Orr on Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr has this lengthy essay in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. Officially it’s a review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, and Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origin of Belief. Actually, though, Orr says almost nothing about those latter two books.

Orr begins by describing his admiration for much of Dawkins’ previous work. (He describes The Selfish Gene as the best work of popular science ever written). This is meant as a prelude to what Orr fancies to be a devastating smackdown of The God Delusion. So before explaining why many of his criticism’s are wide of the mark, let me first express my own admiration for Orr’s writing. His own essays on evolution and creationism are always insightful, and his book Speciation, coauthored with Jerry Coyne, is a must read for anyone seriously interested in evolutionary biology.

Now let’s see what Orr has to say about Dawkins.

After summarzing the contents of Dawkins’ book, Orr repeats the standard complaint that Dawkins does not deal seriously with the subtleties of religious thought. Orr writes:

The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).

Instead, Dawkins has written a book that’s distinctly, even defiantly, middlebrow. Dawkins’s intellectual universe appears populated by the likes of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Carl Sagan, the science popularizer,[3] both of whom he cites repeatedly. This is a different group from thinkers like William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein–both of whom lived after Darwin, both of whom struggled with the question of belief, and both of whom had more to say about religion than Adams and Sagan. Dawkins spends much time on what can only be described as intellectual banalities: “Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question.”[4]

Let’s take it from the top. Orr accuses Dawkins of not squarely facing his opponents, and then rattles off a list of examples meant to establish that point. In reality he only establishes that he has not apprehended Dawkins’ targets.

Dawkins provides no serious discussion of Jewish or Christian theology? Of course not, because such theology is mostly irrelevant to how religion is actually practiced. Theology is an academic pursuit, and like many such pursuits it concerns itself primarily with esoterica far removed from people’s actual lives. Much Christian theology in particular tends to take the form of viewing the Bible as a complex cipher, one that requires years of training to understand properly.

And since Orr is criticizing Dawkins’ superficiality, it is a bit rich for him to reduce Augustine’s views to the slogan that he rejected biblical literalism. Augustine did take the view that the Bible should be interpreted in as literal a way as possible, and in some of his writing he even endorsed a young-Earth position. He was willing to countenance a somewhat allegorical interpretation of Genesis, but that was only because he felt the Bible should not be read in a way that contradicts what clear scientific evidence is telling us. A worthy sentiment, certainly, but not one that finds much theological justification.

At any rate, Dawkins is perfectly aware that many serious Christians do not accept Biblical literalism. So what? Dawkins’ book is primarilty about the reasonableness of believing in a creator God, and on the social impact of widespread religious belief. The minutiae of different schools of Christian thought just isn’t the concern of this book.

Next up is Dawkins’ failure to wade into the internecine disputes about the status of religious propositions. That is because for most believers there is no such dispute. For them religious propositions have precisely the same meaning as every other sort of proposition. When they discuss God they are talking about a real entity, with real motivations and desires, who really cares about the people he literally created from nothing. It is these people, not some small cadre of academic navel-gazers, Dawkins means to address.

I’m going to gamble and say that Dawkins is familiar with the role of the church in the rise of modern science. This is a common talking point among those who wish to argue that science and religion are not necessarily hostile to one another. It is unclear to me why anyone thinks it is relevant to modern discussions of theism and atheism. The church funded scientific investigation as a way of further understanding God’s glory. The idea was that nature and its workings were themselves a sort of divine revelation, meant to conpliment the revelation found in Scripture. It’s a lovely notion, and science should be grateful that at least some Chrstians of the Middle Ages felt that way. But the fact remains that as soon as scientists started turning up bits of data that contradicted Scripture, the relationship between science and religion got distinctly chilly.

Dawkins doesn’t try to understand the attitudes of religious people? Well, score one for Orr.

Orr sums up all of this intellecutalizing by protesting that Dawkins’ book is too middlebrow. Of course it’s middlebrow! It was intended as a popular-level book published by a mainstream outfit that people are actually intended to read. Dawkins frequently refers people to other books that give more detailed coverage of the topics he was discussing. One example is J.L. Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism. Many critics have cited this book as one people should read if they want, you know, a serious treatment of arguments for the existence of God. Now don’t misunderstand me: Mackie is brilliant, his arguments are spot-on, and the world is a better place because he wrote that book. But, I’m sorry, his book is incredibly dense, difficult to read, and frankly, incredibly boring. And I say that as someone who finds this subject fascinating. Dawkins meant for his book to be read, you see, and that sometime means giving short shrift to the views of Wittgenstein and James.

Orr eventually turns away from listing things he wishes Dawkins had discussed to replying to the things Dawkins really does discuss. And this is where Orr really steps in it. Try to believe that a smart guy like Orr actually wrote the following paragraph:

The reason seems clear. The first argument leads to a conclusion Dawkins despises, while the second leads to one he loves. Dawkins, so far as I can tell, is unconcerned that the central argument of his book bears more than a passing resemblance to those clever philosophical proofs for the existence of God that he dismisses. This is unfortunate. He could have used a healthy dose of his usual skepticism when deciding how much to invest in his own Ultimate Boeing 747 argument. Indeed, one needn’t be a creationist to note that Dawkins’s argument suffers at least two potential problems. First, as others have pointed out, if he is right, the design hypothesis essentially must be wrong and the alternative naturalistic hypothesis essentially must be right. But since when is a scientific hypothesis confirmed by philosophical gymnastics, not data? Second, the fact that we as scientists find a hypothesis question-begging–as when Dawkins asks “who designed the designer?”– cannot, in itself, settle its truth value. It could, after all, be a brute fact of the universe that it derives from some transcendent mind, however question-begging this may seem. What explanations we find satisfying might say more about us than about the explanations. Why, for example, is Dawkins so untroubled by his own (large) assumption that both matter and the laws of nature can be viewed as given? Why isn’t that question-begging?

Orr is right that others have made his first point, but he does not bathe himself in glory by following their bad example. There is nothing in Dawkins’ argument that tries to rule out design by philosophical gymnastics. He is merely pointing out that invoking design as the explanation for the universe leads to profound conceptual difficulties. Explaining the universe by concocting an entity that is even harder to explain is about as fruitful as saying the Earth rests on the back of a giant tortoise. It just raises more questions then it solves.

These difficulties are sufficiently severe, in his view, to make us very skeptical of design explanations. The situation is all the worse for people who argue that it is the very complexity of the universe that triggers a design inference. In that case, the very same logic that led us to hypothesize God in the first place is what requires that we provide an explanation for God.

In replying to this argument you can try arguing that God is actually very simple, or that he is not the sort of entity that requires an explanation, or that it is reasonable to assume God is eternal but that we know from the Big Bang that the universe had a beginning. These replies are inadequate, but they at least meet Dawkins’ argument head-on. What you don’t get to do is argue that Dawkins’ argument makes design seem very unlikely, so clearly he must be wrong. That is all Orr has done here.

The second point is even sillier. Yes, of course, God’s existence might be a brute fact of the universe. We might be stuck with it in spite of the conceptual issues it raises. Dawkins would say (as would Orr, I suspect) that if you are going to go the design route, you had better have an awfully good argument for doing so. At present there is no such argument. But the bare possibility that God exists despite the lack of a good argument, and despite the conceptual difficulties it raises, is the reason Dawkins entitled this chapter of his book, “Why There Almost Certainly is No God.”

Having done silly and sillier, let’s move on to silliest. That’s Orr’s closing remark about Dawkins’ own assumptions being question-begging. Why can the laws of nature be taken as given? Because they are given! We know the laws of nature exist. We’re stuck with them. The fact is that when you are reasoning about the origin of the universe, you have to start with something. That is unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. So Dawkins’ takes the attitude that at least by going his route we explain the universe in terms of the simplest things that are known to exist. Orr can call this a large assumption if he wishes, but surely it is smaller than the assumption made in creating, from whole cloth, an entity with mind-numbing supernatural powers, and arguing that that is the thing that has always existed.

Moving on, we should also comment on the following bizarre paragraph:

The reason Dawkins thinks he has something to say about God is, of course, clear: he is an evolutionary biologist. And as we all know, Darwinism had an early and noisy run-in with religion. What Dawkins never seems to consider is that this incident might have been, in an important way, local and contingent. It might, in other words, have turned out differently, at least in principle. Believers could, for instance, have uttered a collective “So what?” to evolution. Indeed some did. The angry reaction of many religious leaders to Darwinism had complex causes, involving equal parts ignorance, fear, politics, and the sheer shock of the new. The point is that it’s far from certain that there is an ineluctable conflict between the acceptance of evolutionary mechanism and the belief that, as William James put it, “the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe.” Instead, we and Dawkins might simply be living through the reverberations of an interesting, but not especially fundamental, bit of Victorian history. If so, evolutionary biology would enjoy no particularly exalted pulpit from which to preach about religion.

Let us begin with the obvious: The reason Orr was asked to review this book is that he is an evolutionary biologist. If biologists have no particular qualifications for discussing this topic, one wonders why he didn’t tell the editor of the NYRB to find a theologian instead.

And I suspect that Dawkins’ intention in writing this book had little to do with a desire to put shiny new ideas down on paper for the first time. Probably his reasons were more prosaic: He has a view of this subject that is not well-represented in mass-market literature, especially in this country, and he has the clout and the recognizability to actually get such a book published.

But it’s the rest of this paragraph that gets really weird. Religious hostility to evolution was born out of ignorance, fear, politics and sheer shock of the new? Maybe. But a better explanation is that religious hostility was born out of the entirely correct realization that Darwin’s work posed a genuine threat to their beliefs. Many believers responded to Darwin with a “So what?” Show me a believer who had that reaction and I’ll show you someone who either didn’t understand Darwin’s work, or made a point of not thinking carefully about it. You might be able to reconcile traditional Christian belief with evolution, but it requires some serious mental engagement to do so. Orr admits as much in his next paragraph:

None of this is to say that evolutionary biology cannot inform our view of religion. It can and does. At the very least it insists that the Lord works in mysterious ways. More generally, it demands rejection of anything approaching biblical literalism. There are facts of nature–including that human beings evolved on the African savanna several million years ago–and these facts are not subject to negotiation.

So apparently a thorough understanding of evolution does enhance your qualifications for discussing evolution. This admission pretty seriously undercuts the point, such as it is, of the previous paragraph.

After all this Orr bashing, let me close with one place where I think he gets it right. As much as I liked Dawkins’ book, and as much as I think in nearly all cases his arguments are better than those of his critics, there are some places where I think Dawkins gets it wrong. Orr nails one of them:

Part of Dawkins’s difficulty is that his worldview is thoroughly Victorian. He is, as many have noted, a kind of latter-day T.H. Huxley. The problem is that these latter days have witnessed blood-curdling experiments in institutional atheism. Dawkins tends to wave away the resulting crimes. It is, he insists, unclear if they were actually inspired by atheism. He emphasizes, for example, that Stalin’s brutality may not have been motivated by his atheism. While this is surely partly true, it’s a tricky issue, especially as one would need to allow for the same kind of distinction when considering religious institutions. (Does anyone really believe that the Church’s dreadful dealings with the Nazis were motivated by its theism?)

In any case, it’s hard to believe that Stalin’s wholesale torture and murder of priests and nuns (including crucifixions) and Mao’s persecution of Catholics and extermination of nearly every remnant of Buddhism were unconnected to their atheism. Neither the institutions of Christianity nor those of communism are, of course, innocent. But Dawkins’s inability to see the difference in the severity of their sins– one of orders of magnitude–suggests an ideological commitment of the sort that usually reflects devotion to a creed.

This, alas, is correct, One of the weaknesses of Dawkins’ book is that he frequently writes as if the really important distinction in forging a civil, livable society is theism vs. atheism. It isn’t. The important distinctions are secular society vs. government involvement in religion, and rational thought and evidence vs. irrational faith and revelation. You can reasonably say that theism is more closely associated with the bad parts of those last two dichotomies, and atheism is more closely associated with the good parts. But atheism good / theism bad is not born out by the evidence.

Anyway, go read the rest of Orr’s essay. I think most of his major points are wrong, but he is an engaging and interesting writer nonetheless.

Comments

  1. #1 chet snicker
    December 22, 2006

    Of course not, because such theology is mostly irrelevant to how religion is actually practiced. Theology is an academic pursuit, and like many such pursuits it concerns itself primarily with esoterica far removed from people’s actual lives. Much Christian theology in particular tends to take the form of viewing the Bible as a complex cipher, one that requires years of training to understand properly.

    this is a cogent point. i fail to see how clear-headed scientists can heap contempt upon the obscurantism of post-modernism, and yet contend that there is a necessity in rebutting the angel-on-a-pinhead counting which passes for theology.

    you sir shall go down in history as dawkins bulldog!

    bravo!

