Archive for the 'Catholicism – The God Delusion' Category

TGD – Chapter 5

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Chapter 5 is titled “The Roots of Religion”. In all honesty I was expecting it to be a bunch of accusations of ancient liars and why they chose to deceive all of mankind. In fact, that was not at all what it was about.

Instead Dawkins sets out to answer a very important question. He readily admits that the prevalence of religion creates a hurdle that the Darwinian atheist must overcome. Because religion is prevalent, it is incumbent on them to come up with a plausible natural selection reason why religion is so ubiquitous.

He freely admits that the argument that religion can be “selection neutral” won’t suffice because religion takes so much time and effort that for the time alone there must be some offsetting factor.

He starts out with a few half hearted examples of direct advantages of religion. He mentions some study results that suggest religion helps with stress and reduces stress related death. He also mentions the placebo affect, that being told the God may heal you could help from a placebo effect perspective. But in the end you can tell these are half hearted and Dawkins doesn’t want to admit there are any direct advantages to religion. That wouldn’t help his cause.

Instead he focuses on two other theories.

The first is the idea of “group selection” which is a derivative of natural selection. If a group of people can instill characteristics in their people that helps that group survive whereas other groups wither away, those characteristics will survive. He mentions things like loyalty and being willing to die to protect the group, something that doesn’t help the individual but would help the group as being possible examples. But again, he doesn’t put too much weight in this theory either. Even this sort of a concession seems to trouble Dawkins.

Instead he moves on to the theory he puts the most weight in, that genetic characteristics can be tied together. He didn’t use this example, but one would be if red hair and high sperm counts were genetically tied, red hair people would be genetically superior even though there was no specific natural selection advantage to their red hair.

After a long explanation using moths that I thought could have been far more succinct (like my red hair example) he goes on to the hypothesis he backs which is that obedience is tied to religion and that obedience is a good trait for survival. He specifically mentions how obedience to one’s parents is a good thing (why do I suspect that he’ll be coming back to the parental obedience thing since he’s already played out the “we’re slaves to the religion of our parents” meme in earlier chapters?)

But again, he freely admits that he has no evidence of genetic linking of religion to obedience nor any scientific evidence that obedience, particularly to one’s parents, is a natural selection benefit. He also admits that he doesn’t feel compelled to actually know the specific answer of the genetic advantage whether it be direct, group, or associative. Merely the possibility that there is an answer is sufficient.

And I think that’s the thing that I find most strange, despite admiring his honesty. He’s spent a whole bunch of time criticizing what the religious person believes on faith, but then is seemingly oblivious to how many areas he has “faith” that an answer exists out there somewhere and he freely admits that he doesn’t have proof of it or even know what it is yet.

He seems to have this trend of wrapping of the chapter with some sort of an aside, ones I think Dawkins believes elaborates on his point. In this one he brings up the example of “Cargo Cults” which according to Dawkins are a group of small religions groups in the South Pacific who are very recent in time. His point seems threefold. One, that they’re idiots because they took the arrival of westerners as signs of an arriving diety. Two, that these religious groups have morphed their beliefs really quickly and any historicity of their claims of only 50 years ago are dubious. Three, that independently these groups have seemed to come up with similar themes to their religion.

Of course the fact that one religious group has done stupid things is no more proof of the existence or non existence of God nor the wisdom of any other religion than the fact that there have been a plethora of scientists who have advanced theories that have turned out turned out to be incorrect proves that God doesn’t exist. Nevertheless he somehow sees this as a significant data point for some reason beyond my grasp.

On to Chapter 6…

TGD – Chapter 4

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Chapter 4 is the first chapter where Dawkins changes his tactic from attacking religion to defending atheism, although one can’t exactly blame him for that considering the title of the book. It’s pretty obvious what the book is going to focus on.

The chapter is titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, although I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. It would be more properly titled “A Perfectly Reasonable Alternative To God”. I say this because the theory he lays out is not one that excludes the possibility of God but merely shows that it’s possible that we exist without God.

He lays his groundwork in his first two sections of the chapter titled “The Ultimate Boeing 747″ and “Natural Selection as a consciousness-raiser”. The point is to say the atheist must have a solution to the problem of how complexity comes from simplicity without the help of a designer. He goes on to show how Darwin’s work gave us a pathway for that. Natural selection shows us how biological life can transition from simplicity to complexity without a designer. He spends quite a bit of time explaining the significance of this breakthrough.

He’s very much right that it does show us an example of how it’s possible that God doesn’t exist, but natural selection could be aided by a super-natural being, couldn’t it? At a minimum, natural selection requires that random mutations of genes create diversity. Isn’t it at least a possibility that the randomness is not so random as it would seem? This says nothing of God interfering with the process of who is able to continue their lives to the point where they successfully reproduce.

I bring this up because one of the mistakes of the scientist is to assume a natural process is without divine interference without exception. Which is fine as far as defining natural processes go. But finding that natural process that works seemingly without exception does not mean that God could not interfere with it nor that He hasn’t interfered with it in the past. Point being, finding a natural process for how something works does not prove that God could not interfere with it.

The third section is a bit longer. It’s titled “Irreducible complexity” and it’s about refuting specific examples sited by some as examples where natural selection wouldn’t work. (I’m assuming the reader understands the concept of “irreducible complexity” which basically means that there’s no way for natural selection to get from step A to step B.) But he spends most of the section picking on articles in the Watchtower magazine or pamphlets.

Watchtower is put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and is about as credible a source as most campaign literature about the opponent. The fact that Dawkins uses this as a valid point to rebut is laughable and seriously undermines his credibility. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very small minority group, are roundly criticized for their wacky beliefs and shoddy logic by almost all Christian groups (it’s one of those rare things that almost all Protestants from Evangelicals to Episcopals, Catholics and Orthodox call all agree on. Flatly stated, you don’t use them as representative of anything but JW’s beliefs.

Which leads to Dawkins next section titled “The worship of gaps” where he tries to change the battlefield. He realizes that theists have turned the table on him with irreducible complexity. When it’s just “God vs. Science” (and please don’t forget that I flatly reject that premise; I’m stating it as Dawkins, not my own) Science has a bit of an upper hand because they get to poke 1,000 holes in God and every one blunted by theists does nothing to stop the other pokes. Irreducible complexity creates the opposite scenario where the theist can try to poke 1,000’s of holes and the scientist has to try and stop or plug everyone one of them.

