Richard Dawkins at UBC: Part One, Dawkins as Rhetor

So someone at the University of British Columbia (UBC) decided it was a good idea to bring Richard Dawkins to campus to give a free public lecture. Fair enough. He’s an academic celebrity and there are precious few of those.

The two (two!) professors who introduced him, however, introduced him as someone who could impressively relate the humanities and the sciences. That claim deserves a little scrutiny.

Lots of people have analyzed and criticized Dawkins’s arguments over the years. Indeed, there are whole forests’ worth of books now in print responding to one or another of his anti-theism volumes. And who can count the number of phosphors employed similarly in the blogosphere?

What I will do over the next three posts is to offer what I hope will be some observations that complement these direct engagements with this ideas, and I will do so indeed from the perspective of the humanities.

Let’s begin with one of the most ancient of the liberal arts and consider Dawkins as Rhetor, as orator, as public speaker.

I was impressed with Dawkins’s poise, diction, and sense of comic timing. He is obviously good at this kind of thing and it was fun to see him do it.

I also enjoyed his crusade on behalf of truth: even if it offends people, even if it robs them of comfort or purpose in life if such is grounded on delusions. We evangelicals like to say similar things about the central importance of truth, and it was a little eerie, as well as gratifying, to see him press the same agenda on an audience that might prefer it if everyone just left everyone else alone to just seek Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, or at least Happiness, Comfort, and Purpose, in Their Own Way—as current cultural orthodoxy has it.

We evangelicals also like his emphasis upon evidence and argument. Vigorous apologetics might be out of style or even in bad taste in some circles, but not in ours. Bring it on! we say, and Dawkins seems glad to oblige.

Except he isn’t. Or, at least, he wasn’t today.

For instead of a sustained, well-evidenced argument, he resorted to a sort of drive-by shooting, a “Top Ten List of Things Atheists Detest about Monotheistic Belief.” Assisted by a clever PowerPoint presentation (although it was likely on Keynote: I stand with Dawkins as a fellow Macintosh user), he moved through a preposterously ambitious list of objections: religion causes violence, religion is unscientific, religion is irrational, religion is oppressive, religion hates women, religion prompts “speciesism,” and more. Little in the way of argument was offered, even less of evidence.

For example, Dawkins maintained that religion has prompted people to kill other people, while atheism has never done so. And he took about three minutes to make this rather sweeping point.

Strictly speaking this is correct: Not believing in God probably never roused anyone to go kill someone else.

But not believing in God, of course (of course, Professor Dawkins), means that one has relieved oneself of a significant restraint on all the other motives one might have for killing someone else: such time-honoured motives as land, power, wealth, ideology, and the like. And, indeed, that is precisely what we see in the bloody twentieth century: atheistic regimes claiming more lives than all previous regimes put together. So atheism is hardly off the hook when it comes to global violence.

Dawkins likes to say, and did say again, that religion is based on faith, while science is based on evidence. What Dawkins doesn’t say, and didn’t say again, is that faith is also based on evidence. So the parallel is simply false and he (and many others) needs to rethink the relationship of science and faith. (I have written a bit about faith and evidence in a trio of posts, starting here.)

Dawkins also chided Christians for the argument from design on the grounds that they misunderstand natural selection as mere chance, thus ridiculing Darwinism with Fred Hoyle’s famous analogy of the hurricane blowing through a junkyard and constructing an airliner thereby. There’s something valid to Dawkins’s reply. But it literally doesn’t begin to explain all of the “black boxes” of complex mechanisms in nature the intermediate phases of which can hardly be conceived to have accumulated merely via natural selection, as Michael Behe and others have shown. Dawkins doesn’t engage this serious, science-based argument, and instead contents himself with a quick thwack at stupid theists instead.

And that’s what most of the talk was: a smart atheist bashing dumb theists. Such an event is fun, perhaps—in the way that shooting fish in a barrel is fun for the uncompetitive and untalented—but it seems rather unworthy of the latest Great Champion of Freethinking Atheism.

