Tag Archives: Richard Dawkins

Reason versus Ridicule

anti-intellectual_dunceThough I’ve not yet had time to listen to the most recent debate between Richard Dawkins and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, I can’t let the Gaurdian report on the event pass without comment. Mostly, I was appalled at the focus of the article.

So, what was that focus? What did the reporter think most interesting about a Cambridge debate on the future of religion?

Dawkins made a penis joke.

It is unfortunate enough that a man trusted to represent the sciences at Oxford so often resorts to antics, relying on junior high humor and ridicule rather than cogent arguments in order to “promote reason”. It is worse when many in the audience, even those who write for the Guardian, are so quick to buy into cheap giggles that they forget to think.

Even the subtitle of the article implies that this joke is the important issue, downplaying the loss (saying that Dawkins lost “on paper”–which is an odd way of saying that the anti-religious motion was voted down by a large majority of the audience).

It seems that the writer is either so committed to Dawkins’ views that he’s uninterested in the arguments – or that he actually likes the idea that Cambridge debates could be turned into potty joke contests.

I’m not sure which idea bothers me more, but the former, if less obviously silly, isn’t any less anti-intellectual.

But there is a ray of hope in this. Apparently, at least most in the audience weren’t so impressed by the penis joke that they voted in favor of Dawkins regardless of the issues. Still, that so many have been willing, even eager, to let him get away with claiming that crass insults and ridicule somehow promotes reason and scientific thinking shows something of a breakdown in the quality of academia.

The article closes with the suggestion that Dawkins would make a good comedian. In one sense, he already is one. What’s been called reason and science by the New Atheists is actually a series of stand-up style quips and jokes designed to embarrass their opposition.


Russell XIV: Bats Don’t Believe in Rainbows

rainbowIn addition to indoctrination, Russell offers one more reason why people might believe in God:

Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.

I’ll skip over the inherent jugmentalism in this. I can’t, however, resist pointing out Russell’s lack of understanding of the subject of God. In telling religious people what we find attractive about our own belief, he is completely blind to such issues as spiritual experience, mortality, and the meaning of life.

In fact, Russell (like the New Atheists) never touches on any of most common reasons theists say they believe, even to disagree with those reasons. This strikes one as less like a rebuttal than a simple failure to address the topic.

If the most obvious problem with the New Atheists is their inability to present scientific data, the second (and more significant) issue is their inability to understand which questions Christianity is meant to answer. Listening to the New Atheists speak on religion, in fact, sounds more like how one might imagine a bat would describe a rainbow than anything like a real engagement with the concept of the divine.

It’s no wonder, then, that Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in the God he argues against. I don’t believe in that God either, and I don’t know anyone who does.


Dawkins Promoting Science?

scientism

Prominent New Atheists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss have released a trailer for an upcoming film, which seems to follow the same pattern as previous New Atheist productions: Documenting one or more of the New Atheists travels as they interview and debate people on the subject of religion.

Quite a few things struck me about this, actually. But my key issue is this:

The film claims to be promoting science

I don’t see how there can be people in western culture who are convinced that science’s main difficulty is a lack of trust being placed in it.

For my money, the biggest obstacle to a clear understanding of what science is and does is the scientistic philosophy being promoted by Dawkins and Krauss themselves.

That they have put so much energy into convincing people that science addresses spiritual questions, gives us an approach of how to live life, and is somehow advanced through political activism puts them more in league with the Scientologists than anyone doing legitimate research.

Personally, I’d be very interested in a film that promotes good science, rather than the creator’s personal philosophy masquerading as science.


Richard Dawkins vs. the Scientific Method

dawkins

I was glad to see someone finally ask Professor Dawkins for some scientifically gathered information for his claim that raising a child Catholic is worse than sexual abuse. In my view, he needs to be asked to provide evidence far more often.

In fact, I was disappointed that the interviewer in the video asked for a show of hands. I would much rather him have asked Dawkins if he would have accepted “it seems intuitively entirely reasonable” from a religious person after requesting scientifically gathered evidence.

Dawkins has made long lists of accusations about the harmfulness of theism for years, while simultaneously insisting that one must base one’s conclusions on the findings of science. Having sifted through quite a few anthropological and sociological studies on the effects of religious belief, I can say with confidence that Richard Dawkins is not taking his own advice (or, I suppose, is simply dishonest – but I doubt that).

In fact, I’ve listened to quite a bit of what Professor Dawkins has to say, and have no memory of him ever quoting a study on the effects of religion – even in the vague sense of “studies have shown…”. It doesn’t surprise me, then, that his claims are so consistently contradicted by actual studies.