  2. #2 Will
    December 23, 2006

    “evolutionary biology would enjoy no particularly exalted pulpit from which to preach about religion”

    I think his point is that *evolutionary biology* doesn’t have much to say about religion. An *evolutionary biologist* like Dawkins may have something to say. While he may be very smart and articulate, he doesn’t have any special knowledge on the topic as far as being a biologist is concerned.

    Dawkins as evolutionary biologist is dragged into a conflict between religion and science because of the history of the conflict itself. There’s no particular reason why evolution as a scientific theory should be seen to conflict with religion. Evolution explains one thing. Religion explains something else entirely.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Great review, Jason! I have my own take on a bit of Orr’s unfortunate nonsense:

    It could, after all, be a brute fact of the universe that it derives from some transcendent mind, however question-begging this may seem. What explanations we find satisfying might say more about us than about the explanations. Why, for example, is Dawkins so untroubled by his own (large) assumption that both matter and the laws of nature can be viewed as given? Why isn’t that question-begging?

    It is writing like this that reinforces my idea that philosophical arguments are most often only operational forms of base intuitions. Contrary to Orr’s claim, taking the laws of nature as a given isn’t question-begging, the opposite proposition is. Teleological arguments spring from the notion among humans that all proximate causes have to eventually sum to a global cause, but there is absolutely nothing that justifies such a deduction. On the contrary, asserting such a cause is unparsimonious at best.

    Now don’t misunderstand me: Mackie is brilliant, his arguments are spot-on, and the world is a better place because he wrote that book. But, I’m sorry, his book is incredibly dense, difficult to read, and frankly, incredibly boring.

    I concur, as I felt the same way about Michael Martin’s indulgently written Atheism: A Philosophical Justification: great treatise filled with highly cogent argumentation, but ungodly (pardon the pun) boring. And this is coming from a guy who enjoyed reading Li and Vitanyi’s An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and it’s Applications.

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Will,

    Evolution explains one thing. Religion explains something else entirely.

    I am curious about what you have in mind that religion is capable of “explaining”. If when you use the term “explain” to simply mean the advancement of a whimsical, unfounded conjecture, your statement above is at least somewhat plausible. But in my mind an “explanation” entails something a bit more factual and objective. Religion obsesses over nonsensical philosophizing in ancient scribblings for which it has no method for discerning truth or falsehood, which to me does not so much amount to “explanation” as flapdoodle, much like the hallucinatory rants of Terence McKenna.

  5. #5 Will
    December 23, 2006

    Tyler-

    I agree. Religion is “advancement of a whimsical, unfounded conjecture.”

    The important point is that you and I require more to our “explanations” like objective facts, but religion does not. Their method for discerning truth is “faith”. Something which I have a hard time understanding.

    I also have a hard time with stochastic dynamic general equilibrium models some times, but that doesn’t mean there’s not something to it. I have more incentive to learn those models though because I just have more faith in science to give me answers (to questions I’m interested in) than in religion.

  6. #6 Will
    December 23, 2006

    “It could, after all, be a brute fact of the universe that it derives from some transcendent mind”

    Tyler, this isn’t nonsense. “God says so” implies all the facts of nature. Why DNA? God says so. Why the planets and stars? God says so. Why does demand decrease in price? God says so.

    Natural laws are brute facts or ultimate causes in the same way. I just happen to be of the opinion that these laws tell better stories than the ones with Gods.

    Teleological explanations may not be necessary, but that doesn’t imply they aren’t the truth.

  7. #7 ChuckO
    December 23, 2006

    Teleological explanations may not be necessary, but that doesn’t imply they aren’t the truth.

    Yes, but the burden of proof resides with those would assert teleological explanations. As Dawkins points out in his book, believers often behave as though the burden of proof lies with atheists. That has been my experience as well. I cannot count the number of times that I’ve heard people say something to the effect of, prove that God doesn’t exist. The point is that the burden of proof lies with the person who asserts the existence of a phenomenon.

  8. #8 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Will,

    Thank you for replying:

    …this isn’t nonsense. “God says so” implies all the facts of nature. Why DNA? God says so. Why the planets and stars? God says so. Why does demand decrease in price? God says so.

    This is in essence why we use the principle of parsimony (Occam’s Razor) in science. “God says so” is just an unnecessary, ad hoc qualification on something we already know. You can, in principle, add infinitely many such qualifications. For instance, we can know that a physically reversible computation must have a completely one-to-one transition function without invoking supernatural involvement, or purple elephant involvement, or fairy dust involvement, etc. If the explanation conforms to prediction, there is no need to go any further.

    Natural laws are brute facts or ultimate causes in the same way. I just happen to be of the opinion that these laws tell better stories than the ones with Gods.

    Well, to be clear in my terminology, I use “ultimate cause” and “global cause” interchangeably to mean the teleological idea of a raison d`etre. As I said above, if you have a predictive model that accurately maps reality, you don’t need to go any further. That is distinguished from “GODDIDIT” in that the latter is completely unjustified conjecture. When we discover the elusive ToE in physics, there will be no need to invoke a deity as an ad hoc justification, despite the instincts of many.

    Teleological explanations may not be necessary, but that doesn’t imply they aren’t the truth.

    But this is a useless observation. Just as there are infinitely many ad hoc qualifications upon established theories that could make room for the supernatural, so there are many that could invalidate established theories. Creationists often argue that all the evidence that the universe is approximately 13 billion years old is invalid because God made it look that way on purpose (the light from stars was already on it’s way here, etc.). How can one, given the criterion you imply, logically rule out such explanations. I personally prefer Occam.

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Correction:

    If the explanation conforms to prediction, there is no need to go any further.

    What I really meant to say was “If the explanation yields accurate predictions, there is no need to go any further.”

    Sorry for the mental mix-up.

  10. #10 Will
    December 23, 2006

    “the burden of proof resides with those would assert teleological explanations”

    ChuckO, you can never ‘prove’ an axiom. You can, as Tyler says, show that observation is inconsistent with the predictions of the axiom. I claim you can never find an observation which is inconsistent with the axiom “God said so.”

    Occam might have a thing or two to say about this, but that is either here nor there in this argument between science and religion. Occam’s razor is science’s work horse. Faith is religion’s. Saying the faithful violate Occam’s razor (or that they get cut by it, hah) isn’t saying much given they don’t find that rule of thumb appropriate.

    Again, it comes down to an aesthetic opinion. I feel serious or good or beautiful inquiry into nature requires the use of the tools of science. They don’t. Who am I to say I’m right and they’re wrong?

  11. #11 Josh
    December 23, 2006

    I think it’s a mistake to treat Orr’s review as an attempt at rebuttal to Dawkins. Orr’s review is … a review. He finds Dawkins’ book as sloppily written and sloppily argued. So did I, so did Lawrence Krauss, so did many other ScienceBloggers. This is not to say that Dawkins is wrong, indeed Orr writes: “I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.”

    Similar sentences and sentiments occur in each of the negative reviews you’ve addressed here.

    It isn’t that the reviews necessarily disagree with Dawkins. It’s that they (we?) think that he made his arguments in a particularly bad way. He expressed thoughts that we might agree with in ways worse than we might have expressed them.

    And while it’s true that Dawkins cites a small number of academic sources, my sense in reading the book was that he did most of his research using Google. I’ve never seen a book with more references to websites (including respectable ones like Pharyngula, and utterly random ones, too). While Mackie may have some good insights into the argumentation of theology, a reader of Dawkins is honestly more likely to come away thinking that Douglas Adams was trained in theology. And while I think of the Hitchhikers’ trilogy as my personal Bible, I think even DNA would have objected to being treated as a prophet.

    In short, the negative reception to Dawkins’ book is not a reflection of negative opinions of the point he’s making, but a sign that he made those points with poor arguments and mediocre writing.

  12. #12 John Lynch
    December 23, 2006

    In short, the negative reception to Dawkins’ book is not a reflection of negative opinions of the point he’s making, but a sign that he made those points with poor arguments and mediocre writing.

    Agreed. It’s not that Dawkins is wrong (he may be, or he may not) but that he fails to convince those that don’t already share his viewpoint (and rhetorical strategy).

  13. #13 GH
    December 23, 2006

    While he may be very smart and articulate, he doesn’t have any special knowledge on the topic as far as being a biologist is concerned.

    No one has any ‘special’ knowledge of the topic and Dawkins is as learned as any theologian on the topic of religion.

    Saying the faithful violate Occam’s razor (or that they get cut by it, hah) isn’t saying much given they don’t find that rule of thumb appropriate.

    They don’t get to decide that their assertions are shielded from the same levels of inquiry that anything else is, they don’t get special treatment.

    In short, the negative reception to Dawkins’ book is not a reflection of negative opinions of the point he’s making, but a sign that he made those points with poor arguments and mediocre writing.

    I find this rather silly. Dawkins writing is intended to be easily understood by the layman. This comment shows you miss the point. His arguments are not poor. This is exactly the kind of thinking he would disagree with, exactly what does one have to do to make a ‘good’ argument against religious thought? He attacks the base levels of belief and does a pretty good job of dismantling them.

    He doesn’t need to go to deep into the philosophical arguments simply because their underpinnings are what he is attacking and without those all the hand waving doesn’t need to be addressed. In short I don’t see how josh and his comments 1. understand his goals or 2. know the audience he was targeting. It seems to me your not be critical of what he did but rather what you wish he had done.

  14. #14 GH
    December 23, 2006

    short, the negative reception to Dawkins’ book is not a reflection of negative opinions of the point he’s making,

    Almost forgot this one. Did you honestly think he was going to get positive reviews from this work? He took a book, anda powerful book at that, to the masses on a level they can understand. He took it to the people on a taboo subject. It takes a brave reviewer to stand up and be counted and some have. The rest write reviews like Orr above or worse.

    Secondly I wouldn’t say his book has had a negative reception at all. The proof is in the pudding and his book is selling very, very well. The majority of people know their religious beliefs don’t add up but they go along to get along. Reading Dawkins lets them know it’s ok and their thoughts and doubts have real purchase and they are not at all odd for realizing it.

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 23, 2006

    Josh-

    I am aware of the distinction you are making (between the possible correctness of Dawkins’ conlcusions and the strength of the arguments he used to back them up), but the fact remains that most of the specific criticisms people are levelling at Dawkins are unfair or incorrect, in my opinion. Orr, for example, makes several points that are meant to show us how shallow and superficial Dawkins’ arguments are. In most of those cases, as I have shown (to my satisfaction at least :) ), Orr’s points are irrelevant or very weak.

    And flipping through Dawkins’ eight-page bibliography, it looks to me like it’s a nice mix of popular level and scholarly sources. That seems perfectly appropriate for the sort of book he was writing. Douglas Adams is mentioned four times in the book. In every case Dawkins was merely using Adams to illustrate a point he (Dawkins) was trying to make. Nowhere is Adams described as a scholar or a great theologian.

    John-

    Do you have any basis for saying that Dawkins fails to convince people who don’t already share his viewpoint? Or did you just make that up?

    Both of You-

    The reason I get so bent out of shape about this is that I think most of the critics who are going after Dawkins (and Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, for that matter) are people who decided well before the book was published that this was something they had to review negatively. For all their talk about how Dawkins doesn’t take religion seriously, I find it’s the critics who don’t take Dawkins seriously. That explains their almost comical inability to make any cogent points against what Dawkins actually wrote. Instead they complain about his tone, or point to some obscure theologian he was supposed to discuss, or make knee-jerk simple-minded replies to his Ultimate 747 argument.

    Dawkins’ book is not a masterpiece. He gets some of the small stuff wrong. But he gets all of the big things right, and I’ve seen nothing from the critics to suggest otherwise.

  16. #16 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Will,

    Who am I to say I’m right and they’re wrong?

    There are some theological propositions that I would agree cannot be, at this point, definitively shown to be wrong. The totally non-anthropomorphic god that some deistic thinkers imagine certainly falls into this category. But for the majority of religious beliefs (i.e., the ones believed by the vast majority of those practitioners of faith), science as we understand it certainly does have something to say about their rightness of wrongness. Everything we know about physiology, developmental biology, etc., shows that virgin birth is not possible. The same, with a healthy helping of thermodynamics, shows that a resurrection is at best extremely unlikely.

    But even given that, one of Dawkins’ (and mine and presumably Jason’s) major gripes with the enterprise of religion is not so much the truth or falsehood of certain beliefs but how such beliefs are formulated. Religion is the only area of our discourse where it is acceptable to formulate ones beliefs in such a way that they are almost guaranteed to be false. In other areas we consider belief with the utter lack of supporting evidence, persistence in the face of contrary evidence, and acceptance for purely emotive reasons, etc. to be intellectually irresponsible. Why not in religion?

