The Raving Theist

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Easy Pickins

November 14, 2006 | 38 Comments

Martin Colthran of Vere Loqui reviews Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. One of his main criticisms is that Dawkins picks only on the easy targets:

He admits Lewis into his book briefly (and, as we said, dismissively), but where is J. Gresham Machan, Cornelius Van Til, and John Warwick Montgomery, or, more contemporaneously, Alvin Plantinga, J. P. Moreland, and Francis Beckwith? They are glaringly absent. Instead, Dawkins prefers to take on the likes of Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jesse Helms, and Fred Phelps, the fundamentalist minister of Westboro Baptist Church who pickets funerals with signs saying that “fags” are “going to Hell”. These names constitute a sort of religious bum-of-the-month club that allows Dawkins to avoid fighting the real contenders.

How convenient.

Theists, of course, often do the same thing, taking potshots at Hitler and Stalin rather than confronting Michael Martin or George Smith. I think the problem for both sides is that more scholarly, thorough, and intellectually honest the book, the less likely it is to be read.

Comments

38 Responses to “Easy Pickins”

  1. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    November 14th, 2006 @ 10:19 am

    I’m still waiting for my back-ordered copy of Dawkin’s book.

    But I’ve seen many of his interviews lately and I wonder if Dawkin’s has picked on those fundamentalist nutcases for two reasons:

    1. They are the most vocal and somewhat influential (they do attempt to change public policy with their own warped methods) – so why not make them out for the fools they are.

    2. Dawkin’s genuine befuddlement over the behaviour that these people exibhit.

    There is one video I’ve seen where Dawkin’s is sitting in on one of Ted Haggard’s “rivival” style mega-church services. I can totally empathize with the puzzled look on his face while observing Haggard’s lost little sheep waving their arms in the air crying out to the the great lord Jesus.

    Dawkin’s sees them for the fools they are … I can’t blame him for picking on them despite the easy target they are!

    I doubt Dawkin’s would hesitate debating any of the “greater minds” in theology.

  2. Kate B.
    November 14th, 2006 @ 10:22 am

    If memory serves, the New York Times reviewer cited the same problems with The God Delusion.

    And until you mentioned them, I’d never heard of Martin or Smith.

  3. Professor Chaos
    November 14th, 2006 @ 10:37 am

    I haven’t a clue who “J. Gresham Machan, Cornelius Van Til, and John Warwick Montgomery, or, more contemporaneously, Alvin Plantinga, J. P. Moreland, and Francis Beckwith” are.

    Let’s face it, the idea behind writing a book is selling books. How many books are you going to sell talking about people that most atheists haven’t even heard of?

  4. gordonliv
    November 14th, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

    One of the main activities that both sides of this argument engage in is trying to prove the other side wrong, rather than than trying to prove their own side right. This is probably one of the reasons why religion is off-limits as a discussion topic in pubs, bars and at social gatherings – it will inflame and enrage because of the way the argument is conducted; not because of the veracity of the arguments being presented.

    I have no problem with Richard Dawkins aiming at the easy targets though. To me all religious people are fair game, whether they’re erudite and scholarly or not. And if Dawkins can win over agnostics – or even believers – by writing his book in the way he does, then so much the better.

    But remember that all people with a publishing contract have a duty to their publisher, as well as duties to their readers. And the duty to the publisher is that they must SELL BOOKS!

  5. Kooz
    November 14th, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

    Gresham Who? Cornelius Van Who?, John Warwick Montwho? Give me a break. Dawkins talks about Robertson and Helms because people know who they are. It’s hard to get worked up about some academic you’ve never heard about.

  6. nix
    November 14th, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

    I’ve never seen Dawkins cower from a debate. The argument seems to imply he’s afraid of debating with more intellectual theists. I personally don’t think that’s true and probably more likely that he decided on high-profile “targets” because more people identify with them than they do with the intellectuals. I doubt the arguments are much different. Just more … eh, intellectual. But they’ll always be similar arguments. Something along Alvin Plantinga’s question “how shall we Christians deal with apparent conflicts between faith and reason …?” Evidence that he knows faith is not reasonable. Faith is uneasonable. It doesn’t mean it must be abandoned nor rationalized. Love can be/feel unreasonable too but it can still feel good to be in love. I hope to never give up loving simply because I don’t understand it. Just let it go. Faith can never defeat reason. But when faith attacks reason, we must defend. If attacks continue, expect an offensive. And faith will lose against an offensive because faith is, as Alvin knows, unreasonable. The argument will _always_ return to an unprovable issue, a god. We’ll have to agree to disagree over our faith of its existence.

