Friday, April 10, 2009

I prefer the old atheism, personally

A redated post from '07.

I recently exchanged some e-mail with Keith Parsons, who told me he was looking into teaching a class on the New Atheism. I told him that I found the old atheism preferable. But honestly, it seems that beating up on God is a good way to get on to the New York Times best-seller list. Harris, Dawkins, and now Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Now I haven't actually read these works, but I have seen reviews of them, and what I have seen disinclines me to read them. I'm sure they are entertaining reads, especially for the people who buy these talking points, but the portions of them that I have read tells me that they never bother to even try get theistic positions and arguments right. Further, they seem to think that the end of theistic faith will result in the end of war or something like that. I've heard those sorts of sentiments before, in the words of John Lennon:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Now this actually sounds pretty good when John sings it, but as sociopolitical analysis it's sheer snake oil. As another singer says:

if you'll buy that
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
If you'll buy that I'll throw the Golden Gate in free

Look, if you want an entertaining anti-religious diatribe that unfortunately, isn't any good at getting religious arguments and positions right, I recommend Bertrand Russell's esasy "Why I am Not a Christian". I'd like to know one good reason why I should read Dawkins or Hitchens (the Josh McDowells of atheism) when I have Russell. If you want some more serious atheist philosophy, read Mackie's The Miracle of Theism or Keith Parsons' God and the Burden of Proof.

Finally, I do speak out sometimes when fellow Christians embarrass me. I find our (then)
"faith-based" President to be a constant embarrassment. Are atheists at least somewhat embarrassed by people like Dawkins?

54 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I am having a long drawn out discussion about this with an embarrassed atheist who wants to post a review on the Secular Web calling Dawkins' book a joke. Here are some random quotes I wrote about it:

Surely you read where Dawkins quoted Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” (p. 34). And if you were to read chapter 8 you’d see the reason why he is so hostile toward religion. Dawkins is so hostile he does not take the time to understand that which he argues against, I agree. He does not believe because of science. He’s obviously not a philosopher, and he’s obviously not up to par on that which he argues against.

That being said, in calling this book a joke you fail to understand what he has accomplished for us atheists. Here is one of the preeminent evolutionary scientists of our day parading before the world his disgust for religion, and this book has grabbed our attention, being one of a handful of bestselling atheist books. What we find him doing in this book is ridiculing religion, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, for in his mind that’s the best way to treat religion.

But here’s the rub. Dawkins has gained for atheists an audience. People are talking about atheism, his book, and are doing additional research into the arguments against religion in general, and that’s something I am grateful to Dawkins for, even if educated people immersed in these debates don’t think that highly about his arguments.

Did J.L. Mackie’s book, The Miracle of Theism do the same, even though it’s a far superior book? Is Nicholas Everitt’s book, or Graham Oppy’s book getting the same attention? Are the masses of people talking about the issues because of their far superior books? No. The professional philosophers and others are, but such books like theirs go under the radar of the public consciousness. Why? Because of the hostility Dawkins has toward religion and because the Media likes to report on the spectacular, the oddity, and the strange...not the mundane.

So to rail against Dawkins by calling his book a joke when he has done us all the favor of putting these issues in front of the masses is like belittling the person who provided you with both an audience and a platform to speak.

As a direct result of bestselling books by Dawkins & Co., I recently noticed that our local Borders store now has a shelf of "Atheist Books" that they never categorized like that before. This new policy came down from the national headquarters, so I'm told. I'm thankful for that, and so should all atheists, for now with a shelf like that more atheist books will be placed on it, as better writers publish their books. If Dawkins' book is a joke, then it at least gets a chuckle out of me for what it has accomplished. [On a personal note, I'm hoping my book will be placed there when it comes out].

Those who want to berate Dawkins' book fail to understand the nature of the media, the value of radicalism, and the psychology of beliefs. Which Christian, for instance would be upset if someone was converted by the likes of a Josh McDowell a Van Til, or even Kierkegaard? None of us believe for entirely rational reasons. Children believe for less than sound reasons--based upon parent authority.

I maintain that it would be willful ignorance to think Dawkins believes he did enough research into these arguments. He disbelieves on other grounds--scientific grounds--and he's translating what he knows on other grounds into the realm of religion in order to persuade people who are not scientifically literate.

