The Atheist Crusade

Thank you Tony for your comment and the links you suggested. I found the Alvin Plantinga essay very interesting. He very accurately indentifies some of Dawkins’ most glaring errors of method and logic, but his arguments in response range from the totally convincing to the pretty shaky.

Alister McGrath has written a short book in response to Dawkins’ The God Delusion in particular which is pretty strong, but a little too short! However, his previous books on the general topic of Atheism in the 21st century will satisfy the hunger and curiosity of those who want a deeper and more detailed dissection of the emptiness of today’s atheist philosophy.

One of the main faults in all of these atheist evanglists’ position is a very simple ignorance of a critically important fact: they insist on claiming that they, and all of “Science”, are totally objective – like a computer or a machine or a methematical equation. they believe that when they consider evidence they do so without any bias and with a pure and undiluted cast-iron commitment to finding the truth, whatever that truth may be. Even if they don’t state this in black and white (some do, some don’t) you can see it in their words and attitudes as clearly as you can see the sun on a sunny day. This, they believe, gives them a sort of credibility that sets their conclusions head and shoulders above those of others who are silly enough to still have religious faith.

My problem with this is that no one, no human being is that objective. Our nature does not allow us to be, and those who come closest to it have to work incredibly hard on themselves for years to build into their thought patterns even a semblance of true objectivity, when it comes to questions of philosophy or theology. One of the more objective atheists I have come across are mathematician Roger Penrose and Mind Specialist Sir Robert Winston, both of whom have a healthy respect for those who reasonably hold religious views, and both of whom cringe at the kind of bombast that people like Dawkins put out.

The fact is that whenever we look at a piece of evidence, we are doing so with a raft of pre-assumptions. Those pre-assumptions must necessarily colour the conclusions we draw from the evidence. Our minds are too limited to be able to genuinely consider ALL the possible interpretations of a given set of data, so we take the easy way – begin by considering the interpretation you feel most comfortable with, and see if you can make it work somehow. We will only ever take the considerable trouble of testing out alternative interpretations if our first interpretation is proved totally wrong.

The history of science (and the practice of science today) offers a myriad of examples that prove this is universally true. You need only to look at the lengths to which Ptolemy and his intellectual children went to prop up the theory that the earth is the centre of the universe. For 1,500 years, the most incredible gymnastics of the mind were required to explain how the sun, moon and planets move in the sky, assuming they all orbit the earth. Even when Copernicus came up with the simple (and true) explanation that the planets and earth all orbit the SUN, the scientific establishment of his day rejected it. Why? Because his theory didn’t work? NO, it worked just as well as Ptolemy’s in predicting where these heavenly bodies should be. Because it was too complicated? No, it was far, far simpler than Ptolemy’s model. The simple fact is that the greatest minds of that age had other reasons for wanting the earth to be at the centre of the universe, and this bias prevented them from seeing the truth.

If scientists today wish to pretend that they are free of any such bias, then it is truly they who are deluded. You need only read Dawkins’ opinions on religious organisations, his utter contempt for people who have a religious faith, his characterisation of religions as child abusers because they teach their children to follow their faith from a young age (I am not kidding – he devotes a whole chapter to this accusation), to understand that he is anything but an objective scientist. He has a huge weight of prejudices that clearly affect his judgment. It is the prejudice, not the evidence, that makes Dawkins so strong a defender of atheism.

Of course, this means that those on the other side of the argument are also prejudiced. Yep. That is true. But the difference is that we know that, and admit it to ourselves and to others. Yes, a Christian is biased towards believing in God – it’s called faith. We have to have a prejudice of some kind, and we happen to have chosen this particular prejudice for a raft of good reasons that I won’t try to squash into this little blog. But the fact that we know that we’re prejudiced, that we admit it, and that we even know exactly what the nature of our prejudice is, means that we can allow for it in our examination of evidence. And, we can ask ourselves honestly, “If I didn’t have that prejudice, would I see this evidence differently? And if so, how?”

Again, I emphasise: it is only because we know our bias that we can control for it. A scientist like Dawkins who is unaware or refuses to acknowledge his bias cannot control for it, and will therefore often draw the wrong conclusions. This is exactly what he has done in The God Delusion.

