Dawkins and Theology

This week’s New York Times Book Review features a review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion that judges the book fairly harshly:

The least satisfying part of this book is Dawkins’s treatment of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. The “ontological argument” says that God must exist by his very nature, since he possesses all perfections, and it is more perfect to exist than not to exist. The “cosmological argument” says that the world must have an ultimate cause, and this cause could only be an eternal, God-like entity. The “design argument” appeals to special features of the universe (such as its suitability for the emergence of intelligent life), submitting that such features make it more probable than not that the universe had a purposive cosmic designer.

These, in a nutshell, are the Big Three arguments. To Dawkins, they are simply ridiculous. He dismisses the ontological argument as “infantile” and “dialectical prestidigitation” without quite identifying the defect in its logic, and he is baffled that a philosopher like Russell — “no fool” — could take it seriously. He seems unaware that this argument, though medieval in origin, comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy to refute. Shirking the intellectual hard work, Dawkins prefers to move on to parodic “proofs” that he has found on the Internet, like the “Argument From Emotional Blackmail: God loves you. How could you be so heartless as not to believe in him? Therefore God exists.” (For those who want to understand the weaknesses in the standard arguments for God’s existence, the best source I know remains the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie’s 1982 book “The Miracle of Theism.”)

In the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton is even less kind:

LRB | Vol. 28 No. 20 dated 19 October 2006 | Terry Eagleton

print iconprintable layout email_icontell a friend
Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching
Terry Eagleton

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins · Bantam, 406 pp, £20.00

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday.

Predictably, PZ Myers doesn’t much like this:

Shorter Terry Eagleton: “How dare a mere scientist criticize theology?” The whole thing blusters on in that vein for far too long.

I’m probably seven kinds of foolish for commenting on this at all, but I think PZ misses the point of these reviews (he only comments on Eagleton, but Holt’s point is basically the same) by a rather wide margin. I’ll attempt to explain why with an analogy to a familiar scientific phenomenon.

The problem is not that Dawkins as a scientist is not qualified to discuss religion, rather, the problem is that Dawkins has committed the cardinal sin of a scientist changing fields: He hasn’t done the background reading.

(Continued below the fold.)

What’s going on here ought to be familiar to pretty much any scholar who has seen people from another discipline attempt to contribute to a field that isn’t their own. Sometimes, cross-disciplinary discussions are extremely fruitful, but all too often, they start off very badly, with the outsiders coming in and making grand pronouncements about standing problems in a given field, without any apparent knowledge that the problem in questions has, in fact, already been discussed in quite some detail.

It happens all the time. This is why people like Daniel Davies get hacked off at physicists who pontificate on economics. It’s why condensed matter physicists get snippy with atomic physicists (who they see as late arrivals to the BEC field). I’ve even been party to it myself: when we first started looking into some ultra-cold plasma physics experiments, we had no idea of the depth of the work that had already gone into what we thought was unexplored territory.

Actually, now that I think about it, physicists are really pretty much the kings of this sort of thing…

The accusation levelled by Holt and Eagleton is that Dawkins is engaged in the same sort of thing. Whatever you think of theology as an academic pursuit, the plain fact is that people have been debating proofs and disproofs of the existence of God for hundreds of years. If you intend to take up the subject, let alone claim to make a definitive statement on the matter, you have an obligation to learn about the history of that field, and the current status of the arguments therein. To do anything less is the absolute pinnacle of arrogance, not to mention rather rude.

Now, from all reports, Dawkins is a pretty smart guy, so I suppose it’s conceivable that he’s come up with some wholly new and irrefutable argument against the existence of God. Given how long smart people have been debating the question, though, I kind of doubt it. And what Eagleton and Holt are saying is that he hasn’t raised any issues that people haven’t thought of before, and that none of what he says was convincing the first time around.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read Dawkins’s book, nor do I intend to. He rubs me the wrong way when he talks about science (I wish I could find the old post somebody on ScienceBlogs did about the vapidity of the whole “meme” thing), and really gets up my nose when he talks about religion. I can’t say whether Eagleton and Holt are accurate in their assessment (though I’m inclined to believe them). All I’m saying here is what I think their actual argument is, rather than the caricature version PZ Myers is responding to.

As I said above, though, I suspect this is wasted typing on my part. A few sentences after the quoted bit above, Myers writes:

Eagleton practically snarls that Dawkins is “theologically illiterate”…which I think is a good thing. I don’t need to know the arcana of drawing up a horoscope to know that astrology is bunk; similarly, no one needs to spend years poring over the scribblings of theologians to see that their god is a phantasm.

If that’s the way you approach the problem, then there really isn’t any room for further conversation. But, at the same time, you can’t take this sort of approach, and expect to be treated as a Serious Intellectual by the London Review of Books or the New York Times Book Review. At that point, you’ve pretty much decided to be Stephen Wolfram, and deserve what you get.

(See also Ben at the World’s Fair.)

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    October 23, 2006

    Now, from all reports, Dawkins is a pretty smart guy, so I suppose it’s conceivable that he’s come up with some wholly new and irrefutable argument against the existence of God. Given how long smart people have been debating the question, though, I kind of doubt it. And what Eagleton and Holt are saying is that he hasn’t raised any issues that people haven’t thought of before, and that none of what he says was convincing the first time around.

    It was not Dawkins’ job to find a brand new proof of God’s non-existence. Just to explain nicely how “proofs” for the existence make no sense, and why “old” debunkings of such “proofs” make sense. The fact that the debunkings were not convincing to believers just speaks to the vapidity of the believers.

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    October 23, 2006

    It was not Dawkins’ job to find a brand new proof of God’s non-existence. Just to explain nicely how “proofs” for the existence make no sense, and why “old” debunkings of such “proofs” make sense. The fact that the debunkings were not convincing to believers just speaks to the vapidity of the believers.

    That’s sufficient if you want to score points on Usenet, or on a weblog. If you expect to be taken seriously as an intellectual, you have an obligation to do better.

  3. #3 Orac
    October 23, 2006

    It was not Dawkins’ job to find a brand new proof of God’s non-existence. Just to explain nicely how “proofs” for the existence make no sense, and why “old” debunkings of such “proofs” make sense. The fact that the debunkings were not convincing to believers just speaks to the vapidity of the believers

    That’s pretty weak, Bora, claiming that just because some believers didn’t find Dawkins’ argument convincing means that the believers must be “vapid” without actually making the case that their objections are, in fact, “vapid.” You can do better than that, I hope. Can you spot the underlying arrogance behind your assumption of “vapidity”?

  4. #4 Derek Lowe
    October 23, 2006

    I agree with Chad. I’m not religious myself, but it’s a serious mistake to approach the subject in the way that Dawkins does. A huge amount of thought has gone into questions such as God’s (non)existence, free will, the problem of evil, much of it from some very intelligent people indeed. Counterarguments that begin with the equivalent of “Look, you fools. . .” aren’t going to cut it.

    The fact that it’s still possible for intelligent, thoughtful people to believe in God (and there are such) should be warning enough that it’s a tough subject. The same isn’t true, to anywhere near the same degree, of the likes of homeopathy or astrology. Very few people order their lives or ethical worldviews around either of those.

    Again, I’m not a believer. But as with other subjects, if you don’t take the best arguments of the other side seriously, you don’t have much of a claim to your own position.

  5. #5 coturnix
    October 23, 2006

    I am not writing a book. I am commenting on a blog. So, can anyone make a new, yet-undebunked and utterly convinicing ergument for the existence of God? If so, it may neccessicate a new debunking.

  6. #6 csrster
    October 23, 2006

    Well not having read Dawkins, his critics, or any modern theology, I feel well qualified to comment here. Isn’t this critique based on a mis-reading of Dawkins? As I understand it, his target is not the rarified world of academic theology but ordinary everyday populist religion (in both its fundamentalist and liberal varieties). And amongst ordinary believers, naive versions of the argument from first cause and the argument from design still crop up all the time (not to mention Pascal’s wager …). You can call it shooting fish in barrel if you like, but some of us think these ideas are rather dangerous fish that richly deserve to be mercilessly harpooned.

  7. #7 dr. dave
    October 23, 2006

    I don’t think you’ve wasted as much typing as Dawkins has. I flipped through this book in B&N last night, and I just can’t figure out who this book is FOR. Dawkins arrogrant appeals to rationalism certainly aren’t going to win over any converts from the faithful, and he isn’t telling atheists anything they don’t believe already.

    I think Dawkins (and PZ for that matter) make the mistake of thinking that belief in God is a rational question to be settled scientificially, like the belief in Santa Claus or faeries. I see it more as akin to believeing that Britney Spears is better than Christina Aguilera, or Iron Maiden is better than Judas Priest, or Beethoven is better than Mozart. (Pick your genre.) You can argue these things, and come up with a whole bunch of rationales to support your side of the argument, but the arument is not fundamentally about something RATIONAL at all. Nor is it about anything external, such as objective measurements of the relative vocal ranges of Brintey/Christina/Brian/Rob. These beliefs we have are statements about our own preferences, feelings, and INTERNAL mental and emotional lives. No amount of arguing or reasoning is ever going to convert someone from one side of these debates to the other.

  8. #8 dr. dave
    October 23, 2006

    Eek… I mistakenly typed Brian (as in Johnson) instead of Bruce (as in Dickinson). I could get my aging metalhead card revoked for that!

  9. #9 Derek Lowe
    October 23, 2006

    Csrster, I think the problem is that Dawkins is perhaps a rather large-caliber weapon to be wheeled out for barrel-fishing.

    Dawkins is very intelligent, very articulate, and has a prominent academic position – he should be the sort of person who takes on the tough arguments. The people who believe the naive arguments will not be convinced, partly because they’re not the sort of people who would ever buy or read a book by Richard Dawkins.

  10. #10 Grad
    October 23, 2006

    http://www.wired.com/news/wiredmag/0,71985-0.html

    The salient point is largely: “They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil.”

  11. #11 bpower
    October 23, 2006

    “Now, from all reports, Dawkins is a pretty smart guy, so I suppose it’s conceivable that he’s come up with some wholly new and irrefutable argument against the existence of God.”

    At no point does Dawkins say “God doesn’t exist, here’s the proof”. He says God almost certainly doesn’t exist. He destroys the pathetic “arguments” theologians put forward to prove their invisible best friends exist.

    You expect him to come up with proofs that god does not exist? Thats silly and you know it. Can you come up with proofs that Fairies or Invisible Unicorns dont exist?

  12. #12 bob koepp
    October 23, 2006

    If Dawkins has actual refutations of some modern versions of the ontological argument he ought to present them to the world. That would immediately dispel any suspicions that his reach exceeds his grasp. Even if I don’t find the arguments in question compelling, it isn’t at all clear where they might be going off the rails.

  13. #13 bpower
    October 23, 2006

    Nearly forgot. You should actually read RD’s book before you comment on it (you seem proud of the fact that you haven’t and that you won’t).

  14. #14 Chad Orzel
    October 23, 2006

    coturnix: I am not writing a book. I am commenting on a blog.

    You were proposing a standard by which we ought to judge Dawkins’s book. Since he has written a book, he ought to be held to a higher standard.

    bpower: At no point does Dawkins say “God doesn’t exist, here’s the proof”. He says God almost certainly doesn’t exist. He destroys the pathetic “arguments” theologians put forward to prove their invisible best friends exist.

    No, he “destroys” one particular version of the theological arguments, and according to the reviewers, it isn’t even a particularly recent version.

    Again, if you want to be taken seriously as an intellectual (which is to say, if you want to get better reviews from the London Review of Books), you have an obligation to seek out and address the best arguments the othe side has to offer.

    If your goal is, instead, to demonstrate your contempt for an entire field of study, well, don’t expect a good review from the London Review of Books.

  15. #15 coturnix
    October 23, 2006

    No, you asked me to do better because my argument was only good for Usenet. Well, this is kinda Usenet, so I’ll keep my argument at a relevant level – speedy blog comments. I am actually reading the book right now. I’ll come up with my own review once I’m done. I may have my own problems with the book but the one you propose in your post is not among them.

  16. #16 Jamie Bowden
    October 23, 2006

    Can you come up with proofs that Fairies or Invisible Unicorns dont exist?

    Pink. The Invisible Unicorns are PINK damn it. Get it right.

  17. #17 Chad Orzel
    October 23, 2006

    coturnix: No, you asked me to do better because my argument was only good for Usenet.

    You wrote:
    It was not Dawkins’ job to find a brand new proof of God’s non-existence. Just to explain nicely how “proofs” for the existence make no sense, and why “old” debunkings of such “proofs” make sense.

    I read this is proposing a standard by which we ought to judge Dawkins’s book, a standard which I happen to think is more appropriate for Usenet than the London Review of Books. I’m not questioning whether Dawkins has met that standard (I haven’t read the book, I’m only commenting on the reviews), I’m questioning whether that’s an appropriate standard in the first place.

    And again, as I said in the post itself, I have not read the book, and am only commenting on the reviews, and the response to them, which I have read.