Certain books reach certain people, and that's that. If you're arguing that only the best arguments should be considered and only the most scholarly books should be written, then this is an elitism I simply must reject, since the masses of people cannot be reached with the arguments of scholars, either pro (Alvin Plantinga), or con (Paul Draper). Besides, the smartest and most educated person in the world is probably wrong on these issues.

People believe and disbelieve for many different and various reasons. It's just not that simple. Most of our arguments, even the most scholarly ones, contain a personal element of bias in them. Plantinga and Craig say it's okay to believe without any evidence or arguments at all. I actually agree with them but in reverse. It's okay to disbelieve without any evidence or arguments at all. People who are illiterate and/or mentally challenged may be persuaded one way or another by personal reasons or experiences that they cannot reasonably state. Persuasion. That's what Dawkins is doing. And in the absence of any smoking gun type of argument (pro or con) sometimes that's all we as authors can do. Some philosphers even go so far as to claim this is all that our arguments are worth anyway...mere rhetorical devices to persuade. As such, yes, I'm pleased that Dawkins is persuading people, just as you would be please with a less than sound apologetical argument that convinces people to become Christians (tell me this isn't so, and that you'd prefer they never became Christians at all, rather than believe for less than adequate reasons). There are Christians who believe because they experienced a warm fuzzy feeling, and there are atheists who are convinced by the lack of a warm fuzzy feeling. You would no doubt assert that all of these people are a joke, too. Why? We as humans are not logic machines. We all hold to internally inconsistent propositions and just don't realize it.

His arguments are on the layman variety, and he knows it, so critique him as a layman.

As far as your approach goes, yes, point out the flaws in his arguments, but also recognize and appreciate what Dawkins is doing.

Victor Reppert said...

So, would you make the same kind of claims on behalf of J. P. Holding? Or am I asking too much.

JD Walters said...

I seriously doubt whether a book like Dawkins' would prompt many of the 'masses' to do additional research. More likely they just read it, let the silly, overblown rhetoric sink in, and then go about the rest of their lives thinking that Dawkins is their hero and God is dead.

Anonymous said...

How can Dawkins fail to get theism wrong?

Some theists say God has a son.

Some theists say God does not have a son.

If Dawkins attacks one of these positions, the others will claim he is attacking a position they do not believe.

With 20,000 Christian denominations, Dawkins can't help but hit a strawman , no matter what he says.

John W. Loftus said...

If I was a Christian I would not like the tactics or accept the scholarship of JP Holding, but with Paul I might say that while some preach from "envy, rivalry and selfish ambition," "what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way,...Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." [Phil. 1:15-18] Or I might say his behavior disgraces his God and the gospel. Hard to say really.

Jason Pratt said...

Guess you were asking too much, Vic. {g}

{{If you want some more serious atheist philosophy, read Mackie's The Miracle of Theism or Keith Parsons' God and the Burden of Proof.}}

I agree about KP from long experience, of course.

KP's recent Atheist Manifesto, at the Secular Outpost, is pretty good so far, aside from the rather facetious opening paragraph. Not much of a _manifesto_ per se yet, but I'm only down to the design paragraph. He may be saving the manifesto part for the big finish, where he explains the advantages to believing in a non-rational non-moral universe as a constituent ground for our behaviors... We'll see.

(I'm writing up a comment sheet on it. Despite my tongue in cheek there, I actually have more compliments and agreements with him after the facetious opening argument, than otherwise. And it's been several weeks since he originally posted it; he may later have been more self-critical about that opening paragraph, in a comment or other post.)

JRP

David Wood said...

I wouldn't call Dawkins one of the "Josh McDowells of atheism." McDowell at least tries to be accurate. I would probably call Dawkins one of the "Pat Robertsons of atheism."

David Wood said...

Wait. Could there be a "Benny Hinn of atheism"? If so, Dawkins is the man.

Anonymous said...

JP Holding addresses a lot of subjects which push Christians away from the faith that very few others have (or in an adequate manner).

Jim Lazarus said...

Yeah, I'm pretty embarrassed by Dawkins. I haven't finished reading the entire book yet, but so far it's *thoroughly* Pat Robertson, thoroughly Josh McDowell.

I prefer the old atheism, too.

- Laz

John W. Loftus said...

I've had this same discussion on my own campus in faculty and administration meetings with regard to the shift to entertain students and lure them into the college with "dumbing down" type of classes.

