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Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by Jos Gibbons

The atheist who tried to steal Christmas

Taunton clearly didn’t read RD’s recent open letter to David Cameron.

Oxford University's professional unbeliever is out to spread holiday cheer with a new children's book, The Magic of Reality

It’s been out since September. Also, the only sense in which Oxford ever employed Dawkins professionally was as the Charles Simonyi Professor. Does Taunton have any idea how many atheists work in Oxford?

the professor has loaded neither toys nor goodies on his sleigh

The iPad version of TMOR seems like a toy to me.

Faith. Religion. Spirituality. Meaning.

No two of those things are synonyms.

Since the publication of his 2006 best-seller, The God Delusion, Dawkins has been railing against religion

Since he wrote the book, he’s agreed to be interviewed about it! NO!

Dawkins thinks that people of faith —any faith— are potentially dangerous and must be opposed

Well, more its doctrines and the insistence on not critiquing them or denying them the perks they demand and are accustomed to than the people involved …

Dawkins seems to think that the Amish might just as easily have flown planes into the Twin Towers as a band of radical Muslims

Dawkins is perfectly aware different religions call for different things. He’s aware the Amish would never so much as fly a plane, let alone hijack one. Indeed, his main criticism of the Amish is that they don’t give their kids a fair shot at enjoying the fruits of post–1835 tech.

it is all religious extremism

Straw man! Dawkins bothered to explain how moderation enables extremism, so he had to notice they were different things.

Dawkins offers a 271-page volume intended to help the young know the truth of things, or, more accurately, the truth as Richard Dawkins understands it

Which specific claims in the book does Taunton think are RD’s opinions rather than truth? Does he dislike atomic theory, perhaps, or the description of how Earthquakes work? No, seriously, I demand explicit examples to defend his drawing the distinction he does.

The implicit thesis of the book is that religious explanations of "reality" are silly and utterly incompatible with the scientific endeavor.

Oh yeah, that was the impression I got when reading about atoms and redshift and so on. No, wait, no it wasn’t. Dawkins calls for conclusions to be based on evidence, and for conclusions that don’t adhere to this to die out. Only in the special case of religion, one he doesn’t pick out in TMOR, does anyone object, and not a single person bothers to explain why.

Dawkins's purpose [is] to airbrush out those things that don't fit neatly into his thesis. Thus, he at once hails Sir Isaac Newton as perhaps "the greatest scientist ever" while ridiculing people who believe in God. That Newton was a deeply religious man is conveniently ignored.

No it’s not. Dawkins asks that conclusions be based on evidence, and Newton in this sense failed on the religious and alchemic fronts, the latter never being defended on the basis of the things he got right. Dawkins is perfectly aware Newton got some things right and some things wrong, but we don’t need to inherit Newton’s mistakes. His “I don’t get it, so God did it” approach to a problem Laplace subsequently solved with maths Newton could easily have managed was clearly the wrong one to take. And one way science is superior to everything else is that it can concede even its greatest scientists were fundamentally wrong on many points even in their own field; for example, Dawkins is well–aware of how Newton missed relativity and quantum effects.

ignoring things is necessary if the thesis of the book — indeed, if the thesis of Dawkins's life— is to stand

What are these theses?

This leads him to profoundly mischaracterize the religious views he presents.

Either give at least one example of how he does that, or admit he doesn’t.

he repeats his error of seeing religion as monolithic. Jewish traditions are lumped with those of the Tasmanians, the Christian story of Jesus with that of Cinderella, because one is as absurd as the other. Never mind, kiddies, that it was the Judeo-Christian tradition (not Cinderella) that gave rise to the very science Dawkins occasionally practices and the civilization from which he draws most of his moral and intellectual sensibilities. Dawkins seems to think that revealing such details to children is to risk religious fanaticism in them at some future date. Or does he really just not know these apparently trivial bits of history?

Jewish and Christian claims are as unevidenced, and therefore as absurd, as the examples Taunton cites. That societies in which Christianity, rather than a Tasmanian religion, got control of a lot of money and minds AND managed to do some science that actually got somewhere doesn’t remotely imply a correlation between the two. Newton, incidentally, was not a Trinitarian, and had to keep quiet on the matter not to have been sorely punished for it. And by the way, Christianity and Islam can’t be right, and yet Muslim societies in history had an earlier scientific era, and the ancient Greek one that posited Zeus had an even earlier one. More recently, Muslim scientist Abdus Salam made important contributions to particle physics – although, of course, he drank alcohol and was declared an apostate for it. Somehow I’m reminded of Newton.
The fact is our modern scientific knowledge is not the least dependent on any religion, and the scientists of our era have become far less religious and have enabled the populace doing the same. Nor is ethics; Christians’ practices have generally become simultaneously more ethical and less in line with the Bible, and it was all because of secular forces leaving them no choice. As for “intellectual sensibilities”, does Taunton mean formal logic, which comes from ancient Greece? Does he mean subtler epistemological ideas due to more recent philosophers who never used religious premises to make their case?
Far from Dawkins trying to deceive kids, it looks like Taunton is trying to deceive adults.

Factual errors aside

Give an example of a false statement TMOR makes.

the irony of Dawkins' crusading is that he is crusading at all. In so doing, he has unwittingly mimicked the Christian missionary and evangelistic efforts that he so hates.

Taunton, crusading doesn’t mean literally any effort to persuade others, and it certainly does not have a definition that guarantees any effort to persuade others of the paucity of a way of thinking such as religion amounts to an example of such thinking. Therefore, your point is invalid. The problem with missionaries isn’t that they try to convince others, it’s that they want tax exemption and encourages childhood indoctrination and discourages the application of thinking and other epistemic techniques to core doctrines, and make claims for which they have no evidence and expect others to buy into them.

Many readers will no doubt recall his campaign to plaster the sides of London buses

It wasn’t his campaign, though he agreed to finance it with a maximum of £5,500.

The clear purpose of that initiative and many others is to convert the unenlightened.

Oh, its purpose is clear, is it? To a person who doesn’t know it was the brainchild of Ariane Sherine? The purpose was “to place "peaceful and upbeat" messages about atheism on transport media in Britain, in response to evangelical Christian advertising”, but I had to listen to her to know that because it’s not clear. Theists, ironically, always think they can divine things they cannot.

Indeed, Dawkins is an atheist evangelist, preaching his faith with the fervor of an Old Testament prophet.

Moses threatened ten plagues on Egypt if the pharaoh didn’t immediately give in to a very large demand. Dawkins accepts invitations to discuss books he published, said invitations being issued because so many people voluntarily bought those books.

He portrays himself as a kind of liberator, freeing the world from its bondage to religion while building his own megachurch of unbelief

Where does he portray himself that way?

Something of an object of worship himself, his website plays host to the largest atheist congregation outside of North Korea, promoting all things Richard Dawkins: books, videos, trinkets and, of course, atheism — or, more precisely, Richard Dawkins' version of atheism. It has become the basis of a movement. His converts have conferences and Sunday meetings, and they have even created campus groups to reach the lost.

You could compare these practices to religions if you wanted, but that would be to focus your analysis to narrowly, because special interests in general indulge in these things. There are campus groups for water rafting.

he helped launch — no kidding — an atheist summer camp. One imagines children roasting marshmallows as Dawkins reads some titillating passage from The Origin of Species or, more likely, The God Delusion. That must not have worked out too well, so the professor wrote The Magic of Reality, which is, in effect, The God Delusion for kids (though somewhat more insightful and less bombastic).

No–one who has read TGD and TMOR could characterise the latter as a modified form of the former, as they have few observations in common. Also, Taunton’s description of camp events is, as his choice of words suggests, entirely in his imagination. He has never taken part in any of its activities; if memory serves me correctly, all he did was make a £100 donation and signing one item in the camp. Oh, and it’s not an atheist camp; it encourages skeptic approaches to questions concerning supernatural and paranormal matters, including religious ones. Either refute the arguments they use or admit it’s reasonable to make them.

Of course, it was Dawkins who labeled as child abusers those parents and teachers who instruct their charges in a given view of life.

That’s a lie. RD called the labelling of children as being followers of a specific faith, and the teaching of the Hellfire doctrine, child abuse. He never called religious instruction in general child abuse. Taunton has literally rescinded his right to be taken seriously as a journalist by saying otherwise.

And yet The Magic of Reality does precisely that.

TMOR advocates a view of how to think, not a view of life. Don’t conflate the two.

slanting the table in a manner that is oddly reminiscent of those he accuses of indoctrinating the young

Please give an example of a genuine similarity that shows this reminiscence.

indoctrinating the young

That would be teaching them what to think; he is teaching them how to think.

Dawkins would rob children of the true magic of life: meaning

Dawkins concedes plenty of meaning in life: what his works have taken apart is religious misconceptions, including those regarding what makes life meaningful.

the magic of Christmas — and that of reality itself — is not found in the tangible

How about the provable? Either provide at least a shred of evidence for a religious claim or stop making them.

Taunton is founder and executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation and the author of The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief

Unbelief isn’t corruption. Incidentally, the FPF says, “We seek innovative ways to defend and proclaim the Gospel and prepare Christians to do the same”. If Taunton really thinks that’s the kind of thing Dawkins is doing, perhaps he should be more tolerant of the effort.

Tue, 27 Dec 2011 20:33:05 UTC | #903082