We interrupt our regularly scheduled Dawkins report… »« Rho, I have your answer

Report: Dawkins at UT, Part 1

Okay, I’ve had a good night’s sleep, gotten a few morning errands done, and now I’m ready to sit down and hammer out my report about yesterday. The short version: a phenomenal and surprising success. If you had told me a scant four years ago that atheism would have such a high public profile, let alone that a prominent atheist scientist wouldn’t just be a guy who wrote books only grad students bought but be traveling around the country treated like a rock star, I wouldn’t have believed you. Dawkins’ wrote in The God Delusion that his primary goal was “consciousness raising,” and in that he’s been a runaway success.

To see all the photos I took of yesterday’s events, check my Flickr set here.

I. Book People

For me the day began at his signing at Book People, which was attended by close to 200 people at my best estimate. As I mentioned in the previous post, Dawkins read the new preface to the paperback edition of TGD, followed by a friendly Q&A and a book signing.

Tangent: While at Book People I bumped into Dr. James H. Dee, a retired professor and friend of CFI, who has written a number of guest editorials espousing atheist and secularist views for the Austin-American Statesman as well as essays for Free Inquiry. Dr. Dee is brilliant and always has interesting insights into religious belief — he tells me he’s preparing a book specifically on the afterlife, which ought to be interesting — but one area where he and I (not to mention he and Dawkins) disagree is on the importance of being up to date on cutting-edge theology for those who wish to critique religion. Dr. Dee is very critical of “The Four Horsemen,” as they call themselves, because none of them have this advanced scholarly knowledge of the most abstruse theological arguments and Biblical research he believes is vital.

I think Dr. Dee has a point, but I don’t think such knowledge is as essential as he thinks. At best, it would be an interesting exercise for someone who had the free time to blow on it. Dawkins has been critiqued, quite inanely, I think, for supposedly ignoring more “advanced” views of God and debunking only the most simplistic and crude forms of Christian belief out there.

What these critics, including Dr. Dee, miss, that I tried to point out, is that the elaborately arcane and abstruse God of the theologians isn’t the God that Jack and Jill Churchgoer worship. The overwhelming majority of rank-and-file Christians are no more well versed in the most obscure Biblical scholarship or cutting edge theological legerdemain than Dawkins. To most Christians, God is a grown-up version of Santa Claus; he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness’ sake! If a lack of “sophisticated” theological expertise isn’t required for over 99.9% of the world’s Christians to feel they’re justified in believing in God, why should such knowledge be required for an atheist to declare he doesn’t believe in God? As Dawkins has said, why should you have to bone up on leprechaunology before deciding you don’t believe in leprechauns?

Dr. Dee thinks, with the increase in public awareness and acceptance of atheism in the post-God Delusion cultural climate, that atheists ought to throw the tent wider, so to speak. While guys like Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens can be, shall we say, popularizers of atheism and religious criticism, we ought to make room for those scholars who do keep up on more advanced theological thought, just to know what those arguments are and how to counter. While I still agree with Dawkins that most theology is little more than rhetorical smoke-and-mirrors, as most of it takes God’s existence as a given and goes from there as opposed to establishing God’s existence with hard evidence first, I think Dr. Dee’s got a good idea there. Maybe he can be that scholarly atheist writer, to produce the books that have the academic rigor critics of Dawkins think he lacks.

I know I’m running on about this conversation, but it was really interesting and, I think, relevant. One valid criticism Dr. Dee had of Dawkins, I think, is that when he interviewed Christian leaders like the disgraced Ted Haggard for his documentary The Root of All Evil? (a title chosen by the producers that Dawkins doesn’t like), he made the mistake of asking these guys questions pertaining to science. Dr. Dee thinks that if Dawkins were more versed in Biblical scholarship, to the extent of being able to read the earliest available versions of scriptures in their original languages (something Dr. Dee can do), then Dawkins could have called out these prominent Christians on the extent to which they were not only ignorant of things like science, but their own beliefs as well! It’s a compelling thought, I must admit.

II. The Lecture

I was advised to turn up on campus no later than 5:30, but traffic held me back until about 6:15. I was gobsmacked by the line. I knew it would be big, but damn!

If you know the UT campus, the following will have meaning for you. (If you don’t, just visualize a big-ass line of people.) The line wrapped itself around Hogg Auditorium, then flowed out and around the adjacent Undergraduate Library (UGL), spilled out onto the South Mall, and finally doubled back on itself, coming up alongside UGL once more. I’ve never seen anything like that on campus. I eventually found Matt D., got my reserve ticket, and ended up helping him and some of the Atheist Longhorns guys wrangle the line a little bit.

I must confess that I was a little disappointed that there weren’t any of the campus Christian groups putting in a visible appearance, clustering around Hogg handing out tracts and the like. Someone told me that a lot of them actually were there, but to attend the talk. To whatever degree there were Christian organizations and their members there, I wouldn’t know. If they came, they came to listen, not protest. That’s cool. (By contrast, when Dan Barker came to UT — to a much smaller reception, obviously — not long ago, Christian students turned up in force and bombarded him with as many challenging questions as they could think of.)

Once everyone finally filed in — with hundreds having to be turned away — Dawkins was introduced by one Dr. Buss (I think that was his name — I suck remembering names) to thunderous applause. But as there was some problem getting the Powerpoint projector to work properly, Dawkins actually began an impromptu Q&A to fill time while his assistants scrambled with cables behind the scenes. I liked the way that turned out, because it gave the whole lecture a more accessible feel. By interacting with the audience first, he established rapport with them right away, and never came across as the ivory-tower professor lecturing to the masses, as it were. (Maybe Dawkins is really only good at being “personable” before a large audience, but if it’s what works for him, fine.)

As expected, the lecture was a recap of most of the main points of TGD, primarily those parts of the book dealing with the harmful effects religion has on culture as a whole. But I was grateful the talk wasn’t just one big reading. Dawkins has truncated his book and created a real presentation out of it, accompanied by a slideshow both informative and humorous, and quite often sobering as well.