Listen, I am a realist. This is a cultural phenomenon. You can go about claiming you are superior all you want to and how you'd like the past better. But deal with the realities of the present. Without students you wouldn't have a college. Sure, you can claim superiority all you want to as you file for bankruptcy, but surely such idealism must be left in the past if you want to reach people. I'm just more of a pragmatist. This goes for the Church Growth movement among Christians too. Why not find out what it takes to reach this generation and do what it takes?

As far as Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson and Josh McDowell go, would David Wood seriously claim he'd wish the people persuaded by these people were never Christians than that they were persuaded by less that perfect reasons? Vic, would you? Remember what Paul said above.

Victor Reppert said...

It's one thing to do popular scholarship--surely I can't be opposed to that, since I take C. S. Lewis seriously. It is another to be deliberately ignorant or intellectually dishonest. In thinking about the Benny Hinns and the Pat Robertsons, I have to think, too, about all the people who are driven away by these people. Shoot I oversimplify all kinds of things as an introductory philosophy teacher.

There may be a price to be paid for the popularity of the new atheism. For instance, the new atheists are burying permanently the claim they sometimes make themselves, that fanaticism is a religious phenomenon. You write a book called "The End of Faith" or "The God Delusion" and then you imply that the world will be free of fanaticism if God goes by the boards? Now there's an oceanfront property in Arizona sale if I ever heard one.

Don't try convincing me that Christians are all stupid, please. I'm not a child. I've been around too many intelligent Christians to buy that kind of hogwash. Some people actually think I'm an intelligent Christian myself.

David Wood said...

Richard Dawkins is a skidmark on the boxershorts of atheism, and yet he's the most popular atheist in the world. This proves that most atheists' heads are in the wrong place.

Anonymous said...

Victor states that Dawkins is delibarately ignorant and intellectually dishonest in his book 'The God Delusion'

Just think what level of abuse Victor will come up with once he has read The God Delusion.

Plantinga's review of 'The God Delusion' was published on www.richarddawkins.net and Plantinga's arguments were taken apart, danced on, put in little boxes and set on fire.

If an amatuer like Dawkins can come up with arguments that Preofessors at Notre Dame cannot touch, then what hope is there for Christianity?

Mike Darus said...

Is Anonymous referring to the comments to "The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism" on richarddawkins.net? I read through the first 40 comments and saw little substance and no boxes on fire.

Anonymous said...

Dawkins could have made The God Delusion a lot more credible to Christians if he had put a talking donkey in it.

Anonymous said...

Plantinga's arguments were demolished. If you want to resurrect them on the richard dawkins net, I'm sure people will be happy to take them apart again.

Buridan said...

After having waded through the standard ratio of 95% rants and 5% reason in the RD-forum (which is the reason I always rant about it, it is a rather convenient place to show friends and foes the irrationality of some atheists), I discovered in fact a fairly reasoned evaluation of Plantinga in message #101 in that thread.

If anyone is up for it, that post is a place to start.

John W. Loftus said...

Is Dawkins the most popular atheist in the world? He's the most talked about one, for sure. He sparked a debate, and I for one am glad he did. I wonder how many atheists there are like me out there, who think some if not many of his arguments are not well thought out, and yet are thankful he wrote his book? We need poll data to support these things. Many people bought the book just to see what others are talking about. Many Christians bought the book to debunk it. Again, we need poll data to know why it is the success it is.

Brian Trapp said...

Mr. Anonymous,

I recall reading some of the responses to Plantinga's review at RD.net. A comment that stands out is one in which an erudite Dawkinsian claims that, in regard to the limited version of the EAAN that he sets forth in the review, Plantinga can't be taken seriously because he wears glasses.

Seriously.

For a moment while reading those comments I was, like you, tempted to think that I was truly in the presence of intellectual giants, that new Aristotles must be walking among us, following their great leader into a brighter new world.

Then I regained my senses, and realized that I was only reading the rantings of the pseudo-philosophizing fanboys of the world's pre-eminent pseudo-philosopher.

As Buridan said, there are a few decent criticisms of Plantinga on the page in question, and I myself think he could have taken a better route with portions of the review, but if you think that somehow the collected chattering of Dawkinsian sycophants on that page deal any debilitating blows to Plantinga's criticisms of Dawkins, you are regrettably mistaken.

Victor Reppert said...

Let me go back to my original question. Is there anything I can get out of reading Dawkins that I can't get from Russell? Russell's a lot of fun, at the very least. The quotes I have read suggest a dismal battery of straw men and preposterously naive social concepts?

