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Atheism, Faith, and Violence: So Close Yet So Wrong

Posted on Feb 20, 2013 by Tom Gilson

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Atheism, Faith, and Violence

Posts In This Series:

Richard Dawkins says there is a logical path from faith to violence, but not from atheism to violence. He comes stunningly close to the truth, while yet missing it altogether.

This comes from somewhere after minute 75 in a debate (video here) with John Lennox in Birmingham, Alabama on October 3, 2007. Dawkins said,

dawkins.jpg

I think there is a logical path from religion to doing terrible things…. There’s a logical path that says, if you really, really, really believe that your God, Allah, whoever it is, wants you to do something–and you’ll go to heaven, you’ll go to Paradise if you do it–then it’s possible for an entirely logical, rational person to do hideous things.

I cannot conceive of a logical path that would lead one to say, “Because I am an atheist, therefore it is rational for me to kill, or murder, or be cruel, or do some horrible thing.” I can easily see that there are plenty of individuals who happen to be atheists, maybe even individuals who have some other philosophy which incidentally happens to be associated with atheism, but there is no logical path.

Those young men who bombed in the London subway and the buses, those 19 men who flew planes into various targets in the United States in September of 2001, they were not psychopaths, they were not downtrodden ignorant people; they were well-educated rational people who passionately believed they were right. They thought they were righteous, they thought they were good, by the lights of their religion they were good. The same thing could be said of the hideous things done by the Taliban….

These people believe deeply in what they are doing. And it follows logically, once you grant them the premise of their faith, then the terrible things that they do follow logically. The terrible things that Stalin did, did not follow from his atheism, they followed from something horrible within him…. You will not do terrible deeds because you are an atheist, not for rational reasons; you may well for very rational reasons do terrible things because you are religious.

How could he be so right and so wrong at the same time? There’s not one word in here that I disagree with—and yet he has missed everything.

Part of the problem lies in what he was trying to prove. I cut the quote short, you see: the next thing he said was, “That’s what faith is about.” So it’s about faith vs. atheism, which for Dawkins means irrationality vs. rationality. I’ll come back later to the difficulties that poses.

Here’s what he gets right: twisted beliefs will lead to twisted actions; and if one’s twisted belief includes certainty of eternal reward for doing evil, then one will very likely do evil. Therefore religion can be very dangerous. Dawkins’s logic on this is impeccable, and it is accompanied by way too much empirical proof. Strongly held beliefs often motivate horrendous violence.

And his analysis of Stalin is spot-on, too. Atheism didn’t tell him to murder millions. The terrible things he did flowed “from something horrible within him.”

Nevertheless there is something way too convenient going on here. It’s centered in five questions that Dawkins gets wrong:

  1. What is faith?
  2. What is atheism?
  3. What is evil?
  4. What motivates it?… These four questions all point to a final one, the one that really matters:
  5. Whats the solution for evil in the world?

What is Faith?

I’ll deal with each of those in separate posts. Dawkins defines religious faith as belief without evidence. Ironically, if that were the proper definition it would identify Dawkins himself as a man of faith: he believes it without any evidence.

Now of course there are people who cannot articulate reasons for their belief. There are entire religions whose beliefs rest on shaky evidential grounds—Mormonism is one. Dawkins apparently thinks that since that’s the case for some faith, therefore it is true of all faith. This is nothing but silliness. (I didn’t say his logic was always impeccable. Or even usually.) There is junk science: does that mean all science is junk? Similarly there is more than one kind of faith.

There’s so much that could be said about it—I feel almost guilty letting most of it pass by—but let me focus narrowly on what’s most relevant here. Faith is not just about why one believes or the way one believes, as Dawkins supposes; it is also about what one believes. Some religions believe in violence. Some believe in passivity and resignation. Biblical Christianity believes in doing good, and avoiding aggression and retaliation.*

So on biblical Christianity, it is impossible for anyone to think he is righteous while taking initiative to harm others. The “hideous” evil Dawkins ascribes to faith-thinking may be possible with some versions of faith; of that I have no doubt. It could even be the fruit of a mistaken, twisted sort of “Christianity” that is a counterfeit of the real thing.

But it is not possible in the faith of biblical Christianity, for what biblical Christianity teaches us to believe—the faith it calls on us to hold—is that it is good to do good and not to do evil.

