The Cult of Dawkins

Actually, the more Richard Dawkins’ career as a preacher of atheism is examined, the more it strongly it appears to conform to the sociological definition of a cult. Dawkins is certainly a powerfully charismatic figure, as is shown by the admiring members of the audience who annually troop to his talks at the Cheltenham Festival of Science, eyes aglow, and faces shining with a joy usually reserved for the saints who’ve been privileged to see a foretaste of paradise, as they have actually seen RICHARD DAWKINS.

Way back in the 19th century, the British philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle discussed the tendency of people’s personal heroes to become a personal religion. By this he did not mean the articles of faith that they formally professed, but what they actually believed as expressed in their actions, even if they never admitted such beliefs even to themselves. In his ‘Heroes and Hero Worship’ Carlyle stated their personal religion consisted of ‘the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cvases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. This is religion, or it may be, his mere skepticism and no-religion; the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-world; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the things he will do is.’

-cited in Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: Origins of Charismatic Movement (FontanaPress, 1996), pp. 3-4.

Noll in the above book uses the definitions and observations of personal and charismatic cults from Carlyle and the great German sociologist of religion, Max Weber, to present the case that Jung actually founded a charismatic religion in the psychoanalytic school that bears his name, rather than a medical system. I don’t know enough about Jungian psychology to know how accurate some of Noll’s comments are, though he presents a convincing case.

However, the same points can be said with equal value about the burgeoning atheist cult surrounding Richard Dawkins as a preacher of anti-theism.

Going further, Weber defined a charismatic group – a cult – as consisting of anywhere from a dozen or so to hundreds of thousands of followers, who have a shared belief system, a high level of social cohesiveness, are strongly influenced by the groups behavioural norms and impute charismatic or divine power to the group or its leadership. See Noll, The Jung Cult, pp. 16-17.

Now there clearly is a distinct ‘Dawkins’ cult out there. He has a website and a forum, inhabited by his fans. Going through the web, one can find similar websites from atheists strongly influenced by Dawkins and his arguments. They list his books as favourite reading, along with those of Carl Sagan. They have a distinct basis in the particular atheist, gradualist view of evolution, both biological and social, articulated by Dawkins. This has clearly affected their attitude to religion, as they are not content to ignore it, but to attack and argue against it, using his arguments. Whether they have a high degree of mutual cohesion is a moot point, though given the way he has started selling merchandising and ‘atheist’ branded clothing it’s possibly only a matter of time before they start taking on the social uniformity one associates with other cults or special interest groups.

As part of his argument that Jung was essentially a charismatic prophet, Noll compares Jung as a scientist with unique insights into human nature with the ancient philosophers and early Christian hermits, who were also supposed to have gained special charismatic insight and power through retreating from society to develop a unique relationship with nature. Now Dawkins clearly is not a hermit, but his vocation as a biologist has given him the status of someone with a special connection and insight into nature and the cosmos. Thus Dawkins also seems to partake of the role of a prophet, just as Sagan did when he was articulating his own unique pantheism in Cosmos back in the 1980s.

Charismatic cults tend to ossify into more bureaucratic structures as they grow and there develops a greater need to regulate their functioning, such as laying down basic standards of belief, and norms of practice and organisational structure. Weber called this process the ‘routinization of religion’. For Weber the ‘principal motives’ for this process are ‘(a) the ideal also the material interests of the followers in the continuation and the continual reactivation of the community; (b) teh still stronger ideal and also stronger material interests of the members of the administartive staff, the disciples or other followers of the charismatic leader in continuing their relationship’.

-see Noll again, pp. 276-7.

Again, Dawkins and the contemporary cult surrounding him fits this pattern perfectly. He has money coming in from TV and radio appearances, lectures, books and newspaper articles, and even his own Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason to disseminate and routinise his ideas, and which clearly have provided him with a good living while recruiting yet more followers to his cause.

So, rather than being a liberator, Dawkins has instead stopped people from thinking for themselves, if that was ever his gaol. Rather than teaching people to think critically for themselves, he is now acting as any other religious figure with a material interest in maintaining his hold over people’s minds and wallets. If there are atheists seriously concerned to think for themselves, I suggest they might make a good start by taking a very serious, sceptical look at Dawkins, and stop believing what he says.

31 Responses to “The Cult of Dawkins”

  1. Tony Blake Says:

    You said, “Now there clearly is a distinct ‘Dawkins’ cult out there. He has a website and a forum, inhabited by his fans.”

    What then do you make of the Pope, or of Dembski and the misnamed “Discovery Institute” website, or of Ken Ham and his misnamed “Answers in Genesis” website?

    You imply that atheism is a response to Dawkin’s personality without reference to content, whereas the reality is more likely that the rational position comes first and accepting the personality comes second. In the prevailing atmosphere face of religious conviction, atheism RESULTS from critical thinking.

    Jung merely demonstrates that pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo with interesting content and a veneer of authority appeals to those who do not yet understand the subject matter (human psychology). In the absence of understanding, people gravitate toward the flashiest, most interesting pseudo-explanation. Woops, I just described the appeal of all religions.

  2. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Tony, thanks for your comments. Allow me to reply to them.

    Firstly, the papacy and Answers in Genesis clearly are religious organisations. They don’t pretend to be otherwise. The Discovery Institute is a little different, as although very many of its members clearly are religious, David Berlinski is an agnostic, and the scientific arguments for ID were also articulated way back in the 1980s by Chandra Wickramasigne and Fred Hoyle, who were militantly atheist. See their comments about Christianity enchaining minds in Evolution from Space.

    Whether atheism results from critical thinking is a moot point. For some people it certainly does, for others critical thinking leads away from atheism. As Francis Bacon says, a little philosophy leads one away from God, a lot to God. And the ancient Greek pioneers of critical thinking, Plato and Aristotle, were theists.

    As for Jung merely demonstrating ‘that pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo with interesting content and a veneer of authority appeals to those who do not yet understand the subject matter (human psychology). In the absence of understanding, people gravitate toward the flashiest, most interesting pseudo-explanation’ this could equally apply to evolutionary psychology, which is profoundly flawed. Or even Dawkins’ own philosophical views, which he has never submitted to any peer reviewed journal.

  3. Tony Blake Says:

    Thanks for your reply:
    “Firstly, the papacy and Answers in Genesis clearly are religious organisations. They don’t pretend to be otherwise.”

    And your post indicates that Max Weber considered religious organizations to BE cult-like. Certainly, his definition of cult covers religious organizations.

    I do wonder about your definition of religion, which I would define as concerning itself with the supernatural. Dawkins, as a scientist, is not pondering the supernatural (other than to deny it), so I wonder at your implication that Dawkins is founding a religion while pretending to do otherwise. It’s clearly an interesting little tu quoque twist to accuse a scientist of perpetrating religion.

    I wonder too about your conception of critical thinking. Since none of the empirical evidence does, or even could, point incontrovertibly to a supernatural agent, genuine critical thinking would lead away from supernatural “God of the Gaps” explanations. You could, of course hedge your bets on the “unknowable” aspect and adopt agnosticism.

    I find philosophy quite interesting in so far as it teaches critical thinking, but much philosophy is merely the playing around with fanciful ideas, so does not rank as critical thinking and far less relates to the physical world.

    Of course Plato and Aristotle were theists, they had no good explanation for the natural world 2300 years ago. Besides, if I recall correctly one of the charges leveled at Socrates was that of heresy, and look what happened to poor Socrates.

    If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a creationist troup out Chandra Wickramasigne and Fred Hoyle! It is immaterial to the value of Paley’s Watchmaker argument whether or not a couple of atheists advocated the idea at some point. The ID notion is rejected by thousands of unbiased scientists. As a piece of philosophy, intelligent design “theory” is as fatally flawed as Descartes’ circular ontological argument for God. ID is essentially a trumped up argument from analogy with overgeneralization thrown into the mix.

    My objections to Jung partly relate to the unscientific and solely philosophic nature of his “references” and to his failure to understand psychopathology. Ethics prevents the study of psychology from being fully scientific, but I shudder to imagine your objections to evolutionary psychology as compared to Jungian psychology. At a guess, your alarm flag probably went up at the word “evolution”.

    Dawkins does not publish philosophical tracts, he is a biologist and hence peer review would pertain only to his scientific publications. As for lack of peer reviewed publications, you might want to look at the total lack of legitimate scientific publication by creation “scientists”.

    Lest you mistakenly assume that I am a Dawkins groupie, I should clarify that I have only read one of Dawkins books because I find lay science tediously slow to read. I responded to your post because I found your summary of Noll’s ideas quite interesting and because I object to illogical attacks on scientific knowledge that have the sole purpose of promoting creationism. Your Dawkins as a cult figure caught my eye, though. It took an interestingly different tack (or should I say attack?).

  4. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Tony – thanks for your comments, once again. I’ll see if I can answer your points and clarify some of the issues.

    Firstly, I’m using the term ‘cult’ here just in its original sense of a type of religion, centred around a particular individual or deity, without necessarily meaning anything beyond this. For example, historians and archaeologists will discuss the cult of Mithras, meaning the religion and religious practices centred on the worship or veneration of that deity. In a Christian context, you can also speak of the cult of a particular saint, such as St. George. The term as used in this sense has no connotation beyond this. It does not have the connotations of exploitation, destructiveness and personal manipulation as the term sometimes has when applied to fringe religious movements like the Branch Davidians or the Order of the Solar Temple.

  5. beastrabban Says:

    In this context, cult simply describes a form of religion, regardless of whatever other meanings it has. Thus to say that the Papacy is a religious institution is merely to make a statement of fact, just as it is to make the same statement about Answers-in -Genesis. However, one could quibble with their designation as cults, as although the Pope is the leader of Roman Catholicism, there isn’t a distinct cult of the Papacy as a clearly defined object of worship, although individual popes may be officially venerated as saints. The same with Answers-in-Genesis. It’s a religious organisation with a distinct teaching on religion and science, but the organisation itself is not the object of veneration or worship. I do take your point, however, that there is a lot of similarity there between it and Dawkinism as a sociological phenomenon.

