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Thu, 27 Oct 2011

An Interesting Article on the New Atheism

Michael Antony has a very interesting article on the New Atheism in the April/May 2010 issue of Philosophy Now magazine. Antony clearly points out some of the serious flaws in the New Atheists' main line of argument.

Antony's article should be of interest to anyone concerned with the New Atheism. It is especially interesting to those of us who embrace a rational approach to knowledge, but who find the New Atheism to be irrational.

posted at: 23:50 | path: /religion/atheism | persistent link to this entry

Is Faith Good or Evil? It's Not a Simple Question

Are religious believers right when they claim that faith is an important virtue? Or are the New Atheists right when they claim that faith is dangerous and bad for society? The truth is more complicated than either side realizes! I've posted a document on this topic. Here is the link.

(In case you're wondering whether I personally believe anything on faith, read the later part of the document - the part where I talk about philosophical positions that do not make use of faith. I give away the answer somewhere in there.)

posted at: 23:24 | path: /religion/atheism | persistent link to this entry

Sat, 18 Jun 2011

Dawkins and Scientism: Exploring the Connections

In this blog I have written a lot about Richard Dawkins' atheism ("The Anti-Dawkins Papers" plus other posts in the atheism category). However, there is one important question about Dawkins that I've never fully addressed. Does Dawkins' position in The God Delusion amount to "scientism" - the attitude that science is the only legitimate way of knowing the truth, or at least is far superior to other ways of knowing the truth?

If you read The God Delusion carefully, you cannot help feeling that Dawkins is preaching scientism. Dawkins doesn't seem to think that nonscientific ways of knowing have much importance to our understanding of the nature of reality. He even tries to reduce the question of the existence of God - a philosophically loaded problem with many conceptual complexities - to a problem that can be settled by science alone [1]. He does acknowledge at least one nonscientific way of knowing: he mentions philosophy, and especially moral philosophy, in a positive way [2]. However, his worldview clearly is driven by one way of knowing: science.

You don't have to go by general impressions like these to recognize that The God Delusion promotes scientism. Here are some examples that reveal Dawkins' scientistic view of things. (Note that I said "scientistic," not "scientific.")

First, there is his discussion of philosophical naturalism near the beginning of the book [3]. Not all of the beliefs he attributes to naturalists are necessary for naturalism. He describes a materialistic or physicalistic view of the mind and takes it to be part of naturalism. In reality, you don't have to embrace this view to be a philosophical naturalist. Instead, you could adopt another view of mind, such as neutral monism or a double-aspect theory, and still be a naturalist. (That is exacly what Spinoza did [4].) However, Dawkins ignores these other possibilities. He adopts the view of mind that we would end up with if science alone could solve the mind-body problem. The other possibilities raised by philosophical analysis (a nonscientific way of knowing) just get ignored. This is a scientistic move if there ever was one.

Second, consider the main argument in The God Delusion. This is the "argument from improbability" set forth in chapter 4. I've already exposed the mistakes in this argument elsewhere (see this paper). Here I'll just point out that the main mistake is a glaring example of scientism. What is this mistake? It's the attempt to make an estimate of probability on a hypothetical entity that is defined in advance to be supernatural. Probability estimates for complex systems depend on the laws of nature (read this paper for details and examples). Once we define God as supernatural, we cannot safely assume that if there were a God then the usual laws of nature would apply to God. (If all the laws of nature did apply to God, then we could understand God as part of the framework of nature, so God wouldn't count as supernatural.) But this serious conceptual problem doesn't stop Dawkins. He goes ahead and applies an argument based on the laws of nature to a conjectured being defined, in advance, so that the laws need not apply to it. Nice trick if you can do it!

Note that I am not claiming there is a supernatural God - though probably some angry Dawkins-heads will accuse me of claiming this, just because I disagree with Dawkins about something. I don't even claim that such a being is probable. (Follow these links for my opinions on theism and the supernatural.) I'm just pointing out a feature of one of Dawkins' arguments. The implicit, underlying logic of that argument seems to be something like this: God (if there were one) would be supernatural; but natural laws would apply to God anyhow, because, well, they're science; therefore, we can go ahead and apply natural laws to that blatantly nonnatural being without any worries. If that isn't scientism, then what is it?

Third, when Dawkins defines "God" [5], he brushes aside the philosophical conceptions of God that are scientifically untestable. He leaves us with only a supernaturalistic conception (an easy target for scientific skepticism) and a simple sort of pantheism that he can easily absorb into atheism. I dealt with this stunning omission at length in the first Anti-Dawkins Paper (follow this link for the details). Dawkins claims that the existence of God is a scientific problem [6], but he is able to make this claim only because he has done some serious cherrypicking, leaving out the ideas of God that are not scientifically testable. Again, if this isn't scientism, what is it?