So Dawkins attempts to change the playing field by stating that going for these gaps is a “fundamentally unscientific way to proceed”. He delves deeper into the ideas he brought up in the consciousness-raiser section that what natural selection does is not just show a solution to one example of complexity from simplicity, but also that it shows it’s possible for that to happen and therefore, even thought we may not know the method for other areas today, it is possible that we’ll find an answer for the simplicity to complexity problem sometime later.

While I agree with him that it does raise the possibility, possibility does not equate to proven, which is the leap he seems to make.

This is where I will further agree with him: He brings up examples of people who purposely make themselves ignorant because the “gaps” to allow for room for God. He’s right that there are people who are afraid what science may discover and it’ll close the gaps and squeeze out God. For those people, they purposely want ignorance and they fear science. He’s right that many of those people exist and he’s right that purposeful ignorance is never the right way to live, nor for the scientist to make progress.

But here’s where he’s got it wrong: Those people are not all religious people, they are a subset. There’s TONS of religious people who want to discover. Those people are interested in investigating what’s in the gaps as much as anyone, unlike those who’d like to leave the gaps alone and call that God. As I showed with biological natural selection, it’s both very possible that it’s the way things work and that it’s guided by God.

The chapter finishes out, minus one final section, with a couple sections that go beyond Dawkins area of scientific expertise to talk about what might be options for the equivalent of natural selection outside of biology. I want to give Dawkins a lot of credit for these two sections because he’s very fair in stating that these are just hypotheses and is quite clear in stating that there are no firm answers in these areas. He freely admits scientists don’t yet understand. It takes a noble man to admit the areas he doesn’t have an answer.

His point is that he doesn’t need one, at least not yet. The whole point of the buildup about the gaps and natural selection was that the gaps shouldn’t trouble the atheist, we know that it’s possible and that’s all we need to know. To admit that there are gaps is not to admit that there is a God. Dawkins is right about this. So while he throws out a couple ideas for the “Six Numbers”, something I didn’t know anything about until I read this chapter, he’s quite upfront that they’re just ideas.

But going back to a point I made in my earlier rebukes of whether science will ever answer to whether God exists, the trouble I have with the whole premise is that he’s asking everyone to suspend their belief in God for all eternity while infinite resources and infinite time are spent “filling the gaps”. Just the possibility that the gaps may all be filled some day is enough for him to declare “there is almost certainly no God.” And that’s what I most take exception to. Ignoring all of the evidence provided by miracles and the such, it’s possible that God doesn’t exist and a purely natural explanation will be found for everything. It’s also possible there’s certain areas where no answer can be found for how complexity came from simplicity. Why should his predisposition be given the benefit of the doubt?

Effectively the best answer he can give is that the religious attitude encourages us to worship the gaps and thus encourages ignorance. Ignoring that the number of religious who are inquisitive and desire answers makes his assertion patently and observably not true, it’s also no justification for why we should be predisposed to his viewpoint any more than statistics that show religious people are more charitable are scientific proof that God exists.

The final section is titled “An interlude at Cambridge” which is appropriately titled because one wonders why he puts it here or what point he’s trying to make other than pat himself on the back or defend his appearance at the conference (which he spends fully half the section on) which appears to have been organized by people who were biased towards faith. Since I know nothing of the conference, I didn’t get much from the section.

Overall, this was one of Dawkins most cohesive and rational chapters. He sets out to make a number of points and for the most part makes them, minus some overstating of the conclusions. From reading it I get the feeling that Dawkins would be far more convincing sticking to positive arguments for atheism than his rage-filled rants against believers that has been filled with stereotypes, bigotry and half-truths. Sadly, based on the table of contents we’re back to attacking faith in Chapter 5.

TGD – Dawkins scriptural claims

Monday, May 10th, 2010

As I mentioned in my Chapter 3 review, Dawkins spends one section tearing down the Bible and using half-truths and outright lies to do so. I waffled on whether to break it down because it’s a lot of work for something that anyone with even a smidgen of Biblical knowledge will realize is garbage. But because there are so many who don’t know and the section might seem compelling to them, I decided to do a rebuttal of all of his points:

1. “The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.”

If by “historical evidence” he means “texts other than the Bible” then he’d have the following case: “A guy named Jesus lived about 2000 years ago and was executed by the Romans for riling up Jews in Palestine. Why he was executed is a bit unclear but it likely had something to do with Messianic claims.” That information would come from historians like Josephus who were merely documenting history. Add in what the Gospels say, which everyone should realize that while it might not carry divine status, it does carry at least some historical status, and it’s hard to make the argument that Jesus didn’t make any divine claims. But even without scripture, the evidence is far more compelling that Christ did make those claims than not.

2. “[The gospels]…All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life.”

Most scholars agree the gospels were written between 30 and 60 years after Christ’s death (i.e. from 60 AD to 90 AD). It’s unclear if Dawkins is suggesting that “long after the death of Jesus” is 30-60 years. If so, I don’t see what’s so troublesome about that. Is he arguing that a World War 2 veteran who wrote about the battles he participated in, or in the case of Mark or Luke, a historian who interviewed WWII veterans and wrote about it, in the 70’s through the turn of the century would not be considered credible? If he’s saying the Gospels were written at some other time, he’s really going out on a limb, historically.

As for the Epistles, I’m not sure what that has to do with it. I’m sure John Kerry wrote many a political letter to his fellow politicians that referenced Vietnam that didn’t mention each and every detail of his time during the War. It’s one thing to write letters with specific points in mind, which is what Paul was doing when writing to various budding Christian communities, it’s an entirely different thing to write a memoir or a history. In fact, Luke specifically starts of his Gospel stating that the point was to bring together what had been written or communicated in many different forms (i.e. like the Epistles) into one history for “easy reference”. He begins his Gospel this way:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received. (Luke 1:1-4)

3. “When the gospels were written, many years after Jesus’ death, nobody knew where he was born.”

What a ridiculous claim. Christ’s own mother was still alive, by most accounts, when the first Gospels were written. To suggest that no one had ever talked to her, much less the dozens of other relatives who would have known, is ridiculous.

4. “Johns’ gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem.”

After this quote, Dawkins quotes John 7:41-42, which says that some were unconvinced that Jesus was the Messiah because he was from Galilee. This is the first instance in this section of an error Dawkins makes repeatedly when referencing scripture when is to confuse a quote in scripture with the positive consent of the author. John is telling us what some people thought. No where in there does John indicate that what those people thought was accurate. More likely, John knew, having written his Gospel after the others, that the other Gospels had clearly established that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, and so it would obvious to the reader that these people were wrong about Jesus. It was likely so obvious to him that this was the case he didn’t even feel the need to rebut the claims of these people.