Thus Dawkins’ view of faith here is badly distorted. It’s a view he holds without evidence and without any credible connection to truth.

Next in this series: why “atheism” really isn’t (necessarily) responsible for atheists’ atrocities, and how that doesn’t help Dawkins’ case.

*Some even believe that biblical Christianity believes in avoiding all violence, including that which is undertaken for self-defense. On that I disagree: violent action for self-protection can in many circumstances be morally justifiable.

I’m adapting and re-posting several of my pre-WordPress blog entries. This series is an expansion of an article I wrote in October of 2007.

Series Navigation (Atheism, Faith, and Violence):Atheism, Faith, and Violence: Focus on Atheism >>>
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56 Responses to “ Atheism, Faith, and Violence: So Close Yet So Wrong ”

  1. So it’s about faith vs. atheism, which for Dawkins means irrationality vs. rationality.

    Dawkins calls those religious zealots rational in his argument.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Rational with respect to how they follow an irrational faith.

  3. SteveK says:

    Next in this series: why “atheism” really isn’t (necessarily) responsible for atheists’ atrocities, and how that doesn’t help Dawkins’ case.

    Let me take a guess. It’s because the absence of a belief (in God or whatever) can’t motivate you to do anything. However, it’s the many (often strange) beliefs that fill that void – beliefs like “religion poisons everything” or “religion is irrational” or “morality is relative” – that serve to motivate the atheist.

    I’m sure there is more to it. Look forward to the post.

  4. Ray Ingles says:

    It could even be the fruit of a mistaken, twisted sort of “Christianity” that is a counterfeit of the real thing.

    Thus Dawkins’ view of faith here is badly distorted. It’s a view he holds without evidence and without any credible connection to truth.

    If he had encounters with the ‘counterfeit Christianity’ you posit, would he be believing that ‘without evidence’? (And you do realize that you’ll need to be careful to avoid objections of the no true Scotsman variety?)

  5. Ray Ingles says:

    Oh, and technically, you didn’t actually define faith in your “What Is Faith?” section above. “Faith is not just about why one believes or the way one believes, as Dawkins supposes; it is also about what one believes.” isn’t precise enough for me, at least, to understand what you mean by the term.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    The “no true Scotsman” thing is just a tiresome red herring, Ray. There is a definition of a Scotsman that is a true definition. If there weren’t, the “no true Scotsman” fallacy would lose all its purchase in the first place! You can’t have a fallacious definition of a true Scotsman without an accurate one to compare it to.

    And there is also a definition of biblical Christianity that is a true definition. (See David Heddle’s I-Say-Therefore-I-Am Law and the exception immediately following.)

    “Christianity” that takes initiative to harm others is not biblical Christianity.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, I know I didn’t define faith there. That’s why I said,

    There’s so much that could be said about it—I feel almost guilty letting most of it pass by—but let me focus narrowly on what’s most relevant here.

    You could click the “Faith” tag at the end of the post if you’d like more information.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    My recent “Rationalizing Christian?” post would be a good place to look for further discussion on what faith is about.

  9. Holopupenko says:

    Ray:

    Seriously, not just based on some of the nonsense you post on your site… but to so blatantly continue to miss the simplest qualifiers (@7) and positing problems where none exist (@6)… multiple times over multiple posts

    …just what is your problem?

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, I wish I had written this down somewhere so I could prove it: I knew someone was going to bring up the No True Scotsman issue. I just knew it. So easy to predict.

    But again: it doesn’t apply here, because some people in kilts really aren’t Scotsmen, and some people who claim to be Christians really don’t fit a proper definition of the word, either.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    I need to clarify something. I wrote, “‘Christianity that takes initiative to harm others is not biblical Christianity.” That’s an accurate statement and I stand by it.

    Yet we need to recognize openly that no one is perfectly consistent. I seek to follow biblical Christianity, and yet my family knows I can be angry and hurtful at times. At those moments nothing has changed about what biblical Christianity is about. What’s changed is something about me. If and when I take initiative to harm others, at those times I depart from biblical Christianity.

    I’ll have more to say about this in future posts in this series.

  12. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson and Holopupenko – Neither of you seemed to notice that I didn’t actually accuse anyone of engaging in the fallacy. Go ahead, read what I wrote. I simply noted that it was a risk when making such qualifications.