Just to touch on a couple of bits that stood out for me: One of the book’s efforts at consciousness raising is to question the privileged position religion has always held in culture. It’s been considered something that is above criticism. To express doubt about a person’s belief in this or that imaginary sky fairy is to be uncouth and ill-mannered in the extreme. You can tell a person their favorite band suck
s, and that their politics are full of shit, and even — in desperate situations — that their spouse is a gold-digging bitch or drunk abusive shitheel and they’d be better off alone. But don’t touch their religion! Why should this be? Why should religion deserve this privileged status among all of humanity’s ideas, especially as its ideas are usually the ones least supportable by rational argument and evidence?

If there’s one part in all of TGD that makes the steam erupt from Christians’ ears, it’s what Dawkins has to say about the religious indoctrination of children. The brutal fact is that the man is on point. Isn’t it interesting that most people almost always fall into the religion of their parents? And why should this be? Childhood indoctrination, pure and simple. But is this right? How can it be, any more than it could be right to indoctrinate a child too young to understand what they’re being taught into one or another political ideology?

And yet you’ll never see a Christian’s face turn redder than when Dawkins points out that’s there’s no such thing as a Christian child or a Muslim child, that all you can really say is that this is a child of Christian or Muslim (or whatever religion) parents. Dawkins presented a slide of three children taking part in a nativity play, that he clipped from some British newspaper. The children — each only 4 years old — are identified as Christian, Jewish and Muslim, and the original article, we were told, went on gushingly about how lovely it was that these little 4-year-olds from different faiths could come together in the same nativity play. Obviously it never occurred to the reporter to think that maybe those children weren’t aware — being 4 years old — that the fact they were from “different faiths” meant there was a presupposition they should reflexively hate each other. Or that what their “faiths” were even all about. After all, they’re 4 years old. Dawkins’ next slide showed the same caption, but he had replaced the names of the faiths with those of different political parties. Now the absurdity of the whole thing was clear as day.

If you wouldn’t identify a 4-year-old child as a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Socialist, or a Marxist, or an Objectivist, or a Libertarian, or even an atheist or agnostic, then how can it possibly make sense to identify them as Christian or Jewish or Muslim? How can a 4-year-old be expected to comprehend religion when they’re too young to comprehend politics or philosophy? You can’t. A 4-year-old is no more capable of being a “Christian child” than it is of being an “Objectivist child.” And here’s the part that makes Christians’ heads completely explode: to impose a belief on a child too young to understand that belief, Dawkins opines, is tantamount to child abuse.

That’s pretty heavy. But in principle, I agree. Now naturally, when people hear the word “abuse” in the first place, their immediate association is with physical abuse. And so you hear Christians time and again wail that Dawkins is comparing them to child beaters for taking their precious widdle babies to Sunday School. This is emphatically not what Dawkins means. He simply means that — intellectually, developmentally, psychologically — it is abusive to impose ideas and beliefs upon the mind of a person incapable of understanding what it is they are being told they must believe. A 4-year-old is not intellectually equipped to evaluate ideas critically, is not emotionally capable of standing up to parental authority, and not mature enough to make its own decisions. Given this fact, while parental guidance is necessary for the child in most things (basic care, really), when it comes to beliefs, imposing a religion upon them is as wrong as imposing a political ideology.

But is the use of the word “abuse” here too strong? I’ll grant, having been raised by Christian parents, that in most cases it may be, and that Dawkins’ use of the term may be overreaching. I think most parents just raise their children into their own religion because their religion is so woven into the very fabric of their lives it just doesn’t occur to them they shouldn’t. So in most cases, where I might differ from Dawkins is in preferring the word “negligence” to “abuse.” A parent who simply imposes their religion upon their very young children, but isn’t motivated by any sort of malice and are simply doing what they’re doing because they haven’t stopped to wonder even if it’s a thing they ought to be doing, is at most guilty of negligence. They may not be abusing their child by not letting them come to whatever religion they might choose (including, perhaps, none) in their own time. But they are being unfair to the child by forcing that decision on them when they’re too young to understand. Remember, I said in most cases.

In some cases, though, there is no denying that religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.

Behold.

This photo shows Catholic children — ahem, children of Catholic parents — being escorted to school in Belfast by police, in order to protect them from being attacked by Protestants.

And yes, Dawkins is dead on when he says it’s also child abuse to scare the shit out of a kid and tell them they’ll burn forever in hell if they don’t love Jesus, too.

Frank Zappa, when he was alive, actually espoused a view similar to Dawkins vis-a-vis kids and religion. I remember a few years before he died, Zappa was interviewed on either The Today Show or Good Morning America, and the subject got around to his family; the Zappa family was always a very closely-knit unit. Zappa, warning the interviewer that she wasn’t going to like what he was about to say, gave his formula for raising perfect children: “Keep them away from religion…Choosing a religion is a very important decision, and a child should not have that decision forced on them when they haven’t got enough data to make their own choice.”

Personally I can’t see what it is that people find so appalling and horrible about this idea. It’s simply one that supports freedom of conscience, even for our society’s youngest members, and Dawkins just has the guts to criticize those parents who don’t allow their own children to develop their own freedom of conscience where religious belief is concerned.

But that ties back into his point about the privileged position religion holds in our culture, as this subject that is granted immunity from criticism. Most parents would probably object to the notion of indoctrinating children in some radical political fringe. But tell them they shouldn’t shove Jesus down their kids’ throats either, and suddenly you’re the asshole.

End of Part 1. This is taking longer than I thought, in and among all the other things I have to do today. But you know me: thorough. Or is that “long-winded”? Anyway, I’ll wrap up my report of the talk either late tonight or early in the morning. Go ahead and start commenting and Digging if you like.