I indulge in that bit of sarcasm to chide Dawkins on the other truly hypocritical dimension of his presentation. Not only did this tribune of reason and evidence offer precious little of either, but this defender of civil and forthright controversy resorted frequently to mere joking in place of argument. Indeed, in the most egregious part of his presentation, he played a video clip of a British comedian taking easy aim at touchy and violent Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

It’s not that either Dawkins or his comedic surrogate were all wrong. They scored some genuine points. It’s that the whole mode of engagement was not engagement at all, but rather simply a barrage of insults and reprimands.

And that’s the main point: Dawkins did not seriously advance a particular outlook, showing how it offered superior explanations for such vital matters as, say, love, altruism, morality, guilt, aspiration to life after death, or even the rational basis for science itself—all of which have indeed been explained and defended from various theistic standpoints. Instead, he merely took shots at other points of view from an assumed, but not demonstrated, height of moral and intellectual superiority.

So as I sat in UBC’s grand Chan Centre Theatre among hundreds of students and professors, I was embarrassed, I confess, to be a member of the UBC community: embarrassed at the fawning introductions by two professors who clearly could not distinguish between a legitimate philosophical argument and a mere tour de force; embarrassed that this excellent university had not invited any capable person to respond to his remarks in the spirit of proper intellectual exchange; and embarrassed to know for certain that there is no way these same university sponsors would endorse a similar talk by an eminent Christian scholar who offered an alternative point of view—not scientists such as Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne, John Lennox, or Alister McGrath, let alone philosophers, theologians, or cultural historians (for in the apologetical combination of these disciplines is the true discourse of Richard Dawkins in this mode) such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Nancey Murphy, William Lane Craig, or Rodney Stark.

So it was a sorry spectacle indeed.

And that was the formal presentation. Things got much more interesting, however, in the question-and-answer period that followed. On that, my next post.

0 Responses to “Richard Dawkins at UBC: Part One, Dawkins as Rhetor”

  1. From Stackblog: Richard Dawkins at UBC « a fresh focus

    […] From Stackblog: Richard Dawkins at UBC 1 05 2008 I came across this impressive and insightful commentary of Richard Dawkins’ recent visit to the University of British Columbia.  A recommended read; check it out here: Richard Dawkins at UBC Part 1 […]

  2. Barbara

    I am interested in your comments and doubtless would agree with many of your observations if I had been there myself.

    Still, the idea that a belief in God restrains violence (or that aetheism promotes it) is something I find incomprehensible. Any ideological creed – whether religious or socioeconomi/political – can lead to mass atrocities. An absence of ideology rarely does. Mao, Stalin and Hitler did not commit their atrocities because they were aetheists, but because they were power-hungry ideologues. The Inquisition committed its atrocities because it was power-hungry and Catholic. To say that ANY of these ideologies act to restrain violence, murder or war, whether they are aetheistic or religious, appears disingenuous.

    The only “creed” that appears to me to restrain violence towards other human beings is a simple humanism that any believer or non-believer can suscribe to.

  3. John Stackhouse

    Barbara,

    I’d just like to clarify that my argument is with Dawkins’s disingenuous contention that atheism is not responsible for violence but religion is. I’m certainly not arguing the contrary proposition that atheism is solely responsible for violence and religion isn’t!

    Instead, I’m making an essentially negative argument, namely, that not believing in something (say, God) doesn’t promote violence, yes, for how could not believing in something prompt any particular action? But the lack of belief in something also doesn’t restrain violence the way a positive belief could. Believing in a good God who doesn’t want you to commit selfish violence might restrain you. Likewise, having a generic commitment to the dignity of human life, however grounded (as you suggest), might restrain you also.

    But not believing in such a God and not believing in such a humanism would equally then mean you lack either of those restraints when you do feel like doing violence for the sake of vengeance, or greed, or whatever. That’s my only point here, and it is a serious one on the other side of the twentieth century in which we have seen such violence done by people who felt neither of these restraints: Mao certainly didn’t, Stalin certainly didn’t, and so on.

