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Contra Mundum: Dawkins and secular hypocrisy


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#1 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 06:02 AM

I'm not taken with public debates on evolution, atheism, or other big-ticket items as debates are a poor way of discussing such complex subjects. Furthermore, debating subjects such as evolution runs the risk of giving legitimacy to fringe movements such as special creationism. Giving marginal figures such as Ray Comfort or Eric Hovind the oxygen of publicity is often not worth any gains that may be made by pointing out the flaws of special creationism.

In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins explained the reason for his refusal to engage in debates where the participants were not sincere in their advocacy of the issues:

I had come a long way to perform the disagreeable task of public speaking, because I believed in the truth of the motion that I had been asked to propose. When I discovered that members of the society were using the motion as a vehicle for playing arguing games, I resolved to decline future invitations from debating societies that encourage insincere advocacy on issues where scientific truth is at stake.

It's an excellent position, but Dawkins has not been consistent in his policy on debating since then. The most egregious example has been his refusal to Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. Craig is an expert debater, but unlike the special creationists whom Dawkins rightly regards with disdain, he is a recognised philosopher and theologian, with two doctorates and a number of academic publications. New Zealand philosopher Matt Flannagan notes that:

Craig’s visit to the UK attracted media attention when Richard Dawkins, author of the best selling “God Delusion”, publically and resolutely refused to debate him. Dawkins publically stated earlier of his critics that “he did not care” who they were, he would “dialogue” with them and “win the argument”. He also had publically debated numerous critics significantly less qualified than Craig, notably Ted Haggard. These facts, alongside Dawkins implausible and inconsistent reasons lead to accusations of cowardice and hypocrisy from other academics such as Daniel Came a philosophy professor at St Hugh’s College Oxford.

While WLC is a professional debater, leading to claims that his vaunted success over atheists in debates owed more to his debating skill rather than the quality of his arguments, Dawkins' reasons for refusing to debate WLC, as Flannagan notes don't withstand scrutiny.

The first is that Dawkins has expressed reservations about WLCs status as a philosopher. Flannagan notes dryly:

Dawkins concern about Craig’s alleged lack of scholarly credentials also seems odd seeing that he (Dawkins) had earlier accepted an invitation to debate actor Kirk Cameron. Apparently, having two PhD’s, authoring over 100 papers, and writing 30 books on a topic makes you unqualified to speak on it but being the star of the 80′s TV series “Growing Pains” does qualify you. It’s also ironic that Dawkins would accuse Craig of lacking scholarly credentials on the matter given that he (Dawkins) is a biologist and not a philosopher of religion.

The second problem with Dawkins' position is the hypocrisy inherent in his claim that WLC is 'morally unfit' to debate. Flannagan again:

To substantiate this he cites not from any of Craig’s scholarly writings. But two blog posts Craig had written on with the conquest of Canaan. At face value the early chapters of the book of Joshua portrays God as commanding the killing of every man women and child in Canaan. I say “appears”, here because latter sections of the book of Joshua and its sequel in judges proceed on the assumption this never occurred, and studies into ancient conquest accounts of this genre have noted the widespread use of literary hyperbole whereby victories are described in sweeping rhetoric of killing absolutely everyone when in reality they were nothing of the sort.

As it happens Craig does not take these accounts at face value. While he rejects a hyperbolic reading, he suggests the commands are best understood as a command to destroy the nations as a collective group, not to destroy every individual. The command, on Craig’s view, is a command to drive the inhabitants out of the land (land to which the Israelites had legal title), with only the die-hard occupants who refused to leave being killed. Moreover, Craig expresses scepticism that women and children were remaining at the time of the attack.

In one place however, Craig granted the face value reading for the sake of argument and argued that even if one accepts this, one can still coherently claim that a loving and just God could have issued the commands in question. While a loving and just God would, in normal circumstances, condemn killing of the innocent, in highly unusual rare circumstances a loving and just being could, for the sake of some greater good, permit or command such killing. Craig is clear that he is talking about rare, highly unusual circumstances where killing brings about some greater good. Moreover, Craig believes that with the exception of a couple of incidents recorded in the bible, God has not ever issued such commands, and we should be extremely sceptical of any claim that he has today.

