Thu 23rd Oct 2014 | Last updated: Thu 23rd Oct 2014 at 16:14pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

How to respond to a young friend who has come under Dawkins’s spell

Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield makes an interesting critique of “scientism”

By on Friday, 30 November 2012

Atheist advertising campaign launched

I have recently been in email conversation with a young friend. He is a bright chap but to my dismay he seems to have become an ardent disciple of Richard Dawkins and his kind. He has become quite convinced that “science” has solved the question of “God” – that irrational and improbable deity dreamed up by people long before science came along to enlighten them and to explain to them how the brain works. I have tried to get him to see that the (entirely legitimate) pursuit of science is a different activity from that of theology; there is no reason why they should clash rather than offer mutual, though independent support. He is having none of it: it seems the creation of “Hamlet” is simply the result of lots of cells composing the grey matter being in a happy conjunction; indeed, he thinks the sorrows of the great apes are not far removed from our own. I am simplifying his argument but this is the gist of it.

For this reason, it was good to read “What science can’t answer”, an interview in The Tablet last week between Jack Valero, communications director of Opus Dei in Britain (and co-founder of Catholic Voices) and Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist at Oxford University. Lady Greenfield is neither an atheist nor a straightforward believer; but she accepts there are questions which are outside the competence of science to answer. She rejects “scientism” which she describes as “this unshakeable belief, which is as strong as any religious belief, that science is the only approach to understanding the world around you.” She recognises that people can have an experience “that is above and beyond the material.”

Greenfield admits that she has not had this experience – yet. “I have a sense of the spiritual and glimmers of it from time to time, but I cannot say I am a believer in the sense of subscribing to any particular religion.” In 2008 she accompanied Valero and a very sick friend and his wife on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. This was Greenfield’s idea, though she is not sure where it came from. Believers might call it the unconscious prompting of the Holy Spirit. At any rate, the experience did not deter her, as it does some outside the Church, who notice all the souvenir shops full of religious kitsch and conclude the whole place is riddled with superstition and mere trade. Greenfield was deeply impressed by the fact that “sick people were the norm and that…everybody was a volunteer.” She adds that she was also greatly moved by, “the amount of love and altruism and removal from the normal things…people being kind to each other, rather than witty or hostile or defensive”.

In general she robustly rejects the idea that science and religion are in contradiction as “intellectually bankrupt”, mentioning scientists such as Francis Collins of genome fame, who “speaks freely and openly…about being a Christian.” She points out that much of science is not strictly logical but is approached by “a hunch and an instinct”. Science answers some questions but not others “such as the meaning of life, or what is love.” Of course, people might describe love as “when you have a rise in the hormone oxytocin ” – but this does not invalidate or detract from the subjective state.

Apart from her pilgrimage to Lourdes, Greenfield has been on a three-day retreat at Ampleforth. She told the monk looking after her that “I truly don’t know why I’m here”. This didn’t bother him; I suspect he might have heard that remark before, even among supposed believers. When she got home Greenfield felt “super-charged and super-detoxed…bursting with energy and positive.”

I am going to refer my young friend to this interview and see what he makes of it. To be or not to be a chimpanzee; that is the question.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Pointing out the possible later dating of the Gospels was always going to be a wasted exercise: Paul’s letters can all be dated to within a few years and they all report the resurrection.

  • JabbaPapa

    Not my problem, I’m not the one claiming to be offended.

    There must be a reason why you’re offended, so you must therefore have a definition of evil.

    I have no idea why you didn’t just answer, it’s surely a simple question ?

  • Jonathan West

    Reply to Lazarus

    The other parts of your comment will have to wait until I have a bit more time, but I’ll reply for now to this.

    And on immanent goals -good grief! If you haven’t heard the phrase before, you clearly have absolutely no grasp of Catholic theology and philosophy. Go and read Aristotle or modern metaphysicians like Brian Ellis or David Oderberg. Put simply, such ends are neither the result of ascription by an intelligent agent nor depend on the substance being conscious: they are part of the structure of the world

    They are part of the structure of the world, and the structure of the world is as created by God according to his purposes. As I understand it this is all mainstream Catholic theology. 

