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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Dreadful Dick Dawkins Part II

On Monday over at Marginal Utility I wrote a post on Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion. Okay, that's not entirely true. To be more accurate, I wrote a post discussing a review of Dawkins' book that appeared in the New York Times. This was not, in my view, the fairest or most reasonable review ever written and is essentially a reactionary response to Dawkins' basic thesis: that religion is a bad thing.

The New York Times, while one of the most prominent, hasn't been the only source of criticism for Dawkins' work. Another recent critique emerged from a recent radio debate between Dawkins and David Quinn, a journalist for the Irish Independent. This debate is notable for a couple reasons, but mainly it boils down to the meme that has been circulating around the internet that Dawkins was schooled by the theistic Quinn. The kids over at Wild Bill's Blog have been falling all over themselves about it- posting not just once but twice. But what was actually said? Was Dawkins actually obliterated by a Catholic apologist?

Well, I wouldn't say it was that bad, but Dawkins didn't do terribly well. Yet, having said that, it wasn't quite as bad as some sources would make it out to be. Or, to paraphrase the bard, "Rumors of his ass-kicking have been greatly exaggerated." So, to further explore all this, let's take a look at the transcript with my own commentary inserted. To make it more interesting, think of my remarks as you would the color commentary in a boxing match.

And.... let's begin:


Moderator [Ryan Tubridy]: This morning we are asking, "What's wrong with religion?" It's one of the questions raised in a new book called The God Delusion. And we're going to talk to its author, a man who's been dubbed the world's most famous out-of-the-closet atheist, Richard Dawkins. Richard, good morning to you.

Dawkins: Good morning.

Moderator: It's nice to talk to you again.. We talked before once on a similar subject matter. David Quinn is also with us here. David Quinn is a columnist with the Irish Independent. David, a very good morning to you.

Quinn: Good morning.

Moderator: So Richard Dawkins, here you go again, up to your old tricks in your most recent book The God Delusion. Let's just talk about the word, if you don't mind, the word "delusion," so it puts it into context. Why do you think that . . .

Dawkins: Well, the word "delusion" means a falsehood which is widely believed, to me, and I think that is true of religion. It is remarkably widely believed. It's as though almost all the population, a substantial portion of the population, believed that they'd been abducted by aliens in flying saucers. You'd call that a delusion. I think God is a similar delusion.

Okay, this is an interesting start because he's trying to define a delusion as a mass phenomenon, when most of us would agree that it's also a very individual thing. Will anyone challenge him on this?


Moderator: And would it be fair to say you equate God with, say, the imaginary friend, the bogey-man, or the fairies at the end of the garden.

Dawkins: Well, I think he's just as probable to exist, yes, and I do discuss all those things, especially the imaginary friend, which I think is a interesting psychological phenomenon in childhood, and that may possibly have something to do with the appeal of religion.

Moderator: So take us through that a little bit, about the imaginary friend factor.

Dawkins: Many young children have an imaginary friend. Christopher Robin had Binker. A little girl who wrote to me had little purple man. And the girl with the little purple man actually saw him. She seemed to hallucinate him, he appeared with a little tinkling bell and he was very, very real to her, although in a sense she knew he wasn't real. I suspect that something like that is going on with people who claim to have heard God or seen God, or hear the voice of God.

So, in essence, we have an argument that god is a psychologically comforting concept that people believe, on some level, to be false. I think Richard is on dangerous ground, here, as I think many people don't believe on any level that god is false. This is essentially Dawkins' atheist bias coming out.


Moderator: And we're back to delusion again. Do you think that anyone who believes in God, anyone of any religion, is deluded? Is that the bottom line with your argument, Richard?

