lazy bash

There’s a nice parallel between Dawkins’ less-than-informed rant against theism in The God Delusion (God would have to be very, very complex, because I, Richard Dawkins, zoologist, say so) and the recent apparently less-than-informed ‘refutation’ of evolutionary theory by Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini in What Darwin Got Wrong.

Will the people defending Dawkins (a la ‘Must he hold a theology degree before he can critique it!?’) lend the same defense to the authors of this new work (‘Must the authors bother to interact with evolution as actually understood by evolutionists!?’)?

6 thoughts on “lazy bash”

  1. This all too often characterizes the debate. The new atheists often seem to attack their understanding of Christianity without giving regard to the variety and depth of different schools of Christian thought (granted YEC is pervasive in Christianity and makes an easy target). In the other camp any evangelical with a bible seems to be eminently qualified to “prove” Darwin wrong.

    Of course anybody can critique. It is the quality of the critique that matters. I would suggest that if Dawkins had a degree in theology and if the authors of this book had a degree in biology then perhaps (no guarantee) it would help to inform their critique?

    So often people just talk past each other.

  2. Precisely Jonathan. Critique is just as much a part of biology as it is with philosophy or theology. And for me (as I suspect you’ll agree) it’s not that Dawkins doesn’t have a theology degree, it’s more that he shouldn’t write a book with the tone of TGD if he knows he’s not the most qualified to write on the topic (and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he does know that).

  3. @Dale:

    God would have to be very, very complex, because I, Richard Dawkins, zoologist, say so

    Surely his statement has as much validity as “god would have to be very simple because I, insert random theologian here, says so? There is no consistent and meaningful definition of the Christian god so it is very difficult to objectively say that any one definition is “wrong”.

    Evolutionary theory however is far more advanced in its development and understanding with a much larger body of evidence and a clearly defined statistical basis. It is very easy to be shown to be “simply wrong” when discussing evolution (for example saying that evolution is false because dogs don’t give birth to cats is a demonstrably fallacious argument). It is much rarer in theology for this certainty to arise. Therefore IMO the comparison between theology and evolutionary theory is not overly valid.

    @Jonathan:

    The new atheists often seem to attack their understanding of Christianity without giving regard to the variety and depth of different schools of Christian thought

    Part of the problem is that the nuances of various interpretations of Christianity don’t really concern myself or most atheists either I suspect. These nuances are internal squabbles which aren’t important because they all depend on the assumption of a divine origin of the bible. Most atheists simply dispute that basic assumption and therefore have no reason to be experts in the nuances because they are irrelevant. Actually I’d guess most atheists even go one step further and don’t even care what religion a deity is attached to, but rather challenge the existence of anything remotely like a god. It really doesn’t matter what theological interpretation you offer at that point.

  4. Ian,
    First of all, the point of that statement you quoted isn’t mainly that Dawkins’ statement about God is ‘wrong’ (it is, in my view, wrong of course), but is mainly that he is commenting on a subject that he has not (quite obviously) engaged with very deeply – hence the comparison with the uninformed critiques of evolutionary theory.

    It’s one thing to think that the theological topic/discussion is (un)interesting or (in)valid… It’s quite another to dismiss a conversation having not listened to it for long enough to evaluate it properly. There are patient, well-informed atheistic critiques of theism. We just don’t see any in The God Delusion.

    For example, his (bald) assertion that God would have to be a very complex evolved thing refused to take account of one of the very first things most monotheists (the very ones he is intending to critique) would say about God – namely that God is ontologically distinct (a totally, wholly, completely different kind of ‘existing’ ‘thing’) from anything in the world – in short that the creator is not the creation.

    No one would require Dawkins to respect ideas that he does not hold to – but he should at least respect the people he’s critiquing enough to listen to what they’ve said? Again, hence the parallel with the person critiquing evolution without being aware of one of it’s most basic aspects.

  5. First of all, the point of that statement you quoted isn’t mainly that Dawkins’ statement about God is ‘wrong’ (it is, in my view, wrong of course), but is mainly that he is commenting on a subject that he has not (quite obviously) engaged with very deeply – hence the comparison with the uninformed critiques of evolutionary theory.

    I think he has properly engaged with it and at an appropriate level given his target audience. I also think his book demonstrates significantly better understanding of theistic arguments than the vast majority of the world’s population.

    It’s one thing to think that the theological topic/discussion is (un)interesting or (in)valid… It’s quite another to dismiss a conversation having not listened to it for long enough to evaluate it properly. There are patient, well-informed atheistic critiques of theism. We just don’t see any in The God Delusion.

    That last sentance is a bold and sweeping generalisation – do you stand by it?

    For example, his (bald) assertion that God would have to be a very complex evolved thing refused to take account of one of the very first things most monotheists (the very ones he is intending to critique) would say about God – namely that God is ontologically distinct (a totally, wholly, completely different kind of ‘existing’ ‘thing’) from anything in the world – in short that the creator is not the creation.

    You have said nothing about his argument in your comment. Something not of creation and something complex and evolved are not mutually exclusive properties. However something complex and evolved has been observed before (look in the mirror) and therefore is consistent with our view of the world. Something not of creation has never been directly observed in any meaningful sense (and arguably couldn’t be). It is not, as far as I can see, inconsistent with your view to say that your version of god is irreducibly complex – is it?

    No one would require Dawkins to respect ideas that he does not hold to – but he should at least respect the people he’s critiquing enough to listen to what they’ve said? Again, hence the parallel with the person critiquing evolution without being aware of one of it’s most basic aspects.

    I am pretty sure he knows the relevant arguments for theism far better than YEC’s commenting on evolution do.

  6. Ian,

    I think he has properly engaged with it and at an appropriate level given his target audience.

    Not my concern in this post. Those with more-than-popular understandings of theology are just as justified in correcting Dawkins (whether writing at popular or [intending to] scholarly level) as those with more-than-popular understandings of evolution are justified in correcting (popular or scholarly) evolution critics.

    That last sentance is a bold and sweeping generalisation – do you stand by it?

    And a passing one, too :) But my reading of TGD has the ‘complex-therefore-extremely-unlikely’ argument as the sole/main argument against ‘theism’ in general (I’m not, of course, referring to the multitude of particular complaints he makes about the character of the Judaeo/Christian God – or believers; just strictly staying to arguments against theism in general – of which this is the only one I know of – do let me know where others are? you’re not thinking of FSM or teapot-ish arguments he refers to are you?).

    You have said nothing about his argument in your comment.

    To be technical, I can’t actually find an argument… just the assertion that God would have to be complex… based on what logic, reasoning? of what necessity?

    Something not of creation and something complex and evolved are not mutually exclusive properties.

    Yes, in a very complex metaphysical construct (i.e. some kind of evolutionary polytheism??), but Dawkins won’t even acknowledge the category of ‘not of creation’ (and probably doesn’t like the word ‘creation’ itself).

    Something not of creation has never been directly observed in any meaningful sense…

    ‘directly observed’… the assumption here seems to be that God must be something we see – presumably the same way we see a desk or coca-cola… this, again, ignores the basic ontological distinction between creator and creation in all monotheistic conceptions of God.

    your version of god is irreducibly complex – is it?

    No, I wouldn’t use that language. Ultimately all theological language is metaphorical (and of course, interestingly, so -ultimately- is all scientific language – i.e. units of measure), and we always run into difficulties trying to describe a non-created being with words which are normally used to describe created beings. Negation (via negativa) has been a way of trying to get around this by saying what God is not like. For example, unlike all ‘visible’ things, God is ‘in[not]visible’; unlike all ‘finite’ things, God is ‘in[not]finite’; etc.

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