  7. andy holland
    November 14th, 2006 @ 4:38 pm

    You should read “The River of Fire” by Dr. Kalomiros if you want a “challenge.”
    ————-
    “I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.

    We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.

    But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor. ”
    ———-
    and …

    “Westerners speak frequently of the “Good God” (E.g., in France le bon dieu is almost always used when speaking of God.). Western Europe and America, however, were never convinced that such a Good God existed. On the contrary, they were calling God good in the way Greeks called the curse and malediction of smallpox, EULOGIA , that is, a blessing, a benediction, in order to exorcise it and charm it away. For the same reason, the Black Sea was called Eu xeinoV PontoV — the hospitable sea — although it was, in fact, a dreadful and treacherous sea. Deep inside the Western soul, God was felt to be the wicked Judge, Who never forgot even the smallest offense done to Him in our transgressions of His laws.

    This juridical conception of God, this completely distorted interpretation of God’s justice, was nothing else than the projection of human passions on theology. It was a return to the pagan process of humanizing God and deifying man. Men are vexed and angered when not taken seriously and consider it a humiliation which only vengeance can remove, whether it is by crime or by duel. This was the worldly, passionate conception of justice prevailing in the minds of a so-called “Christian” society.”
    ————-
    and …

    “Saint Peter the Damascene writes: “We all receive God’s blessings equally. But some of us, receiving God’s fire, that is, His word, become soft like beeswax, while the others like clay become hard as stone. And if we do not want Him, He does not force any of us, but like the sun He sends His rays and illuminates the whole world, and he who wants to see Him, sees Him, whereas the one who does not want to see Him, is not forced by Him. And no one is responsible for this privation of light except the one who does not want to have it. God created the sun and the eye. Man is free to receive the sun’s light or not. The same is true here. God sends the light of knowledge like rays to all, but He also gave us faith like an eye. The one who wants to receive knowledge through faith, keeps it by his works, and so God gives him more willingness, knowledge, and power” (Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 8).
    ——

    You only can rebell against a monster god, and that monster god is our own self. Draw away from judging God and your neighbor, and be true scientists and seek God as He truly is, your Father and redeemer – who loves you even from afar.

    andy holland
    sinner

  8. Jahrta
    November 14th, 2006 @ 5:37 pm

    That was a long post, Andy.

    Let me paraphrase for the 95% of people here who don’t give a tapdancing turd about what you have to say:

    “blah blah blah – god is great – blah blah blah – you’re all sinners and you probably had bad childhoods – blah blah blah – my imaginary friend will save you from his own wrath – blah blah blah *fart*”

  9. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 14th, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

    If religious believers at large believed on the basis of the sort of arguments that, say, Plantinga adduces, then a book aimed at a popular reading audience would quite rightly (and necessarily, given the hypothesized doxastic habits) address such arguments.

    But of course most believers believe on just the sort of bases Dawkins criticizes in his book. The fact that subtler (or merely more obscure) arguments than those Dawkins addresses colorably rationalize belief among a narrow set of philosophically-minded believers seems quite beside the point–readers who want that sort of book can read folks like Quentin Smith, Julian Baggini, Michael Martin, Kai Nielsen…

  10. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 14th, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

    If religious believers at large believed on the basis of the sort of arguments that, say, Plantinga adduces, then a book aimed at a popular reading audience would quite rightly (and necessarily, given the hypothesized doxastic habits) address such arguments.

    But of course most believers believe on just the sort of bases Dawkins criticizes in his book. The fact that subtler (or merely more obscure) arguments than those Dawkins addresses colorably rationalize belief among a narrow set of philosophically-minded believers seems quite beside the point–readers who want that sort of book can read folks like Quentin Smith, Julian Baggini, Michael Martin, Kai Nielsen…

  11. Aaron Kinney
    November 14th, 2006 @ 6:09 pm

    I read Martins review, and found it sorely lacking. I wrote a response to his review, and I posted it at his blog, but his comments are moderated, so in case he doesnt approve it, I will repose the comment here, where I know that RA will allow it to stand :)

    Here is my response to Martin Colthran’s review of Dawkin’s TGD, submitted for posting in the comments section at Vere Loqui:

    Faith in science, eh Martin?