    But if this is so, then the immanent goals have been defined by God (who I think qualifies under the term “intelligent agent”), and my point stands.

    The question I would then ask is how can you tell whether your estimates of the immanent goal of this or that inanimate substance are correct? What is the technique theology uses to discover this and be sure that its answer is correct? How do you discover the immanent goal of a substance rather than deciding what you think it should be?

  • Acleron

    The accusation is very common among believers not just Dawkins.

    An entity that has no effect on nature is obviously impossible to disprove, Dawkins makes precisely that point, however an entity that interferes with nature with miracles etc can be awarded a very small and calculable chance. But the question I ask is not only on the existence of such an entity but about the particular belief.  If a god made his appearance obvious it may be that you are then found to be worshipping the wrong entity.

  • Acleron

    Can’t argue against the points so reduced to insults, pretty typical.

  • Acleron

    Is just repeating my comments as if they are your own an advanced form of theological discourse?

    The mechanism for genetic algorithms in computers is also similar but again no-one says that programs are governed by the ToE. 

  • JabbaPapa

    What “points” ?

    That you dislike the contents of the essay, and you think that its author is an idiot ?

    Wow, what a surprise.

  • Acleron

    You have a simplistic and quite wrong impression of quantum physics, probability and Einstein’s views on god. I’ve tried to give you ideas to investigate that would give you a better picture but as you wont, you won’t.

  • JabbaPapa

    Is just repeating my comments as if they are your own an advanced form of theological discourse?

    Apart from being a method for pointing out that you appear to falsely imagine me to have views on science that are contrary to its methodology, for some strange unfathomable “reasons” of your own, it is also a means of *suggesting* that you should pay more attention to what I say before pointlessly criticising it.

  • Acleron

    As usual and I suspect quite deliberately, you omitted the point about having to hypothesise. But then to accept what is quite a simple point means you can’t attribute all science to one of your heroes.

  • Jonathan West

    Given the failed hypotheses of physicists – multiple dimensions, multiple universe, holographic universes etc – the notion of a continuous Creator is the most parsimonious explanation for the universe

    A complex being who is omnipotent, omniscient, controls every atom in the universe, reads innermost thoughts, answers (some) prayers and assigns everyone to heaven or hell on their death is hardly a parsimonious explanation.

    The stock in trade reply of atheists – who created the Creator – is a ploy to catch out only the superficially-minded.

    In that case you will have no difficulty in answering the question. I’m all ears.

    The creator of spacetime cannot be part of spacetime, otherwise he would not have existed until spacetime was created, and if he did not exist until spacetime was created,

    Your problem is much greater than that. If you are outside time then there is no “before” or “after” since these are temporal comparisons. So the creator of spacetime cannot have existed before spacetime as there is no “before”.

    Atheists refer to the Creator as the God of the gaps, in the hope that tomorrow they will find the answer to everything and eliminate God.

    God-of-the-Gaps is not a term coined by atheists, it was originated by Henry Drummond, a 19th century evangelist lecturer. The concept (and in some cases the specific term) has been used during the 20th century by many Christian thologians including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Alfred Coulson, Richard Bube. 

    For instance Coulson stated in “Science and Christian Belief” that “There is no ‘God of the gaps’ to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking.”

  • JabbaPapa

    You have a simplistic and quite wrong impression of quantum physics

    I am not a physicist, but at least I understand what a quantum is.

    You appear not to, given that you imagine that the limitations that are inherent in the theory are physical properties of the universe.

    probability

    As already mentioned, you appear to be entertaining a fantasy that I have been describing it as something else than what it is.

    and Einstein’s views on god

    … which I have not even *attempted* to describe.

    You are fantasizing.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Wrong again. I’d already mentioned hypotheses from observation: it’s the testing of hypotheses by experimentation/argument that is what we describe as the “scientific method”.

  • Peter

    ” A complex being who is omnipotent, omniscient, controls every atom in the universe, reads innermost thoughts, answers (some) prayers and assigns everyone to heaven or hell on their death is hardly a parsimonious explanation.”

    You are side stepping the issue.

    First, no-one has made the claim that the Creator is complex, only you.  

