Would that it were possible to award zero stars for a book. `Sell-By' is difficult to refute not because it is good - it isn't; the entire volume is a morass of fallacies and misrepresentations - but because the author deluges the reader in such a Niagara of falsehoods that writing a review that could effectively address them all would require something six times as long as the original book. Blanchard may have devoted his life full time to churning out this dishonest rubbish, but who else has the time and the stamina to call his bluff?
My review must therefore be superficial, but I'll try to convey something of the problems.
Blanchard's two favourite fallacies are the Appeal to Authority and the quote-out-of-context. The book seems at times entirely composed of these two alone. The former works by saying `this impressive person believes X so you should too' and the latter takes a quote giving a particular impression, without showing us the background to the utterance, which can frequently change things.
Key instance: on page 69 in Chapter 4, `The Science Thing' Blanchard quotes a physicist who said `A legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.' We are then informed `His name was Albert Einstein.'
Implying that anything Einstein said must be true. But why should it? Einstein is expressing a personal view here, not any official tenet of the scientific community. He is reaching dangerously out of his own area of expertise into one in which he is no more qualified than you or I - theology. Why should his views on religion have any more merit than his views on cookery, film noir, or maggot-breeding? Any of us may know a hundred times as much on the subject in question.
Did Einstein make mistakes even in his own field of specialisation? Yes - turning up his nose at Quantum Mechanics, largely because of its so-called Uncertainty Principle, famously saying `I refuse to believe God plays dice with the universe'. Quantum Mechanics has since become the most successful theory in the history of science.
Also, Einstein was nobody Blanchard should consider an ally since he thought theistic religions were laughable nonsense. He did use the word `God' but meant a deistic entity, not anything remotely like Yahweh the Hebrew thunder-god, so Blanchard is misrepresenting him.
Ad hominem fallacy - attacking a person rather than their argument. Example: Bertrand Russell. In Chapter 5 Russell is misrepresented - using another quote out of context - to sound like a mercurial flake who couldn't make up his mind about anything. In fact he was a tremendous polymath, and if he did change his views on subjects, perhaps that simply shows that he continued thinking.
Scientists and historians are quoted out of context ad infinitum throughout the book. Even where their views are not being misrepresented, they are all too often stating personal opinions rather than the conclusions of the scientific community as a whole.
The `Burden of Proof' principle is misrepresented and turned completely upside down. According to Blanchard, non-believers must disprove his assertions. Guilty until proven innocent?
A theologian - Keith Ward - pronounces on laws of Physics, and talks freewheeling nonsense about giant carrots that has nothing to do with what science says about the origins and `appearance' of laws of Physics.
There's heavy reliance on `super numbers', huge digits illustrating the improbability of whatever the author wishes to disprove. But statistics are routinely abused everywhere. We aren't shown how these calculations were made, and they are presented out of context. The chapters attacking evolution and such commit the Either/Or fallacy - amongst others - as though proving evolution false means that creationism is true. It doesn't. And the creationist arguments have been destroyed hundreds of times on the Internet. Try TalkOrigins.org.
Heavy reliance upon `testimonies' from Christians. These include the usual suspects: the man who had atheism `rammed down his throat' in childhood, the former muslim, the one-time `weak Christian'. But testimonies prove nothing except `here's someone who believes X'. Search on the Internet under `ex-Christian'. You will drown in testimonies.
Weasel words. `Scholar' has positive connotations and `Intellectual' negative. Throughout the book `scholar' is only used to describe Blanchard's allies; `intellectual' is only used to describe enemies. Thus Christian/Scholar = Goodie! Atheist/Intellectual = Baddie!
Intimidation and Emotional blackmail. Frequently Blanchard will challenge his readers thus: "Do you wish to argue with this - and are you qualified to?" This is intimidation, pure and simple, and is the core of the Appeal to Authority. And later in the book Blanchard tells a modern story of deceased souls protesting to God about their fate. This tale is designed to make us feel guilty about even questioning our lot, which is totally wrong. It also seems to suggest that a person must have experienced a thing before they are qualified to judge, but we don't select juries on that basis. Finally, the story is not scripture anyway, so it's irrelevant.
I'd love to go on, but limited space prevents me.
`Sell-By' is an evil book. It is immensely dishonest from start to finish, and the real tragedy of a work like this is the number of people who, naïve and unfamiliar with the tricks being deployed against them, will be duped. Well meaning people who were only seeking the truth these pages are bereft of. Mercifully, sceptics and others who are better schooled in recognising the traps will not be deceived.
Incidentally, to risk committing an `ad hominem' myself, in response to another reviewer, Dr Blanchard's own website tells us that his PhD is in Divinity, not Science, and, worse, that it came from Pacific International University, a notorious creationist `diploma mill' whose own website warns that its qualifications are not recognised by the academic community. It looks suspiciously as though `Dr' Blanchard's own qualifications are bogus. Whoops.
If there really is good evidence for Christianity, it's somewhere else, alas. Truly a text of lies.