Perhaps Dawkins really is delusional?

As I have said before, I have wondered, reading The God Delusion, whether Richard Dawkins is ignorant, delusional, or intentionally deceptive. I am presuming that he is not unintelligent and that he understands basic logic, which is what has confused me as I’ve read through the book. I would have expected something more polished and well-argued, something to actually make people think, and perhaps doubt. This, however, is not the case.

Today I followed a Telic Thoughts link to a May 12 article by Dawkins on TimesOnline entitled “How dare you call me a fundamentalist” where he, in that winning way that he has, attempts to rebut some critics of his book. It is an interesting read, and if you haven’t read any Dawkins in the past, this is perhaps all the Dawkins you will ever need.

He starts by responding to criticism by other atheists that he uses “shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language,” then moves on to criticism that he is ignorant of the religions he criticizes. As in the book itself, his response to this 2nd question is nothing but rhetoric, and then he avoids having to make any real response by sending folks to read “‘Courtier’s Reply’ on P. Z. Myers’s splendid Pharyngula website” which he says “he cannot better.” If he cannot do better than “Courtier’s Reply,” then he should probably just give up; it is nothing but an attempt to justify Dawkins’ repeated straw man arguments, and it’s just ridiculous. Of course, Dawkins has no valid rebuttal and no excuse for failing to understand things he attacks. Saying things like “[t]here is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents” and “[m]ost believers echo Robertson, Falwell or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or Ayatollah Khomeini” can only be attributed to either ignorance or lying (and these quotes are from his rebuttal!).

He also objects to being called a fundamentalist, and tries to draw a distinction between passion and fundamentalism (fundamentalists apparently don’t change their minds). As a scientist, of course, he will change his mind if confronted with evidence. Of course, he doesn’t mention that fundamentally he believes that only evidence that can be scientifically verified can be considered.

Last week I was leaning toward the conclusion that Dawkins’ use of bad logic, mis-characterization and outright fiction was intentional. However, after reading this rebuttal, I’m starting to believe that he is, after all, simply delusional.

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8 Responses to Perhaps Dawkins really is delusional?

  1. me says:

    Copi is writing about, “formal logic”, like you’ve said. That’s not what I thought we were discussing here.

    I have to admit, this made me smile… Formal logic is merely the organized study of (in my own words) making sense and being intellectually honest. That is what I’ve been talking about.

    “Who gets to decide what is universally accepted?”

    Science of course.

    This also made me smile. This is, of course, standard Dawkinsian (to coin a term) thought. Science is only a method of analyzing material data, and as such does not consider other available information. I’ve discussed this in the past on this blog. Take a look at my parable of the cave. It’s not perfect, but it makes my point.

    I don’t have much time, but to answer your final question, if religion has a positive benefit to society, than it is illogical to claim that it is bad for society, correct?

    Take care,

  2. Alden, I think we’ve moved a little too far off topic here. The original argument at hand was that Dawkins’ arguments were logical vs illogical. Even, based on Copi’s definition, I find Dawkins still to be logical. Copi is writing about, “formal logic”, like you’ve said. That’s not what I thought we were discussing here. But that’s okay. It’s not particularly important. I’m still curious to find out which argument in particular you found were illogical from The God Delusion. And why they were illogical in your opinion.

    “Who gets to decide what is universally accepted?”

    Science of course. As a global community, we have accept certain norms. The Earth is round, gravity attract all objects towards each other, etc… Speaking French does not fall under this. Because speaking French is neither right or wrong. It gets a little more difficult when we begin to bring moral questions into this. Can we really say that we should never kill others? I’m not so sure. But Marc D. Hausers even address that (universal morality) in his book Moral Minds. There are universal morals too, that we should teach our children. The question of “who gets to decide” is easy. The problem is that a lot of people just aren’t educated about all these things. And that’s not so good. There’s just too much ignorance in religion.

    “[It]] is especially illogical for those who embrace the social darwinist view that religion evolved because it must have had a positive benefit to society.”

    I don’t see how. Do you mind elaborating on this a little more?

  3. me says:

    Something logical is basically something that is reasonable. It’s something that is to be expected. Something predictable. By everyone, regardless of their world-view, religion on social status. And something logical, is certainly something that is true.

