"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dawkins is not a "proper" atheist: Discuss.

The Rev Dr Peter Mullen has an article on the Daily Telegraph’s blog page entitled Richard Dawkins says David Cameron is 'not really a Christian'. But is Dawkins a proper atheist?
Well according to the good Doctor, we can’t know if David Cameron is a true Christian or not, because only God (his god presumably) can know that. However we can be sure that Richard Dawkins is not a “proper” atheist because, apparently, he is not David Hume. Of Dawkins he says:-
We can, however, know that Dawkins is not a proper atheist – that is an intelligent atheist – from his own puerile writing and pathetic attempts at philosophical theology. For example, he writes: “Either God exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question. The existence of God is a scientific question, like any other.”
Hume on the other hand
did not possess an irrational, inhumane, roaring opposition to men of faith. He was a close friend of that great English Christian, Samuel Johnson. Unlike Dawkins, Hume did not wish to obliterate Christianity from the public realm. Hume was guided by a conscience which was generous enough to understand that other men’s consciences may guide them differently.
So his real beef is that Dawkins unlike Hume doesn't treat his world view with the respect he thinks it deserves. Funny how "proper" atheists are expected not to ridicule the ridiculous. The fact is that at the time Hume was writing, ridiculing religion would have been professional suicide, you had to be Voltaire to get away with that.
But forgetting about the ad hominems in this article, what about the specific charge of Dawkins' putative scientism? You see according to Mullen the existence of God cannot be a scientific question because
No competent theologians or philosophers – not even the atheist ones – have ever declared that God (if he exists) is an object in his own universe.
First of all, using the The Courtier’s Reply against Dawkins is old news, so if anyone is being puerile and intellectually lazy here it is Dr Mullen, secondly “competent” theologians should be able to understand that a god that exists outside of our observable universe is tantamount to one that doesn’t exist at all. Dawkins is absolutely correct to say that any deity that can interact, affect or otherwise influence events in our universe is testable by scientific means. Any claims to the contrary are a confession that you’re just making stuff up. Christianity, Mullen’s delusion of choice, makes factual claims about their God answering prayers for example. This is a testable hypothesis that has consistently failed, so no wonder he wants to immunise his beliefs against empirical enquiry. But, he can’t have it both ways, either his god is so ‘effin ineffable that he can’t be experimentally falsified, in which case that god can be safely ignored. Or he is the personal and interventionist god of the Abrahamic tradition and can be expected to be discoverable by physical means.
What is almost amusing here is the idea that Dawkins has never read Hume (who was more philosopher than theologian) or indeed any “sophisticated” theologians. I don’t know of any serious atheist who hasn’t some autodidactic grounding in theology as it is impossible to argue for atheism with an educated theist without it. It’s often been said that atheists know more about religion than believers do, and although I would not insult Dawkins by calling him a theologian, I’ll bet he’s a much better one than Mullen gives him credit for, and certainly a better theologian than Mullen is a biologist.

1 comment:

  1. No satisfactory answer to Harlequin Baby Syndrome yet on Mullen's blog and now I can't find the comment.
    Another human horror brushed under the carpet.
    Please continue your observations there and on the Damian Thompson blog.
    Thank you.