Some Applause for Richard Dawkins

You never thought you would hear me say something like this, but I’m saying it now. Richard Dawkins deserves some credit for his most recent book, A Devil’s Chaplain. Now, I haven’t even read the book, and probably won’t unless I can find a used copy somewhere. But, I just wanted to give Dawkins his due credit for the title of his book, because this is truth in advertising. I’m guessing that he wants Christians to hate him, and feels he is poking them with this type of book and title. But really, I do have some compassion for Dawkins. A person does not have the intensity of emotions he has on a topic without a great internal struggle of some sort.

Creation on the Web has a review of his most recent tome, and there are some interesting quotes from the review:

Dawkins’ sermons fall apart under close scrutiny, and further, he never even considers deeper philosophical problems underlying his method of argumentation. When Dawkins talks of religions fomenting wars, how does he know on a naturalistic basis that there is anything at all undesirable about war?16 How does he know that there is anything inherently good in ‘truth’? In fact, as Alvin Plantinga has shown,17 there are reasons to doubt whether human thought is even capable of corresponding to reality within a naturalistic framework—the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of naturalism.18

As the late Greg Bahnsen noted,

‘One does not decide whether to form some epistemological viewpoint and theoretical basis for certainty or not; he simply chooses whether he shall do it self-consciously and well.’19

Dawkins has an epistemology. He believes that he is capable of knowing true information by means of the scientific method, but he is entirely without a foundation in naturalism for such a belief. Christians who presuppose Scripture, on the other hand, have epistemological warrant for belief in efficacious reason and science, on the grounds that God is logical and made an orderly universe.20 Small wonder, then, that Dawkins avoids the subject and prefers a surface-level polemical approach. The biblical apologetic not only can withstand his individual ad hoc ‘empirical’ arguments, but even undercuts his entire basis of argument by showing that in order to have a reason to trust reason itself, we must presuppose the God of Scripture.21

Some of the reasoning here is similar to things we’ve discussed previously on this blog.  One can sincerely hope that his intense disdain for all authority, other than materialist science, can soften with time.  All things are possible with God.

Source: Secular Sermons.  Creation on the Web.

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16 Responses

  1. One can sincerely hope that his intense disdain for all authority, other than materialist science, can soften with time. All things are possible with God.

    Yes, if not in this age then certainly the next!

    Dawkins’ condition, according to scripture, in the present age:

    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4: 3-4

  2. I think your criticisms of Dawkins would be much more interesting, and also more effective, if you actually knew where he get the title from. And I do recommend it. I have a copy I can loan you.

    However, I don’t think it’s quite fair to accuse of Dawkins of holding an inconsistent epistemology. Dawkins is a scientist, not a philosopher. (Which is why The Blind Watchmaker was a good book, and The God Delusion a bad one.) He is no more trained in detecting inconsistencies in his world-view than is the average guy on the street.

    I recently finished teaching Leibniz to my undergraduates. I think that Leibniz was one of the last major-league philosophers who thought that science requires a theological foundation — because one must presuppose that the world has an intelligible order in order to do any science at all, and the intelligibility of that order is guaranteed by the rationality and goodness of its Creator. You’ll be pleased to hear that many of my students seemed to resonate with Leibniz’s arguments. (Though I’m also not too shabby a salesperson, if I may say so myself.)

    Now I’m teaching Hume, who is much closer to Darwin, Huxley, and Dawkins. On Hume’s view, science is not about discovering the deep, ultimate structure of reality — as it is on Leibniz’s view — instead, science is only the introduction of simplifications and models into our human experience — it is a resolutely “anthropocentric” view of science, and compared to Leibniz, a radically deflationary view of science.

    I mention this because I think that the issues at stake between us are not about different views of ultimate reality, but about whether or not there is such a thing as “ultimate reality,” and even if there is, whether it is the task of science to reveal such. In other words: what is science and what does science do?

  3. @Carl Sachs

    In other words: what is science and what does science do?

    That’s ultimately a very difficult question isn’t it?