    Evgueni, it appears, from your comment, that you have never studied formal logic. Irving M. Copi states in Introduction to Logic (4th Edition):

    … there are valid arguments with false conclusions, as well as invalid arguments with true conclusions. … There are perfectly valid arguments which have false conclusions. … The logician is interested in the correctness even of arguments whose premisses might be false.

    Science, in fact, depends on valid arguments without knowing whether or not the hypothesis is true; if he already knew it was true, there’d be no reason to test the hypothesis. As I said earlier, if one or more of an argument’s premisses are false, the conclusion will be false, even though the logic of the argument itself is perfectly valid.

    Lewiss Carroll, by the way, was (besides being a writer and clergyman) a mathematician and logician who both taught and published books on both mathematics and logic. You may be interested in “The Annotated Alice“, with introduction and notes by Martin Gardner, with whom you may be familiar.

    It also seems, based on your most recent comment, that your conclusions are not necessarily based on logic, but what sounds right to your ears, or simply what you want to believe to be true. This is not uncommon on both sides of the God issue.

    Regarding the raising of children, here the argument that children should not be raised as Christians breaks down completely, as that argument, applied to any number of things, would say that children should not be taught anything that is not universally accepted (and begs the question, “who gets to decide?”). For example, by this logic, no one in France should be allowed to teach their children to speak French. American children should not be taught democratic principles. The proposition that all children should be raised as atheists, or agnostics, is simply a form of imperialism; it’s Animal Farm all over again, with atheists “more equal” than others.

    Again, there is no logic behind it, and is especially illogical for those who embrace the social darwinist view that religion evolved because it must have had a positive benefit to society.

  4. “Something can be logical without being true.”

    Not by any definition I’ve ever heard of. Something logical is basically something that is reasonable. It’s something that is to be expected. Something predictable. By everyone, regardless of their world-view, religion on social status. And something logical, is certainly something that is true.

    Alice in Wonderland is not logical. It’s not expected, or predictable that when you fall into a hole, you end up inside a different world. For that matter, it’s not logical to imagine ANY gateways to other worlds or universes.

    Dawkins, maybe sloppy (although I don’t know if this means anything), but he does is not, as you keep saying, ignorant of religion. He is a person who has clearly spent a great deal of time studying religion. And it shows. In the God Delusion, he is addressing the popular religion. OF COURSE his arguments will not work for all religions. There are just too many of them. He is merely addresses the popular world-view and popular form of Christian belief.

    I DO believe that there are no Christian children. Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Your argument of, “If Christianity is as true as I believe it to be, then obviously raising children as Christians is not abuse by any stretch of the imagination,” is not a very good one at all. Should we let murderers and rapists also teach their children based on their beliefs? Is that not abuse? What about something a little less dramatic. How about teaching children that the Earth is flat? I consider that to be abuse. The children will be terribly confused as soon as they talk to any rational, educated person about the subject and they’ll have no choice but to be convinced that their parents are either stupid, or liars.

    Children should not be raised by Christians, or atheists, or flat-world-believers. Children should be raised by parents. Passing down religious beliefs is not the responsibility of the parents. A good parents will educate their child (at a decent age) or all religions and explain to them why they believe in certain one and finally let the child (probably a pre-teen at this point) which religion they want to follow – if any.

  5. me says:

    Thanks for the comment, I do appreciate it.

    People mean different things when they say “logical.” In common terms, of course, it means that something sounds like it makes sense, and seems like it could be true to us. In the sense of classical logic, it refers to the validity of the form of the argument. Something can be logical without being true; Alice in Wonderland, for example, is a logical book, but of course, completely fictional.

    When I say Dawkins is illogical, I am probably being a bit sloppy. Dawkins often uses various logical fallacies, especially his use of generalizations and going from the specific (such as the greed of some televangelist) to the general (making inferences on the whole of evangelical Christianity). He also uses what might be good logic, but incorrect data (which is where his ignorance of religion foils him). We know this as “garbage in, garbage out.”