    As for Dawkins as a scientist not pondering the supernatural, or not concerned with supernatural, this actually doesn’t mean that he isn’t founding a religion, as curious as it may seem. Religion is actually a hard thing to define sociologically, and doesn’t necessarily involve ‘supernatural’ entities. One of the things the philosopher Mary Midgeley does in her book, Evolution as a Religion, is point out that Chinese has no word for ‘god’, and yet they clearly have a religion, and a well-developed one. Some forms of Buddhism are also a case in point, as the concept of a personal God may be minimal or absent, and so it’s moot whether they’re a ‘religion’ or a ‘philosophy’. Similarly some scientists, at least, when discussing and describing religion, use language and concepts traditionally used very much in a religious context. Using these criteria, it does make sense to see Dawkins as a kind of prophet with a distinct religious message.

    And he actually wouldn’t be the first scientist to found a religion. Auguste Comte, the French philosopher who founded sociology, also founded Positivism very much as a religion of science: the Positivists held services, complete with sermons, and possessed a hierarchical organisation modelled on the established religions, with Comte himself as a kind of ‘pope’. This was despite, or because of the fact, that Positivism saw science as replacing religion as the phenomenon of the human understanding of the universe.

    The same phenomenon appeared in the Ethical Churches of the 1890s and very early part of the 20th century. These were religious communities based very much on philosophical materialism and atheism. Yet they also held services, which included sermons on morality and scientific demonstrations.

    One could go further and discuss the Monist League. Although it was pantheist, rather than atheist, it was founded by the German evolutionary biologist, Ernst Haeckel, again as a kind of ‘scientific religion’. Although they weren’t quite atheists, they did reject the idea of a personal god and the idea of life after death, for which they were very much seen by many as atheist materialists.

    So the fact that Dawkins is a scientist and an atheist certainly is no objection to him being rightly described as a putative religious figure, though admittedly of an unorthodox kind.

  6. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s tackle your comments on philosophy. First of all, it’s a mistake to state that Aristotle and Plato were only theists because of the lack of scientific knowledge at the time. Historians as a rule avoid making such contrafactual, ‘what if’ statements, such as ‘what if the Second World War had not occurred’ as we simply don’t know what would have happened if WW II hadn’t happened, or Aristotle and Plato were born today. The proofs for the existence of God offered by Aristotle and Plato can reasonably be applied today, even with the advancement of modern science. For example, the Oxford philosopher Anthony Kenny states in his volume on Medieval Philosophy that the strongest argument in his view for the existence of God is the fifth of Aquinas’ Five Ways: things come into being and pass away, although he notes that this needs much more work since Darwin.

    There is also a problem in using empiricism as the standard for gauging truth about the world. Since the 1980s Humean empiricism has been out of favour amongst philosophers of science, as I realise you undoubtedly know, because science has become increasingly metaphysical and deals with entities which cannot be directly observed.

    The current debate over multiple universes are a case in point. These have been posited as a solution to a distinct cosmological problem, but there has been no evidence of them yet and possibly never will be. One can sensibly compare them with the medieval cosmology which, in addition to the spheres surrounding the Earth of particular planets and the fixed stars, also included a sphere for the Agent Intellect, the transcendental entity which was supposed to supply humans with their ability to think. The Agent Intellect had never been observed up there in the heavens, but nevertheless, some medieval cosmologists asserted it was there, because of their belief in the truth of Aristotelian dogma. And Aristotle based his ideas on observation, although it was deduction, rather than induction and experiment.

    Furthermore, you can make a strong case out for there being empirical evidence for God, based on people’s own religious experience, and the fact that the universe does appear to have a beginning in the Big Bang, and that there is, in Aristotle’s and Leibniz’s words, ‘something, rather than nothing’. Whether this constitutes proof for the existence of God is a different matter, as evidence does not equal proof. Nevertheless, they do support the existence of a Deity.

    I’d also point out that even Tom Nagel, one of the founders of modern Scientific Naturalism, has himself stated that science is merely one method of establishing the nature of the world, and there are things which he knows which are true, but couldn’t establish scientifically. Does this denigrate science? No. And there are few today who aren’t impressed with science’s power, which is why you have such a thing as ‘Creation Science’, rather than straight ‘Creationism’. The Creationist groups in this sense are clearly trying to use some of the glamour of science to support their religious views. I’d argue that Dawkins attempts to use evolution in the same way to bolster his atheism, but that his atheism has priority in his personal metaphysic: he’s not an atheist, because he’s a scientist; he is a scientist with a particular view of science, because he is an atheist. If you see what I mean.

  7. beastrabban Says:

    Now for Dawkins not needing to pass peer review, because he does not publish philosophical tracts, and so these would pertain only to his scientific publications. This is not the case. Dawkins’ popular science books are saturated with his personal metaphysical beliefs, to the point where some critics have stated that they aren’t scientific books but works of atheist metaphysics. Now if Dawkins is going to make express philosophical points, and present them as fact, they should be submitted to peer review by the philosophical community. He has not done so despite repeated calls and so the criticism still applies.

    Regarding evolutionary psychology, whatever my personal attitude towards evolution may be, it’s possible to critique it on the purely practical, rational grounds that it subverts a rational investigation of human psychology based on what is genuinely observed to what is expected to be there based on the current model of evolutionary development.

  8. beastrabban Says:

    Now on to the Creationism/ID issue. And yeah, I can appreciate how often you must have had Wickramasinghe and Hoyle mentioned by Creationist groups. However, my point there is that whatever the flaws of Intelligent Design, the arguments for it don’t necessarily come from religious individuals, and although it clearly supports a religious worldview, it is not quite the same as Creation Science, which is strongly based on the Bible. Indeed, it’s for this reason that a lot of Creationists actually don’t like Intelligent Design.

    However, my point for making the above post was not to criticise Dawkins for preaching evolution, but to criticise him for preaching atheism. Theism and Creationism – in the sense of the belief that the world was created according to the distinct process described in the Book of Genesis – aren’t the same. Erasmus Darwin was the first modern scientist to offer a theory of evolution in his Zoonomia of 1799, as you know, and he considered that it made the existence of God ‘mathematically certain’, despite the fact that he did not consider the process supernatural. Again, in the 19th century Darwin had a number of prominent churchmen supporting his theory, despite his personal atheism, paradoxically because like Baden-Powell’s father, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford, they thought it offered strong experimental proof of God’s creative action and existence and continuing creative presence in the world. Theodosius Dobzhansky was well within a long line of Christian evolutionary biologists when he developed the modern Neo-Darwinian paradigm.

    I realise you’re probably aware of all this, but I thought it bore repeating to make the point that the belief in God does not equal a rejection of evolution, and so arguing against Creationism is a different thing from arguing against the existence of God.

  9. Tony Blake Says:

    My goodness, you have been busy!

    Your definition of religion seems to be so broad as to almost be meaningless. Reading between a lot of lines, you seem to encompass within “religion” not merely the usual understanding of “cult” but any group with shared ideas and with some well-known spokesperson. This definition would place Democrats or Republicans into the category of religion.

    The most useful, and I believe commonly accepted, criteria used to differentiate between religion and science concerns the distinction between supernatural “explanations” and confined-to-the-physical explanations of the natural world. My point about Plato and Aristotle centered on the fact that theology, as a subsytem of philosophy, had no competitor for explanation of the natural world prior to scientific understanding. My point about Socrates’ fate was intended to illustrate something that has operated in the Western world for 2000 years — denying the prevailing religious dogma has been dangerous, so profession of theistic belief did not necessarily indicate theism.

    I am confident that you would like to deny the connection between lack of scientific understanding and theism. However, the fact that Christian creationists selectively attack only those areas of scientific that relate to cosmology and biological evolution demonstrates creationist fears of natural explanations.

    “Since the 1980s Humean empiricism has been out of favour amongst philosophers of science, as I realise you undoubtedly know, because science has become increasingly metaphysical and deals with entities which cannot be directly observed.”

    I often find that creationists make things up as they go along. First, David Hume never said that we cannot know things through observation, he merely said that we cannot know with 100% certainty through induction. I have only ever heard this described as Humean skepticism. As I understand it, Locke answered Descartes’ rationalist philosophy and Hume answered Locke by pointing out the limits of induction. Hume was the last major philosopher to be officially classified as an “empiricist philosopher” because he demonstrated that pure philosophising was not going to provide *the* answer. (I have seen Kant tacked onto the category, but I think that this is because they don’t quite know where to put Kant.)

    Popper attempted to find a way around the problem of induction. Only religionists seem to insist upon 100% certainty (those miraculous, God-did-it explanation that actually provide 0% explanation). Scientists are quite comfortable with the logical reality that only disproof is possible and that scientific theories (unfalsified hypotheses) can only provide the best possible explanation for known facts. Empirical and experimental facts, of course, are realistic certainties.

    I am not sure to which 1980+ trends you refer when you attempt to portray modern science as “metaphysical”. Multiverses are put forward as a logical possibility, but not as a scientific certainty. Another example would be found in superstring theory. Theoretical physicists acknowledge that if physicists cannot find an empirical means by which to test mathematical superstring theories, then superstring theory will remain (I quote) “philosophy”. My point is that scientists are fully aware that science is not a metaphysical pursuit. Metaphysics is philosophy.

    I have only read one book by Dawkins and it dealt only with science and not with atheism. I do not wish to impugn your honesty, but I sincerely doubt that you have personally witnessed the attendees at Dawkins’ lectures, still less known their motivations, religious convictions, or level of critical thinking. I also doubt that you have read all of Dawkins’ books. However, I have read his description of being angered by some Australian creationists who had obtained an interview with him under false pretenses and I have read that he is an atheist. Defending the *fact* of biological evolution or of the best explanation for life’s complexity, which seems to be Dawkins chief intent, is *not* equivalent to preaching atheism.

    If you wish to quibble on peer review and the practice of preaching, then I would point out that I doubt that televangelists such as Billy Graham have any peer reviewed philosophic publications to their credit.

    “Furthermore, you can make a strong case out for there being empirical evidence for God, based on people’s own religious experience, and the fact that the universe does appear to have a beginning in the Big Bang, and that there is, in Aristotle’s and Leibniz’s words, ’something, rather than nothing’.”

    Religious experience is entirely subjective, so it does not count as empirical (objective physical) evidence. I am not saying that I doubt that people have had experiences that they interpret as being religious, but I am saying that personal interpretation of personal experience simply can never count as evidence of the existence of a God.

    Without science we could not know of the rapid expansion of space time followed by inflation, yet we all (including Descartes) personally *know* that there is a physical world. To infer that the physical world demonstrates the existence of one or more supernatural deities is logically unfounded.