    I agree with you completely. And I am sure that, like me, you will agree that baldness is just another hair color, and that having a healthy body is just another form of disease, and that atheism is just another religion, and that unwavering liberalism is just another fundamentalism, and that pacifism is just another kind of violence, ad nauseum.

    You forgot the part where Dawkins, in his book, specifies the different definitions of the word religion. He notes when it is used literally and metaphorically, as a strict label and as a charged term.

    Is his book evangelical? Yes. Dawkins is trying to dissuade people from a false belief. That is why it was written more towards the average Joe than towards the people with doctorates in theology. Indeed, Dawkins references the esteemed David Mills multiple times, whose book Atheist Universe was deliberately written simply and aimed at the layperson.

    A man who holds the Charles Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University does not get there by being unfamiliar with more technical-minded works such as the Plantiga and Moreland that you mentioned (by the way Martin, it was your error to include Van Til in your list of implied theological heavyweights; he is nothing of the sort).

    Dawkins is preachy, condescending, and a bit of a scold? Oh heaven forbid! I thank your imaginary God that he is being so. It is about time that heavyweight atheists fight fire with fire and appeal to the masses, in plain to understand language, and refuse to mince words.

    For comparison, have you bothered to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and its short, dismissive, even glib treatment of polytheism and atheism? Probably not. All you care about is how Dawkins should keep his kid gloves on when dealing with the sensitivities and emotions of believers who, if Dawkins is right, are supporting incredibly evil and anti-human ideologies.

    I, for one, have harsher words than “condescending” and “scold” for the theological heavyweights of the last few centuries. Dawkins is a true gentleman by comparison.

    Remember that it is the religious tomes of the faithful which call for the death of infidels, nonbelievers, and those who would worship rival Gods.

    Why dont you catalogue how many times Dawkins calls for the death of the faithful in his book BEFORE you start complaining about the hurt feelings that will be suffered by his gruff attitude.

    It appears that much of your review consists of you disliking Dawkins and his book’s objective from the start, and then looking for ways to support that circular premise/conclusion of yours. This is exactly what Dawkins warns about in this very book (not to mention countless other atheists, scientists, and secularists through the ages).

    You claim that Dawkins uses “pure speculation” in theorizing the evolutionary utility in religious memes, totally ignoring the fact that Dawkins cites numerous respected works of others, such as Hinde, Boyer, and Atrand, who also promote the by-product theory.

    You ignore the analogy of a moth to a flame, where the moths attraction to light DOES serve a useful purpose based on reality – but backfires when near a candle – in order for you to set up a strawman and make the ridiculous claim that ALL beliefs with naturalistic explanations are therefore illusory. PLEASE! Talk about a liberal fistful of straw combined with a rancid cup of illogic.

    A naturalistic explanation for a belief does not a priori make that belief wrong. Dawkins point, which obviously went right over your head, is that this naturalistic explanation is damaging to the credibility of SUPERnatural beliefs, and helps explain their persistence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    If belief in gravity has a naturalistic explanation, would you, Martin, suppose that gravity, too, is false?

    And I, for one, cannot understand why you give such respect to C.S. Lewis. Even as a Christian, I was not impressed by his works. Mere christianity and the Screwtape Letters are a chore, and give nothing to the body of evidence for God. Indeed, Mere Christianity wasnt even supposed to, and Lewis said so repeatedly both within his book and outside of it. The fact that you lament the omission of Van Til, and the only brief mention of Lewis, leads me to suspect your judgement of good defenses of theism, and accordingly, your book reviewing skills in general.

    And at the end of your review, you imply that you are more amicable to scorn and condescention if it is less discriminately applied. How ridiculous. If you love everybody indiscriminately, it destroys the value of it. And if you hate everybody without discernment, then your hate becomes without merit.