    To me, I’d look at it from different levels of analysis.

    1. The role science plays in society.
    2. The cultural role of science.
    3. The economic role of science.
    4. The individual role of a scientist.
    5. The use of science as persuasion.
    6. The abstract definitions of science.
    7. The philosophical underpinnings of science.
    8. The departure or congruence of science with philosophical ideals.
    9. The practical role played by philosophy in science.

    I could probably keep going. But anyway, it’s highly regretable that scientists like Dawkins are uneducated in the philosophy of science as you note. Although, I don’t really agree with you that Dawkins doesn’t understand some of these things. He has an agenda–logic and philosophy be damned.

  4. Well, I think it’s silly for you to speculate on the book based on its title without quoting its full title:

    “A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love”

    It is a collection of Dawkins’ writings.

    From a review:

    “But as chaplain, Dawkins notes that while wasps and caterpillars can do nothing about such amorality, we can. “At the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.” There is no inconsistency here any more than in the physician who studies cancer, but is bent on eliminating it. And as devil’s chaplain, Dawkins urges us to use our evolution-given brains, reject the pacifiers of faith in immortality, and rejoice in our short lives because they are all we have.”

    “I’m guessing that he wants Christians to hate him.”

    Do you (as a Christian) accept the “pacifier” of “faith in immortality”? Then you “hate” the messenger?

  5. sixer quoted,

    And as devil’s chaplain, Dawkins urges us to use our evolution-given brains, reject the pacifiers of faith in immortality, and rejoice in our short lives because they are all we have.”

    (Note the metaphysical nature of “evolution-given” in this quote! see Darwin’s God)

    Only a fraudulent or brain-dead moron would care about this kind of life, which is no life at all! I wasn’t aware of or remember anything before I was born, nor, in this perverse case, would I remember or be aware of anything after this life. So then, why would I care how I live this life, and why would I care about anyone else who is living it, also? This warped philosophy is a recipe for moral degeneration, which can be seen all around us!

    It’s Dawkins and his brood, like the sixer here, who have unleashed, in full force, this lie on the world, and thus we find ourselves in a world gone insane!

  6. sixer snidely asked,

    Do you (as a Christian) accept the “pacifier” of “faith in immortality”? Then you “hate” the messenger?

    Actually, what a true believer (“Christian”) has faith in is God, the Father and His Son, the Christ. Immortality is not of this age, since everything, including you, sixer, will pass away.

    You speak of spiritual things without understanding, and therefore, you come off even more ignorant than if you had just stayed clear of this subject matter! Here’s your problem:

    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those WHO ARE PERISHING, in whose case the god of this world has BLINDED THE MINDS of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4: 3-4)

  7. “Only a fraudulent or brain-dead moron would care about this kind of life”

    It seems your advice to me is that I should kill myself. I certainly don’t want to live as a “brain-dead moron”.

    “why would I care how I live this life”

    I give up – why?

    “it is veiled to those WHO ARE PERISHING”

    Oh dear – I wouldn’t want to “perish”, would I? Or maybe your advice is that I would and should? But this certainly has nothing to do with “faith in immortality”, does it?

    “You speak of spiritual things without understanding”

    Yes, it’s hard to understand such “wishful thinking”. It seems so anachronistic and brain-dead.

  8. Sixer,

    Ahhhhh! You hurt my feewings! BYE BYE!

  9. Only a fraudulent or brain-dead moron would care about this kind of life, which is no life at all! I wasn’t aware of or remember anything before I was born, nor, in this perverse case, would I remember or be aware of anything after this life. So then, why would I care how I live this life, and why would I care about anyone else who is living it, also? This warped philosophy is a recipe for moral degeneration, which can be seen all around us!

    Two quick remarks:

    1) From the fact that you, DB, would have no motivation for caring about how you live and how you affect others if you didn’t have faith in immortality, it does not follow that other people (such as myself) have no substitute motivation for caring about such things.

    2) As for, “This warped philosophy is a recipe for moral degeneration, which can be seen all around us!” — all I can say is that correlation is not causation.