    “Theism and Creationism – in the sense of the belief that the world was created according to the distinct process described in the Book of Genesis – aren’t the same.”

    An interesting quibble. I must agree that creation myths abound and that “Genesis” describes merely one of them. This is why Hindus or native Americans, for example, are not so concerned as fundamentalist Christians with attacking the fact of biological evolution.

    “I realise you’re probably aware of all this, but I thought it bore repeating to make the point that the belief in God does not equal a rejection of evolution, and so arguing against Creationism is a different thing from arguing against the existence of God.”

    Quite so. Many Christians accept the fact of biological evolution and believe that evolutionary biologists have discovered the best-yet explanation for the observed phenomena. However, biological evolution has occurred and the explanation must be either purely natural (Nature did it) or supernatural (some Theistic agency did it directly or by creating Nature). I don’t think that this is a false dichotomy.

    This dichotomy is the crux of the matter, though, because it means that the best explanation (lets call it the “truth”) is either Nature or God/gods. I use the term “truth” to emphasize the reason that creation versus evolution debates rouse such strong sentiments. I have yet to see such fervor expressed over which vehicle to buy or which flavor of ice-cream is superior (chocolate, of course). Scientists like Dawkins are not practicing religion (except in the broadest definition of having a belief system concerning the world) but they are seeking and defending truth.

    Creationism takes many forms. Intelligent design theory, though, has absolutely no scientific merit, no logical merit, and is most vehemently espoused by Christian creationists of a more intellectual ilk that YECers. The fact that the Fellows of the Discovery Institute chose to purjure themselves about the identity of the “designer”, does not discount ID as religion. It is certainly “religion” by your very broad definition, but it is also religion by my more mainstream definition.

    The uncomfortable fact remains that even if ID had been invented by agnostics or atheists who did not understand that “designism” was merely another form of theism, the theory has *no* logical merit as an alternative explanation for the origin of biological complexity.

  10. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Tony. Thanks for your lengthy reply. Here’s my response.

    My goodness, you have been busy!
    Thanks. I try to give as full an answer as I can.

    Your definition of religion seems to be so broad as to almost be meaningless.
    Reading between a lot of lines, you seem to encompass within “religion” not merely
    the usual understanding of “cult” but any group with shared ideas and with some
    well-known spokesperson. This definition would place Democrats or Republicans into
    the category of religion.

    Actually, religion really is that hard to define. I can remember making just that point on an exam question on the sociology of religion I took as an undergraduate. Yinger, who did one of the major studies of secular alternatives to religion in the 1970s, like Marxism or Humanism, concluded that for some politics could act as an alternative to religion. Applying it to Democrats or Republicans is perhaps extending the analysis too far, but it does apply to the reactions of some ideologues to certain political figures. The philosopher G.W.F. Hegel declared Napoleon to be the ‘soul of the world’, according to his philosophy of transcendent consciousness, while one of the British Marxist historians, either E.P. Thompson or Eric Hobsbawm, struck a similar messianic note about Trotsky, describing him as ‘the man most in tune with history’. Among philosophers and sociologists of religion there’s been considerable discussion about ‘civil religion’ – the way the kind of veneration and ceremony once a vital part of religion has been transferred to national political, secular institutions. Merely because a belief system appears to be philosophically materialist doesn’t disqualify it as a religion. Some political philosophers define Nazism and Communism as ‘political religions’ because of the way they took over so much of themes and sociological structures of religion.

    The most useful, and I believe commonly accepted, criteria used to differentiate between religion and science concerns the distinction between supernatural “explanations” and confined-to-the-physical explanations of the natural world.
    That’s the commonsense explanation, but it still carries a lot of unrecognised metaphysical baggage behind it. Firstly, the whole conceptual category of the supernatural is a product of Western ways of seeing the world. For other cultures, the gods or creative forces are not superior to nature, or beyond nature, but immanent in nature. For some forms of Christian theism, the dichotomy between natural and supernatural doesn’t exist. Eriugena, for example, defined God as ‘Nature that creates, but is uncreated’.

    Some of the features sociologists and anthropologists consider definitive of religion are found in the modern scientific worldview. For example, of the six features considered by scholars to be characteristic of religion, two are an origins story, and a concept of the end times. Now, modern science clearly has an origins story in the Big Bang, and an eschatology – prediction of the end of the world – in the Heat Death of the Universe. Religions also have notions of morality and correct behaviour, and one could assimilate the various research protocols and ethical review boards into this definition. Even evolution can be considered religious. In the Theogony of Hesiod , for example, the gods are generated from a long line of shadowy, personifications of the forces of nature, as are the gods in Ancient Egyptian religion. Philo of Byblos, describing the religion of Roman Syria, describes the gods as evolving from primordial slime.

    My point with the above isn’t to undermine science or evolution, simply to point out that merely because something is rooted in science doesn’t mean that it isn’t religious, as from certain angles there can be very little between the two.

    My point about Plato and Aristotle centered on the fact that theology, as a subsytem of philosophy, had no competitor for explanation of the natural world prior to scientific understanding.
    Not so. There were atheists in the ancient Greek world. Plato discusses how to refute them in the The Laws . There were a number of atheist scientists in Ancient Greece who had a reputation as atheists and Naturalists, including Anaximander, who believed that everything had been generated out of process of evolution beginning with the interaction of heat and moisture, and their explanations for the world could be very sophisticated, as is shown by the natural philosophy of Epicurus.

    My point about Socrates’ fate was intended to illustrate something that has operated in the Western world for 2000 years — denying the prevailing religious dogma has been dangerous, so profession of theistic belief did not necessarily indicate theism.
    That’s a blanket statement which, while broadly true, also has serious flaws. I don’t recall, for example, Archilaus, the Skeptical head of the Academy being executed, nor Epicurus and his followers, despite the fact that they too had a reputation for atheism, or indeed for Sextus Empiricus, Lucretius and Strato, all of whom launched attacks on theism, and whose writing, when they became available in Renaissance, were partly responsible for the rise of modern religious scepticism and atheism.

    However, it’s a mistake to say that every ancient scientist or philosopher must therefore have been some secret rebel against theism. Socrates’ own religious beliefs were entirely orthodox, even conservative, by the standards of his day. His execution says less about the innately persecutory nature of religion than it does about the corruptibility of human institutions generally. Socrates was an aristocrat questioning the foundations of Athenian society at a time when Democracy felt itself under threat from aristocratic groups intent on restoring the ancien regime . As such, Socrates execution probably had less to do with ‘atheism’ and more about the political instability of Athens at that time.

    Also, challenging the official, state-sponsored paradigm in any system is dangerous. In the former Soviet bloc and in contemporary Communist China, religion was strongly discouraged. If you were caught preaching, you could be sent to the gulags or incarcerated in a psychiatric ward as ‘mad’. Similarly, the atheist Enrages of Revolutionary France demanded the bloody execution of priests and the desecration of churches as part of their campaign against what they saw as the forces of enslavement. Religion certainly does not have a monopoly on atrocity and horror.

    I am confident that you would like to deny the connection between lack of scientific understanding and theism. However, the fact that Christian creationists selectively attack only those areas of scientific that relate to cosmology and biological evolution demonstrates creationist fears of natural explanations.
    Non sequitur. While the fact that Creationist selectively attack certain areas of cosmology and biological evolution means only that they fear an assault on their very literal theistic worldview, and so it does show an understanding of the metaphysical import behind certain parts of the scientific enterprise. Also, they can be remarkably well informed scientifically and the attacks on science can be remarkably sophisticated, even if wrong.

    I often find that creationists make things up as they go along. First, David Hume never said that we cannot know things through observation, he merely said that we cannot know with 100% certainty through induction. I have only ever heard this described as Humean skepticism. As I understand it, Locke answered Descartes’ rationalist philosophy and Hume answered Locke by pointing out the limits of induction. Hume was the last major philosopher to be officially classified as an “empiricist philosopher” because he demonstrated that pure philosophising was not going to provide *the* answer. (I have seen Kant tacked onto the category, but I think that this is because they don’t quite know where to put Kant.)

    Yeah, Kant’s a hard fish to classify. I’ve only seen him classified as a Transcendental philosopher, largely because he kicked off Idealism with his dichotomy between phenomenon and noumenon. However, Hume was an empiricist – like Locke he believed that humans gain their knowledge through sense perception. However, Hume was sceptical about establishing a causal connection between two events, and although his philosophy later on takes for granted that causes exist and can be known, nevertheless he never refuted his attack on causation, to the effect that one philosopher has written a book about the topic with the title The Vanishing Cause .

    Popper attempted to find a way around the problem of inductionScientists are quite comfortable with the logical reality that only disproof is possible and that scientific theories (unfalsified hypotheses) can only provide the best possible explanation for known facts.
    Empirical and experimental facts, of course, are realistic certainties.

    Okay, as I understand it Popper insists that to be scientific, a theory must be able to be falsified. However, although ‘Popper is able to use this falsifiability criterion to dismiss various world-views (Marxism, psychoanalysis) as unscientific, … it has been pointed out that the standards he sets may not be met even by more respectable sciences. In any case it remains obscure why rationality, so construed, should lead to reliable prediction or further discovery of the truth’
    – ‘Science, philosophy of’, in Speake, J., ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London, Pan 1979), p. 320.
    So, if Popper’s criteria aren’t particularly good as a method of establishing the veracity of some scientific statement.

    As for Only religionists seem to insist upon 100% certainty (those miraculous, God-did-it explanation that actually provide 0% explanation , this is extremely debatable. St. Augustine, for example, had been a complete Skeptic at one stage, but gave it up when he realised he could know nothing with the same certainty that 1+9 = 10. There is also a vast literature on what exactly a miracle is, and how they are to be verified as miraculous, rather than merely natural. Belief in miracles isn’t necessarily irrational, nor the product of ignorance.

    I am not sure to which 1980+ trends you refer when you attempt to portray modern science as “metaphysical”. Multiverses are put forward as a logical possibility, but not as a scientific certainty. Another example would be found in superstring theory. Theoretical physicists acknowledge that if physicists cannot find an empirical means by which to test mathematical superstring theories, then superstring theory will remain (I quote) “philosophy”. My point is that scientists are fully aware that science is not a metaphysical pursuit. Metaphysics is philosophy.