    Second, God’s ability to read thoughts, respond to prayers, and dispense justice are questions of faith.  It is typical for atheists to run for cover into issues of faith when they have lost the scientific battle.

    “If you are outside time then there is no “before” or “after” since these are temporal comparisons. So the creator of spacetime cannot have existed before spacetime as there is no “before”.”I did not claim that the Creator existed “before” spacetime, only that he does not exist in spacetime.    You made that up, just as you made up that the Creator is complex.Things must be getting desperate.

  • JabbaPapa

    Everything immanent is considered to be discoverable, by principle.

    You are the one proposing a model based on pure immanence, not Catholic theology — if that is your understanding of this theology, then your understanding is in error.

    Catholic theology posits God (and souls) as being both immanent and transcendental. Your conclusion that purpose is somehow of a strictly immanent nature is therefore foreign to Catholicism.

    As such, you are therefore asking the wrong questions of Catholics.

    Oh and please not an umpteenth rephrasing of the same bloody question again, it does get quite tedious …

  • JabbaPapa

    No, he’s just continuing to dodge the question of the origin of causality.

  • JabbaPapa

    The accusation is very common among believers not just Dawkins

    The accusation is common among those having no meaningful understanding of scientific methodology, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

    You’re just making another groundless “all men are bald” generalisation.

    An entity that has no effect on nature is obviously impossible to
    disprove, Dawkins makes precisely that point, however an entity that
    interferes with nature with miracles etc can be awarded a very small and
    calculable chance. But the question I ask is not only on the existence
    of such an entity but about the particular belief.  If a god made his
    appearance obvious it may be that you are then found to be worshipping
    the wrong entity.

    1) God is not an “entity”, because He transcends such philosophical categories by reason of philosophical necessity — the Creator of entity as such is not an entity

    2) “that
    interferes with nature” — please can you demonstrate why the Origin of natural law must necessarily be antagonistic to the laws of nature. The suggestion seems absurd to me, anyway…

    3) ” If a god made his
    appearance obvious” — you’re asking exactly the wrong person — He has done. This isn’t a hypothetical for me, it’s a personal experience.

  • Jonathan West

    First, no-one has made the claim that the Creator is complex, only you

    It is the Christians who claim that God has such an impressive array of capabilities, not me.

    Second, God’s ability to read thoughts, respond to prayers, and dispense justice are questions of faith.  It is typical for atheists to run for cover into issues of faith when they have lost the scientific battle.

    Ah, so you believe it on faith, and with no evidence. In the circumstances I’ll give you ten out of ten for chutzpah in claiming that I’ve lost the scientific battle, but nought out of ten for logical thinking.

    I did not claim that the Creator existed “before” spacetime, only that he does not exist in spacetime.    You made that up

    Ahem, your words from your previous comment were “The creator of spacetime cannot be part of spacetime, otherwise he would not have existed until spacetime was created, and if he did not exist until spacetime was created, spacetime would not have been created in the first place.”

    In saying that “if he did not exist until spacetime was created, spacetime would not have been created in the first place”, you are making the claim that he must have existed before spacetime.

    Nought out of ten for consistency.

  • Acleron

    Lund deserves the criticism, it is a shoddy piece of work that typifies those who complain about Dawkins. If he cannot get his facts right he must only be of interest to those who prefer fiction.

    But I notice that a) You do not defend his use of Ben Stein’s propaganda as support for his thesis or b) feel unable to reproduce any point he makes which may be more substantially founded.

  • Acleron

    I appears to me to be something which is used to denigrate those you and he, dislike, but for a full definition, you lot are the experts.

  • Acleron

    I made a very specific point about the rubbish. You obviously failed to understand it. But just in case you had merely forgotten it I’ll repeat it.

    Using a piece of fictional propaganda produced by someone paid by creationists to smear evolutionary scientists is worthy of severe criticism. If you agree with that type of rubbish it just goes to support the observation that Dawkins’ critics are only able to produce silly comments and not offer any reply to his arguments.

  • Acleron

    Your understanding of scientific knowledge is severely compromised and documented, how could anybody not notice that?

