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← Melvyn Bragg attacks Richard Dawkins' 'atheist fundamentalism'

Melvyn Bragg attacks Richard Dawkins' 'atheist fundamentalism' - Comments

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 1 by DavidMcC

So, Melvyn, you think that the basis of religious faith hasn't yet been "carefully examined"? In that case, I'm sorry for you. Dream on.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:40:21 UTC | #926914

Philoctetes                                        's Avatar Comment 2 by Philoctetes

One can only assume that the Warsi supporting Telegraph has mined Bragg's remarks. However it is hard to credit that an intellectually respected atheist like Bragg could indulge in the spiteful ad hominin attacks we usually associate with the "faithful". I have always been a regular listener to Bragg's "In Our Time" and will continue to be, but in future I shall not accept his views on issues where my knowledge is slight with the same degree of authority as I formerly did.

And what has he said? Anything new, constructive, interesting, witty? No basically Richard is strident (in a Cumbrian accent).

Perhaps he has been spending too much time discussing bollox on air with theologians that he has just slackened his grip on reality?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:46:06 UTC | #926920

hemidemisemigod's Avatar Comment 3 by hemidemisemigod

Bragg argued that reason was not “the primary source of knowledge”. “We start with emotions and passions and feelings, the roots of which we don’t know and perhaps will never know,” he said. “Things come to us outside the realms of reason; intimations of love, surprise by joy, little pulses that we don’t know where they come from, we don’t know where they lead to, but they satisfy us or they make us despair. Dawkins shows no respect for religion at all.”

So Mr Bragg seems to be suggesting that any human feelings or emotions that haven't yet been fully explained should be treated as inexplicable and therefore supernatural.

Nice one Melvyn. Don't give up your day job.

I can't explain why such a seemingly intelligent man as Melvyn Bragg could come up with such a ridiculous statement, therefore it must have been divinely inspired. QED.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:46:29 UTC | #926921

Smegmar's Avatar Comment 4 by Smegmar

He has a point. Is it reasonable to criticise religion? You can't answer that question by saying "I care about what's true" like Dawkins says. There are many false beliefs that people have and you don't spend your time criticising all of them. Therefore, you base your criticism of religion on something else. It probably isn't something very rational or scientific like you, as an atheist, would like to think.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:50:27 UTC | #926924

UncleVanya's Avatar Comment 5 by UncleVanya

Comment 4 by Smegmar - that's true, there are many things like astrology etc. that we might think are clearly daft, but we don't invest the same energy in declaiming or criticising astrologers. Why do we single out organised religion, and is it down to a mere prejudice?

I think the answer for most of us is that other daft beliefs don't (usually) have the capacity to cause harm, in the same way that organised religion can. Not always, but the insistence that society be organised around bronze-age morality, discrimination against homosexuals, and intrusion into science education, are real forms of harm that can and do arise from these beliefs, in a way that is just not possible with astology.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:57:23 UTC | #926925

Sjoerd Westenborg's Avatar Comment 6 by Sjoerd Westenborg

To me, this man comes over as quite reasonable, yet very misinformed.

"... the atheist argument, led by Richard Dawkins, most improbably a fine zoologist, a good scholar, Oxford trained, who seems to have thrown everything off in this odd pursuit, particularly of Christianity.”

The religion Dawkins is most opposed to is Islam. The good prof even referred to the CofE as 'benign'. How can you critisize a person if you don't know what they stand for?

“We start with emotions and passions and feelings, the roots of which we don’t know and perhaps will never know,”

We? What we? Anyone with a basic understanding of evolution and neurology can exactly tell you where these things come from. Which IMO doesn't make them any less wonderful, on the contrary.

Bragg dismissed the philosopher’s (de Botton) proposal that temples should be built for non-believers. “For that you need faith and they haven’t got faith,” he said.

If you listen closely to de Bottons talks, or read one of his books, you notice he uses terms like 'temples' by lack of equally descriptive, secular words.

