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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.

  • JByrne24

    Do you have to be so aggressive when talking of Richard Dawkins?

    True, he had initial difficulty in immediately recalling the 21 word title of Darwin’s book – although he did fully recall it a little later (all 21 words of it!). So many of the “Christians” could not produce the single word name of the Gospel writer. 

    I watched the whole of Dawkins’ discussion with Cardinal Pell. I’m not going here to argue in support of atheism (I’ve actually been thrown-off and barred from the Dawkins’ website! ), but Dawkins was very lucid and it was an interesting discussion. People might still be able to get the ABC link to the recording through the Dawkins website.
    The Cardinal also made a good impression on me and I don’t think he has been treated fairly about his comments on the Jews in the time of Jesus. 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). Dawkins himself says something very similar in The God Delusion.
    God obviously had His reasons.

    Many scientists, theists and atheists included , like Darwin, feel and have more than the average “knowledge [awareness] of the Numinous” about which Aquinas wrote.

  • theroadmaster

    I think Richard Dawkins while no doubt a competent biologist, is reaping the intellectual whirlwind for his overblown self-promotion as a “celebrity” atheist who is supposedly revealing religion to the opium of the self-deluded and uneducated.  Cardinal Pell managed to land some telling blows during the exchanges in the debate without landing a technical K.O.  For example he queried Dawkins on his insistence on using an argument about “nothingness” as being a valid state from which the universe could emanate as an alternative argument to a Creator God.  The Cardinal pointed out the logical absurdity of our cosmos springing from a concept of nothing and this evoked some amusement in the audience.  

    Dawkins has issued in the recent past challenges to prominent pro-theistic commentators to debate him in public forums on the question of the origins of the universe.  But it seems that when someone of the calibre of William Lane Craig takes up the gauntlet, as in the well-publicized event which was to take place last October at Oxford university, the world’s most famous biologist cum atheist, decided that he had more pressing business to attend to.   We need more instances of experienced pro-faith apologists who can take on the pro-atheist lobby on their own terms with well-reasoned and plausible arguments.

  • JByrne24

    theroadmaster wrote: “The Cardinal pointed out the logical absurdity of our cosmos springing from a concept of nothing….”

    They both made some excellent points and both, some points, that were not so good. This was one of Cardinal Pell’s “not so good” points. The “logical absurdity”, of which theroadmaster writes,  is nothing of the sort.  I don’t, in any way, blame the Cardinal – physics is simply not his area of expertise, and I’m sure he would admit this willingly. 
    I recall His Holiness making a related comment not too long ago (a year or so), when he repeated (the ancient question): “why is there something rather than nothing – if there is not a creator?”

    Among the modern physicists are those who:
    1.  Observe that the amounts of positive and negative mass-energy in the Universe are probably equal. This would make the Universe the “ultimate free lunch” – meaning that the sum total of everything in the Universe is nil. 

    2. Share the views of the late Professor John Archibald Wheeler (who held Einstein’s post at Princeton  after his death) – the man who coined the phrases “quantum foam” and “black hole” – a truly brilliant man. You will find a great deal about Wheeler using google. 
    I don’t think it probable myself, but it is even possible that Man built this (present) Universe in which we live.
    This sounds absurd, I know – but it’s not. Recall the view of most physicists (Einstein included)  that there can be no passage of time without an observer.
    IF this were true, would it undermine the Church’s teaching and its ultimate message to Mankind? My view is definitely not, the Church would ride above it. You just have to extend your mind.

    The Church should not get bogged-down in modern science, lest it does another Galileo.

    PS: I think Dawkins was wise to avoid Craig.

  • Honeybadger

    In answer to your first question: YES.

    Why?

    Just because…

  • theroadmaster

    Something of immense magnitude beyond our comprehension caused the origins of our cosmos around 15 billion years ago and the background radiation which resulted has been detected by some of the world’s most powerful telescopes.  It is all encompassed in the “Big Bang” theory as promulgated by the Belgian priest scientist George Lemaitre back in the 1920′s. and has not been emulated by any other comparable hypothesis.  The resultant expansion and slowing down of this growth with the cooling created the optimum conditions for life to evolve.  This is the “fine tuning” explanation which is based on the hair-breath measurements which determined the dimensions and interaction of the mathematical constants and physical laws which enabled these conditions to flourish.  The chances of this happening by blind chance are so infinitesimal as not be not really worth considering.

    One can argue about the equilibrium in the universe concerning negative and positive elements in relation to their values but somehow it still does get us near a solution on how the cosmos evolved from a definite point.  For one to state that nothing preceded all of this would seem to be an avoidance by some self-proclaimed atheists of the real possibility that a Divine Intelligence was directly behind it

  • Honeybadger

    I must congratulate you on being thrown off and barred from Dick The Dawk’s website.