  • Acleron

    1) you distinguished chance and probability as being measurement and theory. Failed
    2) You claimed that the quantum world was predictable. Failed.
    3) You claimed that the Uncertainty Principle was a function of measurement. Failed

    We’ve had this problem before Jabba, you don’t seem to read what you write, let alone remember it.

  • Acleron

    So how could anybody consider (hypothesis) that bandaging a poultice around a pustule could be of benefit? This is the essence of scientific method.

    It is a trend from those early days that has resulted in the vastly superior modern scientific method. Various people over the years have recorded advances in the method. Aristotle, as you mention, supported observation but didn’t experiment, although his successor did.

    Bacon is a confusing historical figure, the story of his contribution in this area has changed a lot but some historical facts are fascinating. he attended Paris University, just at the time your bishops banned the reading of Aristotle. But anyway, the improvement curve remained pretty flat until a jump at the renaissance and then of course the mathematical tools available now make it an incomparable tool to use for any serious scholar who actually wants to find things out.

    Unfortunately, because the words ‘scientific’ and ‘method’ are in common parlance, many claim to use it, this of course is just Cargo Cult Science and worthless.

  • Jonathan West

    Reply to Lazarus

    I did explain why you were being silly at reasonable length: in short, you reject the methodology of theology in favour of a simple reliance on naturalism.

    I’ve been spending a lot of time here asking about the methodology of theology, and particularly how theology can have confidence in its answers. I’ve spent such a long time getting no clear explanation that JabbaPapa now compares me to a broken record, and yet you are saying I’m rejecting the methodology of theology in favour of a simple reliance on naturalism. I wish you could agree amongst yourselves on this point.

    On the justification for naturalism (and I note having adduced a distinction between two types, you then fail to use it), I don’t think the enterprise of naturalism in either form contemptible: I merely pointed out that it is far from proven and far from universally accepted among competent philosophers.

    I accept that it is impossible to prove naturalism, for instance is is possible to create a coherent view out of Subjective Idealism. All I claimed was that it seems to work as a means of discovering things about the world.

    But as a starting point let’s take the rough and ready traditional distinction between Naturwissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft on the other (ie natural science vs humanities). The methodology of the humanities is in large part to understand mind and meaning.

    Both of these are entirely naturalistic in that it is human minds we are trying to understand.

    To take the sort of naive naturalism you espouse and apply it to Hamlet would result in crass results.

    An example would be a good thing to have. “Crass” is a subjective term, what one person finds crass another finds beautiful.

    That critique of course applies to a universe created by a God

    And is therefore valid if and only if the universe is created by a God, something we do not yet have evidence for.

    But as a rough gesturing to answering an impossible question, theologians (quite apart from any absolute truths established by revelation) would add to a discussion on evolution the insights of a particular form of the humanities. In particular, they would bring richness and depth to an exploration of the way that scientists are often prisoners (or at least recipients) of particular language uses and even theological traditions such as nominalism: sensitive scientists would thus gain a greater insight into their own methodologies.

    Can you offer an example of this which we could discuss in detail? It’s all a bit general at the moment.

  • Acleron

    ‘The accusation is common among those having no meaningful understanding of scientific methodology, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
    You’re just making another groundless “all men are bald” generalisation.’
    It is a point that is exemplified in these very columns.
    ’1) God is not an “entity”, because He transcends such philosophical categories by reason of philosophical necessity — the Creator of entity as such is not an entity’
    Now this is just stupid, if it exists, it is something, this nonsense about it being a necessity and yet not being part of the real world is just a belief. You have no logic and certainly no evidence. If you had, you wouldn’t just be shouting that you have a logical argument and evidence, you would be showing it to everyone. 
    ’2) “that 
    interferes with nature” — please can you demonstrate why the Origin of natural law must necessarily be antagonistic to the laws of nature. The suggestion seems absurd to me, anyway…’ If it produces revelations in your brain, turns water into wine or any thing else at all that impinges on the natural world then it can be observed. To create the universe with those precise laws would involve interference at the point of creation, its fingerprints could quite possibly be observable. But your god appears to be an entity which is invisible, doesn’t affect the material universe and has produced a number of laws which show that no such entity is required to create the universe. Pretty perverse and mixed up entity then. Very much as mixed up as all the various descriptions of such an entity.

