I became acquainted with the writing of J.D. Brucker about a month ago when I came across a post of his on Dan Arel’s Patheos blog, Danthropology. It was a bittersweet vignette about the death of a mentor and friend that he had lost contact with. When he tried to reconnect some time later, he found it out that in the intervening time, his friend had died in an accident. Rather than this story being one of despair and hopelessness, however, he told of his realization that death was just a word, and that what was truly important was to remember those who have died, and to live your own life fully.
This sentiment touched me and I started to converse with him via Twitter and e-mail. I spoke about him as the inaugural subject of a segment that debuted on our podcast, Unbuckling The Bible Belt, which highlights secular/atheist writers and journalists. He was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his first book, Improbable : Issues With The God Hypothesis, which I immediately read and thoroughly enjoyed.
One does not need to read far to find the purpose of his book. Indeed, the first sentence in the preface lays it out quite nicely.
This work has found its way into being based solely on the idea that the Abrahamic deity – known by the Muslim as Allah, by the Jew as Yahweh, and by the Christian as God – is the creator of all living and inanimate matter inside the known universe.
And then a simple question : “Does the god of Abraham exist?”
Thus begins a relatively short (Improbable only comes in at some 164 pages) but fact-filled, incisive, and at times scathing deconstruction of the arguments given by theists for the existence of God.
Mr. Brucker puts forth his plan of attack against the cultural behemoth that is the belief in a Supreme Being. There are seven chapters, each addressing a specific claim in his overall thesis. Unlike many theists such as Ken Ham who simply says “I have a book”, and considers that sufficient proof for any and all of claims they might make, Brucker includes citations for sources that bolster his argument. Such is the approach of a rationalist dedicated to the scientific method of inquiry.
The first chapter covers how the evolutionary history of our species, Homo Sapiens. The chapter opens with the Biblical version of the creation myth, with the apex of that story being the penultimate fairy tale of our Judeo-Christian culture: The story of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace. Brucker than tells the true history of human evolution, as it is known by scientists, and which is backed up by plentiful evidence gathered over centuries. He tells the complete story, from our origins in pre-human ancestors to the way our species came to be in Africa and dispersed across the globe. This is a story that is far more interesting and intricate than some tall tale invented by Bronze Age sheep herders.
In the second chapter Brucker takes Intelligent Design (a euphemism for Creationism) head-on, poking holes in the already flimsy theories put forth by Creationists as to how their God was perfect, thus his creations must be perfect. Countless examples of imperfection in humans and other species are given that easily disprove this theory. Brucker instead offers the scientific theory of transitional species and evolution by natural selection. The theories are far more satisfactory, deriving as they have from observable phenomena as well as concrete examples in the fossil record. While the idea that our species is perfect in every way might be soothing to some, I find hard truth to be far more satisfying.
Chapter three covers biological explanations as to why humans seem so susceptible to belief in the supernatural, including religion. He looks at the example of near death experiences as to how our brains can trick us into believing we are experiencing a supernatural event, when really this is simply a defense mechanism to soothe us prior to impeding death. He also addresses the questionable morality of the various psychological rationalizations humans use to justify things they do in the name of faith, even actions that would be considered unthinkable in normal circumstances. We ultimately must conclude the human brain is very capable of altering perceptions and causing self-delusion. Thus God is of our own creation, not vice versa.
The fourth chapter covers the age-old question believers always ask non-believers : How can you be moral without religion? The answer is, of course, is that morality does not derive from religion, and it certainly doesn’t emerge from the Abrahamic tradition. If anything, people are moral DESPITE those blood-soaked works. Brucker offers up several verses from the Bible and Qur’an that shows the so-called “moral” prescriptions offered up were anything but moral, but instead can only be understood in the context of an existence where life was, as Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish, and short” More often than not, these books tells its adherents to kill in the name of their God and permits terrible punishments for even the smallest transgressions. In contrast to this religious origin of morality, the scientific theory of our species acquiring morality through evolution is put forth by Brucker as the more sensible approach as well as the one with more evidence to support its claims. Again, Brucker puts forth the religious explanation and then presents the scientific theory, and the scientific theory wins out, at least to a rationally minded person.
Chapter five speaks to the creation of the Universe from both the Biblical and scientific perspective. Of course, the religious claim of an anthropocentric universe made with humans in mind is the one put forth by theists. Even those more moderate types who concede that the universe is probably more than 6000 years old try to use the Kalam Cosmological Argument to prove the universe must have been created, thus there must have been a Creator. In contrast, Mr. Brucker gives the scientific explanation that has been developed so far involving the Big Bang and the overwhelming evidence for this theory of how the Universe itself was created, and why a God isn’t necessary in order for this to happen.
In chapter six Brucker explores the area of the Middle East where the Abrahamic traditions developed, and how these religions were not unique in their beliefs. Indeed, Mr. Brucker gives several examples of traits and trappings of other religions that were almost certainly expropriated with little or no alteration from earlier traditions. We also see how the events in the Bible and the Qur’an have little to do with actual history and more to do with attempts to twist timelines to make their actions to appear more meaningful in a historical context than they actually were. Examples are given from both the Qur’an and the Bible of how things that are presented as historical fact cannot, in fact, be proved to have actually occurred. The argument is put forth by theists that these texts are not to be taken literally. This is, of course, until it is convenient for them to do so.
In the final chapter, Brucker drops the final bombshell : Moses and Jesus probably didn’t exist. Here we see perhaps Brucker’s greatest effort at disproving biblical accounts, as he points out inconsistencies and flaws in the historical record regarding these two Biblical heroes. Nowhere in Egyptian hieroglyphs is any mention found of any sort of mass exodus of Jews, nor is there any mention of mass deaths of Egyptians of plagues. Lest theists think that the general history of Egypt of that period is not very well-known, the reigns of the Pharaohs are very well documented, and calamities of the magnitude demonstrated in the Bible would surely have been mentioned. As to Jesus, he supposedly lived during the era of the Roman Empire, which is even more well-documented. The only mention of note, that of Josephus in “Antiquities” has been proven by scholars to be a forgery ; a reference to Christ later inserted by a Church anxious to mask the truth that its entire reason for existence never actually existed. Of course, these are a few of the many arguments put forth, but the preponderance of evidence cannot be ignored.
In his Afterword, J.D. Brucker tells why he decided to write this book. He speaks of a journey from doubt to his current stopover as an atheist and anti-theist. Towards the end, he speaks to the type of person he hopes to reach the most.
I wrote this book for the fence-rider in order to present the truth as we understand today. Along with most atheists, I can recall a time in which such information would have proved beneficial because having doubt in something – particularly religious teaching – is quite normal, and questioning the veracity of religious faith is a common occurrence.
Of course, this book is for anyone who is anyone interested in what arguments are out there to disprove the claims that theists make as to why their God exists, be they hardcore atheists or newcomers to disbelief. This is the greatest contribution J.D. Brucker has made with this work. He’s given us a handbook to debate those who would use fairy tales and fear to convince us to follow their God, and I for one am glad that such a book has been written.