Maybe it's because I'm Dutch, but who is this guy? Have I spend 5 minutes of my life on a nobody?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 13:57:56 UTC | #926926

korben's Avatar Comment 7 by korben

“We start with emotions and passions and feelings, the roots of which we don’t know and perhaps will never know,” he said.

I beg to disagree. Many emotions and passions and feelings have their roots in an onrush of hormones, as found by science. Regardless, even if we didn't know the roots, that wouldn't mean that we shouldn't try to find them. Isn't that how progress is made? Should we have stayed in caves panic-struck by lightning, or continue to treat epileptics with exorcisms?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:03:14 UTC | #926928

James.Thorley's Avatar Comment 8 by James.Thorley

"I do not have to respect your religion, only your right to have one.."

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:06:52 UTC | #926929

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 9 by drumdaddy

As with most delusional people, Mr. Bragg seems to relish taking deep majestic dives into his very shallow philosophical kiddie pool. The only truth that he spoke was his admission that things come to him from "outside the realms of reason."

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:08:36 UTC | #926930

PBrain's Avatar Comment 10 by PBrain

Alarm bells going off in my head ... Maybe he has no want of knowledge of reason of emotions etc.. might ruin his little fantasy world,and all the fairies in it. Time to move forward Melvin,nothing to brag about here

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:09:18 UTC | #926931

apostrophe's Avatar Comment 11 by apostrophe

Comment 4 by Smegmar :

He has a point. Is it reasonable to criticise religion? You can't answer that question by saying "I care about what's true" like Dawkins says. There are many false beliefs that people have and you don't spend your time criticising all of them. Therefore, you base your criticism of religion on something else. It probably isn't something very rational or scientific like you, as an atheist, would like to think.

I, like most people here, base my criticism of religion on the fact that it infringes on my life and freedom on a daily basis. I couldn't give a toss what fairy tales people choose to believe if only they would keep them to themselves, but no, they expect and often demand that their nonsensical false beliefs should hold sway over government policies, lawmaking and education. All of which should be influenced only by the available facts and all of which also affect me and millions of others.

Is that rational enough for you?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:09:32 UTC | #926932

peter mayhew's Avatar Comment 12 by peter mayhew

GOTG. Next?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:11:21 UTC | #926933

skeelo's Avatar Comment 13 by skeelo

I still find it astonishing that people can claim, with a straight face, that Richard Dawkins' position on religion is based on ignorance while simultaneously demonstrating their own breathtaking ignorance of just about everything Dawkins has ever said or written on the subject.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:15:14 UTC | #926934

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 14 by Jos Gibbons

Bragg attacks Richard Dawkins' 'atheist fundamentalism' … has launched a withering attack on Professor Richard Dawkins, accusing him of “ignorance” and of showing “no respect” for religion

The error density is staggering.
(1) Every critic of Dawkins calls him “fundamentalist”, and every report of such a criticism calls it “withering”. We atheists’ next charitable cause should be buying them thesauruses.
(2) Wouldn’t a withering criticism have to hurt him? This one’s not even original, as aforesaid.
(3) Why does religion deserve respect? If it doesn’t, saying Professor Dawkins lacks it is a compliment. If it does, why? Part of the reason he disrespects religion is his respect for the people it harms, who are mostly religious.

Bragg poured scorn on the famous atheist's reliance on “reason” to destroy the Christian argument, insisting that faith was something that should be carefully examined.

(1) There is no Christian argument.
(2) Using reason is careful examination. By definition, any alternative wouldn’t take evidence into account, so would be careless.

Bragg defended Christianity

None of his arguments explained why Christianity is any better than, say, deism.

Ever since civilisation began people have believed in many gods, one god or none

They have also believed in trepanning, the efficacy of witchcraft, supernatural causes of disease, and a host of other things that would endanger our civilisation if they continued. We are even more universally susceptible to optical illusions than we are to religious beliefs. Why praise either?