    Indeed, a badge of honour!

  • Honeybadger

    Oh, how I agree with you that people of faith need to train their brains like billy-ho to face down Dick and his other Atheist disciples.

    I loved the bit where Cardinal Pell could tell Dick The Dawk the page number and correct title of Darwin’s book!

    Way to go, Your Eminence!

  • buckingham88

     Just a point,on 1 ,this has never been observed.If you are thinking about dark matter and scalar fields this theory is slowly being eroded.Recently a young astronomer in Australia found a large amount of “missing mass’ by looking at the spaces between galaxies.Its normal dust.A new radiotelescope with one hundred thousand times the sensitivity of present ones is projected to be built and it will probably find more.

  • TreenonPoet

     Since you milk Dawkins’ lapse of memory to the last nanolitre (as some other commenters have gleefully done across the forums, one concluding that it signified the utter collapse of the athiest case), I would like to point out the following:

    1. The question “What is the first book of the NEW testament?” was, as you report, followed by the choice of four possible answers. So Giles Fraser’s comparison with Dawkins’ initial failure to remember a very long title without being given the choice of any was very unfair, especially as the programme was being broadcast live to a large audience and an instant answer was required. Fraser did not successfully challenge the quality of the survey.

    2. If the multiple choices offered had been the four gospels, a greater uncertainty might be expected, but the choices were Matthew, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles, and Psalms. Note that, in the question, the word ‘NEW’ was meant to be emphasised. The failure of 65% of ‘Christians’ to make the right choice from those alternatives is a fairly good indication that those 65% do not refer to their bible very often. I wonder how many would continue to refer to themselves as ‘Christian’ if they read it thoroughly.
     
    3. 39% said they did not know the answer, and 1% preferred not to give an answer, but we don’t know how many of the 35% who answered correctly knew the answer and how many struck lucky. The fact that 25% that went for the wrong answers suggests some respondents were guessing rather than saying they did not know, so the percentage who knew was very possibly less than 39%.

    4. The correct answer might be known to anyone who casually opens the New Testament. The question was not a very good test of how many seriously read the bible. I would be interested to know how many would have known that the book of Matthew is consistent with a flat Earth. You might justifiably argue that Earth topology does not have much to do with the teachings of Jesus, and I would say that the theory of evolution by natural selection does not have much to do with the apparent religious beliefs of Darwin.

    Based on your characterisation of Dawkins for only managing to get most of the answer to the difficult question right, how would you describe the 65% of ‘Christians’ who were totally unable to get the easy question right?

  • Acleron

    Gosh, Dawkins really gets to you, doesn’t he? Obviously a most effective publicist for atheism.

  • JByrne24

    I don’t think of him (RD) this way – and I don’t believe that he’s an evil man. He’s a good man who understands his subject and who can explain it well to non-biologists.

    He believes, as I do, that science has much to teach us about how most of us think about some very basic matters, including our religious beliefs. 

    I said all I really wanted to say on richarddawkins.net over the last few years. I was identified as a theist and a dualist (and as an atheist on this site!), but not disconnected because of that. I also argued with a few people (obviously physicists) about broader matters, and had an “enjoyable” time – certainly an interesting one.
    I eventually broke the rules, by accident actually and only technically, and was declared anathema. I may ask to go back – haven’t decided – but I will not creep back under a different IP address, as a matter of principle!

  • aearon43

    It actually makes more sense to me that God would set a few elegant laws into motion, which then would produce the vast array of lifeforms on Earth, than that He would take the time to design each organism individually, as if He was some kind of craftsman’s apprentice or assembly-line worker. It’s actually all more exquisite that way, as its own self-perpetuating process.

  • aearon43

    That’s not a valid analogy. Every Christian who purports to be an authority on Christianity should (and I’m pretty sure almost all would) know which Gospel is first. Dawkins likes to present himself as an authority on things like evolution. So he should know the full title, and (what’s much more important) should know that Darwin was NOT an atheist. That’s MUCH more revealing than the fact that he doesn’t remember the whole title. It REALLY undermines a great deal of his entire philosophy.

  • buckingham88

     From this you could derive the hypothesis that all blog sites were not created equal.The corollary would be that some are superior to others.This site publishes things that are clearly contrary to the opinion of the original writer.Long may its tribe increase.

  • Jonathan West

    William Oddie, I had hoped that I could expect better of you than to engage in the kind of misleading out-of-context quotation that is common currency on hundreds of apologetics blogsites. But it seems that my hopes were ill-founded.