    3) I know very well that you claim to have had an experience. Thus your entity is interfering with the atoms in your brain, strange that we detect no repeatable or reputable evidence for this. Shy sort of guy is he?

  • karlf

    What nonsense! Where does the Catholic Church explain that at least some important aspects of our behaviour have been formed through the evolutionary process of natural selection? How can you tell me that Catholic teaching of sin is not relevant to aspects of our behaviour which have evolved through our animal ancestors?

  • Paul Thibodeau

    I am taking the liberty of reposting Lazarus’ complete comment (to Joanathan):

    I did explain why you were being silly at reasonable length: in short, you reject the methodology of theology in favour of a simple reliance on naturalism. You might think that charge unfair (your following remarks suggest this) but there was no lack of clarity in the explanation. (I’m tempted to pass the charge of ‘poisoning the well’ back to you, but I’m far too much of a gentleman!)

    On the justification for naturalism (and I note having adduced a distinction between two types, you then fail to use it), I don’t think the enterprise of naturalism in either form contemptible: I merely pointed out that it is far from proven and far from universally accepted among competent philosophers. As a matter of intellectual honesty, you should admit this and stop pretending that God has somehow been disproved because he doesn’t fit into a naturalistic paradigm: he is absent from naturalism, but that absence is a methodological assumption rather than a discovery. (And the methodology of naturalism is, as I’ve noted, highly problematic.)

    On the subject of alternative methodologies, well, I’m fairly catholic on this as on so many other issues! I think it is extremely hard to rule out a methodology, certainly on a priori grounds, and I’d rather (certainly as a first step) want to try and understand that language game (ie way of using language) before critiquing it. (And that Wittgensteinian criticism is essentially the problem with Dawkins and his like: they haven’t taken the trouble to understand whereof they speak.)

    But as a starting point let’s take the rough and ready traditional distinction between Naturwissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft on the other (ie natural science vs humanities). The methodology of the humanities is in large part to understand mind and meaning. Take an example of this: say, understanding a literary text. To take the sort of naive naturalism you espouse and apply it to Hamlet would result in crass results. Equally, if the universe is shot through with mind and intentionality, to apply solely the methodologies of Naturwissenschaft (and note that we haven’t even begun to try to pin down what these actually are) would result in crassness. That critique of course applies to a universe created by a God, but it also applies to a universe constructed by human minds. (And one of the regular criticisms of naive naturalists like Dawkins by (non-theists) such as Midgley is that he is blind to the role of symbolic and figurative language in our engagement with the world.)

    In sum, I’m quite happy to admit that I’ve only scratched the surface of the issues regarding naturalism and its rejection: it’s really, really quite impossible to conduct such a discussion in comboxes. But as a rough gesturing to answering an impossible question, theologians (quite apart from any absolute truths established by revelation) would add to a discussion on evolution the insights of a particular form of the humanities. In particular, they would bring richness and depth to an exploration of the way that scientists are often prisoners (or at least recipients) of particular language uses and even theological traditions such as nominalism: sensitive scientists would thus gain a greater insight into their own methodologies. The theologians would also contribute a richer insight into the way that scientific results impact on the Lebenswelt (the lived world) of human beings which, certainly in the West, is a construction in part made by theology.

    (And on immanent goals -good grief! If you haven’t heard the phrase before, you clearly have absolutely no grasp of Catholic theology and philosophy. Go and read Aristotle or modern metaphysicians like Brian Ellis or David Oderberg. Put simply, such ends are neither the result of ascription by an intelligent agent nor depend on the substance being conscious: they are part of the structure of the world.)

  • Paul Thibodeau

    To discuss this in detail, I suppose one place we could begin for the sake of discussion is the approach to general belief you outlined earlier:

    First we would need to define “some basis of evidence”. We would need to decide what qualify of evidence counts as good enough. Since you are talking about all beliefs, we would need to carry out this process in such a way that we could have a common measure of adequacy of evidence irrespective of the subject matter. I suspect you will agree that this is a difficult task, not least because we would probably hold differing ideas as to what counts as good enough evidence on a number of topics.