  18. #18 bpower
    October 23, 2006

    Chad, please read RD’s book. I doubt you’ll find anything you’ve never thought about before, but at least you’ll see what direction he’s coming from rather than get a second hand impression of it from some hostile reviews (and the straw men therein).

    I agree with you that he does have comtempt for the entire field of study called “Theology”.

  19. #19 Rob Knop
    October 23, 2006

    Actually, now that I think about it, physicists are really pretty much the kings of this sort of thing…

    “I know Physics, therefore I know everything.” I’ve seen that a lot.

    A colleague of mine was re-developing a model of particle physics to replace the whole standard model, and was also re-developing a theory of cosmology to fix all the problems there too. He gave a talk to the department about it. I don’t understand the standard model deeply enough to immediately know why his stuff there was bunk, but I trust the particle theorists who tell me it was.

    However, on the cosmology end…. This colleague told me that the luminosity distance equation we’d been using all this time was both needlessly complicated and wrong. His re-derivation of a much simpler expression involved… moving the term H(z) out of an integral over z and replacing it with H0. Oops. He then showed me 2″x2″ plot done in Excel vs. some published data and said, “Looks like a good fit to me!” I redid the plot with logarithmic axes and zoomed in on the high-z points so that you could see that it didn’t go through the error bars at all, and calculated a chisquare to show him how absurd it was. (This was the guy who asked me to explain what a chisquare was when I interviewed for the job; not to test me, but because he didn’t know what it was. And he’s a named chair professor in our department.) After I finally convinced him that he made an error with the integral, he went back and showed me another error… misreading “proper motion distance” (which is an astronomy jargon term) with “proper distance” (which is a relativity jargon term). He didn’t have a clue what “proper motion distance” was, so evidently he ignored the “motion” word in the middle there. But the real thing he did was — do a step of a derivation he didn’t understand, rather than go back to the beginnig.

    Physicists. Bah.

    -Rob

  20. #20 Rob Knop
    October 23, 2006

    As I understand it, his target is not the rarified world of academic theology but ordinary everyday populist religion (in both its fundamentalist and liberal varieties).

    His target seems to be all of religion.

    I haven’t read the book, and I’m not sure if I will — there are too many other books that both I want to read, and I ought to have read — but in an interview with somebody, he dismisses the question “why are we here” as not a useful question.

    He seems to be making the mistake that so many commentors on scienceblogs.com, and so many scientists make : he seems to think that everything is science. “Why are we here” in the deepest philosophical sense is a scientifically meaningless question as best we understand the Universe today, yes, absolutely.

    However, just because something is scientifically meaningless doesn’t make it meaningless altogether. There are other fields of human intellectual endeavor other than science. While many scientists seem to think that if it’s not subject to the scientific method, it isn’t a meaningfull question, that is the reason that so many people (in the general “less educated” public as well as in other fields of academia and the human intellectual endeavor) get so cheesed off at scientists.

    The arrogance of scientists in thinking that they know everthing (partly by asserting that that which they don’t know isn’t worth knowing) is a PR disaster for science.

    -Rob

  21. #21 John Novak
    October 23, 2006

    Dawkins gives me the same general rash and I’m even in his target audience, as much as I can figure out what his target audience is– meaning, generally atheist/agnostic, definitely non-believing Christian and highly technically oriented.

    I have a book or two of his on the shelf that I keep meaning to read (the one about free will, in particular, has been on my list for a while) but when you get right down to it, he makes my teeth itch not very far in. I may agree with him in the main but, as Chad says, that doesn’t mean that reading him is going to do me any good. Screeds, in particular, even for a position I support, do not do me any good. And when you start off by declaring the careful intellectual history of, basically, the whole world (because the debate over the shape and existence of God is older than Christianity) as not just wrong, but obviously stupid… well.

    That’s a screed.

    Yes, the ontological arguments are stupid if you’re steeped in the modern view, and I was teacher’s pet in philosophy class for being able to trash them on command. But as Chad says, I’m not getting book reviews for recapitulating two weeks of freshman philosophy, nor asking for your money in the process of doing it.

  22. #22 Evan Murdock
    October 23, 2006

    I have to disagree with you –

    a) There is no argument to disprove the existance of god; this is a philosophical truism. So to demand that non-believers disprove god is intellectually dishonest.

    b) While the existance of god has been debated for centuries, it has generally be debated in a limited social sphere and more often than not starting from the presupposition of existance (ie, western theologians attempting to prove the existance of the christian god). Our ability to see all cultures (and thus their gods) as essentially equal in legitimacy is a relatively recent phenomenon; thus we are contextually better able to hear the negative arguements than many in the past were. The relative superiority of the races was debated for centuries as well; must I learn all of the arguements there or can I dismiss them as hateful, destructive throwbacks that are culturally outmoded?

    I was raised as an athiest (weak athiest – no one expounded athiesm to me, theology simply never entered the picture). So when people try to convince me with the standard arguments, they sound just laughable to me; sorry, but it’s true. I simply can’t see any reason to accept them more than stories about the easter bunny or santa, both of which are also supported by a considerable body of literature.

    I’m of two minds about Dawkins; on the one hand his is something of a masturbatory exercise, unlikely to change any minds. On the other hand, it’s good that athiests are in the public eye. After all, I can’t legally hold public office in Texas right now.

  23. #23 Benjamin Franz
    October 23, 2006

    The Ontological Argument suffers (in *ANY* form) from the Cogito solipsism black hole. Taken to its logical conclusion:

    a) God is the thing that is more ‘perfect than anything else’. (Ontological Argument)

    b) Things that exist are ‘more perfect’ than things that do not.

    c) The only thing which has a provable existance is *ME* (The Cogito)

    d) Since I am the only thing with provable existance I am therefore *more perfect than anything else*. (Cogito + Ontological Argument)

    e) I am God.

    ;)

  24. #24 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 23, 2006

    The problem is not that Dawkins as a scientist is not qualified to discuss religion, rather, the problem is that Dawkins has committed the cardinal sin of a scientist changing fields: He hasn’t done the background reading.

    Speaking of background reading, if you had done yours you would know that arguments for God, including the ontological argument, are not in favor in serious philosophical circles these days. They are not considered to be logically convincing. And yes, the burden of proof rests on the one proposing the existence of god(s).

  25. #25 GH
    October 23, 2006

    No, he “destroys” one particular version of the theological arguments, and according to the reviewers, it isn’t even a particularly recent version.

    Has new evidence presented itself to make the new version more correct than the old version. Just wondering.

    Dawkins knows his theology. It seems to me that most of the objections to him and his book are a form of the ‘One True Scotsman’ idea. He just attacks this theology while mine he just doesn’t understand.

