28 February 2012

Richard Dawkins: I am an agnostic

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist and zoologist Richard Dawkins is renowned as one of the world's leading public atheists. Religionists often call him arrogant, shrill, intolerant and aggressive in his defense of atheism.

Many religionists claim that Richard Dawkins' atheism is nothing but another form of religion, that he is an ignorant clown who doesn't know much, and that his sophistication and erudition as a philosopher and/or theologian, leave so much to be desired that he barely reaches the level of a beginning amateur, if that.

Another bone of contention is that Richard Dawkins' arguments are said to be "nothing new", especially when referring to his 2006 bestseller "The God Delusion".

I happen to disagree with most of these claims for several reasons, not the least of which is that I have actually read Richard Dawkins' books and not by title alone as many people criticising him have apparently done, given their astonishing ignorance regarding Richard Dawkins' books and viewpoints.

I have also heard him talk on numerous occasions, something that is now very easy, thanks to the technological wonder of YouTube. As a result, when I hear nonsense being spouted about Richard Dawkins, I tend to know it is indeed nonsense, and if not, it is not awfully hard to check it.

In the past, I have had numerous discussions with a friend of mine who says she is a secular Jew but who nevertheless displays a lot of religious and superstitious behaviour and ideas incompatible with irreligiosity.

Rowan Williams
She always claimed to know many religious scientists of the highest calibre, who are utterly destroying Richard Dawkins and that I am simply too stupid to understand what he writes because these highly intelligent and sophisticated people know better and are saying something quite different. In this, she is hardly unique. Similar claims by religionists can be found all over the Internet.

Well, maybe so, and while my human side certainly doesn't like to be insulted, my evidence-based side doesn't care one way or the other as it is merely looking for what is true, not for what I wish to be true. As such, I must indeed at least accept the possibility that I am indeed a mentally defective ignorant moron of sub-par intelligence who is incapable of understanding the stupidity of Richard Dawkins' viewpoints.

That said, if I am expected to accept insults, I feel am I entitled to a little joust of my own. It so happens that religiosity -not irreligiosity- has been linked to both lower intelligence and less education and that by extension, it does not seem entirely unreasonable to give claims from religious people the disadvantage of the doubt. [01-04]

My friend, displaying behavioural patterns that are rather uncharacteristic for people of the secular persuasion, refused to look at the evidence I had to present. She was equally reluctant to let me talk to these eminent scientists and hear their side of the story first-hand instead of through a game of Chinese whispers.

As such, I had no access to these people's arguments (if these people even existed in the first place), so I could only reply that I was unaware of any valid arguments against Richard Dawkins, and that these people were either lying or ignorant about him, and that I hoped they were the latter, since I don't like to accuse people of bad intentions.

To be fair to my friend -which is more than she affords me- the Internet is rife with people like her, people who feel that making baseless claims is a valid basis for truth, and in spite of her refusal to provide any evidence for her claims -a common characteristic of people who live in an evidence-free universe- finding philosophers and sophisticated theologians (whatever that means) who claim that Richard Dawkins is wrong, shrill, strident and/or an ignoramus and a liar, is not particularly difficult.

Most of these people seem to have a few things in common: they have no knowledge of science, and except for claiming that Richard Dawkins is dishonest, ill-willed and/or a bad philosopher who knows nothing of theology, they have no arguments against him, apparently not realising that claiming that someone is wrong is not quite the same thing as providing evidence to support that claim.

These people don't "hope" that Richard Dawkins is ignorant, as I hope of them. Instead, they "know" that Richard Dawkins is dishonest. Clearly, religious "love and tolerance" are concepts that don't bear close examination. They prefer to accuse rather than to investigate.

Imagine my astonishment when religionists all over the world suddenly announced  their surprise that Richard Dawkins had admitted he is an agnostic during a debate with Rowan Williams on 23 February 2012.

Anthony Kenny was the moderator of the debate and he started the proceedings thusly:
Neither of my fellow symposiasts need any introduction from me, but I'd like very briefly to introduce myself and say why I am sitting between these two protagonists. I'm myself a philosopher and I'm an agnostic about the existence of God. I don't know whether there's a god or not. I'm open to persuasion either way. I'm flanked by two people who claim to know the answer to the question I don't know the answer to. So, I sit here as a representative of ignorance. [05]
In my opinion, the debate itself was not the fireworks one would expect when Richard Dawkins participates. It was a sedate, even dull affair, seemingly burdened rather than enlivened by the presence of Rowan Williams and at around 1 hour 11 minutes into the debate, a less than subtle manoeuvre by Anthony Kenny to protect Rowan Williams from a question from Richard Dawkins. Dishonesty takes many forms, and while lying is an important one, it is by no means the only one.