Some Christians are developing a cottage industry of doing Christian apologetics by Dawkins-bashing. I think this is making life too easy for Christian apologists.

Jim Lazarus said...

Vic wrote, "Some Christians are developing a cottage industry of doing Christian apologetics by Dawkins-bashing. I think this is making life too easy for Christian apologists."

On that point, you're damn right.

Anonymous said...

Plantinga claims there is no reason to think that naturalistic methods will lead to improved cognitive abilities.

He then wears distinctly un-supernatural glasses to improves his eyesight.

Why? When there is , in his words, 'no reason' to think that natural methods can lead to reliable cognitive faculties?

Anonymous said...

Plantinga wears glasses and claims that theism leads to the view that God has given humans the ability to form accurate pictures of the world around him.

It is not God who has done that. It is Plantinga's optician.

Anonymous said...

Plantinga says 'In fact he'd have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable.'

Plantinga's cognitive faculties are unreliable, as he demonstrates by his wearing of glasses.

Plantinga also demonstrates his touching faith in naturalism to correct his cognitive faculties.

So Plantinga's glasses shoot down his own arguments as convincingly as if Dawkins said that he knew there was no god, because that is what the Holy Spirit had told him.

Buridan said...

Your comment here, anonymous, is perhaps not philosophy at the highest possible level;-)

Plantinga is not talking about sense perception, he is talking about rational faculties. The same one which led to the invention of glasses.

Which by the way is not a "naturalistic" invention if you by that imply something "atheistic". Spectacles stem from Medieval Europe, somewhere between 1268 and 1289.

Or perhaps you have a philosophical argument which shows that a need for glasses either

a)proves that a pure naturalistic evolution can provide us with rational faculties?

or

b) that we cannot trust our faculties to be rational, wherever they come from?

Mark K. Sprengel said...

I find it hilarious that John W. Loftus criticizes Holding yet has resorted to name calling on tweb himself and of course his lie about "noticing" a blog that "apparenlty" recently started. His complaints about Holding's scholarship are just the typical bs.

Anonymous said...

Is Plantinga really prepared to say that beliefs in quantum mechanics , naturalism , and thermodynamics were formed by natural selection?

They weren't, so his who;e argument is based on a total lack of understanding of how beliefs are formed.

By the way, assuming Plantinga speaks English , 'cognitive faculties' include those faculties related to cognition.

Anonymous said...

Buridan thinks he can reason correctly (perhaps about whether a touchdown was scored), even if he can't actually see what happened.

How do you reason correctly abour what you see around you if God has designed you unreliable eyes?

Mind you, Plantinga is on to something when he claims that evolution through natural selection has not led to our beliefs, so there must be a God.

Have we evolved to believe that we can speak Chinese? No. Plantinga cannot speak Chinese.

Therefore there is a God. How else can 1,000 million people have come to believe they can speak a Chinese language?

(Unless Chinese people are a different species to French people)

Buridan said...

Some more comments on Anonymous comments...

"Is Plantinga really prepared to say that beliefs in quantum mechanics , naturalism , and thermodynamics were formed by natural selection?

They weren't, so his who;e argument is based on a total lack of understanding of how beliefs are formed."

And where do you find him saying such things about how beliefs are formed? Please refer to Plantinga's argument and not to your own impression of it...

"By the way, assuming Plantinga speaks English , 'cognitive faculties' include those faculties related to cognition."

Plantinga is talking about the evolution of man as species, not of Plantinga as a person. No one denies that we as individuals have some differences in our cognitive and rational abilities. Some see and hear better than others, some have higher IQ. If you want to make an argument based on individual differences in this area, please do so. I am still looking forward to see your valid new Atheistic Argument from Plantinga's Glasses.

"Buridan thinks he can reason correctly (perhaps about whether a touchdown was scored), even if he can't actually see what happened."

I think so, based on what others tell me happened, and even on what I myself vaguely witnessed. Even blind people may make rational arguments. Homer is not quite irrational, even if writing about gods.

"How do you reason correctly abour what you see around you if God has designed you unreliable eyes?"

I reason based on what I perceive, even if I see in a haze. Even if you spell wrongly, I can based on my reason deduce that "abour" means "about".

If I think I see a sheep and it turns out to be a snake, I suffer. If I survive, next time I will step more carefully or bring someone with better sight. All rather rational.