    It’s baloney and frankly people should know better. All of it are simply ideas of smart men to try and explain/rationalize a belief they arrived at for no reason whatsoever.

    he seems to think that everything is science. “Why are we here” in the deepest philosophical sense is a scientifically meaningless question as best we understand the Universe today, yes, absolutely.

    Because it is. Everything, even your thoughts occur in the natural world. Once we understand the mechanisms we can make predictions.

  26. #26 Rob Knop
    October 23, 2006

    As I understand it, his target is not the rarified world of academic theology but ordinary everyday populist religion (in both its fundamentalist and liberal varieties).

    His target seems to be all of religion.

    I haven’t read the book, and I’m not sure if I will — there are too many other books that both I want to read, and I ought to have read — but in an interview with somebody, he dismisses the question “why are we here” as not a useful question.

    He seems to be making the mistake that so many commentors on scienceblogs.com, and so many scientists make : he seems to think that everything is science. “Why are we here” in the deepest philosophical sense is a scientifically meaningless question as best we understand the Universe today, yes, absolutely.

    However, just because something is scientifically meaningless doesn’t make it meaningless altogether. There are other fields of human intellectual endeavor other than science. While many scientists seem to think that if it’s not subject to the scientific method, it isn’t a meaningfull question, that is the reason that so many people (in the general “less educated” public as well as in other fields of academia and the human intellectual endeavor) get so cheesed off at scientists.

    The arrogance of scientists in thinking that they know everthing (partly by asserting that that which they don’t know isn’t worth knowing) is a PR disaster for science.

    -Rob

  27. #27 Scott Spiegelberg
    October 23, 2006

    Can anyone who has read the book tell me what is Dawkins’ refutation of the cosmological argument? Also, does he deal with the complications of mixing together the three arguments?

  28. #28 Rob Knop
    October 23, 2006

    Because it is. Everything, even your thoughts occur in the natural world. Once we understand the mechanisms we can make predictions.

    This was in response to my talking about Dawkins saying “why are we here” being a meaningless question.

    You are making the same exact mistake. You say that once we understand nature, we can make predictions, and that everything is nature. You’re saying that, once again, everything is science, which by implication says that if a question can’t be adequately addressed by science, it’s not worth thinking about right now.

    That’s great if you’re talking neuroscience or cognitive psychology. Or, if you’re on a telescope time allocation committee, and we simply do no that have the insruments necessary to measure the cosmic neutrino background, then, sure, it’s right to say that that is not an investigation worth pursuing right now, even if we hope that someday it wlil be a question worth pursuing.

    However, if you are a person trying to live your life and find meaning in your life, that’s not a practical approach. Sure, perhaps, one day science will understand the nature of human consciousness enough that we can explain why we think the way we do, and it’s possible that that might shed some light on various philosophical questions that science doesn’t address today. I don’t know that it’s obvious that it will, but it’s possible. However, it doesn’t right now.

    So if you’re looking to find meaning in the question as to why you are here, and what your purpose in life is, pure physical and cognitive science isn’t going to answer it. But is it really a completely worthless question to ask right now? Only if you think that scientific questions are the only questions worth asking. To me, it’s pretty clear as we live through our lives that it’s worth thinking about things whose answers will affect how we go about our lives, even if science isn’t able to address those issues.

    -Rob

  29. #29 bpower
    October 23, 2006

    “So if you’re looking to find meaning in the question as to why you are here, and what your purpose in life is,…”

    YOU are making a classic mistake. There is no why. We have no purpose. When you die you rot in the ground. Yes, it does suck.

  30. #30 Harold Henderson
    October 23, 2006

    I’m curious why no one seems to have taken up Thomas Nagel’s review in the New Republic.

  31. #31 bpower
    October 23, 2006

    Hey guys, Dawkins has an article on HuffPo at the mo’. The title is “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”. Pop on over there and point out where he’s gone wrong. Should be easy for ye with knowlegde of modern theology.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-dawkins/why-there-almost-certainl_b_32164.html

  32. #32 Orac
    October 23, 2006

    Chad, please read RD’s book. I doubt you’ll find anything you’ve never thought about before, but at least you’ll see what direction he’s coming from rather than get a second hand impression of it from some hostile reviews (and the straw men therein).

    Actually, I have read Dawkins’ book and plan on posting a review on my own blog sometime later this week. I found parts of it brilliant and parts of it utterly frustrating and at least one small section of it downright sloppy.

  33. #33 bpower
    October 23, 2006

    Orac,I had a simliar reaction to it, its not a masterpiece by any means. I think he downplays some positive aspects of religion. But you can’t deny his passion and his skill as a writer.

    On a general note,some people seem to have difficultly holding s nuanced opinions on others. Go over to Richarddawkinds.net, you’ll see a lot of uncritical fawning. Now read some of the negative reviews of his books on Amazon with are just ad hominom (sorry about spelling).
    People either love hime or hate him. I guess this stems from his own confrontational style (which he seems to be oblivious to) and he does have an elitist air about him.

    In the area of bioligy,Im forever gratefull for his “The selfgene” and “the Blind Watchmaker”, on the other hand some of his views on politics (trial by jury, affirmative action amongst) are very different from my own.

  34. #34 BRC
    October 23, 2006

    Thanks for the post, Chad. This helps me think through my own (admittedly only partial) critique of Dawkins in a more thorough way. Ben

  35. #35 John Novak
    October 23, 2006

    bpower, #33:

    In the area of bioligy,Im forever gratefull for his “The selfgene” and “the Blind Watchmaker”, on the other hand some of his views on politics (trial by jury, affirmative action amongst) are very different from my own.

    …Wait a minute. Which one of you is against trial by jury?! That’s not one that usually sees a lot of debate!

  36. #36 Jordan
    October 23, 2006

    I’ve noticed that the people who criticize RD for dismissing “the Big Three,” since “the plain fact is that people have been debating proofs and disproofs of the existence of God for hundreds of years,” are committing the same mistake that RD points out, but which Sam Harris rails against: the idea that we must “respect” religious beliefs.

    The fact “that people have been debating proofs and disproofs of the existence of God for hundreds of years” does not automatically mean that we must respect these viewpoints, any more than we must “respect” viewpoints about unicorns and Zeus that have existed for thousands of years.

    I don’t think the comparison with physics is entirely apt, either. Regardless of how verbose their discussions may be, “the Big Three” arguments for the existence for God are simple. You don’t need to read much to have a pretty firm understanding of the fundamentals.

    Contrast with physics where an understanding of the basics comes only with years of study. I challenge anyone to post an argument for the existence of God that could not be explained in a paragraph or two and understood by most anyone — a simple task for a physicist.

