There are several things I wish to say in regards to Tyler Vela’s latest work Measuring McAfee: Why One Atheist’s Attempt to Disprove Christianity Misses the Mark. In fact, I have interacted thoroughly with both Tyler Vela (over social media) and his book of which I’ve read three times now. On the other hand, I also have a copy of McAfee’s Disproving Christianity on my shelf. So I feel more or less equipped to write a brief review.
Vela really takes McAfee to task in his concise rebuttal and, although I am no neutral onlooker (whoever is?), I must say that Vela has made Christianity look like a viable intellectual option for those who wish for their worldview to be defendable against some of the most common challenges by skeptics. Or, alternatively, perhaps McAfee’s arguments were, in most part, inadequate and thus made the opposition look more credible. Either way one should at least try to get their hands on both these books in order to contrast them together.
Nonetheless, I think that Vela rightfully takes McAfee to task for claiming to be an academic scholar (p. 17) of which he is not. As of now he is a graduate in religious studies and not yet that of a practicing scholar who has specialized in his field. I also remember my disappointment when I ordered a copy of McAfee’s book over Amazon and I felt totally duped as a result. Upon opening the parcel the book was a mere centimetre thick, much unlike the hefty looking product that was advertised on McAfee’s Facebook page & the product that I thought I paid for. I did respectfully take this up with McAfee at his Facebook page, however, his response was that it was simply meant to be a “pocket guide.”
Yet that is the very first problem that his book faces, one that Vela picks up on and reveals (p. 190), for how can one even introduce (let along disprove) some of the most intellectually complex subjects in the context of theology, the Bible, the historical Jesus, prophecy, miracles etc. in a mere 130 page book (and with a couple of loose essays dangling at the back – McAfee includes several tiny essays on complex subjects at the end of his book – these essays are so short they also barely do any justice to the topic). Evidently, McAfee has barely nicked the tip of the iceberg on the subject(s) he writes as Vela rightfully reveals. McAfee simply bites way too much off & far more than he could possibly ever chew. In all fairness I think that it would have maybe been a lot better for his case if his entire book tackled only one of the subjects he chooses to write on – and even then a book such a length would still seem woefully barebones.
This would apply to the theist as well. Surely a theist would not have done justice to “Disproving Atheism” if his book was a mere 140 pages long? How in such a short space would the theist have tackled subjects like consciousness, rationality & morality in relation to naturalism, or at least touched on the many arguments forwarded for & against atheistic naturalism? In fact, upon noting McAfee’s severe lack of research in the context of morality and worship Vela writes:
“My first comments for this chapter are thoroughly procedural ones. I take it to be obvious that a chapter which barely fills six small book pages (both size and length) cannot possibly do justice to a topic as immense as morality or worship – let alone both. How can this possibly be an “open minded” analysis of the issue when it is not even seemingly long enough to get simple preliminaries on the table?”
Unless McAfee is immensely gifted at summarizing some of the most studied, debated & complex subjects I strongly suggest that he has not been thorough enough in his investigation. Just as I could not be thorough enough tackling epistemological theories in a mere five or six pages.
Further, I believe that Vela is correct in exposing McAfee’s scientism (p. 10). I often call scientism religion for atheists since they practically deify the scientific method, and it is a trap that they commonly fall into – a trap that any good philosopher of science will tell you to avoid. I have critiqued this position myself should anyone wish to read further into it (1).
