Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Pre-emptive responses to G at SkeptiCLAWyer

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-22

There is a great post over at Skepticlawyer ("The Dawkins Delusion – Guest Post by ‘G’" 2009-02-22) which is well worth reading.  I’ve already written quite a few posts that could be considered a "pre-emptive response" to G’s article.

The fact that an unbeliever like myself used the epithet "great" for a post from a theist that attacks Dawkins should indicate to ardent atheists that G’s post is thoughtfully written and subtle.

I hope G responds to the more subtle of my earlier posts on the subject from the list below:

  • "Dawkins v God (1)" (2005-05-28) discusses how I think Dawkins should have approached the progressive/subtle theists, such as G.
  • "Unrecognized Allies" (2007-05-08) includes a discussion inter alia of how atheists should treat progressive theists that recognise that such theists assert (correctly) that their understanding evolves.
  • "Dawkins v God (2)" (2007-05-30) discusses what I considered Dawkins flawed attacks on the fundies which should have highlighted their hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance
  • "Dawkins should promote quackery" (2008-05-12) discusses what I consider another "own-goal" by Dawkins
  • "Flawed attacks on Dawkins: Zwartz and all" (2007-07-15)
  • "Hier Stehe Ich" (2007-06-16) is my own theological position.
  • "Christianity’s core non-sequitur" (2007-02-22) demonstrates the kind of attack on Christianity that is most likely to unsettle Christians because of it’s use of theological arguments.

It’s also worth (and I must expand on this in a future post) reflecting G’s reasonable use of secular logic and semantics, by pulling apart his Xtian scripture, not just the execrable Saul/Paul, but a key gospel, in defence of Western secular thought which has at least as much authority on theological matters as the Pope or any Xtian theologian.

This authority is implicit in John 1:1 which states:

"In the beginning was the Λόγος/Logos, and the Λόγος/Logos was with θεος/God, and the Λόγος/Logos was θεος/God."

or, in the original,

"Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος"

(My rendering follows the standard use of the definite article in the last clause than the rarer translation using an indefinite article.)

Thus John asserts the Christian God is both of the same substance (homoousios/ὁμοούσιος, not merely homoiousios/ὁμοiούσιος, the difference being merely an iota), and identical to the Hellenic concept of Λόγος/Logos (etymology, Wikipedia) which underpins Western philosophical thought, and thus scientific positions (consider: "BioLOGY", "CosmoLOGY", "OntoLOGY", "GeoLOGY", "SocioLOGY", which are merely of similar substance: homoiousios/ὁμοiούσιος).

Indeed, a minority of (secular) translators argue (and I’m unqualified to judge) that John should not start with "In the beginning", but "BY/BEFORE the beginning", which would make God/Λόγος underpin not just this universe, but antedent to the Big Bang and even the multiverse postulated by many cosmologists.  This would strengthen the case for secular humanists having precedence over later Christian theologians (including the likes of Augustine the Hippo-crit [¿get the pun?] and the much-underrated Origen).

We can also leverage all the arguments of Taoists (including Confucius) because of the similarity with the Tao.

Too few Western atheists point out that authority granted by a Gospel, and even fewer wield that authority.

See Also/Notes:

  • G’s "home" blog ("History and Spirit") has a recent post "A Review of Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion".  In it, G makes the comment (which I at least partially agree with as you can see from my "Dawkins v God" posts):

    The failure to explore the relationship between philosophy and theism in the book is baffling.

    I’ll facetiously point out that while G has category list on that goes:

    • Gok Wan
    • Gospel of Luke
    • Gospel of Mark
    • Gospel of Matthew
    • Hebrews

    I’ll retort with

    "The failure to have ‘Gospel of John’ as a category when exploring the relationship between philosophy and theism on your blog is baffling"

    The only "John" categories are: John Lennon, John McCain, John Milton, John Polkinghorne… but no John the Evangelist!  Baffling, indeed!  At least G has a category for Origen, showing that G is no theological nincompoop.


2 Responses to “Pre-emptive responses to G at SkeptiCLAWyer”

  1. G said

    Hi Dave and thanks for taking the time to comment on my scribblings…I’m flattered by what you write and I’m glad I got away without seeming like a ‘theological nincompoop’! I’ve had a good time having a quick look round your blog – and thanks for directing to me to some of your previous thoughts on the issues I mentioned in my review. I’ll try to offer an idea of where I think we’d part company concerning the first issue you’ve mentioned here…the most I can hope to suggest, I think, is that alternative points of view might have something valuable to offer…and maybe that will lead somewhere interesting.

    Let me take first your claim that Dawkins would ‘drive home his case against religion’ most effectively by saying that ‘the stature of religion in society, its aura of respectability, renders too many people vulnerable to the ideas of extremists, and this inevitably causes much needless suffering’ and that ‘we could rid ourselves of the idea that we might already know the truth, grow out of unthinking faith, we can have a better world, and can discuss at leisure whether our universe is governed by the laws of Nature and an invisible god, or the more elegant solution that needs simply Nature’.