    And if there’s a section titled “What Is Faith?” I have to admit I expect some kind of definition, or a reference to a definition. You might want to edit the post to put such a link there.

    From that link, it sounds like you’re pretty much in line with C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

    Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

    Does that sound about right?

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m pretty much in agreement with that, yes.

  14. BillT says:

    There is only a logical path from religion to violence if the religion places the basis for achieving its ends on man’s works. If one’s works form this basis then quite often this will manifest itself in violence. For to strive without ceasing will call one to prove their strivings have reached an unreachable standard. What better way than to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. World history is replete with examples.

    This is why the “no true Scotsman” fallacy doesn’t apply to Christianity. As Christians we aren’t asked to earn our salvation. Those who have resorted to violence have no basis to claim they are following God’s commands. That’s because we aren’t called to earn God’s acceptance, it’s given freely. Those who have acted violently prove the falsity of their claim by their very acts.

  15. JAD says:

    Imagine if Rick Warren had said:

    “Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”

    Rick didn’t but Sam did. See:Sam Harris, The End of Faith“, pp.52-53.

    Aren’t Harris and Dawkins buddies?

  16. BillT says:

    JAD,

    Wouldn’t the belief that “Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them” be one of the beliefs that “…are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”. Just saying.

  17. William Brown says:

    So where does Dawkin’s faith fit into all this, and why does he think his faith is exempt from everything he claims about every other faith?

  18. TFBW says:

    @William Brown #17:
    Dawkins asserts that he believes things only in accordance with evidence and reason, whereas faith is the opposite of that. Faith, by his definition, is an intellectual vice that is well beneath him. He believes things, but this does not count as “faith”.

    You just have to keep in mind that “faith” means something totally different to a New Atheist than it does to the rest of the English-speaking world. It’s a jargon thing. We are not speaking the same language, despite superficial appearances to the contrary. Translation is necessary — not only with the term “faith”, but also “evidence”, “reason”, and many other terms besides.

    Funny thing: I recently had a representative of the “Atheist Foundation of Australia” tell me that I “seek tendentiously to redefine atheism” on the grounds that I wasn’t adhering to the “official AFA definition”. And he did so without a hint of irony. Fact is, I wasn’t trying to define atheism at all: I was trying to understand their position and its rational basis, but evidently I wasn’t able to ask my questions tactfully enough.

  19. William Brown says:

    What Dawkin’s and many atheists need to understand is the degree to which their beliefs are more truly a blind faith than that of the theist or Christian.

    Norm Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” addresses many of these same points. I highly recommend it.

  20. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – Okay, fair enough. Now, you note that Dawkins is pretty straightforward about his definition of “religious faith”.

    In your view, would “religious faith” be distinct from ‘faith in the sense of trust’ in other areas? I mean, would “religious faith” be different in kind from “political faith” or “faith in your spouse” or what have you?

    Or is “religious faith” just ‘trust in your principles and conculsions, applied to the area of religion’?

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    There’s one thing lacking in Lewis’s definition. Faith is both an epistemic attitude (a cognitive matter) and a relational attitude. That is, because of what I know of God, I have faith in God. I have faith in the facts that are yet to unfold, such as his promises being fulfilled, but I also have trust in him as a person, which also goes under the term faith.

    So this is very similar in kind to the faith I have in my wife, though the difference between God and my wife makes an obvious difference in the way I have faith in them.

  22. BillT says:

    Ray,

    I’d go with your definition. Religious faith is “trust in your principles and conculsions, applied to the area of religion”. It could be more than that I suppose. However, your definition explains the concept in a way the is applicable across the board. Belief = trust in your principles and conculsions, religious = applied to the area of religion. Pretty straight forward as it should be.

  23. bigbird says:

    I recently had a representative of the “Atheist Foundation of Australia” tell me that I “seek tendentiously to redefine atheism” on the grounds that I wasn’t adhering to the “official AFA definition”.

    Just out of interest, I have had many sparring matches with the AFA’s president on various Internet forums.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    What is the “official” definition, anyway?

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    And who made it official for the whole world?

  26. TFBW says:

    @Tom #25, #26:
    From their FAQ: “Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural.” It’s also on their home page under the main image.