    And it seems that you suffer from hating everyone who isnt as wishy-washy in their convictions, or as sloppy in their thinking, as you are.

    As a result, your dislike of Darwins attitude, his writing style, and his intent to appeal to a general audience, is without merit.

  12. Aequitas
    November 14th, 2006 @ 10:33 pm

    Nice to see George H. Smith mentioned. It seems like most atheists these days have never even heard of the guy. The book you linked to is still one of the best available on the subject, despite being written decades ago. The way Smith absolutely demolishes the concept of Creationism at its most fundamental level is stunning, and yet it’s widely overlooked.

  13. Martin Cothran
    November 15th, 2006 @ 1:07 am

    Since Aaron also posted here, I’ll post my response here as well:

    Well, the atheist party line is becoming very clear. When Dawkins fails in his attempts to do what he claims to do in the book–to disprove religious claims, just claim that he is aiming low, at the

  14. The Power of Greyskull
    November 15th, 2006 @ 4:21 am

    Martin, you must realise that Dawkins never claims to be able to disprove religious claims per se. As is the nature of religion. It is ‘unfalsifiable’ and you demonstrate this point well in your post. In the strict sense of the word, Dawkins, as a scientist, is agnostic because the scientific approach is that nothing can be proven or disproven to 100% certainty. However, there are some things that have infitesimally small probablitlites. Religion is one of them and Dawkins shows why. The matters in the universe that are not known, Dawkins has no problem in saying that he doesn’t know… yet. But for such matters you cannot continually fall back on the shrinking god of the gaps.

    Christianity is nothing special. There have been thousands of religions and deities before and thousands since it’s conception. Yet you continually tell yourself that yours is the one true belief. This eminates from a time when people’s understanding of the world was a small fraction of what we know now. Myths and legends were rife. Yet you choose to live your life according to such views. I find that, quite frankly, mind-boggling.

  15. oh fuck
    November 15th, 2006 @ 6:54 am

    If “the masses” do not include “laypersons” I think we’re in trouble, Martin.

  16. Martin Cothran
    November 15th, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    Where did I say that “the masses” do not include “laypersons”?

  17. Martin Cothran
    November 15th, 2006 @ 10:56 am

    Power of Greyskull,

    I agree that Dawkins does not consider religious claims to be false with 100% certainty, but I would take issue with two other points:

    First, Dawkins definitely does not consider religious claims to be “unfalsifiable”, and, in fact, directs withering criticism at those who say that. He thinks that, for all practical purposes, that is wimping out.

    Second, you call Dawkins an agnostic. That may be your opinion of his view, but he definitely does not accept it. He distinguishes between to kinds of agnostics, one of which he has more tolerance of than the other, but he clearly does not consider himself an example of either one.

  18. The Power of Greyskull
    November 15th, 2006 @ 11:29 am

    The claim that there is an all-loving, all knowing God is unfalsifiable because, by supernatural definition, is outside the realm of naturalistic causes.

  19. andy holland
    November 15th, 2006 @ 11:29 am

    Dawkins actually believes firmly in God, and even in the true God that is good, dispassionate, and immutable. He projects that God on nature, but then tries to put Him in a mechanistic box he can control and manipulate.

    To summarize the thesis, you really aren’t atheists. You believe in God, you just hate Him and pretend not to believe because you cannot stand the consequences of your own actions and lack of faith (loyalty, trust) and hope in Him.

    Hence your filthy language when confronted with the truth. For you truth is darkness and darkness is your enlightment. It is easier to pretend all religious people are idiots.

    Hence Dawkins only takes on those who do not believe God is good, dispassionate and immutable, but rather those who believe God is passionate as they are and “just” as they pretend to be.

    The problem is however, you have heard of God from a few key mistranslations that have developed a western “theology” where God is “just” in a jurisdictional sense, when in fact God is not just – but rather his “justice” is closer to salvation and mercy. He is incredibly unjust in a sense, giving to all the same wage (salvation), and allowing His only begotten who was just to die for all the unjust that the unjust might become just and live.

    If God were just, you would not be for your blasphemy, but God loves you anyway – even in your blindness, rejection and sin. He loves you as a good father loves a child – any child, wayward or not.

    So you don’t even hate God for a good reason – but you will not study the truth because it really doesn’t matter to you. You like being “bad.”