    In the case of Multiverse and Superstring theory, I concur. The cosmologist Lee Smolin has a book out criticising Superstrings with the title Not Even Wrong . The physicist and popular science writer, Laurence Krauss, said in an article in the online science journal, At The Edge that he’s afraid of a future where physicists earnestly discuss the existence of multiple universes in the same way that medieval theologians discussed how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. It’s a trifle unfair on medieval theologians there. They never did debate how many angels danced on the head of a pin. But I know what he means. However, if you read some of the popular science journals like Scientific American and New Scientist , you can very easily get the impression that the vast majority of scientists believe in multiple universes or are confidently expecting them to be found. A friend of mine reported how surprised he was when he was told how much real scepticism there was towards Multiple Universe Theory by members of one of the Sceptic’s societies here in Britain.

    However, way back in the 1920s scientists like the British Astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington and the philosopher C.E.M. Joad pointed out that science had become increasingly metaphysical in that it dealt with abstract entities that could not be the direct subjects of sense experience. Atoms and electrons were held to be a case in point, and follow closely Kant’s distinction between noumenon and phenomen. The atom, as a ‘thing-in-itself’ could not be known directly, only when it changed its state, and so it seemed to contradict the Logical Empiricism of the Vienna Circle. As for post-1980 development, I meant the current vogue for Critical Realist interpretations of science, arising after Frederick Suppe’s 1977 The Structure of Scientific Theories , which states that perceiving also involves a process of interpretation, and rather than direct, unreflective, raw experience. This is indeed philosophy of science, but it does act against Dawkins’ views, which from what I’ve seen of them are Naïve Realist.

    I have only read one book by Dawkins and it dealt only with science and not with atheism. I do not wish to impugn your honesty, but I sincerely doubt that you have personally witnessed the attendees at Dawkins’ lectures, still less known their motivations, religious convictions, or level of critical thinking.
    Actually, I have. I’ve seen him speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature here in Britain, and had a look at his Forum. Dawkins is notorious for being militantly atheist. His latest book is The God Delusion , which attacks theism and specifically Christianity, rather than just ‘Creationism’. When I saw him, he made his atheist views very clear. He told the audience that scientists used the term ‘God’ simply to mean the interconnectedness of the universe’s laws. He has been on any number of TV and Radio programmes stating and defending his anti-religious views, including BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day when it was given over to him to provide a Humanist message. And in his book Unweaving the Rainbow he made it very plain that, in his view, there was no God, no afterlife, no designer.

    As for his audience, you’re right in that they’re a mixed bunch. Many of those I saw at the Cheltenham Festival seemed to have religious convictions and wished to challenge his atheist assertions during question time. Most of the people on his forum, however, tend to be militant atheists. And some of the people who buy his books and post on his forums are simply people who think he’s a good science writer and want to debate his scientific ideas on evolution. I have noticed and actually debated with a number of people on the Net who have read The God Delusion and accepted its conclusions and arguments.

    If you wish to quibble on peer review and the practice of preaching, then I would point out that I doubt that televangelists such as Billy Graham have any peer reviewed philosophic publications to their credit.
    That wouldn’t surprise me at all, and it isn’t a problem for me. My point about Dawkins and his lack of peer review for his philosophical opinions comes from the fact that he has attacked Christianity and theism while demanding that its defenders show they have they have undergone peer review, while seeing no need to do any such thing himself.

    Religious experience is entirely subjective, so it does not count as empirical (objective physical) evidence. I am not saying that I doubt that people have had experiences that they interpret as being religious, but I am saying that personal interpretation of personal experience simply can never count as evidence of the existence of a God.
    But religious experience as an objective phenomenon exists, which can be investigated by neurologists and psychologists, and in the views of some may point to the existence of God. For an articulation of this view from an evolutionary perspective, see the relevant chapter in Sir Alisteir Hardy’s The Biology of God .

    Without science we could not know of the rapid expansion of space time followed by inflation, yet we all (including Descartes) personally *know* that there is a physical world. To infer that the physical world demonstrates the existence of one or more supernatural deities is logically unfounded.
    Again, non sequitur. You have said yourself that scientists are happy that a theory can never be 100 per cent proven. So, we cannot know that inflation did occur in the early universe. All we have is a well-founded conjecture, which is very likely true. Besides, the Big Bang, as I’ve said, is seen by very many theists as corroboration of the Creation of the universe by God. Theist philosophers such as the Christian John Philoponnous and the Jewish Saadia Gaon were offering philosophical proofs to show that the universe had a beginning in time as far back as the 6th-8th centuries. The Big Bang actually corroborates this model, not refutes it. Similarly, the philosophical arguments for the existence of God were a response to the raw fact of the universe’s existence – why is there something, rather than nothing – and based on its observed nature. It’s rather more complicated than a simple syllogism ‘the universe exists, ergo God does’.

    An interesting quibble. I must agree that creation myths abound and that “Genesis” describes merely one of them. This is why Hindus or native Americans, for example, are not so concerned as fundamentalist Christians with attacking the fact of biological evolution.
    Yeah, Hindus and Native Americans clearly aren’t going to be interested in defending Judaeo-Christian mythology. However, I have seen Darwinism attacked by Hindu-based organisations as part of a campaign to promote Vedic science. Creationism is not a purely Christian phenomenon. A few weeks ago, for example, the Council of Europe convened a session to make Darwinism the official doctrine of origins in response to the appearance of Harun Yahya’s Atlas de Creation amongst Francophone Muslim communities.

    Now, as far as Dawkins goes, my chief reason for criticising him isn’t because he’s a spokesman for Neodarwinism. It’s because he preaches an outspoken atheism, and bitterly denigrates and sneers at people of faith. Now, I have no doubt that he considers his views to be absolutely true. However, I believe that they are radically and utterly false, and reserve the right to criticise him. And as I’ve attempted to show, in his preaching of Scientism, rather than science, he closely approximates 19th century founders of atheistic religions like Ernst Haeckel and Auguste Comte.

  11. Tony Blake Says:

    “Actually, religion really is that hard to define.”

    I don’t think religion is as difficult TO define as it is to decipher the implicit defintion on which a writer has based his or her comments. In other words, as your examples demonstrate, there are many different functional definitions out there, but this does not mean that meaning could not be narrowed down for the sake of discussion. Since philosophy is very much a language-defined system, this strikes me as important to discussion where one man’s “religion” (yours) can translate merelay as another man’s “shared belief system” (mine). Hedging on meaning can result in the fallacy of equivocation, as I am confident you well know.

  12. Tony Blake Says:

    “That’s the commonsense explanation, but it still carries a lot of unrecognised metaphysical baggage behind it. Firstly, the whole conceptual category of the supernatural is a product of Western ways of seeing the world.”

    For the sake of this discussion, then, let me be clear that I take the simple meaning of “outside the physical”. Religionists would have an easier time convincing others of the existence of the Christian God, for example, if we could expect to physically bump into God within this physical world.

    Obviously, I take “existence” to signify the physical. Although most of us will admit that concepts manifest a type of existence, we do not expect concepts to exert an immediate influence on the physical world. That is, while recognizing that concepts, through human agency, can exert a mediate impact, ideas do not possess the power of physical agency. (I’m ignoring the fact that ideas have a demonstrable physical substrate in as much as they are generated by neural activity.)

  13. Tony Blake Says:

    “There were atheists in the ancient Greek world.”

    True enough. We have digressed from your initial attempt to prove a point by noting that Plato and Aristotle were theists.

    I said that, “theology, as a subsytem of philosophy, had no competitor for explanation of the natural world prior to scientific understanding.”

    I ought to have said that, “theology, as a subsytem of philosophy, had no competitor for *understanding* of the natural world prior to scientific understanding.” You probably see the difference.

    I think that the chief difference between those who practice a “scientific” approach to understanding and those who practice a “philosophical” approach is illustrated in the progress of thinking from the ancient philosophers to modern science. The ancient philosophers believed that they could understand the world solely by *thinking* about a few empirical observations.

    You have quoted Roger Bacon who also emphasized the need for scientific method. Even though Bacon apparently did little about the idea, it caught on and the scientific revolution ensured that scientific understanding replaced the metaphysics of the ancients, medievals, and earlier scientists. Although the history of ideas is interesting, science scraps disproven hypotheses and moves on, but “historical” philosophy does not.

    It is circular to attempt to prove a point solely by noting that some ancient philosopher had said something with which we agree. That would be equivalent to my claiming that sperm contain microscopic humans and calling up Lamarck’s beliefs to “prove” my point. In essence, the value of an idea depends upon its content and not upon how many illustrious, but mistaken thinkers have stated it.

    To be fair to philosophers, I think that their intent *is* to discuss content. However, rhetoric is more concerned with *appearance* than content and by “historical” philosophy I refer to rhetoric, polemics, and apologetics.

  14. Tony Blake Says:

    “I don’t recall, for example, Archilaus, the Skeptical head of the Academy being executed, nor Epicurus and his followers, despite the fact that they too had a reputation for atheism, or indeed for Sextus Empiricus, Lucretius and Strato, all of whom launched attacks on theism, and whose writing, when they became available in Renaissance, were partly responsible for the rise of modern religious scepticism and atheism.”

    Was not Plato the pupil of Socrates?

    Descartes does not name specific atheists, but he does mention his general intention of dispelling atheism. So, yes, I agree that atheism has had a very long history. Certainly, atheism preceded Richard Dawkins.

  15. Tony Blake Says:

    “Also, challenging the official, state-sponsored paradigm in any system is dangerous.”

    Or challenging the official, Church-sponsored paradigm. Galileo discovered *that*.

  16. Tony Blake Says:

    “Also, they [creationists] can be remarkably well informed scientifically and the attacks on science can be remarkably sophisticated, even if wrong.”

    I think that you give even the most educated creationist too much credit when you say “well informed scientifically”. Creationists do not look to understand scientific knowledge or its experimental foundation, and science is all about understanding. If someone does not understand science, then the are not genuinely informed. Creationists are more like lawyers looking for loop-holes. Most creationists know so little science that they do not even understand the nature of science, still less the content.

    Creationists come in a large variety of guises. For example, Biblical literalists become young earth creationists or flat-earthers, who are despised by other creationists. Intelligent design advocates, in inventing pseudoscience and philosophical legerdemain to evoke a designer are more sophisticated than such Biblical literalists. However, IDers remain creationists and certainly fit within your definition of cult followers.

  17. Tony Blake Says:

    “Okay, as I understand it Popper insists that to be scientific, a theory must be able to be falsified.”

