwinism, which is a "metaphysical stance and a political ideology." (D'Souza believes in the former and rejects the latter.) When Darwinists like Dennett invoke evolution as an "all-purpose explanation in cosmology, psychology, culture, ethics, politics, and religion," D'Souza writes, they go far beyond the evidence. And in appropriating Charles Darwin's name, they actually do a disservice to it.

Evolution explains a great deal, but it is a theory with inherent limits. For one thing, evolution cannot explain the beginning of life, and Darwin didn't even attempt it. And among the limitations on evolution is that it cannot explain human rationality or morality. Of all the differences between man and the lower animals, Darwin said, the moral sense (or conscience) is the most important.

Leading Darwinists like Dennett, Dawkins, and Steven Pinker, D'Souza tells us, attempt to explain morality as a product of evolution and natural selection. What appears to be altruism is actually a genetically programmed strategy for survival and reproduction.