    The real problem is your wickedness is only temporary. When the universe is resolved to a singularity, there will only be God, and you will be surrounded by the one you hate. “God is good, dispassionate, and immutable.” God is real – that reality is inescapable.

    Read ancient Church Fathers and loose the hate while you still can, because how you live now will be how you live forever, and if there is nothing of God in how you live, you will not live forever but die forever.

    andy holland
    sinner

  20. Aaron Kinney
    November 15th, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

    Martin,

    You said “When Dawkins fails in his attempts to do what he claims to do in the book–to disprove religious claims, just claim that he is aiming low, at the �average Joe,� the �layperson� more than �towards the people with doctorates in theology.� This, apparently, qualifies as a legitimate excuse for flawed argumentation.”

    Dont strawman me. Nowhere in your review did you give any real support for your claim that Dawkins failed to disprove religious claims. And when I speak of the layperson, I dont refer to the quality of Dawkins arguments, but the tone and writing style of his book.

    Folks, it seems that Martin here is projecting. He is suffering the exact fate that he CLAIMS Dawkins suffers: Martin makes claims and fails to justify them.

    Fortunately, Dawkins does not.

    Martin, you also claim that Dawkins doesnt aim at people with doctorates in theology. While some of his targets may not have doctorates in theology (although others do), one thing is certain: most of his targets have a far better education than you or I.

    Dawkins levels hammer blows at just about every religious scientist out there. Dawkins levels hammer blows also against every prominent religious leader alive today. Dawkins attacks the great prayer experiments. Dawkins attacks the Discovery Institute (how many people with doctorates in theology populate THAT organization)?

    Dawkins attacks Aquinas, St Anselm, Francis Collins, Gregor Mendel, Stephen Unwin, Fred Hoyle, Behe, and thats just after skimming through a few pages in chapter 3.

    Martin, you said “Well, first of all, bad arguments don�t suddenly become good ones just because your audience changes.”

    But you fail to establish where the bad arguments are.

    Martin, you also said “Wow. I�m sure you�ll be extending the same privilege to religious apologists real soon.”

    Martin, you also said “And, second, the book is very obviously not for the �average Joe.� How do we know this?

    Because Dawkins says so.

    Not only does Dawkins not say his book is intended for �laypersons,� but he says just the opposite. On p. 5 of �The God Delusion,� Dawkins states his intention in terms that should be clear enough for even �the masses� to understand: �If this book works as I intend, religious leaders who open it will be atheists when they put it down.� Nothing about laypersons. Many of these religious leaders, of course, hold doctorates in theology.”

    Maybe Dawkins did say so, but the style of the book makes it clear, as well as its sales. It is selling currently at #3 on the amazon top ten, and is still flying off bookshelves all across the world. It is selling like a laypersons book. Ive also read quite a few atheistic and religious books, and I know a laypersons book when I read it.

    Martin, if you want a book that ISNT geared towards laypersons by comparison, go have a read at David Ellers “Natural Atheism,” and I think the distinction will become quite clear.

    Martin: “I find it curious that a prominent atheist would write a book he and his worldwide congregation claim is filled with convincing arguments for people he also claims (as do many of the supporters of the book) are quite irrational. That just doesn�t seem to me to be a very rational thing to do. But what do I know? I�m just an unfortunate believer who doesn�t understand logic.”

    More unsupported assertions.

    Since we are playing the unsupported assertion game, allow me to give you a contrary and equally fallacious mirror version of your argument: religious people have no good arguments for God in the first place, so Dawkins didnt have much to do or to disprove in the first place.

    “In fact, since I�m a believer (and therefore irrational), why do atheists keep offering me arguments? What good do they think it will do me?”

    Maybe youll join the crowd and become an atheist like so many of your theistic kin are doing nowadays. Havent you heard? God is just so passe nowadays… like the flat Earth, and ghosts, and all those other superstitions.

    “And then there is the criticism of the people I mentioned (those who apparently cannot be so easily dismissed with guffaws and snide remarks) whose arguments Dawkin�s should have addressed: Plantiga, et al.. What�s the response I get? That you aren�t impressed by them.”