    I am a Theist, particularly a Christian Theist, and so know how inaccurate his characterizations are of Christianity. His statement “there are no Christian children” is idiotic in the context of the understanding of God’s covenants with his people. It makes no sense, obviously, to a philosophical materialist, however the argument, as it addresses Christianity in particular, fails due to his ignorance (or intentional disregard of Christian theology). And, of course, if Christianity is as true as I believe it to be, then obviously raising children as Christians is not abuse by any stretch of the imagination. You would not expect a millionaire to raise his children in poverty. This child abuse argument that I’ve been hearing lately certainly has an Orwellian/Huxleyan feel to it, and it’s flaws should be obvious. Who, then, should decide how to raise children? Only atheists? The state? God forbid!

    On another note, not that I accept social evolutionary thinking, but I’ve seen arguments made that religion must have a social benefit for it to have evolved.

    I did make a few notes as I read through Dawkins book, and will try to address some particulars in the next few days.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  6. As a firm believer in almost everything Dawkins has ever said, I find your post most interesting.

    I’m not familiar with your background (whether or not you are a theist or atheist), but I have always considered Dawkins’ arguments to be the most logical of all. When you say, repeatedly, that he is illogical all I can say is, “How is he illogical?”

    Can you provide specific parts of the book where you believe he is using illogical arguments, please?

    As far as being ignorant of other religions? I don’t want to speak for Dawkins, but from what I’ve read from him, he is anything but ignorant. It’s very hard to attack all the world’s religions at once without having to make a few generalizations. I have run into this problem myself quite often while writing my own blog –

    That’s why a lot of atheists will focus on a particular religion and a particular topic. Sometimes, even a particular sect of a religion. Just because every religion is absurd in so many different ways.

    “[t]here is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents”

    That is brilliant line in my opinion and absolutely true. I see nothing ignorant or illogical there. A child is simply not able to make up a mind about religion and forcing religion on a child is child abuse.

    I hope you can answer my questions, and I encourage you to join me on the other side of debate on my blog too.

  7. me says:

    Mike, this wasn’t intended to be a commentary on the book itself, but merely a commentary on his “rebuttal,” and I think you’ve missed some of my meanings (I’ll take that as a sign that I wasn’t clear – I was really too tired to try to post anything last night).

    I’m not totally sure of your point re the Blasphemy Challenge; my opposition to that is theological, as are my thoughts about raising children. I believe (my theology/philosophy) that parents – even atheists – have the right to raise their children according to their beliefs (as long as it doesn’t reach over into child abuse or endangerment). However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t eternal consequences for people’s decisions.

    I may write a critique of Courtier at some point, but I’ve never felt the need, and tried here to stick to Dawkins’ article. Dawkins’ flaws are numerous, and I’ve mentioned more than in the past. His fundamentalism – as I tried to make clear, but perhaps failed – is in his fundamentalist-style “faith” in a purely materialistic worldview. He has chosen to blind himself to any knowledge that falls outside of his own definition of what qualifies as knowledge. That, to me, is the error of fundamentalism (and that is usually what people criticize about fundamentalism). His views about religion seem almost mirror images of what Christian fundamentalists would say about Dawkins.

  8. Given your objection to the Blasphemy Challenge, that it is leading kids to make a decision when they are not aware of the dangers of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and its hidden implication that it is a form of “child abuse,” do you really think that your position is all that superior to Dawkins?

    I see that you are using the McGrath attack here, but merely echoing it, and not really addressing any the issues in the book. For example, here is your opportunity to write The Emperor’s Defense to PZ’s Courtier’s Reply (which is an admittedly sarcastic response to the challenge from esoteric theologists that Dawkins had not brought out all of the most learned and fanciful attributes of a being who isn’t there.)

    The only fault you brought to my attention, which I had never seen was quote mine from a Christian website, and I agree that it has fault. But merely handwaving that Dawkins is “delusional” has not changed my opinion of a very good book.

    Reading Dawkins carefully, you will discover that the charge of “Fundamentalism” is misapplied. Yes, only evidence that can be verified would shake his atheism, because all of the “evidences” for God that the religious have claimed have fallen short of verfifiability. Even Beauregard’s MRI’s only showed that the Carmelite nuns had activity in their brains when in meditative states, but he never showed the connection to actual verifiable spiritual activity. Perhaps the hack O’Leary can connect the dots for us.

    I share with Dawkins, having discovered firsthand the emptiness of religious “proofs,” the desire to be Shown Something Big. I guess if that makes me a fundamentalist, I have found a new shoe.

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