Yet, Vela does a decent job in countering McAfee. In fact, morality has been a sticky subject for atheists as for the atheist to make moral judgments (as McAfee does throughout his book against God & Christianity) he needs to posit a transcendent moral law. Or without a transcendent moral law moral judgements are merely relative, subjective, and hence meaningless. Vela writes:
“[The atheist] must posit a transcendental moral standard which he himself has asserted does not and indeed, cannot exist. While many attempts have been made to liberate atheism from the chilling grips of Nietzschean nihilism all of them have reduced down to social conventions that arose in our evolutionary past to either help our species survive or to maintain social order. They are simply illusory conventions that we use to maintain the fabric of a functioning society but in no way are descriptions of any real or objective moral values or duties. I see no way then that an atheist can maintain that rape is anymore “immoral” than one country deciding that everyone should drive on the left hand side of the street instead of the right to protect its citizens.” (p. 49)
However, nowhere does McAfee actually give us reason to take any of his moral judgements seriously. Ultimately, Vela could well be justified in replying to McAfee: “Well, that’s just your opinion.” But despite this McAfee assumes that his moral judgments have real, objective value & that readers should take him seriously. However, I am left thinking: Why? Vela rightfully informs us that “Atheistic morality expressly admits that morality is not objective or real and yet they act as if it is.” (p. 58)
Reading McAfee’s book I was reminded of yet another difficulty that the atheist has to overcome should his worldview be taken seriously: Rationality. Upon what basis does McAfee ground rationality? Philosopher Paul Copan explains this incoherence: [that] “at some late stage of development, rational mental states arose from utterly nonrational precursors. Rational thinking was and is, for naturalists, simply a complex form of natural chemical interactions. Reason was never intended by the natural, nonintelligent process, for intention is a rational characteristic. So intention or purpose could not exist until reason came into being, but naturalism denies that reason existed in the beginning. Reason evolved only at the end of the process. Prior to the appearance of reason, there could only have been substances characterized by nonreason” (4).
Evidently McAfee intends for us to take him seriously & that it was his own thinking and rational behaviour that produced this book to persuade us to disband Christianity? This, at least for me, was a gaping hole that persisted throughout my reading of both McAfee’s and Vela’s books. A hole that was left unanswered.
Furthermore, throughout his book McAfee’s constructs and dismantles strawmen versions of Christianity that many, if not most, Christians in one way or another would not hold to. McAfee is often woodenly literal in his exegesis of the Bible as seen in his assumption that the creation days in Genesis ought to be six literal days & thus the Earth need be a mere 10 000 or so years old (a position that is known as Young Earth Creationism). However, McAfee is woefully out of depth here and overly simplistic. No-where does he give any detailing of alternative interpretations of the Genesis creation account (since there are over a dozen of them from Old Earth Creationism, theistic evolutionism, the frame theory etc. (2)). But how could McAfee do any justice whatsoever in a book that is barely long enough to tackle just one of the many subjects upon which he writes. Vela sums him up:
“Yet he commits a common error for his book – only engaging with the most vapid, shallow and often strawman versions of his opponents’ position while assuming the absolute unassailable truth of his own position. This is simply not how real scholarship is done.” (p. 65)
That is unfortunately a common approach & methodology adopted by many atheist fundamentalists today. It is therefore clearly evident that “The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.” (p. 78) This also casts a negative light upon McAfee since he initially claims to be a scholar, and any good scholar who knows what he is talking about shouldn’t be making such blunders unintentionally.
Vela also examines and answers many of the major alleged contradictions that McAfee brings up (CONTRADICTIONS IN SCRIPTURE AND IN PRACTICE) as well as some of the smaller ones (MINOR CONTRADICTIONS). Even if McAfee could legitimately show that there is a major contradiction in the Bible it would do nothing to discredit the truth of the Christianity based upon the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection. Instead, this would ultimately be a question of biblical inerrancy of which many Christian apologists & thinkers do not find to be a core, central doctrine. Yet, all in all Vela does a thorough job here and also makes many of the difficulties that McAfee brings up appear extremely juvenile, or at least severely uninformed. However, there are aspects of Vela’s book that I do wish that he had gone into some more detail on. For example, McAfee rightfully brings up the predetermination argument (of which McAfee titles The Jesus on the Cross Argument). This is, however, one good argument that McAfee brings up and one that does deserve an answer. Vela sums it up thusly:
“In other words, if all actions are predetermined by God, and thus Judas was predetermined to betray Jesus, if the Jewish leaders could not do anything but call for Jesus’ death, and if the Roman authorities could not have done anything but hand him over to the executioners, and if the centurions could only do what was predetermined for them to do when they tortured and crucified Jesus, then in what possible sense can we ever say that they are guilty of any immoral action? Michael Shermer in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza has actually said that it might make more sense to build a statue in Jerusalem in honor of Judas since without him, Jesus would never have been betrayed and killed and thus die for our sins. So should we actually thank Judas rather than pity him?” (p. 88)
As mentioned I felt that McAfee brought up something worth an explanation yet I did not feel that Vela answered it sufficiently. Vela does correctly reverse the challenge itself to show just how predetermination is actually an immense issue for the atheist (p. 89). Frank Turek explains this well:
“Now, if atheism were true, we wouldn’t be able to learn anything reliably, even from science itself. Atheists assert that only particles and physical forces exist. But if that’s the case, then human beings don’t have free will or the ability to reason. We are merely moist robots whose actions are completely determined by the laws of physics. So why should we believe anything atheists say, including any of their scientific conclusions or their reasons for believing atheism is true?” (3)
Yet of course the topic of freewill and its implications under the atheistic worldview is something that McAfee does not address nor mention. So, if this is the case then what justification does McAfee have to tell readers to take his book seriously?
Nonetheless, Vela does expose McAfee for a lack of interaction on the various perspectives such as “Libertarian free-will, Soft-Compatibalistic free will, Hard Compatibalistic-free will, fideism, and everything in between.” (p. 90).Despite Vela rightfully illustrating this he doesn’t seem to go much further in the way of providing an answer to the initial claim, although I wish that he had.
Further, there is another part to Vela’s book that I wish he had been more thorough with (which McAfee titles The Modern Miracle Argument). In truth Vela does successfully answer McAfee’s argument as to “Why doesn’t God do miracles today?” (p. 97) and he does also provide some much needed insight. However, I feel Vela does not go far enough (this is probably because I am busy on my thesis on the historicity of Jesus’ miracles – and added that I have interviewed many witnesses to miracle healings, as well as have consulted academic studies on them). Thus I strongly believe that there is ample evidence existing today that well points to supernatural intervention and that Vela could have delivered a killer blow to McAfee’s argument here, or as the proverbial phrase goes, he could have really hammered the final nail into the coffin.
However, these are but just a few anomalies in Vela’s brutal dismantling of McAfee’s book. Yet on most of the other rebuttals Vela supplies he illustrates a deep knowledge of Christian theology & history that makes McAfee (and me) look like David in comparison to Goliath. I felt that Vela does a good job in exposing McAfee’s lack of research in the context of Old Testament slavery (although I do wish that Vela could have given some attention to some other more questionable verses) and puts it into perspective & its correct historical context. Vela also answers McAfee on his clearly erroneous exegesis of Jesus’ statement found in Matthew 10:34, and that Jesus intended for his followers to fight & use violence for his cause (p. 145). These are but a handful of answers that Vela has given to some of the challenges made against the Christian worldview, and I’d strongly encourage readers to purchase his book to appreciate the rest.
It soon became evident to me that McAfee was anything but an objective investigator of the Christian worldview (obviously the title to the book does not imply that McAfee intends to give Christianity a fair chance). Instead it appeared that McAfee “is much more concerned with mocking Christianity than he is concerned with doing actual research or presenting unbiased statements.” (179) This is ultimately disappointing as it merely relegates McAfee to the ranks of any old internet atheist fundamentalist who spends most of his time mocking and belittling his opponents (which is what McAfee actually does. I have visited his page numerous times). Yet one would well be in his or her right to expect a much more substantive & content heavy book (a book alleged to have been authored by a scholar) that has the intention of disproving the world’s largest religion & its rich history.
In concluding it would well appear that McAfee’s book would be analogues to me writing a book titled “Disproving Hinduism.” Sure, I may know a thing or two about this Eastern religion, but I can tell you for certain that I do not know enough to write an entire book dedicated to debunking it. Likewise, this appears to be so with McAfee & Tyler Vela shows us why.
1. Bishop, J. 2015. Scientism. Atheism’s Dilemma: Scientism (a refutation). Available.
2. I highly recommend the philosopher of science John Lennox’s book 7 Days That Divide the World.
3. Turek, F. 2015. The Atheist and His Metal Detector. Available.
4. Dembski, W. & Licona, M. 2010. Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible. p. 40 (Scribd ebook format).