Dawkins: Well, there is a sophisticated form of religion. One form of it is Einstein's. It wasn't really religion at all. Einstein used the word "God" a great deal, but he didn't mean a personal god. He didn't mean a being who could listen to your prayers or forgive your sins. He just meant it as a kind of poetic word describing the deep unknowns, the deep uncertainties of the root of the universe. Then there are deists, who believe in a kind of god, a kind of personal god who set the universe going, a sort of physicist god, but then did no more, and certainly doesn't listen to your thoughts, it has no personal interest in humans at all. I don't think that I would use a word like "delusion," certainly not for Einstein, and I don't think I would for a deist either. But I think I reserve the word "delusion" for real theists, who actually think they talk to God, who think God talks to them.

So, in essence, to the extent that "god" stands for the deep mysteries of life, it's not delusional. An interesting argument in light of Jim Holt's review of Dawkins' book in which he argued that this perspective invalidated Dawkins' entire argument. See the first part in this series for a little more.


Moderator: You have a very interesting description in The God Delusion of the Old Testament God. Do you want to give us that description, or will I give it to you back?

Dawkins: Well, have you got it in front of you?

Moderator: Yes I have.

Dawkins: Well, why don't you read it out loud?

Moderator: Why not. You describe God as a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Dawkins: That seems fair enough to me.

Me too. We are talking about the Old Testament god here, after all.


Moderator: Okay. There are those who would think that that's a little over the top.

And some who wouldn't say that at all.


Dawkins: Read your Old Testament if you think that. Just read it. Read Leviticus. Read Deuteronomy. Read Judges. Read Numbers. Read Exodus.

Moderator: And it is your contention that these elements of the god as described by yourself, have no helped matters in terms of global religion and the wars that go with it?

Dawkins: Well, not really, because no serious theologian takes the Old Testament literally anymore, so it isn't quite like that. An awful lot of people think they take the Bible literally, but that can only be because they've never read it. If they ever read it they couldn't possibly take it literally. But, I do think that people are a bit confused about where they get their morality from. A lot of people think they get their morality from the Bible because they can find a few good verses. Part of the Ten Commandments are okay, part of the Sermon on the Mount are okay. So they think they get their morality from the Bible. But actually, of course, nobody gets their morality from the Bible, we get it from somewhere else. And to the extent we can find goodness in the Bible, we cherry-pick them, we pick and choose them. We choose the good verses in the Bible and we reject the bad. Whatever criterion we use to choose the good verses and throw out the bad, that criterion is available to us anyway, whether we're religious or not. Why bother to pick verses, why not just go straight for the morality?

Ah-ha! An excellent point, and one that I've made myself. Granted, he exaggerates a bit, but he makes an excellent point: virtually nobody follows all the rules laid down in the bible and yet virtually nobody has a consistent system for defining which biblical admonitions are the real word of god and which ones are, you know, little jokes.


Moderator: Do you think people who believe in God and religion generally, you used the analogy of the imaginary friend, do you think that the people who believe in God and religion are a little bit dim?

Dawkins: No, because many of them clearly are highly educated and score highly on IQ tests and things, so I can't say . . .

Nice save!


Moderator: Why do they believe in something you think doesn't exists?

Probably for the same reason people think that Osama bin Laden attacked the U.S. because he "hates freedom."


Dawkins: Well, I think that people are sometimes remarkably adept at compartmentalizing their mind, separating their mind into two separate parts. There are some people who even manage to combine being apparently good working scientists with believing that the Book of Genesis is literally true and that the world is only 6,000 years old. If you can perform that level of double-think, then you can do anything.

That makes it sound a little like a superpower. "Stop, villain! You face Denial Man!"


Moderator: But they might say that they pity you, because you don't believe in what they think is fundamentally true.

Dawkins: Well they might, and we'll have to argue it out by looking at the evidence. The great thing is to argue it by looking at the evidence, not just to say, "oh well, this is my faith, there's no argument to be had, you can't argue with faith."

Moderator: David Quinn, columnist at the Irish Independent, show us some evidence, please.

Quinn: Well, I mean the first thing I'd say is that Richard Dawkins is doing what he commonly does, which is he's setting up strawmen. So he puts God, he puts believing God in the same category as believing in fairies. Well, you know, children stop believing in fairies when they stop being children, but they usually don't stop believing in God, because belief in God, to my mind, is a much more rational proposition than to believe in fairies or Santa Claus.