  10. 1) From the fact that you, DB, would have no motivation for caring about how you live and how you affect others if you didn’t have faith in immortality, it does not follow that other people (such as myself) have no substitute motivation for caring about such things.

    Yes, and this “substitute motivation,” as you put it, is God’s truth inhabiting you, whether you’re aware of it or not. There are many, many more people who have held to a Godless existence that are devoid of God, and in their cases we can see the results all around us! Wasn’t suggesting that every atheist/agnostic is Hitler!

  11. Carl,

    BTW and once again, i have no faith in immortality, as you and sixer keep stating it. I have faith in God and His Christ alone! Immortality is a word that you choose to use, not me! As Paul said, “TO LIVE IS CHRIST, AND TO DIE IS GAIN.” Immortality is not of this age, so it is not the driving force behind my faith, since ultimately, God will draw all men to Himself!

  12. “Yes, and this “substitute motivation,” as you put it, is God’s truth inhabiting you, whether you’re aware of it or not.”

    Wow – such extraordinary faith or extreme wishful thinking. I know which explanation seems reasonable to me.

  13. Sixer said,

    Wow – such extraordinary faith or extreme wishful thinking. I know which explanation seems reasonable to me.

    Really! So do we!

  14. Yes, and this “substitute motivation,” as you put it, is God’s truth inhabiting you, whether you’re aware of it or not.

    So God’s truth could be inhabiting me, even though I don’t know it? Well, to be honest, that sounds possible. After all, I’m familiar — as are all of us — with experiences in which one is mistaken about one’s own motivation, or with experiences of others who are (so it seems to us) mistaken about their motivations. And sometimes this is revealed through changes in one’s self-understanding. This could be parsed along the lines of “I thought I motivated by _____, but I see now that I was really motivated by _______.”

    On the one hand, I don’t wish to dismiss out of hand the possibility that I what I take to be my motives — a desire to avoid shameful actions, a desire to help others, a desire to make the world a marginally better place given my meager abilities and skills — could be, in fact, God’s will working through me. On the other hand, I’m not going to embrace this as a metaphysical truth.

    There are many, many more people who have held to a Godless existence that are devoid of God, and in their cases we can see the results all around us!

    I construe this as “there are many, many more people who both reject the belief in God and who are genuinely without a sense of spiritual relationship with other people” — that is, people who are both atheists and narcissists. Is this an appropriate interpretation?

    If so, then I submit that it can go in the other direction, too — that one be a narcissist even if one professes to believe in God, or even, profess to be a Christian.

    Now, it could be that Christianity plays some role in preventing or mitigating narcissism — but to be honest, I’m much more inclined to think that narcissism is prevented, or mitigated, by being raised in a loving and caring family in an intact community where there are opportunities to experience both dependence and independence. And that can happen in non-Christian cases and cultures just as much as in Christian ones. The correlation between the decline of Christianity and the rise of narcissism is explained, sociologically, in terms of the deterioration of a culture that is predominantly Christian.

    Wasn’t suggesting that every atheist/agnostic is Hitler!

    I’m glad to hear it!

  15. I have checked out a copy from the library. The 33 essays are much more interesting that the incoherent ramblings on this silly blog.

    The second essay is “What is true?”

    It ends with:

    “the low-grade intellectual poodling of pseudo-philosophical poseurs seems unworthy of adult attention.”

  16. I have checked out a copy from the library. The 33 essays are much more interesting that the incoherent ramblings on this silly blog.

    Anyone who mistakes the neurotic ramblings of Richard Dawkins for a sound philosophical position has a sharply limited intellect.

    The projection of his mind, as he swats at shadows in the womb of his Mommy Nature (i.e. Plato’s cave) is what you quote: “…the low-grade intellectual poodling of pseudo-philosophical poseurs seems unworthy of adult attention.” This is exactly what Dawkins does. Some of his pseudo-philosophical ramblings were dismantled by the philosopher David Stove in Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution while his form of pseudo-science was refuted by David Berlinski in the Devil’s Delusion.

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