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    If the following is an accurate quote from The God Delusion (and I should warn that I have to say “if” since I haven’t had a chance to read it yet),

    A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.

    then it would seem incorrect to say, “There is nothing in Dawkins’ argument that tries to rule out design by philosophical gymnastics.” He appears to be saying not that “if you are going to go the design route, you had better have an awfully good argument for doing so,” but rather that there is no way to go the design route. Offhand, I don’t see how Orr’s objection is materially different than that of Taner Edis:

    Still, I think Dawkins tries to make his argument do too much work, almost turning it into a silver-bullet argument against God, a sort of metaphysical disproof…. In other words, I agree that the gross failure of design ideas is a significant reason to doubt there is a God. But this is a failure to describe the world as we find it–not some inherent logical defect in design-based explanations.

  18. #18 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey,

    He appears to be saying not that “if you are going to go the design route, you had better have an awfully good argument for doing so,” but rather that there is no way to go the design route.

    I don’t have the book on hand at the moment (it’s buried somewhere in the deep abyss that is my closet), but as far as I can recall Dawkins is refuting the specific argument on the part of theism: that things (biological specimens, specifically) are so complex that they need a hyper-complex creator God to explain that. The passage details why the argument is a case of logical special pleading.

    And in the end, we know that this is false. There are countless examples of simple processes producing complex things. Ant-algorithm optimization is my friend.

  19. #19 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Ant-algorithm optimization is my friend.

    Erm, that’s supposed to be “my favorite.”

    It’s only 5:18 up here, am I already losing it?

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 23, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey-

    In the quote you provided Dawkins is saying that invoking design to explain the universe is unsatisfactory because it raises more questions than it solves. That’s precisely what I described in my opening post. In which part of that is he trying to rule out design by philosophical gymnastics?

    On pages 157-158 Dawkins sums up his argument in a series of numbered points. He makes it very clear in these points that he is not ruling out the possibility of design, he merely thinks it is an inadequate explanation for the complexity of the universe and that the relentless march of scientific progress has made it unreasonable to go that route. Again, exactly as I described.

  21. #21 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro: “as far as I can recall Dawkins is refuting the specific argument on the part of theism: that things (biological specimens, specifically) are so complex that they need a hyper-complex creator God to explain that. The passage details why the argument is a case of logical special pleading.”

    But the problem is that it isn’t necessarily logical special pleading. Whether Dawkins’ argument works depends on the details of the argument from design being made. Say that the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature, and that therefore something non-blind and supernatural must have made them. Note that this is not saying that all functional complexity implies a designer, only the functional complexity that gets manifested as plants, animals, etc. This is pretty much ID in a nutshell, and it is quite compatible with the notion of an undesigned designer that has functional complexity. The undesigned designer in question then simply would not be producible by blind, natural processes, and most IDers already have a candidate in mind for such an undesigned designer. In short, the claim that the functional complexity seen in nature requires a designer does not imply the claim that that supernatural functional complexity requires a designer. Of course, this particular argument from design fails on the grounds that the premise that “blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature” is false. However, that is only, as Taner Edis put it, a failure to describe the world as we find it, not a question of logic.

  22. #22 Friend Fruit
    December 23, 2006

    Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians).

    Yet another accusation that theology contains some substance that Dawkins is unqualified or unwilling to grapple with.
    Where’s the beef? Show me the money! Is any of this “meticulous reasoning of theologians” actually rationally sound and convincing? If Dawkins is missing something important, why can no one tell us what it is?
    John Lynch made the same claims on his blog, and I offered the same criticisms, which went unanswered. When I criticised his failure to back up his claims, he censored me.

    Sean Carroll did a nice job of making the same point over on Cosmic Variance some time ago.

  23. #23 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    Rosenhouse: “In the quote you provided Dawkins is saying that invoking design to explain the universe is unsatisfactory because it raises more questions than it solves…. In which part of that is he trying to rule out design by philosophical gymnastics?”

    To put it bluntly, all of the quote. Dawkins writes,

    “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.”

    This is an attempt to attack the internal logic of the arguments from design, which is the “philosophical gymnastics” that Orr describes, rather than attack the failure of arguments from design to fit the data. In this case, the attempt to attack the internal logic is the part where Dawkins writes, “because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.”

    There is nothing necessarily wrong, of course, with attempting to attack the internal logic of an argument, provided that the attempt is successful. Unfortunately, Dawkins’ attempt happens to have several problems. Actually, your attempt to liken the explanation of a designer God to saying the Earth rests on the back of a giant tortoise highlights one of the problems. If the evidence did clearly point to the Earth being supported by a giant tortoise, then the fact that a giant tortoise raises more questions than it answers would be irrelevant to the finding that the giant tortoise did exist. Similarly, if the evidence did clearly point to a designer God as the best explanation for biological complexity, then problems like “who designed the designer,” while interesting in their own right, would be irrelevant to the finding that the designer God did exist.

    Rosenhouse: “On pages 157-158 Dawkins sums up his argument in a series of numbered points. He makes it very clear in these points that he is not ruling out the possibility of design.”

    Yet saying outright, “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity,” does rule out the possibility of design. Offhand, that at least appears to indicate that Dawkins is contradicting himself, though not having his book, I can’t be too sure of that.

  24. #24 GH
    December 23, 2006

    JJ Ramsey-

    the evidence did clearly point to a designer God as the best explanation for biological complexity, then problems like “who designed the designer,” while interesting in their own right, would be irrelevant to the finding that the designer God did exist.

    I see what your saying but don’t see it as making a difference in Dawkins or anyones view.

    compatible with the notion of an undesigned designer that has functional complexity. The undesigned designer in question then simply would not be producible by blind, natural processes, and most IDers already have a candidate in mind for such an undesigned designer.

    This simply doesn’t make any sense. It really doesn’t. You simply can’t get around the fact that the designer had to come from somewhere and no matter how many word games you place some process had to occur to bring the being into, well, being.

    In short, the claim that the functional complexity seen in nature requires a designer does not imply the claim that that supernatural functional complexity requires a designer.

    Well no, nor does it say that invisible teapots in space are impossible just not rational.

  25. #25 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    GH: “You simply can’t get around the fact that the designer had to come from somewhere”

    Not really. Not everything has to come from somewhere. One or more things can just be, and the argument is phrased such that whatever complexity the designer has is no impediment to it always having been there.

  26. #26 tomh
    December 23, 2006

    J. J. Ramsey wrote:
    Offhand, that at least appears to indicate that Dawkins is contradicting himself, though not having his book, I can’t be too sure of that.

    It’s silly to try to discuss the book without having read it. I suggest you read the book, then come back.

  27. #27 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    I should add …

    GH: “You simply can’t get around the fact that the designer had to come from somewhere”

    Not really. Not everything has to come from somewhere. One or more things can just be, and the argument is phrased such that whatever complexity the designer has is no impediment to it always having been there.

    I should add that the ones arguing (badly) that the evidence indicates that “blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature” would also argue that the functional complexity we see in nature had not always been there, and would likely point to the fossil record, etc., as evidence of this. Heck, even young-earth creationists could appeal to the fossil record for that; witness the blecherous flood geologists.

  28. #28 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 23, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey-

    Saying that design is not useful as an explanation is not the same as saying that the design hypothesis is necessarily wrong. Dawkins would agree that in principle it is possible to have so much evidence pointing to a supernatural designer that we would be stuck with that conclusion, in spite of all the conceptual issues it raises. That is why his “Ultimate 747″ argument is more than just, “Who designed the designer?” Rather he is saying, design hypotheses raise mysteries far more formidable than the ones they solve, and they happen to be unnecessary given everything science is telling us. This adds up to a good case that God is unlikely.

    Dawkins harps on this because the whole point of the argument from design, either as Paley frist expressed it or as the modern ID folks express it, is that it is a simple extrapolation from the sorts of things human designers do. Dawkins is showing that this is wrong. By invoking divine design you are actually only replacing one mystery with a far greater mystery.

  29. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    tomh: “It’s silly to try to discuss the book without having read it.”

    It’s not that silly. I can limp along by gleaning from reviews, quotes, and other statements of Dawkins. Not the best way to do things, but it’s enough of a stopgap until I have access to library copies of Dawkins’ book (which are all either checked out or on order :-(). It’s not as if the “who designed the designer” argument is something that Dawkins hasn’t said many times before.

  30. #30 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    Rosenhouse: Saying that design is not useful as an explanation is not the same as saying that the design hypothesis is necessarily wrong. Dawkins would agree that in principle it is possible to have so much evidence pointing to a supernatural designer that we would be stuck with that conclusion, in spite of all the conceptual issues it raises. That is why his “Ultimate 747″ argument is more than just, �Who designed the designer?� Rather he is saying, design hypotheses raise mysteries far more formidable than the ones they solve, and they happen to be unnecessary given everything science is telling us. This adds up to a good case that God is unlikely.

    If Dawkins is simply using “who designed the designer” as a way to indicate the weight of evidence that would be needed in order to justify accepting the problems implied by design arguments, that would be fair. The quote from Dawkins, plus the reactions of Edis and Orr, would suggest that he is trying to do more than that with the “who designed the designer” argument.

  31. #31 Russell Blackford
    December 23, 2006

    Hmmm, how can anyone not enjoy Michael Martin’s clear, no-nonsense prose? And why talk about people who try to nail down questions about religious language as navel-gazers? Come on, folks, there seems to be a certain resistance to good, rigorous philosophy in some of what I read above. Mackie, Martin, etc., were writing for academic audiences, but their work is pretty lively by those standards. Compare it to the average impenetrable bit of academic writing in almost any field. Obviously, it does not read like the latest Michael Crichton thriller, but neither do the pages of Nature or Science – much less what emerges from English departments these days. Mackie and Martin use no more jargon, etc., than the topic demands when it is given academic treatment.

    I also don’t think that it helps to call Orr “silly”, etc. While I don’t agree with much of what he says, he is not putting some thoughtless or irrational viewpoint. Admittedly, he does look snobbish in a rather … er, I agree … silly way in his complaint about references to Douglas Adams.

    Be all that as it may, the beauty of The God Delusion is that Dawkins is such a superb communicator, as he always has been – he has written a book that really is almost as readable as a Michael Crichton thriller (Crichton’s pacing and clarity entertain me, even as many of his apparent views on science annoy me). There was a need for someone to write a book like this that would command a popular audience, and Dawkins has delivered it superbly.

    I’m dismayed that so many reviewers don’t get it, and seem to be taking the opportunity to show off their own supposedly superior erudition and/or to demonstrate their politically-correct, soft-on-religion credentials. I’d like to see some reviewers simply enjoying the book for what it is – and conveying that enjoyment – even if they feel the need to make a snippy point or two. (I’ve tried to do just that in a review that I’ve submitted to Cosmos magazine, but I don’t get as many words as some of these other people seem to have had.)

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 23, 2006

    J. J. Ramsey-

    You wrote: “If Dawkins is simply using “who designed the designer” as a way to indicate the weight of evidence that would be needed in order to justify accepting the problems implied by design arguments, that would be fair.”

    I think this is a very good summary of Dawkins’ intention, an intention stated very clearly in his book. As I indicated in my opening post, I think Orr misunderstood the argument, which is why he replied in so ineffective a matter. I have not previously addressed Edis’ quote, but I think he too has missed the point. As for the Dawkins quote you provided, I think it’s very clear even taken by itself. I don’t see how anyone could read it and think Dawkins is claiming that design is logically impossible.

  33. #33 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey

    But the problem is that it isn’t necessarily logical special pleading. Whether Dawkins’ argument works depends on the details of the argument from design being made.

    Okay then, let’s see it.

    Say that the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature, and that therefore something non-blind and supernatural must have made them.

    Okay, you are partially correct then. This isn’t logical special pleading as much as it is question begging. This argument does nothing more than assume what it is trying to prove.

    Note that this is not saying that all functional complexity implies a designer, only the functional complexity that gets manifested as plants, animals, etc. This is pretty much ID in a nutshell, and it is quite compatible with the notion of an undesigned designer that has functional complexity.

    Granted, but the latter part is true for no other reason than the fact it is in principle impossible to completely rule out such a notion. You can always render a scientific theory invalid if you make a certain number of auxiliary qualifications. “X looks designed to me, therefore no natural process can produce it” is one such qualification.

    The undesigned designer in question then simply would not be producible by blind, natural processes, and most IDers already have a candidate in mind for such an undesigned designer.