    Those old fogeys have been done to death, and as I noted before, you have a hard time discerning good theologians from crappy ones. Van Til? I hope for your sake that you merely parroted that name and didnt actually read any of his books, because if you did, and you still think he is a good theologian, then you are probably less intelligent than I gave you credit for. Hint: theres a good reason that no decent theologian refers to Van Til; theres a good reason he is barely ever invoked by people with doctorates in theology.

    Your feeble attempts to justify your review will get you know where. And you should watch your condescending attitude, since condescention is obviously a topic that is very sensitive to you.

  21. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 15th, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

    Martin, I don’t understand what “privilege” is supposedly being extended to Dawkins, here.

    The correct response by an atheist to a given bit of apologetics, and in general the best mode of reasoned response to any bit of colorable argument, is along the lines of: “This argument fails on its own terms, and here’s why…”

    In contrast, the prevalant response by sophisticated (or perhaps merely sophistical) theists to Dawkins’ argument has been along the lines of: “But there are obscure arguments and alternative conceptions of ‘God’ that Dawkins doesn’t even address!”

    The former sort of response is commendable. The latter is obscurantist and uncharitable. I fail to see how observing this obvious distinction grants a “privilege” to anyone.

    Incidentally, the negative reviews of Dawkins’ book all seem to seize on this notion that because Dawkins doesn’t address *every* argument that *every* theologian has ever lodged in support of the existence of God, his book is somehow therefore viciously incomplete. Yet I doubt even the most hardened, ideological theist would claim with a straight face that Dawkins’ reviewers have in their *own* reviews addressed *all* the possible *counterarguments* that can be adduced to *their* own positions. Doesn’t that (by their very own peculiar standards of completeness) make their reviews viciously incomplete too?

  22. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 15th, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

    Martin, I don’t understand what “privilege” is supposedly being extended to Dawkins, here.

    The correct response by an atheist to a given bit of apologetics, and in general the best mode of reasoned response to any bit of colorable argument, is along the lines of: “This argument fails on its own terms, and here’s why…”

    In contrast, the prevalant response by sophisticated (or perhaps merely sophistical) theists to Dawkins’ argument has been along the lines of: “But there are obscure arguments and alternative conceptions of ‘God’ that Dawkins doesn’t even address!”

    The former sort of response is commendable. The latter is obscurantist and uncharitable. I fail to see how observing this obvious distinction grants a “privilege” to anyone.

    Incidentally, the negative reviews of Dawkins’ book all seem to seize on this notion that because Dawkins doesn’t address *every* argument that *every* theologian has ever lodged in support of the existence of God, his book is somehow therefore viciously incomplete. Yet I doubt even the most hardened, ideological theist would claim with a straight face that Dawkins’ reviewers have in their *own* reviews addressed *all* the possible *counterarguments* that can be adduced to *their* own positions. Doesn’t that (by their very own peculiar standards of completeness) make their reviews viciously incomplete too?

  23. Martin Cothran
    November 16th, 2006 @ 1:07 am

    Q the Enchanter,

    The privilege being extended to Dawkins is that he gets to engage in straw man argumentation with impunity in a way that atheists would never let a theist get by with.

    And I never said that Dawkins should address obscure or alternative conceptions of God. I said that that mainstream of Christian apologetics over the last 100 years is hardly mentioned at all by Dawkins. If a theist wrote a book on atheism and almost completely ignored the vast majority of responsible atheist scholarship over the previous 100 years, atheist reviewers would have a field day—and justly so.

    Another privilege that wouldn’t be extended.

    I don’t expect Dawkins to address “every” argument, just some minimal representation of the best arguments for his opponents. Anybody can find the worst arguments for his opponent’s positions and look good.

    And to hold reviewers, who generally have between 1000 and 2000 words to use, to the same standard of completeness as the authors they are reviewing, who generally have 300-400 pages to work with, is obviously unrealistic.

  24. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 16th, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

    Martin,

    An argument isn’t a “straw man” if most of the audience you are addressing actually believes based on that argument. Far, far more religious believers believe on the basis of arguments Dawkins addresses than on the basis of the sorts of things Plantinga or Tillich talk about.

