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philosophy

Dawkins Part 4: The Objective Roots of Morality

At every turn, Dawkins seems to mess up a perfect opportunity to have an intelligent discussion about God. Chapter 6 is titled, “The roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?” and this is a great place to discuss the ultimate goal or purpose of God. Unfortunately, Dawkins squanders this opportunity. Instead of arguing against the need for God in the moral equation, Dawkins spends his time distracting us from the task at hand, instead offering up several anecdotal experiences to support his claims. This is yet another failed attempt by Dawkins to convince the reader of his claims. And, with more poor logic in this chapter, Dawkins further harms his overall goal of convincing the reader of the atheistic worldview.

In today’s post, I’ll highlight some of the errors in Dawkins’ logic, then I’ll provide my commentary on where morality must come from in order to be useful within the world at large. So, without further ado, here we go!

Dawkins starts by providing some examples of negative emails that have been sent to him. These letters were supposedly written by Christians and they were quite offensive and threatening. In my view, these types of letters go against everything that Christianity represents. I’m not quite sure what Dawkins’ point is here, because it would be silly to argue that these letters represent all Christians. And, it would be silly to suggest that these letters have any moral grounding in the writing of Christ. Note: the letters that he quotes do not provide a coherent argument that grounds itself in New Testament theology. Thus, they don’t really count as accurate representations of sound Christian doctrine. To me, and I’m sure to many of you, these letters are simply the work of individuals who may or may not be misguided in the pursuit of their faith. And, in case Dawkins was suggesting that misbehaving Christians mean that God is not the answer to moral grounding, well… I’ve received my fair share of disrespectful and violently offensive emails from atheists. So Dawkins, I hate to disappoint, but I don’t get your point here. It seems that you’re barking up the same tree that I discussed yesterday: bad representatives do not mean that the faith itself is flawed.

After this rather pointless introduction, Dawkins makes the argument that our morality is pre-programmed within us. He suggests that we have within ourselves an innate altruism (behaviour where we put the needs of others above our own needs – charity, good will, etc.). This innate altruism is, according to Dawkins, beneficial to our survival and growth as a species. It is part of the genetic make-up of the “survival of the fittest”, so to speak. Dawkins explains that this type of altruism benefits the individual by inspiring similar acts of altruism to be returned to the person giving the charity to others. Ultimately, this altruism results in greater benefits for the individual in question, thus extending the success and prosperity of the altruistic individual. This suggests to me that Dawkins version of altruism is self-beneficial and is thus, not necessarily altruistic after all.

One might counter this by saying, “doesn’t that mean that behaving because God or Jesus tells us to is equally self-beneficial and thus equally un-altruistic as well?” That is a good point, but it greatly diminishes the purpose of the love that Jesus talks about in the New Testament. The altruistic behaviour that Jesus talks about in Mark 12:30-31 is called agape love and it is divine love, which is an unconditional love. It has no strings. It expects nothing in return. It does not need love in return. It is simply love freely given. To apply agape love means to become like God in the way that God loves. And, Jesus provides the example of agape love that we are to strive for. Jesus brings us the message of agape love and instructs us to love one another in this way. For more on agape love, check out my previous series on love entitled “Who Do You Love“, and specifically “Part 4 of 5: AGAPE – unconditional love.

Dawkins’ love doesn’t sound like this. It isn’t altruistic in the least. Dawkins himself argues that his version of altruism is self-serving. So much for that argument, eh Dawkins?

Next, Dawkins calls out the great flaw in atheistic thought… he asks the question, “If there is no God, why be good?” It is this question which cannot be answered by atheists. There is no good answer to this question. Dawkins opens up the discussion by pulling in one of the premiere explanations from existentialism on the abyss that is a Godless existence. Dawkins quotes Dostoevsky in his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov (I highly recommend this book – it is absolutely briliant!). Dawkins quotes a scene where Ivan Karamazov argues that without God, ultimate meaning can only be derived from within. Ivan says that “egoism, even extending to the perpetration of a crime, would not only be permissible but would be recognized as the essential, the most rational, and even the noblest raison d’etre of the human condition.”

Dawkins also mentions the book Outsider by Albert Camus. This book makes the same point: there is no absolute grounding or meaning in life. Thus, we are what we create as our reality.

I’ve argued the problems with this already in an earlier post about the myth of Sisyphus. The larger context of the series is quite contentious, but the point is the same. For the purpose of this discussion, focus only on the story of Sisyphus, and ignore the surrounding content of the post series. If you feel strongly compelled to discuss the content of that series more, feel free to do it within the bounds of that series. Don’t bring that discussion back to this series please.

But where were we… Sisyphus: the argument goes that Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill for eternity. Every time Sisyphus approached the top of the hill, it would fall back down the hill again. Thus, Sisyphus was faced with a potentially meaninglessness existence. Ultimately, the story becomes one in which Sisyphus creates for himself a purpose and a meaning to motivate him to continue to roll the stone. But by so doing this, Sisyphus was lying to himself. This ultimately leads to living a life of meaninglessness or lying to oneself about one’s ultimate purpose. Either way, these are pretty desolate choices. (I’ve skipped some logic here… for the full argument, check out the link above to the article on Sisyphus).

So… without a purpose and without a proper grounding, what motivations are there for an atheist to live a life of moral goodness? And what does goodness mean to a purposeless person? And further, if we are all individually responsible for creating our versions of reality, what’s to stop each of us from having completely different versions of good and bad? One person’s hedonism might be another person’s morally bankrupt lifestyle. Problems abound here.

Consider the “final solution” suggested by the Nazis in WWII. To an atheist, Hitler’s justification for “purifying the human race” could have been seen as noble and good. Nietzsche’s atheistic writing seems to reinforce this view as well, as does that of his contemporaries including C. Schmitt and others. My point here is to simply point out that atheism doesn’t provide any motivation for acting rightly in the world. If anything, atheism has propagated the increasingly problematic sense of pluralism and relativism which is leading to further religious, political, and social strife in the world. There are some benefits to central rules of moral authority, as long as those central rules are morally sound and humane. And, in the atheistic worldview, there is no grounding for moral goodness, nor is a central authority encouraged. In atheism and the nothingness that it purports, the individual is the only priority and everyone else is simply a means to that individual’s ends.

In this chapter, Dawkins did nothing to further the atheistic grounding for morality. It is unfortunate, as Dawkins is now over half way through the book and he has yet to mount a convincing and logically sound argument to support his cause.

To conclude, let me offer a couple of thoughts on the grounding of morality within religion. As I have argued elsewhere and will continue to argue in upcoming posts, God’s existence and his participation in our existence provides us with a concrete, absolute source of moral grounding. With God as our moral compass, we have a baseline upon which to make decisions. Jesus provides the clearest explanation of this moral imperative when he tells us to love God and to love our neighbours. His rules in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) provide an outline for Christian living which are pretty hard to screw up or to misinterpret.

You’d be right in suggesting that even Christians don’t live their lives the way that Jesus suggests. Good point. But I defer you to my last post where I talked about separating the organization from the faith. While the organization may distort the views of the faith, that doesn’t mean the faith is flawed. It simply means that those representing the faith are flawed.

Thus, if we can be grounded in an absolute sense of right and wrong, then we can live our lives with a sense of purpose and clear direction. Any other way is simply a lie or a meaningless struggle in futility.

Next up, we’ll talk about The Historical Jesus. This post should be fun. I’ll be speaking to those that have been asking, “In what ways has God connected with us?”

Categories
philosophy

Dawkins Part 3: Problems with Organized Religion

By far, I would argue that organized religion has posted the biggest problems for God. Paradoxically, the very institutions that have grown to recognize God have done the most harm. A quick look through history will highlight many problems that the Christian Church has perpetrated in the name of our Holy Father:

  • The Crusades
  • The repeated persecution of the Jews throughout history
  • The European Conquest of North America
  • The Inquisition
  • The 17th Century Wars of Religion
  • The extreme prejudice that has faced scientific advancement: Galileo’s persecution comes to mind, as do numerous other barriers to scientific inquiry during the Enlightenment
  • Silence by some in the church (many criticize the Catholic Church for not speaking out during WW II) in the face of such evils as slavery and the Nazi “final solution”
  • Several types of abuse (sexual, physical) by Catholic Priests & the subsequent cover-ups to protect the priests
  • Assassination of abortion doctors by fundamentalist Christians
  • George W Bush’s “crusade” in the war on terror

I could go on, but you get the point. And this is only some of the problems that the Christian Church has contributed. Islam introduces a whole host of additional problems, most notably questionable human rights practices like intolerant laws (Sharia Law), inequality of women and children and the quite visible violent fundamentalist actions of Muslim extremists.