"Mind you, Plantinga is on to something when he claims that evolution through natural selection has not led to our beliefs, so there must be a God."

And where does Plantinga claim such a thing? Have you actually read his argument?

"Have we evolved to believe that we can speak Chinese? No. Plantinga cannot speak Chinese.

Therefore there is a God. How else can 1,000 million people have come to believe they can speak a Chinese language?

(Unless Chinese people are a different species to French people)"

If this is how you perceive Plantinga, then I think he is not the only one who need glasses.

Anonymous said...

Buridan claims he can reason correctly about something he cannot see properly.

That might work in philosophy classes, but not in the NFL.

Anonymous said...

I think I follow Plantinga's argument.

Evolution has given people unreliable rational faculties.People often make mistakes in reasoning.

So if people make mistakes in reasoning , they have no reason to think they ever get anything right.

And if you cannot reliably form beliefs about what letters are on an optician's wall chart, you therefore have no reason to believe that wearing glasses will improve your ability to form correct beliefs about what letters are on line 5 of the optician's wall chart.

Buridan said...

"I think I follow Plantinga's argument."

Well, then you think wrongly, whether due to evolution or not.

"Evolution has given people unreliable rational faculties. People often make mistakes in reasoning.

So if people make mistakes in reasoning , they have no reason to think they ever get anything right."

This is not Plantinga's argument. Please check it out.

"And if you cannot reliably form beliefs about what letters are on an optician's wall chart, you therefore have no reason to believe that wearing glasses will improve your ability to form correct beliefs about what letters are on line 5 of the optician's wall chart."

Which again is another matter than Plantinga's argument...

Please quote the appropritate parts you mean support your interpretation, or admit they are on line 5 on the wall chart so you can't quite see them.

Anonymous said...

It appears Buridan wants atheists to guess what Plantinga's argument is.

A bit like guessing what material the Emperor's New Clothes were made out of.

Buridan said...

Rather revealing that you now admit you have to GUESS what his argument is...

This hasn't quite strengthened my impression of the rationality of the RD-forum. It is unfortunately not only Dawkins who lacks familiarity with today's theistic arguments. "The God Delusion" is as Lofthus says in the first comment, an embarrasement to many an atheist.

Platinga's Evolutionary argument against naturalism was published in "Warrant and Proper Function. New York", Oxford University Press, 1993, and has led to an interesting debate.

There is a short discussion on it in Wikipedia.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Until Buridan can explain what Plantinga's argument is and why I cannot understand it, I shall remain convinced that it is simply there for him to say 'That wasn't it. Try again.', every time it is shot to pieces.


When the little boy said 'But the Emperor isn't wearing any silk clothes', Buridan would clam that nobody ever said the clothes were silk, so look harder and try to find out what material the Emperor's New Clothes are really made out of.

Still, it is good

Buridan said...

As Plantinga's argument is rather technical, I think you'll have to check it out for yourself, e.g. on wikipedia. Is is easy to find.

If you take these matters seriously, I think you will.

Let's let the question of who makes Courtiers' Replies rest until then.

Anonymous said...

I see Buridan says the proof of the New Clothes is somewhere else, and he continues his policy of not being able to say a word about Plantinga's *real* argument - the one that is so devastating that he cannot mention it here.


From Plantinga's article 'From a theistic point of view, we'd expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable.'

'Qualifications and caveats'.

An omnipotent God designs the universe to be fine-tuned to hundreds of orders of magnitude and he is still subject to 'qualifications and caveats'.

Plantinga claims this omnipotent God sends the Holy Spirit to whisper justified, warranted, true beliefs into the ears of believers, yet there are still 'qaulifications and caveats' about how reliably believers can form beliefs?

Of course, it is 'sin' which distorts our rational faculties.

There must be so many students who would have passed their advanced calculus classes if their rational facultuies had not been tragically dimmed by stealing a pencil from the classroom.

How does sin distort our rational faculties? Do you lose a point of your IQ for each blasphemy you utter?

What are these 'qualifications and caveats' that Plantinga carefully does not specify in his review of Dawkins? (Perhaps because it would make his argument look even sillier if he said what it was)

Buridan said...

As you still haven't pursued Plantinga's EAAN-argument by simply looking it up - even after being asked to again and again - I think I'll safely drop the matter here.

When commenting on a philosopher you should be prepared to do some homework. Just like Dawkins expect when someone comments on a biologist.

