Tag Archives: Richard Dawkins

Dawkins is Disgusted

The Guardian has provided Richard Dawkins with a platform to explain why he won’t share a platform with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Dawkins plays what he thinks is a trump card: the real reason he won’t publicly debate Craig is because — drumroll, please — Craig has defended the “genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.” It ought to be apparent to anyone who has compared Dawkins’ past debate performances with Craig’s (never mind their respective writings on the rationality of theism) that this explanation is, at best, a feeble rationalization. But that’s not the point I want to make in this post.

Dawkins, Disgusted

Dawkins’ piece reflects his trademark rhetorical devices — condescension, mockery, faux outrage, and a dash or two of genuine wit — but what stuck me most was the complete absence of any moral categories in his criticism of Craig and his views. Dawkins regards Craig’s views as ‘horrific’, ‘revolting’, ‘shocking’, and ‘deplorable’. But none of these descriptors function as objective moral evaluations of Craig or Craig’s God. In reality, they reflect little more thanĀ Dawkins’ feelings about Craig and Craig’s God (and the feelings of those who share Dawkins’ jaundiced outlook on the world).

I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, given Dawkins’ published views on the nature of morality. For example, in The God Delusion he rejected and ridiculed the notion that there are moral absolutes. But if there are no moral absolutes, then there are no moral principles that absolutely rule out genocide. According to Dawkins’ moral outlook, then, genocide could be morally justified in some circumstances — just as late-term abortion is morally justified in some circumstances (as Dawkins apparently believes). Isn’t it therefore an open question whether the Old Testament ‘genocides’ were morally justified given the circumstances? Given Dawkins’ own premises, isn’t that question at least worthy of… debate? (I should state for the record that I don’t believe the destruction of the Canaanites was an instance of genocide; I’m just granting Dawkins’ characterization for the sake of argument.)

In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical; it’s not that they’re immoral; it’s certainly not that they’re wicked or evil. It’s just that Dawkins finds them extremely distasteful. Dawkins is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one. The only virtue of Dawkins’ dubious explanation, if it can be called a virtue, is its consistency with his moral nihilism.

Update: Here are some entertaining commentaries on Dawkins’ piece:

Why There Almost Certainly Is a God

My review of Keith Ward’s book Why There Almost Certainly Is a God has been posted over at Discerning Reader.

The words “Not recommended” in bold red font at the top of the review make it look as though I’m more down on Ward’s book than I am, but the review itself should make clear why, despite the cogency of its central argument, I couldn’t recommend the book for DR’s particular constituency.

Responses to The God Delusion

A friend who teaches philosophy emailed me this week and asked whether I’d be interested in collaborating on a book-length, point-by-point response to The God Delusion. He thinks (as I do) that Dawkins’ case against theism is philosophically inept, but he wondered whether a response would be worthwhile because (i) The God Delusion is a New York Times bestseller and (ii) one of his colleagues had expressed concern over several reports of people “losing their faith” after reading the book.

In reply, I told him that while it would be a fun project, in terms of impact it probably wouldn’t add anything to the numerous critical reviews and other responses already available. In any case, these reports of people being ‘deconverted’ by The God Delusion arguably tell us more about those people than about the impact of this one book. Call me cynical, but my suspicion is that most of these were deconversions waiting to happen. Dawkins’ book was merely the final rhetorical shove over the precipice.

I suppose what surprises me most about these Dawkins-destroyed-my-faith stories is that in this day and age it takes practically no effort — at most, a few minutes with a good search engine — to turn up several scholarly responses to The God Delusion (reviews, articles, books, etc.) that should at least give a rational person significant pause before ordering his certificate of debaptism. However, I was also surprised to discover (after a few minutes with a good search engine) that no one has yet gathered links to these responses together in one place.

This post is designed to fill that gap. Consider it a one-stop shop for all your Dawkins-defusing needs. If you know of any (respectable) responses not listed below, please let me know and I’ll considering adding them.

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Fallacy Files #2: Dawkins on Religion and Evil

Logicians routinely distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. If X is a necessary condition for Y, then wherever there is Y there is also X; but the reverse may not be true (there may be X without Y). If X is a sufficient condition for Y, then wherever there is X there is also Y; but the reverse may not be true (there may be Y without X). Clearly it’s important to distinguish necessary conditions and sufficient conditions, since the one does not imply the other, and failure to distinguish them leads to fallacious inferences.

In a previous post, I remarked that Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion is a rich source of examples of logical fallacies. I pointed out a rather blatant instance of petitio principii (begging the question) in chapter 3. It seems to me, however, that the prolific professor doesn’t even make it past the first page of the book without committing an error in reasoning.

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Fallacy Files #1: Dawkins on “The Argument From Beauty”

The God Delusion was one of my favourite reads in 2006. It’s a fantastic book, although not for the reasons the author intended. For not only does it illustrate in glorious technicolour the intellectual superficiality of modern atheistic apologetics, it’s also a treasure trove of fallacies for anyone seeking case studies for a course in logic. Abusive ad hominem, argumentum ad populum, ignoratio elenchi, equivocation — the attentive reader can find all these and more.

Here’s a particularly blatant example of petitio principii — that is, begging the question — from chapter 3. Dawkins is attempting to knock down one by one what he takes to be the most influential or popular arguments for the existence of God (understood in the classical theistic sense). What follows is his pocket-sized refutation of “the argument from beauty”:

I have given up counting the number of times I receive the more or less truculent challenge: ‘How do you account for Shakespeare, then?’ (Substitute Shubert, Michelangelo, etc. to taste.) The argument will be so familiar, I needn’t document it further. But the logic behind it is never spelled out, and the more you think about it the more vacuous you realize it to be. Obviously Beethoven’s late quartets are sublime. So are Shakespeare’s sonnets. They are sublime if God is there and they are sublime if he isn’t. They do not prove the existence of God; they prove the existence of Beethoven and of Shakespeare. (p. 86)

Now, leave aside the fact that Dawkins’ only source for this argument is anecdotal. It’s reasonably clear that the argument he has in mind runs along these lines:

  1. Beethoven’s quartets, Shakespeare’s sonnets, etc., are beautiful.
  2. If there were no God, then there would be no beauty (and thus no beautiful things).
  3. Therefore, there is a God.

Clearly the premise enlisted to do the heavy lifting in this argument is the conditional (2). One might explore why anyone would believe (2) to be true; indeed, that would be the most obvious route to discrediting the argument. A few promising lines of support for (2) spring to mind (for example, one might reason that metaphysical naturalism is the most consistent alternative to classical theism, but also conclude that there is no place for abstract entities, or objective aesthetic norms, or mental states such as perception, within a strictly naturalistic ontology). In any case, surely a responsible evaluation of “the argument from beauty” ought to probe a little deeper; it ought to ask why the argument is so common (if indeed it is) and what sort of reasoning typically lies behind it. At a minimum, it ought to try to present the most credible version of the argument. (If there’s no credible version of the argument, why waste ink on it?)

But the world’s leading public intellectual of 2004 has a far more streamlined refutation up his sleeve. Here, in essence, is his counter to the Beethoven/Shakespeare argument:

“They are sublime if God is there and they are sublime if he isn’t.”

Yes, that’s it, folks. Dawkins’ refutation of the notion that beauty point us to God is merely to assert, without any argument, that beauty doesn’t depend on God. In other words, to beg the question entirely.