    One of the central messages of RD and SH is this: it’s OK not to take this stuff seriously. I think a lot of people are having trouble with this, even the most reasonable among us, because it’s so normal.

  37. #37 alkali
    October 23, 2006

    I thought this review of Dawkins’ book was good.

    I liked Dawkins’ A Devil’s Chaplain but am unlikely to pick up this one. Per Jordan, it’s certainly true that Dawkins needn’t respect any one’s religious beliefs if he doesn’t want to, but at the same time no one is obligated to give him a hearing. Respect is the price of admission to a conversation.

  38. #38 Chad Orzel
    October 23, 2006

    I deleted the multi-posted comments, just to keep things tidy.

    As for this:
    One of the central messages of RD and SH is this: it’s OK not to take this stuff seriously.

    That’s true, as far as it goes. Nobody’s going to go to jail for failing to respect the arguments and opinions of others.

    But if you’re going to take a fundamentally unserious approach to the issue, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re not taken seriously, either.

    Again, if the goal is to be seen as a serious intellectual, and get good book reviews from people with a scholarly bent, you have an obligation to behave in a serious and intellectual manner. If the goal is to write polemics, you can do whatever you like, but don’t expect to be treated like a serious intellectual.

  39. #39 GH
    October 23, 2006

    Sure, perhaps, one day science will understand the nature of human consciousness enough that we can explain why we think the way we do, and it’s possible that that might shed some light on various philosophical questions that science doesn’t address today. I don’t know that it’s obvious that it will, but it’s possible.

    I’m just curious as to where you think these ideas and thoughts come from then if not a biological source? And if it biological then why can’t we understand it?

    And how does moving into a supernatural fantasy land help in any event with any of this?

    I think Jordan hit the nail on the head.

    But if you’re going to take a fundamentally unserious approach to the issue, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re not taken seriously, either.

    People keep saying this about the GD and I have yet to see it proven out in an argument. I see nothing but a serious attempt to show the fallacious degree of logic and rationality in religious argument no matter how ‘scholarly’.

    Not much of what RD has written is wrong and the 3 arguments addressed in this thread are not very complex. Why should he spend any more time refuting them when as Jordan mentioned they are obviously less than credible?

  40. #40 Derek Lowe
    October 23, 2006

    No one, at the moment, is to my knowledge willing to alter their entire life in the service of Zeus and/or unicorns. I realize that this has not always been true. I have read and enjoyed H. L. Mencken’s essay with its parade of dead and forgotten deities, for example. Keep in mind, though, that to many with strong religious beliefs, this is not a telling point – they’ll tell you that those other people who believed in those other deities were wrong, you see, and one reason that you can tell that they were wrong is that their faiths died out.

    I understand the “it’s OK not to take this stuff seriously” point, but those making it need to remember that it puts them at a disadvantage when arguing with people who do take it seriously. You cannot convince someone by laughing at them, even if their beliefs are laughable. Not everyone learns this by the end of freshman year, though.

    And if Dawkins isn’t trying to argue with people who take religion seriously, what exactly is he trying to do? Tell us (again) that he is nonreligious, and that he thinks everyone else should be, too? “Preach to the choir” is the appropriate inappropriate phrase. I think that trying to identify and ameliorate the harm that religious belief is capable of is a fine idea. But this doesn’t seem to me to be an effective way to go about it.

    Particularly troubling is the generalizing of belief and of believers, which seems to me to be done for safety’s sake. It’s all very well to make fun of Catholics or Protestants – I’ve done it myself. But I’m actually willing let those folks amble along in their (to me, mistaken) beliefs for now. Then we can devote more time to figuring out what to do about the people who are willing to blow up themselves and assorted bystanders in the conviction that they’re going directly to Paradise for doing so. Now there’s a harmful religious belief. Has Dawkins publicly unburdened himself of his opinions of Mohammed and the Koran?

  41. #41 John Farrell
    October 23, 2006

    It was not Dawkins’ job to find a brand new proof of God’s non-existence. Just to explain nicely how “proofs” for the existence make no sense, and why “old” debunkings of such “proofs” make sense.

    He didn’t even do that. It’s obvious Dawkins is in no way familiar with the ontological argument he so glibly dismisses. It would never have occurred to him, I suppose, to read “Anselm’s Discovery” by Charles Hartshorne. Hartshorne basically shows how the ontological argument has been misunderstood by virtually everyone –Descartes, Kant, Hume, etc–since the Proslogium was written.

  42. #42 DavidD
    October 23, 2006

    I read the link to The Huffington Post bpower left. The best thought from Dawkins I found there is:

    “Of course, this all presupposes that the God we are talking about is a personal intelligence such as Yahweh, Allah, Baal, Wotan, Zeus or Lord Krishna. If, by ‘God’, you mean love, nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, or Planck’s constant, none of the above applies.”

    The dividing line between the sort of God Dawkins discusses and the sort he doesn’t is in fact much murkier. He does not exclude all personal Gods. He argues that if God existed He would make the world so that everyone could believe in Him. Well, one type of God would. The God of my understanding doesn’t have that kind of power, as I find an omnipotent God a practical impossibility given the observible world, much as Dawkins does. Yet I came to believe in God because I started praying for help and developed a relationship with God that has consistently given me direction, comfort and strength over the years. It’s nothing that should convince anyone else about God, though when you hear enough stories like this, you might try it yourself. Some people do and are encouraged about God. Others do and are finally convinced by their disappointment that there can’t possibly be a God, not for them, not for anyone, never, never, never. There are possible explanations for different experiences like this beyond there being no God.

    I am convinced that there are no arguments that should force anyone to believe in God or that there can be no God. Empiricism doesn’t allow for just any kind of God if one is to sensibly integrate all knowledge of the world and personal experience, but then one can postulate metaphysics that makes empiricism an illusion. What if gravity is so predictable just because God is so precise in how He manipulates massive objects, something He might change tomorrow for the first time in 14 billion years? I doubt that’s the case, but I have to admit it’s possible.

    I don’t see the logic in people arguing about this from either direction. We can be truthful about our experience, but we can’t know what we don’t know, pro or con. Anyone can decide not to believe in anything not proven. Somehow we have that freedom, if it really is freedom, if we aren’t some of God’s 6 billion finger puppets in a very strange game He plays. There’s more than one way to decide what to believe.

  43. #43 Rob Knop
    October 23, 2006

    “So if you’re looking to find meaning in the question as to why you are here, and what your purpose in life is,…”

    YOU are making a classic mistake. There is no why. We have no purpose. When you die you rot in the ground. Yes, it does suck.