Comments

  1. says

    I have no doubt Dr. Dee is a brilliant man and we’re lucky to have someone like him arguing our case but he still loses a lot of points with me for having that annoying position. =PI think it’s rather unreasonable to demand that every atheist read half of a library’s theology section before we even dare to withold belief in the Big Abrahamic Papa Bear. All of that for what? so I can be qualified enough to engage in that ignominious, convoluted exercise in navel-gazing called theology with some pedantic old scholar?. As you pointed out, why is that not required of the “Jayzus is Lawd” crowd?. I’m about to finish high school and I hope I can get into med school by the end of the year or beginning of the next. I’m told, and I think it’s common knowledge, that med students practically have no life due to the insane amount of work you have to do. Does that mean I also need to get a Ph.D in theology on the side, lest I be branded a puny atheist?. Because personally, I don’t have the slightest interest in sitting around all day positing how many feathers would you need to pluck from a seraph’s wing to stuff a pillow and would it be fluffier than one using cherubim feathers?. Should I use the rare free weekend I get to work on my Master’s in European Folklore?. Because how else can I say I don’t believe in faeries, elves, the Banshee, etc. right?. Wait… what about the Norse gods and the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Babylonian… damn it, I guess there’s not gonna be time for me to have a double specialty. Screw it, I should just go back to being Catholic, it’ll take too much of my time to be a “proper” atheist.I dunno, maybe I’m overreacting but these things get to me. Chalk it up to youthful irascibility, I guess. Perhaps I’m still too immature and stubborn, which makes me unwilling to compromise even a little, or on the other hand, it could just be my volatile Mexican temper. =D I know I didn’t bring anything new to the table, I just felt like venting. It’s surprising how much satisfaction can be extracted from a good session of señf-righteously-angry key tapping. Besides, for me, it’s like debate workout. I hope Prof. Dawkins’ reaction didn’t put you off too much, Mr. Wagner, I doubt any of us would act any different if hundreds of people wanted a piece of us. As charming as he seems on TV, by now, I actually would even expect him to be like that if I had the chance to meet him. I’ve been kinda mentally preparing for it. That way, if it ever happened, I would not end up feeling all rejected, like the kid who catches a mall Santa on his cigarrette break. ^_^ Any way, I’m glad you guys enjoyed the lecture, but don’t rub it in too much, all right? =)

  2. Martin says

    Well, I’m worried now I might have given the wrong impression about my conversation with James. It wasn’t that he was saying we all needed to be theology experts to be atheists at all, only that he thought it behooved atheists who think they might want to go on to write books and become public figures (like “the Four Horseman”) to be better versed in that kind of knowledge than they are. My disagreement was that I think one can write books critiquing religion for a mass audience (like TGD) quite validly, regardless of how knowledgeable of cutting-edge Bible scholarship you may or may not be — simply because the overwhelming majority of Christians don’t know that much about their own religion either.

  3. says

    Nice pictures (and write-ups), Martin. Yes, that was Dr. David Buss doing the introduction. I wrote up a little about my impressions on my blog — including “he wrote on my notebook paper!!!!”Rock star, indeed.dnfexiu(word verification always interests me for some weird reason.)

  4. says

    Mr. Wagner: Don’t worry, you didn’t misrepresent his position at all. I understood his point. I was just using my post to lash out a little at my da… um, at people who think my atheism is not valid if I don’t have a theology degree(“aww, ain’t that cute? he thinks he knows more than people who’ve studied the Bible all their life”).I still think he’s wrong, though. Let’s say any of the “New Atheists” took the challenge and spent the next few years studying theology. What good is that going do?. Even if they became biblical scholars, would any of their books’ arguments lose or gain anything?, other than maybe stumping a bunch of condescending pseudophilosophy-obssesed old coots like the Archbishop of Canterbury.Theology, in my little ol’ opinion, has nothing to offer. The reasons for being an atheist are there, biblical scholarship or not. I don’t think Dr. Dawkins indulging those insufferable, patronising, geriatric patriarchs(yay, strings of adjectives are fun =P) he kindly calls “sophisticated theologians”, in debating in their arcane terms is useful in any way.Anyone who tries to convince me that he’s proven the existence of a magical being before we even begin doesn’t deserve to have his name even mentioned next to the words “intellectual” or “sophisticated”. “Right… uh-huh, he’s the ultimate perfection so he’s gotta exist or else he wouldn’t be perfect, sure”. They can call it “ontological argument” or whatever, I call it “obnoxious rethorical prestidigitation”(which I realise is kind of obnoxious to name it that in the first place :P the irony is not lost on me).Jesus kiddie-rapin’ Christ, some people just love watching themselves type, don’t they?. Not to worry, though, I rarely post, this isn’t going to be a frequent thing. Before I go, a couple of things: one, the possibility of me having grossly oversimplified the ontological argument is something of which I’m quite aware. Feel free to tell me I don’t quite get it and that it’s not that straightforward. =D In my defense, merely knowing how to spell it puts me ahead of my age group, I think. And B), I read that you and Ms. Harris have never met and all I have to say is… huh? never? how is that possible, I thought you were all part of the same community, what with both being members of the ACA and alternate co-hosts of the AE and stuff. Just curious. ^_^Saludos desde México – Juan José

  5. Martin says

    I read that you and Ms. Harris have never met and all I have to say is… huh? never? how is that possible…Yeah, it’s weird. Two ships in the night and all that.

  6. says

    I think the fact that you guys are debating whether atheists should study theology reveals how little you know of theology, and the academy in general. I don’t think it would be useful at all for an atheist to study theology. That’s a total waste of time for an atheist. What you guys should be interested in is philosophy (of religion): arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, “Reformed” epistemology, dualism in phil mind, etc.I don’t think Dawkins’ ignorance of theology is embarrassing for him, it’s his ignorance of philosophy that’s the real intellectual crime. And that’s why a devastating critique of Dawkins by Alvin Plantinga can go totally unanswered not only by Dawkins himself, but by his fanboys as well.And to Adrael: congratulations on knowing how to spell “ontological”, but yes your statement of it needs some work.

  7. says

    Would it be a good and commendable thing for me to collate a view of evolutionary theory based on what non-scientists told me? I could ask 100 people, maybe 40 with a college degree and 60 without, and then write a book that demolishes the inconsistencies in what they said. Heck, it might even sell. Would you then be impressed with it? Would you say it was worth its time? Can you see the analogy to TGD?Peace,Rhology

  8. says

    I believe it would all depend on what aspect of religion you are criticizing. If you are doing a book for a mass audience like The God Delusion, one need not get bogged down heavily in theological arguments that go back many centuries. However, if you are going to write a book that makes a point by point critique of the Bible and the claims of Christianity, then I think it would behoove such a writer to immerse him or her self in Christian theology.From my own personal experience, and from what I have read on other atheist blogs, people who go from religious faith to atheism don’t make snap judgments to deconvert. Rather it can be a long, deliberative process. For someone who is wavering in their faith, The God Delusion is more like a starting point on the path to exploring the possibility of atheism.

  9. says

    If you are doing a book for a mass audience like The God Delusion, one need not get bogged down heavily in theological arguments that go back many centuries.You mean, one need not deal with the better arguments from Christianity. Might as well take the weak arguments, the ones espoused half-heartedly by those who don’t study the issues and are inexperienced in handling such objections, and shoot at *them*. That is weak. You’re admitting what one reviewer of TGD said: In reviewing his book, we might begin at the end rather than the other way round. For his bibliography is revealing it what it includes or omits.Nothing by Plantinga or Moreland, Gary Habermas or William Lane Craig. Nothing by Dembski or Denton. Bas Van Fraassen or Stephen Barr.And I’m only mentioning some of the more famous names.Nothing by Rupert Sheldrake. Nothing by David Stove.There’s also a total whiteout where moderate to conservative Biblical scholarship is concerned.This does to a point of tension in his attitude towards Christianity. He regards Christianity as a spent intellectual force, but a potent political force.It’s not, I think, that he’s chosen to blacklist conservative Christian opinion. Rather, he’s made up his mind that they have nothing worthwhile to say.Of course, this is circular. He doesn’t know enough to care, and he doesn’t care enough to know.As a result, much of his attack on the Christian faith never begins to engage the opposing side of the argument.But even more striking is whom he chooses to include. It’s rather arresting to see the extent of his reliance on lightweight popularizers like Douglas Adams, Dan Barker, Samuel Harris, Michael Shermer, John Spong, Julia Sweeney, G. A. Wells, and A. N. Wilson.Not only has Dawkins become nothing more than a soapbox popularizer, but he is increasingly in the intellectual debt of other soapbox popularizers.And it’s not just in the bibliography. These people figure in the body of the text. They supply a fair amount of argumentation.(Sweeney is in the body of the text rather than the bibliography.)It’s another sign of his intellectual decline that an Oxford don with a doctorate from the same august institution is reduced to quoting so many flakes and dilettantes to help him make his case.Once could understand an Adams, Harris, or Shermer quoting Dawkins to lend intellectual prestige to their cause, but when Dawkins must turn to them to help him fill out the argument, what has he come to?Peace,Rhology

  10. says

    “You mean, one need not deal with the better arguments from Christianity. “Like what??Here’s the thing that you seem to miss, and something that Dr. Dee’s position misses:The scholarly theologians don’t represent the beliefs or understanding of people in the pews – AND – their arguments are no better.Yes, I’ve studied Plantinga’s modal-logic version of the ontological argument and I’d like to congratulate him on his ability to obscure the flaws in Anselm’s version by rendering it in such a way that only the extremely erudite can even decipher it. The flaws are still there.Yes, I’ve read various definitions and explanations of the god concept from learned theologians – what most of them tend to do (as is most recently evident from the newest Templeton prize winner) is redefine god in such a way that it is beyond investigation. I read an article today claiming that the Templeton Prize winning priest rejects “intelligent design”. It’s not true. He rejects the ID movement…he still believes that a creator god is responsible, he just believes that this intelligent designer is the creative force underlying (equating to) random mutation and natural selection.I’m unimpressed by the professional theologians efforts at obfuscation. They’re not offering any insight on the issue, they’re redefining it so as to be untestable. They’re using bigger words and analyzing things on a decidedly deeper level than Pascal’s wager, but they still offer nothing in the way of evidence or reasoned argument to substantiate their claims.Dawkins (and the others mentioned) address real beliefs, held by real people. They address the real claims and supporting arguments. They address the classic arguments for the existence of gods as well as the new spins on them.You’re implying that no atheist is seriously addressing the “real” deal and your statement implies that somewhere out there is a brilliant, deep argument from a theologian which has gone unanswered from the brazen skeptics.So, what is it?Give me your BEST argument for the existence of God (or any other supernatural claim). I’m willing to bet that it’s been covered by one, if not all of the ‘four horsemen’ – but if it hasn’t, I’ll happily do my best to address it.

  11. says

    As for why Dawkins was not bombarded with questions from Christians, it was because the vast majority of the reserved seating in the main floor was acquired by campus atheist groups. Christians were in the balcony, and the microphones were located only in the reserved seating area. adrael — Serious theological study ought to be required of Christians, and is one reason the tiny atheist minority in this country has an easy time provoking Christians into making such fools of themselves.

  12. says

    Matt D,That’s funny stuff – you claim the pros just obfuscate, and then you talk about Pascal’s Wager and the ontological argument. I don’t know of anyone (though my scope is limited) who thinks those are any good.Try the transcendental argument. Got a blog? Take it apart for me on there. I’m also fairly fond of the cosmological argument and the argument from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Those are all fun, and I think I’ve stated them in order of preference. Happy Pascha to all. Christ is the victor over death. The time of mercy is now; He won’t always be so patient and merciful. Peace,Rhology

  13. says

    “Happy Pascha to all. Christ is the victor over death. The time of mercy is now; He won’t always be so patient and merciful.”Why do fundies always feel compelled to qualify what is meant to be a discussion about philosophy and science with a threat of eternal damnation? But actually, I encourage you to do that. It makes you look silly in front of us, and it’ll make you look silly in front of Christians who are (to their credit) having second thoughts about their faith. Of course, that’s inconceivable to you, because you mistake these threats for actual arguments. Your blindness carries the seeds of your own negation. “Would it be a good and commendable thing for me to collate a view of evolutionary theory based on what non-scientists told me?”You make it sound as though you don’t do that. You do.

  14. says

    “That’s funny stuff – you claim the pros just obfuscate, and then you talk about Pascal’s Wager and the ontological argument. I don’t know of anyone (though my scope is limited) who thinks those are any good.”You’re joking, right? Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t ring a bell? He got up in a debate with Dennett and used Pascal’s Wager as one of his arguments.

  15. says

    Gasp! I look… silly to you?!?!? I’m beyond crushed.I don’t recall referring to that as an argument. I think any honest reader can see that.And D’Souza has a good heart, but as far as being effective as an apologist for God’s existence, he’s not that great. But of course I said “I don’t know of anyone who…” so you’re right that I do know of him and he uses it. Oh well.Peace,Rhology

  16. says

    “Gasp! I look… silly to you?!?!? I’m beyond crushed.”Good, just keep doing it. It’s that sort of pig-headed stupidity that’s going to serve us.

  17. says

    Why do fundy atheists always feel compelled to qualify what is meant to be a good faith warning about their eternal state with a mocking tone of eternal stubbornness? But actually, I encourage you to do that. It makes you look silly in front of us, and it’ll make you look silly in front of atheists and agnostics who are (to their credit) having second thoughts about their faith. Of course, that’s inconceivable to you, because you mistake these nuh-uhs for actual arguments. Your blindness carries the seeds of your own negation.

  18. says

    Why do fundy atheists always feel compelled to qualify what is meant to be a good faith warning about their eternal state with a mocking tone of eternal stubbornness?Because we know it has no basis in reality, that’s why. Thank you for your concern though.

  19. says

    “Why do fundy atheists always feel compelled to qualify what is meant to be a good faith warning about their eternal state with a mocking tone of eternal stubbornness? But actually, I encourage you to do that. It makes you look silly in front of us, and it’ll make you look silly in front of atheists and agnostics who are (to their credit) having second thoughts about their faith. Of course, that’s inconceivable to you, because you mistake these nuh-uhs for actual arguments. Your blindness carries the seeds of your own negation.”Wow, clever.

  20. says

    So, that video represents what you think is the best argument for the existence of god? Ok, I’ll dig into it.Yes, I have a blog (or at least one I can use)…this one. I also run a wiki that deals in counter-apologetics:www.ironchariots.orgThe Transcendental argument isn’t covered there, so I’ll work up a response to the video you linked and post it here (with Martin’s permission).The cosmological argument is addressed there (though it’s missing one of the primary objections – that an infinite regress is not necessarily a problem). The argument from resurrection requires that someone actually demonstrate that the resurrection occurred and the evolutionary argument against naturalism is one I may address after the Transcendental response.However, a quick response to that one: Plantinga’s basic argument is that philosophical naturalism and evolution are unlikely (probabilistically unable) to produce a reliable mind. While there are a number of possible objections, the simple one is this – our minds aren’t reliable, they’re reliable *enough*.His definition of reliable is such that the great bulk of the mind’s deliverances are true. That simply isn’t the case. Memory is faulty and prone to manipulation, we continually err in our decision-making processes, etc. The ‘reliability’ is perhaps better viewed as the ability of the mind to identify and correct for a nearly constant stream of identified errors.I’m curious about where he would draw the line on reliability and it’s purported incongruity with naturalism and evolution. Would an ape’s mind qualify? What about a fish or a bug? Does he think this only applies to humans or does every living mind, no matter how ill-formed, demonstrate a reliability that supports his hypothesis?There’s more, but it’ll have to wait. I’ve got a full weekend, so I’m not sure how quickly I’ll get to the transcendental argument, but I’ll get there.

  21. says

    matt d:just fyi. you said:>>Plantinga’s basic argument is that philosophical naturalism and evolution are unlikely (probabilistically unable) to produce a reliable mind.>>That’s certainly not a statement of the argument. If anything, that’s a (sub-)conclusion. Arguments =/= conclusions.And that’s not even an accurate statement of the (sub-)conclusion. The (sub-)conclusion is that the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable (on the hypothesis of naturalism&evolution) is low or inscrutable.If you can’t see the difference between that boldfaced conclusion and the conclusion you attribute to Plantinga, you should really reread the article slowly.The actual main conclusion of the argument is that the conjunction of naturalism&evolution is self-defeating, since those views entail that we have a defeater for any deliverance of our cognitive faculties.You also say:>>His definition of reliable is such that the great bulk of the mind’s deliverances are true.>>No, that’s not his definition of reliable. Here it is (roughly): A cognitive faculty C is reliable iff for any deliverance D of C, D has a greater than 50% objective probability of being true.So you can see how your first response isn’t going to cut it:>>While there are a number of possible objections, the simple one is this – our minds aren’t reliable, they’re reliable *enough*.>>If our cognitive faculties aren’t reliable in the sense of “reliable” I just gave, then they’re not reliable enough. If they’re not reliable in the sense I just gave, then we have a defeater for any of their deliverances. I think it would be best if you tried to actually restate Plantinga’s argument so that it is valid and as plausible as you can make it, and then attack the truth of a premise or the validity of an inference. That’s generally the best way to go about philosophical discourse.

  22. says

    This is pretty much what I think whenever I read about this Plantinga bullshit.Plantinga’s argument is just that: an argument. You can’t talk your way reliably to truths about the natural world, but Plantinga sure thinks he can. He’s got nothing to back it up. His argument is practically a spiritual cousin of solipsism, an idea taken seriously only by angry 15-year-old boys and freshman phil majors. He can say nothing about science without actually doing science.Moreover, even if Plantinga’s argument is correct, it follows that we have no way of knowing if it is correct. Our brains could have evolved a least-best mechanism for recognizing logical structure and rational constructs because it was all that was necessary for survival. We could be completely mistaken in the way we go about formulating arguments and proofs, and thus we can’t even know if Plantinga’s argument is correct under Plantinga’s own argument.Of course, it there follows that we can’t know if my criticism is even correct, or my criticism of my criticism, and so on. It devolves into complete absurdity.”But Plantinga’s argument is a major blow to science and naturalism because it strikes deeply at their epistemological base!”Don’t make me laugh. Does nobody else recognize this as the lame straight-to-DVD sequel of Descartes’ ultraskepticism argument for the existence of God? This time they couldn’t get the big-name star “The Evil Demon” to play the part of constant deceiver, so they shoehorned evolution and naturalism into the role instead. We even come to the same conclusion: “Therefore, God.” Big surprise! Truly, there is nothing new under the sun, and Plantinga’s little philosophical hornswaggle is no different.All his argument does is attempt to undermine any actual search for real facts about the natural world in an attempt to bolster up his search for God. It obscures any real quest for knowledge, it does it badly, and it does it to no real, useful purpose.”But Plantinga has a Ph.D in philosophy and you don’t! He possesses a respected chair at a major university!”Fuck Plantinga and the chair he rode in on.

  23. says

    Akusai,You said:>>Plantinga’s argument is just that: an argument.>>Yes, it is. So the best way to criticize it is to (1) state it as charitably as possible, and (2) show which premise or premises are false, or which inference is invalid.As far as I can tell, you’ve done neither. You also said:>>You can’t talk your way reliably to truths about the natural world, but Plantinga sure thinks he can.>>What? Why can’t I “talk my way reliably to truths about the natural world”? What does that even mean?>>His argument is practically a spiritual cousin of solipsism>>No it isn’t. I see no relevant relationship at all. Please explain what you mean.>>He can say nothing about science without actually doing science.>>Why not? Did you just say something about science? (I take it you didn’t just do any science.) If so, your claim is self-defeating.>>Moreover, even if Plantinga’s argument is correct, it follows that we have no way of knowing if it is correct.>>No, it doesn’t follow at all. I think you’ve misunderstood the conclusion. It is conditional. IF naturalism and evolution are true, then the probability that our cognitive faculties are unreliable is low or inscrutable. IF. IF. IF.So it doesn’t follow at all that, if this conclusion is true, we’d never be able to know it. What follows is that if naturalism and evolution are true, then we have a defeater for any belief delivered by our cognitive faculties. That includes belief in naturalism and evolution. So belief in naturalism and evolution is self-defeating.>>Our brains could have evolved a least-best mechanism for recognizing logical structure and rational constructs because it was all that was necessary for survival.>>This just makes me think you haven’t read the article at all.>>We could be completely mistaken in the way we go about formulating arguments and proofs, and thus we can’t even know if Plantinga’s argument is correct under Plantinga’s own argument.>>Again, you’ve misunderstood the conditional conclusion.>>Does nobody else recognize this as the lame straight-to-DVD sequel of Descartes’ ultraskepticism argument for the existence of God?>>No, it’s not the same at all. Nice try though.You’re right that they are both skeptical arguments, but the similarity ends there.>>We even come to the same conclusion: “Therefore, God.” Big surprise!>>Again, you’ve misunderstood the conclusion of Plantinga’s argument. The conclusion is NOT that God exists. I think you should reread the article. >>All his argument does is attempt to undermine any actual search for real facts about the natural world in an attempt to bolster up his search for God.>>What are you talking about? Plantinga is all for searching for real facts about the natural world. He’s only argued that naturalism and evolution together, that conjunction, is self-defeating. That doesn’t mean science is impossible!By way of reply, I think it would be best for you to actually state Plantinga’s argument (not just his conclusion), and tell me where it goes wrong. Which premise or premises are false? Or which inference is invalid?That would be much more constructive.

  24. says

    I wrote:”Plantinga’s basic argument is that philosophical naturalism and evolution are unlikely (probabilistically unable) to produce a reliable mind.”Tomas, despite your correction, I hold that this is a basic summary of the argument. It isn’t a formal statement of it – you’re correct. But, when summarizing an argument, you focus on the conclusion and include the premises and I’ve done that. Your own version, identified as a sub-conclusion does precisely the same thing.”The (sub-)conclusion is that the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable (on the hypothesis of naturalism&evolution) is low or inscrutable.If you can’t see the difference between that boldfaced conclusion and the conclusion you attribute to Plantinga, you should really reread the article slowly.”Maybe you could explain the difference…to me (but do it in e-mail, I’m done digging through threads for comments). They both say the same thing in two different ways – the probability of a reliable mind being the product of naturalism & evolution is unlikely.”The actual main conclusion of the argument is that the conjunction of naturalism&evolution is self-defeating, since those views entail that we have a defeater for any deliverance of our cognitive faculties.”Understood…and I’ll address that if I ever get around to a more involved response to his argument. That was in no way the focus of this response.Isn’t it fair to say that I reject the sub-conclusion without addressing the conclusion? After all, isn’t his conclusion dependent upon it?”You also say:>>His definition of reliable is such that the great bulk of the mind’s deliverances are true.>>No, that’s not his definition of reliable. Here it is (roughly): A cognitive faculty C is reliable iff for any deliverance D of C, D has a greater than 50% objective probability of being true.”Ok…so remove the word “great”.”So you can see how your first response isn’t going to cut it:>>While there are a number of possible objections, the simple one is this – our minds aren’t reliable, they’re reliable *enough*.>>If our cognitive faculties aren’t reliable in the sense of “reliable” I just gave, then they’re not reliable enough.”Bzzzt. The point is that I’m not willing to accept his definition of what qualifies as reliable. I’m rejecting a premise. Yes, it’s informal, but I really didn’t think it’d be this confusing.”I think it would be best if you tried to actually restate Plantinga’s argument so that it is valid and as plausible as you can make it, and then attack the truth of a premise or the validity of an inference. That’s generally the best way to go about philosophical discourse.”Gee, thanks for the education. When it’s time for me to actually come up with a formal response to this, that point will actually be relevant.However, since you seem SO well versed and such a fan – you construct the argument (preferably as a syllogism) and that will ensure that my response is much more to your liking.What part of “quick response” was confusing?sans_deity@yahoo.com