    But here we get back to special pleading. The IDCist’s argument in syllogistic form goes a bit like this: 1.) functional complexity in X cannot be produced by unguided processes, 2.) therefore an intelligent agent is required to produce X. Since any operational definition of “intelligent agent” involves functional complexity, the arguments own reasoning must be applied, by definition, to the designer, thus the argument recursively contains it’s own refutation.

    In short, the claim that the functional complexity seen in nature requires a designer does not imply the claim that that supernatural functional complexity requires a designer.

    This only returns to question begging, and completes the difecta of logical fallacy contained in IDC. The supernatural is either arbitrarily exempted from the IDCist’s own criteria by definition or one turns to basic special pleading.

  34. #34 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Hmmm, how can anyone not enjoy Michael Martin’s clear, no-nonsense prose?

    It’s a question about taste, really. Martin’s argumentation was certainly cogent in my view, but I’m not one for philosophy. Excessive verbiage is something that always irritates me about math and comp-sci books, but is wholly necessary for philosophical reasoning. Academic philosophers are a different animal from scientists and mathematicians, I guess.

  35. #35 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    Since I know this issue will inevitably come up, allow to provide preemptive clarification:

    My Goedel-ing of the central IDCist argument is not meant to be a catch all refutation of any and all possible design. I agree with Jason that in principle we could be forced by evidence into such a conclusion, despite the inherent conceptual problems with such. However, it is meant to show that the argument, taken as an abstract analytic deduction, is self-refuting.

  36. #36 J. J. Ramsey
    December 23, 2006

    Me: Say that the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature, and that therefore something non-blind and supernatural must have made them.

    Tyler DiPietro: Okay, you are partially correct then. This isn’t logical special pleading as much as it is question begging.

    It is neither special pleading nor question begging. I am simply describing the claim that the argument is putting forth as well as one of its (false) premises, and what the claim would and would not entail if true. I leave attempts to prove the claim to the IDiots.

    But here we get back to special pleading. The IDCist’s argument in syllogistic form goes a bit like this: 1.) functional complexity in X cannot be produced by unguided processes, 2.) therefore an intelligent agent is required to produce X. Since any operational definition of “intelligent agent” involves functional complexity, the arguments own reasoning must be applied, by definition, to the designer, thus the argument recursively contains it’s own refutation.

    The only way this refutation works is if you gloss over the details of the actual argument being made. If one is saying that features in a carbon-based lifeform cannot be produced by unguided processes of mutation and natural selection because of the specifics of said lifeform and the specifics of mutation and natural selection, and none of those specifics apply to the designer god, which is not even remotely carbon-based and doesn’t even have genetic material to mutate, then there is no recursive refutation.

  37. #37 Tyler DiPietro
    December 23, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey,

    If one is saying that features in a carbon-based lifeform cannot be produced by unguided processes of mutation and natural selection because of the specifics of said lifeform and the specifics of mutation and natural selection, and none of those specifics apply to the designer god, which is not even remotely carbon-based and doesn’t even have genetic material to mutate, then there is no recursive refutation.

    Two problems:

    1.) No specifics apply to the designer in this case, a major deficiency in the entire basis of ID. As far as I know, there has never been an operational definition of the “designer” on the part of IDCists. Since there are no proposed specifics on the nature of the designer, it’s essentially an appeal to magic. Such is logically pernicious and, as I’ve explained, can be done with anything, even demonstrated theories (witness YEC rationalizations of the vast evidence for a 4.6 billion y/o earth).

    2.) The explanation you provide for the “specifics” of certain design arguments overlooks the most basic specific attribute of all: they claim that such is impossible because the object in question is too complex. The appeal to “complexity” is necessarily meant to conclude with the necessity of a “designer”. Thus, even given that the argument isn’t entirely recursively-refuted in every instance, what it presents is at the very least a false dichotomy. If explanation X is (hypothetically) false, you need to have a designer. The argument carried to a universal (complexity implies design) is recursively-refuted.

  38. #38 Scott Hatfield
    December 24, 2006

    Jason, I didn’t have time to read the entire thread so if this has already been addressed please just point my attention to it. You did a good job of responding to most of Orr’s points, but you didn’t address Orr’s observation that science owes a debt not just to religion in general, but to Western religion, a debt that Orr thinks (rather tellingly) Dawkins fails to acknowledge.

    What do you and others here think?….SH

  39. #39 Scott Hatfield
    December 24, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey:

    (in a playful tone) Greetings, ‘fellow apologist’! Mr. C sends his disregards….SH

  40. #40 JimC
    December 24, 2006

    fellow apologist? Who is Mr.C?

    late and confused:-)

  41. #41 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    Again, it comes down to an aesthetic opinion. I feel serious or good or beautiful inquiry into nature requires the use of the tools of science. They don’t. Who am I to say I’m right and they’re wrong?

    Science gives us accurate prediction, religion doesn’t. That makes you right and them wrong.

  42. #42 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    This, alas, is correct

    No, it isn’t. Stalin’s persecution of priests had nothing to do with his atheism, it had to do with power struggles.

  43. #43 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    I think it’s a mistake to treat Orr’s review as an attempt at rebuttal to Dawkins.

    That’s ridiculous. The quoted text consists of attempts to rebut Dawkins’s arguments.

    He finds Dawkins’ book as sloppily written and sloppily argued. So did I, so did Lawrence Krauss, so did many other ScienceBloggers. This is not to say that Dawkins is wrong

    You clearly don’t understand the concept of “rebuttal”.

  44. #44 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    It’s not that Dawkins is wrong (he may be, or he may not) but that he fails to convince those that don’t already share his viewpoint (and rhetorical strategy).

    That’s not because his arguments are poor, it’s because those people are in the grips of an ideology (which is the whole point of the book).

  45. #45 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    it would seem incorrect to say, “There is nothing in Dawkins’ argument that tries to rule out design by philosophical gymnastics.” He appears to be saying not that “if you are going to go the design route, you had better have an awfully good argument for doing so,” but rather that there is no way to go the design route.

    That’s not “philosophical gymnastics”, it’s true, because the argument from design is fallacious.

    Still, I think Dawkins tries to make his argument do too much work, almost turning it into a silver-bullet argument against God, a sort of metaphysical disproof

    Uh, no … that the design argument is fallacious special pleading does not disprove God, it only fails to provide any valid reason to believe in God.

    One of the basic problems, and a major limitation on the effectiveness of a book like Dawkins’, is that most people, even scientists, are atrociously bad reasoners.

  46. #46 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    Whether Dawkins’ argument works depends on the details of the argument from design being made. Say that the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature, and that therefore something non-blind and supernatural must have made them.

    Surely you’re joking? A claim is not an argument. All you have done here is substituted the argument from design with a blatant case of argumentum ad ignorantiam. So, gee, yeah, whether Dawkin’s argument against the design argument works depends on whether the particular argument given actually is a design argument.

    Sheesh.

  47. #47 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    One or more things can just be, and the argument is phrased such that whatever complexity the designer has is no impediment to it always having been there.

    You really have no idea what special pleading is, do you?

  48. #48 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    The quote from Dawkins, plus the reactions of Edis and Orr, would suggest that he is trying to do more than that with the “who designed the designer” argument.

    Plus the reactions of Edis and Orr? So their reactions to what Dawkins wrote adds to our understanding of what it implies? That’s quite a bizarre argument from authority, and is yet again special pleading, since Orr’s response is the very thing being criticized here.

  49. #49 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    Say that the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature, and that therefore something non-blind and supernatural must have made them.

    It is neither special pleading nor question begging.

    How is “X isn’t sufficient for P” not equivalent to “non X is necessary for P”?

    Greetings, ‘fellow apologist’!

    perhaps that explains why Mr. Ramsey is such a poor reasoner.

  50. #50 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    Orr’s observation that science owes a debt not just to religion in general, but to Western religion, a debt that Orr thinks (rather tellingly) Dawkins fails to acknowledge.

    Since science doesn’t owe a debt to religion, then it doesn’t owe one to Western religion. If your point is that Orr is a cultural chauvinist, that’s neither surprising nor relevant.

  51. #51 truth machine
    December 24, 2006

    But atheism good / theism bad is not born out by the evidence.

    Uh, yeah, ok, atheism good, theism, astrology, psychic healing, UFO abductionism, superstition, etc. bad. “atheism good” does not mean that any particular atheist is good, which is the thrust of Orr’s idiotic argument about Stalin and Mao that you endorsed; it simply means that it’s good to not believe in dieties, given that there’s no reason to.

  52. #52 386sx
    December 24, 2006

    fellow apologist?

    Yes, they both go around pretending like everybody owes their favorite organized “pretend fest” thingy a “debt”.

    Who is Mr.C?

    Why, Mr. Santa Claus of course!

  53. #53 J. J. Ramsey
    December 24, 2006

    Me: “Whether Dawkins’ argument works depends on the details of the argument from design being made. Say that the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes are insufficient to create the functional complexity we see in nature, and that therefore something non-blind and supernatural must have made them.”

    truth machine: “Surely you’re joking? A claim is not an argument. All you have done here is substituted the argument from design with a blatant case of argumentum ad ignorantiam.”

    As noted above, I’m describing the argument in brief, not attempting to defend it. Heck, I pointed out that it has a false premise, at which you yourself hinted when you described the argument as an argumentum ad ignorantiam. Whoever would actually defend the argument would be ignorant of the power of the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes being derided. That, though, is not a problem that can be addressed with a “who designed the designer” argument, but rather by an appeal to the data.

    Tyler DiPietro: “The explanation you provide for the “specifics” of certain design arguments overlooks the most basic specific attribute of all: they claim that such is impossible because the object in question is too complex.”

    It doesn’t overlook anything. Rather, it points out that design arguments have various justifications for why lifeforms are too complex, and these justifications don’t necessarily apply to the designer. Take Behe’s irreducible complexity argument (please). He argues wrongly that the flagellum and other biological mechanisms couldn’t have evolved because if one takes one part of the mechanism away, the whole thing doesn’t work. Notice that this argument depends on the idea of these mechanisms having discrete parts, so it can’t scale up to apply to a designer that doesn’t have discrete parts or anything analogous to a flagellum, clotting cascade, etc.

    Tyler DiPietro: “even given that the argument isn’t entirely recursively-refuted in every instance, what it presents is at the very least a false dichotomy.”

    Careful here. Let’s see. Suppose that we take as given that some life form could not have been made by blind, natural processes (which turns out to be a false premise, of course). Biological beings don’t just pop into being by themselves, and one cannot argue that the beings were always just there. There aren’t a lot of choices left here. In practice, of course, it is a false dichotomy, but that’s because one of the choices that is really available, namely that blind, natural processes are capable of generating the lifeforms in question, is being wrongfully discarded. Again, this is not a problem that can be addressed with a “who designed the designer” argument, but rather by an appeal to the data.

    Tyler DiPietro: “The argument carried to a universal (complexity implies design) is recursively-refuted.”

    The problem is that the argument in question cannot necessarily be carried to a universal. Behe’s argument is a case in point.

  54. #54 J. J. Ramsey
    December 24, 2006

    Me: “Whoever would actually defend the argument would be ignorant of the power of the particular argument from design in question claims that blind, natural processes being derided.”

    Man, I must have done a mangled cut-and-paste or something. Or I didn’t get enough caffeine. :-p That should read:

    “Whoever would actually defend the particular argument from design in question would be ignorant of the power of the blind, natural processes being derided.”

  55. #55 Art
    December 24, 2006

    I agree with truth machine regarding the statements about Stalin and Mao. Their crimes were motivated by power lust, the need to eliminate any and all possible challengers to their authority. Churches were purged, not because of their religion, but because they were challengers to the almighty authority of the state. Stalin, Mao, et al. would have just as cruelly crushed atheist opponents (and they probably did) as they did religious ones.

    Of course, this consideration probably requires some of us to re-think the reflexive urge to attribute to religion the crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by churches and cults of all stripe. There’s a least common denominator and it swallows up even things as seemingly “deep” as religion and atheism.

  56. #56 windy
    December 24, 2006

    you didn’t address Orr’s observation that science owes a debt not just to religion in general, but to Western religion, a debt that Orr thinks (rather tellingly) Dawkins fails to acknowledge.

    Does science owe a special debt to the male sex or Europeans, as well?

  57. #57 Scott Hatfield
    December 24, 2006

    Windy, truth machine:

    Oh, please, spare all of us the vacuous invocation of chauvinism. Even if the charge was true with respect to Orr, that would have no bearing on whether or not he is making a good argument. Surely you don’t believe that the values that Dawkins and others invoke against theism somehow emerged independent of their culture? Even Dr. Dawkins describes himeself as a ‘post-Christian theist.’ Does that make Dawkins a cultural chauvinist, or simply a realist about the world he lives in?