    Here is the continuation of that quotation.

    This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
    Back to the drawing board Oddie.

  • W Oddie

    This is not to be taken seriously. If you actually read, rather than just skimming through, my article, you will see that I acknowledged that Darwin went on to say that he subsequently became an agnostic. This is what I said, quoting precisely what you say I ignore: “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….” I was not quoting out of context: I gave the context. You, however, have distorted my article and you should acknowledge this.

  • Jonathan West

    But what is your point then? (Apart from taking the opportunity to have a swipe at Dawkins at every possible opportunity.) In The God Delusion, Dawkins makes it perfectly clear that Darwin was an agnostic, and moreover that there are scientists who are religious, even to the present day. But the Argument from Admired Religious Scientists isn’t all that strong an argument for the existence of God. It is just a variation on the argument from numbers.

    None of this has any effect on Dawkins’ central argument in Chapter 4 of TGD, “Why there almost certainly is no God”. Why don’t you ever make any attempt at engaging with his central argument rather than misrepresenting him on peripheral issues?

  • TreenonPoet

     The article heading claims that Darwin was not an Athiest, yet the body of the article admits uncertainty in using the words “so far as I can discover“. If Darwin did become an athiest, there are good reasons why he might have wanted to keep that to himself. If Darwin declares himself “content to remain an Agnostic“, that does not exclude the possibility that he was an agnostic atheist. But even if Darwin was not an athiest, how would that undermine a single conclusion in Dawkins’ philosophy?

    I understand your point about experts vs non-experts. I would say that Dawkins’ field of expertise was evolutionary biology (which, by the way, implies a certain level of expertise in science and reasoning). His field of expertise is not remembering-long-titles-of-books. As it happens, Dawkins did know the full title, but was not able to bring it all to mind at the time. For most purposes it is sufficient to give the shortened title and I would not even quibble if he got the short title slightly wrong under informal circumstances. It makes no difference to his philosophy.

    Now I accept that a similar argument could be made about Christians: what difference does it make to their Christianity that they don’t happen to know the name of the first book of the New Testament? The point is that not knowing this short name, even when presented to you as a multiple choice, is a strong indication that, as you say, many “let the priest pick out what’s important for them from the Bible” as it were. Would you expect a priest to pick out the bad bits? Do the bad bits not constitute part of Christianity? If what constitutes Christianity is so variable, what do politicians mean by ‘Christian’?

  • karlf

    Having just watched the Pell v Dawkins debate I can’t see how anyone could say that the Cardinal is a creationist. (Is he even a Catholic as most people would know one?) Pell does not believe in the literal truth of Adam and Eve (it’s a metaphor) although in fairness he uses English words in a way that most normal people do not use them so it is hard to be certain exactly what he means.

    Richard Dawkins tried to pin Pell down on what he means by ‘body’ when he says he believes the wafer becomes the body of Christ, but all we got was from Pell was waffle about the wafer. Pell seems to accept that man evolved from a common ancestor (although he thought the common ancestor was a Neanderthal) which means he can’t believe in the literal truth of Genesis either. Frankly, if Cardinal Pell did not call himself a Christian it would be hard to know he was one.

  • W Oddie

    Is this addressed to me? If it is, kindly file it in the correct place, underneath my response to you. And before you try to move on, I want an answer. 

  • C_monsta

     I’m not impressed with your avoidance tactics William

  • JByrne24

    The discussion between Prof. Dawkins and Cardinal Pell can be seen in full (and also a full transcript read) via this website:

    LINK: http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/04/12/watch-richard-dawkins-square-off-with-archbishop-of-sydney-on-australian-tv/

  • W Oddie

    I don’t write to impress people like you; and I’m avoiding nothing: if West wants to know what my point is all he has to do is (why should I have to repeat myself again and again?) READ MY ARTICLE. 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. 

  • Mike

    Personally I see it as a perfectly valid criticism of Dawkins as it is clear, either by blind ignorance or clear intent, Dawkins is constructing a false impression of Darwinian principle.  The inference that Darwin sought to advance an outright refutation of supernatural occurrence is wrong.  A further and equally valid criticism of Dawkins is his inconsistency.  If he publishes one thing in a book yet expresses a contradictory view in discussion, then what are we to make of any conclusion he makes.  In my view, Dawkin’s self-righteous, preachy intolerance does a greater disservice to atheism.  A great biologist he may be, but he certainly no philosopher.

  • C_monsta

     I was referring to this:
    None of this has any effect on Dawkins’ central argument in Chapter 4 of
    TGD, “Why there almost certainly is no God”. Why don’t you ever make
    any attempt at engaging with his central argument rather than
    misrepresenting him on peripheral issues?