    Perhaps this would be a good start. If so, could you outline your metaphysical and epistemic presuppositions here?

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Come back when you've read past the first paragraph.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    What an amazing post!

    Roger Bacon was a contemporary of St Thomas Aquinas – one of the greatest exponents of Aristotelian thought of all time: Aquinas made Aristotle mainstream among Catholic theologians. That doesn't square with your claim that Bishop's were banning Aristotle at this time. A truly amazing fail, I take my hat off to you.
    Which successor of Aristotle began constructing experiments to test hypotheses? Avicenna? Averroës? Bacon?
    And you really have demonstrated that, because the words “scientific method” are in common usage, they get slapped on any old dubious proposition.

  • Acleron

    Still cannot come up with anything from that rubbish? 

    I suppose I should congratulate you on realising that all it does it to discredit any further criticism you may have of Dawkins’ ideas.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    Your comment isn't any more impressive for its repetition.

  • TreenonPoet

     I was not trying to reach Young Earth Creationists. I was barking up the tree of those who shout ‘misapplication’ where it is not appropriate to do so…

    Your ’6-minute’ argument is perfectly reasonable because (1) there is no reason to think that all was created 5 minutes ago, (2) the introduction of the notion of a creator, and one with an arbitrary initial state for His universe, is more complicated than the alternative, and (3) the ’5-minute’ argument does not provide any benefit (we cannot use it to predict anything). So it is reasonable and sensible to ignore that hypothesis and extrapolate the existence of the universe back to a point at which there is a good reason to suspect that the extrapolation might not be valid.

    To be reasonable and sensible is not a fallacy. It is the antithesis of fallaciousness. Of course, we still don’t know for sure that the universe was not created 5 minutes ago, but it is not a fallacy to dismiss the notion as not worth considering until we have evidence to support it.

    Likewise (1) we have no reason to believe that any complex lifeform did not evolve, (2) the introduction of the notion of a spontaneously created lifeform, and one with a remarkable resemblance to evolved lifeforms, is more complicated than the alternative, and (3) the theory of spontaneous animation does not provide any benefit (we cannot use it to predict anything). So it is reasonable and sensible to ignore that hypothesis and extrapolate the existence of all life back to its root (and forward to a point at which there is a good reason to suspect that the extrapolation might not be valid).

    To assert as much is not to commit the misapplication fallacy that you accuse Dawkins of elsewhere in this thread.

  • JabbaPapa

    I wish you could agree amongst yourselves on this point.

    But we do !!!

  • TreenonPoet

     Richard Dawkins has made the point countless times that to criticise a particular belief should not, in itself, be taken as not respecting the believer (though I can see why an attempt to be helpful by correcting a misunderstanding might be taken to imply stupidity in the believer). However, in a speech that Dawkins gave at a rally in the States this year, he said something like “ridicule them” when the ‘them’ could be taken to refer to the believers rather than to the beliefs. He made it clear later exactly what he meant, but it seems that some would disregard the multitude of statements to the contrary and seize on this one instance to conclude that Dawkins believes that religious people should be ridiculed.

  • Acleron

    This is all according to you. Aquinas was wrong in quite a lot of his logic, basically he started from the premise that god exists and got lost. He is an interesting character but ‘greatest’ you must be joking.

    Try looking up the period that Pope John XXI was running your show, wouldn’t take you very long, he only lasted a few months before his castle fell on him.

    Aristotle’s direct successor was Theophrastus.

    On the contrary, the words are quite new, they apply to a process. I have shown you the evolution of that process. That it doesn’t suit your claims that catholics were responsible for all scientific progress is your concern.

    But you may bear in mind that your love of Aristotle may not be as beneficial to your cause as you think.