    At any rate, read Orr’s review. Nowhere does he assert that males, Europeans or Judeo-Christianity is superior or favored in any absolute sense. There are very good reasons to believe that science required something like the last to nurture it, however, not the least being the very lawfulness of the universe taken as axiomatic for the conduct of science. Distasteful as this might be to some, either acknowledge this or else explain why Orr’s observation is flawed….SH

  58. #58 Ginger Yellow
    December 24, 2006

    JJ: the problem with your approach is that irreducible complexity, the “details of the argument being made”, is not the design hypothesis. It’s just one anti-evolutionary stratagem of the design movement. It doesn’t follow logically from the design hypothesis nor does it stand up to any serious scrutiny as an anti-evolutionary argument. The central design hypothesis is that life on earth is too complex to be the result of unguided processes, whatever they are. Again, at this level you could argue that “well, the designer could be unlike life on earth”. But it doesn’t work as an argument, because without the details of the argument it’s not an argument, it’s an assertion.

    Dembski’s specified complexity is much closer to a hypothesis derived directly from the central design assertion, and it says absolutely nothing about the mechanisms or the instantiation. The designer in ID “theory” most definitely does exhibit specified complexity, and any ID theorist who buys the specified complexity argument will say that no unguided, natural process, no matter what form it takes can produce specified complexity ex nihilo.

    The point I’m trying to make is that while the fundamental design assertion isn’t logically disprovable because it’s so vague, as soon as you put any bones on it whatsoever, you run up against insurmountable problems. Any argument against natural design on earth will either fail as an argument against evolution (like IC) or will fall under its own logical wheels (like specified complexity). Consequently the design assertion is no use as an argument for the existence of God. Which is all that Dawkins is saying.

  59. #59 GH
    December 24, 2006

    so it can’t scale up to apply to a designer that doesn’t have discrete parts or anything analogous to a flagellum,

    So a designer without parts is equivalent to, say, nothing?

    Judeo-Christianity is superior or favored in any absolute sense. There are very good reasons to believe that science required something like the last to nurture it, however, not the least being the very lawfulness of the universe taken as axiomatic for the conduct of science.

    Scott are you seriously saying that Christianity was necessary to understand the lawfulness of the universe? I think that is a rather weak claim. Islam carried alot of science and I think a good case could be made that it is much more involved with the history of science that what your claiming here. I don’t state religion had nothing to do with science. They had the money but I think(if I’m understanding you correctly) that the mindset of a set of laws emerged without religion.

    And people have stated why Orr is flawed in this thread and others. People just can’t accept Dawkins makes simple hard to refute common sense arguments.

  60. #60 Pierce R. Butler
    December 24, 2006

    Scott Hatfield: …or else explain why Orr’s observation is flawed.

    What the church sponsored was “philosophy”, not “science” – and when the results turned out to be other than what was expected, the bannings and silencings abounded.

    Does the fact that William of Ockham was a churchman invalidate his “Razor” as a cutting argument against theology?

    Did the fact that numerous legal briefs against Microsoft’s near-monopoly position in the software industry were written with MS Word mean that all Microsoft’s critics are wrong?

    Since no human can (so far) exist without having had parents, does that mean that no individuals can speak of, or even perceive, failings on the part of their parents?

    Orr’s conflation of the Catholic church’s institutional history and its (all churches’?) metaphysical justification for existence is at best a mild, everyday irony.

    To borrow from the analogy used by PZ Myers in the post (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php) which led me here: even if the emperor’s reign was one of brilliant achievement (hardly the historical case), the man is still butt naked.

  61. #61 J. J. Ramsey
    December 24, 2006

    GH: “So a designer without parts is equivalent to, say, nothing?”

    The phrase “failure of imagination” comes to mind.

  62. #62 False Prophet
    December 24, 2006

    I agree with truth machine regarding the statements about Stalin and Mao. Their crimes were motivated by power lust, the need to eliminate any and all possible challengers to their authority. Churches were purged, not because of their religion, but because they were challengers to the almighty authority of the state. Stalin, Mao, et al. would have just as cruelly crushed atheist opponents (and they probably did) as they did religious ones.

    Posted by: Art | December 24, 2006 11:26 AM

    But didn’t Dawkins himself address this in the “Root of all Evil?” documentary. When he quoted the American physicist (can’t recall the name at the moment) who said (I’m paraphrasing): “Without religion, good people would do good things, and bad people would do bad things, but to have good people do evil things, you need religion.” Stalin and Mao were objectively evil people, or as close as you can define these things, and because they weren’t religious there is barely an objection heard about this fact. Whereas when religious people do evil things, like walk into pizza parlours with bombs strapped to their chest, or blow up family planning clinics, or beat up gays, there will be fellow believers who will defend these acts: people who are otherwise decent folk–maybe even your kindhearted neighbours.

    Therein lies the difference. I, as an atheist, can say that Mao was a monster of the highest calibre. Whereas it’s not too far-fetched to suggest a devout Catholic, speaking of James Kopp, who assassinated three family planning doctors, might think his heart was in the right place, even if they consider his methods extreme. I, and I suspect the majority of atheists (ie, the “good people”), would never suggest that Mao “was an evil son-of-a-bitch, but at least he did something about those Catholics and Buddhists”.

  63. #63 J. J. Ramsey
    December 24, 2006

    “Stalin and Mao were objectively evil people, or as close as you can define these things, and because they weren’t religious there is barely an objection heard about this fact.”

    The lack of objection has more to do with the lack of current supporters of Stalin and Mao. If you were around their supporters and you mentioned their atrocities, they would likely defend them, if they didn’t go further and deny them altogether.

  64. #64 Caledoinan
    December 24, 2006

    “God says so” implies all the facts of nature.

    Will, this is totally and absolutely false. “God says so” implies nothing at all.

  65. #65 Tyler DiPietro
    December 24, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey,

    It doesn’t overlook anything. Rather, it points out that design arguments have various justifications for why lifeforms are too complex, and these justifications don’t necessarily apply to the designer.

    But as I’ve said, over and over at this point, the designer is simply arbitrarily exempted from any criteria the IDCists wish to apply to biological organisms, since absolutely nothing in the way of definition is specifically attributed to this “designer”. That’s an appeal to magic, nothing more, little more of an “explanation” than saying they simply popped into existence and we can forget about it.

    Careful here. Let’s see. Suppose that we take as given that some life form could not have been made by blind, natural processes (which turns out to be a false premise, of course). Biological beings don’t just pop into being by themselves, and one cannot argue that the beings were always just there. There aren’t a lot of choices left here. In practice, of course, it is a false dichotomy, but that’s because one of the choices that is really available, namely that blind, natural processes are capable of generating the lifeforms in question, is being wrongfully discarded. Again, this is not a problem that can be addressed with a “who designed the designer” argument, but rather by an appeal to the data.

    Yes, the choice is rightfully between some sort of supernatural magic and a natural process. But in both camps there are lots of sub-possibilities that make the distinction almost vacuous. Intelligent Design, as I’ve explained, is little more than saying “complex things X just popped into existence”, i.e., an appeal to magic. Natural processes that produce complexity, however, are numerous and largely well understood. The entire field of optimization theory is built on adapting these processes to solve computational problems. Evolution itself could include a plurality of mechanisms aside from mutation, retention and selection. Endosymbiotic invasion/capture models are a good example of this. Self-organization and synergy are others. So Behe’s argument is still a false dichotomy.

    The problem is that the argument in question cannot necessarily be carried to a universal. Behe’s argument is a case in point.

    But that’s not the only possibility I’ve pointed out. Either you do claim that complexity implies design, in which case you end up with logical special pleading. You can also say that the criteria you point out does not apply to the designer, in which case you are simply assuming what you are trying to prove, or question begging. Either way, the argument is a non-starter.

  66. #66 Robert O'Brien
    December 24, 2006

    Dawkins’ book is primarilty about the reasonableness of believing in a creator God, and on the social impact of widespread religious belief.

    Then Dawkins needs to engage scholastic theology, a task to which he appears unequal.

  67. #67 J. J. Ramsey
    December 24, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro: “But as I’ve said, over and over at this point, the designer is simply arbitrarily exempted from any criteria the IDCists wish to apply to biological organisms”

    And as I’ve tried to indicate, the exemption isn’t arbitrary because the designer is simply different in kind from the biological organisms in question.

    Tyler DiPietro: “Natural processes that produce complexity, however, are numerous and largely well understood.”

    I know, and I already said as much. As I said, “In practice, of course, it is a false dichotomy, but that’s because one of the choices that is really available, namely that blind, natural processes are capable of generating the lifeforms in question, is being wrongfully discarded.” My point is that it is the wrongful discarding of this fact, not the problem of what, if anything, made the designer, that is the real flaw in the ID arguments.

    Tyler DiPietro: “You can also say that the criteria you point out does not apply to the designer, in which case you are simply assuming what you are trying to prove, or question begging.”

    Your conclusion that I was question begging was based on me describing the argument in outline rather than attempting a full proof.

  68. #68 Robert O'Brien
    December 24, 2006

    Science gives us accurate prediction, religion doesn’t. That makes you right and them wrong.

    A narrow empiricism is the hobgoblin of small minds, idiocy machine.

  69. #69 Robert O'Brien
    December 24, 2006

    Since science doesn’t owe a debt to religion, then it doesn’t owe one to Western religion.

    Wrong again, idiocy machine. Modern science essentially emerged from Scholasticism.

  70. #70 Greco
    December 24, 2006

    The lack of objection has more to do with the lack of current supporters of Stalin and Mao. If you were around their supporters and you mentioned their atrocities, they would likely defend them, if they didn’t go further and deny them altogether.

    I’ve met quite a few Stalinists and Maoists, and they either say that their (Stalin’s and Mao’s) crimes were necessary, or that they are all lies invented by the imperialist propaganda machine.
    Good for you that you’ve never met one of those, they’re every bit as crazy as creationists.

    As for how hard it is to imagine that there is not a necessary connection between Stalin’s atheism and murder of priests, totalitarian ideologies don’t allow competition by definition. When Tokugawa ordered the crucifixion of Catholic priests and banned Catholicism on Japan, was it due to the belief that they were European spies or to Tokugawa’s Shintoism?

  71. #71 Monado
    December 24, 2006

    If the Earth or the Universe is so complex that it demands a designer, surely the Designer demands a designer as well? I don’t see why that’s irrelevant. And then you’re left with, “It’s designers all the way down.”

    Believing in hard evidence doesn’t require faith. That’s like saying it’s a religious belief that if there was earth and a sidewalk outside your door yesterday, it will still be there today. On the other hand, believing that there’s an invisible God who can perform miracles defying the laws of physics (and laws are observations, not theories); in other words, believing that if you pray for a miracle your sidewalk will disappear overnight, does require faith and, in the absence of any reliably obsserved instances, has not been proved. See the Web site, “Why does God hate amputees?” Why do healing miracles always involve ambiguous conditions?

  72. #72 J. J. Ramsey
    December 24, 2006

    Monado: “If the Earth or the Universe is so complex that it demands a designer”

    Again, that assumes that design arguments are making a generic argument about complexity in and of itself implying design, which is often not true.

  73. #73 Jon H
    December 24, 2006

    “As for how hard it is to imagine that there is not a necessary connection between Stalin’s atheism and murder of priests, totalitarian ideologies don’t allow competition by definition. ”

    And there seems to be an underlying assumption that priests ought to have been uniquely sheltered by virtue of their religious role, and that Stalin’s atheism led him to not honor this ‘privilege’.

    In actuality, Stalin killed all kinds of people who he considered threats, so there’s no reason to expect religion to be a shield.

    Another thing to consider is that Stalin and Mao weren’t big on allowing the operation of *any* organization which was not controlled or co-opted by the government. Atheism didn’t really have much to do with it.

    China isn’t so interested in crushing religion, they’re happy for it to exist in state-controlled forms. So they have their Chinese catholic church, and they made the official Tibetan Panchen Lama disappear, and named one themselves.

  74. #74 Chris Hallquist
    December 24, 2006

    Jason-

    I’m curious to know you’re sources for Augustine’s theology. It’s a talking point that’s circulated a lot recently, and it would be nice to know the details.

  75. #75 Tyler DiPietro
    December 24, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey

    And as I’ve tried to indicate, the exemption isn’t arbitrary because the designer is simply different in kind from the biological organisms in question.

    We already know that the IDCists claim that much, however they provide no basis for it. “X is exempt from my criteria for Y” may be perfectly (internally) consistent, but there is never any attempt to demonstrate X. It rests on thin air, is mere assertion, and an appeal to magic to boot. In other words, it’s question begging.