    You’re saying your live has no purpose? Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you bother making arguments on blog posts? Why do you go to work each day? Why do you bother eating? If it has no purpose, why not just get it over with?

    Of course life has purpose. That purpose will vary by individual, and different people will have different purposes at different times. Most people probably create their own purpose; some probably feel it has been revealed to them, some probably choose an external purpose to ride along with. Sure, some people live through their lives day by day, just subsiting, with no sense that there is any purpose in what they do… but that’s the depressing exception, not the rule.

    Sheesh.

    -Rob

  44. #44 Zed
    October 23, 2006

    Theology: The discussion of which would create a better roast, Donald Duck or Daffy Duck.
    Philosophy: The discussion of whether there is a duck to roast at all.
    Science: Pointing out the ducks are cartoons.
    I am of the opinion that Eagleton’s snobbery causes him to miss the point. It is not about theology. It is about whether or not you have a foundation to make a claim of a specific god in the first place. One claim of god’s identity is very much the same as all the claims of gods identity. I continue to fail to see why this debate needs intellectual depth. If chapter 1 of the book of proof of god is easily provable nonsense, why is there an idea discussing the matter ad nauseum will change the foundational error?

  45. #45 Mike Kozlowski
    October 24, 2006

    And if Dawkins isn’t trying to argue with people who take religion seriously, what exactly is he trying to do?

    The idea — as I understand it from an article in Wired, I haven’t read the book — is to address the vaguely non-believing people, the ones who don’t go to church and don’t really believe in god, but still call themselves “agnostic” and maybe even feel a little bad about it. Dawkins is explicitly trying to make out-and-out atheism a position that can be publicly held and acknowledged without it being thought weird.

    On the one hand, I doubt that being an extremist asshole about it will really work. On the other hand, any movement needs extremist assholes, so that other people can be further out along the edge, yet still seem moderate in comparison to THOSE guys. I suspect Dawkins would be happy about a world in which you could hear many people describe themselves as “an atheist, but not one of those evangelical ones like Dawkins.”

  46. #46 csrster
    October 24, 2006

    While I haven’t read Dawkins’ book, I did see some of his TV series. I’m not sure which came first or how they are related to each other, but I thought the TV programs were clearly aimed at precisely the audience you, Mike, identify, the “I suppose I’m C. of E.” crowd.

    I think the quote from DavidD:
    “Of course, this all presupposes that the God we are talking about is a personal intelligence such as Yahweh, Allah, Baal, Wotan, Zeus or Lord Krishna. If, by ‘God’, you mean love, nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, or Planck’s constant, none of the above applies.”
    backs this up. The second class of God – “God is the set of preconditions for existence” or “God is the name we give to everything in the universe which creates Order” or “God is the name we give to the goal of human spiritual evolution” or whatever your personal-theologist-of-the-month uses as a definition of God – is the kind of thing Eagleton is talking about. It is simple a category error to assume that arguments directed at one sort of “God” are actually directed at the other sort of “God”.

  47. #47 Jamie Bowden
    October 24, 2006

    You’re saying your live has no purpose? Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you bother making arguments on blog posts? Why do you go to work each day? Why do you bother eating? If it has no purpose, why not just get it over with?

    You make your own purpose. The Universe doesn’t give a shit, and in the long run, it won’t make any real difference what purpose you devote yourself to.

  48. #48 CCP
    October 24, 2006

    so now Richard Dawkins is an “asshole,” and not to be “taken seriously as an intellectual,” because he chooses not to rehash centuries of ineffectual intellectual wankery?
    Look…the WHOLE POINT of the book is to look at the question(s) of the existence of god(s) with use of the scientific toolkit of 1.) direct observation of the universe and 2.) logical argument based on those observations. What’s wrong with that? If the point is to assert that the scientific stance suggests strongly that there is/are no personal god(s) then steepage in Aquinas and Augustine and CS Lewis and their hand-waving, non-scientific approaches to similar questions belong in some OTHER book.

  49. #49 Chad Orzel
    October 24, 2006

    so now Richard Dawkins is an “asshole,” and not to be “taken seriously as an intellectual,” because he chooses not to rehash centuries of ineffectual intellectual wankery?

    I’m repeating myself, but let’s try a different phrasing:

    Look…the WHOLE POINT of the book is to look at the question(s) of the existence of god(s) with use of the scientific toolkit of 1.) direct observation of the universe and 2.) logical argument based on those observations. What’s wrong with that?

    Nothing is wrong with that. The complaint in the reviews is not that what Dawkins is doing is wrong, it’s that he’s doing it badly.

    If you want to argue in good faith (pardon the phrase) about some philosophical point that has been debated at length over a very long period, you have an obligation to seek out and engage the very best and most recent arguments your opponents have to offer. Providing devasting ripostes to arguments or versions of arguments that went out fifty years ago may be very cathartic, but it doesn’t really add anything to the debate.

    Is that really what Dawkins does? I don’t know, as I haven’t read the book. Based on other things of his that I’ve read, it wouldn’t surprise me, but I really can’t say.

    What’s important is that that’s the claim being made in these reviews. They aren’t saying that scientists aren’t allowed to talk about religion, or that Dawkins is an asshole, or anything like that. What they are saying is that he has failed to meet the minimum standard that a new book on this topic ought to meet, if it is going to be treated as a serious and good-faith contribution to the philosophical debate.

    If you want to say that what Dawkins is trying to do is soemthing other than making a serious and good-faith contribution to the ongoing debate about the existence of God, then that’s fine. But if that’s what he’s doing, then it’s deeply unrealistic to expect the book to be well received by scholars in that area.

  50. #50 Chad Orzel
    October 24, 2006

    Let me also add that I have a physics analogy in mind for this, but I have things to do this afternoon, so writing it up will have to wait. I’ll probably post it tomorrow.

  51. #51 Jesse Perry
    October 24, 2006

    Chad
    “Providing devasting ripostes to arguments or versions of arguments that went out fifty years ago may be very cathartic, but it doesn’t really add anything to the debate. Is that really what Dawkins does?”

    I’m reading it now, and yeah, that’s sort of what Dawkins is doing. To be more accurate, he seems to be chafing so badly at some experiences that he’s had with religious people that he falls into the trap of comparing “our best” with “their worst”. His ‘tude (snap-snap) seems to be short circuiting his ability to make really lucid – things that make you go hmmm – points.

  52. #52 DavidD
    October 24, 2006

    There is another quote from Dawkins’ column in The Huffington Post that has stayed with me:

    “We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin’s principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious.”

