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← Melvyn Bragg attacks Richard Dawkins' 'atheist fundamentalism'

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to 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