For the record, I do not in any way support any of these actions in any way. In fact, I have subscribed to a Christian denomination (Mennonite) that is pacifist. Mennonites strongly identify with the peace teachings of Christ, and Mennonites hold that Jesus’ pacifist message requires that we turn the other cheek and that we avoid violence at all costs. For a more complete overview of my views on this subject, check out my four part series entitled, “What Are We Fighting For?”

So yeah… where does this leave us then? Organized religion has, and continues to, contribute to many of the problems facing the world today. And, it’s easy to argue that almost every war has been at least indirectly caused by religious belief. Does this mean we should get rid of organized religion then? Well… that would be like saying that politics has led to plenty of civil strife so we should get rid of politicians. Or use economics: economics has led to the financial persecution of some poorer countries, most notably in Africa. Does that mean we should do away with economic ideas as well? I’d argue no. Look around us. Organized religion can do a lot of good as well. Numerous religious organizations provide a great deal of good throughout the world. Organizations like Mennonite Central Committee, The Salvation Army, World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse all contribute a great deal to those in need. These and many others work toward peace and healing to people that nobody else feels the need to reach.

This isn’t to diminish the hard and effective work of the numerous secular charities that exist. My point here is to show that religious charities do contribute a great deal to helping those in need. This strongly contrasts the numerous problems that I mentioned in my opening paragraphs.

And further, the Christian Church has been, throughout most of recorded history, the main protector of much of the rich cultural heritage that we in the west have enjoyed. The artwork of Michelangelo, the writing of The Bible (arguably the greatest literary achievement ever) and the storage and preservation of almost two thousand years of history has been done by the Church. The Church financed the exploration and discovery of the New World (North America – for good and for bad). The Church supported the abolition of slavery. And the Church has stood up vigorously for human rights throughout the world.

But my point here isn’t to keep score on both sides of the organized religion debate. The pros and cons could go on and on all day. Instead, let’s talk about the “sociology” of religion.

I want to tell you about a really interesting undergrad course that I took called “Sociology of Religion.” This course highlighted numerous theories that explained where religion comes from. To Sociologists, religion is a man made apparatus used to provide mankind with a need that we cannot find elsewhere: the human need for a purpose and higher meaning. Sociologists suggest that religion is a lie that is told to placate the masses. Remember Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Marx, Weber, Freud and Feuerbach have provided some of the more famous social commentary on religion. They’re unanimous that organized religion is simply a tool used to keep the public in line and on target with the key goal of the aristocracy. We need look no further than the current US Administration to see the effectiveness of religious imagery to motivate the American public to get behind the war in Iraq. Unfortunately for Bush and his team in the White House, they could only fool the public so long. Their long abuse of power doesn’t seem to be going well anymore.

Dawkins subscribes to the same school of thought as Marx, Weber and the gang, but Dawkins pulls in some other examples to make his point. Regardless of the sources, the point is the same: that religion has no basis in reality and it is the creation of faith out of myth for the purpose of population control at the expense of reason. And, Dawkins has some buddies that like to argue this same line of thought. Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Michel Onfray are among the current crop that push the same agenda.

In response, I have three responses to the suggestion that organized religion, specifically Christianity, is a made up religion:

  1. The original Christian martyrs wouldn’t have died for the cause: – Imagine you’re part of a new group that claims that they have the ultimate truth. Would you go to the grave to defend it? Without proof, I doubt it. And, what sort of proof would you want? You’d need to be pretty convinced before you’d sacrifice yourself. Enduring stoning, being fed to the lions or worse would require the utmost conviction.These first martyrs include Peter. Remember that Peter denied Jesus three times to avoid persecution. What changed for Peter? Well… Jesus did come back to visit after he rose again. That would be pretty convincing to some.Or consider Paul. Paul could have gone on living the good life, persecuting others, including early Christian martyrs (like Stephen, as seen in Acts 7:578:3 – Paul is referred to here as Saul.) But after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul changes course, blindly following Jesus in the pursuit of the Christian Kingdom.
  2. Does a “social theory” discount the original claim? – So what if people can put together a great sounding explanation for the birth of a religious movement. Sociologists are quite adept at showing how religion works. Does that make Christianity, or the existence of God, any less real? I can explain how I get to work in social terms (groups of like-minded communities have built an infrastructure that allows for shared transportation and civil obedience) or technical jargon (my automobile runs on a combustion engine, which pushes me down the road to my destination). Do either of these explanations give the whole picture? No, they don’t.Sociology does allow us to better understand our relationships among one another. But that doesn’t necessarily discount religious communities.
  3. Should the abuses of a religious community mean that the religion itself is false? – This one’s like asking if banks should be banished because some of their employees commit fraud or other financial crimes.

So where does this leave us? Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater? I argue no. Religious belief has a legitimate place in our lives for those that wish to participate. I am conscious of the abuses made by organized religion and I am in favour of punishing those responsible for those abuses. But I don’t think that those abuses should be representative of the Church as a whole. Christianity has published its book of rules. It’s called The Bible. As Bruxy Cavey, the Teaching Pastor of the Meeting House, tells us, “What Jesus came to establish was a subversive spirituality outside the boundary markers of traditional religion, and in the process he made religion itself obsolete.”

Thus, Jesus himself tells us not to be religious, but instead to be spiritual in the way we live our lives. We should live in community with other Christians in order to live out our lives as Christians, but Jesus’ message is quite simple: he tells us to live in peace and to love God and one another. Why overcomplicate it? I don’t see the point.

So… where does this leave us? How does this apply to Dawkins? Well… Dawkins argues that religion is dangerous and should be abolished. In cases where religion becomes abusive, I’d have to agree. But that doesn’t mean removing faith. That simply means removing the organization that is misrepresenting the message. And the message that I hear loud and clear is a good one:

Matthew 22:37-39:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

Romans 12:21:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I hope that this post puts to rest a lot of the comments on organized religion. I’m with you. I agree that organized religion can be problematic. But let’s not let that prevent us from having a relationship with God.

Next up: “The objective roots of morality

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philosophy

Dawkins Part 2: The Ultimate 747 – Is that the best he’s got?

I refer to chapter 4 (“Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”) as The Ultimate Distraction. Dawkins uses the example of the Ultimate 747 as a red herring that distracts us from the argument at hand, namely, if God exists.

After setting up his straw men to “defeat” arguments in favour of God’s existence, Dawkins attempts to offer an alternate theory of how our universe works… an explanation that he claims is “God free”. This doesn’t prove anything. He offers an interesting and common sensical explanation for the origins of life. I can’t argue against it, as I wasn’t here at the beginning of time. But these scientific explanations of our origins do not disprove the existence of God. I welcome science, as it offers some tangible explanations of how God worked his magic in creating us. Instead of dividing us, I think that science and religion can co-exist. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. If anything, the two can compliment one another.

In this chapter, Dawkins begins with an argument that he hears from creationists (religious people that believe the literal 6 day creation story in the Bible) when they try to argue against evolution. The argument is in the form of an analogy that goes like this: Evolution and the “chance combinations” that make up our livable existence are too random and the probability is too low to be a viable alternative to the creation story of the Bible. Dawkins quickly dismisses this idea by saying that creationists don’t understand evolution. He explains that evolution is more than random chance. He argues that evolution is indeed intelligent in the way that enhancements are made to life forms. This doesn’t mean, to Dawkins, that an ultimate designer must be involved. Dawkins argues that evolution is self directed over time as a sort of metamorphosis based on the material needs at hand.

Dawkins further argues that this system of evolution, if it is true, would be less complex than a designer God that would have had to build this complex evolutionary system which would make God more complex (as per previous arguments that the creator must be more complex than the creation).