These are all respectable traditions.

What makes atheism respectable in a way religion isn’t is that it’s not about tradition; it’s about noticing the other guys can’t prove anything they say. “Russell’s teapot” has been in our vernacular for a century. Why are we still pretending to debate this? You guys lost!

What’s changed recently is the animus and the ignorance that has entered into the atheist argument, led by Richard Dawkins … who seems to have thrown everything off in this odd pursuit, particularly of Christianity.

(1) If it was really ignorant, Bragg would start by saying what error it committed.
(2) Dawkins is not especially critical of Christianity. Most of his responses to the God hypothesis have dealt with more generic arguments that defend deism or theism in general. He had made clear Islam is in his view more dangerous than Christianity.
(3) “Thrown everything off”? Could someone who speaks Telegraph please translate?

reason was not “the primary source of knowledge”

Bragg woke up this morning and used the products of reason to heat his water, supply his breakfast and commune with Ward and us. What gives us even more knowledge than reason does? For starters, it has given us all of science. No-one, Bragg included, has ever even demonstrated the existence of other sources of knowledge, let alone more primary ones.

We start with emotions and passions and feelings, the roots of which we don’t know and perhaps will never know

(1) In that case, they don’t lead to knowledge, do you?
(2) What we do know of such things – far more than Bragg concedes – we know through reason.
(3) Emotions et al don’t give us knowledge; they give prejudice. The only reason we aren’t still in the Ancient world is because we relied on something that, unlike emotions, gets us somewhere. Do we have more emotional nuance than the ancient Egyptians?

Things come to us outside the realms of reason; intimations of love, surprise by joy, little pulses that we don’t know where they come from, we don’t know where they lead to, but they satisfy us or they make us despair.

Insofar as we inductively or abductively infer anything about others’ mental states, we rely on empirical evidence. Our knowledge of our own mental states is as empirical as is our knowledge of our own blood CO2 levels, which is due to a sense of the interior of our bodies but is as much a sense as, say, vision.

the King James Bible was the “great trigger” for bringing about modern democracy during the British civil wars of the 17th century and had enabled people to claim their rights

Unless a “let people vote” verse spontaneously appeared in the KJB due to a mistranslation from Hebrew, ancient Greek or Latin, that claim is without foundation. The ancient Greeks had democracy before Jesus was even born (if he ever existed); why didn’t he explicitly call for democracy in the first century? Human rights in the British isles have a complex history that, depending on who you’re talking about, traces to the Feudal System, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights (which occurred almost a century after the KJB was written and over 40 years after the civil wars ended), or various Acts of Parliament in the 19th and 20th (not 17th) centuries that gradually expanded democracy. If Bragg credits British democracy to the KJB, he has to blame it for rotten boroughs, the initial disenfranchisement of the poor and women, and the fact that the UK and the US still have such terrible voting systems. Bragg is simply whitewashing history in a way Ward shouldn’t have published without explicitly denouncing it. You’re entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.

Bragg acknowledged that he was not religious himself

Whatever way that makes it OK to dismiss religion as incorrect Bragg has used, couldn’t he concede Dawkins may have also used it? I’m fed up with these hypocritical faitheists. None of them have causes besides reason for thinking a god is unlikely to exist.

I do believe there are things I can’t know. I do believe that there are things beyond the human mind, and oddly enough, I respect those things and to cadge a lift on faith, for atheists, seems to me a bit of a last resort.

Atheists do no such thing. Either you know something or you don’t, and in the latter case you shouldn’t believe what you don’t know. There are things beyond the human mind – like rocks, for instance. Why can’t these people ever explicitly talk about which things they think exist? In any case, no matter how little we can know about X, that doesn’t mean God did X. Any good basis on which that conclusion was reached would mean we knew that much about X. But no-one has ever actually shown any “God did X” statement to be true.