    He was trying to find an idealized route around the problem of induction. As I understand it Popper also acknowledge the place of positive evidence within science. That is, a fossil is positive evidence but we cannot falsify the fossil experimentally.

    I thought that Hume said we cannot establish causality merely by observation. My example would be that if we saw someone wearing light clothing *and* perspiring heavily, then we ought *not* assume that light clothing causes heavy perspiration. In essence, correlation is not equivalent to causation.

    I think, though, that it would be ridiculous to assume that we could never assume that there was a cause for perspring heavily or that we could never, with almost 100% certainty, determine the cause of perspiring. Obviously, some cause-effect relationships are considerably more complex and it would be technically impossible to discern exact relationships.

  18. Tony Blake Says:

    “In the 1920s . . . Atoms and electrons were held to be a case in point. . . The atom, as a ‘thing-in-itself’ could not be known directly, only when it changed its state.”

    Now you are moving from theoretical physics to quantum mechanics, which began as theoretical physics but *has* been experimentally verified since the 1920s. (This illustrates my point about “historical” philosophy.)

    The fossilized imprint of a jellyfish is *not* a fossilized jellyfish, but it does demonstrate that the maker of the imprint existed physically. Equally the trace left by a quantum particle in a cloud chamber demonstrates that the maker of the trace existed physically.

    Back to the term “theoretical physics”: the very term emphasizes the fact that scientists recognize that its subject matter, as yet, is a branch of mathematics. So, yes, that is metaphysical and non-empirical.

    However, you pointed out the fact that not all atheists met a fate like that of Socrates. (I forgot to point out that many atheists have probably kept their ideas to themselves as a result of such intimidation, but we have no way of knowing this for a certainy because we need a physical trace to map an idea.) In pointing to the vocal atheists who escaped excecution you were pointing out that the exception does not make the rule.

    Your initial point about metaphysical trends in science was that, “There is also a problem in using empiricism as the standard for gauging truth about the world.” I missed it at the time, but it truly is apples and oranges to complain that (mathematical) metaphysics argues against (physical) empiricism.

    I presume that your initial intention was to argue that metaphysical trends in modern science demonstrate the limitations of the merely physical in understanding the world. However, even the argument about the inability to *directly* look at a physical entity such as a quantum particle does not demonstrate the limitation of empirical science. A quantum particle may be impossible to see directly, but that does not remove that particle from the physical, empirical world.

    In making such a point you are illustrating to my definition of religion as being about the supernatural. If you wish to dismiss theoretical physics, you are dismissing mathematics, which is the only area open to proof outside specially worded philosophical syllogisms. Theoretical physics, unlike the supernatural, is open to scrutiny in so far as the mathematics itself must follow established rules of logic.

  19. Tony Blake Says:

    “There is also a vast literature on what exactly a miracle is, and how they are to be verified as miraculous, rather than merely natural. Belief in miracles isn’t necessarily irrational, nor the product of ignorance.”

    We are back to the problem with definitions that has run through our discussion.

    I googled “Leibniz + miracle” because I vaguely recalled that he’d commented on miracles: I found this, “For Leibniz, a miracle is by definition something that goes against the natural and predictable order of things.”

    For Leibniz in the 17th and early 18th century, flicking a switch and having light emanate from a bulb or music from a black box would have counted as miracles, as would the medium of almost instantaneous discussion that we are using across the Atlantic.

    For a modern human such things are commonplace, but the explanation that such things are happening as “miracles” is no explanation at all. The actual explanations for these phenomena, of course, are much more technical.

    I would not consider Leibniz as irrational. However, those “miracles” never manifested to Leibniz and had he encountered them he would have done so against a backdrop of understanding that would have brought them *into* the “predictable order of things”. In essence, I am saying that yesterday’s “miracles are” tomorrow’s commonplace.

    You might argue that I have used man-made phenomena to illustrate the point, so, let’s look at an earthquake. Darwin actually experienced the 1838 Lisbon earthquake and provided a very good description. However, we could not fully understand the mechanism of earthquakes (generation, not prediction) until geologists understood plate tectonics. Early men believed that earthquakes were the work of angry gods (or whatever) and their “miraculous” supernatural explanations were no explanation at all.

  20. Tony Blake Says:

    I’ve seen [Dawkins] speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature here in Britain, and had a look at his Forum. Dawkins is notorious for being militantly atheist. His latest book is The God Delusion , which attacks theism and specifically Christianity, rather than just ‘Creationism’. When I saw him, he made his atheist views very clear. He told the audience that scientists used the term ‘God’ simply to mean the interconnectedness of the universe’s laws.”

    I apologize if I insulted you by that remark. I had made a heuristic leap and assumed that you were on this side of the Atlantic and very unlikely to have been in Cheltenham. I did not respond sooner to your response to my comments because I was doing more reading. I looked up your other posts and saw your comments about Bristol. It’s a very long time since I was in Bristol and Cheltenham, but, as I recall, they are quite close. I then become curious about Dawkins. I read Dawkin’s “Blind Watchmaker” and I recall no atheism.

    Scientists are a mixed bunch and many are Christians. However, polls have repeatedly demonstrated that scientists, particularly biologists, are much more likely than the general public to be atheists. I think that Dawkin’s is probably correct that most scientists distil ‘God’ to ‘natural laws’.

    Ironically, early scientists saw themselves as chronicling God’s works. Technically, modern science is religion-neutral because scientists recognize that scientific method can only be applied to the physical. However, the fact that science explains in physical detail what has previously been viewed as “miraculous” evidence for the “supernatural” definitely render mystical beliefs suspect.

    I found Dawkin’s website, though I have not had the time to read it, and I found his “OUT campaign”. I did not see his comments there as being anti-religious so much as they were “come out of the closet and be counted”. By anti-religious, I would mean direct attacks on religion in an effort to dismantle religion.

    I think that scientists are mostly becoming more *overt* about atheism because they are fed up with misinformation campaigns directed against science, and particularly against attempts to force religion into competition with science in high schools. As I understand it, your secondary schools still do not exclude religious teaching (I say “still” because we had religious instruction in grammar school).

  21. Tony Blake Says:

    “[Dawkins] has attacked Christianity and theism while demanding that its defenders show they have they have undergone peer review, while seeing no need to do any such thing himself.”

    I shall have to take your word on the above. I took you to be talking of peer reviewed philosophical journals.

    Most scientists attack the supposedly “scientific” attacks on established scientific facts (empirical data) and scientific theories (experimentally tested). I have yet to see a scientist attack a Christian’s theological beliefs because *those* have not been peer reviewed.

    As you have pointed out, creationists attack science in an attempt to support Biblical literalism. They commit a number of egregious intellectual errors when they do this, not least of which is outright lying.

    The creation vs evolution debate is particularly passionate in America, and I have seen the most extraordinary illogic and falsehoods trouped out by internet creationist debaters (lay-folk, not necessarily the professionals, though Ken Ham is an embarrassment to Queensland!). I think that their greatest error is the simplistic argumentum ad ignorantium that assumes that if they can disprove biological evolution then God *must* exist. Even though they do not necessarily state this so baldly, the implicit belief is quite clear in their arguments.

    I see science and atheism as distinct (the physical cannot comment on the supernatural, though it offers a better explanation for physical phenomena) and YET artificially connected by persistent dishonest creationist attacks on science.

    As I said before, I think that the core principle at stake is truth. Despite the acknowledgment that induction cannot provide a 100% certainty, the physical is the means by which to understand the physical. That leaves considerable scope for more value-laden debate on topics such as esthetics, morality, and the-meaning-of-life, to which the concept of “truth” cannot be affixed.

  22. Tony Blake Says:

    “But religious experience as an objective phenomenon exists, which can be investigated by neurologists and psychologists, and in the views of some may point to the existence of God.”

    We differ in our understanding of the definition of “objective”. I love my family, and my writing this creates this physical (objective) trace, yet my experience of loving them is entirely subjective even though it has a neurochemical subtrate. The fact that others have also experienced love of family means that they will understand what I am describing, though this does not mean that they will also love my family.

    Ironically, there is a link, though definitely not necessarily universal between temporal lobe epilepsy and strongly “religious” experiences. (I mean that most instances of powerful religious emotion are probably not the result of TLE.)

    Most people will report that when they dream they experience a sense that the events about which we are dreaming are both real and intrinsically logical. This does not mean that that the dreamed events actually happened or will happen. When we wake we realize that we were dreaming and the subjective “logic” that seemed to attach to the sequence of events evaporates.

    Sure, some people interpret the subjective phenomenon of religious experience as pointing to the existence of God, though this cannot reasonably be taken to *objectively* demonstrate such an existence.

    I do think, though, that just as the possibility of feeling love is a good reason for seeking close relationships, then the subjective phenomenon interpreted as God-connection is the best reason for religion. I call it communing with Nature, but, despite being an atheist, I do not doubt the existence of the physical world.

  23. Tony Blake Says:

    “You have said yourself that scientists are happy that a theory can never be 100 per cent proven. So, we cannot know that inflation did occur in the early universe. All we have is a well-founded conjecture, which is very likely true.”

    Yes. Scientists are comfortable with having the likeliest possible explanation based on the known evidence. That IS the point. This is not to say that scientists would not love to obtain “proof” for their theories, but they are pragmatic enough to live with the limitations of induction.

    Scientists do not take the Big Bang or Inflation as the foundation for religious beliefs, though the discovering scientists probably experience considerable “Eureka!” excitement when they make their discoveries.

    I saw a documentary about Andrew Wiley’s discovering the proof for Fermat’s last theorem and Wiley was in tears with emotion at the beatiful simplicity (not easy, but perfection) of the final piece.

    (I have always thought that the interesting question is exactly *what* Fermat placed in the margin as *his* proof. I think that the answer to that is actually quite simple and that I can draw it without any claims to personal brilliance. This demonstrates that mathematical proofs for the geometrically obvious are more difficult than St. Augustine could have guessed even about 1 + 9 = 10.)

  24. Tony Blake Says:

    “Besides, the Big Bang, as I’ve said, is seen by very many theists as corroboration of the Creation of the universe by God.”

    I think that Popper pointed out (though I was probably not the first) that the potential for selecting facts to fit an already conceived theory is very real. Equally, a given set of facts is open to any number of interpretations — all could be incorrect, only one could be correct.