While Dawkins does pose a good argument, he makes a few assumptions here that don’t hold up on their own. Thus, when these assumptions fall, the rest of his house of cards falls as well. Let’s give this a closer look:

Assumptions:

  1. Evolution is factual – This is a theory, not absolute fact. This theory is quite compelling and I do like the way that it explains a lot about our existence and our development as a species. But there are still some significant factual challenges to the complete evolutionary model that remain unanswered. Archeological evidence hasn’t completely supported this model. In fact, a recent find in Kenya shows the difficulty that science has had in providing an airtight scientific case to support evolution.This doesn’t mean that I am anti-evolution. I fully support the research that scientists are doing. In fact, I hope that science is able to explain where we came from in scientific language. This stuff fascinates me. But that doesn’t in any way diminish the existence of God.Dawkins’ argument doesn’t disprove God. If anything, it equally allows or dismisses God AND evolution AND any other theory of our existence, as any theory that we want to discuss is extremely complex. This doesn’t make any one of them more or less true. Consider you or I. We’re all extremely complex individuals. Not only are we complex from a human standpoint, but our individual personalities make us that much more unique. Does the fact that we are each extremely complex mean that we do not exist? No.Yeah… I know that there’s evidence that we exist. We can see ourselves. Yes, that is true. God offers plenty of evidence for his existence as well. His creation and the way he has revealed himself throughout history provide ample proof for his existence. I will defer further discussion on this item until Day 5 when we discuss the historical Jesus.
  2. If our scientific explanation of reality is complex, then God would have to be more complex, which would negate the existence of God – This is a logically flawed argument. It isn’t valid or sound. The relative complexities of the two do not imply that God can’t exist. Does a car factory fail to exist if the car becomes overly complex? Give me a break. I expect more from a PhD. Shame on you Dawkins!
  3. “What the religious mind then fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other. They are alternatives.” – Yet another error on logic from Dawkins. As I’ve said before, these explanations do not have to be mutually exclusive. Competing claims can co-exist. We see this in politics, economics, sociology, etc. Many different disciplines offer different, competing explanations to explain things. Science isn’t even immune to this. For more on this, check out this article on scientific realism, which is just one method of discussing this in more detail.

So yeah… Dawkins certainly didn’t uncover a smoking gun in here anywhere. This is yet another lightweight chapter in the book.

Next up: “Problems with Organized Religion and Sociological Explanations for Religion

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philosophy

Dawkins Part 1: Straw Men

A straw man argument is an argument that is set up so that it can easily be defeated. This is a favoured technique of politicians. MediaMatters.org provides some excellent examples of George W. Bush’s use of straw man arguments.

Richard Dawkins provides several arguments for God’s existence, starting with some serious philosophical justifications for the existence of God. Unfortunately, Dawkins dismisses these arguments without properly addressing them, and he moves on from sophisticated arguments to some extremely weak “proofs” that have little in common with current, philosophically challenging explanations for the existence of God. So… let’s go through Dawkins arguments one by one and see what we’re left with.

Without spending too much time on the specifics (you can read the chapter for the full outline on all of the proofs mentioned here), Dawkins does begin this chapter with noble intentions (or so the reader should assume). Dawkins highlights the three main “heavyweight” arguments for the existence of God. They are:

Cosmological Argument
God is the first “uncaused cause” of everything – Just like the Genesis account of creation, God was the first cause and he created everything that came after it. Aquinas argued this.
Ontological Argument
We have an understanding of perfection that we experience in our world. God is obviously more perfect than anything that we could possibly comprehend. Since the existence of God is more perfect than God not existing, God must exist.
Teleological or Design Argument
This is the “watchmaker” example, where it is argued that a watch is extremely complex and therefore must have been built by a creator that was more complex. By comparison, the world is extremely complex and therefore the world’s creator must be more complex.

One of Dawkins many logic flaws in this section include his argument that if God is omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful), then God knowing in advance that he (or she) would intervene in the world means that God is unable to change his mind about his intervention, which suggests that God cannot be omnipotent. The logic is flawed here, as the free will argument frees God from being powerless to decide upon his course of action at the time of the event. With free will, God simply knows the free will choice he will make in the future, thus freeing God from being trapped in a pre-determined decision that God cannot change when the time comes. This same free will logic is applied to us… even if we could see into the future, this would not limit our freedom to make choices even if they were known in advance. Those choices would simply be known in advance, but they would not limit our free will choices available to us.

But back to the big three: Dawkins picks a set of arguments that are rarely quoted in modern debates. Aquinas’ argument from degree and the teleological argument are debated upon from time to time, but not with much success in philosophical circles today. As for the cosmological or “uncaused cause” arguments… well… these arguments have been expanded and are still used in modern debate. Modern arguments highlight the ability for God to exist outside of our space and time and thus are used to point to that first cause. Science refers to such an event as the Big Bang. Theists lean towards calling this an act of that uncaused cause, namely God.

It must be noted that these proofs don’t in themselves offer a slam dunk case for the existence of God. At best, they do offer the need for a first cause, but the truly philosophical argument still revolves around the nature of that first uncaused cause.

Note that most of these proofs have long since been rendered logically flawed and thus, are not worth addressing here. Dawkins offers nothing new with his arguments, nor does he do much to further his argument by picking up on these “dead examples”.

It would appear that Dawkins gives up at this point. Done with his “heavy lifting”, he goes on to set up some truly bizarre examples. I have to admit that some of these examples were new to me, as they typically would not hold up as “philosophical arguments” in the true sense of the world.

The Argument from Beauty:
This is simply another version of Aquinas’ argument from degree, which has long since expired. At best, this is a straw man argument.
The Argument from Personal Experience:
Dawkins takes the view that objective scientific proof does not exist to explain the occurrence of “miracles”. Miracles typically refer to “supernatural events” that cannot be explained in ordinary scientific language. Some argue that miracles are scientific phenomena that we simply lack the ability to properly explain. Regardless of the definition, personal experience is typically not seen as a reliable witness unless the action in question is reproducible. Dawkins takes the position that personal experience is subjective at best, and psychotic or fraudulent at worst. Regardless, I don’t feel the need to argue this one. I am fine with setting it aside as neither a proof nor a disproof in this discussion.
The Argument From Scripture:
Dawkins brings up some fair questions about the reliability of scripture. He points out some inconsistencies in the New Testament gospels (Gospels = the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke & John). While he does raise some valid points about inconsistencies from book to book, this misses the main (and consistent) message that is provided in the New Testament: Jesus is the Son of God who brings a message of peace and salvation to all of us.
By picking apart the inconsistencies between the various accounts given in the Gospels, Dawkins could be seen as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Note that these are four accounts of Jesus from four different sources. In situations like this, discrepancies are to be expected. It would make me more nervous if all four accounts were completely in sync. Think of a murder investigation: if all of the witnesses were completely in sync on every minor detail, it would make me suspicious that the witnesses had collaborated in advance. The scriptures are sufficiently clear and in sync on the message that Jesus brings to us that the relatively minor inconsistencies should not affect the overall message of the texts.
Further, Dawkins makes some critical mistakes by arguing that the official New Testament canon (the final set of books that we see as the NT) “were chosen, more or less arbitrarily”. This is incorrect. The New Testament as we see it was being circulated in its final form by around the end of the first century. This was much sooner than some of the later books that Dawkins refers to, including the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, etc. Scholarship has shown these documents to have come along much later, sometimes as much as 100 or 200 years later than the NT canon. Dawkins makes several other erroneous claims that are not consistent with modern religious study. He “guesses” at why some gospels were omitted from the final canon (I just explained above that the canon was complete long before some of these other books arrived on the scene). He also tries to compare the Gospels to the Da Vinci Code by calling them both great works of fiction. Dawkins’ “speculation” is a fatal flaw in his ability to authoritatively comment any further on the quality and content of scripture. For an academic, Dawkins is embarrassingly weak in his justifications for his claims in this regard. It would be better off if he had not commented at all in this section.
The Argument From Admired Religious Scientists:
You’ve gotta be kidding me… Dawkins suggests in this section that religious scientists are enough for some people in their belief in God. That’s all fine and good, but this in no way addressed objective proofs for the existence of God. I don’t know why he spent time on this one…

And the final two, which can be combined:

Pascal’s Wager and Bayesian Arguments
These aren’t so much proofs as they are reasons to believe in God. They’re about playing the odds, probability and hedging one’s bets. Pascal’s Wager is simply about covering your butt ni case God is real. And the Bayesian Arguments explain the odds in favour of God’s existence based on a series of subjective and poorly defined factors, none of which offer air tight arguments that do God much justice.

So that’s it… Dawkins should be issuing a refund for this chapter of the book. He offers up some age old, flawed arguments for the existence of God, combined with a few extremely weak straw man targets that he easily knocks down. And, in the rare instance where he thinks he’s on to something, he doesn’t do his homework which leaves him with a a failing grade for accuracy and authority.

Modern debate continues to circle around some of the traditional discussions I highlighted above, but it also looks at some additional ways of thinking of God. These include:

  • Faith and reason – can the two exist apart from one another?
  • Rational Theism – check out Kant’s “Religion Within The Limits of Reason Alone for an overview.
  • Evidentialist arguments – What exactly constitutes a proof one way or the other?
  • The Historical Claims of Religious Intervention
  • And many others…

Dawkins ignored these modern discussions in favour of his weak straw man choices. Dawkins offers no new thoughts here and his approach is disappointing as his attempt is akin to taking candy from a baby. It’s a weak attempt to weaken the argument for God, but without very strong ammunition. It is to his detriment as it greatly reduces the value and authority of his writing in this area.

Next up: “The Ultimate 747 – Is that the best he’s got?

Categories
philosophy

The Atheist Delusion – Why I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins in 10 parts

Richard Dawkins has put together an interesting package. His book, The God Delusion, has inspired a great deal of discussion and controversy. After reading the book, I find myself disappointed. I was expecting so much more. For such a great deal of noise, I expected some solid, faith-shattering arguments. Instead, I felt that Dawkins’ arguments were weak, lacking in solid logic and poorly assembled.

Why then am I going to spend time and effort refuting a book that I found to be so negative? Well… the popularity of the book requires some strong refutations in order to set the record straight. That’s my main purpose in posting this set of responses. Additionally, I can’t stand to see these guys (Dawkins, Sam Harris and the rest of their “crew”) thinking that they’ve got the upper hand. I have a keen interest in apologetics, so refuting this type of writing is a great passion for me. Note, apologetics doesn’t mean apologizing for my faith, but rather defending it on intellectual grounds.

Before I get started on my critique, a couple of first thoughts. There are a couple of things that Dawkins does quite badly throughout this book. They are:

  1. Lack of respect – Dawkins takes on a very confrontational tone in his writing. His arrogant and offensive tone is off-putting and it distracts from his writing. While he is entitled to his opinion, his negative attitudes towards religious belief can at times be seen as an emotional response rather than a rational one. Thus, his lack of respect towards those of alternate worldviews takes away from some of his arguments.
  2. Stereotyping – Dawkins groups all religious believers into one big pot, confusing the beliefs of many different faiths into his own, convenient negative hodge-podge. Rather than develop a clear and concise definition of his fundamentalist religious targets, he bunches all religious believers together. His glossing over of religious belief leaves the reader wondering if he has a clear understanding of the religious claims of each reader.

So without further ado, over the next few days, I’ll be tackling the following subjects, one by one:

  1. Straw Men – Dawkins weak proofs of God
  2. The Ultimate 747 – Is that the best he’s got?
  3. Problems with Organized Religion and Sociological Explanations for Religion
  4. The objective roots of morality
  5. The Historical Jesus
  6. The problem with fundamentalism
  7. The slippery slope of abortion
  8. Why not rid ourselves of religion, politics and economics all at the same time?
  9. Childhood abuse and brainwashing
  10. On Evolution and concluding thoughts

Be sure to check back daily. My goal is to post a new section each day, but this will ultimately depend on how much time I can devote to my posts each day. Please do forgive me if I can’t keep up to the daily writing requirements to get these finished on time.

Ultimately, I think the answer becomes one of cohabitation. I feel the presence of God in my life every day. And, I appreciate God’s presence, just as I appreciate the scientific progress in understanding the world that God has provided for us. I am thankful for the scientific research that allows us to lead fuller, richer lives. But I am conscious of the limitations that surround practical scientific research. While science provides us with tools for survival, science lacks the moral compass required to be wise with it. for that, I look to God.

In Him,

Todd Dow