That being the case, it’s hard to see how he can claim to have a “scientific mind”, as he puts it, on this subject. The person who genuinely insists on evidence should, as a matter of fact, be completely uninterested in anything he has to say.


Magic and Reality

Richard Dawkins has complained, on countless occasions, that religious people do not engage rational thought in selecting their beliefs. For me, the frustrating part of this is the success he’s had in convincing others that this complaint is more descriptive of religious individuals than himself.

As much as he knows about evolutionary theory, Dawkins has shown himself a novice at theology, logic, and rational argumentation.

When asked for a rational ground for ethics, he responds with a rant about his personal distaste for biblical morality. When asked for a reason to believe his view (that all truth is physical), he responds that there is no scientific (that is, physical) evidence that something else exists. When debating God’s existence, he emotes that the idea is “petty”.

Then, when speaking about the situation, he complains that theists resort to taking offense in lieu of rational debate.

I’ve met many intelligent, reasonable atheists who can give clear reasons for their beliefs, and are unwilling to make intellectually lazy statements about religion in general. Dawkins’, however, can’t be said to understand Christianity well enough to have criticized it. He loudly insists on the non-existence of God, apparently unaware that (if one is attentive to his statements) he’s been arguing against a god that no one actually believes in.

The fact that this man has such a large group of enthusiastic supporters strikes me as something of a social crisis. Can people en masse really believe that demanding that the opposition is unreasonable somehow makes one rational?

There seems to be, in the self-proclaimed defenders of rational thought, a thorough-going belief in a kind of magic. They act as if wearing the talismans of reason, reciting the incantations of “evidence” and “science”, and purging one’s mind of any doubt in philosophical materialism will mysteriously make their position true. As one blogger put it:
“What’s new about New Atheism, in contrast to old atheism where you could just get along not believing and not really thinking about it, is that structurally it is so very like a church.”

This seems only confirmed, if not exacerbated, by the fact that Dawkins, after spending years criticizing religion for “indoctrination” has published a book aimed at children which lists biblical narratives among myths which have been disproved by science. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with such a book in itself, but that many have been put-off by the unabashed hypocrisy of the action.

Equally problematic was Dawkins’ simultaneous unwillingness to address logical challenges to his position. It appeared to many as if he were removing himself from the need to provide logical support for his case, addressing only his own fans and children too young to raise serious questions – or have much confidence in the questions they do raise.

Those of greater philosophical depth, whether they are theists or not, should be very eager to curb the (lack of) thinking in this movement. As a theist, I’ve long criticized many churches for believing that we don’t need to engage reason to have faith. How much more, then, should we criticize a group for believing that we don’t need to engage reason to be reasonable?

Dismissiveness and cynicism about philosophy, theology, and the search for spiritual truth is not skepticism. It is as close-minded a dogma as anything being said to a congregation on Sunday morning.


BioLogos

Richard Dawkins seems to have several roadblocks in his quest to rid the world of religion. While there are better-known issues, I think that perhaps the most persistent and important of them is the existence of Dr. Francis Collins.

Francis Collins is best known as the director of the Human Genome Project, and is now the NIH director. He is also a professing Christian, and a walking contradiction of much of the philosophy of the New Atheists. He is far too respected a scientist for Dawkins to indignantly ask him if he understands the elegance of evolutionary theory. The simple example of Collins has forced the New Atheist writers to qualify many of their statements about the supposed contradictions between faith and science.

But they could learn a great deal more from Collins if they’d care to look. Most particularly, anyone who is interested in the issue of the relationship between evolutionary theory and Christian theology should be aware of the BioLogos foundation. Here, Collins has gathered many experts in both science and theology to promote the idea that there is no contradiction to be found here.

Though there are religious groups who will be offended at the concept, the overwhelming majority of Christians worship in churches which agree with Collins. Atheists interested in supporting evolution, however, seem to stand to gain as much as any Christian from the efforts of this group.

That is to say, there is a clear body of respected Christian scholars explaining to Christians, in terms not offensive to them, why it is theologically acceptable and rationally sound to believe in evolution. If his project were simply about the promotion of science, this would be the best thing that ever happened to Richard Dawkins.

But it isn’t. Dawkins simply waves off Francis Collins as an exception and moves on. The fact is that, though Collins stands a far greater chance of actually persuading religious individuals to believe in evolution, his method would cost Dawkins his favorite banner to wave in the fight: the idea that one must choose between faith and science.

Shallow and prejudiced view of social reality

For this and other reasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that the promotion of science is not at all at the heart of the New Atheists’ attack on religion. Many of them seem willing to jettison science if it means an advance of secularism in our culture.

Therefore, it is also clear that, whether one is a theist or an atheist, the best way forward is not the conflict model of Dawkins, but the more peaceful approach of Collins.