    To be fair, Dawkins might be willing to say that this is in his humble opinion, though that wasn’t my first impression on reading it. My first impression was that Dawkins means that everyone should see it this way. There is a problem here of someone speaking with authority outside his area of expertise, but I think it’s worse that that. This is lousy empricism. Empirically, many people don’t find the anthropic principle and natural selection to be all they need to understand life. Just do a survey.

    Evolutionary psychology attempts to explain what people find lacking in science as the ultimate explanation for life as traits evolution has given us to bias us toward looking for hidden information, toward being cooperative and comforting us in various ways. That might be right. Until genes are discovered that mediate that, it’s just a theory, but I’ve found it useful to read about this, such as in Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained. If people accept all the features described in that book for how we look for help from something bigger than us as strictly the product of natural selection, then maybe they can agree with Dawkin’s quote. I could, if I had reason to believe that Dawkin’s world is all there is. If I could know that atheists are right and all my experiences of God are fantasy, I wouldn’t change my religious habits. They work for me, if they only connect with why human beings have been religious, not something truly spiritual.

    But I don’t know that natural selection is the only reason we have a God-shaped void in our brain, nor do evoluntionary psychologists nor does Richard Dawkins. It doesn’t matter how often young punks or not-so-young punks call me delusional. That is not empiricism. It’s just an insult, something humans do when they’re proud to be right and others wrong, either secularly or religously. Insults sounds like natural selection at work to me, but maybe there are other possibilities.

    Is it so hard to think of possibilities? I guess that’s where Dawkins’s idea of parsimony comes in. There’s a simple story I learned in science. The universe was born because of some compelling equation or perhaps a disturbance in another universe. The nature of the universe made us and everything we know, including the God-shaped void in our brain that apparently I experience a lot more than Dawkins. I believed this throughout my twenties.

    Is it such a complication to consider the possibility that there is more to the universe than its physical nature, whether such non-physical features were created with the physical or exist separately? Is it such a complication to wonder if there’s more than we know? I suspect evolutionary psychologists are right that there was an evolutionary advantage to biasing our brain towards wondering about the unknown. Maybe that does make us prone to unparsimonious beliefs, but who guarantees that parsimony is the truth?

    I’m keeping the God I met in my thirties, a God who gets along just fine with all of science. I’m keeping Him no matter how many times He’s called delusion, fantasy, or imaginary friend. Tell me, wise guy, draw me an accurate circuit diagram explaining the anatomy and physiology of a delusion, fantasy, or imaginary friend, if you think those are scientifically meaningful terms. I haven’t found neuroscience to have wisdom about what such terms mean. They are not science. They come from our subjective guesses about how people go through life. I need more than that.

    Empiricism doesn’t require people to believe in God. Empiricism doesn’t require people to be an atheist. It’s not hard to find flaws in those who argue otherwise.

  53. #53 Robert O'Brien
    October 24, 2006

    The fact that the debunkings were not convincing to believers just speaks to the vapidity of the believers.

    Rugala se šerpa loncu, široka mu usta.

  54. #54 Robert O'Brien
    October 24, 2006

    …so now Richard Dawkins is an “asshole,” and not to be “taken seriously as an intellectual,”…

    Sounds about right. (Although, he is still a rung or two above Peezee.) I am waiting for him to appear at my university (accompanied by a whiff of brimstone, no doubt) so I can subject him to some withering questions.

  55. #55 CCP
    October 24, 2006

    ew, Robert O’Brien!

    Chad, I suppose you have a point. My guess, though, is that Dawkins wasn’t interested so much in being taken seriously by scholars in the fast-moving area of debating the existence of god(s) as in, you know, selling a few books.

  56. #56 etg
    October 24, 2006

    Chad,

    Regardless of whether Dawkins lacks theological expertise, I think he could write a book about religion/god(s) that could also be taken seriously by honest scholars _as a scholarly work_ because of where religion _does_ overlap with science. A serious scholarly book by a scientist could discuss the scientific questions raised by things people claim that god does. You don’t need to address any of the “big 3″ arguments to discuss how a putative god interacts with the universe. This also relates to Rob’s point about scientists excluding everything outside of science. They might do that, but so do most people. If people stuck to “god is perfection” or “God is love” there would be little or no discussion. Problems arise because most religions make claims that very much overlap with science. This is a point Sean Carroll often raises and I feel it’s a valid one. Once you make claims about things happening in the universe, your claims can be addressed by the methods of science.

    You can discuss “why” ’til your heart’s content, but it’s hard to have a satisfying discussion of “why” without quickly getting into some “how.”

  57. #57 Wowbagger
    October 25, 2006

    But if you’re going to take a fundamentally unserious approach to the issue, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re not taken seriously, either.

    I don’t think the commenter was saying that Dawkins was taking an unserious approach. Rather, the point is that Dawkins is making a serious argument for why we should not take religious viewpoints seriously. Although I think he is wrong on this (because a lot of people take religion seriously, and not all of them are stupid), I don’t think he can be accused of being unserious.

  58. #58 jw
    October 25, 2006

    Arguments like the ontological argument aren’t serious arguments. The difficulty of using logic to make arguments about the universe is mapping the universe to your logical system and back, and this is the point that people who accept the ontological argument as well as most creationist arguments fail to understand.

    If you ignore the mapping step, then Dembski’s arguments against evolution make sense, but if you pay attention to it, then you’ll notice that he’s mapping the actuality of evolution to a mathematical system that bears little resemblence to what it’s supposed to model.

    There are all sorts of logical existence proofs in mathematics, but none of them have any bearing on the universe without someone producing such a mapping. I can easily use mathematics to both prove the existence of commutative operators x and p and their non-existence. Which is right? It depends on whether the system I’m modeling is classical or quantum.

    Logics are simply rules for manipulating symbols that we’ve created because we found them useful. They mean nothing unless you have a valid mapping between the symbols and the universe, and this is the hard part of any study of the universe, scientific or other.

  59. #59 Richard
    October 25, 2006

    The recent tactic of attacking Dawkins’s lack of theological training has not been very enlightening. Could someone tell me whether there is a new defence of the existence of god(s) that Dawkins doesn’t address? These reviews throw out a few names without presenting any of the arguments. Is there any substance to modern, cutting-edge theology?

  60. #60 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 25, 2006

    Again, if the goal is to be seen as a serious intellectual, and get good book reviews from people with a scholarly bent, you have an obligation to behave in a serious and intellectual manner.

    Said Chad, as he commented on a book he hadn’t read, based solely on the reviews of others.

  61. #61 thickslab
    October 25, 2006

    But if you’re going to take a fundamentally unserious approach to the issue, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re not taken seriously, either.