    I’ll try to encapsulate here some of the things I tried not very eloquently to say in responding to some of the comments on my post with skepticlawyer. In the first instance, I agree with the unstated premise that it’s bad when people are left vulnerable through naivety or ignorance to pernicious and false claims (whether ‘religious’ or not). This, I’d go on to say, is our human situation and we ought all to recognise that the task of combatting it is really rather a difficult one. Now, regarding the issue of ‘the ideas of [religious] extremists’, here again I think we’d both agree that these can often be a Very Bad Thing indeed. I need to qualify myself here just a little because I think that a lot of people I truly admire might qualify as extremists of some sort (or might have done in their time): but let’s narrow our focus to a group like young earth creationists, whom I think we could both agree do and say things we’d rather they didn’t. When people such as these are permitted ‘stature’ in society, yes, it’s a problem – a problem, I would add, which is very difficult to address. How best to do it? Do we need to root out or devalue ‘religion’ or grow out of ‘unthinking faith’ so that a ‘better world’ in which leisurely discussions about ‘elegant solution[s!] that need simply Nature’ (your capital N here alarms me)?

    This, I think, is the key question you raise and so I’d like to ask you to elaborate a little. I note that for you ‘faith’ (in God?) is ‘unthinking’ (always?) and seems not to leave room for ‘elegant solutions’. You’ll need to clear this up for me…what sort of ‘faith’ are we talking about here and what are we supposing its link with other key concepts (e.g. ‘God’/’science’/’understanding’/’proof’/’evidence’/’love’/reason’ etc.) to be? Perhaps here you’ll follow Dawkins and say something along the lines of faith is ‘belief in the absence of evidence’ or some other such thing? The trouble is a) that’s not how someone like me – and, I’m afraid, the ardent fundies, see their ‘faith’…b) you’ll need a pretty impressive definition of ‘evidence’ here to make this definition work. To pursue this latter point just a little, what appears to be the Dawkinsian conception of ‘evidence’ may work ok for a lot of scientists (though here it must be emphasised that he’s been very strongly and roundly criticised by a host of top physicists for *not getting* the sorts of developments which have occurred in C20 physics and philosophy of science which have rendered his views pretty unsustainable in those contexts). And it works particularly badly, for example, in the context of some attempts to interpret/evaluate beliefs about past events. Imagine an American scientist who wakes up in the morning and brushes his teeth. No one else witnesses this event – and there exists only the merest traces of evidence to the effect that he did, definitely, brush his teeth that morning. He remembers doing so very vividly, let us say, and says he is 99% sure that it happened. Now imagine that a friend of his asks him this: are you more certain in your *belief* that you brushed your teeth this morning (for which, let us remember, we have only the ‘mere’ evidence of his memory of the event) or in your *belief* in the proposition that the emperor Nero began his reign in the year 54?

    Let us stand back from this question for just a moment. Many, many people and lots and lots of evidence would confirm to us – and, if they looked for it, to the scientist and his friend – that the emperor Nero had indeed become sovereign of Rome in the year 54. Meanwhile, by contrast a vanishingly small amount of testimony and strength of opinion – by contrast – would attest to the scientist’s claim that he did indeed brush his teeth. And yet, I’d wager that the scientist would in all likelihood be prepared to be more confident in his 99% certainty that he’d brushed his teeth rather than in his (let us say) 75% certainty that Nero had acceded to the emperorship in 54 (he *thinks* he remembers from his pub quiz the week before but isn’t certain). From one point of view, this sort of example shouldn’t surprise us at all. It is the stuff of our everyday experience. But what the example brings to light is the sort of profound problem that surrounds how we think about ‘evidence’ and the way we formulate our beliefs in the context of our lives, rather than in our scientific laboratories where controlled conditions can give us a chance to make more clinical judgements. The problem is that we don’t live our lives in science laboratories, nor do we evaluate the evidence we have concerning questions which pose themselves of us in the way most scientists do. This doesn’t necessarily come down to a lack of will-power to ‘be scientific’ on our part: most of us like to *think* we’re being as ‘rational’ as possible and making as good sense of ‘the available evidence’ which presents itself in the world around us as we can. It so often comes down instead to a failure adequately to identify, evaluate and resolve problematic questions which present themselves…but it also faulters because of the deeply problematic nature of the ‘evidence’ we encounter in our lives when it comes to making decisions – if we are even prepared to think particularly reflectively here – on what we should think about certain things.

    Let me finish by drawing your attention to the difficulties which our lawcourts have in settling difficult questions concerning individual persons and the criminal acts they are claimed to have performed. Evidence certainly matters here, as does a very thinking ‘faith’ in the system being used to sought things out and in the capacities of the people assessing the claims made to make correct decisions. Sure, some people might a) not think very hard about the system or b) have big reservations about the way the system works. But there is nonetheless here very clearly the need for ‘thinking’ faculties and for ‘faith’ in the system’s ability to perform a useful and necessary function, however badly. This is sort of how I feel about the Christian church, in all its imperfections. The lawcourts were there before the church came to be, and it may well be that they will outlive the church. They’ve made all kinds of mistakes, but still exist and perform an extremely important role in our society today – a society which they’ve helped to shape. The same is true too of the church, in my opinion. And I guess it just is the case that in my life, through the ‘evidence’ I’ve been exposed to, I’ve seen enough in the Christian church to tell me that there is a God, that he lives in the hearts of people, and that the church conveys something of his character to us here in our world. If I have to place at the centre of my life any word with a capital letter, and here I believe that in spite of the best postmodern attempts to convince people that they don’t have to I believe I do, then that word – or, rather words, will be Jesus Christ – my Saviour, Martyr, Lord, Messiah. I fully accept that that all comes with a lot of conceptual unpacking of its own but I hope it at least gives you an idea of my position and at least some background to why I am certainly not a Dawkinsian.

  2. […] bookmarks tagged the god delusion Pre-emptive responses to G at SkeptiCLAWyer saved by 3 others     lki55mya55l bookmarked on 03/01/09 | […]

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