Now we move to De Botton, who spoke of

the "fierce, militant wing of atheism" in which he included Prof Dawkins.

What exactly does an atheist have to not do to avoid being called fierce (kudos on the novel synonym) or militant? In my opinion, they should stop saying horrible things about others in a way that makes themselves hypocritical. In other words, de Botton is guilty of “militancy” in a sense.

while he did not believe God existed, there were aspects of religion, such as its sense of community and ethical structure, which were attractive.

If you like something about religion while being non-religious, then that proves religion isn’t needed to preserve that thing.

Dawkins … recently admitted that he sometimes described himself as agnostic as he was "6.9 out of seven" sure of his beliefs.

That’s not new. He’s been talking about this since at least 2006. Ward is a liar who shouldn’t be allowed to be a journalist. If anything, Dawkins’s confidence in the nonexistence of a deity has hardened, since in 2006 he gave himself a score of 6. In any case, agnosticism is not mutually exclusive with atheism, as the former means you don’t know whether a god exists whereas the latter means you don’t believe one does.

Warsi … warned that a tide of “militant secularism” was challenging the religious foundations of British society

The reason she said that was because homophobic Christians have to be fair to gay people like everyone else does, and because a practice that had illegally occurred for decades was finally condemned in a court (not that it’ll necessary put a stop to it). The problem is a tide of militant theocracy is barely receding and may be returning in strength.

Delia Smith … waded into the row this week by warning that “militant neo-atheists and devout secularists are busting a gut to drive us off the radar and try to convince us that we hardly exist.”

Firstly, who cares what Delia Smith thinks about this? I don’t tell her how to bake cakes. Secondly, she’s wrong; Dawkins’s discussion of the recent IPSOS Mori Poll made explicit that Christians in the UK still number in the tens of millions, but he emphasised that hardly any of them want British politics to be non-secular.

she had been prompted to speak out after hearing Prof Dawkins claim that religion was increasingly irrelevant in Britain.

And Smith somehow distorted that empirical observation from the poll into “Dawkins is trying to convince religious adherents they hardly exist”? I hope she thinks more clearly than this when she’s designing recipes.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:15:18 UTC | #926935

Smegmar's Avatar Comment 15 by Smegmar

Comment 5 by UncleVanya :

Comment 4 by Smegmar - that's true, there are many things like astrology etc. that we might think are clearly daft, but we don't invest the same energy in declaiming or criticising astrologers. Why do we single out organised religion, and is it down to a mere prejudice?

I think the answer for most of us is that other daft beliefs don't (usually) have the capacity to cause harm, in the same way that organised religion can. Not always, but the insistence that society be organised around bronze-age morality, discrimination against homosexuals, and intrusion into science education, are real forms of harm that can and do arise from these beliefs, in a way that is just not possible with astology.

I guess that someone could reply that we are harmed by many different thing depending on where we live or what else we believe. So it could be the case that "we" single out religion because of the contingent historical or even geographical situation we are in. The problem with the New Atheism movement is that it usually stops exploring these questions because it is mostly based in Western liberal democracies. And because of the prejudiced view of history it just assumes that other beliefs are less developed forms of thought failing to achieve secular outlook.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:19:58 UTC | #926936

mr_zero's Avatar Comment 16 by mr_zero

Oh wow! Now that was strident!

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:20:46 UTC | #926937

potteryshard's Avatar Comment 17 by potteryshard

I, like most people here, base my criticism of religion on the fact that it infringes on my life and freedom on a daily basis.

And also manipulates legislation to be able to feed at the public trough to subsidize it's fantasies and childhood indoctrination.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:22:00 UTC | #926939

strangebrew's Avatar Comment 18 by strangebrew

OP

“I do believe there are things I can’t know".

That is not a contention..there are many things that we will never know!

"I do believe that there are things beyond the human mind"

If a human mind can conceive that there is something beyond it then it is not beyond a human mind to address that which is beyond. This is a circular argument and patently pointless..is is also unworthy and petulant fluffy bollix.