    Bertrand Russell: ‘”almost every serious intellectual advance has had to begin with an attack on some Aristotelian doctrine”
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ey94E3sOMA0C&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=%22almost+every+serious+intellectual+advance+has+had+to+begin+with+an+attack+on+some+Aristotelian+doctrine%22&source=bl&ots=Ei6dyE39JK&sig=YOMx7OESK7HjEc9gP_RoHys_87A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YVnGUM-mOoTi4QS65IHQAw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

  • TreenonPoet

     1. So you think my own experience at school was the exception? The opposite is repeatedly made clear in the media, not least where Catholic schools are concerned, as has been gleefully reported in the Catholic Herald. The prospectuses of Catholic schools openly admit this, claiming that their ethos is based on a belief in God. Rational questions about the wisdom of such a belief are not accorded rational answers. Every email concerning religion that I have sent to my (religious) MP has either been ignored or replied to in an irrational manner (after which it seem the matter is closed). It does not matter how many doubts you claim to have, or how much self-questioning you think you do, refusal to supply direct rational answers to certain questions reveals a faith that is not seriously questioned.

    Do you know of a religion that does not suggest that belief in the religion is a good thing? What one often sees instead is the demonisation of those who do not believe in that religion and cruel punishments threatened. And don’t tell me that those who want to see an expansion of ‘faith schools’ do not portray religion as virtuous.

    The unspoken underlying message is that it is virtuous to hold irrational beliefs and to demonise those who do not hold those beliefs. In what way does that not support religious fundamentalism? The fact that most people are not religious fundamentalists does not excuse or diminish that underlying message. The fact that apparently respectable people convey the message gives it a false legitimacy.

    Unless you deny that religious fundamentalism exists, Dawkins is not attacking a strawman here.

    2. You say that is is a strawman to attack religion on the false notion that scripture and evidence are in direct competition as sources of truth. Dawkins is not doing so because he does not proclaim scripture to be a source of truth.

    3. I don’t know where to begin on your response to item 3. Your assertions are the opposite of reality. I have dealt with the idea that religions are questioning under item 1. To claim that mainstream religions encourage the development of a religious faith that is rationally qualified is nonsense because religious faith is irrational by definition. Revelation is no rationale for religious faith, as has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread. (To say that it would take too many words to explain, or to distinguish ‘human rationality’ from rationality, does not answer your critics’ points.) You have failed to demonstrate that RE classes provide the information that would allow the scriptures to be seen for what they are, so you have not demonstrated that Dawkins is attacking a strawman here.

    So I maintain that the three attempts by Lund to characterise Dawkin’s criticism of Christianity as strawmen fail.

  • JabbaPapa

    but it is not a fallacy to dismiss the notion as not worth considering until we have evidence to support it

    Oh what a load of tosh — if you truly believed that, you’d not identify yourself as an atheist.

    Your quintuple negative is a poor fig leaf.

    To be reasonable and sensible is not a fallacy

    … to be reasonable and sensible is not to rely on quintuple negatives…

    (and in case you’re missing one, it’s “but … until”)

  • JabbaPapa

    It is the Christians who claim that God has such an impressive array of capabilities, not me.

    I can’t see anyone else who has claimed such abilities for God apart from yourself in this thread …

  • JabbaPapa

    That is not a definition.

    Do you really expect people to accept your vague personal impressions as “evidence” ?

  • JabbaPapa

    How can you tell me that Catholic teaching of sin is not relevant to
    aspects of our behaviour which have evolved through our animal
    ancestors?

    In fact, I’ve said the direct opposite.

    You’re the one who’s struggling with indoctrination, not me …

  • JabbaPapa

    Where does the Catholic Church explain that at least some important
    aspects of our behaviour have been formed through the evolutionary
    process of natural selection?

    Well, not too swift on the uptake, are you …

  • JabbaPapa

    1) The logic has been explained multiple times in this very thread, so that you are either blind to or uncomprehending of it.

    2) Next time — just write down “no I can’t” ; as it will be less taxing on your keyboard.

    3) With my soul, actually, that has no material nature as such.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    In which specific instances was Aquinas “wrong in his logic”? References would be good. And who would you point to as a greater proponent of Aristotle’s work than Aquinas?
    Funny that you mention John XXI: the author of the leading textbook on logic for the following 300 years, who died when the roof of his observatory (not his castle) fell on him. You really are struggling with this whole history-thing aren’t you.
    And yes, Theophrastus was Aristotle’s close friend and successor as the proprietor of the Peripatetic School, but in what way can you show that his works “build on” Atistotle’s scientific method? His surviving works are mainly books demonstrating acute observation, not experimental testing.
    And I’m afraid that a facile comment passed by an author whose philosophy (aside from his work on logic) was considered passé in his own lifetime isn’t really going to worry me a great deal.

