Myers Nails It

In my post about H. Allen Orr’s review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I commented that Orr begins with a standard anti-Dawkins argument: that he doesn’t give adequate consideration to all of the internecine philosophical and theological disputes that surround religious questions. P. Z. Myers has the perfect reply to this argument:

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

Damn! I wish I had written that.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Hyland
    December 26, 2006

    I wasn’t planning to read Dawkins’ book and although I suspect I might not agree with much of it I’m thinking about reading it because all the negative reviews I have read so far seem to be clutching at straws.

  2. #2 Robert O'Brien
    December 26, 2006

    If a facile horse laugh can be said to have “nail[ed] it,” then Myers nailed it alright.

    I do not expect Dawkins (or Myers) to know the difference between homoian and anhomoian Christology or the difference between Pelagian and Augustinian soteriology but I do expect him to engage the arguments for God‘s existence and the answers to various criticisms of theism. As Richard Swinburne (i.e., the man who should have been voted Britain’s leading public intellectual) wrote:

    “Dawkins should enter that philosophical debate, and not try to win by shouting.”

  3. #3 Scarlet Seraph
    December 26, 2006

    Mr. O’Brien. Dawkins has addressed your concerns. That you choose not to read his work, or to ignore his arguments is hardly a counter-argument.

    Do try and keep up.

    And after all, there are no convincing arguments for the existence of God – any God – and excellent arguments against the Abrahamatic deity in particular. I would have expected you to be up to date with sort of thing.

  4. #4 Robert O'Brien
    December 26, 2006

    Mr. O’Brien. Dawkins has addressed your concerns.

    Based on what I have seen and read of him so far I doubt it.

    And after all, there are no convincing arguments for the existence of God…

    That is an assertion that begins and ends with you.

  5. #5 windy
    December 26, 2006
    And after all, there are no convincing arguments for the existence of God…

    That is an assertion that begins and ends with you.

    So everyone else, atheists included, would assert that there are convincing arguments for God? Nice logic, man.

  6. #6 Scarlet Seraph
    December 26, 2006

    Mr. O’Brien, since you apparently haven’t bothered to read Dawkins, why should we pay any attention to your comment on him?

    And simply because you may find it easy to engage your belief system without evidence, you should not assume that the rest of us are so easily gulled.

    If you find one argument more convincing than others, feel free to present it.

  7. #7 MarkP
    December 26, 2006

    The more work someone puts into a worldview, the more emotionally attached they become to it, and the harder it is to give up. That I suppose is why Dawkins pisses off the religious intelligentsia so – he cuts the support away from their house of cards, rendering moot all their debates and pointless jargon (some examples generously supplied by Mr. O’Brien above) concerning how to arrange the top layers.

    The one nagging fact those irked so by Dawkins avoid like the plague is the negative correlation between religious belief and education/intelligence. Scientists are far less religious than Joe Average, residents of third world countries more so, etc. There is a damned good reason for this, but you have to let go of the Santa doll to accept it.

  8. #8 J. J. Ramsey
    December 26, 2006

    Robert O’Brien” “If a facile horse laugh can be said to have ‘nail[ed] it,’ then Myers nailed it alright.”

    After at least getting up through Chapter Five in the book, I’d half agree. Orr spends more words saying that Dawkins has argued badly than saying that Dawkins should have dealt with some particular aspect of theology. On the other hand, Orr is sometimes simply wrong, for example, when he writes, that Dawkins made no attempt deal with questions like whether religious propositions are like ordinary claims about everyday matters. He did, but he just came down on the side that, yes, they were ordinary claims, ones that were either true or false and could, in principle, be decided on evidence. Also, I don’t think it is true that Dawkins didn’t “engage religious thought in any serious way.” He did, but the results weren’t very pretty. Orr did catch some of the problems with the “Ultimate 747″ argument, but that ended up not being a very important part of Chapter 4, which ended up discussing the “data” (e.g. the not-so irreducibly complex flagellum) far more than the “philosophical gymnastics.”

    Not a perfect book by any means, but so far at least, it’s not the hack job I expected.

  9. #9 Davis
    December 27, 2006

    I do expect him to engage the arguments for God’s existence…

    I’d really appreciate it if the bevy of people making this complaint actually put forth an actual example of an argument for god’s existence they feel has not been addressed. Somehow folks (here and at PZ’s) can find large numbers of words to complain about Dawkins’ supposed oversight, but can’t be bothered to even post a link suggesting what he’s missing.

