Friday, March 09, 2007

Richard Dawkins Keeps Getting Slammed By His Own Philosophical Kind

Poor Richard Dawkins. His latest book keeps getting hammered, and it is not even the religious folk doing it. I think maybe they have learned to ignore him, or simply laugh at him. This from the New York Times:

So why is the new wave of books on atheism getting such a drubbing? The criticism is not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the vast God-fearing conspiracy.

The mother of these reviews was published last October in The London Review of Books, when Terry Eagleton, better known as a Marxist literary scholar than as a defender of faith, took on “The God Delusion.”

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds,” Mr. Eagleton wrote, “and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” That was only the first sentence.

. . .

H. Allen Orr is an evolutionary biologist who once called Mr. Dawkins a “professional atheist.” But now, Mr. Orr wrote in the Jan. 11 issue of The New York Review of Books, “I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude that he’s actually more of an amateur.”

It seems that these critics hold several odd ideas, the first being that anyone attacking theology should actually know some.

And then there are those who point out his double standards:

“In a book of almost 400 pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false,” Mr. Eagleton wrote. “The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history — and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.”

In Mr. Orr’s view, “No decent person can fail to be repulsed by the sins committed in the name of religion,” but atheism has to be held to the same standard: “Dawkins has a difficult time facing up to the dual fact that (1) the 20th century was an experiment in secularism; and (2) the result was secular evil, an evil that, if anything, was more spectacularly virulent than that which came before.”

Poor Richard. I cannot feel too sorry for him though, because reality does not seem to affect him much. I think the wave of criticism from other atheists is to keep Dawkins from giving atheism a bad name, and to prove that not all atheists are so dogmatic, narrow-minded and illogical.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

That Assumption Laden NY Times Article

I have some further comments on the NY Times article that was the subject of my last post.

Note what questions the article simply avoids. For example, what is the evidence that belief in God evolved? How convincing is the evidence? Note how the writer bluffs past this question:
Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.

Since these scholars agree on this one point, it must be true. No evidence is necessary. This harkens back to one of my favorite quotes from Richard Dawkins:
Not only is [evolution] a brilliant solution to the riddle of complexity; it is the only solution that has ever been proposed.

Now let's consider a likely scenario: a public school biology teacher assigns the article to her students and asks for an essay on the following topic: Which do you think is the best explanation for the evolution of belief in God- the adaptation theory or the byproduct theory? What if a student tells the teacher he cannot write the essay because he does not think that belief in God evolved? What if he tells her that his position is based on scientific evidence? What if he tells her that he believes the scientific evidence contains more support for an intelligent designer than for macroevolutionary theories, and requests the opportunity to explain this and present the evidence in class? What if she flunks the student and forbids any discussion of the evidence for intelligent design? Would this violate the Establishment Clause? What would Judge Jones decide?

Banning discussions of intelligent design, but permitting discussions of theories that obviously assume the non-existence or non-involvement of God shows a blatant double standard and is a gross violation of the Establishment Clause.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Why Did Humans Evolve in Such a Way as to Produce Scientists Who Are So Unaware of Their Presuppositions?

The New York Times magazine has an article that explores why religion might have evolved. It is so jam packed with unstated assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions that my head was spinning. I can only wonder at how the writer and so many alleged scientists can pursue a subject with so little awareness of their own unproven, unscientific assumptions. Can this really be called science?

Here is a sample:
Today, the effort has gained momentum, as scientists search for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists — not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does.

Got that? Searching for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists has nothing to do with whether God exists. Can the writer be so dense? Such a search assumes either that God does not exist, or that he acts or does not act in very specific ways. Such assumptions are entirely outside the realm of science and are utterly unscientific.

It is perfectly fine to explore these questions. However, this article is shockingly naive with respect to the unscientific assumptions underlying the pursuit.

If you read the article, I encourage you to ask yourself the following:

Is this science or pseudoscience? Why?

Are the theories put forth falsifiable?

Do the studies discussed in the article lead logically to the conclusions asserted by those quoted?

Here is another gem:
Jesse Bering and David Bjorklund, the psychologists who conducted the study, used finger puppets to act out the story of a mouse, hungry and lost, who is spotted by an alligator. “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator,” the narrator says at the end. “Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

Afterward, Bering and Bjorklund asked their subjects, ages 4 to 12, what it meant for Brown Mouse to be “not alive anymore.” Is he still hungry? Is he still sleepy? Does he still want to go home? Most said the mouse no longer needed to eat or drink. But a large proportion, especially the younger ones, said that he still had thoughts, still loved his mother and still liked cheese. The children understood what it meant for the mouse’s body to cease to function, but many believed that something about the mouse was still alive.

“Our psychological architecture makes us think in particular ways,” says Bering, now at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “In this study, it seems, the reason afterlife beliefs are so prevalent is that underlying them is our inability to simulate our nonexistence.”

Oh, really? Is it empirical evidence from the study that leads to this conclusion? Of course not.

The article is full of conclusions that laughably go miles beyond what the results of the studies justify. They seem to be about 5% empiricism and 95% speculation driven by a priori metaphysical assumptions. This is shoddy science, if it can be called science at all.

By the way, this has been the most emailed article at the Times for two days running. The public is fascinated with such topics and I think that curiosity about Darwinism and Design Theory is only going to grow. This bodes well for Darwinian skeptics and intelligent design proponents since an informed population is certainly one more likely to be skeptical of the overstated claims of Darwinian theory.

Here is a idea: try reading this previous post, and then guess which worldview category each of the sceintists mentioned in the article fit into.