The Heelers Diaries

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

considerations of the rhetorical atheisms advanced by richard dawkins

Some years ago a young woman asked atheistic scientist Richard Dawkins the following question:
"What if you're wrong?"

Mr Dawkins replied thusly:

"Well what if I'm wrong... I mean, well, anybody could be wrong. You could be wrong about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Pink Unicorn and the Flying Teapot. Erm... You happen to have been brought up, I would presume, in the Christian faith. You know what it is like not to believe in a particular faith because you're not a Muslim. You're not a Hindu. Why aren't you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America not in India. If you'd been brought up in India, you'd have been a Hindu. If you were brought up in... in... erm... Denmark in the time of the Vikings, you would be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you were brought up in Classical Greece, you'd be believing in Zeus. If you were brought up in Central Africa, you would be believing in the Great Ju Ju up the moutain... in... There's no particular reason to pick on the Judaeo Christian God in which by the sheerest accident you happen to have been brought up, and... and... ask me the question what if I'm wrong. What if you're wrong about the Great Ju Ju at the bottom of the sea?"

I have been mightily intrigued by this brief exchange, this moment in time, when two worlds collided.
Mr Dawkins in his answer infers that since there are many alternative truth claims made by various religions, and since some of the imaginary religions that he cites are clearly ridiculous, then no religion can be true.
This is an untenable proposition, most likenable in its wrongness to suggesting that the various now debunked scientific postulations of the past five thousand years, render all branches of modern science inherently untrue.
One could thus by his own standards reply to Mr Dawkins: Why believe in your version of Atheistic Darwinism as science? Why not in other versions of science that existed centuries ago? Why not in Alchemy? Why not in Necromancy? Why not insist on the absolute truth of thousands of discredited theories of light? Why not believe any now debunked notion that has ever been passed off as science?
Mr Dawkins dismissal of the truth claims of any religion, simply because there are many religions, or because he can magine what seem to us thoroughly ridiculous ones, does not hold up to scrutiny.
If his reasoning was sound, clearly we could dismiss science similarly on the grounds of so many untrue scientific theories, postulations, practices and peregrinations.
Following Mr Dawkins Spaghetti Monster rationale, why not say that since the ancient theories of the atoms seem in no sensible modern way true, all atomic theory is permanently discredited? If the very notion of an untrue religion discredits all religions, should the same analytics not apply to Mr Dawkin's favoured atheistic perspective on science, ie that an untrue scientific theory having rendered all science void, there's no point to any of it. If Mr Dawkins is correct that his conjuring of non existent religions involving Pink Unicorns and Flying Tea Pots invalidates religion, then Mr Dawkins' own version of science cannot be deemed anything other than false since so many scientific theories of the past and present regularly prove and have been proven to be ludicrous.
Mr Dawkins' frank insistence that atheism is science, is then by his own lights invalidated by juxtaposing it with the science, say, of the fellows who've spent hundreds of millions of dollars to formulate and research String Theory, and who after forty years of burning money are now starting to coast around the admission that there's no theory there.
Why not consider Mr Dawkins wrong because someone else was wrong about something else somewhere else at some other time? Indeed by such blanket reasoning, why not consider Mr Dawkins corrupt because so many scientists have proved corrupt in falsifying data and making false claims for their experiments merely to obtain funding or to gain tenure at a university or to satisfy their backers from the pharmaceutical industry? That is after all the process of comparative reasoning which Mr Dawkins has applied in rejecting any truth claim relating to any religion.
Now ask yourself again. By his own standard of judgement, why elevate Mr Dawkins' niche of atheistic science above any other nonsense that scientists are known to have believed in at any time? Why not say that Richard Dawkins by his own Spaghetti Monster standard is permanently discredited on account of the fifteenth century pseudo scientific hokum of John Dee the magician? Or why not consider him discredited by the behaviour of the aforementioned pharmaceutical companies who lied when they claimed to have rectified brain chemistry with anti depressants? Why not consider their hijacking of science to have made all science invalid? Or again, pressing forward further into Spaghetti Monster territory, why not insist that the truth of all science is utterly discredited by the medical scientists who for two thousand years up to the nineteenth century insisted the primary treatment for human medical conditions should be the draining of blood using leeches? Those great men of establishment medical science were a lot less rational and did a lot more damage to humanity than the fellows worshipping Ju Ju's by the way...