  4. Scott

    Interesting post! I only take issue with the statements on ID:
    “But it literally doesn’t begin to explain all of the “black boxes” of complex mechanisms in nature the intermediate phases of which can hardly be conceived to have accumulated merely via natural selection, as Michael Behe and others have shown.”

    Dawkins might not have have explained these “black boxes”, but many other biologists have. Behe uses examples of irreducible complexity such as the bacterial flagella, immune cascades and even the eye in order to argue that these things could simply not happen by chance. Behe argues that intermediary steps would be useless biologically speaking thus they must have been designed. Behe’s work has been shown to be incorrect by a number of people (including Ken Miller who was a witness at the Kitzmiller et. al. vs. Dover School Board trial two or three years ago; see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg). Behe maintains that structures like that bacterial flagella must have been designed as they have no intermediary steps. The bacterial flagella has been shown to be a few proteins different from a bacterial excretory protein complex. The eye has evolved numerous times independently, and to counter the argument “what good is half an eye?” It is better than no eye at all. A few light sensitive cells might offer an organism a slight advantage, and therefore increase its reproductive fitness.

    There is overwhelming evidence for evolution, and many far more eloquent people than I have articulated it. ID (intelligent design) purports itself as a science that is suppressed by “Darwinian conspiracies”. The problem is that IDers has not come up with any testable hypothesis regarding theories. That is why scientists disagree with it. It is not science, it is religion attempting to masquerade as science.

    Most biologists do not understand why there is even still a debate over ID in schools, which is probably why Dawkins gave it so little attention. The evidence for evolution is there for all to read and evaluate, and it is thorough. As a Christian, I feel it is right to accept evolution as the mechanism for the biological diversity we see on our planet today. I also think it shows an extreme lack of imagination to push the ID view: “Something is complex, and we cannot figure out how it evolved, so God did it”.

  5. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, Scott, for this post, and for more than one reason.

    First, it’s important nowadays for Christians who are evolutionists to signal that there are such things as, yes, Christians who are evolutionists! I know, I know: You shouldn’t have to bother. Indeed, there have been Christians who are evolutionists as long as there have been evolutionists, as a number of fine histories of nineteenth-century science show.

    Still, so many propagandists from both extremes–creation science on one end and atheist evolutionists on the other–claim that one has to choose between “creation” and “evolution,” it is good to keep hearing that some people (which is to say, thousands and thousands of scientists in particular) manage to somehow combine Christian faith and evolutionary theory.

    Second, thanks for advancing the particular point about “black boxes.” I do know that some of Behe’s examples have been shown to work much less well than he thought, or perhaps not at all. But my understanding is that he knows that, too, and has revised his book on the subject in the light of that. Are you claiming that there are no such cases left?

    I’m not a scientist, so please bear with me. But my understanding of the case is not that “some light-sensitive cells are better than none.” I get that easily enough. I thought instead that the case was that there are other structures that are necessary in the proper operation of the eye that do not, in fact, have any advantage in themselves, but the opposite. They should have been shed by natural selection. That seems to me, as a scientific layperson, to be a cogent point to make.

    Third, as for God making certain things happen by direct action, rather than via evolutionary processes, well, I can understand your resistance to that idea as a scientist. For if we invoke the “God of the gaps,” then we stop looking for any other explanation–and we might well stop looking prematurely. I understand and I agree.

    Still, as a theologian, philosopher, and historian, I want to come back to say that ID represents at least one crucial idea. For what if God did, indeed, step in to help the world along at some or all of the following junctures: the origin of life; the origin of the cell; the origin of multicellular organisms; the origin of humanity; and maybe at some other interesting places?

    If God did do that–and here’s the paradox–then science would be wasting its time looking for an explanation in natural processes. It would, in fact, be the best inference from the data to conclude that here, at least, God must have stepped in to make happen what otherwise has no plausible explanation.

    Now, you might say, we don’t have nearly enough evidence to call off the search and simply invoke God. Fine with me. You’re the scientist. If you think you should keep looking, keep looking.