    After a fair bit of discussion with the guy who answers their “info@” email, I couldn’t get a clear answer as to whether they make any sort of ontological commitment regarding the existence of God, nor their standards of evidence, or even whether they considered the absence of evidence to be evidence of absence. They deny that there is any credible scientific evidence for God, and the whole “religious people are hurtful deluded fools” thing (paraphrased from their FAQ “do atheists hate religious people?”) somehow follows immediately from that.

    I don’t think that they consider the definition official for anyone but themselves — and possibly for anyone they happen to be talking to at the time.

    If you want clear answers about what atheism is, and what it means to be a “scientific Atheist” (as per the language in their FAQ), then I suggest you give up before you start. If, on the other hand, you want additional examples of New Atheist “wouldn’t know reason proper if it bit them” blather, then by all means contact them.

  27. William Brown says:

    At a very basic level, even the ‘official’ atheist spokespeople and organisations are terribly confused. They do not seem to be able to employ even basic elements of logic or evidence.

  28. BillT says:

    “Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural.”

    If you didn’t see this printed in black and white you would think it’s some kind of parody of a definition of atheism. “…no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence…” Wow, miss the point much?

  29. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    You just have to keep in mind that “faith” means something totally different to a New Atheist than it does to the rest of the English-speaking world.

    Not entirely. There are an awful lot of creationists, for example. And if you type in “what is faith” (without the quotes) in Google, check out definition number 2 in the first result, or the first sentence of the Wikipedia definition. I kind of doubt that’s just New Atheists tweaking things.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Wikipedia on “faith:” “Faith is belief without proof.”

    Wikipedia on “proof” yields a disambiguation page listing dozens of different pages discussing possible meanings. At least 12, maybe 15 of those topics are relevant to this context.

    So hey, I agree faith is belief without proof, depending on what you mean by proof. I would also point out that Wikipedia’s first sentence to which you so proudly point is utterly meaningless on its own.

    (Did you know that nothing in experience can be proved? It depends on what you mean by “proved,” of course.)

    Now, what does that have to do with a discussion about faith being belief based on evidence? I have no idea.

  31. JAD says:

    Do we need faith to do science?

  32. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles #30:
    “Belief without proof” is one way in which the term is used, yes. My preferred dictionary ranks it at #2 (below the “personal trust” usage). There’s a huge difference between “without proof” and “without evidence, or even in the teeth of evidence”, which is how the New Atheists use it. So yeah, that’s not New Atheists tweaking things, because that’s not what they say.

    You can see the difference between “without proof” and “without evidence”, can’t you?

    I’m not sure what the reference to creationists was meant to imply. I’ll assume it didn’t add any substance to your point.

  33. Noah says:

    Overall I agree with what Professor Dawkins says, however, I wish that the framed more into a human rights, general abuse type framework than into something like, “Religion is bad and can lead one into murder and mayhem.” Of course that is part of the equation but only a small percentage when compared to daily abuses that stem from religion.

  34. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Now, what does that have to do with a discussion about faith being belief based on evidence? I have no idea.

    The point being that Dawkins’ usage isn’t quite so idiosyncratic as it’s been portrayed.

    TFBW –

    There’s a huge difference between “without proof” and “without evidence, or even in the teeth of evidence”

    Note that Dawkins’ history includes a very long slog with creationists. And many of their claims definitely fall into the “without evidence, or even in the teeth of evidence” category. As I asked in my first comment here, “If he had encounters with the ‘counterfeit Christianity’ you posit, would he be believing that ‘without evidence’?”

    C.f. Augustine. “If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”

  35. Victoria says:

    Young Earth Creationists don’t speak for all Christians ( see http://www.asa3.org, http://www.reasons.org or http://www.biologos.com for example). There are Christians trained in the natural and physical sciences who don’t agree with the YEC handling of science and Scripture, as well as Christians who are trained in Biblical scholarship who disagree with them.

    That God created this physical reality is something that all Christians will agree on (and that statement is part of core Christianity); the process(es) used and time taken, as well as the teaching purposes of what Genesis 1 and 2 are meant to be are secondary interpretative issues.

