The Celestial Teapot

Article discussed in this entry: The Celestial Teapot

James Wood provides an excellent critique of the current crop of atheistic writers currently clogging the best seller lists. Wood hits the target with his philosophical dismissals of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris (referred to collectively as DDH). Far from being a solid defense of Christianity, but helpful nonetheless, Wood adequately brushes aside the feeble attempts made by these three atheistic opportunists to condemn religious practice. And, Wood also, to a lesser extent, makes ineffectual some of the stronger anti-religion claims of such famed philosophers as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Some statements that I found particularly interesting:

“Wittgenstein’s little phrase, from a different context, comes to mind: ‘a nothing will serve just as well as a something about which nothing can be said.'”
Clever little quote showing the language games that some philosophers use. While not meaningful in itself, it is clever nonetheless.
“The genre tends to proceed thus: the atheist must first remove all possible respect from religious belief.”
Excellent quote. Wood highlights a key strategy used by DDH to dehumanize and desensitize the reader to the truth claims of religious belief.
Wood responding to Harris’ and Dawkins’ arguments pertaining to “insufficient evidence”: “Yet he surely knows that we believe all kinds of things on insufficient evidence. Or rather, what might be sufficient evidence to him could well be insufficient to someone else and vice versa. Hume was right, says the French philosopher Alain, ‘to mock the King of Siam who believed that ice was impossible because he had never seen it.'”
Sufficient evidence is difficult to define. Religious experience can be argued to be both objective and subjective depending on who you talk to. And, More importantly, as science will well agree, evidence does not in itself reality prove. Even though religion can explain things does not mean that science is necessarily correct. And, there is plenty that science is unable to explain. Does that mean that science is useless? No. Similarly, belief in God can be valuable as well.

A couple of items that I found troubling in this article though:

Wood argues that the Free Will defense (evil exists because we have free will to do good or evil at our discretion) explains evil, yet runs contrary to the concept of heaven, which, if evil does not exist in heaven, would have been a more perfect world than we live in now, thus saying that our current existence is neither a) the best of all possible worlds (Leibniz) or b) a fair world to live in when it requires tolerance for suffering.
Wood is generally quite solid with his philosophy, but this is a major point on which I disagree. Wood argues that we could not exist in heaven without evil through our own free will. I beg to differ. Isn’t heaven when we’ve been absolved of our sins and been deemed worthy to enter heaven? I would think that one of the pre-requisites to entering the kingdom of God would be the proper motivation and moral attitude towards good and evil. Entry to heaven would be based on heavenly judgment which would adequately isolate evil thoughts from entering through the pearly gates. Thus, all who enter would be free to commit evil acts, but entry would require good intentions, which this world would be the training ground for. Note: I haven’t been there yet, so this is speculation, but… it certainly does offer another, equally sound option, which is a counterpoint to Wood’s Free Will argument.
“A silence beckons to a silence.”
The critique here is that God’s silence demands no response. Thus, this statement argues that worship is misguided. Wood does little to defend Christianity from this statement. In response, I ask: Didn’t Christ speak loud and clear?

While I feel that Wood ultimately fails by not taking a final step in justifying religious belief, he does a great job of dismissing the shallow and weak claims being made by these “pop-culture atheists”. And, I especially enjoyed the way that Wood showed Harris to be a hypocrite through his practice of Eastern meditative techniques. All in all, a great read. Take a half hour and give it a shot. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Todd Dow

By Todd Dow

Author, Geek, CF fundraiser & Cancer Survivor. My family, baseball, infosec, privacy & devops are a few of my favorite things.

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