Whoo! I was worried we might get some actual evidence there! However, since I don't think that god is falsifiable, I'm not interested in that line of attack. More interesting is Quinn's ridiculous argument that because people believe in god for longer, that such belief must be more rational. Sure it is. People believe lots and lots of dumb things, so the mere fact that someone believes something says little about its veracity.


Moderator: Do we have more proof that God exists than we do for fairies?

Translation: "Answer the question, damnit!" As an additional side note, the next passage by Quinn is such a bewildering clusterfuck of a response, I'm going to break it up a few times and remark on different portions separately. This will become more common as the debate continues.


Quinn: I'll come to that in a second, okay?

Translation: "Hell no, I'm not going there."


I mean the second thing is about compartmentalizing yourself, and he uses examples of well, you've got intelligent people who somehow also believe the world is only 6,000 years old, and we have a young earth and we don't believe in evolution. But again, that's too stark and either/or, I mean there are many people who believe in God, but also believe in evolution and believe the world is 20 billion years old and believe fully in Darwinian evolution or whatever the case may be.

And this is important... why? Dawkins' point is that when faced with the overwhelming preponderance of evidence in favor of an old Earth, the only reason to believe in a young one is religious. The existence of religious people who believe evidence isn't really a rebuttal as it's equivalent to saying, "Yeah, but religion doesn't ALWAYS make people belive dumb things, it just encourages it.".


Now, in all arguments about the existence or non-existence of God, I mean, often these things don't even get off the launch pad because the two people debating can't even agree on where the burden of proof rests, does it rest with those who are trying to proof the existence of God, or does it rest with those who are trying to disproof the existence of God.

So, is it Dawkins' job to disprove the unfalsifiable or your job to prove the unprovable? This sounds like a fruitful discussion all right! I think I would suggest that the burden of proof should rightly be with the party that wants us to believe in an invisible, insubstantial... thing... but that's just me.


But I suppose if I bring this onto Richard Dawkins turf and we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory of evolution explains how matter, which we're all made from, organized itself into, for example, highly complex beings like Richard Dawkins and Ryan Tubridy and other human beings, but what it doesn't explain to give just one example is how matter came into being in the first place.

Absolutely correct. But is that relevant to the issue of evidence for god? Not so much. Why is it that the fact that evolution isn't a theory of everything somehow counts against it?


That, in scientific terms, is a question that cannot be answered, and can only be answered, if it can be answered fully at all, by philosophers and theologians. It certainly can't be answered by science.

No, science can't answer WHY, but it can probably answer HOW given enough time. Ultimately, however, if science were to explain how the universe came to be it would require some sort of natural processes that operate beyond the level of the universe. At that point, the theologians would call whatever mysterious events that precede those forces god, and we'd be back to square one. This infinite regress horseshit is pretty tiresome, Quinn.


And the question of whether God exists or not cannot be answered fully by science either. And commonly, and a common mistake people can believe is, the scientist who speaks about evolution with all the authority of science can also speak about the existence of God with all the authority of science and of course he can. The scientist speaking about the existence of God, is actually engaged in philosophy and theology, but he certainly isn't bringing to it the authority of science.

Absolutely, one hundred percent right. However, now that we've reached the end of Quinn's response, we have effectively witnessed an utter rhetorical meltdown. Not only does the preceding make very little sense, it doesn't address the basic question posed by the moderator.


Moderator: Answer the original question, have you any evidence for it?

And the moderator understands that too.


Quinn: Well, I would say the existence of matter itself. I would say the existence of morality. Myself and Richard Dawkins have a really different understanding of the origins of morality. I would say, free will. If you are an atheist, if you are an atheist, logically speaking, you cannot believe in objective morality. You cannot believe in free will. These are two things that the vast majority of humankind implicitly believe in. We believe, for example, that if a person carries out a bad action, we can call that person "bad" because we believe they are freely choosing those actions.