In the Guardian, Dawkins takes the position Craig adopted for the sake of argument as Craig’s actual view, and issued a vitriolic attack on Craig. Dawkins asks? “Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.”

A charitable interpretation of Dawkins' position is that he's grossly misrepresented WLC. I'm not a fan of Divine Command theory, but Dawkins has arguably attacked a parody of WLC. It's hard to take him seriously as a credible figure on philosophy and theology when he pulls such stunts as this.

Dawkins however appears to have a strange view of morality, as evidenced by his praise for controversial Australian philosopher Peter Singer, whose utilitarian views extend to justifying infanticide under certain conditions:

In a documentary he hosted entitled “the Genius of Darwin” on UK’s channel four, Dawkins interviewed Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer. Dawkins opened the interview by stating that Singer was “one of the most moral people in the world”, and that he “certainly [had] the one of most logically thought out ethical position in world.”

The irony of this is that Singer is (in)famous for his advocacy of infanticide: the killing of newborn infants. In his book Practical Ethics, Singer has argued that atheism and Darwinism lead to the conclusion that human infants have no greater moral standing than that of other animals such as pigs or cows. He concludes that the only reason it’s wrong to kill an infant is that doing so upsets the parents or other people in society who desire that it lives. If an infant is disabled, so that its parents do not want it, killing it is permissible. Singer does not limit his conclusion to the severely disabled. He goes so far as to argue that even moderately disabled children can be killed provided that the parents replace the child by having another healthy one. Doing so brings about greater happiness in the world and hence a greater good.

If one applies the same metric to judge both Singer and WLC, it's hard to see how one can call WLC morally unfit, and not tar Singer with the same brush. At best, Dawkins' position is inconsistent. One could be forgiven for thinking that his refusal to debate WLC and willingness to praise Singer is hypocritical. As Flannagan notes:

It’s hard to see how this difference makes Craig “morally unfit” to shake his hand while Singer is one of the most “moral people in the world” worth fawning over on UK TV. It makes about as much sense as the claim that a distinguished philosopher of religion is not academically qualified to debate philosophy of religion, while a famous teen heart throb from an 80’s sitcom is.

Dawkins, I suspect, realises that not only will his philosophical naivete be exposed by Craig, but he'll be eaten alive and made to look a fool in the process. It's easier to glory over has-been TV actors, I guess.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 06:28 AM

Most interesting. :book:

#3 Chris

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 06:44 AM

Methinks New Atheism may be losing its momentum.

#4 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 06:56 AM

Cracking analysis by Flannagan.

:coffee:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#5 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 07:09 AM

Methinks New Atheism may be losing its momentum.

It's a bit hard to go forward when they're pulling themselves apart over matters such as ElevatorGate and sexual politics.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#6 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 07:42 AM

Ho, ho, ho...

In 1970, a promising young scientist returned to Oxford to become a lecturer in the Department of Zoology. He had worked under a Nobel Laureate, Nikolaas Tinbergen, and had published a handful of low-impact papers, mostly about the pecking order of baby chicks. Over the next few years his scientific publications remained modest (and included an absurd speculation that neurone death might be a memory mechanism, published in Nature). But in 1976 he published a popular science book with a catchy title and his public profile went stratospheric.

The Selfish Gene took a scientific idea with an important grain of truth in it (‘Inclusive Fitness’) and elevated it to dogma. Supposedly, we are nothing but lumbering, dribbling bio-cyberbots controlled by our genes: we exist solely because of these, and selfishly reproduce ourselves through sex in order to populate the world with hordes of mini-mes. The book coincided with the rise of materialism and individualism, and became sacred writ to a generation of selfish go-getters.

Richard Dawkins had discovered his métier: a writer of populist science books with a certain socio-political agenda. Having contributed one-and-a-half moderately interesting ideas to evolutionary theory (the ‘Evolutionary Arms Race’ and the ‘Extended Phenotype’), he published very little primary science, becoming a scientific commentator and populariser.

