Isn’t it obvious?


Adam Lee thinks Dawkins needs better defenders.

This week, I published a column in the Guardian arguing that Richard Dawkins’ sexism is overshadowing his contributions to the atheist movement. It got, shall we say, a large reaction. But not all negative, I hasten to add! I was very pleased with the amount of praise and compliments it attracted – I heard from a lot of people who told me that I said exactly what they’ve been thinking (including this piece by Allegra Ringo in Vice, published the same day as mine).

Because believe it or not, Jerry & Russell & Michael & the rest of the gang, we are not the only ones who are noticing Dawkins’s Twitter freakouts, and he’s not actually doing a fabulous job of PR for atheism right now. You clearly want to think it’s all just an attempt to grab the throne for ourselves or some such damn fool thing, but it’s not. I, for instance, would like a much less sexist atheist movement. I have zero hope of getting it at this point, but that’s what I want.

Calling Adam a liar, for instance – not great PR.

@LvAryaSta But why do you believe that liar in the Guardian? Isn’t it obvious that what he says is false?

Obvious? No. Not obvious at all. Hidden.

Note, it’s not just that he disagrees with my criticism – he thinks I’m lying, as in deliberately setting out to deceive. This, unfortunately, is of a piece with Dawkins’ recent pattern of assuming bad faith on the part of any atheist who criticizes him (“clickbait for profit”), and acting as if this means the criticism itself doesn’t need to be answered. (“Isn’t it obvious?” After all this time, he can’t even comprehend why people might object to anything he says. I think this post on Underverse offers an excellent explanation of why that is.)

Since everything in my Guardian piece was based on public statements that Dawkins has made, if I’m lying or misrepresenting anything he’s said, it ought to be very easy to prove. Just cite a claim that I attributed to Dawkins, then point to the corresponding place in his public record to show that what he actually said was the opposite. For a rational community like us, that should be a simple task.

Has anyone done it yet? Not that I’ve seen. Just Coyne calling Adam pathetic.

The evening it went up, I heard from Miranda Celeste Hale, who I gather is a friend of Dawkins. She expressed surprise that the Guardian published my piece at all (shock, horror, an atheist Thought Leader is being criticized!), and repeatedly accused me of dishonesty. Was she able to substantiate that charge? Judge for yourself:

There follows a Storify, in which Adam keeps asking for examples, and Miranda keeps saying “you were dishonest!!” over and over. It’s pretty funny.

UPDATE: Another defender of Dawkins joins in: Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True. He’s none too pleased with my article, although, yet again, he declines to specify exactly what about it is false: “I won’t bother to dissect it in detail”. I posted a comment in reply.

Here’s how it starts:

Hiya Jerry,

Well, this is unexpected. I remember when we met up for dinner in Chicago in 2011 – I still appreciate the hospitality you showed me and my wife in giving us a guided tour of the U of Chicago campus. I guess I shouldn’t expect a callback if I return to Chicago any time soon?

You disagree pretty strongly with my article, that’s obvious. Fair enough. But you know what I noticed? You’re not the first critic who said I’m a terrible person for writing it, but who declined to say in any detail which parts of it are false (“I won’t bother to dissect it in detail”). Richard Dawkins himself accused me of lying, but wouldn’t or couldn’t say what specifically he thought the lie was.

Because it’s “obvious”…

Comments

  1. R Johnston says

    Dawkins and his supporters are profoundly lacking in critical thinking ability, in an ability to take a critical posture and consider the critical posture of others, despite their general lack of that estrogen-vibe. Who could have predicted?

  2. jenniferphillips says

    Here’s one of the “lies”, specified in the WEIT comments:

    drosera
    Posted September 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
    Here’s one of your lies, Adam:

    “Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation.”

    Did you get paid for your hit piece? What a worthless, sanctimonious fraud you are.

    And here’s what Dawkins recently said about that:

    There should be no rivalry in victimhood, I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.

    Hmmmm…not seeing it.

  3. Dana Hunter says

    @ jenniferphillips – Srsly? That’s their gotcha? That’s the big fat lie? Excuse me.

    [Insert Hyena Contractor laughing scene from Rocko’s Modern Life]

    Adam ain’t kidding these geniuses need better defenders. Wow. That, on top of that Storify of Miranda Celeste Hale doing the punchline from a Bill Engvall comedy routine*, is just hi-larious.

    If I prayed Voltaire’s prayer, and this has happened… is that evidence for a deity? *snortle*

    *The skit goes as follows:

    TEXAN: “I tell you what…”

    BILL: “What?”

    TEXAN: “I just told ya!”

  4. jenniferphillips says

    Not only that, but this is so far the ONLY example given. It’d be funny if there weren’t so many people getting the shit kicked out of them over this.*

    not literally, of course. Just with verbal jackboots

    P.S. For some reason this post has disappeared from the feed on the main FTB page and on the B&W sidebar. I don’t want to overreact, but we may be on double secret probation here.

  5. R Johnston says

    Dana Hunter @3:

    If I prayed Voltaire’s prayer, and this has happened… is that evidence for a deity?

    Heh. But what it is evidence of is that Voltaire’s prayer is highly overrated. Having ridiculous enemies can be quite a bit more frustrating and angering than having mostly sensible enemies.

  6. R Johnston says

    P.S. For some reason this post has disappeared from the feed on the main FTB page and on the B&W sidebar. I don’t want to overreact, but we may be on double secret probation here.

    The post does not appear to have a title at all, and I’d guess that’s making things a bit screwy.

  7. Colin Daniels says

    I just removed Jerry’s site from my news feed after reading his defence of Dawkins. He has totally lost the plot and, as the comments on that article will attest, is quite comfortable hosting slyme-pitters. It is very sad as I used to enjoy reading his stuff. He seems especially pissed off with PZ.

  8. jenniferphillips says

    He’s also deleting a lot of comments, so it looks even slymier than it otherwise might. I quit reading WEIT after he let Justicar do a guest post a few years back.

  9. jijoya says

    Well, we’ve got ourselves a pope in Dawkins. A Vatican full of sidekicks would be the next step. Glad they’ve barely needed any urging from us to identify themselves.

  10. Al Dente says

    I’ve just been banned from WEIT because I asked for specific lies that Adam was supposed to have made. I didn’t use any rude words, I simply asked for evidence like the good skeptic I’m supposed to be.

    Sorry, Jerry, I used to think you were one of the good guys. Too bad you’re not. When you finally learn to accept criticism of a friend of yours, then maybe I’ll consider reading you again. Or not as the case may be.

  11. andyo says

    I quit reading WEIT after he let Justicar do a guest post a few years back.

    Holy shit I had completely forgotten about that ass. Now I remember him posting at WEIT quite frequently, and Im not sure if I knew about the guest post, but I do know. WTF is it with Coyne. He likes to play coy (no pun intended) and pretend he’s above all the fighting but he surely firmly supports one side.

  12. says

    I’ve just been banned from WEIT because I asked for specific lies that Adam was supposed to have made. I didn’t use any rude words, I simply asked for evidence like the good skeptic I’m supposed to be.

    Hilarious, I did the same thing and was instantly banned! “Shatterface” on there is saying I’m whining about censorship, err, no, unlike you lot I understand what the term means. I’m here voicing my opposition to Jerry Coyne and the testerical white “leadership” of atheism thanks, no censorship has or could occur.

    Asking for the evidence is verboten in Dawkins atheist circles now :)

  13. says

    Since everything in my Guardian piece was based on public statements that Dawkins has made, if I’m lying or misrepresenting anything he’s said, it ought to be very easy to prove. Just cite a claim that I attributed to Dawkins, then point to the corresponding place in his public record to show that what he actually said was the opposite. For a rational community like us, that should be a simple task.

    Alex from Godlessness in Theory has done exactly that… except he didn’t seem to find any lies. Instead, every factual statement appears to be correct. How about that.

  14. Donnie says

    So, Jerry has never heard a sexist comment pass through Sam Harris’ mouth? What does Jerry has to say about the sexists words that have passed through Sam Harris’ fingers?