  • TreenonPoet

     In my opinion it is you who distorted the omitted paragraph which reads to me as if Darwin is trying to promote agnostic atheism without daring to declare that he is an athiest. Darwin gives strong clues as to why theism should be questioned and reaches the conclusion of an agnostic atheist, whereas you omit the paragraph and try to suggest otherwise. Can you justify the assertion “he wasn’t an atheist“?

  • C_monsta

     Darwin was born over 200 years ago into a very religious family and society. It was by observing the actual horrors of natural survival (parasitic wasps etc) that initially led him away from the belief in the Christian notion of God.

  • Acleron

    I sincerely hope you do re-apply. Everybody’s word should be heard, even if it is not agreed with.

  • Acleron

    Yes, he makes it pretty clear in a later part of that passage that indoctrination as a child may have played a part in his belief before he thought deeply about a personal god and religion.

    Most atheists have similar experiences.

  • Acleron

    Do you have a reference to this dust. It’s just I find it hard to see how intergalactic dust would account for the rotational period of stars within a galaxy. Wouldn’t it make that problem worse?

  • Guest

    Actually its only a minority of Christians who believe in the literal truth of Genesis. It’s certainly not Catholic teaching.

  • A Wallace

    Who on earth doesn’t already know that? And what has it got to do with anything?

  • JByrne24

    No, this isn’t what I was thinking about.

    On this separate issue: I don’t think the intergalactic environment is going to provide a dark matter solution. The dark matter itself is postulated as a solution to galactic gravitation coherence.

    I was referring to observational data from around 1976 (I think) which suggested the equal plus and minus values. 
    One mathematician I know mentioned that set theory might be trying to say something (about this) when he pointed out that all sets can be generated from the empty set (or, more strictly, from various arrangements of the latter set).

  • JByrne24

    I don’t think it would make the problem worse.
    The galaxies would probably then lie within (Gaussian) gravitational shells (if this dust existed), and so would not experience any gravitational effect. (Please see my comment in reply buck’88)

  • Guest

    My goodness; can you prove a negative?

  • theroadmaster

    The fact is that Richard Dawkins could not recall the full title of one of the major reference books for atheistic scientists and commentators, who believe firmly that unaided evolution, through the mechanism of natural selection, is the sole explanation for the development of different species on earth.  What is good for the goose is good for the gander, as the aphorism goes.  The fact that Christians cannot quote the names of the authors of the 4 main gospels do not undermine the truths that are found in them.  The debate should be conducted on the basis of arguing for or against the revelations that one finds in science or religion and not founded on strawman arguments about how good is one’s memory recall of the authors or names of certain books.
    Christianity is based on in the belief that over 2000 years ago, God made man Jesus Christ, was born, lived, crucified and rose again on the 3rd day to bring the hope of salvation to all mankind.   Christian values do not consist of an a la carte menu which varies from day to day.  In simple terms, they are based on the love of God and the love of neighbour.  This feeds into such biblically-inspired activities as pro-life work, feeding and clothing of the hungry and destitute by religious charities and campaigns for social justice for the oppressed around the world.

  • A Wallace

    Well it might undermine his philosophy if his philosophy was “evolution disproves the existance of God”, but that’s not his argument at all.

  • A Beckmann

    Proving a negative is easy

  • Jonathan West

    But what is your point then? (Apart from taking the opportunity to have a swipe at Dawkins at every possible opportunity.) In The God Delusion, Dawkins makes it perfectly clear that Darwin was an agnostic, and moreover that there are scientists who are religious, even to the present day. But the Argument from Admired Religious Scientists isn’t all that strong an argument for the existence of God. It is just a variation on the argument from numbers.
    None of this has any effect on Dawkins’ central argument in Chapter 4 of TGD, “Why there almost certainly is no God”. Why don’t you ever make any attempt at engaging with his central argument rather than misrepresenting him on peripheral issues?

  • Jonathan West

    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.
    That’s why the headline is about something quite different. And I also think you’ll find that his description of Agnosticism is more to the effect that we can’t know the origin of the universe, not that it is reasonable that it was created by a Creator God.

    But what Darwin thought on the subject is really of very dubious relevance in the light of all the scientific knowledge that we have acquired since.

    You’re taking Darwin’s writings and looking for an interpretation of them which fits your own ideas – in exactly the same way that religious people interpret the Bible. But if Darwin was wrong on any specific point, then scientists would have no hesitation in saying so, they would not need to find an interpretation of his words that was consistent with new knowledge of the world.

    You’re treating Darwin’s writings as if there are hordes of atheist scientists who have discovered evolution as the new religion, appointed Darwin their prophet, The Origin of Species as their scripture and declared war on all competing religions. 