So, that anything exists is proof for an infinite skybeast? That's a pretty weak argument, Quinn. The morality argument is likewise weak as there ARE evolutionary arguments for morality and ethics. Free will, however, is a fair point. As usually conceived, free will is effectively impossible for a materialist atheist to believe in- we are all the dual products of our environments and our genes and, if we live in a deterministic universe, our ultimate fates were set at the beginning of time. Then again, if quantum uncertainty is more than just an appearance, we may live in a non-deterministic universe. And finally, if we live in a universe where accurate prediction of all events is impossible, does it matter if everything is ultimately determined? Free will is a concept that has no useful meaning outside of a religious discussion, and Dawkins should say so.


Moderator: Okay . . .

Quinn: An atheist believes we are controlled completely by our genes and have no free actions at all.

Okay, now that's just crap.


Moderator: What evidence do you have, Richard Dawkins, that you're right?

Dawkins: I certainly don't believe a word of that. I do not believe we're controlled wholly by our genes. Let me go back to the really important thing Mr. Quinn said.

Not the question, Richard, and you're rising to Quinn's bait...


Quinn: How are we independent of our genes by your reckoning? What allows us to be independent of our genes? Where is this coming from?

Dawkins: Environment, for a start.

Quinn: But no, hang on, that also is a product of, if you like, matter, okay?

You grasp that "matter" is not the same as "genes," right?


Dawkins: Yes, but it's not genes.

Quinn: Yes, okay. But what part of us allows us to have free will?

This is a trap, Richard. Free will isn't even a particularly sensible concept so don't get into a debate about it.


Dawkins: Free will is a very difficult philosophical question and it's not one that has anything to do with religion, contrary to what Mr. Quinn says.

Wait... what?


Quinn: It has an awful lot to do with religion, because if there is no God there is no free will, because we are completely phenomenon.

Is that bad? Put another way, if free will in the sense you mean it doesn't exist, aren't we better off not pretending it does? Besides, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and a victory I have won whether using "free will" or not leaves me feeling equally enthused. Maybe it isn't so bad being a phenomenon. More seriously, though, all free will buys us in Quinn's description is a justification for retribution- because you CHOSE to behave badly I am justified in hurting you in response.


Dawkins: Who says there is no free will if there's no God? What a ridiculous thing to say.

And... yes... the wheels just came off the wagon.


Quinn: William Provine, for one, who you quote in your book. I have a quote here from him. Other scientists as well believe the same thing, that everything that goes on in our heads is a product of genes and, as you say, environment and chemical reactions. But there is no room for free will. And Richard, if you haven't got to grips with that, and you seriously need to as many of your colleagues have, and they deny outright the existence of free will and they are hardened materialists like yourself.

Richard, Quinn just made you his bitch on this one. Worse still, you walked right into it. Get out gracefully, if you can.


Moderator: Okay, Richard Dawkins, rebut to that now, as you wish.

Translation: "Holy fuck, I wasn't expecting that to happen."


Dawkins: I'm not interested in free will. What I am interested in is the ridiculous suggestion that if science can't say where the origin of matter came from, theology can. The origin of matter, the origin of the whole universe, is a very difficult matter. It's one that scientists are working on, it's one that they hope, eventually, to solve. Just as before Darwin, biology was a mystery, Darwin solved that, now cosmology is a mystery. The origin of the universe is a mystery. It's a mystery to everyone. Physicists are working on it, they have theories, but if science can't answer that question then as sure as hell theology can't either.

Okay, nice work. You're flustered, you're making sweeping generalizations, but the point of your argument is good- if science can't answer a question, that doesn't mean that religion can declare an answer by fiat. "Because the bible says so," is a huge fucking fiat, so prosecute the argument.


Quinn: It is a perfectly reasonable proposition to ask yourself, "where does matter come from?" And it's perfectly reasonable as well to posit the answer God created matter.