    But Christians do believe that God has occasionally entered history to change it from its otherwise normal course. “Miracle stories,” we call them, and the Bible is full of them. Furthermore, at the heart of our religion we celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation and all of its attendant miracles, not least of which is the salvation of you and me.

    So if we Christians are indeed not only open to the possibility that God might “interfere” in the usual flow of things but we are instead committed, body and soul, to the belief that he has in fact so “interfered,” then I can’t see us ruling out of court the possibility that he did the same sort of thing to bring about life on earth in the dazzling profusion and complexity we see.

    For my part, then, I’m content to let you scientists keep working away at naturalistic explanations. That’s what you do, and God bless you as you do it!

    But I’m not going to let you get away with shutting the door on divine intervention in biology a priori, just as I won’t let my fellow theologians or philosophers do it in religious history! I think we should keep an open mind about such things just in case the evidence does lead us to such a conclusion–as I presume it has in your case when it comes to a particularly fascinating juncture in the career of life on earth: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  6. Jim Martin

    John,

    Thanks for these posts. How interesting. As someone who has been on the campus of UBC on a number of occasions (staying there while sitting in on a summer class at Regent), I could just picture this.

    And–how said that UBC did not have present some of the very qualified persons who you mentioned.

    Thanks.

  7. Michael Toft

    Dear Professor,

    I`ve seen Richard Dawkins slideshow many times, and also was in attendance during his presentation at UBC.

    First of all, I would warn you not to say he is on a “crusade” or that he is bringing the “gospel” of science or other manner of corruptive euphemism. The religious tendency to clothe opponents in religious language as a sort of justification or support for religion’s existence, instead of nothing more than subtle and benign eloquence, is disgraceful. I hope you have not fallen into that.

    Secondly, you’re not the first to characterise the slideshow as a “drive by” barrage of criticisms. And I’ll agree, there is little evidence in it. I think however that the content is an appeal to common sense more than anything. You may think that an actual appeal with abundant evidence included may be more suited to a history lecture. I would concur.

    I also would concur that religion is based on evidence. The problem with it is that there is lots of evidence, and that it is not all created equal. And even with the hard-won objective evidence that science reliably provides, it is still sadly subject not to healthly scrutiny, but to selective wishful-thinking among humans, and the dumb among us, theists or otherwise, often do not know or care to make the distinction between the obvious and the ambiguous, or shall I say interpretable. The parallel is not false because in the arena of evidence, science and religion are simply not created equal. Human beings are fallible. Facts and probabilities aren’t. But I suspect wishful thinking is preventing you from accepting this.

    And by the way. There were no insults in the slideshow. An insult is an ad hominem attack that never makes a point but to express a general dislike. I believe you are smart enough to be more honest than that.

    And what reprimands? A criticism, apart from an ad hominem attack which you mistakenly accused Dawkins of, is not a reprimand.

    And as to the critcism of 20th century atheism- stop it. Just stop it. This is a very tiresome subject for atheists, and we very much dislike to address this shallow misinterpretation of history. You may be a professor, but you need to do more dispassionate reading. You need to understand, and not dismiss to comfort your evangelical faith, the pagan underlyings of Nazi ideology, without which there would be no basis for a Final Solution, for example, or the masochist enforced worship of sadistic communist leaders such as Stalin and Kim Jong Il. These societies are explicitly religious functionally (as in the case of the latter) if not ideologically as well (the former).

    An while you’re at it, contemplate the use of 20th century weaponry during the crusades. Wouldn’t that have been fun?

    And lastly, the suggestion about atheism being a negative force that cannot restrain one from committing bad acts, only emphasises the need for positive forces of restraint other than what could only be to certain smart, educated people an imaginary being. I mean this. I could not bring myself to such self-deception, and so I must seek other reasons to qwell violent impulses within me. The bottom line is truth. The behaviour of peaceful non-believers should tell you that other mechanisms for restraint exist, and the seeming implication in your blog that religion is better because it offers a means of restraint, should be called into question.

  8. Michael Toft

    I should have added on the issue of 20th century atheism that you had addressed it in part in your response to Barbara’s post.