  • JByrne24

    theroadmaster wrote: “…..atheistic scientists and commentators, who believe firmly that unaided evolution, through the mechanism of natural selection, is the sole explanation for the development of different species on earth.”

    Well you simply have to bite this bullet and admit that random genetic mutations and very non-random natural selection are certainly the means by which all species, including Man, have come into being.
    We, like all other modern animals, are the descendants of animals that lived in the distant past.
    But this fact carries with it absolutely no evidence for the possible existence or non-existence of God.
    Science only has purchase in the empirical world,

  • JByrne24

    Can you please give an example? 

  • TreenonPoet

     Your generalisation is precisely what the Ipsos MORI poll debunked. Those who consider themselves to be Christians vary widely in their beliefs. For example, the poll shows that (within the relevant tolerance band) only 63% believe in Heaven, 63% believe in the power of prayer, 54% believe in the Christian God, 18% do not believe in the resurrection, 4% do not believe Jesus really existed, 31% think that UK state-funded school science lessons should teach that God created the world and all the life forms in it in 6 days, and 20% are opposed to abortion.

  • TreenonPoet

     I was not asking for proof, only justification of his assertion. W Oddie has so far produced justification (not proof) for thinking that Darwin was agnostic, but that allows theism or atheism. If he was to point me to a genuine letter from Darwin saying “Being of sound mind, but dying, I can confirm that I always believed in a supernatural god” then that would be a pretty good justification.

    But it is possible to prove some negatives. You could prove that two plus two do not always make five by counting two pairs of sticks.

  • theroadmaster

    I can agree that theory of evolution does not prove or disprove in any strict scientific sense, the case for the existence( or non-existence) of God.  Pope John Paul 11 stated that being pro-evolution and a believer in a Creative Intelligence for the existence of our cosmos and life on earth, are not incompatible.  But when one considers the ascent of mankind  to the apex of creation in a physical and intellectual sense, one realizes that it was the ontological realization of the potential of humanity through brain development which facilitated self-awareness, intelligence and creativity.  it is difficult to see how blind chance could be the chief operator here  in the scheme of things, despite the realities of genetic mutations here and there among different species.
    The “fine tuning” argument that you alluded to in your closing comments was arrived at by scientists but their explanations range from multiverse theories to a Creator God.  I agree that we are in the territory of abstract theory and speculation, but some of these theories are so tortured and problematical, that they seem to be constructed in order to avoid at all costs  the one explanation that seems the most probable when the others are discounted,  i.e a Divine Intelligence

  • theroadmaster

    Indeed opinion polls can reveal worrying variations in the beliefs on self-professed Christians.  Sadly in the West this is due to the poor state of religious education and catechetics which has left many people bereft of the tools to form a mature faith and they are prone to swim with any secular current that flows.  This has fed into the trends which has seen a very sharp fall in religious practice and adherence across europe for many decades.  It does not tell the whole story as the greater picture sees the exponential rise of Catholicism and other Christian faith groups in Asia, Latin America and Africa.  Also the lack of knowledge or confusion shown by random polls of by some Christians regarding religious dogma or beliefs, does not negate the eternal appeal and truths which they contain.

  • A Beckmann

    You don’t have to look any further than the basic rules of logic. The law of non-contradiction – “a proposition cannot be both true and false” – is a negative. Yet it can be formally derived from the empty set using provably valid rules of inference. So not only do you have one of the laws of logic as a provable negative, but also the idea that “you can’t prove a negative” is itself a negative, so if you could prove it true, it wouldn’t be!

  • Parasum

    That is mainly an *argumentum ad hominem* – it may be a pity that Dawkins misremembered the title, but that is not an argument against his academic competence or his atheism. If he had claimed to have an eidetic memory, that would be different. We can’t all remember names all the time, especially under pressure. As for the page number, there are many editions of the book.  

    “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.”

    ## Fair enough – but what does Dawkins understand by the idea “God” ? If he thinks Christians believe in a sort of “giant in the sky”, & rejects that, he is right to do so. There are Christians with very anthropomorphic notions of God; & it is not difficult for them to quote the places that favour their ideas – such as the creation narratives. 

  • http://xcontra.wordpress.com X Contra

    This is news to me, and welcome news.  But why is it new to Dawkins?  I thought he was *bright* enough to run our lives as well as his own.  :D

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NRRJYF44C76ON6GKWI4VRKKN6U Jeff

     Actually, guest, it goes either way literal or figurative, but we’re obligated to believe there was an Adam and Eve.  That’s the official Catholic position, that we have the freedom to choose.