Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Richard Dawkins—polite and gracious to a fault

 
Some of you might remember Peter McKnight. He's a columnist for the Vancouver Sun (Canada) and he wrote a piece last year defending Marcu Ross and his Ph.D. degree [Peter McKnight on the Marcus Ross Issue].

My interactions with Peter McKnight have been quite enjoyable so it is with considerable satisfaction that I point you to his latest article on Richard Dawkins [How to reconcile Richard Dawkins?]. Peter puts his finger squarely on the discrepancy between what Dawkins says in public about religion and what he says in private.

I like the private Richard Dawkins when it comes to a position on religion as the root of all evil, and atheists as being free of violence.

Unlike the public Dawkins, I don't oppose superstitious beliefs because they lead to evil—I oppose them because there's no evidence that those beliefs are correct.


[Hat Tip: RichardDawkins.net]

13 comments:

  1. I just finished reading The God Delusion. I would have to agree with you Larry, and I think Dawkins could have written a better book if he had stuck to the view of a lack of belief due to lack of evidence. In the end it is a stronger premise than trying to counter every stupid argument raised by theists. It is still a worthwhile book though, I'm just saying.

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  2. It seems to me that modern publishing (papers, TV, radio, newspapers, books, blogs etc) is competing to win reader's loyalty and money. This competion has exagerated the polarization of debate, and so opinions and points of view are very black and white.

    I wonder if Richard Dawkins was advised or expected by his publisher to write a clearly polarized polemic, or if Richard wrote what he anticipated his audience would want?

    I prefer my world to be shades of grey, but I acknowledge that it needs more effort to understand.

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  3. Although I agree that TGD is a bit black and white, I still think that that kind of approach is needed to wake up all those that are being trodden on by God's Nazis.
    To be polite and tolerant toward the impolite and intolerant will only get you trampled down, because the GNs operate very much like Hitler's ones, or these days, for instance Mugabe's followers.
    They want total power, and are willing to crush anyone or anything in their way.
    The time for the meek and mild is over!

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  4. McKnight appears not to have put a lot of thought into some of his piece, though. For example, he writes

    Religion has driven otherwise good people to do many evil things. But what of atheism? Surely Stalin's purges, including his execution of orthodox priests and nuns, and Mao's attempts to eliminate Buddhism count for something, no?

    Well, yes and no. According to Dawkins, Stalin was an atheist who did evil things, but there is no direct "logical pathway" from atheism to bad deeds, as there is with religious faith. I have to say I don't entirely understand Dawkins's thinking here -- how, after all, could the executions of religious figures not follow logically from the promotion of atheism?


    McKnight is missing Dawkins' point. As far as I know, Stalin and Mao were primarily driven by power, not metaphysical beliefs. Their persecution of religious establishments was not undertaken because those establishments were specifically religious, nor because Stalin and Mao were specifically atheists, but because the religious establishments represented a rival power center. In other words, it was political persecution carried to lethal extremes, not religious/metaphysical differences, that underpinned Stalin's and Mao's behavior.

    Does anyone know of instances where atheists have committed the kinds of systematic atrocities that religionists have carried out against each other, where the atrocities were committed by the atheists specifically because they were atheists and their victims theists? I'd like to see some examples.

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  5. Dawkins was interviewed by McKnight because he he refused to be interviewed by Douglas Todd.

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  6. discoverdjoys wrote: I wonder if Richard Dawkins was advised or expected by his publisher to write a clearly polarized polemic, or if Richard wrote what he anticipated his audience would want?

    I found Dawkins' book to be quite mild, very much like he sounds in recorded interviews. IMO Dawkins and others are correct in thinking that because religion so permeates much of the culture and mass media (particularly in the USA), the mere expression of unbelief is viewed as inherently polemical and polarizing.

    Thus there is little chance that people who engage in even the most calmly rational expressions of atheism will be seen as anything other than "angry" or "hardliners" by those whose point of view is strongly influenced by the majority culture (see, e.g., Francis Collins and Matt Nisbet).

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  7. Peter McKnight's article is rather wretched in my opinion.

    McKnight misses Dawkins' point (three times!) as RBH notes, confusing general politics with the specific politic (if any, say in US) of atheism. And he concludes that promotion of atheism will logically lead to execution of religious figures instead of the religious freedom that atheists more or less unanimously support.

    McKnight also discuss the private persona of Dawkins which isn't interesting in the public perspective. There isn't going to be any reconciliation between roles in public persons, and the need would rather be to maintain separation.

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  8. I think Dawkins could have written a better book if he had stuck to the view of a lack of belief due to lack of evidence

    Um, AFAIU the rational premise of TGD was that evidence points to the most common and powerful type of deity, creators, as unlikely for natural reasons. Dawkins isn't a philosophical agnostic by any reasonable measure.