    Look, assuming a theist, call him Paul, wrote a book attempting to debunk popular atheism. Would he have to address arguments, say, by Quentin Smith to do an intellectually responsible job? Not by my lights. It’d be perfectly legit if he only addressed arguments like those made by Dawkins and Dennett–even though these arguments are (necessarily) not exhaustive. Why? Because your typical atheist is far more likely to base his disbelief on the sorts of arguments popular writers like Dawkins and Dennett make than on the sorts of arguments that a specialized, highly technical philosopher like Smith makes.

    If Paul’s arguments fail, of course, they fail on their merits, and should be addressed on their merits. To attack Paul’s enterprise by saying something like “But you didn’t even address Smith’s analysis of the beginning of spacetime” (or whatever) would just be changing the subject.

  25. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 16th, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

    Martin,

    An argument isn’t a “straw man” if most of the audience you are addressing actually believes based on that argument. Far, far more religious believers believe on the basis of arguments Dawkins addresses than on the basis of the sorts of things Plantinga or Tillich talk about.

    Look, assuming a theist, call him Paul, wrote a book attempting to debunk popular atheism. Would he have to address arguments, say, by Quentin Smith to do an intellectually responsible job? Not by my lights. It’d be perfectly legit if he only addressed arguments like those made by Dawkins and Dennett–even though these arguments are (necessarily) not exhaustive. Why? Because your typical atheist is far more likely to base his disbelief on the sorts of arguments popular writers like Dawkins and Dennett make than on the sorts of arguments that a specialized, highly technical philosopher like Smith makes.

    If Paul’s arguments fail, of course, they fail on their merits, and should be addressed on their merits. To attack Paul’s enterprise by saying something like “But you didn’t even address Smith’s analysis of the beginning of spacetime” (or whatever) would just be changing the subject.

  26. Crosius
    November 16th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    “I think the problem for both sides is that more scholarly, thorough, and intellectually honest the book, the less likely it is to be read.”

    The more scholarly, thorough and intellectually honest a theist book is, the less likely it is to actually exist.

  27. morgan-lynn lamberth
    November 17th, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

    Paul Kurtz, Howard Sobel , Jonathon Harrisson , Graham Oppy ,Martin ,Smith and Quentin Smith outclass those theistic clowwns!

  28. Martin Cothran
    November 18th, 2006 @ 2:06 am

    Q,

    Well, I suppose if I was an atheist writing a book about “popular Christianity”, I would address those Christians who are “popular”. But if that’s all Dawkins was doing that, then why did he bother to mention, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas at all?

    If I wrote a book on atheism and only mentioned Madelaine Murray O’Hair and a few other less savory people, and never mentioned Smith and others, I think I would be in for a round of justified criticism.

  29. Godthorn
    November 18th, 2006 @ 4:25 am

    I have criticized Dawkins myself, for being less than impressive in a recent televised debate. But I think a number of posters here are being unfair in regard to his recent book. I’ve written a couple myself. The first was almost a quarter-million words–twice the length any publisher would consider (cost consideration!). The second I held below sixty thousand words, though the many subjects addressed could easily have swelled it to a million. Any writer, novelist or scholar, must constrain his natural impulse, which is to write forever and tell the whole story. There is no natural length for a good book. Dawkins had to make a hard choice between length and inclusiveness. Give the guy a break.

  30. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 20th, 2006 @ 11:00 am

    I read St. Thomas in high school. I’d consider him a popular figure in religious belief.

    (Keep in mind that “popular” here is used in the sense of what would be popular to the average reader of books. In another sense, of course, *no* book is “popular.”)

  31. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 20th, 2006 @ 11:00 am

    I read St. Thomas in high school. I’d consider him a popular figure in religious belief.

    (Keep in mind that “popular” here is used in the sense of what would be popular to the average reader of books. In another sense, of course, *no* book is “popular.”)

  32. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 20th, 2006 @ 12:17 pm

    Martin,

    Apparently I deleted the part of my comment that addressed the “O’Hair” reference as I posted. On which point I’d asked how it was you could seriously suggest Dawkins took the tack of “mentioning only” personages all and only analogous in their repute among Christistians as Madalyn Murray O’Hair was in hers to atheists. I’ve only read a couple of chapters of a library copy of Dawkins’, but in just that small sample I recall seeing references to arguments due to Swinburne, Fred Hoyle and Aquinas [whose mention you yourself noted]–all decidedly un-O’hair-like figures.