5. “Matthew has Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem all along, moving to Nazareth only long after the birth of Jesus.”

This is the same error as with the previous item. Matthew is entirely silent about where Mary and Joseph were from. After giving Christ’s genealogy, Matthew simply states, “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” and continues on with the story of how Mary conceived without having sex. There’s no mention of location. There’s no mention of moves or lack thereof. Nothing. So at best all Dawkins could say is “well, since there’s no mention, I’m going to assume they were there the whole time.” And it’s not a horrible assumption. Without any other evidence it would make sense. But it is an assumption and when other texts give us other ideas, it’s reasonable to suggest that it’s a false assumption.

In fact, going further, Matthew NEVER says the place is Bethlehem. All that is said is that Herod tells the Magi to look for the baby in Bethlehem. Then the Magi set out and a star leads them to the baby. For all we know, taking this text without any context of the rest of what scripture had to say, the star took them away from Bethlehem and the Magi found the baby in Galilee.

Obviously that’s just a stupid interpretation, but it’s exemplary of what happens if you try to read a text in a vacuum.

6. “Joseph was ‘of the house and lineage of David’ and therefore he had to go to ‘the city of David, which is called Bethlehem’. … David, if he existed, lived nearly 1000 years before Mary and Joseph. Why on earth would the Romans have required Joseph to go to the city where a remote ancestor had lived a millennium earlier?”

For such a brilliant scientist, you’d think Dawkins logical skills would be stronger. Did he even consider the possibility that Joseph lived in Bethlehem as a child himself, that being of that family, he was raised there but then left the area later in life? Nowhere in scripture does it suggest that it had been 1000 years since Joseph’s descendants had lived there. If anything, it suggests the opposite, that the descendants of David lived in Bethlehem right up until the time of Christ. That Joseph personally lived in Bethlehem would make sense.

7. “There was indeed a census under Governor Quirinius – a local census, not one decreed by Caesar Augustus for the empire as a whole – but it happened too late; in AD 6, long after Herod’s death.”

Which would logically indicate that it was likely some other census that was being referenced to. One that was broader than a local one.

8. “Robert Gillhooly shows how all the essential features of the Jesus legend, including the star in the east, the virgin birth, the veneration of the baby by kings, the miracles, the execution, the resurrection and the ascension are borrowed – every last one of them – from other religions already in existence in the Mediterranean and Near East region.”

The key word here is “borrowed”. That’s Dawkins’ (and perhaps Gilhooly’s) assumption and means of deriding an event that he doesn’t like. I mean, just what is the line of reasoning here? Group A predicts something, group B later claims it happened, therefore, group B is lying? Or is it group A claims something happened, group B later claims a similar thing happened, therefore, group B is lying? Those logical chains just don’t make any sense so all he can do is say they were “borrowed” without any evidence that this is the case.

9. “Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists!”

Which of course logically suggests that there was more than one genealogy that would trace back to David, something not too uncommon in relatively isolated communities. Or is the devastating claim that the number of generations is different? Doesn’t Dawkins have any cousins who are enough younger or older than he so as to be more close in age to his parents or his children? I know I do. One family can easily have 5 generations in 100 years and others can have as little as 3.

10. “The four gospels that made it into the official canon were chosen, more or less arbitrarily, out of a larger sample of at least a dozen including the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Nicodemus, Philip, Bartholomew and Mary Magdalen.”

It’s the “more or less arbitrarily” that is Dawkins error in this instance. In fact, Dawkins shortly thereafter gives a pretty reasonable explanation of why at at least Thomas was excluded: it make claims that the Church couldn’t support about ferries and the such. It’s as if Dawkins has never been involved in the peer review process that scientists go through to get their works published. How do they determine if a work gets published? They read the work and then check that work against what is known and how defensible the claims are. Those that aren’t justifiable don’t get published. The same is true of the Gospels. The ones that seem to have sourced themselves well and are credible were kept as canonical. Those that weren’t, didn’t get approval. What again is wrong with that? If anything it shows that the Church was critical in nature and wasn’t going to fall for any ridiculous claim that someone made.

11. “Most of what the four canonical gospels share a derived from a common source, either Mark’s gospel or a lost work of which mark is the earliest extant descendant.”

I’ll ignore the fact that Dawkins is basically ignoring John’s gospel which is wholly different than the other 3 in how it is organized and what it focuses on. But again, what exactly is Dawkins claiming? That all three are restating what had been written before? Obviously what he’s trying to claim (as can be seen from the next item) is that they’re just blindly copying someone else s work and they have no idea what they’re talking about. But it’s just a stupid notion that because they all reference the same events in Christ’s life, perhaps using someone else’s work as a staring point for their own personal testimony, that it means they’re just copying what they have no knowledge of.

12. “Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus personally.”

Of all of his claims this is the most ridiculous. John and Matthew were apostles. They lived with Jesus during his public ministry and were PERSONAL witnesses to the resurrection. Luke and Mark were both followers of Paul and are mentioned in Paul’s Epistles multiple times. While it is accurate that they never met Jesus personally, through Paul, who himself only knew Christ after his ascension, they would have most likely met most of the apostles who did personally know Jesus.

Perhaps Dawkins is trying to claim that everything is scripture is bunk and we can’t even trust the names on the books (“Matthew didn’t really write Matthew”) but that would again put him WAY outside the scholarly mainstream that he claims to respect so much. While there are passages and sections that scholars debate whether they personally come from the claimed author, generally it is believed that even those questionable passages came from close followers who rounded out those sections after the disciples death.

13. “It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never existed at all.”

I included this one as proof of just how much Dawkins is willing to deviate from scholarly accepted information when it suits him. Sure the vast majority of credible scholars suggest that Jesus indeed lived, but why let that stop Dawkins from throwing in a jab of what he’d prefer to be the case with the small caveat to give him some critical breathing room when questioned (“well I did say it wasn’t widely supported”).

14. “Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history.”

Again, more complete hogwash. As long as by “reputable” Dawkins limits that to mean “the ones I find reputable”, I guess it could be accurate. Nevertheless, there is much evidence to suggest that much of what is said in the Gospels is accurate and a fair number of confirming external documents for a number of scriptural claims. Additionally, there are very few external documents that contradict scripture, although there are some for a number of minor details. The vast majority of biblical scholars will tell you as much that the Gospels appear to reflect real events that happened in Palestine between about 6 BC and 35 AD (or thereabouts). Whether the divine claims are true is a religious question, but the basic histories are accurate.