    To be a Christian, one does not have to be in the YEC camp. Augustine is quite correct, but it is incorrect to assume that because YEC is wrong about the formative history of the universe that all core Christian doctrines are wrong, particularly the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, upon which all of Christianity stands or falls.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, did I portray Dawkins’s view as idiosyncratic? If so, I regret the error and I apologize deeply for it. What I meant to do was portray his view as wrong. The same goes for the rest of the New Atheists who distort the meaning of the word—your irrelevant reference to Wikipedia notwithstanding.

    And if you’re going to use YECers as your defining of representatives of faith, then how will you possibly deal with all the people of faith down the centuries who weren’t YECers? The fact is that you’ve tendentiously taken the most controversial fringe beliefs you can think of, and you’ve tried to tell us this is what all faith is about.

    That’s illegitimate argumentation, of the sort that if it produces a true conclusion could only do so by sheer accident.

    Now, what if Dawkins had “encounters” with that?

    He’s a scientist, remember. He really, really ought to know the meaning of the term “unrepresentative sample.” I mean, he really, really ought to know it.

    But if he does, he doesn’t seem to think a scientific way of thinking like that has any relevance here. He is all too willing to move into anecdote, and to toss out science, when his predetermined position is at stake.

  37. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    Young Earth Creationists don’t speak for all Christians…

    I didn’t say that. Indeed, I quoted St. Augustine more-or-less to that effect.

    it is incorrect to assume that because YEC is wrong about the formative history of the universe that all core Christian doctrines are wrong

    Didn’t say that either.

    Tom Gilson –

    Ray, did I portray Dawkins’s view as idiosyncratic? If so, I regret the error and I apologize deeply for it.

    Well, perhaps I misunderstood, but you consistently use phrases like “Dawkins says”, “Dawkins means” “Dawkins defines”, “Dawkins apparently thinks”, “Dawkins’ view” and so forth.

    The fact is that you’ve tendentiously taken the most controversial fringe beliefs you can think of, and you’ve tried to tell us this is what all faith is about.

    No, I didn’t. I didn’t say that creationists are “what all faith is about”. I don’t, in fact, think that’s the case for ‘faith’ in the sense of ‘trust in your conclusions’. But given Dawkin’s long conflict with creationism, I think his position, while incomplete in some respects, is understandable.

  38. William Brown says:

    How I long for the good ole days when the atheist spokesmen had some degree of sophistication and intelligence. Bertrand Russell at least understood the basics of logic and had a semi-coherent philosophy to argue.
    Dawkins and the new pop atheists are ignorant to an unprecedentedly superficial and vapid degree. I guess they just track the general course of pop culture, which seems to soak the nonsense up.
    I know this doesn’t add much to the conversation, but it’s frustrating to try to maintain an argument which requires constantly going back to the square-one basics of elementary logic.

    God bless you Tom for your patience and long-suffering.

  39. JAD says:

    Here is a link to an interview of a former YEC, Johnny V. Miller, who along with his coauthor, John M. Soden, (also a former YEC) have done a new exegesis of Genesis chapter 1 which they published in a book entitled, In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context. It’s interesting because they depart completely from a concordist interpretation that is at the core of much of the debate between YEC and Old earth creationists.

    http://www.apologetics315.com/2013/02/author-interview-johnny-v-miller.html

    BTW St. Augustine took non-concordist view of the Genesis 1 creation account. Maybe that kind of interpretation deserves another look.

  40. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles #35:

    Note that Dawkins’ history includes a very long slog with creationists. And many of their claims definitely fall into the “without evidence, or even in the teeth of evidence” category.

    I’ll assume for the sake of argument that your description of Dawkins’ encounters with creationists is entirely correct, even though in my experience he is always careful to pick easy fights on that front. Even if I make that generous concession, however, it doesn’t change the fact that Dawkins is improperly abusing “faith” as a synonym for “credulity”, and then tarring all religious believers with that brush. He’s playing a blatant propaganda game with his terminology. The fact that his fellow New Atheists don’t call him out on this shows that rhetoric is just as welcome as “reason and evidence” in those circles, when it plays a supportive role.

    I’m sorry, were you seriously defending Dawkins’ usage of “faith” on the grounds that he has hunted out and talked to religious people who can be properly described as credulous? Or have you swallowed the propaganda? Do you consider it a valid extrapolation that some people who have religious faith are credulous, therefore religious faith is the same as credulity? Please explain your logic, or wake up and smell the propaganda.