    Is Jerry splitting hairs because Sam does not say sexist things in front of Jerry (while in a professional / semi – professional relationship)?

    Some should ask Jerry if the “estrogen vibe” paragraph, in total, combined with ‘it’s more of a guy thing’ in total compromise sexist’s statements. Someone should demand a straight “Yes” or “No”….

    No, “Yes, but….” or “No, but….”. No, “well, I would not have said it that way”. Yes or no Jerry Coyne of the blog that I will never read again since I am unwelcome. What is it going to be? Yes or No? Did Sam Harris write (not say) sexist statements and then double down in defense with, “some of my best friends are black women”

    Jerry Coyne, “Yes or No”?

    Did Michael Shermer have, or not have, sex with a drunk women with, or without, her consent based upon all the multiple conflicting statements made by Michael Shermer. “Yes or No”.

    Jerry Coyne, “Yes or No”

    Do you agree or disagree with Richard Dawkins that rape can be prioritized based upon the level of threat as “worse” and “less worse”

    Jerry Coyne, “Yes or No”

    Do you agree that these above Staten ts are worthwhile questions to ask and answer within the skeptical / atheism community?

    Inquiring skeptical atheists wish to know.

  15. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Because [the lies in Lee’s piece are] “obvious”…

    Oh, it’s “obvious” alright!

    “Obvious” like the evidence for god or “obvious” like the truth of creationism. Though I guess it could be “obvious” like homeopathy or “obvious” like alien anal probes.

  16. Eric MacDonald says

    As a few of you may know, I took my leave of the new atheist “movement” some time ago. My fundamental problem with it is simply that the “leaders” of the “movement” are so bad at supporting their claims with argument. (I use the scare quotes lest someone claim that there is no movement, and that it has no leaders.) For example, Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, and he hasn’t made a single serious response to those who have analysed his arguments and found them wanting. It seems that the argument is just window dressing for something he takes to be obvious. For instance, there are some fairly good critical analyses of what Dawkins takes to be a knockdown argument for the non-existence of a god, namely, that such a being would inevitably be extremely complex, and that would require explanation. Now, whether the analysis is right or not, Dawkins, who entered the discussion with the religions, has an obligation to go on with the discussion, and should not suppose that the point has been made finally, and without possibility of rebuttal. He needs to take his argument to a different level, and reflect, at that level, some evidence that he has not simply stopped learning; because, from a philosophical point of view, Dawkins’ arguments are woefully simplistic. A good start, perhaps, but not particularly refined, and by no means decisive. A lot of commentary on the atheist web is similar in being not only simplistic, but caustically dismissive of things that are obviously not understood. Overall, I find, it tends to be rude, dismissive and simplistic. Dawkins’ infamous tweets (and other unguarded remarks) are indicative of the level of argument so often found on atheist sites, and this points to the intellectual bankruptcy of much contemporary atheism. It is just taken as simply obvious, when it is, in fact, a very complex philosophical (as well as social) issue. One liners and the complacent conviction that it is simply obvious are not enough.

    However, this is precisely how Dawkins (and Jerry, I regret to say) responds to Adam Lee. Lee must be wrong, because it is simply obvious that it is all lies, that Dawkins is not sexist, and, anyway, at least one person has never heard a sexist word pass his lips. This is very unsatisfactory, especially in the light of obviously misogynistic tweets and other responses that Dawkins has made to women who are concerned about the sexism, amounting sometimes to sexual assault, that seems to be common at atheist conferences, as well as the frequency sexually framed threats made to women over the internet (as Ophelia has documented time and again). If Dawkins thinks it’s obvious that Adam Lee is lying, then he has a responsibility to say why this is so obvious to him. Besides, Adam surely has a libel action just waiting to be picked up, if he fails to do so.

  17. says

    From WEIT…

    Dissing Richard is a regular thing at the Guardian these days, and there’s no shortage of unbelievers willing to answer the call. Lee’s piece is called ‘Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name.’

    I didn’t know Richard became a god, Jerry.

    Read it and weep. If you cheer, you shouldn’t be reading this website.

    Okay, I’ll take the advice…I guess I won’t be visiting your site for quite sometime then. Thanks for all the fish?
    /signed, long time lurker.
    Source: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/adam-lee-has-lost-it/

  18. Alex says

    @Eric Macdonald,

    New atheism, if you want to call it one, is first and foremost an activist movement, no? The crucial difference between it and the “old” more academic atheism is that it is vocal, makes no excuses and aims to influence policy directly to achieve a more secular society. It was visible and gave nonbelievers especially in very religious places who feel lost, outnumbered, a sort of beacon. As such, its slogans are flashy, the arguments sometimes a bit populist on purpose.
    I don’t find it particularly heroic to declare leaving new atheism because some arguments are not sophisticated enough for your taste. You can sit in your room all day and nitpick the sophisticated theology – that has been going on for 2000 years, and it is not going to change society. But then, you are an activist and know that.
    As flashy as some of RDs arguments may have been, as numbsculled as he may be, that does not give theology a shred of value.

    What I find enraging is that thanks to Dawkins’ ego, I might now be forced to say – you may have a point. Thanks so much!

  19. Brony says

    Just cite a claim that I attributed to Dawkins, then point to the corresponding place in his public record to show that what he actually said was the opposite. For a rational community like us, that should be a simple task.

    Has anyone done it yet? Not that I’ve seen. Just Coyne calling Adam pathetic.

    I have yet to see anyone try show that articles like Adam Lee’s or any of the posts around FTB were lying. Which is evidence that this is all about primate group-think.

    The strong emotions on their side are part of the strategy. Puff up as a group and get simple and loud in order to drown out the nuanced strong emotions of the critics. Focus on the critical characterizations of Dawkins and Harris instead of the logic that went into them (this is taking a summary as fact and ignoring what created the summary). And above all paint the other “group” as doing the very thing that you are doing.

    I suspect that something about the group-think “turning on” and the associated strong emotions causes the person responding to them to become hypersensitive to group conflict strategy in their opponents, but blocks the ability to sense it in themselves. Does anyone know of any research that seems to show that in sociopolitical conflict we tend to naturally engage in perceptual hypocrisy? I know that there are some logical fallacies and cognitive biases.
    Fallacies: It depends on the person and comment or post. But they are generated by the biases.

    Biases: In defending the negativity effect in authorities like Harris and Dawkins, there is clearly a personal empathy gap, the defenders are appealing to group essentialism (to defend things like Harris’s essentialism). So as a group they are engaging in the “not invented here” bias and stereotyping with the goal of a group availability cascade. I wish I knew how to get past things like the backfire effect. There are going to be specific personal experiences that acted as excuses for all of this, and it’s hard to effectively counter them without clues to an specific persons emotional connections for the motivation to act as they have.

    There are patterns to how personal experiences lead to specific emotional reactions that drive motivated reasoning. But they do feel rude when used (and are not all known) so they can’t be more than internal hypotheses in a particular conversation. Still when a person’s statements indicate they have no idea what reality looks like it is rational to try to figure out why.

  20. Beth says

    @Eric,

    Just a word to let you know I had the same reaction to Dawkins arguments against and about religious people. He gives some lip service to the idea that not all religious believers are literalist fundamentalists attacking evolution, but his arguments are basically at that level. Simplistic and inapplicable to the actual beliefs vast majority of religious individuals in modern society. He lumps all those who don’t agree with him on any minor point as being just as ‘deluded’ as their literalist fundamentalist brethren.

    I think that he treats women similarly. He gives some lip service to the idea of equality, then makes his statements/arguments based on a superficial understanding of the complaints about his behavior and arguments. He is apparently not interested in nuance or consideration of other points of view.

    OTOH, I have some suspicions that he does makes those tweets in an attempt to fire up those who disagree with him, which in turn fires up his fan base. All which leads to lots more clicks for him and the stuff written about him. I know he’s not doing it for the money, but he might be doing it for the fame.