  25. says

    Tomas:I do think you’re bolstering Plantinga’s argument to be far more complicated than it really is. I’m not as unfamiliar with it as you seem to think just because I rather vehemently believe it to be useless nonsense.I will be charitable, though, and admit that my point may have been lost in snark. It is also possible that you intentionally misconstrued it because you seem to believe that anyone who doesn’t mentally fellate philosophy in general and Plantinga in specific somehow just “doesn’t get it.” Whether or not that is true, I will attempt to spell out my point more clearly.Mostly what I was getting at (albeit somewhat unclearly) is that neither I nor any evolutionist I have ever met, seen, heard of, or read accepts (tentatively) evolution as fact because some philosopher made a compelling argument. We accept it as fact because there are mountains of evidence from multiple lines of scientific inquiry.Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anybody (though it’s probably more likely people like this exist) who rejects claims of gods and of a supernature and accepts metaphysical naturalism as the most likely scenario because some philosopher made a compelling argument. Rather, I (and pretty much everyone I’ve ever met) accept it (tentatively, again, as with any conclusion) based on the complete lack of evidence for gods or a supernature.Frankly, philosophical argument doesn’t really even enter into it. Thus I don’t feel the need to make a formal rebuttal based on your standards for philosophical discourse and reject a premise or premises because I reject the entire method as being anything but rhetorical and didactic. This is what I meant when I said one cannot talk one’s way to truth about the natural world. One needs evidence, not just a convincing syllogism.Planinga may be able to convince people (or fail to) that his argument is true, that if evolution and naturalism are true, then we have no real basis to accept evolution and naturalism as true (and you’re saying this isn’t at all incoherent?), but until he can step out into some higher level of awareness and come back with some evidence that we are really a bunch of idiots who don’t actually know anything at all about the world due to a quirk of evolution, he won’t ever be able to actually demonstrate the truth of his claim. Until he can leave Plato’s cave and bring back fire to the cave-dwellers, so to speak, all he’s doing is printing words on paper.Or he could just do what he does and claim that neither is true and, because of your favorite little conditional (IF IF IF!), use his argument as a tool to demonize evolution (and don’t pretend that he doesn’t) and naturalism in favor of his particular choice of supernaturalism, assuming always, of course, that our minds are reliable based on his very own definition of the term. As with pretty much anyone else who argues against evolution, it is probably true that he came to his conclusions a long time ago and then worked backwards and found a tricky little wordgame to back it up.More to the point, though, if he wants to attack evolution and naturalism, he should work on finding evidence that falsifies either hypothesis instead of spinning hollow rhetoric, sitting back, and saying “Ha! Take that, evolution!” His words are interesting to philosophers, perhaps, but not to scientists.His complete inability to provide more than rhetorical backup for his claim is why I drew a parallel to solipsism, though it might have been more appropriate to draw a parallel to Berkeley’s “all exists in the mind of God” nonsense, or any number of Matrix-inspired, sophomoric “we’re really just brains in jars” scenarios. Yes, any of those might be true, as might Plantinga’s situation, but it is quite impossible to actually prove them so. Or to disprove them, for that matter, because they involve a level of reality which we cannot access if it exists at all. And if we cannot in any way access it, what reason do we have to believe it does exist at all?I don’t think it’s really possible for you to misconstrue my intent this time: argument without evidence is little more than empty rhetoric, therefore I think Plantinga’s argument to be nonsense. Same with any formulation of the ontological argument, or the cosmological argument, or the transcendental argument, or whatever else you have. They may be convincing to some people, but without physical evidence of a deity, none of them are demonstrably true.Of course, I accept evolution and naturalism as true, so obviously I (a)just don’t get Plantinga’s Magnificent Truth and (b)am not a reliable seeker of truth anyway. So feel free to misunderstand me again and insist that I frame my answer in the form of a question, so to speak.

  26. says

    Matt D and akusai,I really think you guys are missing the point. As Tomas said, **IF** Plantinga’s argument is correct, not only is the probability that naturalism is true low or inscrutable, but the probability that ANY statement you make on ANY subject is true is low or inscrutable. So don’t talk to us about “mountains of evidence” (as if taking facts and slapping the label “evidence for evolution” on them makes them, in fact, evidence for evolution). So you need to deal with the argument. It’s more foundational than you’re making it out to be.You act as if this is a similar problem for a theist. Depending on whether someone holds to evolution, maybe. But I don’t; my worldview is the biblical one. So you’d need to make an argument that the same low or inscrutable probability applies to statements I make, as a holder-to of the biblical worldview.And I don’t see the link to solipsism either, unless you mean the universal doubt thing. But this is not about universal doubt. This is about the universal doubt about most everythg if you hold to one specific worldview. But not everyone accepts that worldview, so the EAAN doesn’t cast solipsistic allusions over my way.without physical evidence of a deity, none of them are demonstrably true.1) Why “physical” evidence? Do you mean like a scat pile or sthg? Or more like an orange? I wouldn’t have taken you for someone who’s open to ID-style arguments.2) If EAAN is true, you can’t know whether this is a request for evidence or a profession of faith in Christ or a claim to be a chocolate bar. 3) Further, since EAAN just happens to stick, I don’t accept statements from anyone who has no basis to believe that he has any access to truth. Peace,Rhology

  27. says

    Plantinga: After all, couldn’t it be that God has directed and overseen the process of evolution?Is that what he’s arguing, that evolution is true, except it was guided? That the theory of common descent is true? Of course he doesn’t actually come out and say this. He doesn’t dare confront Dawkins regarding evolution. Plantinga: But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all …Then one wonders how a non-material object controls the material world. One would think this would be at the top of Plantinga’s “things to find out about.” If God can control the material, then this control would also be detectable. Maybe he would argue that scientists have mistaken naturalism for God’s control. Plantinga: But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope.But he doesn’t explain why. It seems obvious that any animal, who’s cognitive faculties don’t function reliably, would be at an evolutionary disadvantage when compared to those whose cognitive faculties do function reliably. Plantinga: The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, … its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe …And there you have it. Naturalism is dispiriting. It’s ego deflating. Get over yourself and grow up.

  28. says

    “Depending on whether someone holds to evolution, maybe. But I don’t; my worldview is the biblical one.”In other words, your view of life’s history is at least 150 years out of date, eschewing not only Darwin and Wallace, but also the modern synthesis and more recent developments in developmental biology and molecular phylogenetics. It’s blindingly obvious that your rejection of evolution is for emotional reasons. Whatever evidence we can ever present to you will be rejected with some stupid retort like “Well, I don’t see why that should matter to me, because I take the Biblical view.” If only you had even the slightest inkling for the way scientists do their work and put together scientific theories. By the way, I’ve seen Plantinga’s “arguments” about evolution. They’re lame as.