  41. TFBW says:

    I’ve decided to do my own extended analysis of the Dawkins extract Tom quoted. I take a different approach to it.

  42. JAD says:

    If the Christian-theist belief is irrational then the atheist who is making this charge should be able through the use of reason and logic fairly easily demonstrate how and why our thinking is irrational.

    For example, let’s just consider just one argument, W. L. Craig’s argument for design based on the fine-tuning of the universe.

    The argument goes like this:

    (1)The fine-tuning of the universe to support life is either due to law, chance or design

    (2)It is not due to law or chance

    (3)Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design

    What’s illogical (or irrational) about this argument?

    Of course, it’s a deductive argument and one of the weakness of deductive logic is the question of how one establishes the truth of one’s primary premise. But notice here that primary premise IS TRUE if law, chance and design are the only alternatives. (Are there other alternatives?) The burden of proof here shifts to premise #2. Notice what Craig does here in his debates. He brings in other arguments to eliminate law or chance as the best explanation for the apparent design that we see in the universe. This is actually an example of what is known as abductive reasoning (in distinction to inductive or deductive reasoning) which actually compares competing arguments to see what is the best explanation.

    Of course, real design implies a designer.

    Ironically, even Richard Dawkins has conceded that living things have the appearance of design. But if there is the appearance of design, why is it illogical to consider the possibility that the design is real?

    For further discussion see:

    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/how-to-defend-the-fine-tuning-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/

  43. Karl Udy says:

    I have to take issue with “violent action for self-protection can in many circumstances be morally justifiable.”

    I think people very often confuse “violence” with “force”. While I believe there are many circumstances where force is justifiable, and even some where lethal force may be justifiable, “violence” by definition is action that “violates” someone, and I believe that within Christian thought can never be justified.

  44. Tom Gilson says:

    Karl, I’ll accept that correction gladly. You’re right on that.

  45. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – It’s not clear that the universe is, in fact, fine-tuned. It’s not clear what the ‘free parameters’ are. Even Einstein asked, “Did God have a choice in creating the universe?” So there’s a ‘premise 0′ in your argument that’s not established yet.

    But if there is the appearance of design, why is it illogical to consider the possibility that the design is real?

    Have you actually read anything Dawkins wrote along those lines? “The Selfish Gene”, or “River out of Eden”? I could also suggest David Sloan Wilson’s “Evolution for Everyone”.

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, if there is something that restricted the range of free parameters, such that those possible parameters were complexity-permitting, that something was at least as fine-tuned as what our universe appears to be.

    I say “complexity-permitting” to head off objections that the fine-tuning argument is carbon-centric. The fine-tuning of the universe that we observe is necessary for any chemical complexity whatsoever.

  47. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, I’ve read dozens of books by evolutionists. I suspect JAD has too. What’s your point?

  48. JAD says:

    You’re neither engaging the argument, Ray, (fine-tuning is widely accepted by non-theists) or addressing whether or not the argument is rational.

    BTW on pages 157-8 of his book, The God Delusion, (Yes, I’ve read it.) Dawkins concedes that there is the appearance of design (or “fine-tuning”) in the universe. For example he writes:

    1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/richard-dawkins-argument-for-atheism-in-the-god-delusion#ixzz2LxulAF00

  49. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    it doesn’t change the fact that Dawkins is improperly abusing “faith” as a synonym for “credulity”, and then tarring all religious believers with that brush.

    Note that I didn’t say Dawkins was wholly correct or anything. He does overstate some things.

    But again, Tom Gilson asks that we treat each other as human beings. Try looking at things from Dawkins’ perspective. Do you really think that as prominent a popularizer of evolution as Dawkins needs to “hunt[] out” creationists? I rather suspect that the sample of theists he’s encountered is just a tad biased.

    And his arguments aren’t quite as ignorant as they’ve sometimes been portrayed. He’s addressed things like divinse simplicity and eternity and so forth, though not always with the terminology of theology.

    I think he makes mistakes, too – but my does he come in for vitriol!

