Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Darwin and Atheism, by Richard Dawkins

 
Richard Dawkins posts a comment about an article written by Madeleine Bunting [Darwin shouldn't be hijacked by New Atheists - he is an ethical inspiration]. She repeats the rather boring complaint that the "New Atheists" are about to hijack the 2009 celebrations.

She says,
In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century. Darwin kept his pronouncements on religion to a minimum, partly out of respect for his Christian wife. Despite continuing claims that he was an atheist, most scholars acknowledge that he never went further than agnosticism.
Richard Dawkins replied ...
It is true that Darwin declined to call himself an atheist. But his motive, clearly expressed to the atheist intellectual Edward Aveling (incidentally the common-law husband of Karl Marx's daughter) was that Darwin didn't want to upset people. Atheism, in Darwin's view, was all well and good for the intelligentsia, but ordinary people were not yet "ripe" for atheism. So he called himself an agnostic, largely for diplomatic reasons..

In any case, what Darwin chose to call himself, as a pillar of his local parish in the nineteenth century, is of less interest than the cogency of the arguments themselves. Before Darwin came along, it was pretty difficult to be an atheist, at least to be an atheist free of nagging doubts. Darwin triumphantly made it EASY to be an intellectually fulfilled and satisfied atheist. That doesn't mean that understanding Darwin drives you inevitably to atheism. But it certainly constitutes a giant step in that direction.
I stand with Dawkins1 except that I would include all of the modern scientific advances as additional facts that make it easy to be an atheist and difficult to believe in supernatural beings.

Science doesn't turn you into an atheist but it sure as heck poses a severe challenge to most established religions. That's why religions fear science.


1. On the issue of superstition vs. rationality, I'm in (almost) complete agreement with Richard Dawkins and I admire him greatly for writing The God Delusion. On the issue of evolutionary theory, I'm not in complete agreement.

16 comments :

  1. Darwin triumphantly made it EASY to be an intellectually fulfilled and satisfied atheist.

    Only to the simple-minded atheist, quick to judge. Unfortunately, Dawkins is beginning to sound like one. Evolution certainly demolishes simple religious nonsense like the Garden of Eden and a young earth, and even makes things very difficult and problematic for all the worlds major religions. But ultimately, whether or not you are an atheist depends on what you think "God" or "Gods" might be, and that is a much more involved topic. Agnosticism is the easy way out.

    BTW, Wilkins might kick your ass on the Darwin-agnostic thing.

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  2. Anonymous says,

    BTW, Wilkins might kick your ass on the Darwin-agnostic thing.

    LOL.

    Thanks, I needed a good laugh.

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  3. "On the issue of evolutionary theory, I'm not in complete agreement."

    I'm sorry, what exactly could you mean about this?

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  4. "On the issue of evolutionary theory, I'm not in complete agreement."

    I'm sorry, what exactly could you mean about this?


    Dude, do you ever read this blog?

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  5. Yes, agnosticism is safe since we all really can't confirm what we could not explain thoroughly. If Darwin is an atheist, i would still respect him more than Hitler who's a Christian but the havoc he ensued upon the Jews is not an excuse for religion.

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  6. The fact that evolution reveals a designerless universe really does pose a problem for religion in general.

    However, by allowing people who adhere to a particular religion such as Christianity to engage in this generic argument diverts the focus from specific examples of intolerance and intransigence, that do not apply to spirituality of superstition per se.

    It allows for the majority of people in the US who, quite incredibly, believe in a Bronze Age sky god to drag polite agnostics such as Darwin into their camp.

    Religions usually represent a world view where the universe is smaller, newer and less complex and refuse to change their ideas to accept the discovery that the world is more wonderful than we ever imagined.

    Arguing about specifics, rather than atheism and evolution, would reveal the ironic lack of spirituality of religions such as Hinduism or the Abrahamic cluster and pass the ball into the opposing court, putting faith rather than the reason on the defensive.

    Scientists have been too shy to argue that they have created a world view which challenges superstition in terms of its spiritual wonder.

    Leaving Darwin out of this, for now, surely, the problem with the major religions is not that they are bad science, it is that they are bad art.

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  7. Relative to Ms.Darwin, it is my understanding that she was a Unitarian. Most Christian sects would not consider Unitarians to be Christians.

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  8. Most Christian sects would not consider Unitarians to be Christians.

    Interesting how each sect considers itself to be the One True Religion. many Evangelicals also do not consider Mormons and Catholics to be "true" Christians either.

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  9. But ultimately, whether or not you are an atheist depends on what you think "God" or "Gods" might be, and that is a much more involved topic.

    So theism is only justifiable if it remains possible to shift definitions when cornered? Noted.

