Sunday, November 12, 2006

Reply to counter argument

My review of review of The God Delusion has been under attack HERE. This is my response, which is also posted on Dawkins' discussion forum.

Thanks for all the comments. I’ll reply to the points I think are relevant.

You ask what my point was in citing Dawkins’ long list of accusations against the Christian God. But then you answer the question for me, announcing that I didn’t have a point. Well, actually I did. I quoted that list of unpleasantries to give a flavour of Dawkins’ venomous antagonism towards God (I mean, the God of the Bible – thanks for catching that). This, I thought, might help to suggest why the professor feels so emotionally compelled to produce half-weight pseudo-philosophical arguments against Christianity.

“But”, you say, “it’s all right there in the Old Testament. 100% everything in that sick list and Dawkins was far from the first person to point this out.”

Well, Dawkins can hardly be considered a very reliable source for understanding the content of the Old Testament since he believes that Christian theology (and therefore, we may presume, the Bible) is “Devoid of…content.” As various scholars have pointed out, Dawkins presents a caraciture of the Bible because he is unwilling to face the long hard slog of serious theological scholarship.

See http://robinphillips.blogspot.com/2006/11/dawkins-justifying-ignorance.html

Thanks for answering my question “How…could Dawkins possibly defend atheism using the scientific method?” I’m not sure about your answer, though. You say, “It’s how science works. You don’t start by believing in something. You start without belief. You start atheist to the concept of every God ever invented by man and if proof of any of them existed for their wild claims Dawkins and all atheists would become theists.”

You seem to have committed the logical fallacy known as ‘equivocation.’ You are using the term ‘atheist’ in a difference sense to Dawkins to defend something he says about the term. You are using the ‘atheist’ to refer to No God Concept. In that sense, infants and plants are ‘atheist’ since they don’t have a conscious (cognitive) belief in God, as far as we know. But they also don’t have a concept of God’s non-existence. Dawkins, on the other hand, defines atheism quite clearly in The God Delusion as being belief in God’s non-existence. And he also maintains that THIS kind of atheism can be defended with science. So I think my original question still stands.

A bit of a side-road, but I’m not convinced that science does ‘start without belief.’ Surely, a mind that was a blank slate would not be equipped with the conceptual apparatus necessary to make scientific inferences. Even the most simplistic scientific inductions presuppose belief in such things as continuity, order, logic. There are many beliefs that we just take for granted but which are the preconditions to intelligibility and therefore prior to all scientific endeavour.

While we’re on the subject of science, I noticed no one replied to my rebuttal of Dawkins’ scientific disproof of God. I’d value any feedback you might have to offer.

Referring to my comments about Dawkins ethical theory, you write, ‘You just don’t like his scientific explanation.’ Whether I like it or not is really beside the point. The real question is whether the theory can hold up under rational investigation. Ad hominem fallacies won’t get us anywhere.

Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood you, but all your comments about ethics seem to be addressing arguments you’ve heard other Christian use but which I didn’t actually employ in my book review. My point was simply that Dawkins’ explanations for ethics only show WHY we are moral but not why we OUGHT to be moral. Hume pointed out that moving from an IS statement to an OUGHT statement is a non sequitur yet Dawkins, who admires Hume, does it all the time. Dawkins then lets the cat out of the bag by conceding that ‘it is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones’ and lapsing, by implication, into consequentialistialism and all the logical fallacies of utilitarian theory. His only trump card is an ad hominem attack on Christians which runs a bit thin when it begins to look suspiciously like a cover.

You’re right, my explanation for morality is the Biblical one, though from what you say I’m not convinced you’ve properly understood the Biblical system of ethics. I’d be happy to explain about that after we’ve got these other issues cleared out of the way.

I admit the ‘meme’ always did seem like a bit of a joke to me. I’ll be sure and make clear, however, that the meme is merely ‘like’ a virus which is ‘analogous’ to something jumping around from brain to brain. Thanks.

You make the point between good memes and bad memes. It looks fine in theory to put scientific and ethical ideas into the category of ‘good memes’ and religion into the category of ‘bad memes.’ However, this very distinction has no ontological basis within the context of memetic theory. This is because if ideas are naturally selected according to how they help or inhibit human survival, and if they compete, cooperate and mutate similar to the way genes do, then the very idea of ‘truth’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a category mistake. The reason it is a category mistake is because it assumes a neutral, objective, outside vantage point where we can stand and assess the value of ideas. Yet ironically, if all ideas are characterised by these memetic processes, then the person making these distinctions is only doing so because HE has been programmed to do so by his memes. In the end the whole theory becomes epistemologically self-defeating.

You acknowledge that all evidence points to us actually living in ‘objective reality.’ Okay, but that statement comes with a price. You can’t just say things like that without holding a worldview that cannot sustain objective truth claims. Dawkins worldview does not sustain anything of the sort (see above paragraph).

All that stuff about Hitler being a catholic is beside the point. I just used Hitler as an example because everyone agrees he was evil. But I might equally have said Cardinal Wolsey. All evil becomes trivialised under Dawkins’ radical Darwinism.

Yes, I didn’t define God and that was because I wasn’t trying to prove His existence or anything about Him in my book review. Rather, I was trying to refute Dawkins’ arguments. So I don’t think you can dismiss it as an ‘easy out’ of the debate.

Finally, I’d like to reply to the point that the problem with negative reviews is that they are written by theists. How is that a problem but its not a problem the other way round? Might I equally dismiss Dawkins for writing negative reviews of the Bible on the grounds that ‘after all, he’s an atheist’? Surely the real question is the content of what the reviews are saying. It seems a bit of a fudge to dismiss everything on the grounds that someone is a theist.

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