And so ends Dawkins scriptural blunder-filled section…

It’s worth noting to conclude this post that I included just about every scriptural claim that Dawkins makes in the section. It’s not that he made 50 claims and I picked the 14 that were errant. Sadly, on the contrary just about EVERY one of his claims are at best ignorant or at worst purposely misleading.

TGD – Chapter 3

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Chapter 3 of The God Delusion is titled “Arguments for God’s Existence” and is theoretically a point-by-point rebuttal of all the arguments for God. I say theoretically because as with much of the book so far, his ability to stick to a point to its conclusion is amazingly weak and it results in not rounding out any particular point. Furthermore he doesn’t address a number of arguments for God although Dawkins should be given some slack for that because making a comprehensive defense of every attack can unnecessarily bog things down. I get the feeling the meat of his point is not to rebut arguments for God but to make arguments against, and that is planned for future chapters.

In the case of this chapter, he starts off by addressing Thomas Aquinas’ proofs. He manages to explain and retort them, at least to his satisfaction, in 3 pages. Anyone who thinks they can sufficiently explain what Aquinas had to say in 3 pages (mind you this book is formatted similar to a novel, not a textbook) without creating a mere shell (or should I say strawman?) of what Aquinas said, is lying to themselves.

As can be expected from that short of a section, he doesn’t provide a good rebuttal. What is surprising is that he doesn’t even provide a good rebuttal to his overly simplistic summary of Aquinas’ work. His argument is basically that the God Aquinas is arguing for, is not necessarily a “personal” God. Dawkins is right about this, Aquinas’ proofs do not attempt to prove that. But what Dawkins seems oblivious to is the concept of laying a foundation. Once you’ve proven there must be SOME SORT of God, that’s a foundation that the rest can be built upon. Once you know he exists, then you can try to find out more about what He’s like.

But after 3 pages of his 30 page chapter he’s done with all a-posteriori arguments having believed he’s dispatched Aquinas. He then goes on to address a-priori arguments. I’m not a philosopher at heart and neither is Dawkins. He spends about 6 pages flying through a number of philosophically minded arguments from Anselm to Diderot and a number in between, but I get the feeling that Dawkins is as interested in them as I am. He’s a scientist at heart, not a philosopher, as am I.

The next argument he tackles is that of beauty which is not much worth commenting on as it’s really an abstraction of the points Dawkins will make further on.

The next three sections are titled “The Argument from Personal ‘Experience'”, “The Argument from Scripture” and “The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists”. Even though the scripture section is in between the other two, I’m going to address it separately because the other two sections are mirror images of each other.

The first section is entirely about discounting religious experiences and his argument is effectively “the mind can play tricks on you”. Which is no doubt the truth in a number of circumstances. What is remarkable to me is that he turns around in the section on scientists and spends a bunch of time asserting that the vast majority of scientists are atheists, assumably because it disproves God (although he doesn’t say so explicitly). There’s no escaping the basic premise that he’s making: Regular people are dumb and scientists are smart.

So far, if there’s on unifying theme to this book, this is it. Regular people are dumb, the scientific method is infallible, and scientists are the only ones smart enough to see that.

Of particular note in this regard is his addressing of the miracle at Fatima. (A quick side note, I write these posts as I read, and don’t read more until I’ve written all the posts I desire for each chapter. So I didn’t know he’d be addressing Fatima when I wrote of it in my last post on TGD.) While Dawkins admits that it’s harder to “write off” 70,000 people and their shared vision, he still dismisses it. His basic argument is it’s impossible “that the Earth was suddenly yanked sideways in its orbit, and the solar system destroyed, with nobody outside Fatima noticing.”

I’ve met no one nor read any account that’s claimed that’s what happened at Fatima, that the sun and earth left their orbits.

All that is claimed is that it appeared that way. The fact that the sun and the earth actually stayed in their orbit is in fact, a part of the miracle. How did these people come to see this? Science has no answer. They’ve got no theory, much less any proof of a theory, that suggests the incident was a natural occurrence. The best Dawkins can do to refute it is to say the sun and earth remained in its orbit. It’s laughable.

Laugable or not, it’s angering in that he gives people no credit. When he heard a voice whispering to him as a kid, he got up and investigated and determined that it was just an artifact of the wind through his house. Is he so naive to think that when others hear a voice they don’t do the same thing? Apparently. He specifically credits his not being “impressionable” for the reason that whispering voice didn’t fool him.

Does he think those 70,000 people at Fatima wouldn’t consider what possible natural explanations could explain what they saw? Of course they do, but Dawkins just thinks they’re all too “impressionable”, all 70,000 of them, to consider what natural explanations there might be.

Dawkins laughs at the organization in the Vatican who’s job it is to investigate the validity of miracles because he assumes its job is to promote whatever any nutjob tells them is a miracle. What he doesn’t realize is that the fact that the Vatican has such an organization is proof that we DON’T take claims of a miracle lightly. We’ve got a whole organization to make sure the claim is defensible. Many a religious organization has had their hopes crushed when the Vatican has declared this miracle or the other a fake. From the grilled cheese Virgin Mary to at least one of the miracles ascribed to Pope John Paul II, many of the claimed miracles are shot down as being fakes.

But to Dawkins we’re just all dolts who wouldn’t think to question anything while he and his fellow scientists are the noble objective ones who aren’t so “impressionable”.

Moving on, perhaps the tying theme that has Dawkins putting his scripture section in between the personal experience and the scientist section is the “regular people are dumb” argument. In the scripture section he’s back to his bungee jumping in and out of various topics, scoffing all the way along, without spending sufficient time on any to make a point. Between the half truths of a proper understanding of scripture and the misrepresentations of what is actually in scripture, there’s not much in this chapter of note, although I’m sure to the scripturally ignorant it’ll seem convincing. If I have time I’ll make a separate post about these scriptural claims.

I will give Dawkins one thing, in regards to scripture, there are plenty of believers who haven’t read it nor understand how to properly interpret it. I, just like Dawkins, would like them to learn more about scripture so as to not make false assertions about God based on a poor understanding of scripture. He’s right that a lot of people take certain things in scripture as the literal truth when they were never intended as such and any passing understanding of reality makes that interpretation of scripture ludicrous. Nevertheless, that some mishandle the Bible does not prove that the Bible is not valid.