His scientific career rather stalled – he was only appointed Reader in 1990. However, in 1995 an admirer (who had made some serious money from Microsoft) made Oxford University and offer they couldn’t refuse, and handsomely endowed a professorship for (not 'of') Public Understanding of Science with the express intention that the first holder should be Richard Dawkins.

As an Oxford professor, free to preach and publish without being a drain on University funds, Richard Dawkins strutted the international stage. He collected sundry honorary doctorates and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the relatively late age of 61. In 2006 he launched his broadside The God Delusion.

This grossly overstated diatribe attracted very mixed reviews even from his admirers, and scathing reviews from his opponents (Terry Eagleton famously compared it to ‘a book on biology written by someone whose sole knowledge of the subject was acquired from reading The Book of British Birds’). By 2009, John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale could write that ‘a number of serious scientists have come to the view that, by taking shrill positions that go well beyond his area of expertise, Dawkins is bringing science into disrepute’ (Questions of Truth p30, unchallenged in any academic review).

Richard Dawkins retired from his professorship in 2008, but his fame spreads and he continues to be referred to, wrongly, as Professor Dawkins. However, his basic scientific dogma is now fraying badly at the edges.

Firstly, it is now clear, contrary to what was supposed in the 1970s, that genes, although important, are not nearly as important as people then imagined. The human genome is much smaller than was surmised, and much smaller than the genomes of far simpler organisms (maize, for example). The idea that there is ‘a gene for X’ which underlies most of Dr Dawkins’ thinking is ludicrously over-simplistic: genes always act through extremely complex biological networks involving hundreds or even thousands of other genes, and every gene appears to be involved in a myriad of such networks.

It is now quite clear that much of inheritance is ‘epigenetic’, ie not done through the genes at all (epigenetics is a rapidly-developing field of research). Nor are these non-genetic effects matters of minor significance: it is known from twin studies that 80 per cent of variation in stature is inherited, but only about 16 per cent of this can be traced to genetic causes.

Secondly, first-rate scientists are making it increasingly clear that Dr Dawkins’ simplistic views don’t hold water at a biological level. Denis Noble (elected FRS at 43, and currently President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences) has persuasively rebutted Dr Dawkins' proposals, most notably in his book The Music of Life, along with subsequent scientific articles.

John Polkinghorne (elected FRS at 44) and Simon Conway-Morris (FRS at 39) have also been effective critics. And recently two world renowned Harvard biologists, EO Wilson and Martin Nowak, demonstrated that the whole idea of ‘Inclusive Fitness’ is, at best, an approximation that is almost never accurate, and can be quite wrong in significant cases.

So, when we hear the shrill voice of Dr Richard Dawkins bleating about Professor Craig’s ‘relentless drive for self-promotion’, and rejecting the debasement of his eminent CV by debating with the distinguished Christian apologist, we should remember this: Richard Dawkins never contributed much to science; his Oxford chair was bought for him by a rich admirer; and the scientific ideas upon which he built his reputation are increasingly discredited. Those beguiled by his diatribes are listening neither to the voice of reason nor science.


(Source).

:popcorn:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#7 Chris

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 06:22 PM

And the momentum continues to slow.

#8 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 07:08 PM

I think the New Atheists lost a lot of steam when Hitchens died. He was a brawling headkicker with fire in his belly, but he was in tune with popular culture and galvanised the younger generation.

Dawkins exists in the rarefied atmosphere of academia, and seems almost as unfamiliar with the real world as he is with any form of Christianity more sophisticated than fundamentalism (demonstrated by his patronising response to Elevatorgate).

Sam Harris might have filled the gap left by Hitchens (at least, intellectually), but he's not the consummate performer Hitchens was, and his extremist views have left him vulnerable to savage critique from his fellow atheists.

We can forget about Dennett and Stenger; they're not even on the general public's radar.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#9 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 09:18 PM

I think the New Atheists lost a lot of steam when Hitchens died. He was a brawling headkicker with fire in his belly, but he was in tune with popular culture and galvanised the younger generation.