  21. smhll says

    re: comment #2 about the commenters elsewhere scraping to find “lies”.
    They apparently quoted the first paragraph below from Adam’s article but very conveniently overlooked the second? (These are adjacent paragraphs in the Guardian article.)
    Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation. There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies.
    But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment; he even apologized for the “Dear Muslima” letter. On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist and said that everyone else should be, too.

  22. smhll says

    damn, I effed up the blockquotes. The first 3 sentences are my comment and the rest is from Adam Lee’s article.

  23. rcs says

    Hi Ophelia, Ironically, I found your original B&W site from WEIT before you were banned. Coyne’s banning you was the first signal to me of his unwillingness to discuss criticism.

    Others have compared Dawkins and his fanboys as the Pope and his Cardinals, but lately it’s taken such a cartoonish turn that I think it compares more to Justin Bieber and his “Beleibers”. Can’t you hear the echos? “Leave Justin alone!” and “Leave Richard alone!”

  24. says

    @ rcs #25
    I always assumed that there was a mutual irreconcilable disagreement between Benson and Coyne, as the reason she simply stopped posting over WEIT. And this was never really been discussed on the respective sites as far as I am aware, so I took this to be a private matter. So I wasn’t aware of any banhammerings involved. Then again, I may missed when the particulars around this disagreement went down. So I really don’t know in the end.
    That said, it is interesting to note about your observation of Coyne unwilling to take criticism. As the very rare times (rare as in, I think twice?) that Coyne corrected himself on his blog outside of grammatical and spelling errors. And the one then, he seem to *declare he rarely ever makes a mistake. Out of this hubris, I can safely conclude that he won’t back down on his position over Dawkins, barring Hitchens himself raising himself from the grave and telling Coyne in person that Dawkins is being an idiot here. I really think it’s pretty much a lost cause to expect Coyne to change his position IMO, sad to say.
    *Note: I really don’t have the reference for this, as it was a long time and many posts ago. Others are free to look this up if they wish though.

  25. says

    Yes, there was a mutual irreconcilable disagreement between Coyne and me, in the immediate aftermath of “Elevatorgate.” It wasn’t private though. He cc’d me on an email he sent to someone else in which he called me all sorts of names. Startlingly bad behavior, I’ve always thought. I’m supposed to be so evil, but I can’t imagine doing something like that. He’s not a nice man.

  26. rcs says

    I really enjoyed the book WEIT but his blogging style is kind of creepy with his comment deleting policy and posts about not getting involved in feminist discussions followed up by uninformed, insulting comments.

  27. says

    @ Ophelia Benson #27
    Well to paraphrase a Hitchen’s quote that Coyne has used…you know you have won when they have moved to the ad hominem.
    Thanks for sharing that. I’ve always wanted to know what went down with one of WEIT’s most prolific posters. But it is sad when the host decides to take dump all over their best allies despite themselves.
    @rcs #28
    But you know there are 2 sets of roolz there. The one that everyone is supposed to follow. And the one only Jerry appears to follow.

  28. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Yes, Dawkins needs better defenders.

    Like when grandma crashes the car the 5th time and you realize she can’t see 50ft in front of her its time to take the keys away.

    Time for someone to take Twitter away from Dawkins and tell him he doesn’t need to show up for any more talks.

  29. Eric MacDonald says

    @Alex #19. You see what I mean? I speak about something completely different, and you have me nitpicking, already, amongst tomes of theology?! I said nothing about theology, and did not mean to. I simply find all the simplistic argumentation amongst new atheists irritating and irrelevant. You cannot simply dismiss what you call “theology” (really, philosophy of religion) as nitpicking something that goes back 2000 years and not likely to change society, without even looking at it. (And with all due respect to Marx, changing society is not the only thing worth doing.) That’s what Dawkins is doing. He thinks he’s cooked religion’s bacon once and for all, and yet anyone who has read The God Delusion and has an introductory philosophy course, can pick holes in it, and a number of philosophers, with a lot more knowledge than Dawkins, have already done this; but Dawkins is content to let his arguments stand no matter how amateurish. Indeed, his inability to argue has been in abundant evidence lately. That’s what all this fuss is about. Dawkins simply has no idea how to argue rationally. He might be a leading light in evolutionary biology (though, even there, has he really made substantial discoveries in his own right?), but he hasn’t a single idea how to put together an argument. Instead he is reduced to sniping at his critics. This is indicative of Dawkins’ level of ability when it concerns rationality. And your own ability is in question with this fairly misleading reply to what I had to say. Atheists have no right ignoring what the opposition has to say, or slagging them off with a few one liners. If they want to be considered intelligent, and a rational alternative to religion, they are going to have to face religion’s defenders head on, and this very few have shown a willingness to do. Oh, I know, they’ve gone on the debating circuit, but debating consists in the barest of the bare bones of “argument” (if it ever rises to that level). Serious thought is done by writing peer reviewed articles and books. Dawkins (and most other new atheists) seem to think that the argument is all done. Anything else can be categorised as picking over the bones of 2000 year old theology. This is a scandalous abdication of intellectual responsibility.

  30. Eric MacDonald says

    Beth, as you say:

    Just a word to let you know I had the same reaction to Dawkins arguments against and about religious people. He gives some lip service to the idea that not all religious believers are literalist fundamentalists attacking evolution, but his arguments are basically at that level. Simplistic and inapplicable to the actual beliefs vast majority of religious individuals in modern society. He lumps all those who don’t agree with him on any minor point as being just as ‘deluded’ as their literalist fundamentalist brethren.

    I think that he treats women similarly. He gives some lip service to the idea of equality, then makes his statements/arguments based on a superficial understanding of the complaints about his behavior and arguments. He is apparently not interested in nuance or consideration of other points of view.

    This is precisely my problem. Dawkins is superficial. He spoke with a kind of magisterial authority in biology, and seems to think that he can do the same in other spheres where he simply does not have the knowledge, and has no patience for the nuances and shadings of the views of others. He argues like a fundamentalist. It’s a kind of “take it or leave it”, and, from what I can make out, Jerry Coyne has adopted the same attitude. I have not experienced this myself, but I can understand others’ frustrations at rather peremptory responses. I did not know that Ophelia had been “banned” from WEIT. That, it seems to me, is shameful.

  31. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Eric MacDonald:

    Dawkins (and most other new atheists) seem to think that the argument is all done.

    Yup.

    Goddism is an otiose concept at best. An intellectual embarrassment.

    Atheists have no right ignoring what the opposition has to say, or slagging them off with a few one liners. If they want to be considered intelligent, and a rational alternative to religion, they are going to have to face religion’s defenders head on, and this very few have shown a willingness to do.

    What?

  32. Alex says

    Eric MacDonald,

    I barely find the content of religious claims compelling enough that such an in depth treatment is even worth the time. One can make up an infinite amount complicated and fuzzy constructs. The existence of personal gods is simply not plausible enough to wade through them.

  33. Eric MacDonald says

    Alex, you aren’t reading with attention, then. I’m talking about philosophy of religion, not about confessional theology. Dawkins was writing (whether he knew it or not) philosophy of religion, and he did a poor job of it. It’s his worst book by far. And he doesn’t think he has any more to learn. Ever heard of Antony Flew, or JL Mackie? How about Michael Martin? or Kai Neilsen? Or Richard Robinson? These are all atheist philosophers of religion, and they do a fine job of it, but when people answer Dawkins with an argument that at least Flew, Mackie, Martin, Neilsen and others take seriously, he says nothing. It’s been said. But it hasn’t been said by Dawkins (or by you, for that matter), and all you seem able to do is to say it’s just complicated, fuzzy constructs, or something equally banal. It atheists are going to be so head in the sand about the claims of religion (which are much more substantial than atheists give them credit for, as Atran keeps pointing out), then they deserve to be dismissed in the same way that you so cavalierly reject philosophy of religion. That’s why I’m not a “new atheist”, and will not align myself with the group, because they’re turning out (not all of them, by any means, but too many of them, especially amongst the “commentariat”) to be as bad at philosophy as Dawkins is at speaking sensibly about sexism. Indeed, I think his present pickle is simply due to the limitations of his intellect. He may speak grandly about the fearful world of unreason we are entering because a few people have called him on his blatant sexism, but that is just fuzzy rhetoric, and you contribute to it by your rather mindless dismissal of anyone who takes philosophy of religion seriously. If you don’t, and if you really don’t care about the truth, as so many other new atheists don’t, then the new atheism is on its way out already (as I believe it is, since it is so intellectually bankrupt on the whole). And the less said about John Morales’ comments the better.