The next to last section of the chapter is about Pascal’s wager, that it’s safer to bet on God than against Him (i.e. if non-believers are right, the religious lose nothing after death, but if believers are right, the non-believers lose everything). Dawkins is right to suggest that it isn’t a proof of anything, and I doubt Pascal would disagree with him. It’s merely a way to encourage people to open their mind to faith. He also spends a fair amount of time suggesting Pascal is asking people to be hypocrites, to pretend to believe, but I think that’s taking too shallow a view of Pascal.

The final section is on some recent attempts to use the same sort of logic in the Drake’s equation to determine whether God exists. Dawkins is right to suggest that the answer that comes out has more to do with the person asking the questions than the questions themselves, but I find it interesting that Dawkins at least appears less critical in the extraterrestrial life case that Drake presents than he seems here. In either case, it’s not an area where either side can put much stock and Dawkins argument is a reasonable one.

Overall the chapter is about what I expected, setting up strawmen and arguing against them. What became most clear to me in this chapter is Dawkins general disgust of regular people as separate from scientists. The mind can play tricks on everyone but the scientists it appears. Whether it be his off hand comments like “admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true.” (as if no scientist have ever mistaken the truth for what they wanted to be true) to his dismissing the testimony of literally billions of people, including people he otherwise admits are smart people, there’s no disguising his disgust.

On to Chapter 4… (perhaps with a detour to rebut his specific scriptural claims before that)

TGD – Why science can never answer the ‘God question’

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

As I mentioned in my Chapter 2 review, Dawkins emphasizes the point that, in his opinion, eventually science will answer the question of whether God exists. He suggests there can only be “temporary agnosticism” because by his way of thinking, science will someday answer every question.

The point of this post is to rebut that idea.

Science is a method of discovery and like all methods it is limited in what it can discover. As Dawkins should well know, the scientific method works by theorems being suggested and then experiments are done to either validate or disprove those theorems. Because of the very nature of that method, the theorem must be falsifiable. Additionally, because of the lack of trust in any one experiment (where some unknown factor could have thrown off the results) the experiments must repeatable in nature.

It’s a great method of discovery as history has shown.

However, it has its limitations. The number one limitation in this realm is its inability to deal with intelligence. By it’s very nature, repeatability ASSUMES that the thing being observed be governed by simple laws. It might be that those laws are compounded upon one another to create what seems complex until it is broken down, but in principle every aspect of the experiment must be dealing with something “mechanical” and unintelligent.

By way of example. If the law of gravity could decide to suspend itself, because it was intelligent and could act on a whim if it so desired, we’d have all these experiments that “disproved” gravity. Gravity didn’t work the way it was supposed to in some instances and therefore, at a minimum, our model of gravity is incomplete. But when a scientist goes to refine that model, they assume yet another simple factor is complicating the situation. Gravity can’t be intelligent and science assumes as much.

God, by His very definition is intelligent. He can not be reduced to simple laws. If he could, he wouldn’t be God, at least in the way just about every notable religion of the world views God. God is intelligent and therefore can not be predicted or reduced to simple laws or theorems.

As such, science can never prove God, it could only disprove it. The best science could ever do regarding the question of God is to answer every possible question about how every single event happened and will happen and therefore show that there is nothing intelligent out there interfering with the laws science has uncovered.

Which is of course exactly the situation Dawkins wants. He wants to use a method that could only possibly come up with the answer he’s hoping for. He also wants, in the mean time while you’re waiting for that “glorious day” when science has disproved every aspect of a intelligent being beyond this world, for you to be “temporarily agnostic” but leaning towards atheist because science has yet to show any evidence for God. Which as I’ve shown, it is incapable of doing.

Coming at the same issue from another perspective, let’s look at a few examples Dawkins uses in the chapter.

He talks about whether Jesus had an earthly father and that it could, in theory, be answered scientifically. Dawkins admits that the necessary scientific evidence doesn’t exist anymore, Jesus having died 2000 years ago and there being no trace of His earthy remains (curious thing, isn’t it? :) ). But let’s pretend for a moment that we had the needed evidence, say a sample of Jesus’s DNA and infinite scientific resources to examine the question. What would we do with it then?

A scientist would suggest, let’s take Jesus’s DNA and match it against every man who could have possibly been Jesus’s father. They’d have to exhume a bunch of dead guys and it would be a massive effort but it could be done. Now, if the genetic analysis came back and said that some guy was his father, that would be a compelling point that the claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin (at least in the genetic sense, which is what we care about in this case) is false.

But what if the research is done an no father can be found, what then?

I can guarantee you that Dawkins answer would not be to concede that Jesus was in fact the son of God. No, there could be other answers. Perhaps we missed some possible candidate father. Perhaps Mary was cloned and then genetically manipulated into a man. And if that didn’t bear any fruit, there would be other possible scientific answers. And if Dawkins ever ran out of experiments he could do, he imagine 30 more that were not possible at this time.

There’s got to be SOME ANSWER!?!

See how it works? He’s created a playing field where only naturalistic answers are accepted because it’s the only type of answer the scientific method can test. Dawkins likely has the same response to the miracle at Fatima that 70,000 people witnesses less than 100 years ago. There is no denying that something happened between the photographic evidence and first hand accounts that can not be dismissed as “legends” or something similar.

I suspect Dawkins will readily admit he doesn’t have the answer, but he’ll continue to look for one. The fact that there is not yet a scientific explanation doesn’t not mean there is not one. And while that’s true as far as it goes, it’s a method that purposely ignores the miraculous answer.

But how are the rest of us to respond to that miracle in the mean time? Science has no answer, but we’ve got 70,000 witness who said it happened. Are we to simply wait around twiddling our thumbs giving science infinite time to do futile experiments? Or would Dawkins admit is it reasonable for us to say that the preponderance of the evidence suggests it’s a miracle? I suspect he would not. To throw Dawkins own words back at him:

Some disprovable things are sensibly judged far less probable than other undisprovable things.

Dawkins makes the statement above at the end of “The Poverty of Agnosticism” section. He makes the point in regards to God. He’s saying that Just because we can’t disprove God, doesn’t mean that it’s a 50%/50% proposition. Well, he needs to live and die by the same sword then. Who can honestly tell me that the evidence in the Fatima case deserves to be treated equally? Science has no credible retort to what is a well documented miracle. Why are we to keep a naturalistic explanation that hasn’t even yet been proposed, much less tested, on equal ground with what the evidence of those people, both believers and doubters, have brought forward.

To use another example from the book, Dawkins spends a whole section of the chapter talking about the “Great Prayer Experiment”. The experiment attempts to determine whether intercessory prayer works by creating a perfectly valid scientific experiment.

The fact that anyone would attempt the experiment shows that they don’t get the limitation of science to matters for which there is no intelligent being acting upon the experiment. It is trying to either prove over disprove that intercessory prayer either works or doesn’t work in a formulaic sense, i.e. “enough prayers” or “the right prayers” will always result in someone being healed. OK, perhaps the person being prayed for needs to be holy too, or perhaps there are 3 or 4 other criteria, but for the experiment to work EVERY SINGLE one of those criteria must be a formulaic one where some 3rd party intelligence is not responsible for whether the prayers work.

Because if it is about the intelligent being making the decision, statistics and control groups and sample sizes will in no way discover the truth. You can’t do “control group” to deal with God’s intelligent decisions. For an experiment to be valid all of the things being tested require a repeatable, unintelligent set of laws governing the experiment.

Instead, the truth of the matter is that God will decide if anyone gets healed. Sometimes he’ll perform miracles when no one has prayed, sometimes it’ll be when tons of people have prayed. God only knows what the criteria are for when he heals someone (and I mean “God only knows” not in the flippant sense, but quite literally).

To summarize, Dawkins is trying to set a foundation based on science that is so distorted of a playing field, that no team besides his could ever win. Whether it’s because science requires naturalistic/repeatable theorems for the theorem to even be tested or whether it’s because he wants to use the “preponderance of the evidence” when it suits him, but allow science infinite time and resources when the evidence is to the contrary, he’s rigging a game that only he can win. He refuses to accept any evidence besides scientific ones, even when science has no ability to contradict the evidence presented.

The simple truth is that the scientific method is not the only means of discovery or answering a question and Dawkins is trying to fool you into thinking science is the only valid method around. Don’t fall for Dawkins sham.

TGD – Chapter 2

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I’ve finished Chapter 2 and I’m glad to report that Dawkins settles down somewhat in the 2nd half of the chapter and sticks to a point for more than a sentence or two.

As mentioned before, the chapter starts with sections on polytheism and monotheism where Dawkins is all over the place. The best summary I can make for these two sections, and apologies to Dawkins if this was not at all his point, but that one religion is as condemnable as the next, they’re all the same. Since he’s most familiar with Christianity, he’ll be using it as the “template” for disproving all religions. If this is the point he’s trying to make, it’s a difficult one to tease out because it’s obscured by his general scoffing at religion and Christianity in particular.

He settles down somewhat in the next section to talk about the Founding Fathers of America and makes an argument for their being more secular than anything else. He means this in the political sense more so than the religious sense, but he also spends some time to show them as perhaps Deists instead of Christians and perhaps some of them as far as atheists. I suspect his point is to try and tear down some of the foundation of Christians and I suspect for some Christians his points would do that. There is no doubt a thread of “America is the New Holy Land” and the Founding Fathers are its prophets, in American Protestantism, which is most specifically evident in the Mormons, but I feel no angst in seeing that torn down.

However, he goes one step further in that section to suggest that the American political system has turned from healthy secularism to a quasi-democratic theocracy over the centuries and the Founding Fathers would be mortified. With this I must object. Anyone who reads the daily headline knows that American politics is becoming more non-religious every year since the 60’s (at a minimum). Instead of looking at the big picture, Dawkins focuses on the near requirement that a presidential candidate be religious. While I think he stretches that point too far, I will concede that it is true that the American electorate does care about the religious beliefs of their politicians. This is still something entirely different that suggesting that America wants those politicians to implement a theocracy. The number of characteristics that the electorate want from their politicians that has nothing to do with what legislation the electorate wants advanced is longer than this blog could catalog.

The next section of the chapter is on agnosticism, which Dawkins divides into two camps: TAP, a form that remains agnostic “temporarily” while the evidence is being compiled and PAP, a form that asserts that one can NEVER know the answer to a question. He uses the example of Carl Sagan in regards to alien life and how he is agnostic to it while research is being done but that Sagan believes that someday we can have the answer to the question.

It’s a reasonable distinction, but this is where Dawkins goes terribly wrong and I fear this false premise will be foundational for the rest of the book. He asserts that TAP is the only reasonable form of religions agnosticism because God’s existence is a scientific question that can be answered. That’s complete hogwash. However, it’s a complex enough point that a full rebuttal is required and you should expect that in a separate post so as to not make the chapter summary overly lengthy.

Nevertheless, this false premise is the foundation for the rest of the chapter. He next addresses the idea of Non Overlapping MAgisterium, or NOMA for short, that science has one set of expertise that does not overlap with the entirely separate expertise that is religion. He rightly asserts that NOMA is a result of the PAP mindset, that science can’t speak to religion. He further asserts that this doesn’t make any sense for two reasons. The first is that theologians have no expertise in anything and therefore there is no magisterium for them to promote. His basic justification for this, although it is stated implicitly, is that science can answer any question and if it can’t nobody else can. The second, and now that I think of it, it’s just a correlary of the first, is that theologians will gladly use the realm of science when it meets their ends. If they can “cross over”, why can’t the scientist? Or at least that’s Dawkins question.

Dawkins finishes out the chapter with three sections, each of which are examples of this principle in his mind. The first is on the “great prayer experiment” where scientists had people pray for sick individuals to see if it was efficacious. The experiment turns out as he would hope with no benefit at all. That said, he’s less concerned with the results of the experiment than with the idea that you can make a scientific experiment out of a religious proposition. It’s a proof point to him that science can answer these questions. I’ll fully expose the errors of that in the upcoming post.

The second of these final three sections is on what he calls “The Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists” where he picks on scientists who tend to agree with NOMA. This is one of his less coherent sections where the best I can do to summarize it is to say he’s encouraging scientists to deny NOMA because some religious people do from the opposite end. Over stating Dawkins point a bit, this is a war and no Switzerland’s will be permitted.

Finally, to wrap up the chapter he returns to the example of agnosticism regarding life elsewhere in the galaxy in two ways. First he shows how we’re slowly removing the agnosticism of it through SETI’s work and refinement of the Drake equation (although he reasonably admits there’s a long way to go). This is obviously another attempt to further the idea that the same can be said of God’s existence. Secondly he goes to the idea that a vastly superior alien race would seem God-like to us. Amongst other things he suggests this is a big part of the reasons native populations around the world converted to Christianity, because the western Christian’s technology seemed God-like to them. I’ll ignore that stupid canard because it’s just a distraction long-term. But then he poses this question “In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods?” And his answer is profoundly accurate:

In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and gold-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, the didn’t start that way.

