'Nonsense of a high order: The confused world of modern atheism'
'Nonsense of a high order: The confused world of modern atheism'

I spent my recent flight to New York reading Nonsense of a high order: The confused world of modern atheism, by Moshe Averick, from cover to cover, and decided that the last night of Hanukkah is a good time to review this eye-opening book, published by Feldheim, as it is a holiday about one of the many assaults the world has seen against the belief in a Creator.

The Greeks' polytheistic belief system included gods who were basically human in their psychological makeup – they fought one another, fell in love, were jealous and petty at times, but according to Greek mythology, possessed powers that enabled them to rule over earthly beings. And while Greek philosophers did argue about the source of creation, Antiochus was no philosopher. When he tried to obliterate Judaism, he aimed to obliterate belief in the one G-d of Creation, and the midrash has the Greeks saying: "Write on the horn of a bull (symbolizing Joseph, the Sages say, someone who ruled in a pagan culture) that you have no part in the G-d of Israel." So the holiday is really about the Jewish faith in the Creator living on.

Rabbi Averick's book, however, is not about Judaism per se, and not a defense of Judaism, although it is a necessary (and not sufficient) tenet of Judaism to believe in G-d as sole Creator of the universe. The book is about the logic behind the idea of Intelligent Design creating life as opposed to the atheist belief (note that verb choice) that a living cell formed on its own from the chemical soup on primordial earth.

Averick begins with ground rules, such as the seeking of truth rather than giving in to its enemy, the comfortable lie. He defines fanatics as those who believe in something no matter what the evidence shows and goes on to produce that evidence.

He is a formidable protagonist, analyzing different aspects of the question of how life began, how it developed (evolution is dealt with) and putting atheist scientists in their place, basically by using their own logic and definition of scientific thinking to refute passing off the idea of creation by chance as science.

The above makes the book sound like a serious reading project but no – it does not make for heavy reading. On the contrary, it is really funny, to the point where I laughed out loud at some spots. Averick is not only persuasive, he is master of the surprising and comic comparison or phrase, and just when you are concentrating on well-presented and deep points in his and his opponents' arguments – he did much research and brings a gamut of opinions which he then he rips to shreds -  his wry, merciless humor is served up, making the shreds laughable as well.

The book is recommended by famed British journalist Melanie Phillips as well as renowned Torah Sage Rabbi Ahron Feldman of Ner Yisrael Yeshiva. How's that for across the board approval?
That combination gave rise to another curious occurrence: The book is recommended by famed British journalist Melanie Phillips as well as renowned Torah Sage Rabbi Ahron Feldman of Ner Yisrael Yeshiva. How's that for across the board approval?

Averick takes on the classic atheists, including Richard Dawkins (life to Dawkins is purposeless but he keeps writing about it, quips Averick) and Christopher Hutchins, shows scientists that they keep using forms of the word "believe" with respect to creation by chance, so they are acting more like philosophers than scientists when claiming to contradict Intelligent Design.  They have decided a priori that there is no Intelligent Design instead of attempting to prove their point of view, he says, backing up his words with a plethora of quotations from various atheists. That, he says, is not the way of science.

He cleverly finds the contradictions inherent in atheistic thinking about the source of life,  juxtaposing the picture of so many intelligent scientists working in optimum conditions for who knows how many years trying in vain to mimic the infinitesimal chance of chemicals somehow forming the first living cell without direction, let alone the first simple self-replicating molecule – with the very idea of creation by chance. Ridiculous, when you think of it that way.  Monotheism, when it comes to creation, is more rational than atheism.

Averick goes further.  He talks about the physical brain versus the source of the inexplicable non-physical human self, soul, speech, language, writing, spirituality, morality. We can explain how food becomes tissue, muscle and bone, but how does it become consciousness, he asks? He agrees with Dr. Steven Pinker who says that the physical brain is involved in many aspects of consciousness (you have to smile when Averick adds in parentheses "this is not a revelation that will launch 1000 ships"), but as physicist Nick Herbert said, all we know about consciousness is that it has something to do with the head not the foot. Did consciousness, asks Averick, appear by chance? Could a monkey sitting at a typewriter, write an intelligent sentence by chance?

Pinker says chemicals can change thoughts. Averick says, sure. So can alcohol. But who is thinking? Where did thoughts come from?

And what about the late clinical, developmental, and cognitive psychologist Prof. Reuven Feuerstein who saw the process  going the other way, saying that our behavior shapes the nature of the hardware of our brain?

Once again, finding an inner contradiction, Averick asks, tongue in cheek, "by what unique entitlement, privilege and faculty does the skeptic confidently disavow as illusory the all pervasive notion of a separate self yet simultaneously justify his absolute trust in his own perception and analysis regarding the "scientific" examination of the brain that led him to reach that conclusion in the first place?" Knockout.

The most thought-provoking part of the book to me is Averick's analysis of the place of Intelligent Design in the existence of a moral imperative, in the possibility of absolute ethics and values. This brings him to Socrates' classic Euthyphro dilemma (i.e. is something moral because G-d commands it or does G-d command it because it is moral - learn more in the book), but more arrestingly, leads him to suggest the way to get closer to G-d, actually a mind-opening extension of Maimonides' precepts on how to emulate G-d and what the Jewish G-d wants of the human race.

The book is written so that anyone will find it enlightening and funny, clear and easy to read, although there could have been less quotes, making some of the chapters a bit shorter without losing any of the book's impact. It will give the reader a solid foundation for belief in the willed Creation of Life, much to think about and much to discuss. Highly recommended.