  34. says

    I’m not one to dismiss philosophy like some Gnus, but I also don’t see much use in theology until a god can be established to exist. And before that, we need to actually define what a god is. I’m sure there are philosophers and theologians who have done that, but I’m equally sure that such definitions don’t always match up with what believers believe.

    It’s been awhile since I read your blog, Eric. Can you link some posts that explain this position, or what the good arguments for gods are? Presumably they’re not convincing, or you wouldn’t be here. I just don’t understand what makes them different from the tooth fairy science of Intelligent Design and the like.

  35. Eric MacDonald says

    Hi Tom. It’s funny how you make the switch from philosophy to theology in your first sentence. Theology is (despite claims to the contrary) much more complex than is let on by its atheist detractors, as if it has only to do with the existence of God. Indeed, most theology assumes the existence of God and then tries to explain (for the religion or theologian concerned) what this means and what implications it has for human life. But philosophy of religion is a bit different. It concerns, amongst other things, arguments for the existence of a god or gods, but it has more to do than just proving (or trying to prove) the existence of a god. It speaks about the significance of religious belief (or faith — two very different things — one is a belief, the other is usually an entire way of life); it may describe its function in human socieities, and try to explain what attracts people to religious faith. For instance, Roger Scruton, an English philosopher, doesn’t believe in a god as such, but he does think of religion as an important dimension of human experience (the experience of the numinous, or sacred, and how this plays its part in a meaningful life, etc.). However, the worst thing that ever happened to human thought, to my mind, is the internet, and the idea that everything that is important can be expressed in a blog post. The place to look is not in links, but in books. From a very traditional point of view, I would recommend David Bentley Hart’s book The Experience of God. It takes a bit of getting into, but if you pay attention, he has a lot to say about how the idea of God is understood in orthodox Christianity (as well as other religions), which makes God proof against the kind of elementary philosophising that Dawkins indulges in. But Roger Scruton’s books are interesting too. His The Face of God, and The Soul of the World show what can be done with the idea of religion where neither God , in the traditional sense, nor immortality, are supported. On the atheist side of the fence are books like JL Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism or Michael Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. But you have to be aware that not all religious faith assumes the existence of a god in anything like the traditional sense. People like Don Cupitt or Richard Holloway are helpful here, the former’s \Philosophy’s Own Religion is enlightening, as well as the latters Looking in the Distance. And if you want in introduction to philosophy of religion from an atheist point of view Robin le Poidevin’s Arguing for Atheism is a good bet; from a Wittgensteinian point of view DZ Phillips The Concept of Prayer is (to my mind) quite fascinating, for prayer. Religion, you see, is so much more than just “believing in God” (whatever that means — and I am not really sure what it means). One of the things that bothers me about so much new atheism is that it is assumed that “believing in God” has a perfectly straightforward meaning, and can only be what fundamentalists take it to mean, which is just silly. None of this means that I don’t have serious questions about religious beliefs, or that I don’t find some forms of religion intrusive and even dangerous. Indeed, I think the danger of Islam to Western democracy has not even begun to be felt yet, but that it will, eventually, and then it just might be too late.

  36. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Eric McDonald would you kindly acquaint yourself with the concept of a paragraph break, please and thanks?

  37. says

    Now now, Eric is familiar with paragraph breaks. He just likes to write long paragraphs!

    I’m very pleased that he’s commenting here again, so nobody be grumpy at him.

  38. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    I wasn’t “being grumpy at him” I was asking him to use paragraph breaks. I find walls of text difficult to read.

    I was needlessly passive aggressive about it though, so I apologize for that.

  39. says

    I do too, to tell the truth. Breaks do make reading easier, Eric. It’s the same with dear John Stuart Mill – he went for whole pages without a paragraph break! It’s difficult. If you could indulge our post-Victorian weakness…

  40. R Johnston says

    Eric, there very clearly is no such thing as the philosophy of religion, which is why religion is so easy to dismiss. Religion is steeped in facially illogical argumentation, facially contradictory claims, and empirical claims backed by ether. God claims in particular range from incoherent, to trivial, to internally contradictory, to being reliant on equivocation over the meaning of “god.” You simply can’t build a philosophy out of that.

    Arguments for the existence of gods are uniformly farcical on their face.

  41. says

    @Eric: Thanks. I attribute part of my shifting between terms to the fact that I was typing quickly on my phone during my lunch break, and partly because there wasn’t a whole lot of distinction drawn between the two in the theological classes I took in college (though the one I remember best was Philosophical Theology, which may be part of the issue). I read some of Mackie’s book for that course, and I own at least one of Martin’s (though now that I think about it, I think I have The Impossibility of God) but I have precious little time to read. It may be at the Internet has conditioned us to think that everything should be digestible as soundbites and tweets and blogposts, and believe me, I understand (I’ve seen the faces on my millennial students in e middle of lectures that I think are actually fairly short). But I think it goes both ways, as well. Not every topic needs a textbook, and there’s some beauty in the existence of the hyperlink that can take the place of long footnotes and endnotes and block quotations in many cases. The rise of the record caused musicians to record tracks and tracks of filler to pad out the album, while the Internet makes it easy to purchase singles on their own; sure, some bands make albums that use the medium in a way that makes it necessary, but not all do. Similarly, I’ve read more than one book that brought together half-finished or barely-related ideas in a way that seemed like padding an assigned word count, and I’m sure I did the same in college. It’s not all bad.

    I’ll take a look at some of those, especially Mackie and Martin who have already been in my reading list for some time. But I don’t frankly have much use for assuming that a god exists and working from there. If we’re going to start with unverified assumptions, I’ve got speculation on the use of Star Trek transporters and Kryptonian physiology that are just as relevant but far more interesting to me. I’m fascinated by what I’ve read of philosophy of science, so I’d probably find a lot of interesting stuff in philosophy of religion. I assume there’s a heavy overlap there with anthropology and psychology, since it seems like they’d require similar methods to be able to say anything semi-universal about those experiences of the numinous and whatnot.

  42. Eric MacDonald says

    Fair enough, Tom, far be it from me to force you to read anything, but it is worthwhile having a look with what some modern philosophers have to say positively about religion, and it has very little to do with God. That’s the point that so many atheists miss, that there is an atheist form of Buddhism, that Jainism is atheistical (although some of the most beautiful temple complexes in India are Jain), and that many Christians today, while using the word ‘god’ do so in a figurative sense. Some, like Richard Holloway, calls himself post-Christian, but still finds a place for the church community in his life. Religion is such a complex thing, that atheists seem to have the wrong end of the stick a lot of the time, as if it’s all about God and nothing else. But most theology is not about God at all, but about human life. Christian anthropology — that is, the Christian view of what it means to be human (in the light of certain underlying beliefs, to be sure, but still much of it is quite able to stand on its own) is just as important, and often much more important, than what Christians say about God, and many of them take the doctrine of the incarnation to justify this emphasis on humanity and what it means to be human in the deepest sense. Natural Theologians like Bentley Hart are not entirely comfortable with the institutional church, and find it an obstacle to faith. It is because of this complexity, and the complexity of contemporary theology, which goes all the way from a fairly godless religion to fundamentalist systems of belief based on the supposedly inerrant Bible, that it is important to read outside of the new atheist canon (which is pathetically small), where religion is more or less misunderstood.