  10. #10 Friend Fruit
    December 27, 2006

    Remember that we’re dealing with people who consider faith to be valid epistemology. They not only have faith in God’s existence, they seem to have faith that somewhere, hidden carefully away, are a whole list of convincing arguments for God’s existence. I recently drove through Tennessee and Kentucky, and saw may billboards with religious messages (e.g. “Hell is real” (an unsupported and unlikely statement), across the highway from an adult video store). If there really were rationally sound and convincing arguments for the existence of God, they wouldn’t be hidden away in esoteric theology books, they would be pasted on billboards and church signs all over the place.

    Where’s the Beef? Show me the money!

  11. #11 Jon S
    December 27, 2006

    Scarlet Seraph, Davis, and Friend Fruit: You say there are no convincing arguments for the existence of God, and you want rationally sound and convincing arguments for the existence of God. Fine. I’m constantly reading anything I can find regarding evolution, but I’ve found none of it rational or convincing. I suggest the reason we don’t find each other’s arguments convincing is because of an adherence to our worldview. You maintain there is no God; therefore any argument you read or hear is rejected. Likewise any argument I’ve heard regarding evolution can be refuted. There are countless books, including the Bible, that have addressed your questions and provide rational arguments for the existence of God. Many people do consider these arguments rational and convincing. So it’s not that the arguments don’t exist; it’s that you choose not to accept them, which is your prerogative. Your local library may have some books worth reading. I could recommend C.S Lewis, Josh McDowell, and many other theologians, but I have a feeling you won’t be convinced no matter who or what you read. Ultimately there’s nothing or no one that can rationally convince you that there’s a God except God himself.

  12. #12 Sastra
    December 27, 2006

    Davis wrote:

    I’d really appreciate it if the bevy of people making this complaint actually put forth an actual example of an argument for god’s existence they feel has not been addressed.

    From what I can tell, most of the sophisticated critics of Dawkins feel that he failed to address what I like to call the Argument from Generalized Vagueness. God is something so great, so other, so important and significant and unlike anything in our experience, that the only way we can bring it down to our level and understand it is by referring to it in veiled metaphors. It’s all very vague, and encompasses all sorts of general things like thoughts and emotions and morals and meaning, but not specifically being any of those, of course.

    Therefore, there is no actual content to the concept which is firm or clear enough to criticize. Whatever you think God is, it isn’t really that, that’s only an analogy. It’s deeper and better than that.

    Clearly Dawkins has only an incomplete, childish, unsophisticated understanding of a straw-man God. The Argument from Generalized Vagueness makes God bullet-proof against his clumsy scientistic attacks.

    Bwa ha!

  13. #13 windy
    December 27, 2006

    “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao?” :)

  14. #14 Russell Blackford
    December 27, 2006

    It’s like this: Dawkins does actually do a reasonably workmanlike job of demolishing the main, traditional arguments. Of course, there is a lot more that could be said, for or against, in a book devoted to that topic. It’s true that there are more comprehensive and sophisticated discussions around in books by and for professional philosophers of religion (Michael Martin’s book is a good start, and my colleague Graham Oppy deserves a plug for the exhaustive treatment in his new book, Arguing About Gods). But it is not Dawkins’ main focus, and he is writing for a popular audience.

    I do wonder how many people who are attacking the book have actually read it carefully. It may be thin in places, it may overreach in places, but it’s generally a damn good book for what it is, and I just don’t understand why the fashion among reviewers is not to admit this. The religious reviewers hate it for obvious reasons, but it’s as if the secular reviewers want to distance themselves.

  15. #15 Badger3k
    December 27, 2006

    The link that Mr Obrien has (Western Concepts of God) doesn’t – from a quick skim, I will admit – appear to have any substance to it. It merely states what people thought of gods (well, one in particular for the most part), but doesn’t appear to have any actual evidence that such beliefs are true. There are several descriptions of what different sects and theologists claim for their god, but I didn’t see any evidence that such a being exists in the first place. We may as well link to a discussion about dragons or the magic of Harry Potter. Why should I discuss whether or not dragons have blue eyes or red, if they don’t exist in the first place? Should we criticize those who don’t talk about the color of a dragon’s eyes when they say dragons don’t exist?

