Home > Atheism, Debate, Skepticism, Theism > The Empty Voice That Is The Response To Dawkins.

The Empty Voice That Is The Response To Dawkins.

This article was promptly released by Daniel Came over at the Guardian in response to Dawkins refusal to debate William Lane Craig.

As usual and always there are no definitions of terms – when the term “New Atheism” is thrown around we are simply left to ask who, or what that might be – of course we can assume it’s Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Harris – but read any theist blog on the subject now and the list seems to include any atheist author publishing at the moment, as we will see.

Allow Austin Cline at About.com to define it for you :

New atheism is defined in both positive and negative ways. The positive definition of new atheism is a modern, 21st century movement in atheism which is openly critical of theism and religion and which is less willing to be accommodating to religious beliefs, traditions, or institutions. The negative definition of new atheism is a militant, fundamentalist movement dedicated to the eradication of religion.(Quine, Definition of New Atheism)

The article begins by apparently showing how scared the Gnu Atheists are of debating Craig:

Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

Firstly this great piece of reporting is twisting the fact that Grayling may have declined to debate Craig in this instance – but forgets to mention that Grayling has already debated Craig! Moreover this piece of rhetoric completely skips over the fact that Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger and others  (I recommend the debates between Eddie Tabash/Craig, and Keith Parsons/Craig) who might be labeled with the New Atheist title have all gone up against Craig. It seems atheists are eager to que up against “an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed.” But let us not let the facts get in the way of good rhetoric.

Next Came moves on to a critique of Dawkins book The God Delusion– but what is this critique? That the book has no new arguments?

Ironically, there is nothing substantively new about the New Atheists either. Despite its self-congratulatory tone, The God Delusion contains no original arguments for atheism… Dawkins maintains that we’re not justified in inferring a designer as the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe because then a new problem surfaces: who designed the designer? This argument is as old as the hills and as any reasonably competent first-year undergraduate could point out is patently invalid. For an explanation to be successful we do not need an explanation of the explanation. One might as well say that evolution by natural selection explains nothing because it does nothing to explain why there were living organisms on earth in the first place; or that the big bang fails to explain the cosmic background radiation because the big bang is itself inexplicable. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

Firstly – it wasn’t the “Gnu Atheists” who labelled themselves as such – this is a meaningless objection -moreover if a critique of the intelligent design position (and argument) is not new, then it follows that the argument it is critiquing is also, not new! One might also ask ” and who cares?” Are we only to address arguments that are new? Well we might, if theists weren’t using the intelligent design position today, which they are. As we can see this is an esoteric and empty objection.

Came’s critique of Dawkins “Ultimate Boeing 747” argument as presented here is a strawman – Dawkins spends a 50 page chapter explaining and defining the parameters of the argument and Came shortens it to “who designed the designer?”?? It completely misses the point of Dawkins objection: which is an argument that solves the apparent statistical improbability of complex on earth, by using natural selection. To Dawkins, life on earth has evolved by natural selection, to postulate an esoteric “designer” to explain that process, adds nothing to it, fails Occam’s razor, is counter to the evolution explanation, as well as not being supported by the evidence. To quote Christian Ken Miller in his book Finding Darwin’s God:

The advocates of intelligent design have no explanation beyond the whim of a designer himself. That’s just the way he chose to do it… Evolution offers the perfect explanation. (Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, p. 94, 1999)

Moreover as John Allen Paulos states in his book Irreligion in seeming support of Dawkins:

The absence of an answer to the question “What caused, preceded, or created God?” made in my eyes, the existence of the latter being an unnecessary, antecedent mystery. Why introduce Him? Why postulate a completely nonexplanatory, extra perplexity to help the already sufficiently perplexing and beautiful world?” (Paulos, Irreligion, p. XI, 2008)

The next part, is the reason I’m writing this, as it’s something I’ve been wanting to write a blog on for a while – Came mentions Bertrand Russell, and how polite a scholar he was:

What is new is the belittling posture toward religious believers and the fury of the polemics. The New Atheism is certainly a far cry from the model of civilised interlocution between “old atheist” Bertrand Russell and Father Copleston that took place and was broadcast on BBC Radio in 1948. The New Atheists could learn a lot from the likes of Russell, whose altogether more powerful approach was at once respectful and a model of philosophical precision. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

Now, yes it is possible Came is only referring to Russell’s debate with Copelston (who was a great author in his own right, check out his analysis of Aquinas), but why would he mention Russell’s tone which was apparently “respectful and a model of philosophical precision.” if he didn’t deem his entire work to be so? But, we are left to ask – if we accept this – just what did Russell have to say about believers, Christianity and religion? Let us look from his famous works Why I Am Not A Christian:

That this idea – that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been about religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures, there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sort of people in the name of religion. (Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, p. 20, 1957)

So we see, the New Atheism is not new at all, Came has not researched his paper, and where he has written on the truth of subjects, viz. Grayling, he has omitted or twisted facts – to suit his purposes. Sounds like reasoned, fair critique to me. I wonder – if the Gnu Atheists are so “undignified”, “belittling”, “polemical” “inadequate” in their argumentation as Came suggests – why would he need to strawman them so?