  43. Eric MacDonald says

    Sorry about the paragraphs. I tend to think in long spurts, if you like and type about 90 words a minute while I’m doing it, so the paragraphs do often get stuck together all in a chain. I’ll try to remember to go back and break it up at what seem to be natural joints in my thought.

    R Johnson, unless you have at least tried to understand the complexities of some of the arguments for the existence of God you have no idea at all whether they are farcical or not. Indeed, it is quite possible to read through Mackie’s very clear argumentation, and not be sure where the emphasis should come down, or whether the arguments he makes are valid or not. And he is arguing against the existence of God. Anyone who can say what you just did is simply, to put it bluntly, ignorant.

    And see, there are three paragraphs! But I only saw the problem of the paragraph after I had posted the last comment to Tom.

  44. Eric MacDonald says

    By the by, I rather like reading John Stuart Mill, because he doesn’t break his thoughts up into discrete little paragraphs! But I promise, Ophelia, I will try!

  45. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I find Jerry’s “I won’t dissect it because it makes me ill” stance rather self serving, duplicitous, and intellectually cowardly on his part. He spent hours (weeks, months) reading various creationist texts and similar readings, and meticulously analyzed and dismantled them on his blog. But a relatively short article dissing the great Dick Dawk and he gets a case of the vapors and his tummy goes all aflutter?

    Yeah, not buying it. He’s a coward. The fact that he actively deletes dissenting comment on his blog reinforces this. He’s lost another infrequent reader, as I’ve taken his advice about who should be reading his blog.

    So Jerry, if you’re reading this, put up, or STFU. Show us the evidence of lying on Adam’s part.

  46. says

    In my experience, even most New Atheists are quite willing to admit that there are aspects of religion that are positive, both in terms of the organized and personal varieties (heck, I’m pretty sure that’s the thesis of Harris’s new book). The NA position would be to pull out those and discard the supernatural baggage; e A+ position would say let’s toss out the patriarchalism and tribalism as well. There’s no shortage of attempts to do this, even within the New Atheist camp; the Out Campaign was an attempt to give atheists a sense of community, the Good Without God campaigns to explain how atheists get their morals, various atheist churches, even the veneration of guys like Sagan and Tyson ties into their ability to inspire that religious-esque sense of wonder and awe at the natural, rather than supernatural, universe.

    As to “misunderstanding” religion, I think the “misunderstanding” is much broader than New Atheists, and includes a whole lot of rank-and-file Christians (and other religious believers). New Atheism has never been shy about the focus on what the people in the pews think and believe, and about focusing on the more obviously harmful fundamentalist versions of faith. There may be sophisticated theology and philosophy to prop up Biblical inerrantism and Creationism, but your average creationist and inerrantist doesn’t know it. Neither, indeed, do the most popular theologians who are cited by rank-and-file believers as support for their claims, the Craigs and Comforts and Hovinds. It doesn’t take a four-year degree to understand the fallacies involved in 95% of popular apologetics.

    There are certainly lots of issues with skeptics and atheists getting way, way out of their depths by underestimating what skills they need to engage in particular counterapologetic arguments, and far too many skeptics who think “logic” is something where you recite Latin phrases to make bad arguments disappear like some kind of rhetorical Harry Potter. That said, I think you paint too broadly the New Atheist position, and misunderstand its aims.

  47. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    Sorry about the paragraphs. I tend to think in long spurts, if you like and type about 90 words a minute while I’m doing it, so the paragraphs do often get stuck together all in a chain. I’ll try to remember to go back and break it up at what seem to be natural joints in my thought.

    Much appreciated, thank you. I’m not sure what it is but I really have trouble keeping track of which line I’m actually reading with huge blocks of text like that. Again, I apologize for my snark earlier.

  48. Eric MacDonald says

    Tom, I won’t deny (how could I?) that most popular religion is intellectually empty. often because poorly understood. But of course that is where a lot of religious rubber hits the road, and so it can’t simply be dismissed because if is popular nonsense. But that measure most of what people believe, even about science, is popular nonsense. We half understand and misunderstand a good bit of what we take to be true. However, I believed, at the start, that the new atheists had a concern for truth. To find out that is not so, and that people are prepared to dismiss complex intellectual constructions without any basis is, to me, anyway, very troubling.

    Truth, even about religion, is important, and, as time went on it seemed to me that I could not claim to be an atheist, because I want to understand what thoughtful religious people have to say. I remember when I wrote a post about Ed Feser’s The Last Superstition, and Jerry immediately wrote a post about me having “pawnd” (or whatever that gotcha word is) Feser. I was embarrassed, because posts are a shot in the dark, not completely thought through, rather more hope than decision. Since then, reading Feser, on Aquinas, and now his book Scholastic Metaphysics (which I have just about finished on a first quick reading to get the lay of the land), I have to say that, whether right or wrong, he certainly has a tight grasp on a number of concepts that I need to understand before I came any definitive comment.

    Is he right or wrong? I don’t know for sure, and that’s why it is so important to go on searching. These arguments are not so simple to understand, let alone to analyse in relation to so many other things one claims to know. I don’t think there is a god, but now I have to admit that my concern for truth leads me to say I don’t know, and that knowing is important to me, more important than certainty, and certainly more important than the quick ignorant dismissal that I have become so accustomed to on new atheist sites. It’s too simple, and it’s so poorly thought through for the most part, that I find myself getting annoyed by the simplistic way that people think they can dispense with religious thought. It’s far more complex than that.

    I don’t, by the way, include Islam in that. I do not find Islam intellectually respectable, for several reasons. First, it is hermetically sealed against reason, except as applied to a body of text that has almost nothing to commend it. Second, the so-called prophet of Islam was such a primitive, brutal man. Third, violence is so integral to Islamic belief, from the warlord founder, to the colonial conquests, to many of its contemporary manifestations. Fourth, it is utopian, and for that very reason, unacceptably totalitarian. Fifth, and not least, it diminishes half of the human race. At least Christianity and Judaism, in their more liberal forms, avoided some of the worst excesses of their pasts.

    But one thing was missing: some sense of the sacred. And that, I think, is probably the one thing that attracts people to religion’s more extreme forms. The way to defeat the worst aspects of religion (and I do not think that religion can be completely defeated, because, as even the new atheism demonstrates, there will always be dogmatic forms of belief) is not to defeat religion itself, but to find out (as some 19th century philosopher/theologians tried to do) what it was about religion that was perennially attractive.

    In the very wealthy societies of today, religion has taken a back seat, because it is possible, with resources, to map out an individually meaningful life, and as long as there is an economic system that people are prepared to support, there will be enough stability to do this. But I do not think this will last, and I do not think that naturalism is enough to be going on with. I do not think that most people realise how much of Christianity and Judaism stands behind the stability we now enjoy in the West, and how much would be lost if we suddenly began believing that we are not really free, that we do not truly decide for ourselves, that meaning simply comes or does not come without any contribution from ourselves, which is the inevitable outcome of naturalism. This is why, I believe, it is important for us to know about religion, and just as atheists say it is possible to be good without god, it is also possible to be religious without god. Christian theologians (at least many Anglican ones) have been saying this since the 18th century (when Unitarianism or Arianism was all the rage — Newton was an Arian, for example), but especially the 19th. Perhaps Sam Harris will show us the way. Who knows? But the fact that there is so much tragedy in human life, and that the tragic is so clearly related to the religious, implies that, in the end, religion will have its say whether we will or no.

    And see, it was all done with paragraphs!

  49. Al Dente says

    Paragraphs are your friends. I had an English teacher who kept repeating: “If you make something difficult to read then people won’t read it.”

    I agree that some (emphasis on some) theologians and philosophers of religion have interesting and perceptive things to say about the human condition. I’m not impressed by Feser because he tried to pwn PZ Myers’ Courtier’s Reply without having a clue about what it was about. (Sorry, Ed, it’s not a straw man argument, no matter how much you whine about it.) Perhaps he’s one of the philosophers who says something cogent about humanity, but I’m not going to bother to find out because there’s too many other authors I want to read. Also Feser’s politics are not to my liking.

    The problem with theology is it’s the study of what an imaginary being is “thinking” about various topics. Feser’s buddy, Aquinas, is supposedly one of the finest theologians who ever lived. When I took Philosophy of Religion as an undergraduate I wrote a paper showing that the Thomist “Proofs of God™” relied on begging the question, special pleading, and semantics. So please excuse me if I seem underwhelmed by theology and the people who practice the art.

    Most theologians try to bring out an image of God by investigating God’s acts. But how well can you know someone simply by looking at what they do? Granted, quite a bit can be inferred, but there are all sorts of deep character traits that will remain hidden or be misrepresented. Without knowing the reasons why God takes certain actions, how well can we understand the actions themselves? And without some insight into God’s character, how well can we understand the causes for the reasons for those actions? And without delving into the irreducible underpinnings of God’s character, how can we come to appreciate the character that is manifest in the reasons for the actions that swallowed the spider to catch the fly? Perhaps all the theologians would die.

  50. says

    Yay for being at a keyboard again!

    @Eric:

    However, I believed, at the start, that the new atheists had a concern for truth. To find out that is not so, and that people are prepared to dismiss complex intellectual constructions without any basis is, to me, anyway, very troubling.

    If those complex intellectual constructions are built upon ephemera, then why must they be considered? I’ve taken enough philosophy to know that if you start from false premises you can prove just about anything. Until the existence of a god is demonstrated to be true, any conclusion following from it is suspect at best, and any conclusion of philosophy of religion or theology that doesn’t rely on it shows its superfluity. We can’t get at truth if we start from a false assumption.

    Is he right or wrong? I don’t know for sure, and that’s why it is so important to go on searching.

    Certainly, and the ability to say “I don’t know” is absolutely necessary to intellectual honesty and humility. But It also exposes the problem at the heart of religion. For literally anything else in reality, “does [thing] exist” is a fairly straightforward question. The answer may be complicated, relying on specific definitions and caveats, but it can be answered through investigation. Even for [thing]s that we don’t yet know exist, we can find lines of clear evidence pointing toward them, we can make clear statements about what they would be like if they did exist, and where to go looking for them, and what we should expect to find, and what we should expect to follow from their existence or nonexistence. Yet the question of gods is treated as wholly unlike that process, the process by which we establish literally every other claim to existence. Nowhere else in the realm of human knowledge, outside of fringe conspiracy theorists, do we set aside the question of the existence of some fundamental thing and start instead building castles of knowledge upon that thing.

    Obviously I haven’t read The Last Superstition, but if the synopsis is any kind of accurate indication of the contents, then it sounds like a philosopher doing the kind of bad science that you would recognize and rightly berate in the reverse. It sounds like a book-length version of the transcendental argument, but even if not, the idea that naturalism requires that the mind be “illusory” is, at best, terrible neuroscience. Methodological naturalism is the null hypothesis; if theists would like to overturn it, they are certainly welcome to try. In all the history of science, it has not yet steered us wrong, and the alternative would mean throwing out nearly everything we know, little better than an acceptance of solipsism.

    First, it is hermetically sealed against reason, except as applied to a body of text that has almost nothing to commend it.

    Wow, yeah, I think Alhazen, al-Jayyānī, al-Sufi, Avicenna, and a whole host of other historical Muslim scientists–people who sought to prove their religion through logic and reason, as many Christian scientists have attempted–would beg to differ.

    Second, the so-called prophet of Islam was such a primitive, brutal man.

    No more brutal than the god of the Old Testament, surely. No more brutal than the warriors, heroes, and kings of Judaism. More brutal than Jesus? I frankly don’t know enough about Muhammad to say. A cursory look seems to indicate that both are plagued by similar historicity issues. Given that what we have in either case is largely in the form of biased accounts, it’s hard to see how you can say this with such certainty, but hem and haw over the existence of gods.

    Third, violence is so integral to Islamic belief, from the warlord founder, to the colonial conquests, to many of its contemporary manifestations.

    And this is just plain ludicrous. Warlord founder? How many Biblical patriarchs have blood on their hands again? How many slaughtered countless, according to Biblical tales, in the name of god? If you want colonial conquests, I think you’ll have a hard time finding any religion with more under their belt than Christianity. The same can be said for contemporary manifestations. For every Boko Haram and ISIL, there’s a Soldiers of God and a Lord’s Resistance Army. The only thing keeping Christian fundamentalism from looking like the Islamic sort is a few hundred years of largely-secular governance and a better standard of living.

    Fourth, it is utopian, and for that very reason, unacceptably totalitarian.

    Right, Jewish beliefs about the Messiah coming, and Christian beliefs that Jesus will return to reign over them, promote nothing even resembling a utopia, and certainly are not implicated in any number of totalitarian regimes throughout history.

    Fifth, and not least, it diminishes half of the human race.

    As do Christianity, Judaism, and a host of other religions. Part of how we know that patriarchy isn’t specific to any one creed.

    At least Christianity and Judaism, in their more liberal forms, avoided some of the worst excesses of their pasts.

    Yes, if we compare liberal Christianity and Judaism with fundamentalist Islam, the latter comes out worse for the comparison. And if we did the same dishonest comparison but flipped it to the other end of the sociopolitical spectrum, we’d be reminded that fundamentalist Christianity and Judaism are just as hateful, just as backward, just as totalitarian, just as violent, just as reactionary, and just as misogynist as fundamentalist Islam.

    For all that you speak of ignorant dismissal, Eric, I think it’s patently obvious that you’re committing it here. Parroting the usual nonsense about Islam, as though religions around the world didn’t have the same history of violent conquest, as though there were something unique about Islam that sets it apart. There isn’t. You can cherry-pick the bad examples and handwave away the history of the religions you have a soft spot for, but it’s all transparent motivated reasoning.

  51. Eric MacDonald says

    First of all, Al Dente, as to Feser, I don’t share either his political or moral views, but I do find his account of Aquinas and Scholastic metaphysics interesting and compelling. I have yet to judge the validity of an argument by the political views of the person who made it. At one time I thought PZ’s Courtier’s Reply was compelling too, but then I changed my mind, not because I had read Feser’s response (which I will now do), but because it struck me as mistaken in much the same way that I find the cavalier dismissal of religious belief common on new atheist pages mistaken. I do not find the Coyneism with the cutsey trademark after “proofs of god” particularly helpful. First of all, the five ways of the Summa are not the only explanation of these arguments, and I doubt you can find Aquinas guilty of “begging the question, special pleading, [or] semantics.” But of course you are welcome to try. You may have thought that you showed this (in your intro phil of religion course) but I doubt very much that you did.

    So far as God’s acts go, I am not sure that it makes sense to speak of God’s acts, unless they are such as to affect the individual’s perception of the world. Ronald Dworkin, in his little book Religion without God points out — correctly in my view — that you either see the world in a certain way or you don’t. So far as supposed interferences in the natural world by a god or gods, these are, I think, one and all, imaginary, though I am, of course, open to argument that they are not so. So far as I can tell, nothing is known of God’s “character” or could be known, if what we have in mind is anything resembling human character. As to God’s metaphysical attributes, if there is a God (which at present I have no reason to believe), that is a very different thing, since God, if God exists, must exist outside of the natural order altogether. Indeed, metaphysically God cannot both exist and be the source of existence. This is an elementary point made by practically all arguments for the existence of God.

  52. says

    Eric:

    Indeed, metaphysically God cannot both exist and be the source of existence. This is an elementary point made by practically all arguments for the existence of God.

    Like fun it is. I’ve encountered a whole, whole lot of arguments for the existence of god, from anonymous commenters on up to Descartes and Aquinas and Kalam. Unless you’ve got a huge stash of alternate arguments, most do in fact reason that God exists and also is necessary for everything else to exist, whether it’s as a necessary first cause, a necessary source for the logical absolutes, a necessary source for the design inherent in nature, and so forth.