    Hold on a second. You haven’t even read the book you’re criticizing (though it should be noted that you’re being very careful in your criticism, using a lot of “if that’s what he says” and “as they claim”). And not only have you not read it, you proudly declare that you don’t intend to. So is that a serious approach to Dawkins’ book?

    I agree with what you said in your last comment: you can do what you want. Just don’t expect to be taken seriously if you don’t behave in a serious and intellectual manner.

  62. #62 anon
    October 25, 2006

    I agree with Chad. I’m not religious myself, but it’s a serious mistake to approach the subject in the way that Dawkins does. A huge amount of thought has gone into questions such as God’s (non)existence, free will, the problem of evil, much of it from some very intelligent people indeed. Counterarguments that begin with the equivalent of “Look, you fools. . .” aren’t going to cut it.******************************************************

    So- because lots of thought has gone into how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we must be reverent?

    Many hours were probably spenton justifying followers drinking KoolAid thirty years ago.

    Many man hours have been spent revealing the teachings of Smith and Hubbard.

    Many hours have been spent practicing medicine without regard to hygeine.

    Many hours have been spent cutting up young girls genitals .

    Because these things have been done for many hours and many years…. should we still do them?

    Just because we have spent a lot of time on something does not validate it as a truth.

  63. #63 Judy D S
    October 26, 2006

    I agree, if you want to review a book, you should read it, rather than just reviewing other reviews. I’m enjoying it, though I suppose I’m already a member of the “choir”, identifying myself as an atheist since childhood.
    For me, the most important message in the book is that it’s ridiculous that atheists are unable to express their (lack of) beliefs publicly, due to fear of being called rude, unpatriotic, blasphemous, etc… I do not feel like I have any representation in the US government, where an atheist faces higher barriers to being elected than any other minority group. It’s time for us to speak up, and stop avoiding the issue just because we aren’t infected with the same mind virus that drives the religious nuts among us.

  64. #64 Dave M
    October 26, 2006

    There’s an interesting article on ontological arguments here (seven major kinds, it says!). But that’s more philosophy of religion than theology anyway. Theology is about sin and redemption and eternity and God’s love (and for Christians, Christ’s nature and mission) and stuff like that.

  65. #65 Tulse
    October 26, 2006

    Of course life has purpose. That purpose will vary by individual, and different people will have different purposes at different times. Most people probably create their own purpose; some probably feel it has been revealed to them, some probably choose an external purpose to ride along with.

    To humans, cows’ lives have a purpose, to serve as food. I doubt that would be any philosophical comfort to an intelligent cow, however. To slave owners, slaves have a purpose, to carry out work for their owners without recompense, as a piece of property, but I don’t see religions springing up worshipping slave owners, or slaves feeling that their lives have meaning since their owners have certain intentions for them.

    If you need some other being to specify your purpose in life, you’ve got a problem. And just because “science” can’t give you a purpose (and I agree that it can’t) doesn’t mean “religion” makes any more sense as a purpose-provider. Getting your purpose from some hypothetical deity makes as much sense as cows taking their purpose from ranchers, or slaves from slave owners. We all make our own purpose in this universe, it’s just that those who govern theirs by religion have proxied their responsibility for determining that purpose to something else.

  66. #66 Felix
    October 29, 2006

    In the letters section of the of the London Review of Books is this response from A.C. Grayling, distinguished English philosopher and author:

    “Terry Eagleton charges Richard Dawkins with failing to read theology in formulating his objection to religious belief, and thereby misses the point that when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises”

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n21/letters.html#5

    This is basically what I thought when reading Chad’s charge that Dawkins ingnores 2,000 years of theological “scholarship”.

  67. #67 Antiquated Tory
    January 26, 2007

    Well I haven’t read GD but I have read The Blind Watchmaker and enjoyed it, and I enjoyed The Ancestor’s Tale even more. Basically the more Dawkins sticks to biology, the more I like him. I don’t need his political or social commentary even when I agree with it, because I could get the same thing down the pub with someone equally informed and probably without the attitude that everyone who disagrees is by definition an idiot.
    As I was saying, I haven’t read GD but I have just read Section X, “On Miracles,” and Section XI, “Of A Particular Providence And Of A Future State” from a book called An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by one David Hume. And he was pretty brutally dismissive of attempts to justify Religion by Reason. Essentially he says that if you say “Here is the Universe, it must have a Creator,” it’s spurious to assign any attributes to that Creator which cannot be derived from Creation. If you argue from effects to causes, you can not turn around and say things about the cause that are not derived from the effect. And the Universe does not give any reason to suppose a Creator who embodies perfect Justice or benevolence. Religion however should be left purely a matter of Faith: “Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of [Christianity's, or presumaby any religion's] veracity: And whoever is moved by Fiath to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding…” Hume doesn’t quite come out and call Biblical miracles hokum, though it’s an obvious conclusion from what he writes, but he implies that this personal miracle is the only one that should be given any credence.

  68. #68 DeShoun
    September 3, 2010

    It’s funny to read all this debate on religion. I think it is very hypocritical to have a religion (atheism) which states that there is no religion. You have to have just as much blind faith in self creation as you do in God creation. i cant recall the name of the athiest but the mentioned a comment which states that “life must have began on the backs of crystals” he has NO proof of this and its just a guess i don’t even think he knows why he believes that but he believes it just as “blindly” as WE believe in God. I just read a post from stephen hawkings which that the universe created itself out of nothing which goes to show that they don’t really need proof when their minds are made up there is even less proof for that line of thinking as it is for a real God. richard dawkins stated in one of his interviews on the documentary “expelled, no intelligence allowed” that there must have been some kind of intelligent designer but its not the God of the Bible” what does he REALLY believe or does he just like to hear himself talk since he doesn’t really say anything important? I fully agree if you are going to tell me my beliefs are stupid then its on YOU to prove why or else shut up about it because you cant convince me with basic arguments like “if you had a brain you would see” that’s just outright childish. You would criticize anyone who used an argument of “The existence of an atheist proves that God exists” so why is it any different when an atheist makes claims that is just as “stupid” to debate the argument? Apparently there were extremely dumb people in Biblical times since for example in the book of Job it talks about scientific topics such as the moon not containing its own light and depending on the sun in the verse (Job 25:5-6), invention of telescopes backed this Biblical (God centered) line of thinking, or the scientific thinking of (Job 28:25)which states that air has weight which was also proven by science. so i would take just those two proofs as MORE proof than RD has EVER shown in any of his debates that i have seen to date. If you know of any please direct me to them i would love you watch them and have a good laugh. I am nothing close to a scholar or a theologian like most of the people who leave comments on here however i DO use common sense which seems to go further than atheistic thinking.

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