    I know, and I already said as much. As I said, “In practice, of course, it is a false dichotomy, but that’s because one of the choices that is really available, namely that blind, natural processes are capable of generating the lifeforms in question, is being wrongfully discarded.” My point is that it is the wrongful discarding of this fact, not the problem of what, if anything, made the designer, that is the real flaw in the ID arguments.

    Granted then, point settled.

    Your conclusion that I was question begging was based on me describing the argument in outline rather than attempting a full proof.

    Well then I apologize, but I cannot work with something you do not provide. Note that it’s not just you, I’ve never seen a IDCist attempt to attribute anything to the designer or move the explanation beyond mere appeal to magic. (I also understand that you are not an IDCist, just to clarify in advance.)

  76. #76 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    Of course, this consideration probably requires some of us to re-think the reflexive urge to attribute to religion the crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by churches and cults of all stripe. There’s a least common denominator and it swallows up even things as seemingly “deep” as religion and atheism.

    Of course religious battles involve power struggles, but religion allows for exploitation of the masses by declaring the enemy to be evil merely for not using the right secret mental handshake. Mao and Pol Pot had to at least convince people that the intellectuals were the enemy because they were exploiters — and it had nothing to do with Mao and Pol Pot being atheists; and even if it did, it would be irrelevant because atheism itself does not draw the distinction they did; atheism is simply the lack of a belief in gods.

  77. #77 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    Well then I apologize

    You shouldn’t; his arguments are ridiculous.

  78. #78 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    “In practice, of course, it is a false dichotomy, but that’s because one of the choices that is really available, namely that blind, natural processes are capable of generating the lifeforms in question, is being wrongfully discarded.” My point is that it is the wrongful discarding of this fact, not the problem of what, if anything, made the designer, that is the real flaw in the ID arguments.

    That is a false dichotomy; the creationists employ argumentum ad ignorantiam and circular arguments and special pleading.

    You started your “point” with a criticism of Dawkins’s response to the design argument; but your criticism was wrong. As with so many bad and dishonest reasoners, you keep changing the subject and moving the goal posts until (almost) everyone forgets what was originally at issue.

  79. #79 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    Monado: “If the Earth or the Universe is so complex that it demands a designer”

    Again, that assumes that design arguments are making a generic argument about complexity in and of itself implying design, which is often not true.

    But Monado is being charitable; the alternative to arguing that complexity implies design is simply “we know it when we see it”. That’s why the IDiots treat Dembski as an intellectual standard bearer — they can pretend that his fallacious drivel provides some sort of intellectual underpinning to “detecting design”.

  80. #80 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro: “But as I’ve said, over and over at this point, the designer is simply arbitrarily exempted from any criteria the IDCists wish to apply to biological organisms”

    And as I’ve tried to indicate, the exemption isn’t arbitrary because the designer is simply different in kind from the biological organisms in question.

    I hope you don’t do anything for a living that involves reasoning.

  81. #81 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    [arg, stupid buggy blog software]

    Tyler DiPietro: “But as I’ve said, over and over at this point, the designer is simply arbitrarily exempted from any criteria the IDCists wish to apply to biological organisms”

    And as I’ve tried to indicate, the exemption isn’t arbitrary because the designer is simply different in kind from the biological organisms in question.

    I hope you don’t do anything for a living that involves reasoning.

  82. #82 truth machine
    December 25, 2006

    Your conclusion that I was question begging was based on me describing the argument in outline rather than attempting a full proof.

    That itself is question begging. Why should anyone think that you’re able to produce a “full proof” that doesn’t still involve question begging?

  83. #83 windy
    December 25, 2006

    Again, that assumes that design arguments are making a generic argument about complexity in and of itself implying design, which is often not true.

    Then why the watches, Boeings and outboard motors? Are there IDCs that explicitly reject comparisons between human and supernatural designs and designers?

    It’s true that IDCs may not present these arguments as explicitly connected, but why should we go along with their sleight of hand and bait-and-switch arguments?

    Why is it ok to infer some properties of supernatural designers from comparisons with human designers (have minds and can and will design stuff), but not others (have complexity that needs an explanation)?

    Notice that this argument depends on the idea of these mechanisms having discrete parts, so it can’t scale up to apply to a designer that doesn’t have discrete parts or anything analogous to a flagellum, clotting cascade, etc.

    How can a ‘designer’ without any discrete parts design anything? (And no, an energy being a la Star Trek doesn’t cut it, it would still need to have discrete ‘energy parts’ to store and process information and to manipulate its environment.)

  84. #84 J. J. Ramsey
    December 25, 2006

    Me: “And as I’ve tried to indicate, the exemption isn’t arbitrary because the designer is simply different in kind from the biological organisms in question.”

    Tyler DiPietro: “We already know that the IDCists claim that much, however they provide no basis for it. ‘X is exempt from my criteria for Y’ may be perfectly (internally) consistent, but there is never any attempt to demonstrate X.”

    The IDers try to argue that X is what’s left after the process of elimination. The bottom-up approaches to making X have been ruled out. (Ok, not really, but that’s what the IDers think is the case.) That leaves the top-down ones. An impersonal top-down cause is ruled out by the same bad arguments that rule out the bottom-up causes, which are all impersonal. This leaves the personal top-down causes. At this point, the IDers get vague because the only top-down causes that wouldn’t be affected by their criteria for Y’s all look suspiciously like deities, which is something they don’t want to acknowledge outright.

  85. #85 Tyler DiPietro
    December 25, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey

    The IDers try to argue that X is what’s left after the process of elimination. The bottom-up approaches to making X have been ruled out. (Ok, not really, but that’s what the IDers think is the case.) That leaves the top-down ones. An impersonal top-down cause is ruled out by the same bad arguments that rule out the bottom-up causes, which are all impersonal. This leaves the personal top-down causes. At this point, the IDers get vague because the only top-down causes that wouldn’t be affected by their criteria for Y’s all look suspiciously like deities, which is something they don’t want to acknowledge outright.

    And how is this different from what I’ve been saying all along? If it isn’t supposed to be, and is rather intended to fill in details, consider the question irrelevant and overlook it.

  86. #86 SmellyTerror
    December 26, 2006

    Fer crissake, the whole Mao/Stalin argument misses the point. The idea is that religion is not required for moral behaviour, and that athiesm is no more likely to spur outrages than religion is.

    Morality is a human, secular construct. Religion simply enshrines the morality of its time.

    So you have examples of atheists doing bad stuff to religious folk. Whoopdee doo. Do we use the many examples of religious folk doing horrible stuff to atheists (and other religious folk) as an example of religion being necessarily morally corrupt? I hope not, because it’s bloody spurious.

    So what’s the difference? Jason seems to be suggesting that atheism carries the guilt because of scale. Hello? Which century do you think you live in? If bullets and gas chambers and rapid communication and modern propaganda existed throughout the last couple of thousand years, you better believe you’d have seen religious atrocities on the scale of Mao and Stalin and friends. And if Stalin and Mao had been religious, the carnage would have been no different. Show me why you think otherwise.

    Dawkins is not trying to say that religion is necessarily bad. He’s pointing out that religion is not the moral guide people seem to think it is. In that context, a list of moral failures is relevant because it refutes the claim. It’s a claim that religion makes, but that atheism does not. *No-one* (afaik) is saying atheism is the One True Protection Against Moral Turpitude. It doesn’t matter how many examples of bad atheists you can come up with, unless you can show that atheism caused it in a way religion couldn’t. I haven’t seen anyone do that.

    Even if morality may have been guided by religion at some time (and, again, I would argue it’s the other way around), secular morality has certainly been ascendant for a very long time now. The example of slavery is a good one. The bible specifically endorses slavery, and yet we (and most Christians) consider it abhorrent. We ignore the moral directives of religion because it conflicts with our (secular) moral worldview! The bible endorses rape, and genocide, and animal sacrifice. The bible promotes all sorts of terrible punishments for a range of crimes, but we ignore them. In fact, the only time the bible is pulled out and consulted for moral guidance in any policy sense is when people want to use it to justify the beliefs they aready hold, thanks to upbringing and culture.

    Where our beliefs contradict the bible – as they do in many, many cases – we ignore it, all of us, even the very religious! Do you see the religious right promoting the death penalty for people who work on the sabbath, or for adultery? Bring back death-by-stoning as a punishment? Reintroduce mandatory animal sacrifice for first born children? No, because these things are no longer part of anyone’s moral compass. Our morality has moved on. Our culture’s morality now dictates to the religious teachings, not the other way around.

    Do people still use religion to justify certain moral stances? Sure – but as a tool of codifying an old system of morality, religion’s only real function is to slow the rate of change. It is a reactive force, and that’s all. As secular morality overcomes the old ways, one by one, they are ignored in religious teachings, too.

    You want to know what secular morality looks like? Well, this is it. I would say that it always has been.

  87. #87 J. J. Ramsey
    December 26, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro: “And how is this different from what I’ve been saying all along? If it isn’t supposed to be, and is rather intended to fill in details, consider the question irrelevant and overlook it.”

    I’m not sure if it’s different or not. We may be talking past each other, so I’ll clarify as best I can. I described a process of elimination done under a false premise. Unless the false premise itself is being begged, I don’t see a begging of the question, at least not offhand.

  88. #88 David D.G.
    December 26, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro,

    In part of your comment to J.J. Ramsey, you said:

    1.) No specifics apply to the designer in this case, a major deficiency in the entire basis of ID. As far as I know, there has never been an operational definition of the “designer” on the part of IDCists. Since there are no proposed specifics on the nature of the designer, it’s essentially an appeal to magic. Such is logically pernicious and, as I’ve explained, can be done with anything, even demonstrated theories (witness YEC rationalizations of the vast evidence for a 4.6 billion y/o earth).

    2.) The explanation you provide for the “specifics” of certain design arguments overlooks the most basic specific attribute of all: they claim that such is impossible because the object in question is too complex. The appeal to “complexity” is necessarily meant to conclude with the necessity of a “designer”. Thus, even given that the argument isn’t entirely recursively-refuted in every instance, what it presents is at the very least a false dichotomy. If explanation X is (hypothetically) false, you need to have a designer. The argument carried to a universal (complexity implies design) is recursively-refuted.

    I like the way you put this, especially that phrase describing an appeal to magic as “logically pernicious.” Not only is that only precisely correct, but it’s also beautiful worded!

    Also, the second item seems close to summing up what I see as the really stupid part about ID adherents trying to wave away the “Who designed the designer?” question: The question MUST be asked, and answered, because of the very foundation of the ID concept. THEIR OWN REASONING REQUIRES IT! If the universe and/or elements in it are too complex to not have been created, and thus needed a more complex (i.e., supernatural) designer to create them, then BY THEIR OWN RULES, that designer HAD to be designed also — and so on, in infinite regression. Thus, the ID concept is nothing less than a claim of “turtles all the way down”!

    ~David D.G.

  89. #89 David D.G.
    December 26, 2006

    SmellyTerror, I find your username somewhat disturbing, but your post here regarding the relationships of religion, morality, and atheism is absolutely spot on. I have had some approximation of this view in mind for a long time, but have never seen it articulated before; now it seems so obvious as to be elementary. Well stated!

    ~David D.G.

  90. #90 David D.G.
    December 26, 2006

    Tyler DiPietro,

    Bah. “Beautifully worded,” I meant. Obviously I need to work on my own wording — or at least on hitting the Preview button first instead of the Post button.

    ~David D.G.

  91. #91 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 26, 2006

    SmellyTerror-

    In his book Dawkins points to various atrocities committed in the name of religion and argues that the people who were moved to commit those acts did so because of their religion. But when it comes time to discuss evil things that atheists have done he turns around and argues that their atheism played no part in their crimes. This seems unreasonable to me. If it does not reflect badly on atheism that atheists have done terrible things, then it does not necessarily reflect badly on Christianity that Christians have sometimes done evil things.

    That’s why I said in my opening post that the important distinction is not atheism/theism. Rather it is secularism/theocracy and rational thought/irrational faith. I think Dawkins probably agrees with this, but the fact remains he is not sufficiently clear about this in his book.

  92. #92 ignored_ethos
    December 26, 2006

    SmellyTerror:

    “In his book Dawkins points to various atrocities committed in the name of religion and argues that the people who were moved to commit those acts did so because of their religion. But when it comes time to discuss evil things that atheists have done he turns around and argues that their atheism played no part in their crimes. This seems unreasonable to me. If it does not reflect badly on atheism that atheists have done terrible things, then it does not necessarily reflect badly on Christianity that Christians have sometimes done evil things.”

    The difference is that the atrocities by the theists that Dawkins refers to were done “in the name of” their god and would have, in the absence of this faith, not occurred.