    Now, perhaps you’re working from a definition of “exist” that specifies “exists within the universe,” which is certainly reasonable, and it’s certainly the case that many apologetic arguments specify that god exists outside of space and time in one fashion or another. Which, from my perspective, is functionally the same as nonexistence. In which case, sure, but that’s not how your assertion reads, and doesn’t make much sense given why most people (perhaps not most philosophers of religion) would seek to prove the existence of god.

  53. Al Dente says

    At one time I thought PZ’s Courtier’s Reply was compelling too, but then I changed my mind, not because I had read Feser’s response (which I will now do), but because it struck me as mistaken in much the same way that I find the cavalier dismissal of religious belief common on new atheist pages mistaken.

    No wonder you like Feser, you don’t understand the Courtier’s Reply either. What is says is quite simple. Why discuss whether angels dancing on the head of pins are waltzing or doing the macarena when the question is (or should be) about the existence of gods? When theologians can show that there’s an actual basis for their musings other than superstition then I’ll accept it’s a worthwhile field of study.

    . First of all, the five ways of the Summa are not the only explanation of these arguments, and I doubt you can find Aquinas guilty of “begging the question, special pleading, [or] semantics.” But of course you are welcome to try. You may have thought that you showed this (in your intro phil of religion course) but I doubt very much that you did.

    Let’s just say that my professor had no problem with my paper. You obviously think that theology is a legitimate study. I think it’s guessing about what an imaginary thing thinks. As a result, I see theology as fantasizing about phantasms, often basing these fantasies on the writings of previous fantasizers and ultimately on the beliefs of superstitious priests trying to get the gullible to support them.

    It’s apparent that you have a much higher regard of theology and theologians than I do. Sorry that I don’t appreciate reveries about delusions as being anything other than reveries about delusions.

  54. Eric MacDonald says

    I may not have a lot of respect for Feser’s Catholicism, but what I am interested in are his metaphysical arguments, which I do not yet understand, and neither, Al Dente, do you. And that is just what is wrong with the Courtier’s reply, because it simply says that all religious beliefs are “reveries about delusions” without bothering to see whether this is in fact so. And so Feser’s accusation of Philistinism sticks. And that, my friend, is what is wrong with the new atheism, because they do refuse to seek the truth, and merely claim in fatuous responses, that they already know it.

    I’m not a believer, but I am agnostic. As Anthony Kenny says, that’s really the only acceptable position to take, unless you have evidence or logical proof. For there is one thing for sure: the rationalist philosopher of religion who believes has more reason for believing than disbelieving know-nothings who cannot bother to learn. At least it is reasonable for one who is convinced by logic to believe, but unreasonable simply to disbelieve unless you have at least tried to understand the arguments involved. In that case agnosticism is the best that a disbeliever can do. And it may in fact be the case, as Kenny seems to imply, that there is no knockdown proof either way.

    Tom, be interested in your quoting chapter and verse on the raft of arguments that claim that God is an existent amongst existents. I haven’t chanced upon many of them recently, except in cases of those who have misunderstood the arguments. (Anonymous commenters are scarcely reliable witnesses, and have probably misunderstood anyway. Best to stick with the best arguments that have been made.) However, do send them my way when you come upon them.

  55. John Morales says

    Eric MacDonald:

    I’m not a believer, but I am agnostic. As Anthony Kenny says, that’s really the only acceptable position to take, unless you have evidence or logical proof.

    <snicker>

    Presumably you’re also agnostic about the Matrix hypothesis, or the Omega Point hypothesis, or other such mystical conceits.

    It’s plain intellectual cowardice to avoid taking a warranted provisional stance about such beliefs on the basis of epistemic doubt.

    (I not agnostic about whether I shall break a leg getting up from my chair, right now — though I know it’s not logically impossible)

  56. John Morales says

    Eric MacDonald:

    And that, my friend, is what is wrong with the new atheism, because they do refuse to seek the truth, and merely claim in fatuous responses, that they already know it.

    You imagine that it’s fatuous to dismiss wasting one’s time forever contemplating abstruse metaphysical arguments because they might somehow prove the existence of some deity?

    (Can you guess what I consider to be fatuous?)

  57. Eric MacDonald says

    Well, John, guess what? The main reason I have taken my leave of the new atheism is because of empty twaddle like yours. If no religious people provided rational arguments for the positions they take, arguments that continue to be explored and re-explored by both believers and unbelievers, then of course, we could justly categorise all religion with astrology and the omega point. Some of it, of course, deserves to be so categorised. But the refusal of the new atheists at least to learn what the arguments are (as is so common now), and their continual misrepresentation of those arguments as though such misrepresentation could constitute a reasonable and conclusive response, is not a sign of either courage or intelligence, but simply a refusal to face facts. Not empirical facts, of course, but not all truth is empirical, as anyone with half a brain might understand, given world and time enough.

    Abstruse metaphysical arguments have to be understood before they are refuted, and failing to do so, and basing oneself on that failure, is not courage, but fatuity. I do not have to guess what you consider fatuous, John, for you have told me, and demonstrated it as well; and I am simply fed up with such empty opinions, repeated endlessly and pointlessly, without a smidgeon of real understanding to back them up. When philosophers like Michael Ruse or Tom Nagel are embarrassed by the works of the leading new atheists, then it’s time to think again, and more seriously, about the claims that the leaders are making. As I have already said earlier in this thread, Dawkins’ rather mindless sexism is a measure of intellectual stature. If he has not be able to understand the concerns of women in the atheist movement, then he is hardly qualified to deal with the nuances and complexities of philosophical argument concerning religion.

  58. says

    Dawkins’ rather mindless sexism is a measure of intellectual stature. If he has not be able to understand the concerns of women in the atheist movement, then he is hardly qualified to deal with the nuances and complexities of philosophical argument concerning religion.

    I take offense at the patently false idea that understanding the “nuances and complexities of philosophical argument concerning religion” is somehow easier than understanding the concerns of women anywhere.

    In point of fact, Dawkins did mostly fine dealing with “the complexities and nuances of philosophical argument concerning religion.” it’s not hard, because religious philosophy is not as abstruse and difficult as you make it out to be. As Morales notes, it’s all based on a fiction. Reality is usually more complicated and resistant to analysis by humans than things human invent out of their imagination.

  59. Eric MacDonald says

    Well, Sally, be as offended as you like, but your characterisation of religion as based on a fiction is the point at issue in the arguments to which I refer, arguments which are not well understood by Dawkins, despite his confident manner of dispensing with them with the least thought possible. However, where did I suggest, as you claim, “that understanding the “nuances and complexities of philosophical argument concerning religion” is somehow easier than understanding the concerns of women anywhere”? I’m not altogether sure what you mean by that, but I never made any such suggestion (at least so far as I understand it). I believe, however, that Dawkins’ failure to understand the concerns of women expressed in his repeated sexist tweets and other remarks is a sign of the limits of his intellectual range. However, so far as I can see, I gave you no reason for the offence which you seem to have taken from what I wrote.

  60. Eric MacDonald says

    Sally. Rereading what I wrote I can see now why you may have read what I said in the way that you did, and I apologise if I offended you. However, to be fair, I do not think it should be so hard for him to see in what ways his tweets and other comments have been offensive. This, in fact, shows the limits of his emotional range. His failure as a philosopher of religion shows the distinct limits of his intellectual range. Neither is easier or harder than the other, though they are both signs of Dawkins’ limits, and the fact that in neither case does he seem able to see that he has reached the limits of either intellectual competence or emotional and social sensitivity are good reasons to demote him as a spokesperson for atheists, as he is so often assumed to be.

  61. John Morales says

    Eric MacDonald,

    Well, John, guess what? The main reason I have taken my leave of the new atheism is because of empty twaddle like yours.

    What you perceived to be empty twaddle, to be pedantic.

    Abstruse metaphysical arguments have to be understood before they are refuted, and failing to do so, and basing oneself on that failure, is not courage, but fatuity.

    Leaving aside that I for one have been discussing atheism since BBS Usenet days (before it was “new”) and I’m past familiar with all the classical arguments, my twaddle which you saw as so empty noted your expectation that some abstruse metaphysical argument might prove God.

