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New Atheist oddities

27 October 2011

I’m not much into debates about the existence or non-existence of God, and so I don’t pay much attention to the New Atheists, though it was mainly the trad atheists who debated the existence or non-existence of God. Their case was usually well argued, and they tried to be logical. But as Bishop Nick Baines points out, Nick Baines’s Blog: “The New Atheists give atheism a bad name by substituting assertion for argument.”

It’s the strange inconsistencies in their arguments that puzzle me.

For example I can understand it when Richard Dawkins says this: Positive Atheism’s Big List of Richard Dawkins Quotations:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
— Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific American (November, 1995), p. 85

He is speaking from his field of expertise, biology, and, if I weren’t a Christian, I’d probably share his view.

But if that’s what he thinks of life, the universe and everything, why, when challenged by a Christian theologian to a debate, does he refuse to do so on the grounds that Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig | Richard Dawkins:

But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth. You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God’s commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse:

“But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them”

Why does Dawkins care?

Shouldn’t he rather regard it with a blind pitiless indifference?

If there is no justice in the universe, as he asserts, why does he then get on his moral high horse about debating with someone who, he says, defends genocide? Surely that should be a matter of complete indifference to him?

If there is no god and no evil, why should he refuse to debate somkeone because he regards him as “evil”, as having a “dark side”. Why should it matter if, as Dawkins asserts, there is no “dark side”?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    27 October 2011 8:55 pm

    without playing the devil’s advocate (and completely missing your point), does God not have a dark side? I find it difficult to comprehend the origin of evil without reference to the Prime Mover.

    • 29 October 2011 8:26 am

      That’s really another question. Christians believe that there is such a thing as evil, and that God’s agin it.

      But Dawkins says there’s no such thing as evil, yet refuses to debate with someone on the grounds that he defends something that Dawkins appears to regard as evil.

  2. 27 October 2011 9:24 pm

    “But if that’s what he thinks of life”

    It’s not what he thinks of life. He’s describing how the universe, in reality, is.

    How we as humans should think, believe, and act is a completely different subject.

  3. 28 October 2011 10:38 pm

    Why should Dawkins care? Because he is human, and because one of the things humans do is create meaning, create morality. Evolution has favored us in part because we have taken long-term strategies of helping one another; our human-created moral belief systems have real utility (belief systems that don’t have such utility are outcompeted by those that do, in a memetic evolutionary process).

    It is perfectly rational to describe the natural world as he does, and also to recognize that our own natural strategy leads us to these unique values. I wonder why being a christian prevents you from agreeing with him. Do you disagree that the natural world includes death, and that this death may come from predators, parasites, starvation and more? Do you disagree that times of plenty allow for greater population, and that greater population will then lead to overconsumption and deprivation? Do you disagree that physical forces–tornadoes, earthquakes, lightning, fires, blizzards–can and do harm people the world over? That these physical forces hurt christian and non-christian alike?

    Do you, as WLC does, defend the events in Deuteronomy?

    Do you not see that, if there is no god, the only force that *can* stand up to evils like genocide (and just because it is a man-made definition of evil and not god-made, does not make it meaningless; remember, the value of the money in your pocket is man-made as well–I’d be happy to take it off your hands if you think it meaningless), the only real force to fight real horror… is us. Dawkins sees that, and steps up. I see that, and accept the responsibility of changing the world for the better. What is it about being a christian that forces you to disagree?

    • fingolfin permalink
      29 October 2011 12:23 am

      Changing the world for the “better”? Given Dawkins’ premises “better” is meaningless. You might as well change the world for a sky pixie or a pink unicorn.

      • 29 October 2011 2:15 pm

        Your misunderstanding remains; one wonders if it might be deliberate. “Better” is not meaningless; rather, it is socially defined, and measured by its utility. Helping our families, friends, and neighbors is an advantage for a social species; it has been codified into many (sometimes otherwise in utter disagreement) religions and philosophies. Religious prohibitions are not the only way to govern behavior, but they are one of the ways societies *have* governed behavior. Your religious constraints on behavior are actually explained quite nicely within Dawkins’ view.

        But go ahead and continue to misunderstand him. Your clumsy interpretations of what he means tell far more about your own world view than of his.

      • 29 October 2011 5:36 pm

        fingolfin–ok, sometimes I’m slow, but I eventually got it. Subtle, but you are exactly right.

    • 29 October 2011 11:15 pm

      our human-created moral belief systems have real utility

      That’s the bit I find difficult to understand. Utility for what exactly?

      As I understand Dawkins’s view of evolution (and yes, I could, like Fingolfin, have misunderstood it), “utility” has no place in it, and to see any kind of utility or purpose in it is to anthropomorphise it and therefore to distort it.

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