  50. Ray Ingles says:

    You’re neither engaging the argument, Ray, (fine-tuning is widely accepted by non-theists)

    I am very directly engaging the argument. The premise is that the universe is fine-tuned, and I am stating quite explicity that that is not established yet. Sure, many people accept that. Are you really going to base it on argumentum ad populum?

    or addressing whether or not the argument is rational.

    If you want that, I’ll cheerfully contest (2) in your account. There’s no way to know yet why the various constants in our models have the values they do. When you can tell me why – the precise mechanism – the ratio of the mass of the proton to the electron is what it is, then you might be in a position to reach a conclusion on (2).

    Compare lightning in the 16th century. If someone asked, “What is lightning? What causes it?”, the proper answer was “We don’t know – yet.” The proper answer was not Thor, or Seth, or the Thunderbirds, or even God. Sometimes, we really don’t know. That’s not the same as ‘we can’t ever know’, but it’s undeniably different from ‘we know’.

  51. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – Next up.

    BTW on pages 157-8 of his book, The God Delusion, (Yes, I’ve read it.) Dawkins concedes that there is the appearance of design (or “fine-tuning”) in the universe. For example he writes:

    Note Dawkins’ point 5 and 6 – where he quite explictly makes the same point I did – ‘we are not in a position to eliminate law or chance as the source of the apparent fine-tuning’. And we have a lovely example in evolution of apparent design being a illusion.
    See point 4 on page 158. “Darwin and his
    successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings.”

    Note that in comment 43, you asked,

    Ironically, even Richard Dawkins has conceded that living things have the appearance of design. But if there is the appearance of design, why is it illogical to consider the possibility that the design is real?

    How is that not a direct answer to your question – which was explictly about “living things”? If you want more details about that answer, you can read the books I pointed out to you, or many others. (Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, for example.)

  52. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Ray, if there is something that restricted the range of free parameters, such that those possible parameters were complexity-permitting, that something was at least as fine-tuned as what our universe appears to be.

    The fact that water freezes at the temperature it does, and the way it does, is vital for life to exist on Earth. But water freezes the way it does because of more fundamental properties, such as the nature of hydrogen and oxygen. And those in turn depend on the nature of electrons, protons, and neutrons, which depends on… etc.

    We could imagine a world where everything was the same except water froze at 1 degree Celsius… but you couldn’t actually have such a world. The nature of nuclear and electromagnetic forces would have to change too far to allow ‘everything else’ to remain the same.

    In short, we don’t know what the ‘free parameters’ are – if any. Again, tell me exactly why the ratio between the strong force and the weak force is the way it is, and then I might accept that you know what the free parameters are.

  53. BillT says:

    “I think he makes mistakes, too – but my does he come in for vitriol!”

    As one of those guilty of that vitriol I think you are painting with too broad a brush. Dawkins is very good at explaining evolution for those that missed that part of the 5th grade. I have no problems with what he says on the topic. He answers all the boring questions quite adequately. However, as a philosopher and theologian he’s a rank amateur. I’ve been quite specific in my criticism. It doesn’t seem you are equally so.

  54. JAD says:

    Ray,

    In his OP Tom points out that Dawkins erroneously equates faith and religion with irrationality, which then apparently leads to violence (I guess).

    In my post @ 43 I write:

    If the Christian-theist belief is irrational then the atheist who is making this charge should be able through the use of reason and logic fairly easily demonstrate how and why our thinking is irrational.

    Then I give Craig’s fine-tuning argument as example of the kind of arguments Christian theologians and philosophers (like Craig) use.

    I then ask:

    What’s illogical (or irrational) about this argument?

    I then go on and unpack the argument a little because I think it’s a good argument.

    Now let’s stop right there. Do you see what I am trying to do, Ray? I am not asking whether the argument is true or if you agree with it, I simply asking whether the argument is rational. Get it?

    BTW it’s not ad populum to point out that non-theists, like Dawkins, accept fine-tuning.

  55. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD –

    I am not asking whether the argument is true or if you agree with it, I simply asking whether the argument is rational. Get it?

    The form of the argument is sound, but at least two of the premises are not supported by the data we currently have. So far as I can see it’s an argument that could be rational that’s accepted for irrational reasons.

    BTW it’s not ad populum to point out that non-theists, like Dawkins, accept fine-tuning.

    In the context you were using it, it does indeed strike me that way. It’s irrelevant to establishing that the argument is correct or even sound.

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