    The atrocities that were performed by the atheists were not done in the name of any god.

    -ignored_ethos

  93. #93 Harold Henderson
    December 26, 2006

    If you wanted to mount a campaign to expunge rape or murder from the world, you’d have to learn a lot of extremely unpleasant things that you could otherwise happily ignore. It’s beyond me why Dawkins, Rosenhouse, PZ, and others imagine that it could be different with religion. Cocksure contempt combined with ignorance isn’t persuasive, nor should it be.

    By way of example, Jason’s statement, with regard to Dawkins’ alleged failure to consider the status of religious propositions, is false:

    “For most believers there is no such dispute. For them religious propositions have precisely the same meaning as every other sort of proposition. When they discuss God they are talking about a real entity, with real motivations and desires, who really cares about the people he literally created from nothing.”

    You wish. Most religious believers, not being literal fundamentalists, are not such easy targets. In fact they regularly make statements about God that they would never make about real things in life. They don’t praise the incompetent TV repairman when he fixes their TV, and then wave it off when his bumbling efforts fail or start a fire; God, on the other hand, is praised for all good and exonerated of all bad. Similarly, they extol faith but look both ways before crossing the street.

    I don’t pretend to know what the status of these peculiar statements is. But if you want to get rid of religion — as opposed to just enjoying the sound of your own voice — then you have to do the heavy lifting and figure it out. Whatever these religious statements are, they aren’t evidence-based. It’s fine to point that out, but doing so is the very beginning of the job, not the end. It also happens to be the part of the job that Bertrand Russell already did just fine 80 years ago.

  94. #94 J. J. Ramsey
    December 26, 2006

    David D.G.: “If the universe and/or elements in it are too complex to not have been created [by blind forces], and thus needed a more complex (i.e., supernatural) designer to create them, then BY THEIR OWN RULES, that designer HAD to be designed also — and so on, in infinite regression.”

    But this assumes two things:

    1) It assumes that you are working with “THEIR OWN RULES.” For example, Behe’s mousetrap argument argument deals with discrete parts, which God isn’t supposed to have. Behe’s own rules just aren’t that easy to generalize.

    2) It assumes that is even intelligible to say the designer is more complex than the designed thing. IDers’ protests aside, we know that the designer is God, and let’s face it, God is pretty weird and very different from what he has purportedly designed. Saying that God is more complex than its creation can easily make as much sense as saying that the work Moby Dick is more complex than a cat.

    Finally got around to The God Delusion, and I’m glad to say that Dawkins’ “Ultimate 747″ argument doesn’t play as big a role as Orr implies. Maybe it’s by accident or design, but Dawkins swamps out references to “Ultimate 747″ with actual discussions of IDers’ examples (e.g. the flagellum) being undermined by the facts. The swamping out is for the best, as the latter actually does the real work of knocking the legs out from design arguments.

  95. #95 morgan-lynn lamberth
    December 26, 2006

    My signature , in part. is that logic is the bane of thiests.It indeed special pleading ,based on circular reasoning to exmept a god from why is it as it is. Even the silly fideists use the teleological argument even if like John Hick , they refute it just as Kenneth Miller invokes the designer in the second part of his anti-creation book while destroying it in the first part as Amiel Rossow shows @ Talk Reason . Silly Alister Mcgrath plays down Occam’s razor in that he finds the god redundancy meaningful when that only shows his faith.He deplores Dawkins’s use of faith as blind faith , but he himself uses blind faith here! I don’t find Mackie and Martin’s efforts boring,merely challenging. I suggest that Dawkins has no need to adumbrate his points in his book as his points suffice as a start to show that theism has no evidence whatsoever. I suggest that those not silly, read ” Arguing for Atheism,” “Theism and Logic,” ‘God , Freedom and Immortality ,” if they want more depth and do not mind challenging their minds! These writers show that theists j ust put old garbage into new cans that atheists simply get rid of. Here absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence and no argument from ignorance . Theists never will produce any sound argument period .I am a seven on Dawkins’s scale therefore! Theism= crationism in the wider sense. Frederico Jose Ayala , genius on evolution, but silly, creationsist nevertheless has a telelogical argument in his new book he defends .Philip Kitcher indirectly knocks down that silly argument in his new book. Kitcher states in so many words that religion and evolution do not conflate. He is a philosopher and a scientist . I find it not necessary to understant Hindu and Buddhist theologies ,since I know that karma and reincarnation are just rubbish!One throws up on theists with their inane arguments ! Religion is at best a placebo one can exchange for others and for the truth .If one likes to gyrate, one can to to rock concerts. One has secular organizations to join for fellowship and for service to others .And knowing that science deals with the why and how of matters satisfies the mind whereas religion is just ” hid[ing] our ignorance behind a theological fig leaf.”Faith is just the I just say so of gulllibility! I laud Miller and Ayala for debunking special creationism but find their putting a go behind natural selection mere obscurantism! Just because selection shows no purpose for us does not lead to the non sequitur that there can be no purpose for us- we are our own purposes- passions!We see less darkly through a glass when we use reason .Our transient passions and human love and life spans suffice, contrary to Ayala ; we need no ultimate purpose or divine love or future state .Those who think they do , need counseling, I dare say and I am no psychologist or psychiatrist. Dr. Albert Ellis would say they engage in “talk”! We don’t must have those three things in order to enjoy life. Ayala with his mustabatory talk or special creationists with their need for creationism in the narrow sense to uphold morality just do not make sense at all!

  96. #96 morgan-lynn lamberth
    December 26, 2006

    I tried to eliminate typos but failed . It should read contrary to Ayala we need …Dr. Albert Ellis would say they engage in “mustabatory” talk.And see Victor Stenger’s forthcoming God: the failed Hypothesis ” to see that science indeed does refute religion ! Also see the forthcoming “Philosophers without Gods.”

  97. #97 Brian Macker
    December 27, 2006

    I read the debate here between J.J. Ramsey and the others on the issue of what the IDers are claiming and where the error lies. I think in fact that Ramsey is more intellegent than the IDers. They never explicitly claimed that the designer was either “simple” or “not made of parts”.

    It seems like it’s a deadlock as far as I can see. I believe this deadlock rests on some assumptions the others are making that Ramsey is has discarded. I think however that his discarding those assumptions is invalid.

    Every know example we have of a designer that humans are exposed are both complex and made of parts. In fact the very idea of something being complex implies that it has parts. I believe someone was trying to drive this home by saying “So a designer without parts is equivalent to, say, nothing?. I don’t think that came across however.

    Ramsey’s says, “In short, the claim that the functional complexity seen in nature requires a designer does not imply the claim that that supernatural functional complexity requires a designer.”

    From my understanding of the words “supernatural functional complexity” would imply parts. It’s inherent to the word complexity. I will give him a break however and fix his summary to be more in line with his later reasoning, because this summary fails on the issue of improper use of words.

    What he is claiming is that “In short, the claim that the functional complexity seen in nature requires a designer does not imply the claim that that a supernatural designer is complex or even simple in the sense that natural objects are.”

    I reworked this based on his later claims that supernatural designers need not be either complex or simple, nor made of parts.

    Well what is one to make of that new formulation?

    Well lets clarify what the original argument was about. It was whether this minor portion of Dawkins argument can addresss the IDers claims. I guess that depends on what the IDers claims actually are and I’ve never actually heard them make the claim that the purported designer was supernatural, nor that being supernatural somehow allowed an existant to be neither complex nor simple and not to be composed of parts.

    If they never made such claims then Dawkins argument stands since it is not part of the IDers theory. It’s only reasonable to use the definition of “designer” that we have human understanding of. Frankly we have no example of designers which are “supernatural” in this sense. Using ID arguments to come to such an existent is circular and expecting someone to bend the language to such a definition without making it explicit is unreasonable.

    However, lets assume I’m wrong and the IDers were really trying to make an explicit supernatural (and therefore religious claim) as Ramsey purports. Well then it sort of ruins their game of pretending this is science, doesn’t it? But lets ignore that too.

    Lets assume the IDers were quite explicit in their claims and it is just as Ramsey describes. Pretend they no longer are making a scientific claim and are instead positing a supernatural one. Note that this assumption is not being fair to Dawkins since he made a reasonable assumption and stated it clearly by saying this implies a complex designer using natural definitions. Since I don’t think it’s fair to ask in this case “Does this portion of Dawkins argument fail?” I will instead ask “Does the an openly supernatural IDers argument succeed in the face of Dawkins argument”.

    I guess that depends on what the IDers were trying to prove. If they were trying to prove the supernatural then I’d say they’d failed. Dawkins wouldn’t even need to make his argument under these conditions. We are already in question begging territory. They are assuming the word designer implies the supernatural and that supernatural things have certain non-characteristics to prove that the supernatural exists.

    Again I don’t think this is fair. So Dawkins criticism stands. If the IDers were not doing science all along then they should state so explicitly. If you want an explanation of how complexity arose and feel that is a question that must be answered then rule out that it came somehow arose from simplicity there really is no where to for a better “explanation”. Saying that complexity arose from a “designer” does not address the original concern either since a the comprehensible definition of designer required for it to “explain” anything mean that designer was complex. That only leads to a regression.

    A supernatural (actually incomprenhsible) definition of the designer as completely unlike any designer we know certainly solves the regress but that wasn’t the original problem. The original problem was the need for a better understanding. Solving the regress doesn’t get us to that understanding even if it is true if it imports the supernatural. Supernatural explanations aren’t explanations in the scientific sense of the word. They have no explanatory power because they are generally compatible with any state of affair in the world.

  98. #98 J. J. Ramsey
    December 29, 2006

    Brian Macker: “From my understanding of the words ‘supernatural functional complexity’ would imply parts. It’s inherent to the word complexity.”

    I think this is misleading. A stone sculpture, for example, might be considered very complex even if it is cut from a single block of stone and thus only has one discrete part. It would probably be better to talk in terms of features, so some thing is more complex than another thing if it has more features. (What constitutes a feature, however, may be ambiguous, especially when comparing dissimilar objects.) I think that you got the right idea when you reformulated what I wrote as:

    “In short, the claim that the functional complexity seen in nature requires a designer does not imply the claim that that a supernatural designer is complex or even simple in the sense that natural objects are.”

    Herman Melville is complex, and the book Moby Dick is complex. They are not complex in the same sense, though, because they have very different kinds of features.

    Brian Macker: “lets assume I’m wrong and the IDers were really trying to make an explicit supernatural (and therefore religious claim) as Ramsey purports.”

    I don’t think the IDers are trying to make an explicit supernatural claim. Rather, they are disingenuously paying lip service to the possibility that the designer is natural, while making a de facto supernatural claim.

    Brian Macker: “Saying that complexity arose from a “designer” does not address the original concern either since a the comprehensible definition of designer required for it to “explain” anything mean that designer was complex. That only leads to a regression.”

    Not necessarily. It only leads to a regression if the criteria that make the kind of complexity in question require a designer also apply to the kind of complexity that the designer itself has. As you yourself noted, a “designer as completely unlike any designer we know certainly solves the regress.” And, well, God is supposed to be unlike any designer we know.

    It occurred to me that there is another problem with Dawkins’ argument. The IDers are trying to explain multiple instances of organized complexity. They’ve explained them by saying that they were all created by a designer. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that the designer must be organized and complex. Where there were previously several instances of unexplained organized complexity, now there is only one, which jumpstarts all the others. The IDers could, if they wanted to, claim that their problem of a single unexplained instance of organized complexity is not much different than the problem those on the evolution side have, which is that they have at least one unexplained instance of organized complexity, namely the common ancestor of all life on this planet.

  99. #99 Tercüme
    January 7, 2008

    If the explanation conforms to prediction, there is no need to go any further.
    What I really meant to say was “If the explanation yields accurate predictions, there is no need to go any further..

  100. #100 Tim Fuller
    May 28, 2008

    The lack of objection has more to do with the lack of current supporters of Stalin and Mao.
    —————-

    Yes, and Bush is hoping that in a few hundred (thousand) years everybody will forget the murdering bastard thug he is as well, but it won’t change the fact that Mr. Ramsey’s posts are obvious sophist drivel to most of us here.

    Enjoy.

  101. #101 Gregory Wonderwheel
    July 24, 2008

    Will wrote, “There’s no particular reason why evolution as a scientific theory should be seen to conflict with religion. Evolution explains one thing. Religion explains something else entirely.”

    Actually there is, because the essential point, as I understand it, that Dawkins is making is that religion has tried to explain nature by resorting to myth and revelation and not by resorting to science. Where religion doesn’t try to explain nature by the dogma of myth and revelation (such as in most forms of Buddhism) then Will is correct that there is no conflict. But where religion does try to explain natural phenomenon by the dogmas of revelation (such as in creationism or so-called intelligent design) then it puts itself squarely in conflict with science and calling attention to that usurpation by religion of the realm of natural phenomenon is the primary reason Dawkins has written his book.

  102. #102 Gregory Wonderwheel
    July 25, 2008

    To me the words “intelligent design” are not objectionable per se, because as a Buddhist I have a different take on both “intelligence” and “design”. As I see it, intelligence is inherent in all component things. The more we look deeply into the human body within the cells, the more we see what looks to the imagination like cities or factories of immense complexity. This coherence of complexity is an expression of a level or dimension of intelligence that is integral with the manifestation of life at that level. What we call our personal consciousness at the “macro” level of individuality, is itself “built upon” the foundation of the totality of consciousness at the sub-cellular level.

    A principle tenet of Buddhism is called “anatman” meaning that there is no separate “self” or “soul” or “entity” within an individual or distinguishable from the unity of the person-environment, and so similarly there is no need to posit the existence of a “designer” separate from the design. To speak of the design of nature is the recognition of the laws of nature and the functions and principles of consciousness that provide for pattern creation and recognition in the universe.

    Creationism in Buddhism means that the complete and completely incomprehensible and undifferientiated emptiness or nothingness separates itself into one and zero, expanding toward one and contracting towards zero. Between one and zero is “the line” of the event horizon, that includes the fundamental polarizing effect that is apparent in a wave formation with a “hill” and a “trough”. As the event horizon vibrates with greater varieties of expansion and contraction along the line, for example as a string of a guitar or violin vibrates with sub-harmonics, with expansions on expansions, expansions on contractions, contractions on contractions, and contractions on expansions, exponentially replicating in patterns upon patterns and patterns within patterns, all in=filled with randomness as part of the balance-imbalance of the complexity, then the universe as we know it is created.

    In this view, creation is not something that just happened in the past or is separate from the immediate current of time — it is time itself — and occurs moment to moment as conditions arise, form, and dissolve. Evolution is the tracking of the changes of creation through conventional time in the sphere of biology. By tracking the changes in as many spheres as we can (e.g., in biology, geography, meteorology, psychology, etc.) we can get a sense of the laws, principles, and patterns that occur naturally in the changes of our universe created moment to moment as seen through the three-cornered prism of conventional time viewed as past, present, and future.

  103. #103 Basiliske
    August 10, 2008

    Rosenhouse’s whole argument is based on fallacies of composition and sweeping generalisations to tie them back together again. One fallacy of composition comes from the wondrous deconstruction of jesus people into two parts–”most believers” (idiots)versus “academic navel-gazers” (idiots with books)–in order to tell us how they are different only to rejoin them when it comes time to castigate the religious as morons who don’t know no science (which is irrelevant in matters of faith, but see below anyway). Once Rosenhouse separates the idiots from the idiots-with-books, its up to him to declare how their opposing idiocy makes them the same. He doesn’t (he can’t–tough corner he put himself into), preferring to simply move on, despite the nagging feeling that must have been in the back of his brain. Thank effing god for equivication. Whenever you want to avoid your own logical loose-ends, just throw in words like “most” and “nearly.” that is how you can lump everybody whose ideas you don’t want to mess with into the one pile, even though you yourself took time to separate them. wonderful. great job. But why stop there if you can can create a red herring? Let’s take, I don’t know, christianity. Rosenhouse states that, “Many believers responded to Darwin with a ?So what?? Show me a believer who had that reaction and I’ll show you someone who either didn’t understand Darwin’s work, or made a point of not thinking carefully about it.” What kind of believer does he mean? He MUST mean a christian, jew, or muslim–and only mainstream ones at that–since those are the predominant historical religions (unless the man knows more about religion than any other living being–which his comments about Augustine’s “science” makes doubtful–but if he does, I’s be suspicious that Rosenhouse the atheist scienstist is atheistic or scientific). Historical religions, unlike shintoism, buddhism, taoism, confuscianism, or any other reigious -ism you can think of, are the only religions that have problems with evolution (that’s because the historical religions depend upon a timeline in which “god started everything,” you see?–side note: does Rosenhouse agree that evolution describes a process, not causation?)by now you are probably wondering why I haven’t gone on to my next “logical fallacy.” Simple reason: I’ve been baiting you. Nothing in Rosenhouse’s argument, nor, by extension, any of your witty repartee in this thread, is scientific. It is argumentation. Just like jesus school. Welcome to faith, fellas. Rosenhouse is no more a “bulldog” than is Orr. He is a zealot who believes that he has the truth concerning things that we cannot observe; he is just like Pat Robertson in that regard, and so is Dawkins. They are sophists, and therefore, by extension, so are you. Wait, you say Dawkins is not? He must have the answer! Just like Jesus did! Ask him to make god (or the lack thereof) appear! Let’s prove this shite once and for all! Wait.. He can’t? Ask Rosenhouse! He can’t prove the non-existence of a creator either? Dammit. so then, it must all be mere argumentation and not the steady testing of a scientific hypothesis after-all. What do they call that? wait… I know… Sophistry. Get a hobby. Otherwise join the church. At least your egotism will be organised.

    Tear it up comrades–you know you want to.

    Sophists.

  104. #104 Daily Sourdough
    October 7, 2008

    If you question the divinity or divine inspiration of Jesus, Muhammad or Moses, then where do you stop? It’s a painful question for religious people since it all ends when you take that holy book that’s full of holes and chuck it to the Mythology section next to the Greek myths, Gilgamesh and the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

    Maybe Dawkins does put too much blame on religion for the world’s evils. Any ideology taken blindly can lead to bloodshed. The problem is that religion aims to be the unified theory of everything :)

  105. #105 Plastik cerrah
    November 19, 2008

    Relativamente alla domanda, di come ci si senta quando si è un blogger, le mie sensazioni su questo sono ambigue. Io sono certa che c’è qualcuno che pensa che io non sia una vera blogger perché raramente pubblico più di un testo alla settimana e non mi avvolgo giornalmente nelle discussioni con i commentatori del mio blog. Ritengo che la risposta a queste persone sarebbe una domanda:’Voi non avete una vita/ occupazione/ qualcos’altro da fare?’ E finora non esistono regole per i blogger, né un loro sindacato.

  106. #106 Michael
    July 24, 2010

    ”After all this Orr bashing, let me close with one place where I think he gets it right. As much as I liked Dawkins’ book, and as much as I think in nearly all cases his arguments are better than those of his critics, there are some places where I think Dawkins gets it wrong. Orr nails one of them:

    Part of Dawkins’s difficulty is that his worldview is thoroughly Victorian. He is, as many have noted, a kind of latter-day T.H. Huxley. The problem is that these latter days have witnessed blood-curdling experiments in institutional atheism. Dawkins tends to wave away the resulting crimes. It is, he insists, unclear if they were actually inspired by atheism. He emphasizes, for example, that Stalin’s brutality may not have been motivated by his atheism. While this is surely partly true, it’s a tricky issue, especially as one would need to allow for the same kind of distinction when considering religious institutions. (Does anyone really believe that the Church’s dreadful dealings with the Nazis were motivated by its theism?)
    In any case, it’s hard to believe that Stalin’s wholesale torture and murder of priests and nuns (including crucifixions) and Mao’s persecution of Catholics and extermination of nearly every remnant of Buddhism were unconnected to their atheism. Neither the institutions of Christianity nor those of communism are, of course, innocent. But Dawkins’s inability to see the difference in the severity of their sins– one of orders of magnitude–suggests an ideological commitment of the sort that usually reflects devotion to a creed.

    This, alas, is correct, One of the weaknesses of Dawkins’ book is that he frequently writes as if the really important distinction in forging a civil, livable society is theism vs. atheism. It isn’t. The important distinctions are secular society vs. government involvement in religion, and rational thought and evidence vs. irrational faith and revelation. You can reasonably say that theism is more closely associated with the bad parts of those last two dichotomies, and atheism is more closely associated with the good parts. But atheism good / theism bad is not born out by the evidence.”

    This point has been made (very) often. Allow me to address it again. There is a distinction between atheism (lack of belief in a god or gods) and anti-theism (opposition to belief in a god or gods, usually in the form of strongly opposing organized theist religions). Sometimes this is to the point of “theism is bad and should be destroyed, its followers too.” Anti-clericalism is more specific, an opposition to the power of the clergy, especially when countries have an established or state theism, which most have had at one point in their history.

    Religion, I contend, does not require theism, but merely an irrational belief based on faith, that cannot be proven, or is actually disproven. This can be virtually anything, from political philosophies to sects like Scientology that do not have a god (unless you count L.Ron. This relates to my argument. Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc. were (and are) firmly based on irrationalism, something that was believed “religiously”-a common use of the word I feel is correct in these cases. Theism was, of course, a rival to such atheist religions (yes, I said that, don’t kill me).

    As I said, atheist means no more than “lack of belief in a god or gods” but in this case it was replaced with belief in near-godlike leaders, plus the irrational philosophies they claimed to uphold. For instance, Kim Il-Sung, dictator of North Korea, died in 1994 but is still revered as the “Eternal Leader” while his son Kim Jong-Il is the “Dear Leader.” Is this not a “cult of the Kims?” Christianity in Russia was replaced with the “cult of Lenin and Stalin” which later went back to simply Lenin, or whoever was in charge then. The same with Mao in China, along with the other so-called Marxist, socialist or communist states, to a greater or lesser degree. It also bears pointing out that only Albania ever banned theism and shut down organized religion entirely (with catastrophic results.) While Stalin did persecute dissenting clergy and believers, he used the Russian Orthodox Church later to garner support for the war effort. The Cultural Revolution in China went after theists (some Buddhists are technically atheist, btw) but the whole thing was a disaster as we know, and ended with Mao. The more recent persecutions of the Falun Gong, Christians or Muslims is an example of the state fearing adherence to rival beliefs whose revival could get people away from them-i.e., a threat to Communist Party power.

    The point I am trying to make in this (sorry for that long post) is that in such cases we see conflicts of the rival religions, not simply atheism v. theism. Dawkins is I think in error for not being clearer about this, or explaining just what the difference was. Admittedly, it’s probably because he fears giving ammunition to irrational critics. My conclusion: atheism is not enough. It must go hand-in hand-critical thinking, skepticism, empiricism, rational thought, etc. No one, of any “atheist” stripe, should stand for destroying religion or irrationalism by coercion. I’m not saying this is proposed, but it has to be said. I go so far as to say we should focus on the critical thinking, and the atheism follows. If you start with atheism, or go for that only or more than critical thinking, it does not end well sometimes. For that part, I have to agree with Orr.

  107. #107 Aquaria
    August 14, 2010

    As I said, atheist means no more than “lack of belief in a god or gods” but in this case it was replaced with belief in near-godlike leaders, plus the irrational philosophies they claimed to uphold.

    No, it wasn’t.

    Communism or the state replaced religion. Atheism was merely a tenet of Communism. Sort of a party platform item. It was not the driving force behind the cult leaders and purges.

    If you go that route, you might as well blame the Iraq war on Bush’s being a Republican whose party platform supported lowering taxes. Yes, the Republican’s wanted those low taxes, but it had fuck all to do with Iraq.

    Same thing with atheism in the Stalin and Mao eras.

    Now religion, on the other hand, has been the reason for wars. Let’s not pretend that there isn’t a huge difference between the two.

  108. #108 Ignostic Morgan/ Inquiring Lynn/ Skeptic Griggsy
    January 8, 2011

    Lamberth’s naturalist teleonomic argument is that since the weight of evidence evinces teleonomy- no planned outcomes, then to posit God contradicts science rather than complement it, as God means for most intent-planned outcomes.
    The atelic naturalist argument notes that supernaturalists beg the question with those planned outcomes.
    Not only does this and the next two take away that divine intent, it also takes away intent from any argument from intent such that He cannot be that Primary Efficient Cause, Grand Miracle Monger and so forth and threfore lackng those referents,and other arguments dispel His referents one by one, He cannot exist! And as He has contradictory and incoherent attributes He cannot!
    Hume’s dysteological naturalist argument is that we find imperfections that present no case for a real designer and which other means could, for the sake of argument suffice.
    Therefore, theistic evolution is a silly oxymoron!

    Now, theologians emit farragoes of solecistic, sophisticated sophistry- ignorant, complicated nonsense of woeful, wily woo that ranks whilst more elegant, rank with the woo of Sylvia Brown[e], John Edward and ames van Praagh. So much for Pope Benny Ratz, the Dolly Lama, Rev. Billy Crackers,Alvin Plantinga, Keith Ward, Richard Swinburne, Alister Earl McGrath, john Haught and John Hick!

    Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth

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