We also might look at Mr Dawkins' Spaghetti Monster answer for its tone. Most of it, and especially the closing sentence, approximates to: How dare you question me!
Mr Dawkins never addresses himself to what he was asked, namely for a consideration of the consequences if he is wrong in claiming that his denial of the existence of God is a scientifically verifiable conclusion stemming from a proper assessment of evidence.
What are the consequences if he's wrong?
The consequences for himself.
The consequences for all who have followed him.
The consequences for the sciences which has been hugely influenced by him.
Now that would be an interesting speculation.
Mr Dawkins prefers to indict all religions through a spurious Spaghetti Monster analogy rather than consider even for a moment that he may ever have been wrong even on a single salient point.
Another thing.
His insistence that a person's choice of religion is determined by geography is as hollowly strategic as his evasion of the central question. I would suggest he talk to a few ex Muslims. Or listen to a few Hindus who've chosen to become Christian in the heartland of India.
In any case the body of Mr Dawkins answer is his rant about a pantheon of what he is suggesting are alternative Deistic possibilities, Spaghetti Monsters, Flying Teapots, Pink Unicorns, Ju Ju's and so on.
His reasoning and analysis of this seems untrue to me.
As I've said, Mr Dawkins' mode of thought in dismissing religion breaks down the moment it is extrapolated. For if we were to apply it consistently the very notion of truth would have to be abandoned not only in science but in all human experience.
The Spaghetti Monster as a standard for discrediting alternatives, devours everything.
He is the Godzilla of philosophies, destroying all around him and creating nothing.
Here's the rub.
I am suggesting that there could be no science without the notion of truth.
More precisely there could be no science without the commandment from God: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, and without people who believed in that Commandment.
Science as a method of looking at the world has come from the religious notion that there is such a thing as truth, and that we should search for it, and not tell lies about it.
Without the notion of truth as something sacrosanct, science as a consistent, shared, honorable exploration of reality cannot exist.
I am saying that science itself was born of the Judaeo Christian tradition and of Islam.
The literacy and numeracy that came from the Holy Books, the principle of truth itself postulated by their adherents, these, and these only, are the underpinnings of science.
Without them Mr Dawkins himself would indeed still be invoking the Ju Ju in the Mountain to turn lead into gold.
Or something worse.
It was people of faith who rescued science from witchcraft, necromancy, alchemy and devil worship.
That is to say, all science and the scientific method, the part of it that functions I mean, the positive part, the bit where we don't tell lies to each other or sabotage each other's careers for daring to question Darwinism or dispute climate change, the principled procedurals whereby we don't falsify data to gain an endowment or the sponsorship of a corrupt and corrupting pharmaceutical corporation, that tradition in science, I say, where questions are asked and answered without an How Dare You Question Me response, that spirit of open enquiry whereby we are not so offended by the notion of a Creator that we consider proponents of such notions criminals to be deprived of their livelihoods forthwith by fair means or foul, that experience of science where a believer and an atheist look at the elctron flows together and murmur reverently in awe 'why do the electrons obey the laws,' (because we still don't know why they do or indeed why any of the observable consistencies we call laws of nature are laws at all), that civility between people of different convictions in a shared endeavour towards truth, all the good stuff, all the enabling definitors of scientific practice, all of them, I tell you, all over the world, all were invented, pioneered, cultivated, and spread by believers in God.
Whaddayathink folks!
Ah me.
I wonder what ever became of that girl who asked her famous question and provoked Mr Dawkins most famous answer at Lynchburg College, Virginia, way back in 2006.
Who was she?
What is she doing on Saturday night?
Her question was so simple and so perfect.
I think she was a genius.


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