That's not an answer, it's naming your ignorance. Look, if I don't know that food gets to the grocery store on trucks, is it at all reasonable to "posit" that Floyd the Food Fairy conjures it into existence every night? Is it reasonable to use that as a justification for preventing other people from trying to find out how the food gets to the store? I'm going with no. Why is this any different?


Dawkins: It's not reasonable.

Wait, are you sulking now? Oh for crying out loud!


Quinn: And many reasonable people believe this. And by the way, it is quite a different category to say, look, we will study matter, and we will ask how matter organizes itself into particular forms and come up with the answer, evolution. It is quite another question to ask, "Where does matter come from to begin with?" And if you like, you must go outside of matter to answer that question and then you're into philosophical and theological categories.

That many reasonable people believe something is, again, irrelevant. Many reasonable people used to believe in bloodletting as a treatment for... well... everything, that didn't make it an efficacious cure. And is the origin of matter necessarily a theological question? The "why" of matter probably is, but the "how" need not be.


Dawkins: And how can it possibly be an answer to say "God did it" since you can't explain where God came from?

True enough.


Quinn: Because you must have an uncaused cause for anything at all to exist. Now I see in your book you put up an argument that I frankly find to be bogus. You come up with the idea of a mathematical infinite regress. But this does not apply to arguments about uncaused causes and unmoved movers because we're not talking about math, we're talking about existence, and existentially nothing exists unless you have an uncaused cause. And that uncaused cause, and that unmoved mover, is by definition God.

Okay, that's utter horseshit. Dawkins' point is simply that seeing something that we can't explain and then proclaiming "God did it" is nothing more than using an all-purpose unfalsifiable explanation. If we can't explain the origin of the universe, why invent an invisible, untestable explanation? Why not say, "We don't know yet?" Whether the uncaused cause is the origin of the universe or the origin of god is functionally the same, but if we dispense with god we have more parsimony. Don't even get me started on that effort to define his way to victory.


Dawkins: You just define God as that. You just define the problem out of existence. That's no solution to the problem, you just evaded it.

A good point, badly phrased.


Quinn: You can't answer the question as to where matter comes from. You, as an atheist . . .

Dawkins: I can't, but science is working on it. You can't answer it either.

The last part of that is most important, Richard: he can't either. So why pretend to the contrary?


Quinn: It won't come up with an answer. And you came up with the mystery argument that you accuse religious believers of doing all the time. You invoke the very first and most fundamental question about reality. You do not know where matter came from.

Actually, Quinn, you brought the matter issue up. Dawkins is just calling you on it.


Dawkins: I don't know. Science is working on it. Science is a progressive thing that's working on it. You don't know, but you claim that you do.

Quinn: I doubt if science . . . I claim to know the probable answer.

There's a universe of difference between "possible" and "probable," Quinn, and stating it's probable doesn't make it so.


Moderator: Can I suggest that the next question is quite appropriate. The role of religion in wars [laughing]. When you think of the difficulty it bring up on a local level. Richard Dawkins, do you believe the world would be a safer place without religion?

Dawkins: Yes, I do. I don't think religion is the only cause of wars. It's very far from it. Neither The second world war nor the first world war were caused by religion. But I do think that religion is a major exacerbater, and especially in the world today, as a matter of fact.

Moderator: Okay, explain yourself.

Dawkins: Well, it's pretty obvious. I mean, if you look at the Middle East, if you look at Indian and Pakistan, if you look at Northern Ireland. There are many, many places where the only basis for hostility that exists for rival factions who kill each other is religion.

Okay, Dawkins, never, ever, say that your point is pretty obvious. This serves only to make you look ridiculous in the eyes of the opposition and the undecideds alike.


Moderator: Why do you take it upon yourself to preach, if you like, atheism. There's an interesting choice of words in some ways. You know, you've been accused of being something like a fundamental atheist, if you like, the high priest of atheism. Why go about your business in such a way that's kind of, trying to disprove these things Why don't you just believe in it privately, for example?