The manoeuvre I mentioned however, also brought us the part of the debate that religionists are raving about:
Anthony Kenny: You, I think, Richard, believe you have a disproof of God's existence.
Richard Dawkins: No I don't. You were wrong when you said that. I constructed in The God Delusion a 7-point scale of which 1 was "I know God exists". 7 was "I know God doesn't exist" and I called myself a 6.
Anthony Kenny: Why don't you call yourself an agnostic then?
Richard Dawkins: I do.
Anthony Kenny: You are described as the world's most famous atheist.
Richard Dawkins: Not by me. [06]
Anthony Kenny's incredulity is so blatant, one could almost harvest it and sell it by the kilo. While it does show his philosopher talent of creating controversy where there is none, it certainly does not flatter the level of his thinking powers.

For reasons that are at best unclear, many people -especially religionists- also saw this as an admission, a revelation, a step back, and/or an admission of defeat by Richard Dawkins. As JohnThomas Didymus (a pseudonym for a Nigerian writing on Digital Journal and who says he is not a religionist) wrote:
World famous atheist and ethologist Richard Dawkins may have compromised his position as a militant atheist when he effectively admitted that he is actually agnostic because he really can't prove God does not exist. [07]
This surprise is all the more painful (for the religionists) because Richard Dawkins has indeed never made a secret of this. Let me quote part of page 51 of "The God Delusion":
Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 - 1 am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden. [08]
I do admire the religionists for admitting that they were wrong, as that is an occurrence so rare it could almost qualify as a supernatural miracle, but it does indeed raise rather serious questions about their intelligence.

If it took them over five years to find out that Richard Dawkins didn't actually say what they claimed he did and what they reviled him for, even though it was there for all to see, how seriously can we now take them where any other of their inane arguments is concerned?

As a case in point, if anyone has questions to answer as a result of this debate, it is Rowan Williams. Following a completely idiotic proposition by Anthony Kenny about the simplicity and complexity of God, which he calls a flat contradiction later on, Rowan Williams has a go at defending the theological position that God is a simple creature/being/entity [09].

As such, it sounds merely like the type of nonsense so-called sophisticated theologians churn out on demand, but there is more to the story. It turns out that Rowan Williams actually claims that God is complex, not simple:
If God was there before the Big Bang, he must be complex. [10]
This, to me illustrates the fundamental dishonesty of the religionist. He/she wishes a god to exist, and this is used as a basis to make any claim, any claim at all, to "explain" that a god exists. However, this is nothing but smoke, hot air to conceal that the religionist is defending a wish, not a reality. As a "psychic" who practices cold reading, the religionist merely dishes up a story he/she hopes will make the skeptic go away. The religionist's universe is an empty one, completely free of evidence.

As for my friend, I would ask her the following question: "Now that your fellow religionists have indirectly rehabilitated me by admitting they were wrong, what does that tell you about my stupidity and the superior insights you claimed for those eminent scientists you cited? Would it not be time now to actually read Richard Dawkins' books instead of merely claiming you did? Would it not be time to stick with the evidence instead of 'going beyond it?' Would it not be time for some intellectual honesty?"

[01] Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, Leading scientists still reject God, Nature, Vol. 394, 23 July 1998
[02] Bruce Sacerdote and Edward L. Glaser, Education and Religion, Harvard Institute of Economic Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 2001
[03] Graeme Paton, Intelligent people 'less likely to believe in God', The Telegraph, 11 June 2008, Retrieved 27 February 2012
[04] Shenhav, A., Rand, D. G., & Greene, J. D. (2011, September 19). Divine Intuition: Cognitive Style Influences Belief in God. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025391
[05] Debate between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams at 5 m 57 s, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 23 February 2012.
[06] Debate between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams at 1 h 11 m 30 s, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 23 February 2012.
[07] JohnThomas Didymus, Video: Dawkins says he's only '6 out of 7' sure God doesn't exist, Digital Journal, 24 February 2012, retrieved 28 February 2012.
[08] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Bantam Books, 2 October 2006, Page 51
[09] Debate between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams at 1 h 15 m 50 s, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 23 February 2012.
[10] Associated Press, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams criticizes popular atheist writers, Richard Dawkins Foundation, 12 October 2007, retrieved 27 February 2012

Last updated on 28 February 2012

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