    I must point out, that although these atheists did not believe in a higher power, they believed in their own power. You must confess it is a game changer when the leader themselves are a God explicitly, as in North Korea, or functionally, as in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. And the society they build with a vice grip shall indeed be religious.

    And the restrictive quality of faith does NOT WORK ENOUGH. It didn’t stop predatory priests in the catholic church from practising pederasty, which must be linked to their privileged position of having divione information, as well as reverence from a congregation loyal to them. These men are only human, but where is God?

  9. John Stackhouse

    Dear Mr. Toft,

    You raise a number of issues, most of them not very clearly, alas, and too many for a point-by-point response. Indeed, your two posts are a nice tribute to the way Dawkins himself argues: a little insult here, a little misdefinition there, a little red herring over yonder, more than a little misinformation pretty much throughout, and a general tone of pugnacity and superiority that discourages one from even beginning to engage you in a serious conversation.

    Just one quick example: You define religion quite differently than does Dawkins, who clearly states that he is against monotheism, not just any sort of religion. Your posts, however, confuse all sorts of religious beliefs with Dawkins’s insistence on monotheism as his target, going so far as to even speak of “functional” religions such as dictatorships as “religions”–which is not at all Dawkins’s point.

    So I’m at a loss as to how to reply to such a string of badly-put rejoinders, and would be glad to try if you will pick one and focus on it.

  10. Chris

    “that is precisely what we see in the bloody twentieth century: atheistic regimes claiming more lives than all previous regimes put together.”

    Is that so? Stalin’s regime and a number of others certainly can be described as atheist even though unlike many religious regimes their actions were not in the name of god / no god but a totalitarian ideology. But both Hitler and his regime (‘In God We Trust’) were not at all atheistic even though some misguided religionists try to claim otherwise, and Hitler’s big allies Imperial devout Japan and Roman Catholic Italy, not to mention the slaughter perpetrated by devout Catholic Franco (Hitler himself said towards the end of his life he had aleways been a Catholic, for what that is worth). So if we add Nazi (and its allies) slaughter together plus much else done in the name of religion including the First World War ‘with god being on both sides at the same time’ your calculation seems somewhat suspect to put it mildly, even if one wanted to enter this distasteful numbers game.
    And then again the scale of mass slaughter of the twentieth century has a lot to do with modern technology. Imagine modern weapons in the hands of religious war leaders of the past! Imagine (or rather, fear the distinct possibility) of modern nuclear, biological, chemical weapons in the hands of religious fanatics today. Indeed it is this very fear that has contributed to the rise of the so-called new atheists.
    Frankly, I sincerely believe your whole line of argument on this is something religionists should approach with much more care than you do.

    Chris

  11. Chris

    The very inappropriate smiley should have been bracket!

    Chris

  12. John Stackhouse

    Chris, you’re right that counting isn’t really the point.

    But if we’re going to count, then yes, count Stalin. And Mao. And Pol Pot. (You forgot the last two, and their numbers matter.)

    Don’t ignore the Nazis, furthermore, because whatever weirdness Adolf Hitler himself was up to in his private religious pursuits, the ideology of National Socialism was blood and soil, a secular religion of nationalism, not anything like Dawkins’s enemy of monotheism.

    But we’re now well off the point, which is whether monotheism is patently inferior to atheism, since the former prompts violence and the latter doesn’t, according to Dawkins. And that point, the main point Dawkins is making, seems to me absurd in the face of even the most recent century’s wars.

  13. Chris

    “the ideology of National Socialism was blood and soil, a secular religion of nationalism, not anything like Dawkins’s enemy of monotheism.”

    I think you are absolutely wrong: from my study of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s life and speeches and carrying out the ‘Will of the Lord’ and support for religious education / indoctrination, early suppression of secularists, his regime’s use of “In God We Trust” for example on military belt buckles and identity card descriptions of military personnel religion as “Believer in God” and the burial of Germany’s army in Christian graves with Christian services and Nazi attacks on ‘godless atheists’, relationships with the Catholic Church which supported Fascism everywhere —– and so much more which could be said to expose the false image which either dishonest or badly informed religionists try to promote.

