They’ve jumped on a bandwagon and written an opinion piece so stupid I thought my eyes might bleed. They are just tickled that Richard Dawkins said he was agnostic. Why, I don’t know, except that it illustrates how utterly unaware of atheist thought they are.
In an informal dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Dawkins surprised his audience by disclaiming the title of “atheist” — as in World’s Most Famous Atheist, as he’s been universally known up till now — in favor of “agnostic.” This prompted one Christian email correspondent of ours to speculate longingly on whether Dawkins could emerge as a sort of latter-day St. Paul, eventually seeing the light and embracing religious belief.
Nonsense. It’s exactly the same thing he wrote in The God Delusion. Really. I’ll show you in a moment.
Don’t hold your breath on that one, though Dawkins’s listeners were undestandably startled at his backing away from “atheism” in favor of the more modest descriptor, “agnosticism.” He explained that he can’t know with certainty that God doesn’t exist but on a scale of 1 to 7, (with a nervous laugh) he rates himself a 6.9.
Well, that would work out to 98.57 percent confidence.
No, it doesn’t. It’s a landmark on a continuous spectrum of belief, not a statement about the probabilities of certain outcomes. Cancer staging is a series from I to IV, with increasing severity; it is not a statement that cancers spend 25% of their time in stage IV, or if you’re in stage I that there is a 75% chance your cancer doesn’t exist. It’s complete misuse and misunderstanding of the metric.
And then the stupid goes mile high.
I happen to have a ten-sided dice handy — used in a game I play with my 10-year-old son — with which, by rolling twice, you can conveniently generate random numbers between 1 and 100. Let’s see how long it takes me to beat the odds against God.
You are witnessing a real-time scientific trial. (And they say intelligent-design advocates don’t do those!) Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.
That took 9 attempts and about 30 seconds. Dawkins said, “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.” Yet even at 98.57 percent, the odds were not that bad. I would be somewhat reluctant to bet a hundred bucks on that basis. If I were Richard Dawkins it sure does seem like, rather than continue a campaign of mockery against religion, the better-advised course would be to continue on my course of enhanced modesty and just be quiet.
That was an awesomely idiotic bit of rhetoric. He’s trying to get one of two results out of 100 possibilities: on average, if he were reporting it honestly, it would have taken 50 tries to hit the desired values, and his paragraph would have swollen to pointless tedium. He got it in 9 tries. That could have happened by chance, but more likely…he wasn’t reporting the run honestly. Given that it is an intelligent design creationist, I’d say it’s pretty damned likely.
But again, the 7-point scale is not a measure of the probability of existence of a god, and you can translate it into a 1.43% chance that god exists. It’s amazing that they think they can make a serious point with that claim.
Even worse is the faux-astonishment that Dawkins said he was agnostic, or that this represents some softening of his position. It’s what he has said consistently all along.
Here’s what he wrote in The God Delusion.
Let us, then, take the idea of a spectrum of probabilities seriously, and place human judgements about the existence of God along it, between two extremes of opposite certainty. The spectrum is continuous, but it can be represented by the following seven milestones along the way.
1 Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2 Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
3 Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
4 Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
5 Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’
6 Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
7 Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’
I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated. It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so (Jung also believed that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang). Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 – I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.
I have no illusions that posting the facts will sway those batbuggering deranged goons at the Discovery Institute one way or another. But you rational people will at least be able to see how inane they are, and can now point and laugh at them.