"and oddly enough, I respect those things"

Then you a gibbering posturing fool once removed from a drooling theist.

Nothing to see hear...who fucking listens to the boring old fart anyway?

" and to cadge a lift on faith, for atheists, seems to me a bit of a last resort.”

Atheists don't need a lift on faith cadged or otherwise...we are only interested in dismantling the arrogant delusional thing once and for all.

Bragg needs to focus a lot more on substance rather then play and pretend 'reasonable sceptic' to middle England...who hardly bother with him anyway except as a dinner party 'feather in the cap' and name dropper.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:22:55 UTC | #926940

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 19 by Mark Jones

What an insult; bracketing Richard and de Botton together!

Melvyn has launched a sad tirade against Strawkins here, which leaves him looking like the ignorant and disrespectful one. He's become more intolerant and bigoted recently, against an atheism that dares to speak its name. The series he did on the KJV seems to have lit a fire of stupid inside him, making him much more of a faitheist.

Bragg argued that reason was not “the primary source of knowledge”.

“We start with emotions and passions and feelings, the roots of which we don’t know and perhaps will never know,” he said.

The article misrepresents what Bragg says slightly; obviously reason alone gets us nowhere - that was Hume's point. Without evidence from our senses we have nothing to reason with. But just because our first encounter with the outside world is our senses, this does not mean they are trustworthy - they're just the only inputs we have! As Bragg says, reason then 'steers and sorts' these inputs, I would say 'controls' them. So, reason and evidence is the root to knowledge, our senses being the source of all our evidence ultimately. And, of course, that's what Dawkins thinks too, I'm sure.

I do believe there are things I can’t know. I do believe that there are things beyond the human mind, and oddly enough, I respect those things...

But if they're beyond his mind, how does he know he respects them? Is it really the behaviour of a sane and intelligent man to respect that of which he knows nothing?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:24:38 UTC | #926941

Smegmar's Avatar Comment 20 by Smegmar

Comment 11 by apostrophe :

Comment 4 by Smegmar :

He has a point. Is it reasonable to criticise religion? You can't answer that question by saying "I care about what's true" like Dawkins says. There are many false beliefs that people have and you don't spend your time criticising all of them. Therefore, you base your criticism of religion on something else. It probably isn't something very rational or scientific like you, as an atheist, would like to think.

I, like most people here, base my criticism of religion on the fact that it infringes on my life and freedom on a daily basis. I couldn't give a toss what fairy tales people choose to believe if only they would keep them to themselves, but no, they expect and often demand that their nonsensical false beliefs should hold sway over government policies, lawmaking and education. All of which should be influenced only by the available facts and all of which also affect me and millions of others.

Is that rational enough for you?

Actually, no. Or rather, it depends on where you are coming from. For different people it is rational to do different things. I don't have the prejudice that we all have the same moral notions or care about "freedom". Maybe I care more about my family then about my freedom. Then it could be rational not to criticise religion. There are many different situations people find themselves in. I don't have the need to generalise like many atheists do.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:25:07 UTC | #926942

gloves71's Avatar Comment 21 by gloves71

OMG - I used to have such respect for Melvyn "Nose Spray" Bragg! My former high regard for him has just been defenestrated!

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:25:07 UTC | #926943

peter mayhew's Avatar Comment 22 by peter mayhew

Let's respect astrology for helping our dreams to come true. Let's respect homeopathy for giving us medicines that we can really believe in. Let's respect UFOlogy for keeping obsessives off the streets and making us not feel so alone. Let's respect spiritual mediums for helping us communicate with our dead loved ones. I may not ever understand these things, but I respect them. Dawkins dismisses them as if they have no value at all.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:25:29 UTC | #926944

Smegmar's Avatar Comment 23 by Smegmar

Comment Removed by Author

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:26:10 UTC | #926945

gizmologic1's Avatar Comment 24 by gizmologic1

I'm not from the UK and I'm not sure what the Book Show is all about but I presume from the title that its purpose is to review books. If that's the case, what was the book that Melvyn was reviewing? Alternately, was he promoting his own book; if so, what's the title?