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  10. Reginald Selkirk says,

    But ultimately, whether or not you are an atheist depends on what you think "God" or "Gods" might be, and that is a much more involved topic.

    This sort of argument is common among the "process theology" Christians. They have argued themselves into a position where they define "God" in such meaningless terms as "nature" or "a sense of contentment."

    Then they turn around and put the onus on atheists to deny these silly definitions.

    There are two things wrong with this ridiculous attempt at a rhetorical defense of theism.

    First, nobody that I've met actually practices "process theology." As soon as they get into their churches they start praying to the traditional God of the Bible, worshiping Jesus, believing in souls, and preparing for the afterlife.

    Second, the onus is on theists to describe the god they believe in and explain why it is worthy of being called a god in the first place. If their god is just the good feeling that they get from looking at beautiful scenery then what's the point of calling it a god and what's the point of adding on all the other garbage that comes with creating a religion?

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  11. If their god is just the good feeling that they get from looking at beautiful scenery then what's the point of calling it a god and what's the point of adding on all the other garbage that comes with creating a religion?

    Strawman. The potential "God" or "Gods" I was referring to has nothing to do with process theology, or the nice feeling you get when looking at waterfalls. It has to do with the unknown possibilities of reality in general. Do you, an insignificant primate on a planet who's knowledge is growing in leaps and bounds every year, claim to know everything about everything, including what may make this and other universes tick? Does a dog understand calculus? Didn't think so. Where not talking about Santa Claus or tooth fairies here, but possibilities beyond your limited imagination. Isn't Agnosticism the safer bet here? To be a true atheist, I would first have to know what all those possibilities beyond my understanding were, and then prove each one of them false.

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  12. To be a true atheist, I would first have to know what all those possibilities beyond my understanding were, and then prove each one of them false.

    Cattle effluence. You are attempting to reverse the burden of proof. To be a "true" Christian, you would also have to understand all those possibilities and prove all the non-Christian possibilities false.

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  13. Cattle effluence. You are attempting to reverse the burden of proof. To be a "true" Christian, you would also have to understand all those possibilities and prove all the non-Christian possibilities false.

    Runny porcine excrement (which is much smellier). No, to prove a positive, all you'd have to do is prove the existence of the Christian God.

    But in any case, I shouldn't have said "true" atheist or "proof". It's not about proof, but belief. It's not possible to prove the negative. Atheism is a belief system about about something called "God", but if you can't define what "God" is, it becomes an incoherent belief system. Agnosticism remains coherent - you don't know about things that you don't know, or - due to limitations of your tiny little primate brain - can't know.

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  14. Anonymous says,

    We're not talking about Santa Claus or tooth fairies here, but possibilities beyond your limited imagination. Isn't Agnosticism the safer bet here? To be a true atheist, I would first have to know what all those possibilities beyond my understanding were, and then prove each one of them false.

    I take it you're agnostic about tooth fairies and Santa Claus as well?

    You must be really exited every time you leave a tooth under a pillow thinking that maybe this time it will disappear and be replaced by money.

    And I can't begin to imagine how you must behave on Christmas eve since you don't know what's going to happen.

    What's that you say? You don't believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus? Can you prove them false?

    I am an atheist and an agnostic. I don't believe in supernatural beings but I can't ever prove their non-existence. I feel the same way about tooth fairies. I don't believe in them but I'll never be able to prove that they don't exist so I have to be agnostic about that knowlege.

    Many believers are also agnostics.

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  15. Anonymous says,

    Agnosticism remains coherent - you don't know about things that you don't know, or - due to limitations of your tiny little primate brain - can't know.

    You're missing the point. Your tiny primate brain may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that God exists or doesn't exist but you still have to make a choice and behave one way or the other.

    If you behave as though gods don't exist then you are an atheist. If you behave as though they do then you are a theist.

    Which way do you behave? Do you pray? Do you go to church? Do you think there's a life after death?

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  16. Atheism is a belief system about about something called "God", but if you can't define what "God" is, it becomes an incoherent belief system. Agnosticism remains coherent

    This quibbling about definitions is pointless. It is usually a ploy by theists/deists to try and pretend that their beliefs are just as plausible as non belief. There are however different degrees of agnosticism that functionally equate to atheism. If a belief system is internally inconsistent, it is much less likely to be true. Take the idea that god can do anything for example. This is not logically consistent as god can not logically make a square circle.

    It is not a coin toss. Somethings - such as the tooth fairy are much less likely to exists than a 1st century palestinian rabbi called Jesus. Jesus being the son of a god that can do anything is a lot less probable than jesus being a man (if he existed).

    When it comes to Deism, I thing pragmatic scepticism is the way to go - which is functionally atheistic. All it requires is some robust evidence to prove otherwise.

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