He’s absolutely right (although he makes all the wrong conclusions). God is very different from that which seems god-like in the world and it is entirely God’s non-evolution that makes Him so special. Otherwise he’d just be another material creation. However God is far greater than that.

Dawkins seems to think this a compelling point for his side and suggests this will be central to Chapter 4. But Chapter 3 is first and it is about tearing down the proofs for religion.

TGD – Tax Exempt Status

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Ever since the 2008 elections in California, there’s been a small group of people loudly yelling for the removal of the tax exempt status of churches. I always thought that the Prop. 8 election in California was the genesis because lots of religious people donated to Prop. 8. But it appears that there’s an earlier genesis point because Dawkins brings it up in TGD. I don’t know if he’s the genesis point, but at a minimum this idea has been around since the book was published in 2006.

The issue is significant enough that I thought it was worth it’s own post.

Here’s my overall point, I don’t think these people know what they’re asking for. Churches pay property tax, they pay payroll tax, their employees pay income tax (and it’s deducted from their paychecks like everyone else), there’s really no tax that exists that the church itself doesn’t pay.

“What about corporate income tax?” someone may ask. By definition, there is none. Being a non-profit, they can’t have income. And in reality, they don’t. All the money that comes in, goes out to either administrative costs (which would include salaries, utilities, taxes and things like building costs) or goes to charities.

And let’s be perfectly clear, there’s nothing in the tax code that requires a corporate entity to be religious to be non-profit or even a charitable non-profit. I’m a member of a sailing club that is incorporated and we’re incorporated as a non-profit. We’re not a charitable non-profit, so any donations to our club are not tax deductible (make a note of this) but we don’t pay any income taxes despite the fact that collect tens of thousands of dollars each year in dues, regatta fees and other miscellaneous income. We can do this because every single dollar goes back out the door to our expenses.

Circling back to tax deductible donations, this is the one area where there is room for debate. It is true that a charitable non-profit does have an advantage over other non-profits, like my sailing club, and over profitable companies. When people donate to those charitable non-profits, THEY get to deduct that from their personal income tax. It’s a way for the government to encourage charity. But to be clear, the churches themselves don’t benefit in the tax code! Those who donate do.

Some would argue that this tax deductible donation incentive is the only reason people donate, but as the 40 million dollars that were donated to the ‘Yes on 8′ campaign (which is NOT tax deductible) demonstrates, I don’t think that is the case. They’ll donate either way.

Now, if there is a point to be made, it’s that some churches are not really charities, that they don’t take a significant portion of their money and give it back out in a charitable fashion, so the people who donate to them don’t deserve a tax deduction for donating. I won’t argue with that reality a bit. Dawkins points out a couple of televangelists who profit handsomely from their “ministry” and no doubt he’s right that there are “ministers” out there who fleece people of their money in the name of religion and/or charity and never deliver on anything. I have no defense of them.

Speaking as a Catholic, that same charge can not be leveled against us. We give out HUGE sums of money to charitable causes. In fact, here’s my challenge to all those who think that “churches should have their tax exempt status removed”:

I challenge you to come up with a policy for what constitutes a charitable non-profit that in no way references religion (either in the positive OR THE NEGATIVE) that would eliminate the Catholic Church from eligibility while still leaving 90% of existing secular charitable non-profits as eligible.

I submit it can not be done. I further submit that unless it can be done, particularly because most other large churches are similar to the Catholic Church in this regard, this is all much ado about nothing.

TGD – Frustrated by Chapter 2

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I was reading Chapter 2 last night and I was very frustrated by it. Ultimately I stopped reading about half way through the chapter because I just wasn’t getting what Dawkins was trying to say.

And let me be perfectly clear… It wasn’t that I disagreed with what he was saying, I didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. The chapter is titled “The God Hypothesis” and it’s broke down into subsections titled “Polytheism”, “Monotheism”, “Secularism, the Founding Fathers and the religion of America”, “The poverty of agnosticism” and that’s as far as I got. So I figured he’d be laying out what the basic hypothesis of polytheism, monotheism, secularism and agnosticism were, so that he could pick them apart.

But he does nothing of the sort.

The polytheism section was mostly about Christianity, trying to show how it was at least in some ways polytheistic. The monotheism section was mostly about the tax exempt status of churches (specific post on this topic coming shortly) and the secularism was mostly a bunch of quotes of selective founding fathers scoffing at religion.

And I feel bad summarizing it that way because he said a number of other things in those sections, but it’s ALL over the map. He doesn’t stick to a single point long enough to drive any meaningful point home. I didn’t much bring it up in the preface and even in Chapter 1 because I wanted to be forgiving of it since it’s common early in a book to lay out a little bit of everything and then get into each point in more detail later.

We’re in the meat of the book now and he’s still unable to stick to a single point for more than a couple sentences and I have to tease out some meta point from amongst the jumping around.

If that weren’t enough to be frustrating, those here today gone tomorrow points are often grossly misleading. I’ll give two examples:

1. In the section on polytheism, he speaks of all the names we Catholics give Mary. Our Lady of Lourdes, our Lady of Fatima, etc. and then suggests that this is an example of the polytheistic nature of Catholicism. But yet their just different names for the same person. They’re ALL MARY!?! That’s not even to get into the reality that Mary isn’t God in Catholic teaching, yet another point that he bungee jumps in and out of without any meaningful defense of his position. One could attempt to make the argument that Catholics treat Mary in a godlike fashion and, although wrong, at least have some credibility to the argument. But the splitting out of the various names given to Mary, and citing it as an example of polytheism, that’s just stupid.

2. He also speaks of the Arian heresy. For those not in the know, Arian was one of a number of heretics who didn’t believe in the Trinity and specifically that Jesus was fully God and fully Human. Again, a reasonable argument could be made against the Trinity (and Dawkins does scoff at the Trinity, but just like other topics, doesn’t make any coherent argument for why it’s wrong other than to scoff) or the dual nature of Christ. But Dawkins doesn’t even attempt to do that. All he does is characterize the Arian heresy about being about disagreements ‘essence’ and ‘substance’. While those words are indeed used in the debates over Arian heresy, it entirely misses the larger point of the theological discussion.