  29. says

    Plantinga: “The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, … its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe …”Another example of religionist projection. In the end, he has an emotional need to believe that it’s all about him. That humans are artefacts of the universe, produced by processes with no inkling for the things we hold dear, is deemed so terrifying and “dispiriting” to some that it has to be fought at all costs. That’s really what it comes down to.

  30. says

    Rho:I’m actually arguing that my viewpoint is far more foundational than Plantinga’s because his is, as I seem to be repeating, empty words on paper, while mine is backed up with testable, repeatable evidence. Argue with that part all you want, but I don’t see how you can say something like “If there is all this evidence for evolution and naturalism, a tricky little philosophical word gambit proves it all false.” Yes, if it is true, then perhaps there are some problems (of course, anti-scientists from left and right say the same thing about the problem of induction, have for years, and still nobody gives a shit), but I don’t believe that an argued point can be shown to be true by virtue of its ability to convince people. Unless there’s some real evidence apart from wordplay on paper, I have no reason to accept it.Which is my key problem with Plantinga’s argument; it’s the type of argument that can’t possibly be backed up with evidence and is expected to be accepted as physically true in reality by virtue of its rhetorical content, and I just don’t swing that way.Moreover, Lui is quite correct, I believe, in his assessment. Plantinga has what I like to call an “infallibility complex;” compare with a “superiority complex:” one is so burdened by feelings of inferiority (fallibility) that one goes to great lengths to feel superior (infallible). Plantinga’s argument reads like an attempt to bolster his own psychological well-being: “But I’m not fallible, am I? Obviously, it can’t be this evolution stuff that would make me fallible. God has to be there protecting my precious little infallible [or less-fallible than he would like] mind!”As I said, it’s an argument constructed backwards, conclusion first: “I’m not fallible like these scienctists say, I’m definitely a special snowflake, and God totally exists, so how can I spin those with tricky, sophistic wordplay to come out on top?”

  31. says

    Then one wonders how a non-material object controls the material world1) Please. If this is God we’re talking about, He created it all. 2) Your mind controls your material body.3) As if the inability to fully explain a mechanism means that we must deny such mechanism exists. If God can control the material, then this control would also be detectable.What’s your argument for that?It seems obvious that any animal, who’s cognitive faculties don’t function reliably, would be at an evolutionary disadvantage when compared to those whose cognitive faculties do function reliably.The whole point is that this evolution has directed and been influenced by their BEHAVIOR. Nothing to do at all with their beliefs (since they don’t really have any). This helps make Plantinga’s point; thanks.your view of life’s history is at least 150 years out of dateAs if modernity (or old-ity) is a measure for truth. Lui said:It’s blindingly obvious that your rejection of evolution is for emotional reasons.Please. But if you want to believe that about me, go ahead. Whatever evidence we can ever present to you will be rejected with some stupid retort like “Well, I don’t see why that should matter to me, because I take the Biblical view.”As I’ve explained over and over again…If you offer a fact, you have to interpret it in order to find out whether it’s evidence for your worldview or not. But if 2 diff worldviews can acct for the same fact, you have to move on to other facts, during which process one will presumably find a fact that one worldview accts for and the other doesn’t. Then you have EVIDENCE FOR YOUR WORLDVIEW. You don’t have evidence for your worldview if the competing worldview can also acct for that fact. Akusai said:while mine is backed up with testable, repeatable evidence.The irony is that you just claimed to be more foundational than Plantinga. This evidence means NOTHING, helps you NOT AT ALL if EAAN is correct. “If there is all this evidence for evolution and naturalism, a tricky little philosophical word gambit proves it all false.”B/c if EAAN is correct, your mind probably doesn’t produce true beliefs, so any conclusions you draw from the collection of facts before you is highly suspect. Shoot, even labelling said facts as “evidence” is suspect. Calling them “facts” is suspect. type of argument that can’t possibly be backed up with evidence and is expected to be accepted as physically true in reality by virtue of its rhetorical contentThen I seriously doubt you understand the thrust of it. But again, given EAAN (which I think sticks), we’re seeing the low probability of your mind producing true beliefs is already in evidence. I hope you don’t carpool with someone… they could be in grave danger.Both akusai and Lui are also apparently mollifying themselves with jabs at my supposed emotionally needy state. They’re welcome to those jabs; I’ll be happy to type that which pertains to the actual argument. My wrists aren’t strong enough for much fluff.Peace,Rhology

  32. says

    rhology: 1) Please. If this is God we’re talking about, He created it all. 2) Your mind controls your material body.3) As if the inability to fully explain a mechanism means that we must deny such mechanism exists. 1) So, you don’t know either.2) Modern medicine has an excellent explanation for how this happens.3) The inability to even identify a mechanism means that we must be skeptical that such mechanism exists.

  33. says

    rhology: The whole point is that this evolution has directed and been influenced by their BEHAVIOR. Nothing to do at all with their beliefs (since they don’t really have any).It’s all about understanding reality. Sometimes beliefs can help us understand reality. Animals have an understanding of reality. You don’t see any animals (except humans) praying to God, the idea is ridiculous. Animals don’t need God to understand their reality. Neither do humans. Sometimes beliefs can hinder our understand reality. Religion has been a hindrance to our understanding of reality.

  34. says

    Hi NAL,1) No, and absent an argument from you to that effect, I don’t see why that should matter.2) Sure it does. 3) Why? What’s your argument for that assertion?And I don’t see alot of value in just naked assertions that animals “understand” reality. Maybe you should deal with the EAAN argument rather than let it ride unanswered by you and then try to assume that it doesn’t have overreaching consequences for any statement you make. If it is true, there’s no reason to think 1) your statements reflect reality2) my statements reflect reality3) I understand your statements4) you understand mine5) we can even argue.But we DO understand, we DO argue. Thus, evolution ain’t the case.Peace,Rhology

  35. says

    “Please. But if you want to believe that about me, go ahead.”It’s nothing to do with what I “want”. It’s simply an observation. It isn’t me who rejects the most strongly supported scientific theory on paper-thin pretexts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>