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:27:23 UTC | #926946

plasma-engineer's Avatar Comment 25 by plasma-engineer

What a pathetic rag the Telegraph has become! That story is completely lacking in substance.

Its a shame that the dreaded Alain de Botton has (in my opinion wrongly) become associated with the sensible side of rationalism though. I can't imagine that we will easily get rid of him. It is too easy to ridicule the things that he has been reported saying, and by association ridicule the sensible things that are said.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:27:53 UTC | #926947

memeweaver's Avatar Comment 26 by memeweaver

I stopped listening to Bragg's "In Our Time" a few years ago when I got the sense that many of the experts on the show were getting exasperated with him interjecting his own interpretations over theirs all the time.

He plainly has no understanding of history beyond how it serves him or enables him to browbeat others. He's become the sort of intellectual luvvie that his younger self would probably have been repelled by.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:28:22 UTC | #926948

shantasultana's Avatar Comment 27 by shantasultana

It seems Brag, Delia Smith & Warsi are scared of people who are finally expressing their world view and fighting for human right and dignity. Something has been refused to many for last two thousand years at least. And if Richard Dawkins has problems with Islamic oppression as some claim, I must say we are lucky to have someone who isn't afraid of the institutions. As a woman I can confirm that I and many women deep down feel fortunate to call ourselves Humanists and I can see some are scared of us. We come in peace, we don't have the tactics of using 'Hell' to abuse the mass and we are able to converse without spreading hate. 'Progressive Human' is what we stand for. Don't be so afraid! As for Brag or Smith, I shall see them from a different light from now on. Alas!

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:29:13 UTC | #926950

AtheistAtItsBest's Avatar Comment 28 by AtheistAtItsBest

http://i.imgur.com/NN6UI.png

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:31:19 UTC | #926951

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 29 by Oromasdes1978

Bragg argued that reason was not “the primary source of knowledge”.

Throwing reason out the window seems to work perfectly for Melvyn otherwise he would not be able to construct such hard hitting stupidity!

“Things come to us outside the realms of reason; intimations of love, surprise by joy, little pulses that we don’t know where they come from, we don’t know where they lead to, but they satisfy us or they make us despair. Dawkins shows no respect for religion at all.”

What does having complete ignorance and being really proud of it have to do with Richard showing respect for religion?

He said the King James Bible was the “great trigger” for bringing about modern democracy during the British civil wars of the 17th century and had enabled people to claim their rights.

Yes, it was a good job the King wasn't sticking his nose in the Scottish Church trying to reform it in 1638...none of it was motivated by religion was it Melvyn?

Also it is good to know that the King James Bible does NOT contain information on Unicorns too - that great book of knowledge and everything!

Sorry, but questioning ignorance is a good thing, Melvyn can twist it to make atheists look bad but the facts still remain the same!

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:36:32 UTC | #926954

Sjoerd Westenborg's Avatar Comment 30 by Sjoerd Westenborg

Comment 25 by plasma-engineer :

What a pathetic rag the Telegraph has become! That story is completely lacking in substance.

Its a shame that the dreaded Alain de Botton has (in my opinion wrongly) become associated with the sensible side of rationalism though. I can't imagine that we will easily get rid of him. It is too easy to ridicule the things that he has been reported saying, and by association ridicule the sensible things that are said.

I can't claim I've read all, not even many, of de Bottons books. But why would you describe him as 'dreaded', easy to ridicule and not on 'the sensible side of rationalism'? Of course the following is opinion, but I think he's been quite constructive. Offering secular alternatives to religion, making atheism more 'likeable'etc.

Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:42:14 UTC | #926955