Fourth, in one spot Dawkins bitterly criticizes the idea that "other ways of knowing besides the scientific" might be relevant to the God question [7]. Can that leave any doubt about the role of scientism in his position?

Fifth, in his discussion of dualism, Dawkins describes monism in a way that clearly restricts it to materialistic monism [8]. He doesn't even bother about monism in general, which includes not only materialism, but also viewpoints like double-aspect monism and neutral monism. In effect, he dismisses all forms of monism except the most scientific-seeming one - the one that requires almost no philosophical reflection. He equates monism to that single form of monism. This is another splendid example of scientistic bias.

Followers of Dawkins will, no doubt, point out passages in Dawkins' book where he seems to disagree with scientism. To preempt the most obvious rebuttal of this sort, I will point out the best example of such a passage. In Chapter 4, during a discussion of the improbability of God, Dawkins writes "I am not advocating some sort of narrowly scientistic way of thinking." [9] I am confident that Dawkins was sincere when he wrote that statement - but how can the statement possibly be correct, in view of what he says elsewhere about naturalism, improbability, monism, ways of knowing, and the definition of God? True, his position isn't an exceptionless scientism - he mentions some forms of philosophy favorably - but his position still is both narrow and scientistic. His anti-scientistic remark seems silly when you consider what's in other parts of the book.

Dawkins' position in The God Delusion amounts to a form of scientism. It is not scientism of the absolute sort that disallows all nonscientific knowledge, but it is scientism nonetheless, even if it allows some wiggle room for other ways of knowing.




References to The God Delusion (TGD) refer to the following edition: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston and N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

[1] TGD, especially chapter 4. See also p. 55.

[2] See for example chapter 6.

[3] TGD, pp. 13-14.

[4] If you have any doubt that Spinoza's naturalistic worldview is more than just physicalistic, read Will Durant's chapter on Spinoza in Durant's book The Story of Philosophy (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1953).

[5] In TGD, chapters 1 and 2; see especially pp. 12-13, 18-19, and 31.

[6] TGD, especially chapter 4. See also p. 55.

[7] TGD, p. 154.

[8] TGD, pp. 179-180.

[9] TGD, p. 155.


Post edited slightly 7/5/2011.


posted at: 03:59 | path: /religion/atheism | persistent link to this entry

Wed, 02 Mar 2011

Some Closing Remarks on "The Anti-Dawkins Papers"

This post is a follow-up to "The Anti-Dawkins Papers," my critique of Richard Dawkins' atheistic book The God Delusion.

"The Anti-Dawkins Papers" are now complete, but I still have more to say about Dawkins' ideas. There are more flaws in Dawkins' line of argument than the few points I covered in the "Papers." I have continued my critique of Dawkins in the atheism category. (The "Papers" form a subcategory of that category.) Also, I've updated the "Papers" a bit in response to some readers' objections to them. (See Paper 11.) The objections I have seen so far have been easy to rebut.

(Note added later: In the time since I finished "The Anti-Dawkins Papers," several criticisms of the "Papers" have appeared on the web. I am replying to these criticisms on a separate page. So far I have been able to rebut all the criticisms. Also, some fans of Dawkins have made false statements about my academic background. I am countering these falsehoods by providing the facts about my background on yet another separate page.)

The atheism category has gotten quite long, so some of the older posts have dropped off the bottom of the main atheism page. The dated links in the left sidebar will take you to the earlier posts.

If you are interested in my views on religion in general, you might want to read the religion category of this blog, which includes the atheism category as a part. Also, you might want to read my other blog, which deals with my own view of religion. Those who think I am a theist or an atheist (and I've been called both) might be surprised to find out where I really stand.

You might be wondering what I think of other New Atheist authors besides Dawkins. With one exception, I haven't addressed those authors specifically (though I might say more in the future - no definite plans yet). Instead, I have concentrated on Dawkins because he seems to have done the most thorough job of pushing the New Atheist agenda. If you know how to debunk Dawkins' arguments, you will know how to debunk many other New Atheists' arguments too.

Some people claim that because I don't like Dawkins' book, I must be a theist pushing a religious agenda. Am I a theist? To find out, follow this link - and then explore my two blogs. To find out whether "The Anti-Dawkins Papers" have a religious agenda, consider this quote from the last of the "Papers":

"Belief in God remains a reasonable option for thinking people; so do atheism and agnosticism."

When I wrote "The Anti-Dawkins Papers," I was not trying to prove a particular religious viewpoint. Instead, I was trying to show that The God Delusion fails to settle the question of the existence of God. That much I have shown.


Updated 7/21/2011

posted at: 23:51 | path: /religion/atheism/god_delusion | persistent link to this entry


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