    I did not of course ‘forget’ Mao or Pol Pot any more than I could ‘forget’ the bloody history of religion when it gets into power just about anywhere at any time.

    Chris

  14. John Stackhouse

    Well, Chris, as this last post, along with your others, makes clear, you argue very selectively and defensively, and therefore not in what I’m used to calling genuine dialogue. Since you are so thoroughly convinced of your opinions, we’ll leave it at that.

  15. Michael Toft

    John,

    First of all, ask Richard and he’ll tell you that he IS against religion in general, and not simply monotheism. That he addresses all the religious systems that we no longer believe in, and does not say we SHOULD believe in them, makes this evident. To say he’s against monotheism solely, is to say that he is over simplistic in his criticisms, or addresses the symptom and not the disease, and he is too smart for that.

    Re: functional religion. In Nazi Germany, one exalted the pure race. In North Korea, they worship Kim Jong Il and his father, as gods. I’m surprised if you need them to attach the word “religion” to understand what is going on.

    That Dawkins does not speak of functional religion is irrelevant. I was very clear on my meaning, and was clearly speaking for myself. There is no need to align myself with someone to validate my point.

    That is a clever evasion of having to reply by saying there are too many points to address.

    “a little insult here, a little misdefinition there, a little red herring over yonder, more than a little misinformation pretty much throughout, and a general tone of pugnacity and superiority that discourages one from even beginning to engage you in a serious conversation.”

    Give specific examples of each please next time you lay such charges on someone. And if they approach as I do, then explain why pugnacity is so inappropriate to a debate or intellectual challenge. And then explain how your high brow retort that you cannot begin to engage them is not expressing superiority.

    All in the spirit of intellectual honesty, you see…

    I generally do not like theists, for sure, at least as far as their beliefs. Engaging in a reasoned debate is pointless most often, because they are ultimately convinced of there rightness so “convinced of your opinions” as you hypocritically said of Chris, the opposite of people like me, and they have the fatal flaw of wanting to believe that something is true, rather that that it really is. In this way, you would be right not to engage me, as it would be pointless in the face of your all-conquering wishful-thinking.

    Debating from personal credulity and not intellectual honesty is a certain recipe for futility.

    I do not apologise for my tone. I speak unforgivingly and with intellectual honesty. I am more a polemicist like Christopher Hitchens than Dawkins, which would further explain a theist’s wish to avoid a debate. I am not ingratiating, accommodating of bad ideas or arguments, which motivated me to comment on this blog originally, nor am I collegial or cuddly.

    I am, however, dead serious.

    Michael

  16. John Stackhouse

    Again, friend Toft, it’s hard to know how to respond. You begin this post by saying that Dawkins is against “religion in general.” But this seems obviously wrong and in at least two respects.

    First, in his UBC lecture he distinguished quite clearly between theistic religion (which he despises) and a religious feeling of the unity and beauty of the universe, which he attributed to Einstein and to some others with whom, he said several times, he has no quarrel.

    Second, the functional definition of religion matters fundamentally here, since according to that definition EVERYONE has a religion: religion is simply whatever it is that animates an individual or a group, whatever it is that receives their chief attention and concern. Thus we can, as you properly do, speak of nationalism as a religion. But then Dawkins himself has a religion, which he has yet to specify very clearly or elaborately, to be sure, of some sort of secular humanism (and I mean that in the strict sense of the Humanist Manifestoes and the Secular Humanist Declaration, which seem to me to be good articulations of Dawkins’s general viewpoint). So he can’t be against religion in general in this sense.

    I don’t mean to attempt a clever evasion of your points. And I did provide an example. And here we are still: You and I have now expended a number of paragraphs going over a single point of what I think ought to be obvious, namely, what it is that Dawkins means by “religion.”

    I shall go further to oblige you by saying that of course some participants in such exchanges are thoroughly convinced of their basic opinions. I am and you apparently are, too. So then we have to ask why we’re bothering to dispute with each other.