    Anyway, I know that there exist such as you who feel that without undertaking that labour (i.e. to seek to rule out all possible abstruse metaphysical arguments for deities) one cannot in good faith adopt the label ‘atheist’, presumably because to you it’s not a privative term in relation to theism.

    Me, I see no reason to quibble about my non-belief, though obviously I am also agnostic in the ultimate sense.

  62. says

    I’m once again working without a keyboard, so I’ll try to be brief. I’ll note the goalpost-shifting from “practically all” to “the best” arguments. Perhaps the Transcendental Argument (I’m most familiar with Matt Slick’s formulation), William Lane Craig’s version of Kalam, and the Aristotelian Prime Mover that it’s a dressed-up version of, aren’t the best arguments, and perhaps true Scotsmen don’t eat porridge, but they are arguments that suggest hod’s necessity for existence and also posit that god exists.

    Now, perhaps “existent among existents” means “exists within the universe,” in which case you could have saved a paragraph by saying “yes, when I said ‘exist’, I meant ‘within the universe.'” which would have saved a paragraph, a fallacy, and a bit of condescension.

    On Michael Ruse, I was actually president of a club that brought him in to speak when I was an undergrad, around 2004. He was a nice, charming guy, but his presentation seemed essentially like literary analysis of science news. I’m not exactly concerned with his embarrassment. though I’d be a little interested in the actual reasons. You know, because I’m more concerned with actual arguments than authoritative dismissals. “Isn’t it obvious” is not valid when it’s coming from Michael Ruse or Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne, and it’s no more valid dressed up in ten-dollar words coming from you.

  63. Eric MacDonald says

    Sorry Tom, didn’t mean it as goalpost-shifting. What I had in mind from the beginning were the classical arguments, and those used in professional philosophical circles. I am not interested in online apologetics of the sort practiced (very poorly) by Matt Slick, for instance, to name one of your sources. To suggest that we could not recognise logical truths without the existence of God, as Slick slickly does, is stretching the idea of transcendental arguments much too far. And when he includes Kant under that heading he simply does not seem to understand anything at all about Kant’s philosophy of religion, for Kant was amongst the first philosophers who recognised religion as a human creation, though, as he thought, something required by what he called the Kingdom of Ends, which was (as Kant believed) further required by the moral law. But that is a whole other subject, though perhaps worthwhile pursuing.

    Now, perhaps I could have saved some space by using language as you suggest, but there is a vital difference here, brought out by Paul Tillich, in that things that exist cannot, without idolatry, be absolutised, and that is an important qualification that is missed if we do not make a clear distinction between existents (events and objects in the universe) and the ground of the being of that which exists (to put it in Tillich’s fairly Thomistic way). God is that ground, and, in general, it is what arguments to the existence of God attempt to demonstrate (although I was just reading Plantinga, and he seems not to make this distinction in the particular text I was reading).

    Regarding Michael Ruse and Tom Nagel, the only reason I pointed this out is that they are in fact professional philosophers, and do not find new atheist attempts at philosophy particularly reassuring. Nor do I. It’s not a matter of authority. It’s simply a matter of fairly widespread opinion amongst philosophers generally, that new atheists do philosophy rather poorly on the whole, and since these are the experts (and the new atheists do not shrink from asserting their authority in science) they should at least be paid attention to.
    As to my ten dollar words, I don’t know what you mean. I am writing straightforward English sentences in my own style. I do not think about it. I just do it, and I see no reason for your taking exception to the vocabulary that comes naturally to me.

  64. Eric MacDonald says

    No, John, whether or not you are past familiarity with “all” the classical arguments, you show no evidence of it, and that amounts to twaddle (of course in my own perception of these things; how could it be otherwise?). There is a large field of philosophy engaged in philosophy of religion. It is an ongoing discussion, and new atheists (and not so new ones such as yourself) show no acquaintance with it. The problem with this is that you are making rather dismissive pronouncements on things you understand poorly, and you make them with presumed authority. From my point of view, this is contrary to the epistemological humility that is required of us all, and for that reason is to be regretted.

    Quentin Smith, a well-known American philosopher, has expressed his concern over the secularisation of philosophy that has taken place over the last thirty or forty years or so, and the regrettable ignorance which so many philosophers show regarding what is being done in this field. (It is in this light that Paul Kurtz’s dissatisfaction with changes at the Center for Inquiry should be understood.) He himself has been (may still be, for all I know) an editor at Prometheus Books, and is an atheist himself, but he expresses his concern that so many philosophers (and needless to say, as a consequence, many others) exhibit a marked ignorance of the subject. It is not something that is very reassuring in people who profess disbelief, since it is almost certain that they do so for inadequate reasons.

    One of the worst offenders in my view is Boghossian, the epistemologist, who thinks religion is a metal aberration. This just shows how far off the beam so many new atheists really are. One of the most scandalous pictures I have seen recently (other than of the horrors emanating from the Middle East), is one of Dawkins wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: “Religion: There is a cure.” While some religious believers return the favour, there is scarcely any philosophical mileage or respectability in this kind of idiocy. For if there can be rational argument about religion, it cannot be a disease; unless, of course, like John Gray you think that all thinking is somehow mentally aberrant.

  65. John Morales says

    Eric MacDonald, I don’t see religion as a disease; I see it as a crutch. A psychic placebo.

    Not that I dispute that theism and religion are overlapping categories. One can be both, either or neither.

    (I’m neither, in case that’s not apparent to you)

  66. Alex Nery says

    I too have encountered this which Eric is talking about, though Eric, I have to say, if you aren’t the first, you are at least one of the pioneers in a battle atheism will have to eventually face, one that might be even harder than the feminist issue at hand. And that might be simply because atheism boomed in the recent years with this sort of rationale, and being Dawkins one of its leaders, the enthusiasm that it can fight religion and convert others to rationality, just like that, will prove very difficult to overcome. I am very glad, however, that Sam Harris is already tackling one important aspect of it, the religious experience, which he calls spirituality, and he acknowledges it might be harder to attract atheists than it will believers.

    If you do manage to get through your confirmation bias, which I believe is as difficult for atheists as it is for theists, you’ll find plenty of theists, albeit wrong for the most part, do find holes in atheist’s reasoning, gross misrepresentations of their religion, etc. You should know if you follow Richard Carrier. His is a prime example of how knowledgeable you actually have to be to tackle certain issues in religion, and how much atheists themselves can damage a certain cause when they aren’t (as evident by the mythicism bad rep).

    You do find sophisticated thinkers who are theists, and who, if weren’t so incredibly inclined to believe either due to their upbringing or some other strong reason, could be a massive force for skepticism, philosophy, or science. They are, of course, ultimately wrong about the existence of god, either due to a failure in reasoning, or bad evidence. However, that is no excuse for its detractors, which are usually atheists, to misrepresent or simply ignore their case, *specifically* when you are writing a book about it. It weakens the atheists position. It makes it look worse in their eyes, it makes it easier to convince others they are wrong, deceitful, stupid, or simply ignorant of religion in general and thus cannot be trusted.

    We do this too. When we see stupid theists debating, when we watch WLC, we *know* it taints theists image to our eyes, and we know we consciously or unconsciously use that against theism in general. Most atheists I think have the idea that theists in general are stupid because *a lot of them* are. Not understanding evolution, and misrepresenting facts and logical reasoning is generally what makes us dismiss their claims. We shouldn’t follow in their footsteps.

    There has been a great inflation in the movement, pushed by this sort of “shallow” reasoning against religion, but I think we should consistently strive for a more thorough understanding of the other side in order to properly rebut it, or else I think the force of the impulse might not be big enough to prevent its inevitable contraction.

    If we deem the more scientific aspects of the discussion important enough to require Carrier’s expertise in historical and biblical scholarship, or a scientist in their related fields of biology, chemistry and physics, then there’s no reason we should not require that level of professionalism when tackling philosophical issues, which are, in fact, usually the most important for the religious.

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