:yep:

It's important to differentiate between the 'New Atheism' and the disenchantment with organised Christianity. The latter is here to stay, while the former is beginning to balkanise, as evidenced by the internecine squabbling over sexual politics. When you try to bring together the radical left (feminists, marxists and other left-wing culture warriors), libertarian frat boys and old-school atheistic scientists, whose only uniting feature is a lack of religious belief, you're bound to end up with problems, once you've exposed the failings of organised Christianity in areas such as child abuse, science denialism and being sock-puppets for the political right for the n-th time. You can see signs of fatigue in atheists such as John Loftus and Alex Botten. If you think that the only instantiation of Christianity is its fundamental variant, then you're going to get tired after ritually thrashing Independent Fundamental Baptists and AiG for the ten thousandth time.

Ironically, the New Atheists may well have done us a favour by concentrating on the low-hanging fruit, and in the process demonstrating that in many ways they're the atheistic analog of fundamentalism. It may well allow us to emphasise to those disenchanted with mainstream Christianity that there's more to Christianity than the 700 Club and Ken Ham.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#10 Hudders

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 09:47 PM

... and Alex Botten.

LOL, I just read the comments section on his blog:

John Bedson
If you want to quit, I’ll take over writing this blog for you, if that will help.


Alex
Sorry John, I’m not passing the blog on.


:coffee:

Edited by Hudders, 08 July 2012 - 09:47 PM.


#11 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 09:52 PM

Is Bedson looking for a new home? Hmmm...
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#12 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 10:24 PM

^^ Good question. Did Corky get tired of him?

Also, is Alex packing up shop?

:popcorn:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#13 Fortigurn

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 10:48 PM


... and Alex Botten.

LOL, I just read the comments section on his blog:


This was ironic:

A few people will have noticed that they can no longer contact me on Facebook, that’s because I’ve cut the people I’m ‘friends’ with back to those I either know in real life, or those who’ve interacted enough with me for my interest in what they’ve got to say to continue. If I’ve deleted you and you feel offended by it, please don’t – I had to clear my timeline of an almost endless stream of negative posts against religion.



#14 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 11:15 PM

Is Alex feeling a bit John Loftus these days?
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#15 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 11:26 PM

^^ Good question. Did Corky get tired of him?

After the Hitler posts vanished, Bedson stopped commenting. I can't help speculating whether that was indeed the case.

Also, is Alex packing up shop?

Looks like it. He's grown tired of tackling Eric Hovind and Sye Ten Bruggencate, who in his universe represent the entire spectrum of Christian thought. Not quite a dummy spit, but rather a recognition that you won't get through YEC / presuppositional Christians with a diamond-tipped drill and a tonne of thermite. A shame he can't get past his fundamentalist past and recognise that there's more to Christianity than those two characters.

Is Alex feeling a bit John Loftus these days?

He wishes.

Edited by Ken Gilmore, 09 July 2012 - 12:01 AM.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#16 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2012 - 11:53 PM

I think it's hilarious that Botten, Corky and Bedson have all fallen over in a heap.

Looks like it.


Pfft. Lightweight. That's what he gets for being a glass cannon atheist.

A shame he can't get past his fundamentalist past and recognise that there's more to Christianity than those two characters.


He knows there is, because he's familiar with our community.

The simple truth is that he lacks the knowledge, ability, and intellectual honesty to tackle anything more sophisticated than Dr Dino so he has to pretend it doesn't exist.

On the rare occasions when he can't help addressing it (e.g. when you, Fort and Len have posted on his blog) he has to convince himself that it's all based on cherrypicking and subjective exegesis. Deep down, he knows he can't afford to take up the challenge because he'd be torn to shreds in minutes.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#17 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 09 July 2012 - 12:05 AM

On the rare occasions when he can't help addressing it (e.g. when you, Fort and Len have posted on his blog) he has to convince himself that it's all based on cherrypicking and subjective exegesis. Deep down, he knows he can't afford to take up the challenge because he'd be torn to shreds in minutes.

That was painfully evident the moment the question of hermeneutics was raised. Definitely a Brave Sir Robin moment.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei




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