    When Descartes supposedly tossed out all that he had been taught, he neglected to toss out teachings about the nature of God. Descartes then claimed that God was an a priori idea. I suspect Descartes of outright dishonesty, but even if Meditations was not a craftilly contrived deception Descartes was conveniently ignoring the fact that his Jesuit education introduced him to the God-concept. That is, theists begin with a posteriori familiarity with a taught concept and then interpret the evidence to fit the concept. Historically, such concepts are founded in animistic attempts to formalize their understanding of natural phenomena.

    I am not saying the above in an effort to disprove the existence of God. Rather I am saying that interpretations of the physical as proving the existence of the supernatural are merely a matter of interpretation and do not convert the physical evidence into incontrovertible evidence for the existence of the supernatural. In a sense, you are desciribing what Dawkins means when he says that scientists, “view ‘God’ simply to mean the interconnectedness of the universe’s laws.”

  25. Tony Blake Says:

    “Now, as far as Dawkins goes, my chief reason for criticising him isn’t because he’s a spokesman for Neodarwinism. It’s because he preaches an outspoken atheism, and bitterly denigrates and sneers at people of faith.”

    As I have said, I have no direct acquaintance with such denigration and sneers. I am prepared to take you at your word on that, particularly because I have not read all of his books or seen him interviewed.

    When I first read your post about Dawkins I objected to your assertion that atheists are uncritically becoming atheists because swayed by Dawkin’s charismatic personality. This seemed unjustified. I also suspected, given my experience with creationists’ use of donation-soliciting websites and unjustified denigration of scientific facts, that your comments were an apologetic ploy.

    “Now, I have no doubt that he considers his views to be absolutely true.”

    In my experience, only internet trolls put much energy in expostulating views that they do not hold to be true. On the topic of evolutionary biology, Dawkins is qualified to claim that his views are true.

    “However, I believe that they are radically and utterly false, and reserve the right to criticise him.”

    I take you to mean his conviction that atheism is a more realistic view than religious belief in a supernatural creator. I think that I have made it abundantly clear that I would agree with him if *that* is his position. I don’t see myself as taking a militant, anti-religious position here. I decided to place a scarlet letter on my website, though, because I was an atheist long before I earned my science degrees.

    “And as I’ve attempted to show, in his preaching of Scientism, rather than science, he closely approximates 19th century founders of atheistic religions like Ernst Haeckel and Auguste Comte.”

    Again, I don’t know all that Dawkins is saying, though I suspect that any vehemence on his part is probably in reaction to the proliferation of pseudoscience and attacks on science. What I have read of Dawkin’s message concerning biological evolution definitely was not an oxymoronic “atheistic religion”. You say that Dawkins is anti-religious, which certainly means that he would have no interest in organizing a religion.

    To be clear, an atheist typically says that he or she does not believe in God or is convinced that there is NO God. This does not necessarily mean that atheists are advocating the dismantling of religious institutions. Has Dawkins talked of abolishing the Church of England?

    I fall into both groups in that I do not believe in God *because* I think that a critical analysis of all the evidence, including the plethora of creation mythologies and the human emotional need to believe, indicates that there was no supernatural creator and that consciousness cannot persist after death. I thought this long before I had even heard of the existence of Dawkins or even of fellow atheists. Like most atheists, I mave moved from being taught that God exists to being convinced that there is no supernatural creator.

    Creationists of whatever persuasion are in a much weaker philosophical position than this, particularly when they deny physical facts and attack the credibility of peer-scrutinized scientific experts. Even if theories explaining biological evolution were utterly untrue, this would not prove that a creator or designer was responsible.

    Because demonstrable scientific evidence has been ignorantly attacked in an illogical attempt to prove the veridicality of subjective beliefs, scientists *are* becoming increasingly frustrated and angry not merely at the attacks but at the attackers and their motivations. Matters are made worse by the fact that religious fundamentalists in the US are vindictively bigotted. These are the people who vote Republican and are responsible for Dubaya’s being in power (not that I believe he won either election).

    You are obviously a very well read, intelligent person, so I have enjoyed our discussion and I can respect your religious views even though I disagree on the crux of the discussion.

  26. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for your comments and the kind compliments at the end. You’re obviously a dedicated, conscientious educator worthy of respect yourself. Thank you for your comments that you didn’t realise that I’d seen Dawkins speak. You didn’t insult me – it’s a natural assumption to make, given that I didn’t say that I had. Please allow me to add my comments before we conclude this discussion. Firstly, Dawkins is notorious over this side of the Atlantic for his splenetic attacks on religion. Yes, his books were originally aimed at attacking Creationism, and yes, he is bitterly opposed to the proliferation of pseudoscience in all its forms. However, his attitude towards religion has gone far beyond attacks on Creationism and pseudoscience to the active preaching of atheism and bitter attacks on religion per se. The God Delusion is full of derogatory references to people of faith as ‘faith-heads’, and he denounces those scientists not active in the struggle against religion – and he means religion, not Creationism – as being like the appeasers to Hitler before the War. He has qualified those opinions from time to time, but he is still very much known for his stridency. A little while ago he set up the Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Science and Reason, which was aimed at attacking religion in the name of science, including removing funding and diverting donations away from religious charities, campaigning for the abolition of faith schools and so on. Interestingly, he is not in favour of the abolition of the Church of England for the purely tactical reason that he is does not want people of faith in Britain to be alienated from the system as has occurred in America through the separation of church and state. Yes, we do still have religious education in schools. A friend of mine once stated that in his opinion this has probably done more to spread atheism in British society than anything else, as rebellious children reject it as it’s just something else that has been inflicted on them by teachers, just like science or maths can be the targets of class disdain as something that only nerds and ‘teacher’s pets’ enjoy.

    I’ll make my position on Dawkins clear here. Yes, I am a Christian and my intention in writing this piece was to defend religion from Dawkins’ attacks from what I considered to be a relevant perspective. Atheist religions, though indeed oxymoronic, do indeed exist, as I’ve tried to show with the examples of Comtean Positivism and Haeckel’s Monist League. I could also posit the Communist ‘Bogo-istroitelstvo’ or ‘God-Building Movement’. This suggested setting up shrines to various deceased atheist ideologues in emulation of the shrines to Christian saints in order to inculcate the Russian people with the new, atheist values and norms of ‘scientific’ socialism. It wasn’t very successful, as Lenin was bitterly opposed to it, though I can remember there being something of a revival in the 1980s, which brought down a similar crackdown from the Andropov regime. I am not saying that atheism and Communism are synonymous, merely stating that atheist religions, while oxymoronic, can and do exist. As for Richard Dawkins’, he himself founded Atheists for Jesus , which would surely count as an atheistic religious organisation.

    Thank you for making it very clear that you distinguish between atheism and science. My problem with Dawkins is that, despite his protestations to the contrary, he doesn’t. He preaches Naturalism as synonymous with science, although he may occasionally qualify this and recognise that other scientists don’t share his views. He’s not alone in this. Peter Atkins, the Oxford biochemist, stated on an interview with the British journalist Rod Liddle, in the programme The Trouble with Atheism broadcast earlier this year, that scientists of religious faith were ‘only half scientists’. Thus I feel justified in attacking Dawkins for this view, and do not consider myself anti-science for doing so.

    Now to clarify my own status: I am a layman and not writing this on behalf of any ministry or organisation. I wrote it purely to defend what I see as truth. So yes, I was criticising him from the standpoint of Christian apologetics. No, I had and have no desire to solicit money for what I wrote or write in this regard.

    Regarding your comments on atheists not necessarily being opponents of religion but just individuals who do not believe in God, yes, I concur. I’m British, and it’s a far more secular country than the US, and the attitude of most of the atheists I’ve met is indifference towards religion rather than hatred. At the same time, in Britain and America there has been an appearance of the bitterly anti-religious ‘New Atheism’, characterised by polemical books and tracts by Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the Oxford philosopher over this side of the Atlantic, A.C. Grayling. These works and their authors are bitterly hostile towards theism and in my opinion deserve to have their ideas criticised and rebutted. As far as Dawkins being qualified to claim his Neo-Darwinian biological views to be true, I absolutely agree. However, when it comes to religion I believe he has absolutely no claim to truth and should be criticised. The God Delusion abounds in appallingly bad philosophy and often egregious errors of fact.

    Now I was aware of the current furore over evolution and its teaching in America. I’ve also heard complaints of victimisation and intimidation from the other side of the debate. I don’t want anyone to be victimised or threatened in this debate. Regarding the Neo-Con enlistment of Christian Fundamentalists, yes, I understand that is and was a considerable part of the voting constituency for ‘Dubya’. I also understand from recent sociological studies of theologically conservative Protestant groups, like The Truth About Evangelicals that such theologically conservative Christians can be politically more progressive or Leftist than other Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholics. I also understand that the American Republican Party also debated on whether to use Darwinism as the official ground for their economically individualist, Conservative policies. Considering the immense danger to society and science from the overt politicisation of a powerful scientific theory like Darwinism, I believe that this process also needs to be criticised.

    Regarding the ignorance of Creationists, I’ll take your word on that. I have absolutely no experience of American Creationism beyond what is available on-line and occasionally available in British Christian bookshops. Yes, I am aware there’s a lot of fraud out there. The Christian website Bible and Science uncovered some examples of appalling deceit. However, reading through their websites it’s also apparent they are also quite well-informed scientifically. Answers in Genesis does refer to proper, peer-refereed scientific journals, and it’s clear that the people involved are not stupid or illiterate, though the empirical science is subservient to the ideology.

    However, I don’t know if it’s true that YECs become Flat-Earthers. The last thing I read about the American Flat Earth Society was that it was effectively defunct. It was reported in the British broadsheet newspaper, The Independent about two or more years ago that the founder and sole surviving member had died. As for the British Flat Earth Society, it’s president and sole member actually was not an extreme Biblical literalist, but as interviewed about ten years ago by the London magazine, Time Out was actually a professional physicist. This scientist didn’t believe in a flat earth at all, and I’ve never read anything to suggest that his scientific views were anything other than entirely orthodox. In the interview he stated he took over the organisation and kept it going as part of a campaign to stop science from becoming dogmatic and ossified. As far as I am aware, he had absolutely no connection with any fringe religious group.

    Okay, now to more specific issues.

    Regarding your point that it would be easier for ‘religionists’ to convert others to a belief in God if they could point to Him being physically present somewhere, yes it would. However, as a theologian will tell you, that kind of god isn’t God so much as an idol. Or if you prefer it in terms of Eastern mysticism, in the words of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching ‘The Tao that can be described is not the true Tao’.