  • karlf

    yawn. About what? why don’t you just answer a blinking question for once?

  • karlf

    You have said that Catholic teaching about sin is relevent to evolved behaviours? Great! So where does the Church mention this?

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    1. Dawkins point, if it is a point, is a criticism of education, not of religion (unless he is inferring that our schools are all under the direct control of religious institutions). And the plain point is, he really does say that all religions teach that unquestioning faith is a virtue, as your own quotation makes clear. You may be convinced by Dawkins’ argument, but that doesn’t make it less of a misrepresentation: Lund’s criticism stands. 

    2. Again, your conclusion from the quotation is incorrect: Dawkins isn’t talking about one particular school, he is making a generalised swipe at all religions, because his statement about the belief in scripture is revealed as an a priori assumption about the way that all religious people think about scripture. Lund’s criticism stands. 

    3. You’ve highlighted a debate between scholars and then tried to use that to back up Dawkins’ claim that religion silences questioning?  If your claim was correct, there would be no debate between scholars. 

    All you are demonstrating is that your own a priori assumptions are blinding you to the weakness in Dawkins’ arguments. 

    And finally, you’re cross with me because I pointed out that the context of his proof-texts rendered his argument from them void?

    An would you care to explain “you can’t pretend that religion is not religion”. You seem to be using that term independently from the dictionary definition. 

  • TreenonPoet

     1. It is not a strawman to say that religions teach that unquestioning faith is a virtue if religions do. I have said why I think they do in my reply to JabbaPapa. In England, much of that teaching is done through day schools which are very much under the control of religious organisations as far as religion is concerned, whether by ownership, biased SACREs, the Establishment, or simple pressures to ‘respect’ religious views. The teaching is backed up by the contribution of religious parents, by Church involvement in local communities, and by the media. Until recently, it has seemed almost taboo to suggest that the Church is not virtuous or to pose awkward questions. In some other countries, it is still not only taboo, but illegal or an invitation to be murdered. Note that Dawkins is not saying that the majority of those who are affiliated with religious denominations directly inwardly approve of this.

    2. Dawkins is not assuming anything here about the way that religious people think about scripture. It is a fact that  religions teach that truth comes from scripture (as is the case in both Islam and Christianity, even if selectively and with ‘interpretation’). That being the case, what is a pupil to conclude when given the choice between the favoured scripture and another view? It is not to the credit of religion that some people see through this deceit.

    3. The point about the Adam and Eve debate is that both sides are constrained by a need to maintain the framework of the religion. If a suggestion conflicts with basic doctrine, then it is ‘obviously’ incorrect as far as that religion is concerned. Successful religions have mechanisms that minimise significant schisms. It would be ridiculous to suggest that there are no internal debates, but are they questioning the validity of the religion or of minutiae? I would suggest the latter because religious leaders do not give cogent replies regarding the former. I do not just assume that to be the case.

    You can’t pretend that religion is not religious no matter how ‘religion’ is defined if the meaning of ‘religious’ always follows in the same way. Even if the scientific method had first occurred to man when it was divinely revealed to a pope, it would still conflict with Catholicism.

  • http://catholicismpure.wordpress.com The Raven

    It seems that we are not going to get past your a priori assumptions; you have decided that Dawkins is right and no amount of argument on my part is going to shift you (your language gives you away).
    Your point 3 is particularly weak: you yourself have already highlighted that scholars are debating the Eden story in the light of scientific evidence and you seem not to be oblivious to the ongoing debate among Catholics about the fundamentals of Christian faith that has been raging since Vatican II; and if you think that “religious leaders don’t give cogent answers [to questions about the fundamentals of religion]” then I suggest you read Pope Benedict XVI.
    Your last paragraph is no more meaningful than your first attempt; with what baggage are you freighting the word “religion”?