    In my case, I dispute with you partly because I hope to convince you of the error of your views. (You say you like straight talk, so let’s speak plainly.) And why would I bother to do that? I do so because my God loves the world and commands me to love the world, which means doing for other people whatever good I can. In this case, since you and I like to argue, I’ll argue! But I’ll do it in hopes of actually giving you something good you might not have had before: perhaps a new way of seeing something, perhaps a good argument that might cause you to reconsider your views, and so on.

    Second, I dispute with you partly because I hope other people will be benefitted from reading our exchange, either in what we say or in how we say it.

    Third, I dispute with you because I have been wrong about lots of things before, including important things, and I might be wrong about something big or small in this discussion. I like being right! But I would rather be corrected than incorrect. I have learned a lot from reading and listening to non-Christians over the years, whether their names are Kong-zi, Siddhartha, or Nietzsche, or just a colleague or neighbour. So I want to keep learning, particularly if they can correct something I think that is wrong.

    Happily, however, I have no reason to dispute with you for personal advantage or ill will. I’m not angry with non-Christians, or contemptuous of them as a class. I came to strongly dislike Richard Dawkins, at least as he appeared at UBC, but who cares? I write instead because I want to try to undo some of the damage I think he does–and if I’m wrong about something and he’s actually right, then I need to know.

    So that’s why I’m in this. Why are you? Why do you dispute with me or with any theists? I’m honestly curious to know.

  17. Michael Toft

    John,

    I spent the summer away and disinterested in this blog, but have come back tonight to read your response (I left on vacation the day after I wrote my last comment and never regained the impulse to revisit). I hope you can forgive the lapse.

    “So then we have to ask why we’re bothering to dispute with each other.”

    Why should we bother to dispute if we are not set in our beliefs? Set in them for the reason of having investigated them, or set in them for the reason of adherence to tradition, or other form value-rationalism (I think I employed that Weberian term correctly…) is different however.

    It is the difference between objectivity, and subjectivity.

    “religion is simply whatever it is that animates an individual or a group, whatever it is that receives their chief attention and concern.”

    Where do you get that definition from? I suppose religion in western society is capitalism and economic success but no one would ascribe to it religious status beyond the metaphorical sense.

    Let us adhere strictly to the literal sense of the word.

    If you would continue to employ the term religion to myriad activities unrelated to sacred ritual in the future, you may well do so. But I think we can safely discard the term once we discard belief in the supernatural.

    Retaining it seems to me an excuse to retain that belief.

    “I do so because my God loves the world and commands me to love the world, which means doing for other people whatever good I can.”

    No. You love the world. And therefore you believe in a God that commands you to love the world. It is a display of existential bad faith.

    Why do you strongly dislike Dawkins? He’s an all-round courteous, conversational, well-cultured man. Isn’t he?

    I’m sure you are too. We can only hope I am too (but I won’t risk passing judgement.)

    I’m in this because I’ve always found religion to be ridiculous, from the archaic language it is written in, to the too-good-to-be-true, and too-bad-to-be-true doctrines of heaven and hell.

    It occurred to be me at a very young age how much more sense it would make if it was a big joke played on humanity by some time-heavy comedians in the ancient world.

    I am fascinated by philosophy. I am fascinated by people who believe I am going to Hell. I am fascinated by people who believe the Earth is 6000 years old.

    And on it goes.

    I am fascinated the people avow so strongly to God’s existence, and yet I, like Christopher Hitchens, have not felt him my entire life.

    Religion is also of great interest to me, as religious politicians shape their platforms based on their faith, whether it is denying women the right to choose, labeling them murders, compromising science education, or using God’s instructions as a mandate for war, and not the electorate’s consent.

    Religion’s scope is universal. As an amateur philosopher, I cannot help but be absorbed by it.

    I neglected you over the summer. Therefore, my questions take on a rhetorical aspect as I realise it is now term time and you may be confronting even more souls damned or otherwise, however which seek grades, and degrees with which to elevate themselves within society.

    God did not command you to assume your role in helping them. He only wants you to believe in him (For which you’ll receive enternal salvation. Oh goody…) You chose your vocation for yourself.

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