Then we move on to the crux of the issue :

In his latest undignified rant, Dawkins claims that it is because Craig is “an apologist for genocide” that he won’t share a platform with him. Dawkins is referring to Craig’s defence of God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 to wipe out the Canannites. Here is Craig’s offending passage:

“[If] God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of [the Canannite] children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.” (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

Apparently it is undignified for someone to object to an author who states :

the death of [the Canannite] children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

The best defense that comes to Craig’s mind for his Gods’ deplorable commandments is that the Canaanite children were happy to be slaughtered? Let’s assume this gross tragedy is true – if a child wants to die, should we celebrate that fact, and kill them gruesomely? Or, offer counselling, assistance, aid? Surely this conception of the murder of children does not fit with many sane people’s values. The best that Came can do to defend Craig, is to label Dawkins rejection of religious atrocities as an undignified response? One does wonder why those Gnu Atheists are so hostile to religion.

Came continues, defending Craig:

However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

It is irrelevant that Craig would not “conduct infanticide” personally or that he wouldn’t “wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation” as he seemingly thinks it’s ok for his God to do so (let us hope this being doesn’t exist!). Moreover it is not clear that Craig wouldn’t endorse those things as he clearly does so above.

As we see, this is all skirting the real issue anyway:

But whatever you make of Craig’s view on this issue, it is irrelevant to the question of whether or not God exists. Hence it is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig – which has a history that long predates Craig’s comments on the Canaanites. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

It would be quite obvious, on Came’s conception of events that Dawkins is merely hiding from Craig, but if I’ve been successful at all, it would seem that that damn dirty Dawkins might actually have good reasons for not wanting to step on stage, and endorse an author who apologizes for a deities orders of infanticide.

Came’s final words and a conclusion:

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason. On the contrary, people’s attitudes towards religious belief can and should be shaped by reason, not bile and invective. By ignoring this, the New Atheists seek to replace one form of irrationality with another. (Came, Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist, 2011)

As we see – the tactics used by Dawkins, based on our analysis of Came – have been those we should all emulate – reason, kindness, the desire not to see children murderd, or endorse those who do, you know, basic human decency. And what does Dawkins get for it? Strawman, same old tired rhetoric, slander and misinformation tactics. As we see, all of Came’s concluding thoughts might be more appropriately aimed back at him – as we ask – isn’t it time the Gnu Atheists got a fair go in the media?

References

Came D. (2011). Richard Dawkins’s refusal to debate is cynical and anti-intellectualist. Retrieved October 23rd, 2011, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/oct/22/richard-dawkins-refusal-debate-william-lane-craig?INTCMP=SRCH

Miller K., (1999). Finding Darwin’s God. New York, New York. HarperCollins  Books. P. 94.

Russell B. (1957). Why I Am Not A Christian. New York, New York. Simon & Chuster. P. 20.

Paulos J. A. (2008). Irreligion. New York, New York. Douglas & McIntyre Inc. P. XI.

Quine A. Definition of New Atheism. Retrieved October 23rd, 2011, from http://atheism.about.com/od/Atheist-Dictionary/g/Definition-New-Atheism.htm

Advertisements
Categories: Atheism, Debate, Skepticism, Theism
  1. October 24, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I have read only a bit about the proposed debate and the responses to Dawkins’ denial to share a stage with WLC. I don’t think I completely agree with Dawkins’ refusal to debate Craig, but I can understand his reasons from his perspective and I’m sure it’s not a fear of being proven wrong in public that makes him refrain from doing so.
    Vocal theists are of course jumping at the opportunity to publicly defame Dawkins.
    In this instance, I found it appalling that Came defends WLC’s defense of the biblical genocide. How can either of these two gentlemen not condone any massacre of non-christians in recent centuries? From America to Australia, genocide was the order of the day and entire civilizations were wiped out. Surely, all these non-believers in the christian god deserved to be wiped off the face of his planet. How can these two gentlemen condemn any massacre conducted by the followers of the bible (jews or christians) today? How do they draw that line?

    • October 24, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Thanks for your comments.

      I’m sure theists have their answers – I’m not sure they’d be entirely satisfactory to an atheist – but who knows, I don’t want to speak for them.

  2. November 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Not only has A C Grayling debated Craig. So have I (temporarily forgetting his loathsome defence of genocide, which I hope will in future be brought up whenever and wherever he dares to show his face). At a big conference in Mexico in 2010, Michael Shermer, Matt Ridley and I had a televised debate against Craig and two other religious apologists. These included a rabbi who was far more impressive than the plodding and pedantic Craig. Interestingly, unlike the rest of us who were pretty laid back about the whole charade, Craig fussed and fretted over exactly how many minutes were allowed for each speech, how many seconds for each rebuttal and so on – ever the one-trick-pony debater. The motion concerned whether the universe has a purpose, and Craig made a huge syllogistic meal of demonstrating, step by chewed-over step, that IF God exists THEN the universe must have a purpose. All completely irrelevant since, needless to say, he could no more demonstrate God’s existence than that of the Wizard of Oz.

    Richard Dawkins

    • November 23, 2011 at 1:07 am

      Thanks so much for your comments Richard, and all of your hard work in science, charities, foundations,and raising awareness for all atheists and freethinkers!

      I haven’t seen the debate you mentioned, but will check it out. I’ve listened to a lot of Craig’s debates, he’s a great orator for sure, but I haven’t found his arguments convincing, thus far.

      P.s- I have your new book, and will read it soon!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: