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Professor Dawkins doesn’t seem to know much about Darwin: either what his masterpiece is actually called, or even what he believed about God (he wasn’t an atheist)

There is, Darwin said, an ‘impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe … as the result of blind chance or necessity…. I deserve to be called a Theist’

By on Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Dawkins: not as much of an expert on Charles Darwin as he thinks

Dawkins: not as much of an expert on Charles Darwin as he thinks

Professor Dawkins has been making something of a fool of himself lately (I tried to find a more charitable way of putting it, but I fear I have failed) over his knowledge of the works and opinions of Charles Darwin, of whom he is so well-known as being supposedly the great high priest, or vicarious presence in our own times. That indispensable website, Protect the Pope, draws our attention to one occasion on which this was embarrassingly revealed, which I had previously missed, and which occurred during a recent debate in Australia between Dawkins and Cardinal Pell.

Of that, more presently. First, though, that wonderful moment of revelation, when we all discovered that Dawkins couldn’t even say what the full title of Darwin’s greatest and most quasi-iconic work, On the Origin of Species, actually was. The circumstances were these. The modestly entitled Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (“a clear-thinking oasis”, it calls itself) had commissioned a poll from Ipsos MORI to discover “the extent to which adults recorded as Christian in the 2011 UK Census … believe, know about, practise and are influenced by Christianity, as well as their reasons for having described themselves as Christian in the Census”. The poll discovered that “when given four books of the Bible to select from and asked which was the first book of the New Testament, only 35 per cent could identify Matthew as the correct answer”. In a discussion with Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dawkins said that an “astonishing number [of self-identified Christians] couldn’t name the first book in the New Testament” and that this indicated that they were “not really Christian at all”: this declaration led to the following highly amusing piece of dialogue between Dawkins and Fraser, who quite rightly said that the poll asked “silly little questions” to “trip” people up:

Giles Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of ‘The Origin Of Species’, I’m sure you could tell me that.

Richard Dawkins: Yes I could

Giles Fraser: Go on then.

Richard Dawkins: On The Origin Of Species.. Uh. With, Oh God, On The Origin Of Species. There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

Giles Fraser: You’re the high pope of Darwinism… If you asked people who believed in evolution that question and you came back and said 2% got it right, it would be terribly easy for me to go ‘they don’t believe it after all’. It’s just not fair to ask people these questions. They self-identify as Christians and I think you should respect that.

Now the point is, surely, that the full title of Darwin’s work, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”, though unwieldy, is highly informative, in that it doesn’t just tell you roughly what the book is about, it summarises its entire argument: know the title and you can tell me what the book says. One would have thought that someone so famous for knowing what the book says would have no difficulty in remembering the title. “Oh, God”, replied Dawkins to Giles Fraser (an interesting turn of phrase under the circumstances); “On The Origin Of Species”, he desperately continued, “There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”. But that just won’t do: it leaves out the most essential part of the title: “by Means of Natural Selection”: how well does he really know the book? Or has it just become for him a source of polemic and ideology, like Das Kapital for Communists, often referred to, never read?

On to Professor Dawkins’s next uncomfortable moment, at the hands of Cardinal Pell. This one is, if anything, even more embarrassing, since what it draws our attention to is the undeniable fact that Darwin thought that there was no contradiction whatever between evolution and the existence of God.

The cardinal correctly declared that Darwin was a theist because he “couldn’t believe that the immense cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about either by chance or out of necessity”. Dawkins, incredibly, immediately interjected that this was “just not true”. There was applause (and the total collapse of Professor Dawkins) when Cardinal Pell instantly replied: “It’s on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look.”

Yes, indeed, it’s certainly worth a look (incidentally, I already knew this passage very well: why didn’t Dawkins?). Here it is; it’s worth reading in full:

Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.

At the present day the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons…. This argument would be a valid one if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know that this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists. The state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me, and which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music….

Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

Darwin goes on to say that though “This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time … when I wrote the Origin of Species”, it subsequently became “weaker”; rather than a “theist”, Darwin became an “agnostic” but never, so far as I can discover, an atheist like Dawkins. Whatever the truth of this, it is certain that at the time he wrote the Origin of Species, he did not believe that there was any contradiction between belief in the origin of species by means of natural selection and the existence of a Creator God who was actually himself involved in the process by which the world came to be so sublimely what it was: he concluded, he said, that there was an “extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity”.

That sounds very much to me like an idea of God which is declared by Dawkinsite fundamentalists to be at the very opposite pole to belief in evolution. Well, it’s clearly not: at any rate, Darwin certainly didn’t think so: so back to the drawing board, Dawkins.

  • Parasum

    “He was only trying to say (I think) that he couldn’t really see why God
    had placed His Son made man among the Jews, and not among a more
    advanced civilisation at that time (The Cardinal mentioned the Egyptians
    and the Persians).”

    ## The Bible contains some clues as to why; including:

    Deu 7:6     “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.
    Deu 7:7     It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples;
    Deu 7:8     but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

    http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Deu&c=7&t=RSV#7

    There is a recurrent Biblical motif of God choosing the weak in the world – not the obviously strong, or the wise. Abraham was nobody – God’s electing grace, nothing else, made him the “father of a multitude”. Israel, which was a mere backwater, & nothing compared to Assyria or Egypt, is chosen to be God’s own People; because God Alone is great; not because Israel was anything in itself. David was a *youngest* son. The choice of a Jewish girl to be the mother of the Messiah fits the pattern. How many people know the name of Livia, wife of Augustus Caesar ? But who does not know the name of Mary ? It is Mary who is the most grace-filled of all creatures – not a Pope or bishop. As St. Paul says:

    1Cor 1:17     For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
    1Cr 1:18     For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
     1Cr 1:19     For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”
    1Cr 1:20     Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
    1Cr 1:21     For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
    1Cr 1:22     For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
    1Cr 1:23     but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
    1Cr 1:24     but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    1Cr 1:25     For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
    1Cr 1:26     For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth;
    1Cr 1:27     but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,
    1Cr 1:28     God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,
    1Cr 1:29     so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

    http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=1Cr&c=1&t=RSV#27

  • buckingham88

    ‘ ..the researchers discovered proof of a vast filament of material that connects our Milky Way galaxy to nearby clusters of galaxies, which are similarly interconnected to the rest of the universe.’…ordinary matter is driven, like foam on the crest of a wave, into vast interconnecting sheets and filaments stretched over enormous cosmic voids…’
    Australian National University News Cosmic thread that binds us revealed Thursday 29 September 2011.
    Thanks JB and AC,As far as the square Kilometer array is concerned they are now quoting only 50 times sensitivity.I suppose it depends on what you compare it to and in what wavelength.

  • Acleron

    This doesn’t explain the missing mass which is required to explain the orbital velocity of galaxies. Dark matter is still the most preferred model we have.

  • Jonathan West

    Except that Dawkins is not doing what you describe. He has, quite correctly, pointed out that Darwin’s theory, in addition to it being a huge scientific advance (it is not every day that the founding principle of an entire branch of science is discovered) was a philosophical discovery of shattering magnitude.

    What Darwin did was to undermine the Teleological Argument as it applies to the complexity and variety of life on earth. He did this by undermining the key premise of the Teleological Argument, which was that something as complex as life had to be designed because there was no natural process which could achieve the same effect.

    Darwin described that natural process – evolution by natural selection allied to time in geological quantities.

    Dawkins correctly avoids claiming this as a disproof of God, but points out that we no longer have any need of that hypothesis when considering the complexity of life.

    I suspect that you would know this had you actually read The God Delusion rather than merely reading reviews of it by Christians who had misrepresented it.

  • Jonathan West

    My “point” is absolutely clear: that “it is certain that at the time [Darwin] wrote the Origin of Species, he did not believe that there was any contradiction between belief in the origin of species by means of natural selection and the existence of a Creator God”. That’s my point. It’s undeniable; and I have no other.

    Rubbish, you were claiming that Cardinal Pell was correct to claim that Darwin was a theist, and Dawkins ignorant to say that is not true. Had you said the above in the article itself, all you could reasonably have claimed was that Darwin was an agnostic. But as you originally wrote:

    The cardinal correctly declared that Darwin was a theist because he “couldn’t believe that the immense cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about either by chance or out of necessity”. Dawkins, incredibly, immediately interjected that this was “just not true”.  There was applause (and the total collapse of Professor Dawkins) when Cardinal Pell instantly replied: “It’s on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look.”   

    I think you’re changing your ground somewhat.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    But there are considerable complexities regarding what we’re committed to in believing that there was an original pair. Ed Feser blogged on this: 
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html

  • Guest

    Dawkins is an immature envious creature… What a weirdo Hes so jealous of God and Christians

  • TreenonPoet

     Edward Feser argues in favour of Adam and Eve. Here is one of the paragraphs in his argument that you linked to:
    Now for A-T [Aristotle-Thomism], all material things are composites of form and matter, and ‘soul’ is a technical term for the form of a living thing, specifically.  The soul is that which organizes a living thing’s matter in such a way that it is capable of the operations distinctive of living things.  Since the activities of living things other than human beings are entirely dependent on matter, their souls are themselves dependent on matter, and A-T allows that such souls may therefore have material origins.  But the human soul is different, precisely because it is that which makes us capable not only of material activities like digestion and sensation, but also of immaterial activities like thinking.  Hence it operates, at least in part, apart from matter.  Indeed, unlike the forms of other material things it is a subsistent form, capable of carrying on in existence beyond the death of the body of which it is the form, as a kind of incomplete substance.  For this reason, for A-T the human soul cannot in principle have a material origin.  In fact, it has to be directly created by God whenever a new human being comes into existence.“.

    Are you seriously suggesting that this makes logical sense?

  • TreenonPoet

    Since I observe the exact opposite, I would like to know how you come to that conclusion, or are you just trying to be nasty?

  • Proteios

    Rest assured the religion of atheism listens to things that support their preconceived notions, ignore anything that contradicts this belief, and ostracize those of other beliefs. Much the same thing they accuse Christianity of. Maybe they have a guilty conscience.
    Atheism is reforming less like those who just dont believe in God and more like a cult and people like these Dawkins people are deified.

  • Lupton96

    In RE lessons at my Catholic school we were taught the creation story in Genesis in the context of other creation myths in other religions and cultures. We were taught big bang theory as the real origin of the universe (although not in as much detail as in science lessons) and told that none of Genesis is meant to be taken literally.

  • buckingham88

     You are quite right that DM is a preferred model for explanation of the stability and coherence of galaxies.Australian scientists have been in the forefront of the observation of the accelerated expansion of the universe and the proposition of a force that explains it. Their recent sharing of the Nobel prize is a testament to this.Australians also have been finding more of ordinary matter as well.A Monash new graduate found more as well last year.
     But there are stirrings.In a recent unpublished article entitled “The dark matter crisis:falsification of the current standard model of cosmology”Pavel Kroupa makes some interesting claims based on further observation.,he concludes” The Dual Galaxy theorem is falsified by observation and dynamically relevant cold or warm DM on galactic scales cannot exist.It is shown that the standard model of cosmology is incompatible with a large set of other extra galactic observations.Other theoretical solutions to cosmological observations exist,which yield an excellent description of astronomical observations.’..and so it goes
    Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia [CSIRO Publishing],in press,LaTeX,50 pages,16 figures. Publication date 04/2012
    Comment & Blogs
    Professor
    Dawkins doesn’t seem to know much about Darwin: either what his
    masterpiece is actually called, or even what he believed about God (he
    wasn’t an atheist)There is, Darwin
    said, an ‘impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful
    universe … as the result of blind chance or necessity…. I deserve to be
    called a Theist’By William Oddie on Wednesday, 18 April 2012In This Article Cardinal George Pell, Charles Darwin, evolution, Giles Fraser, On the Origin of Species, Richard Dawkins, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
    Share More Sharing ServicesShare | Share on facebook Share on myspace Share on google Share on twitter
    About the author William OddieDr
    William Oddie is a leading English Catholic writer and broadcaster. He
    edited The Catholic Herald from 1998 to 2004 and is the author of The
    Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy. Contact the author
    Related PostsDid you know that it is the Times newspaper’s official view that a creator God doesn’t exist? Neither did IDarwinism: is it a threat to the Catholic faith?Today’s Catholic must-reads: 11/04/12Morning Catholic must-reads: 10/04/12Beware the smuggling of atheism into science lessons Dawkins: not as much of an expert on Charles Darwin as he thinksProfessor
    Dawkins has been making something of a fool of himself lately (I tried
    to find a more charitable way of putting it, but I fear I have failed)
    over his knowledge of the works and opinions of Charles Darwin, of whom
    he is so well-known as being supposedly the great high priest, or
    vicarious presence in our own times. That indispensable website, Protect the Pope,
    draws our attention to one occasion on which this was embarrassingly
    revealed, which I had previously missed, and which occurred during a
    recent debate in Australia between Dawkins and Cardinal Pell.Of
    that, more presently. First, though, that wonderful moment of
    revelation, when we all discovered that Dawkins couldn’t even say what
    the full title of Darwin’s greatest and most quasi-iconic work, On the
    Origin of Species, actually was. The circumstances were these. The
    modestly entitled Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
    (“a clear-thinking oasis”, it calls itself) had commissioned a poll
    from Ipsos MORI to discover “the extent to which adults recorded as
    Christian in the 2011 UK Census … believe, know about, practise and are
    influenced by Christianity, as well as their reasons for having
    described themselves as Christian in the Census”. The poll discovered
    that “when given four books of the Bible to select from and asked which
    was the first book of the New Testament, only 35 per cent could identify
    Matthew as the correct answer”. In a discussion with Giles Fraser,
    former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dawkins said that an
    “astonishing number [of self-identified Christians] couldn’t name the
    first book in the New Testament” and that this indicated that they were
    “not really Christian at all”: this declaration led to the following
    highly amusing piece of dialogue between Dawkins and Fraser, who quite
    rightly said that the poll asked “silly little questions” to “trip”
    people up:Giles Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of ‘The Origin Of Species’, I’m sure you could tell me that.
    Richard Dawkins: Yes I could
    Giles Fraser: Go on then.
    Richard
    Dawkins: On The Origin Of Species.. Uh. With, Oh God, On The Origin Of
    Species. There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of
    favoured races in the struggle for life.
    Giles Fraser: You’re the
    high pope of Darwinism… If you asked people who believed in evolution
    that question and you came back and said 2% got it right, it would be
    terribly easy for me to go ‘they don’t believe it after all’. It’s just
    not fair to ask people these questions. They self-identify as Christians
    and I think you should respect that.Now the point
    is, surely, that the full title of Darwin’s work, “On the Origin of
    Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured
    Races in the Struggle for Life”, though unwieldy, is highly informative,
    in that it doesn’t just tell you roughly what the book is about, it
    summarises its entire argument: know the title and you can tell me what
    the book says. One would have thought that someone so famous for knowing
    what the book says would have no difficulty in remembering the title.
    “Oh, God”, replied Dawkins to Giles Fraser (an interesting turn of
    phrase under the circumstances); “On The Origin Of Species”, he
    desperately continued, “There is a subtitle with respect to the
    preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”. But that just
    won’t do: it leaves out the most essential part of the title: “by Means
    of Natural Selection”: how well does he really know the book?
    Or has it just become for him a source of polemic and ideology, like Das
    Kapital for Communists, often referred to, never read?On to Professor Dawkins’s next uncomfortable moment,
    at the hands of Cardinal Pell. This one is, if anything, even more
    embarrassing, since what it draws our attention to is the undeniable
    fact that Darwin thought that there was no contradiction whatever
    between evolution and the existence of God.The cardinal correctly
    declared that Darwin was a theist because he “couldn’t believe that the
    immense cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about
    either by chance or out of necessity”. Dawkins, incredibly, immediately
    interjected that this was “just not true”. There was applause (and the
    total collapse of Professor Dawkins) when Cardinal Pell instantly
    replied: “It’s on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look.”Yes, indeed, it’s certainly worth a look (incidentally, I already knew this passage very well: why didn’t Dawkins?). Here it is; it’s worth reading in full:Although
    I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a
    considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague
    conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in
    nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive,
    fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can
    no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve
    shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a
    door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of
    organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the
    course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed
    laws. … At the present day the most usual argument for the
    existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward conviction
    and feelings which are experienced by most persons…. This argument
    would be a valid one if all men of all races had the same inward
    conviction of the existence of one God; but we know that this is very
    far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward
    convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really
    exists. The state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me, and
    which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not
    essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of
    sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of
    this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence
    of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings
    excited by music….
    Another source of conviction in the existence
    of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses
    me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty
    or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful
    universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and
    far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus
    reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an
    intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve
    to be called a Theist.Darwin goes on to say that
    though “This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time … when I
    wrote the Origin of Species”, it subsequently became “weaker”; rather
    than a “theist”, Darwin became an “agnostic” but never, so far as I can
    discover, an atheist like Dawkins. Whatever the truth of this, it is
    certain that at the time he wrote the Origin of Species, he did not
    believe that there was any contradiction between belief in the origin of
    species by means of natural selection and the existence of a Creator
    God who was actually himself involved in the process by which the world
    came to be so sublimely what it was: he concluded, he said, that there
    was an “extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this
    immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of
    looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind
    chance or necessity”.That sounds very much to me like an idea of
    God which is declared by Dawkinsite fundamentalists to be at the very
    opposite pole to belief in evolution. Well, it’s clearly not: at any
    rate, Darwin certainly didn’t think so: so back to the drawing board,
    Dawkins.
    2

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  • buckingham88

     Dont know what happened here but I managed to post the whole article plus some blogs.If you get the article,it concludes”convincing evidence that galactic-scale dynamics cannot be Einsteinian/Newtonian.

  • Acleron

    Have you any reference to Dawkins advocating that Darwin’s ambition was to refute any supernatural being?

    I’ve only ever seen this accusation from mainly creationists but some non-creationist theists. I’m not aware of any evidence that it was espoused by Dawkins.

    Darwin was very aware that his work and theory undermined some theistic viewpoints. Two facts demonstrate this awareness, the full quote that Oddie mentioned part of and the changes in the Origins from edition to edition which show Darwin backing off and diluting some claims because of the quite right fear of a theistic backlash.

    And from some of the comments and this article, one can say he foresaw the future so clearly…

  • Acleron

    Lol, you certainly did publish the lot. But your first ref does not falsify dark matter but the Dual Dawrf galaxy model. Gravitational effects of something that is not visible, resides and has been observed in galaxies. Kroupe is not disputing that.

  • buckingham88

     “The current standard model of cosmology requires the Dual Dwarf Galaxy Theorem to be true.’He discussed the model theorem.He falsifies the theorem by observation.He therefore concludes and ‘show[s] that the  standard model is incompatible with a large set of other extragalactic observations.’ I am not a cosmologist,but I would read this that he thinks he has disproved the SMoC.
    “In particular, alone the empirical mass-discrepancy-acceleration correlation constitutes that galactic-scale dynamics cannot be Einsteinian/Newtonian.’
    As a lay person in Cosmology I would read this that DM is not a player in the binding together of galaxies or preventing them spinning apart.He thinks there is a better explanation.I have no strong views on this but await with interest the debate.He does describe this as “The dark Matter crisis”.

  • Acleron

    Dark Matter was designed to answer the problem of anomalous orbital velocity of stars within galaxies, it was also found to be useful in developing other theories in cosmology. That those theories may be incorrect, does not invalidate the concept of DM and no other hypothesis has been found that models the actual evidence. 

  • TreenonPoet

     “mature faith” is an oxymoron. Even those who become religious later in life are reaching out for a comfort blanket, and there’s no reason why they should be denied it as long as no one else suffers as a result. There is the snag. For religions to survive from one generation to the next and in competition with other religions, they prescribe suffering. The survival memes explain why you feel that people should be ‘educated’ into your version of your religion and are otherwise uneducated or miseducated, but you don’t really know that yours is the ‘right’ religion and that all the other religions are wrong, so you may be prescribing miseducation yourself.

    Some religious people seem to regard lack of religion as just another religion (despite the absurdity of that idea). The point about not taking things on faith is that you take them only when presented with a reasonable amount of evidence and mentally assign levels of certainty based on that evidence (rather than being absolutely certain about something for which you have no evidence). You can see why religions teach that religious faith is a virtue, but it is a lie. Feeding and clothing of the hungry and destitute, for example, does not require religious faith.

  • TreenonPoet

     Since I can’t raise Lazarus, I will follow up by pointing out that not only are there logical errors in the passage I quoted by Edward Feser (such as the sleight-of-hand redefinition of ‘soul’, and the sudden appearance of the undefined ‘God’ in the manner of Aquinas), but there are also factual errors. (For example, thinking is not restricted to human animals.) This is the sort of thing that passes as theology. It is a collection of non-facts (blended with neutral facts for camouflage). In the same piece that Lazarus linked to, Edward Feser calls Professor Jerry Coyne an ignoramus on theology as if there was any merit in knowing non-facts. (Similar accusations are often raised against Dawkins.)

    The following exchange is a rather trivial analogy:
    X. I can prove that you are not here.
    Y. How?
    X. Well, would you agree that you are not at the North Pole?
    Y. Yes.
    X. And would you agree that you are not in the Sahara Desert?
    Y. Yes.
    X. Well if you are in neither of those places, you must be elsewhere.
    Y. Agreed.
    X. If you are elsewhere, you can’t be here.

    The wordplay is obvious, and does not affect the fact that X is where he thinks he is. There is a ‘proof’ that two equals zero in which it is not quite so easy to spot the trick, but obviously two does not equal zero. (Basically, it claims that if ac=bc then a=b, while hiding the fact that c is zero.) The theologist with religious faith attempts to create word tricks that deceive himself in order to reach the conclusion that supports his religion.

    If there is no original sin, then the Catholic faith collapses. There are those who reject this statement. There are those, like Edward Feser, who accept it and need to find a way of supporting the concept of original sin to hold on to their comfort blankets. One can understand the lack of incentive to examine the pillars of this support too closely. But to harm someone, by slander or worse, because they come too close to those pillars with a spotlight…

  • buckingham88

     Ill post at the top,see you

  • buckingham88

    Discussion with Acleron.Here’s another one “Missing Dark Matter in the Local Universe”Astrophysical Bulletin,2012,Vol.67,No2,pp.123-134 “A sample of 11thousand galaxies with radial velocityV_<3500 km/s within a sphere of radius of around 50Mpc around us….Beside the two well-known inconsisistencies of modern cosmological models with the observational data:the problem of missing satellites of normal galaxies and the problem of missing baryons,there arises another one-the issue of missing dark matter.' I am not saying that dark matter does not exist,I am saying that the theories involving it are being eroded.That's all.Its existance is being questioned in these two articles in the sense that it is missing in surveys of vast areas of the cosmos.It may still be out there between the galaxies,Kroupa can"t find DM in the Milky Way or Andromeda, and looks for a new understanding.
     I think there is a need for a new understanding,but watch from the sidelines as the debate proceeds.
      You may be a Scientific American reader.On page 20,April 2011 there is an article entitled The Inflation Debate Is the theory at the heart of modern cosmology deeply flawed? This article in no way suggests,or even hints that DM does not exist, and effectively concerns itself with DE.But the author makes a very useful point.He says 'The first signs that a theory is failing are usually small discrepancies between observations and predictions'.Paul J Steinhardt.
     Thats what I think is happening here.

  • Acleron


    Kroupa can”t find DM in the Milky Way’

    I see a French group has recently claimed that the effects of DM cannot be seen local to our sun, but they still admit that the orbital velocity of stars in the Milky way are anomalous. 
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hqd2eW2cX6-HPG313C4hFhPqbUxA?docId=CNG.cc51b8b1149b3724b3f352a005a19262.371 
    Does Kroupe dispute this?

  • JByrne24

    This LINK (below) is a video recording of Dawkins’ discussion with Prof. Lawrence Krauss (in Camberra,  
    at The Australian National University ).

    The discussion first centres  on Prof. Dawkins’ discussion with Cardinal Pell, which took place the day before.

    LINK:  http://richarddawkins.net/videos/645683-richard-dawkins-and-lawrence-krauss-something-from-nothing-at-anu-canberra-australia

  • Jonathan West

    William Oddie, you’re the second commentator here in recent days to duck the challenge to describe any error of fact or logic in Chapter 4 of The God Delusion. the first was Fr Alexander Lucie Smith.

  • Jonathan West

    By the way, Cardinal Pell’s claim was that Darwin was a theist. Dawkins replied “that’s not true”. You relied on an incomplete quotation to suggest that Dawkins was ignorant, and went on to say “its worth reading in full”.

    In what way is that not a dishonest presentation of the argument?

  • TreenonPoet

     In his autobiography, Darwin describes how, the more he thought about it, the less of a theist he became. In trying to suggest that there is no real dichotomy between science and religion, Pell referred to Darwin’s earlier theism. Putting aside the validity of comparing science with the supposed religious beliefs of particular scientists, the relevant consideration is what Darwin thought after giving the matter much consideration, not before. If Pell has read Darwin’s autobiography, then he knows that Darwin moved away from theism, and knows that Darwin’s conclusion did not support religion. To suggest that it did was a lie. Dawkins was correct to say that what Pell said was not true.

    So we have Pell deliberately lying, and Dawkins telling the truth, but where is Oddie’s condemnation of Pell? Now look at the assertions in the headline:

    1. “Professor Dawkins doesn’t seem to know much about Darwin…
    2. “…either what his masterpiece is actually called…
    3. “…or even what he believed about God…
    4. “…(he wasn’t an atheist)“.

    1. It is quite easy to discover that Dawkins knows quite a bit about Darwin.
    2. Dawkins does know the title, even though unable to instantly recall the whole thing on one occasion.
    3. Dawkins does seem to know that what Pell said was untrue.
    4. To state that Darwin was not an atheist is a lie because this is not known.

    I think the Catholic Herald owes Dawkins an apology, and that apology should be in the same font size as the headline.

  • Acleron


    I think the Catholic Herald owes Dawkins an apology, and that apology should be in the same font size as the headline.’

    Are you willing to wait for the heat death of the earth?

  • Jonathan West

    To state that Darwin was not an atheist is a lie because this is not known.

    Moreover, the issue of whether or not Darwin was an atheist is a red herring. Pell’s claim was that Darwin was a theist, and Dawkins challenged the truth of that statement. Dawkins made no assertion that Darwin was an atheist, and it is dishonest of Oddie to state either directly or indirectly that Dawkins made that claim.

  • TreenonPoet

     I avoided that accusation because I do not know who was responsible for the headline (headlines in some publications being chosen by an editor, sometimes without the author’s approval), but Oddie does try to put Dawkins in the worst light, aware that to some readers an insinuation is as good as a confirmation.

  • buckingham88

     Thanks for the link and heads up Ac.I don”t know what the other authors’ views are of each other’s findings of ‘missing DM’.Like a thirsty man in the desert two of them start reaching for water, in the form of a new ‘theory of everything’.Usually when this happens someone mentions string theory.
    As an onlooker all I will do is wait for a Scientific American review article and find out the new ‘consensus’.Since this is a religious site may I make a prophecy?
     I think it will take two years.

  • TreenonPoet
  • buckingham88

     Thanks TP.But wait,there’s more.In an article entitled’ Is supersymmetery dead?’in the May Scientific American in the context of super particles, “wherever we look,we see nothing”:If this continues to be the case then there goes dark matter,there goes string theory.
    We still await the new consensus theory of everything.

  • Piers D’arcy

    Unfortunately, Cardinal Pell doesn’t seem to know much about Catholic theology:

    “Ah,
    well, I’m curious to know if Adam and Eve never existed

    where
    did Original Sin come from?”…Richard
    Dawkins to George Cardinal Pell

    http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2012-0415-mjm-dawkins-pell.htm

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    Not sure what sort of sense ‘logical sense’ is, but if you’re asking, ‘Is this a comprehensible point of view?’ the answer is yes.

    I suspect your lack of familiarity with the technical vocabulary of hylomorphism is what’s causing you difficulty here, particularly with the point (found in Aquinas and arguably also in Aristotle’s De Anima) that the human soul (as a substantial form) is capable of existing separately from the body. But apart from this, the idea that the soul (or mind if your prefer) is a separate entity from the body is a commonplace of a variety of philosophical dualisms. Certainly, many philosophers would reject dualism as a false view of the mind. (Many wouldn’t.) But that’s very different thing from suggesting it doesn’t make sense.

  • TreenonPoet

    The problem relating to the definition of ‘soul’ is one of equivocation, not hylomorphism (except in a strained analogous sense). Feser states “The soul is that which organizes a living thing’s matter in such a way that it is capable of the operations distinctive of living things“. Without supplying a special definition of ‘living things’, we must take it that it does not refer to dead things, or things in some other after-life state. Thus, whatever form this soul takes, it is only relevant during the life of a thing. To then state that “it is a subsistent form, capable of carrying on in existence beyond the death of the body” is to contradict his original definition.

    Now you provide yet another definition of the soul (“mind if your prefer“). Such equivocation does not allow one to determine what is really meant. I am not saying that Feser is being deliberately misleading. In the manner of ‘religious logic’, he is taking a conclusion and working backwards from that, so if his argument seems to him to support the conclusion, his subconscious might be deciding that the argument is valid.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    Suitably raised, I respond that your problem here a) you’ve missed the point of what I was arguing and gone off onto new territory; and b) you’ve not even understood the new territory.

    1) Let’s put my original comment in context. I was responding to the claim that that literal belief in an original pair -Adam and Eve- was obviously absurd. I was simply pointing out that what Catholics are committed to (even if that commitment were to the existence of a literal pair) is not as clear cut as was being made out. Feser’s article (broadly) is making the point that such a belief is (eg) compatible with the co-existence of that pair with many others of the same bodily makeup so long as (at one point) two individuals are ensouled in the right way. (So the existence of an original pair -Adam and Eve- is consistent with the existence of a large number of bodily similar but mentally different pre-humans with whom they interbreed -and thus cannot be refuted by (say) showing that we have more than two original ancestors.)