I guess my overall point is that it’s very hard to follow a book that’s all over the place to begin with but it’s even harder when he’s not being intellectually honest about what he’s refuting.

But I shall persevere. I think I re-start from the beginning of Chapter 2. Perhaps my reading of the table of contents had me expecting something else than what he gives and that made it harder for me to follow.

Welcome Shea followers!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I’m assuming I’ll get a click from every one of his 394 followers that have to do his daily bidding, so welcome to all of you who have come here from Mark Shea’s blog. If you’re just interested in the review of The God Delusion as publicized on his blog, you can click on the category I have for it (Catholicism – The God Delusion).

But if you’re at all interested in my inane thoughts as well as that, I try to daily do a Quick Hitters post and then you’ll occasionally get a rant on some other topic like 50% proud a few days ago.

Welcome! I hope you come back often.

Update on 4/15: I’m going to keep this post on top for a few days. See below for new posts, including my review of chapter 1.

TGD – Chapter 1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I finished reading Chapter 1 last night.

The title of Chapter 1 is “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”. I had hoped that it might be a chapter on how his atheistic views were a different form of religion, and while he did feel around in the dark touching on the idea in tangential ways, it wasn’t the point.

The Chapter is split in two sections, the first titled “Deserved Respect” and the second titled “Undeserved Respect”.

“Deserved Respect” is mostly about Einstein’s lack of religion as most westerners define it. Dawkins basic point is that many scientists make references to God and when they do, they’re referring to something entirely different than your average person. He makes a fairly compelling point that Einstein was one of them and his point is that this is the norm. What people like Einstein are talking about when they talk of God is the creator, whoever that might be, but most definitely it is not a “personal God”, a God that has defined morals for humanity and is interested in how we each personally respond to that call from God. Einstein’s God is a creator and nothing more. He set the wheels in motion, created the matter, setup the laws of physics and then let her run. That was the end of God’s role.

And I guess as far as it goes, it’s good to differentiate between these two different views of God, and to specify what he is arguing against (the personal God, to use his term) and that which he has no qualms with (the disinterested Creator, my term).

However, it wouldn’t be Dawkins if he didn’t jumble in the middle of reasonable groundwork, a bunchf of errors. His biggest error, was in applying Einstien’s God, which I would suggest Dawkins does well proving that it was what Einstein believed, to all scientists. He suggested that all those scientists who go to church, don’t REALLY believe what those religions say and are just going for either family or cultural reasons.

While I’m sure there are plenty of examples of people that act that way, and they need not be scientists, what in fact he’s doing is projecting what he wants to believe for all scientists who aren’t on his side, based on some anecdotal information, as if because Einstein was that way and Dawkins was that way at one time (he doesn’t go to church at all any more), it must be true of all scientists.

There is a particular example that shows just how blind he is and how much he’s forcing a confirmation bias. He speaks of an unnamed friend’s who is Jewish and his discussions with him. Dawkins admits that when he pressed said friend to admit “the truth” he couldn’t get him to. Instead his friend told him that his Jewish faith helps him have good morals. Dawkins insists this is proof of his point, his friend doesn’t REALLY believe, he’s just doing it for moral reasons. Could he really be so ignorant to see that his friend just doesn’t want to make a scene and instead of getting into a pissing match with Dawkins and is defusing the situation? Dawkins needs to accept his friends refusal to admit that there is no personal God on it’s face and he refuses to.

In any case, the point of this first part of the chapter appears to lay the groundwork that he has nothing against the disinterested creator that some call God and that the rest of the book is about attacking the “personal God” not the disinterested creator.

“Undeserved Respect”, the second half of the chapter, is about how there is far too much deference to religion in society. It tiptoes around the idea that the reason that he’s bringing it up in this groundwork laying chapter, is because he wants to say that he’s not doing this to offend anyone. At the same time, he doesn’t come out and say it because, and this is my inference, he’s honest enough with himself to know that actually fully intends to “offend” in the sense that he’s telling us we’re hugely misled, and how can that not offend?

The overall point though is that he feels that society shuns debate and conversation and he doesn’t think that’s appropriate. I’d agree with him if that was the extent of the point. Religion is a topic that deserves a vigorous debate and there are certain segments of society that don’t think it should be discussed.

But Dawkins sticks to his trend of looking at things through what he thinks is a wide lens but in fact is a very narrow one. He entirely blames this shunning of debate on the religious when in fact there are components on both sides. Sure there are those that are religious who think they’ve got the right to see their faith unquestioned, but at the same time there are those who refuse to allow any religions discussion in the “public square”. “Oh no no!”, they say. “You’ve brought up God and therefore you’re not allowed to be a part of this debate. Arguments that include discussions of God are not allowed, particularly when we’re talking about the general public or more specifically politics!”

Furthering his lack of rigor, he sites two examples as if they’re examples of the same thing, one about Christians fighting for their right to be heard in the public debate and the other about Muslims attempting to shutdown discussion. I wish I was making that up, but that’s exactly what the two examples are, but he suggests they’re both about religious people shutting down discussion.

He first brings up the Christian example. He starts by talking about how bad discrimination is and how society should shut it down (which I think we could all agree with him). Then he goes on to talk about how a Christian fought for the right to wear a T-Shirt at school that said “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder.” He suggests that this is an example of Christian discrimination.

I don’t know why I feel the need to make this obvious, but discrimination is an act, not a statement. You can say whatever you want, and not discriminate. It’s when you refuse to do something based on a bias that you’ve actually discriminated. So, if I had a rental property that I was going to rent and I chose to not rent it to a homosexual, THAT would be discrimination. The fact that I confirm that I think homosexual acts are sinful, that is not discrimination.

But going even further, can he not see how preventing people from wearing that shirt is shutting down debate, not increasing it? Sure, he doesn’t like what the other side of the debate says, but it is in fact debate. It’s another example where Dawkins is like all those people who think debate is only allowed on the topics THEY want to debate. On the rest, “the science is settled” and no debate will be allowed.

Then he goes into the example of the 12 Islamic cartoons that created a bunch of controversy 5+ years ago. Muslims burned down Christian Churches, threatened the life of the cartoonists and did all other sorts of thuggery. He’ll get no debate from me that this was unacceptable and the media’s cowardice was troubling.

But the fact that he equates the two examples as if they have anything to do with one another in their cause or that they’re even examples of the same thing, is what is truly troubling.

On to Chapter 2…