  16. #16 Caledonian
    December 27, 2006

    The religious reviewers hate it for obvious reasons, but it’s as if the secular reviewers want to distance themselves.

    You hit the nail on the head, Mr. Blackford. It’s as if they don’t want to tell the children that there’s no Santa, either because they don’t want to hurt their feelings, or fear that they’ll become angry and violent if they learn the truth.

  17. #17 Robert O'Brien
    December 28, 2006

    The one nagging fact those irked so by Dawkins avoid like the plague is the negative correlation between religious belief and education/intelligence. Scientists are far less religious than Joe Average, residents of third world countries more so, etc. There is a damned good reason for this, but you have to let go of the Santa doll to accept it.

    That and a dime won’t get you a gumball from a gumball machine. (Although, I should note that I question some of the results I have seen based on the sampling methods employed and data collected.)

    Furthermore, where are your Newton, Gauss, Euler, Cauchy, Archimedes, Plato, Socrates, Leibniz, Pascal, Fermat, Descartes, Lagrange, Bolzano, Brook Taylor, Colin Maclaurin, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Heisenberg, Goedel, Dante, Boethius, Aquinas, Fibonacci, R.A. Fisher, Schroedinger, Robert Boyle, James Clerk Maxwell, George Stokes, Maria Agnesi, Plotinus, Roger Bacon, Longfellow, Tennyson, Elena Cornaro Piscopia, Michael Faraday, Handel, Rousseau, Gregor Mendel, Kelvin? Atheist luminaries seem rather pedestrian by comparison.

  18. #18 Robert O'Brien
    December 28, 2006

    Mr. O’Brien, since you apparently haven’t bothered to read Dawkins, why should we pay any attention to your comment on him?

    Ah, but I have read his articles and watched him on youtube, so I have been exposed to at least some of his “arguments.”

    If you find one argument more convincing than others, feel free to present it.

    I like to appeal to the existence of our ordered, rational universe and mathematics in general, but I am fond of most of the classical arguments.

  19. #19 Owlmirror
    December 28, 2006

    I like to appeal to the existence of our ordered, rational universe and mathematics in general,

    How does reason and math argue in favor of anything more than the existence of reason and math?

  20. #20 Rohan
    December 28, 2006

    Scarlet,

    I think you are my new heroine. Mr O Brien, your arguments are facile and to a general extent laughable. You clearly don’t know what you are talking about and it would be best if you kept your comments on Dawkins, and I suspect evolution vs religion to a minimum.

    Richard dawkins’ book is perhaps the finest rebuttal of religion ever penned for a popular audience and deserves the worldwide praise it is receiving and the ensuing controversiality stateside.

    His use of reason, rationality ad evidence and the clear manner in which he disposes of long standing ‘evidences’ for a supreme being is a delight to anyone who is disinclined to believe in the Supernatural simply because they do not understand the Universe.

    I hope that all people that believe in a God will begin to question their own beliefs in something that patently lacks any evidence at all and will join the rest of us evolved beings in endeavouring to find out more about the world we live in without hiding behind comforting and outmoded doctrines.

    Sartra, I dearly hope your comment is satirical, otherwise you should be embarrassed.

  21. #21 Scarlet Seraph
    December 28, 2006

    Mr. O’Brien continues to make himself look bad. A pity. Consider:

    ‘Ah, but I have read his articles and watched him on youtube, so I have been exposed to at least some of his “arguments.”‘

    In other words, you haven’t read the book. As I said, your commentary on the topic is meaningless.

    and

    ‘I like to appeal to the existence of our ordered, rational universe and mathematics in general, but I am fond of most of the classical arguments.’

    All of which have been rebutted; none of which convinces anyone who isn’t already a believer. And your ‘existence of a rational universe…’ etc. isn’t even an argument. It’s just noise. What you are essentially trying to say is, “Fermat’s last theorem exists; therefore God.”

    Tripe.

  22. #22 Robert O'Brien
    December 28, 2006

    In other words, you haven’t read the book. As I said, your commentary on the topic is meaningless.

    If Dawkins essentially repeats certain “arguments” elsewhere then I do not have to read the book to address those arguments, lunkhead.

    All of which have been rebutted; none of which convinces anyone who isn’t already a believer.

    So you assert.

    And your ‘existence of a rational universe…’ etc. isn’t even an argument. It’s just noise. What you are essentially trying to say is, “Fermat’s last theorem exists; therefore God.”

    Not quite.

  23. #23 MarkP
    December 28, 2006

    Robert O’Brien said (of the nagging fact of the negative correlation between religious belief and education/intelligence) That and a dime won’t get you a gumball from a gumball machine.

    Perhaps so in O’Brienland, but I’m primarily concerned with what goes on here on planet earth, where this fact is the 800 pound gorilla in the corner no one wants to talk about.

    RO again: (Although, I should note that I question some of the results I have seen based on the sampling methods employed and data collected.)

    Of course you do…they don’t give you the answer you want.

    RO again: Furthermore, where are your [list of genius believers past]. Atheist luminaries seem rather pedestrian by comparison.

    It is a weakness in one’s position when one has to dredge up ancient history to make one’s point when one should be able to use current data. Sure, it was common in the past for leading luminaries to believe in God, just like it was common for them to believe the earth was flat too. All irrelevant to the point of the population tendencies today. If there is a god, why does the population get less and less pious as their education and intellect increases? Denying the obvious does nothing for your case.

    Occam of course provides the answer: there isn’t one.

  24. #24 Robert O'Brien
    December 28, 2006

    Of course you do…they don’t give you the answer you want.

    No. I know at least a couple suffer from high nonresponse rates.

    It is a weakness in one’s position when one has to dredge up ancient history to make one’s point when one should be able to use current data. Sure, it was common in the past for leading luminaries to believe in God, just like it was common for them to believe the earth was flat too.

    So, people from last century are part of “ancient history”?

    Occam of course provides the answer:

    Would that be William Ockham, the Christian monk?

    there isn’t one.

    That is a non sequitur.

  25. #25 Caledonian
    December 28, 2006

    So, Dawkins cannot criticize any aspect of theology unless he’s intimately familiar with all of it, yet O’Brien can criticize Dawkins’ book without ever having read it?

    Are we sure O’Brien isn’t an atheist plant set up to make theists look bad?

  26. #26 Robert O'Brien
    December 28, 2006

    So, Dawkins cannot criticize any aspect of theology unless he’s intimately familiar with all of it, yet O’Brien can criticize Dawkins’ book without ever having read it?

    Are we sure O’Brien isn’t an atheist plant set up to make theists look bad?

    Caleduncian:

    I am criticizing Dawkins for what I have seen of his arguments. For that, I do not have to read the book in question. (I am not averse to reading the book, but I will wait until it arrives at my university library.)

    By the way, are you the same guy who blathered on about there being no such thing as free will on Monte Cook’s forum?

  27. #27 Scarlet Seraph
    December 28, 2006

    Mr O’Brien persists in ignoring logic:

    “f Dawkins essentially repeats certain “arguments” elsewhere then I do not have to read the book to address those arguments, lunkhead.”

    So I have no need to read Proslogion because, after all, Aquinas has made the same arguments elsewhere.

    Only a stupid person would presume that a person such as Dawkins has but a single set of arguments, and your apparent skimming and slighting of them means that you understand them.

    Once again, you didn’t read the book. Any argument you make about it is, by definition, worthless.

    Do grow up and avoid the foolish illogic, Mr. O’Brien. When you’ve read it, you come back here and we’ll help you understand what it means.

    “So you assert.”

    Yup. And by so asserting I demonstrate that the arguments are not convincing.

    Logic, Mr. O’Brien. Logic. It’s your friend. Don’t be so afraid of it.

    “Not quite.”

    Then you have even less of an argument than I thought you did. After all, saying that characteristic X of the universe implies God is only a valid argument if you can demonstrate that it’s true.

    Which you haven’t. Apparently you’re just like the various other fundiots whose contention amounts to “Gee! Isn’t the universe… wonderful! God must have made it!”

    The oldest non-argument in the book.

    Do you have something original?

  28. #28 Robert O'Brien
    December 29, 2006

    Since my last post, I was able to read the 3rd (and some of the 4th) chapter of The God Delusion [sic] and I would characterize Dawkins’ attempts at refutation as pedestrian at best. Resorting to a horse laugh (e.g., “infantile argument” p. 80) or appealing to analogy (e.g., “peerless stinker” p. 79), which is the weakest form of argumentation, do not constitute legitimate counter arguments.