    More importantly, I recall that Dawkins was much more focussed on types of arguments than he was on specific personalities. (Thomas Aquinas the man, for example, just doesn’t figure in Dawkins’ discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ “proofs.”)

    In sum, I find your suggestive reference to O’Hair inapt and at least apparently unserious.

  33. "Q" the Enchanter
    November 20th, 2006 @ 12:17 pm

    Martin,

    Apparently I deleted the part of my comment that addressed the “O’Hair” reference as I posted. On which point I’d asked how it was you could seriously suggest Dawkins took the tack of “mentioning only” personages all and only analogous in their repute among Christistians as Madalyn Murray O’Hair was in hers to atheists. I’ve only read a couple of chapters of a library copy of Dawkins’, but in just that small sample I recall seeing references to arguments due to Swinburne, Fred Hoyle and Aquinas [whose mention you yourself noted]–all decidedly un-O’hair-like figures.

    More importantly, I recall that Dawkins was much more focussed on types of arguments than he was on specific personalities. (Thomas Aquinas the man, for example, just doesn’t figure in Dawkins’ discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ “proofs.”)

    In sum, I find your suggestive reference to O’Hair inapt and at least apparently unserious.

  34. Jahrta
    November 21st, 2006 @ 1:52 pm

    “Dawkins actually believes firmly in God, and even in the true God that is good, dispassionate, and immutable. He projects that God on nature, but then tries to put Him in a mechanistic box he can control and manipulate.

    To summarize the thesis, you really aren’t atheists. You believe in God, you just hate Him and pretend not to believe because you cannot stand the consequences of your own actions and lack of faith (loyalty, trust) and hope in Him.

    Hence your filthy language when confronted with the truth. For you truth is darkness and darkness is your enlightment. It is easier to pretend all religious people are idiots.”

    You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. It just eats you up inside that some people are too smart to buy into your obvious load of horseshit, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t recognize the truth if you tripped over your own bottom lip and landed face-down on its prick. You can’t possibly be so stupid as to actually believe this, and if you are, please do whatever is necessary to make sure you never reproduce. How can you attempt to refute things like evolution when you ARE the missing link?

  35. Nelson Blake II
    November 22nd, 2006 @ 8:28 pm

    Here is a Darwin cartoon I drew, inspired by the recent conference. http://www.nelsonsketches.blogspot.com

    This is a great topic. Enjoy

    NB2

  36. Joe
    November 28th, 2006 @ 4:24 am

    I have a Dawkins video posted on my blog. I like the guy myself

  37. Steven
    November 30th, 2006 @ 8:43 am

    Hitler was a catholic. To my knowledge his dogma that allowed him to justify his actions wasn’t based on a belief of atheism. In my opinion the word shouldn’t really exist. You don’t have a word for non-belief in fairies, ghosts, goblins or vampires. They are just made up myths in one for or another, just like god. I don’t go around spouting the fact that I don’t believe in the flat world theory. I know the world is round. I don’t need to call myself a round worlder. In this day and age I hear myself calling myself an atheist just so people know my view point.

  38. thorn
    November 30th, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

    Steven, I think the reason why there is a name for the anti- or non-religious person, and no comparable terms for non-belief in other things, is simply because of the enormity of the Idea that separates the Atheist from the Believer. There is no great advantage in having a real Easter Bunny or a real Unicorn; but a real God that can shower blessings on you and resurrect you to life everlasting, now that’s something to brag about. And although the vast majority of people believe in some form of god or afterlife, all their beliefs rest on very shaky ground, and, consequently, nonbelief is seen by the believer not only as an affront to “God” but also as a threat to their system of belief. Thus the need for the name “Atheist.” It serves as a handy curse for use by the religious and as a badge of honor for the one who wears it.

    Another thing about belief in fairies, witches, lucky charms and such: Those who believe in any such thing are almost invariably also god-believers. It’s a rare atheist who believes in ghosts or ghouls or gremlins. So that’s another reason why we don’t need more specific names for disbelief in all those other nonsensical notions. “Atheism” disavows the entire bunch.

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