PPFM

Fr Ant

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8 Replies to “The Atheist Crusade”

  1. I certainly take the point that prejudice is inescapable. However, doesn’t this imply a sort of preconception theory of faith in the development of man? – something remarkably and markedly similar to the idea of predestination? Or does it just justify the necessity of our belief in the Holy Ghost to have the unparalleled power to delineate the essence of Christianity to the earnest spiritual seeker?
    It also makes me rather hesitant whether the abolition and enforcement of laws unethical and ethical is a better realization than Anarchy, when variance and deviance of innate prejudice is so rampant and prevalent? I mean, we know we have prejudice and they have prejudice (I am assuming for the case of argument that this is a polarized debate on a certain law): how can we meet to ensure that law enforces an ideal that both parties will in general abide by?
    I have yet to think this completely and in every part, however, I have a sinking feeling that this can not be resolved, except for trusting in innate consciousness. Yet, it is clearly evident that innate consciousness is prone to developmental molding, and is thus a unbecoming way to meet.
    Must we contend with the majority? How can we, when “ it consists of a few strong men who lead, of knaves who temporize, of the feeble who are hangers-on, and of the multitude who follow without the slightest idea of what they want.” (Goethe)

    [Also, I can’t seem to get to you on email]

    PP4M

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  2. Perhaps, I forgot about your contention that “we can ask ourselves honestly, “If I didn’t have that prejudice, would I see this evidence differently? And if so, how?” because we do not ignore, but acknowledge and embrace our bias. Possibly, I have been drawn into a semi-modernist view of truth?
    As a medical student, I was taught that 60% (I don’t recollect the exact number now) of the information I am being taught will become outdated. This makes me rather skeptical whether we have even the faculties to elucidate truth with our ‘technology’. The world is surely a playground, or better yet, a battleground with people trying to clear conceptions with misconception and vice-versa. It just makes me wonder, as the fool and dim-witted person that I am, whether I can trust my abilities to discern the authenticity of any argument or fact.

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  3. *post-modernist

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  4. I came by a rather interesting Hasidic story by Rabbi Nachman- one that I think speaks for itself. I think you would enjoy it.

    “The king had sent a letter to a wise but skeptical man, who, in his faraway province, refused to accept it. He was one of those men who think too much, who complicate their lives by complicating small things. He couldn’t understand, not in the slightest, what the king might want of him: ‘Why would the sovereign, so powerful and so rich, address himself to me, who am less than nothing? Because he takes me for a philosopher? There are more important ones. Could there be another reason? If so, what reason?’

    “Unable to answer these question, he preferred to believe the letter a misunderstanding. Worse: a fraud. Worse yet: a practical joke. ‘Your king,’ he said to the messenger, ‘does not exist.’ But the messenger insisted: ‘I am here, and here is the letter; isn’t that proof enough?’—‘The letter proves nothing at all; besides, I haven’t read it. And by the way, who gave it to you? The king in person?’—‘No,’ confessed the messenger. ‘It was given to me by a royal page. In his name.’—‘Are you sure of that? And how can you be sure that it comes from the reigning sovereign? Have you ever seen him?’—‘Never. My rank does not permit or warrant it.’—‘Then how do you know that the king is king? You see? You don’t know any more than I.’

    “And without unsealing the letter, the sage and the messenger decided to learn the truth once and for all. They would go to the end of the world, they would question the very last of mortals, but they would know.

    “At the marketplace, they accosted a soldier: ‘Who are you and what do you do?’—‘I am a soldier by trade and I am in the king’s service.’—‘What king?’—‘The one to whom we swore allegiance; this land is his. We are all here to serve him.’—‘Do you know what he looks like?’—‘No.’—‘Then you have never seen him?’—‘Never.’

    “The two companions burst into laughter: ‘Look at him! This man in uniform insists upon serving someone he has never seen and will never see!’

    “Further on, they met an officer: yes, he would willingly die for the king; no, he had never had the honor of seeing him, neither from close by nor from afar.

    “A general: same questions, same answers, clear and precise. He, too, thinks of nothing but to serve the king, he lives only for him and by him; and yet, even though he is a general, he cannot boast of ever having set his eyes upon the king.

    “‘You see?’ says the skeptical sage to the messenger. ‘People are naïve and credulous, and rather foolish; they live a lie and are afraid of the truth.’”

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  5. Thanks for these insights about prejudice – whether recognised or not. I am part way through “The God Delusion” and have been reflecting on some of the arguments Dawkins presents. (see my blog for example.) I wouldn’t say my faith has been shaken, but I am struggling at some points to come up with reasonable justification for my belief, so I found your comments very encouraging.

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  6. Although I completely disagree with the assertion that science claims objectivity, are you asserting that because science is bias that it has no logical or ‘scientific’ business to discredit religious belief?

    ~Gabriel

    P.S And yes, i am now stalking you on your blog ><

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  7. ““If I didn’t have that prejudice, would I see this evidence differently? And if so, how?””

    I have to agree with Tony. It can sometimes be objective when it goes against stuff we have been taught as kids.

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  8. Thank you for the insights and comments. And I do have to agree with Tony and Ruth. Science can sometimes be objective, depending on how we evaluate it on certain situations.

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