    Now for the question of how a concept affects the physical universe. This begs the question as God is considered to be more than a mental concept, unless one wishes to take an anti-realist position on the existence of God. The analogy with mathematics is that God has an objective structuring existence like numbers, even though both are abstract entities, though it was indeed the atheist philosopher J.J.C. Smart’s point that the effect of numbers has been verified experimentally. And yes, there is a lot of philosophy and metaphysics devoted to the relationship between a transcendent and immaterial entity, like God, and concrete material entities, like the cosmos.

    Incidentally, regarding the rise of mathematical science, there is some evidence that it was due in part to occultist speculation during the Renaissance. The British historian of witchcraft and magic, P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, of the university of Edinburgh, has pointed out in his book, Wizards , that the Neoplatonist Renaissance magi, such as John Dee and Pico della Mirandola, were keen on using mathematics to explain the universe as they believed it was a mystical language that transcended the limitations of human tongues, and was the primal language by which God structured the universe. I mention this not because I have any interest in numerology, but simply as an example Pythagorean mysticism and Platonic idealism have shaped modern science.

    “I don’t recall, for example, Archilaus, the Skeptical head of the Academy being executed, nor Epicurus and his followers, despite the fact that they too had a reputation for atheism, or indeed for Sextus Empiricus, Lucretius and Strato, all of whom launched attacks on theism, and whose writing, when they became available in Renaissance, were partly responsible for the rise of modern religious scepticism and atheism.”

    Was not Plato the pupil of Socrates?

    Yes, Plato was the pupil of Socrates. But as I’ve said, Socrates doesn’t actually appear to have been an atheist, despite the charge of atheism levelled against him. Indeed, if you read Phaedo it’s clear that Socrates did believe in an afterlife and God. He also claimed to be receiving inspiration from his daimon, the supernatural beings that acted as intermediaries between Gods and humans, corresponding to angels in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I never denied that persecution of atheists did not occur, and actually said it was broadly true. However, I also said it was flawed. Some periods were far more tolerant than others. When Voltaire was challenged over the feasibility of an atheist society, he pointed to the ancient Rome of the time of Cicero and Lucretius.

    Regarding Kantian Transcendentalism and Quantum physics, yes, we do have experimental confirmation of the existence of electrons and other fundamental particles. However, the point of Kant’s distinction isn’t that there isn’t a real world out there, but that we think about it in distinct human categories. When an electron leaves a trace in the cloud chamber, it isn’t simply a case of seeing an electron, it’s a case of seeing a trace in a cloud chamber, and through a worldview involving other assumptions and interpretations, recognising that the trace is that of an electron.

    To go back to your point about the trilobite fossil, yes, the fossil imprint of a trilobite isn’t a trilobite, but it does show that trilobites existed. However, we do so based on a wider web of assumptions and interpretations. In the early modern period, for example, the fact that fossils were the remains of real, ancient animals often wasn’t recognised, as the belief that the Earth could spontaneously generate life meant that many natural philosophers believed that such fossils were merely the products of Nature toying with designs before bring forth known living creatures. It’s a consideration of the role of the observer’s own subjective and metaphysical views in interpreting the world which is a fundamental feature of Critical Realism, though this too is beset by problems. Interestingly, John Ray was probably one of the first to recognise and insist that fossils were the remains of living things, rather than Nature’s own imitation of life, and in his view it provided concrete evidence against abiogenesis. As for trilobites themselves, yep, they’re very cute animals and I can well understand why there’s an entire society dedicated to them.

    As for the rise of metaphysical science, I meant, though I probably garbled it, that the austerely realist view of the early Logical Empiricists, like Von Carnap, was insupportable, and despite their rejection of ‘disreputable’ metaphysics, much of the philosophy of science since the rise of Post-Empiricism has been about the role of metaphysics in structuring and justifying science. As for the nature of scientific advances, yes, it does this by generating and discarding new theories. However, as philosophers of science have also pointed out, the process also involves incorporating and building on old theories. Hence Steven Weinberg’s opposition to anti-orthodox scientific movements, like ID, because he feels that the weight of scientific knowledge as a whole is against them.

    Scientists are a mixed bunch and many are Christians. However, polls have repeatedly demonstrated that scientists, particularly biologists, are much more likely than the general public to be atheists. I think that Dawkin’s is probably correct that most scientists distil ‘God’ to ‘natural laws’.

    I think you’re right, though from what I recall, when Nature did a poll in 1997 of scientists’ religious views, they found that the proportion who believed in God and the number who rejected belief in God were pretty much the same, and had not changed since the original Leuba investigation of 1907. Now one can argue from that that science is not a contributing factor to atheism. I believe Helen Budden, when she questioned a sample of forty atheist scientists found that only four of them had lost their faith due to a belief in evolution. It’s possible that the relationship between a career in science and atheism is one of correlation. Religious individuals may well have been more likely to take a career in the church or business, rather than enter science, especially if that science was being marketed as being hostile to religion, such as when Draper and T.H. Huxley were making their views on the relationship between the two known.

    Ironically, early scientists saw themselves as chronicling God’s works.

    Absolutely. I hope to blog about this some time later.

    Technically, modern science is religion-neutral because scientists recognize that scientific method can only be applied to the physical. However, the fact that science explains in physical detail what has previously been viewed as “miraculous” evidence for the “supernatural” definitely render mystical beliefs suspect.

    Yes, up to a point. However, the weird and miraculous still seem to occur, even if they cannot be reproduced in a laboratory. If some of the accounts of miracles investigated by the Vatican’s canonisation board are true, then it would seem that phenomena, seemingly inexplicable by known physical laws, still occur. And if these accounts are true, and science eventually does explain, then the nature of science itself will have changed to encompass the magical or paranormal.

    “For Leibniz, a miracle is by definition something that goes against the natural and predictable order of things.”

    That’s one definition, though not the only one. Roman Catholicism defines them as ‘special acts of grace’. St. Augustine considered that they were not the suspension of law, as defined by Hume, but its temporary supercession by a superior law. I think it’s significant that the New Testament nowhere uses the Greek term anomalia for them, suggesting that the New Testament writers shared this view and did not consider them ‘lawless’ events.

    “Also, challenging the official, state-sponsored paradigm in any system is dangerous.”

    Or challenging the official, Church-sponsored paradigm. Galileo discovered *that*.

    Yes, Galileo was placed under house arrest for challenging the Pope’s favoured Aristotelian philosophical views. However, the number of scientists actually executed by the Church is very, very few – possibly as few as two. And your reply does not address my point that all human institutions – and whatever its transcendent foundation, religion is a human institution – can be corrupted and become tyrranous. Consider science. In the 19th century, many of the leading liberal intellectuals challenging the theocratic status quo were scientists, yet in the 1920s a new generation of radical scientists gave their labour and allegiance to repressive, brutal regimes such as the Nazism and Soviet Russia. Does that mean that science and scientists are intrinsically brutal and despotic? No, of course not. Only that science and scientists can be corrupted like anyone else.

    I thought that Hume said we cannot establish causality merely by observation. My example would be that if we saw someone wearing light clothing *and* perspiring heavily, then we ought *not* assume that light clothing causes heavy perspiration. In essence, correlation is not equivalent to causation.

    Yes, Hume stressed the problem of confusing correlation with cause. However, he extended his critique further against the existence of causes themselves as part of his critique of the argument for God from causation in the Dialogues as I recall.

    As I said before, I think that the core principle at stake is truth. Despite the acknowledgment that induction cannot provide a 100% certainty, the physical is the means by which to understand the physical. That leaves considerable scope for more value-laden debate on topics such as esthetics, morality, and the-meaning-of-life, to which the concept of “truth” cannot be affixed.

    But there are real problems with using empiricism as the sole gauge of ‘truth’, and just because people’s views on aesthetics, morality or the meaning of life or religion differ, this does not mean these views are untrue.

    Ironically, there is a link, though definitely not necessarily universal between temporal lobe epilepsy and strongly “religious” experiences. (I mean that most instances of powerful religious emotion are probably not the result of TLE.)

    Thank you for qualifying that statement. Yes, sufferers from certain kinds of TLE may have strong religious convictions and have experiences with a strongly religious component. However, the relationship between mystical experiences and TLE is actually not strong. Physicians considered and rejected epilepsy as the cause of the saints’ religious ecstasies as far back as the 16th century. Despite persistent attempts to revive the theory, recent neurological research has shown that generally religious people, including those with mystical experiences, are actually mentally healthier than the surrounding population.

    However, you pointed out the fact that not all atheists met a fate like that of Socrates. (I forgot to point out that many atheists have probably kept their ideas to themselves as a result of such intimidation, but we have no way of knowing this for a certainy because we need a physical trace to map an idea.) In pointing to the vocal atheists who escaped excecution you were pointing out that the exception does
    not make the rule.

    There’s a problem in trying to trace the existence of atheism historically from the other side, as many of the atheist polemicists exaggerated their claims by claiming particular theists were really atheists, as La Mettrie did with Descartes.

    Yes. Scientists are comfortable with having the likeliest possible explanation based on the known evidence. That IS the point. This is not to say that scientists would not love to obtain “proof” for their theories, but they are pragmatic enough to live with the limitations of induction.

    Yes, indeed. But in that case, one comes close to ancient Greek Scepticism of the Pyrrhonian variety. This stated that one could never be sure of the truth, and the only thing one could do, would be to hold one views as mere opinions, rather than in believing in them as ‘truth’. Now they developed these views as a philosophical attack on the dogmatism of the other philosophical schools. As I recall, the Sceptical view of views as opinions to be discarded in the light of new evidence did indeed influence the rise of experimental science through the impact of Sextus Empiricus’ works in the Renaissance. If applied to Natural Selection, however, such Scepticism would clearly lead to ruling out, say, Carl Sagan in Cosmos stating ‘Evolution is FACT’. And no, I’m not denying evolution, merely pointing out the problems of making dogmatic truth claims about the world based on the argument to the best explanation.

    When Descartes supposedly tossed out all that he had been taught, he neglected to toss out teachings about the nature of God. Descartes then claimed that God was an a priori idea. I suspect Descartes of outright dishonesty, but even if Meditations was not a craftilly contrived deception Descartes was conveniently ignoring the fact that his Jesuit education introduced him to the God-concept. That is, theists begin with a posteriori familiarity with a taught concept and then interpret the evidence to fit the concept. Historically, such concepts are founded in animistic attempts to formalize their understanding of natural phenomena.