Remember, this is not a discussion forum, it is a comment section in a blog on Philosophy. If you don't want even to look up a well known philosopher's argument, I can't quite help you.

Take care.

philip m said...

As a theist, it is perfectly expected and true that I do not think that every theist argument is a good one. And I think it is an important matter of philosophical integrity to not defend arguments that I do not think are good ones. A mindset that assesses the evidence in a manner that attempts to judge it objectively should be the ultimate goal.

If philosophical integrity is not a top priority, then all philosophical conversation breaks down because we know both sides or arguments are only bolstering their own arguments because they presuppose their worldview after choosing it subjectively and capriciously. It is not that Atheist A thinks Atheist Argument 1 is a good argument, it's just that he's an atheist, so he must defend it. Obviously, this sort of philosophical discourse is arbitrary in its relation to the truth.

Rather, the only and best way for the truth to be attained is to only accept and use those arguments which you think actually work. And you should admonish others to do the same.

Dawkins, Harris, and Co. have not done a good job at spreading this mindset. They speak out of both sides of their mouths in saying out of one side, "We just want people to ask questions!" and then out of the other side, "Oh, and y the way here is the answer, without question!"

Any and all atheists who place any value at all in good-natured, truth-seeking philosophy should denounce Dawkins' Gang as a group of philosophy-abusers that have corrupted people's minds into being as unflinching in their worldviews as those they sought to destroy.

Jason Pratt said...

Incidentally, I wonder why I have a sort of Carr-y aftertaste in the back of my head, after all that...? {g} Hmmm...

Mark beats me to the punch in reffing "[Joftus'] lie about 'noticing' a blog that 'apparenlty' recently started"; this kind of thing is where a 'whatever-it-takes' pragmatism is bound to lead eventually. It's like realism!--except not! {g}

Back when I was in college, there was this guy who would show up once a semester or so, trying to talk students into abandoning college and 'be Christians' instead. More like trying to harrangue them into doing it. (Little facts like how he was willing to drive a Volkswagon van on roads and wear clothes, all designed and at least partially implemented by people who had college-level educations, didn't mean anything to him, but did give an idea of the level of his discourse.)

Various Christian student groups actually did take the opportunity to float the edges of the crowd that would inevitably develop, not so much for purposes of debating him, but of doing damage control. Better that, than to let him give a fallacious impression of what Christianity involves; and for all I know some people were even led to the faith that way. (I recall passing by one afternoon late, on the way back to the dorm, after the guy had packed up and gone, and a serious discussion was going on between some people that looked as though the sceptic was seriously considering becoming a theist at least.)

Anyone I talked to though, myself included, really wished the guy would just drive off a mountain someday because he didn't want his brakes designed by someone with a college education. {s} He was doing more harm than good.

Not that Mr. D is in the same intellectual category, exactly. But still. If I was an atheist, I wouldn't want anyone near him. Truth and accuracy are important, and I don't believe the solution to the popularity of mere rhetoric is to encourage it among people who are susceptible to it.

JRP

PS: I agree with Philip's comment, made while I was composing (I think.) I can tell from his initial remark that he doesn't restrict this to atheists, either, but to people on our own side of the aisle as well; and I agree with that, too.

exapologist said...

It seems that the discussion of Plantinga's argument should have a thread of its own here. Would anyone here with a blog like to create a post on the topic and divert the discussion there?

Anonymous said...

40 plus comments and not a single word yet about any of Dawkins arguments, but plenty of personal abuse of him.

dmx said...

If faith is an irrational choice one makes, why pretend it has a rational basis? Does it matter to argue about it?

It it is not an irrational decision one makes, but a rational one that can effectively be defended rationaly, then there are many more lacking and poorly given arguments in it's favor than there are for atheist's viewpoint.

Therefore, even if Dawkins book was indeed an embarassement for rational atheists, it is but one of the few compared to the volume of silly writings in favor of theisms throughout the ages. If we adhere to some concept of equal opportunity for both sides of this debate, then Dawkins book would not even begin to budge the scale towards equilibrium.

Why then all the fuss? Because it contains dangerous ideas?

(tongue in cheek)

Jason Pratt said...

{{40 plus comments and not a single word yet about any of Dawkins arguments, but plenty of personal abuse of him.}}

Victor has linked to articles on TGD before, and made discussions available then. He could redate those or start a new thread I suppose.