    2) Now the objections you are making are not to that point, but to the specifics of Thomist metaphysics which Feser uses in his explanation (eg: your criticism of his definition of the soul is simply a criticism of Aristotle’s definition of soul as the ‘substance as form of a natural body which has life in potentiality’ (De Anima II 1, 412a20–1)). The claim that such metaphysics is circular is well known (and found in Moliere’s Le malade imaginaire) but still wrong. It is in any case irrelevant to my point here: that even a literal belief in Adam and Eve is not as straightforwardly refutable as might be thought. (You could rewrite his claim as a Cartesian dualist and it would still make sense.)

    3) On the refutation of Thomist metaphysics, good luck! It’s not religious thinking but metaphysical thinking, so even refuting it would leave Catholicism largely untouched. (I would regard Thomism as the best way of defending and articulating the truths of Catholicism, but it is hardly absolutely essential to it.) In any case, refutation is certainly not the knock down case you seem to think: try David Oderberg’s ‘Real Essentialism’ if you’re feeling strong. This in the end is not a matter of being an ignoramus on theology but a) misunderstanding the nature of my argument and going off on a tangent; and b) whilst on that tangent, being a philosophical ignoramus about the sort of metaphysics you’re criticizing. 

    If you could just stop assuming that everyone who is a Catholic is a moron who needs only a few strung together phrases from Dawkins in order to see the light, you’d probably enjoy these forums a lot more and might even have more people listening to you.

  • TreenonPoet

    I do not assume that everyone who is a Catholic is a moron. It seems that even very intelligent humans, if caught young enough, can be instilled with irrationality in that zone of thought around the religion of their parents, but I know that a few strung-together phrases from Dawkins can sometimes penetrate the barrier. This very elegantly-written piece from an ex-pastor (which mentions evolution and the soul) is prime evidence which, no doubt, you will be able to hide under a pile of theologisms.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    1) Why would any Catholic pay attention to the ramblings of someone who went from one idiocy (liberal Protestantism) to another (Dawkinsism)? Fools wander. That’s all that can be said.

    2) A great many of the best known Catholic intellectuals were not brought up as Catholics but converted as adults. (Peter Geach, Elizabeth Anscombe, Michael Dummett etc). So you’ll need an explanation of why they were Catholics other than parental influence. (To end on a rather less elevated level, I was brought up on the sort of fuzzy minded atheism you seem to represent. It’s not really fit food for the adult mind. If you’re going to be an atheist, please at least do it properly rather than thinking that Dawkins knows what he’s talking about.)

    3) If you want to penetrate ‘the barrier’, you’re going to have to learn a) what the philosophical and theological  issues are and b) how to deal with them rigorously. Dawkins is a poor guide to this.

  • TreenonPoet

    1) I was not asking you to pay attention to any ramblings, just the well-written article that I linked to. Your personal opinion of the author does not address his arguments. To call him a fool without sufficient justification is ad hominem (and it does not follow that anyone who disagrees with you is a fool), but I presume that with your knowledge of rigourous philosophy you already knew that.

    2a)  If a child is prepared to accept the irrationality of its parents religion, it is fairly well equipped to be persuaded into another, similarly irrational, religion. If you were brought up on atheism, but not on rational thinking, or are not inclined to be rational, then you are also susceptible.

    2b) What is fuzzy-minded about agnostic atheism? As Jonathan West points out, both William Oddie and Fr Alexander Lucie Smith, have ducked the challenge to describe any error of fact or logic in Chapter 4 of The God Delusion. Wouldn’t that be easy if the famous professor was using fuzzy logic?

    3) As Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument“. In their case, the barrier will not be penetrated by argument and there is no point delving into theology on their behalf. If lesser Catholics are open to arguments, one ought not to need delve further than the fundamental issue in Catholic theology – whether the Catholic God exists – since the whole artifice rests on it. To show that the chances of that particular God existing above the infinite number of other imaginable monotheistic deities is infinitesimal is to show that it is not necessary to deal with any subordinate issues, rigourously or otherwise. You don’t accept that fact. The theological arguments that you raise are all flawed, but you still suggest the existence of a mythical theology that trumps the deductive logic used by Dawkins. Why should Dawkins spend a lifetime tackling the bilge that is endlessly put out by theologians?

  • caseyCricket

    I was about to say the same thing, but I saw that you put it quite nicely. What people often are thinking of when they say “you can’t prove a negative” is an argument from ignorance. That asserts that if something can’t be disproved, then it must be true. That of course is a fallacy since that would prove the existence of fairies in addition to God.