    But yes, if he could have abstained from those detailed arguments it would have been a stronger book. It seems to me he likely somewhat wanted to counter apologist whine that he doesn't discuss apologist arguments, which is both meaningless considering the rational basis of the book and the likely (and realized) lack of result.

    Perhaps Dawkins history as a former christian explains this. Now that would be a far more interesting dichotomy for McKnight to reconcile!

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  9. There are two main arguments frequently brought up against 'The God Delusion'. First, theologists complain that he hasn't taken the nuanced view of religion seriously. Despite hearing this complaint numerous times I've never once seen an example of a single one of these nuanced points that he's supposedly ignored - apparently these points are rather too ephemeral for words. The argument Dawkins uses for ignoring theology - that its all fairy tales - is actually the same reason that 'serious' theologians almost always stick to one religion and do not try to seriously discuss the theology of multiple faiths (how often have you seen a debate between a Christian theologian and a Hindu or Wiccan theologian?). The reason they don't take THESE other theologies seriously is the same reason why Dawkins doesn't take their own serious - they think they are fairy tales.
    The other problem with the arguments against religion in 'The God Delusion' - his argument that there is no inherent advantage in religion is probably in my opinion a mistake on Dawkins part. To claim its purely a by-product of consciousness that latches on to society like a parasite, ignores the very real social advantages of community association, reinforcement of group identity, rule making, charitable actions and bereavement counseling that religion provides. That's not to say the same things cannot be provided in modern settings by secular means but I think its a mistake to ignore the fact that in the past religion has been a key provider of these very real human needs.

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  10. Despite hearing this complaint numerous times I've never once seen an example of a single one of these nuanced points that he's supposedly ignored

    I've not read TGD. Does he deal with arguments like these:

    http://hisdefense.org/articles/ap001.html

    They strike me as being reasonably nuanced, irrespective of right or wrong (and I know Elliott Sober has a response in print).

    Also, I'm assuming he deals with evidence for the resurrection. However, there are also (IMO) reasonably nuanced arguments in favour, arguing from historical evidence. Again, not saying whether they are write or wrong:

    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm

    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

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  11. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDThursday, May 01, 2008 1:43:00 PM

    RE the historicity of the resurrection

    The Book of Bart

    ...
    The last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark appear to have been added to the text years later -- and these are the only verses in that book that show Christ reappearing after his death.
    ...
    "The evidence for the belief is that if you look closely at the Bible, at the resurrection, you'll find the evidence for it," he says. "For me, that was the seed of its own destruction. It wasn't there. It isn't there."

    Doubt about the events in the life of Christ are hardly new. There was never clear agreement in the most ancient texts as to the meaning of Christ's death. But for many Christians, the virgin birth, the passion of Christ, the resurrection on the third day -- these simply have to be facts, or there is no basis for the religion.

    "The fundamental truth claims of the biblical record were historical things that were believed to have happened, not 'once upon a time' in a fairy tale or somewhere outside of time and space, but at specific times and places that belonged to the total history of the human race and that could be located on a map," writes Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the field's most respected scholars. "If the history of the resurrection of Christ had not really happened, the message . . . according to the authority of the apostle Paul, had to be 'null and void.' "

    Ehrman slowly came to a horrifying realization: There was no real historical record. It was, he felt, all incense and myth, told by illiterate men and not set down in writing for decades.
    ..."

    ---

    Honi the Circle-Drawer
    "Second question: Bill believes that Jesus can historically be shown to have been involved with miracles, especially his resurrection, but also his miracles of his life, no doubt. I’d like him to discuss the evidence of other miracle workers from Jesus’ day outside the Christian tradition. Is he willing to admit on the same historical grounds that these other people also did miracles? I’m referring to the tradition of miracles done by Apollonius of Tyana, Hanina ben Dosa, Honi the Circle-Drawer, Vespasian. Is Bill willing to acknowledge that Apollonius appeared to his followers after his death or that Octavian ascended to heaven? Or he can pick any other miracle worker form the pagan tradition he chooses..."

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  12. martinc: "The other problem with the arguments against religion in 'The God Delusion' - his argument that there is no inherent advantage in religion is probably in my opinion a mistake on Dawkins part."

    --- I'm fairly sure that Dawkins actually agreed with your summary in the God Delusion, considering religion to be a 'spandrel', although not always in entirety. He quite clearly defines what he means by religion/God and does indeed go into the beneficial things that are part of religious practice but do not necessarily arise from religion itself, much as you've listed community, etc.

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  13. From the article by Douglas Todd, cited here by Bayesian Bouffant:


    Instead, he ignores the dark side of atheism and science, which have through history combined with greed and power-mongering to bring us Hitler, eugenics, Stalin, weapons of mass destruction and environmental degradation.

    Well, no wonder he didn't want to talk to Todd. Todd is coming off to us as completely ignorant in this paragraph and it is hard to take him seriously after that.

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