Heraplem said...

"I recently exchanged some e-mail with Keith Parsons, who told me he was looking into teaching a class on the New Atheism."

Incidentally, Doug Geivett is offering such a course this semester at Talbot.

Anonymous said...

The fantasy novel entitled The Bible is a joke. For someone who believes its content to denigrate Dawkins' books is laughable.

Matthew said...

if you'll buy that
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
If you'll buy that I'll throw the Golden Gate in free


That part made me remember the old post

Matthew said...

Did J.L. Mackie’s book, The Miracle of Theism do the same, even though it’s a far superior book? Is Nicholas Everitt’s book, or Graham Oppy’s book getting the same attention? Are the masses of people talking about the issues because of their far superior books? No. The professional philosophers and others are, but such books like theirs go under the radar of the public consciousness. Why?

Because the one thing that unites the vast majority of all atheists is that they are ...
Well, fill in the gap.

Oh and while we are talking about Dawkins, did you know that there's a petition "Dawkins and WLC should debate"?

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/dawkinscraigdebate/

Eric said...

"Plantinga's review of 'The God Delusion' was published on www.richarddawkins.net and Plantinga's arguments were taken apart, danced on, put in little boxes and set on fire.
If an amatuer like Dawkins can come up with arguments that Preofessors at Notre Dame cannot touch, then what hope is there for Christianity?"

That made me chuckle (and then chortle when I went on to read the same person butcher Plantinga's arguments). It's always great to start the day off with a chuckle.

unkle e said...

I want to throw in a completely different viewpoint on Dawkins et al. As a christian, I find many aspects of the modern (or post-modern) affluent western church to be quite contrary to the teachings of Jesus. I find many of them an embarrassment (just as I am sometimes displeased with my own behaviour!).

Over many years, I have formed the conclusion that God often uses the secular world to correct and refine his people. I believe this is happening with the "new atheists". Some of their attacks are on doctrines and practices and attitudes of christians that deserve to be criticised, and surely must change before western christianity can move significantly forwards.

So while the attacks are annoying, let's pray that we'll change in the ways God wants us to.

Rob G said...

Thomist philosopher Ed Feser recently had a post with a similar subject:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/04/give-me-that-old-time-atheism.html

Anonymous said...

Indeed, the repeated and utter trouncing of Dawkins' "arguments" by both professional philosophers and theologians - along with more than a few amateurs, mind you - is stunning. More stunning is the apparent unwillingness for many who claim the fight against theism as being oh-so-important to actually go back and, y'know. Read better, more well thought out books. Which do exist.

Instead the hope is that "if we just repeat that Dawkins and Hitchens and so on are right enough times, it will convince people, and we won't have to actually do any work." Is it laziness or hubris? Who knows, but it's damn funny.

Mike Flynn said...

How does sin distort our rational faculties? Do you lose a point of your IQ for each blasphemy you utter?

No.
a) IQ does not measure rational faculties. See Gould, The Mismeasure of Man
b) "Sin" as such is not equivalent to an individual infraction of a law, but rather to a habit of thought.
c) Human nature is selfish. See the story of Original Sin and/or Dawkins The Selfish Gene. One is a superficial allegory; the other is an ancient myth. Aquinas called selfishness the root of all positive sins.
d) Selfishness is connected to brain patterns originating in the hindbrain.
e) Both virtue and vice are habits of thought and, as such, must be habituated by continual practice. The collective of all such habits is called our "character" and forms a "second nature" atop the first. The word "virtue" means "strength." The main virtues are courage, prudence, justice, and moderation. The vices are negations or privations of these.
f) To the extent that selfish behavior is habituated, the patterns originating in the hindbrain interfere with the frontal lobe. "Subjects with a high degree of neural activity linking the brain stem to the frontal lobe tend to allow emotional responses to override rational assessments of moral dilemmas." If you indulge the body too much, the mind suffers. See Cohen, "The Vulcanization of the Human Brain" http://www.csbmb.princeton.edu/ncc/PDFs/Neural%20Economics/Cohen%20(JEP%2005).pdf
g) In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins proposed that we resist our gene's selfishness. His philosophy provides no basis on which this is possible. For a critique of Dawkins's sloppy reasoning by an atheist philosopher, see Midgley, "Gene-Juggling" http://www.royalinstitutephilosophy.org/articles/article.php?id=14

Hope this helps.