    Actually, there’s increasingly more scientific evidence that ‘the God concept’ really is an a priori category. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz noted ritual behaviour in animals which served no biological function and which he interpreted as related, or ancestral to, the ‘sensus divinatis’ in humans. A few months ago a primatologist said the same, based on her work studying quasi-religious display amongst the great apes. Nicholas Humphries, who is a bitter enemy of religion to the extent that he organised a petition requesting the religious upbringing of children by their parents to be outlawed to the British Prime Minister, reported in the online science magazine At The Edge his finding that children have an instinctive dualism that he considered to be basic to theism. As for theists typically beginning with a taught concept and then reinterpreting the evidence to fit it, actually that’s more true of typical attempts to find a naturalistic evidence after a supernatural encounter. As for ‘animistic attempts to formalize their understanding of natural phenomena’, if by that you mean theists interpret natural phenomena as meaning that there is a transcendent personality behind them, then yes. If you are implying the old anthropological view I can remember being taught, that all religion developed from animism, this is untrue, as that theory has long since been discredited.

    “Besides, the Big Bang, as I’ve said, is seen by very many theists as corroboration of the Creation of the universe by God.”

    I think that Popper pointed out (though I was probably not the first) that the potential for selecting facts to fit an already conceived theory is very real. Equally, a given set of facts is open to any number of interpretations — all could be incorrect, only one could be correct.

    Again, no argument with Popper there. But the Big Bang supplies evidence that the universe had a beginning, and using the Kalam cosmological argument it is entirely reasonable to suppose that as something that began to exist, it had a cause. If a Naturalistic explanation for the origins of the Cosmos, like Multiple Universe Theory, Bouncing Universe Theory, or failing that, a revival of the old Steady-State Theory, cannot be found, then it is reasonable to seek an explanation in God. You may feel that it is unsatisfactory and lack explanatory power, but that does not mean it is wrong.

    Scientists do not take the Big Bang or Inflation as the foundation for religious beliefs, though the discovering scientists probably experience considerable “Eureka!” excitement when they make their discoveries.

    Actually, I can remember last year there was something of a scandal as four astronomers presented the case in Israel that the Big Bang clearly did indicate the existence of a Creator. When it was first proposed by Joseph Lemaitre, it was bitterly attacked because Lemaitre was a Roman Catholic priest and the Pope expressed a non-committal interest in the discovery. Sir Arthur Eddington didn’t like it because of its apparent similarity to Christian doctrine. Neither did Lenin. And Fred Hoyle angrily denounced it, asking how it could be a scientific theory if it was proposed by a Catholic priest, and blessed by the Pope.

    I saw a documentary about Andrew Wiley’s discovering the proof for Fermat’s last theorem and Wiley was in tears with emotion at the beatiful simplicity (not easy, but perfection) of the final piece.

    (I have always thought that the interesting question is exactly *what* Fermat placed in the margin as *his* proof. I think that the answer to that is actually quite simple and that I can draw it without any claims to personal brilliance. This demonstrates that mathematical proofs for the geometrically obvious are more difficult than St. Augustine could have guessed even about 1 + 9 = 10.)

    It sounds like Wiley did a splendid job of communicating the beauty of mathematics, as it’s a subject which can be notoriously difficult for non-mathematicians to understand. Keith Devlin in his book, Mathematics: The New Golden Age particularly warns his readers that topology is a subject which can be particularly impenetrable to the layman. As for the immense difficulty of proving simple statements, absolutely! Bertrand Russell and Whitehead apparently took 500 + pages to prove that 1+1=2.

    As for the arguments for the existence of God, while they don’t constitute proof, the philosophers developing them since William of Ockham stress that their purpose is to provide a rational warrant for belief. And I hope such arguments show that theists are rational, in contradiction to Richard Dawkins’ frequent assertions that religious belief is not.

    Thanks for your comments. While I don’t share your beliefs, and don’t expect you to share mine, they have stretched me and been very informative.

    Best wishes,
    ‘Beastrabban’.

  27. Tony Blake Says:

    I apologize for not responding earlier to your reply. I checked your site for a few days and, when you had not responded, I assumed that you had taken my last response as being some sort of finalization. It’s late here, so I shall only respond briefly to some of your long and fascinating reply. I’ll respond to some of the rest later.

    As I said, I shall simply have to accept your assessment of the vehemence of Dawkins’ atheistic mission because I don’t know much about him.

    You said of Dawkins, “However, when it comes to religion I believe he has absolutely no claim to truth and should be criticised.”

    The philosophy of what constitutes truth would be an interesting side issue. I have obviously not had time to read Dawkins’ books, but I have viewed a couple of his interviews on YouTube. He seemed fairly unimpassioned in the interview that I watched.

    Religion is rather a vast topic! Dawkins did comment on some of the sociopolitical dangers of (fundamentalist) religion, though, and I don’t think that one could argue with the fact of historical and current strife over differing sectarian beliefs. So, I would say that the comment that I saw has excellent claim to truth. I simply don’t know what else he has said.

    However, atheists primarily deny the existence/influence of the supernatural and the dominant world religions, certainly the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, center on belief in the supernatural. So, atheists will dismiss all scriptural content that focuses on the supernatural. The atheistic position, I’m sure you’d probably agree, holds that there is no empirical evidence for existence of the supernatural. Somewhere later in your response, you did agree that we have no direct evidence for supernatural existences.

  28. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for your reply, Tony.

    Regarding the vehemence or otherwise of Richard Dawkins, yes, he can be very careful and measured in what he says during interviews. However, he’s also produced some extremely splenetic pronouncements about religion. The tone of some of the rhetoric he uses against people of faith in The God Delusion has shocked a lot of people. He uses terms like ‘faith-heads’ and compares those scientists who do not actively oppose religion to the appeasers to Hitler in the British government just before the Second World War.

    Yes, wars have been and are being fought over religion, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything profound about religion per se. Dawkins has become notorious for stating that moderate religion is as culpable as dangerous Fundamentalism because it makes faith acceptable. Now that’s some leap! There’s clearly a world of difference between a meeting of Quaker pacifists or liberal Episcopalians, for example, than militant, firebreathing mullahs urging jihad. Moreover, simply lumping all religion together like this ignores not just profound differences between religions, but also rather mundane social and political forces which inform conflict and violence, even those which have a religious cloak.

    Now the statement that atheists reject the supernatural is actually not always true. The German philosopher Schopenhauer was vehemently anti-theist – he objected to the term ‘pantheism’ because it dared to connect God with the universe, but he nevertheless held a supernatural belief in the ardent vitalism that informed his writings. One can also mention here the Cambridge philosopher C.D. Broad, who believed in the reality of post-mortem survival, but also didn’t believe in God. John Beloff, one of the leading British psychical researchers also shared these views.

    As for myself, I’ll take your word that I said we don’t have direct evidence of the supernatural, though I don’t actually hold that. I believe that some people certainly have had direct experience of the supernatural, and that this is empirical in that the phenomenon has been witnessed by others. I don’t, however, believe these experiences have been unequivocally reproduced in the laboratory in a way that would constitute a knock-down proof of the supernatural.

  29. Introducing Beastrabban « Gimme Some Truth! Says:

    […] religion — except he does so with the depth of about 5 phds. Check out his analysis of “the Cult of Dawkins“, for example, and the subsequent debate he has with a commenter. Amazing […]

  30. LL Says:

    Dawkins and his fanboys are the sort who think “freethinking” only applies to those who agree with them … coming to a different conclusion makes one deluded, brainwashed, stupid, dishonest and I forget what other choice epithets they throw around. Very cultish indeed: toe the party line or else. Plenty of people – atheists, some of them – have been booted off his site for simply disagreeing with him.

  31. afterfauve007 Says:

    What strikes me as being Cult like with the Dawkins/Evangelical Atheist movement – is its intellectual childishness.
    set aside the blanket statements backed up by logic and questionable facts, – and lets just get straight to the clever catch phrases and one liners – “atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color”, “like not collecting stamps is a hobby”.
    A clever form of argumentation , because if anyone should counter with – “what is the color of Yule Brenner’s hair”? or – “so what is it you are not preaching about”, or – “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in”, – that person is obviously intellectually challenged because they have to argue in cheep one liners or catch phrases, which is OK for them to do because its the only way for them to communicate to the intellectually unwashed masses who are to stupid to be atheist in the first place.
    the biggest childish tactic i hear from them is “Hell is just a scare tactic by Christians to make you obey, there is no God, just natural forces, when you die that’s it – you are gone. So become an Atheist before you are doomed to the war, madness, and death that insanity causes”.
    Which oddly enough was a popular tactic i have heard from zealous Jehovah’s Witnesses.”Hell is an invention by Catholics to get you to obey, there is no Hell for non believers, if you can not follow God you will simply die, so become a JW or you’re Dead”.

    The first You Tube videos I saw of Richard Dawkins – “conveniently taken down at this point”, were of his early college lectures – that consisted of opening songs the reading from his book a lecture about what he read from his book, poetry, testimonials, especially from born again atheists (which by the way is a joke at the experience of Christians so it ok for them to call themselves that),, and some really unconvincing please from supposed believers, which I guess were suppose to be begging for him to allow them some proof of God – usually tearful and down trodden, and often had the same week pro religion arguments that I only here from Atheists.
    Last time I saw anything like that was one of the televangelist shows.
    I would have expected a collection plate if I didn’t know the parents of the students payed for the tickets.
    Then of course there is the sarcastic imagery – the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the great juju bean under the sea, the magic sandwich and so on.
    I’m not even going to bother to get into how the new evangelical atheists ignore or even denounce as fraudulent certain scientific facts, such as Fractal Geometry and how the investigation of the DNA structure is now going into the atomic and sub atomic levels, because it sounds New Agey.
    I don’t see the point in it, to me the intellectually bankrupt quips are the tip off. – if this movement has all the answers – why the cheep political style banter, why not just come straight out with a serious intellectually sound honest point of view.
    and I have to say its because sound arguments don’t stir up enough turmoil to make money selling paranoia in book stores everywhere.
    Also – one thing I hope someone else has seen, he likes to compare everyone to Hitler, but has anyone noticed he uses many of Hitler’s tricks on stage presence?

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