We might as well ask why theists feel compelled to spread their message. The reality is, so long as we consider that to be acceptable, there isn't much argument that atheists should just believe privately and be preached to in good grace. I'm not an evangelical atheist, but I have little interest in a double-standard here.


Dawkins: Well, fundamentalist is not quite the right word. A fundamentalist is one who believes in a holy book and believes that everything within that holy book is true. I am passionate about what I believe because I think there's evidence for it. And I think it's very different being passionate about evidence from being passionate about a holy book. So I do it because I care passionately about the truth- I really, really believe it's a big question, it's an important question whether there is a God at the root of the universe. I think it's a question that matters, and I think that we need to discuss it, and that's what I do.

That's a bullshit definition, Dawkins. Or, more accurately, it ignores definition number three.


Quinn: Ryan, if I could just say . . . I mean, Richard has come up with a definition of fundamentalism about this that suits him.

Quinn is absolutely right here. More below...


He thinks a fundamentalist has to be someone who believes in a holy book. A fundamentalist is someone who firmly believes that they have got the truth, and holds that to an extreme extent and become intolerant of those who hold to a different truth. And Richard Dawkins has just outlined what he thinks the truth to be. And it makes him intolerant of those who have religious beliefs. Now in terms of the effect of religion upon the world, at least Richard has rightly acknowledged that there are many causes of war and strife and ill will in the world. And he mentions World War I and World War II. In his book, he tries to get neatly off the hook of having atheism blamed for, for example, the atrocities carried out by Josef Stalin and saying that these have nothing particularly to do with atheism. But Stalin and many Communists who are explicitly atheistic took the view that religion was precisely this sort of malign and evil force that Richard Dawkins thinks it is. And they set out from that premise to, if you like, inflict upon religion sort of their own version of a Final Solution.

Woo-hoo! Godwin's Law: It's not just for the internet anymore!


They set to eradicate it from the Earth through violence and also through education that was explicitly anti-religious. And under the Soviet Union, and in China, and under Pol Pot in Cambodia, explicit and violent efforts were made to suppress religion on the grounds that religion was a wicked force and We have the Truth, and Our Truth would not admit religion into the picture at all because we believe religion to be an untruth. So atheism can also lead to fundamentalist violence and did so in the last century Atheism . . .

The point about Stalin and Pol Pot is largely specious- these guys were power-mad dictators. One might as well criticize Catholicism by just repeating the story of the Borgia Popes over and over. On a more critical level, however, I agree with Quinn that it's dangerous to actively suppress differing ideas. That said, however, societies must do this from time to time- and some examples we would all mostly agree with. I'm a huge free speech advocate, as most of you know, but even I think that some practices are too batshit crazy to willingly tolerate.


Dawkins: Stalin . . .

Moderator: Richard Dawkins, we'll let Richard in there. Richard.

Dawkins: Stalin was a very, very bad man, and his persecution of religion was a very, very bad thing. End of story. It's nothing to do with the fact that he was an atheist. We can't just compile lists of bad people who were atheists and lists of bad people who were religious. I'm afraid there are plenty on both sides.

A valid point.


Quinn: Yes, but Richard, you're always compiling lists of bad religious people. I mean, you do it continually in all your books, and then you devote a paragraph to basically trying to absolve atheism of all blame for any atrocity throughout history. You cannot have it both ways.

This is really quite idiotic. Dawkins has a number of arguments against theism. That he has to point out that theists are sometimes bad, and atheists aren't always bad, is just to overcome common preconception. If he rested his arguments there, then he would be in the wrong, but he doesn't. Will Dawkins figure this response out?


Dawkins: I deny that.

Evidently not.


Quinn: But of course you do it. I mean, every time you were on a program and talking about religion, you bring up the atrocities committed in the name of religion. And then you try to minimize the atrocities committed by atheists because they were so anti-religious, and because they regarded it as a malign force in much the same way you do. You are trying to have it both ways.

There's a difference between compiling lists of bad people, and commenting on atrocities committed in the name of something or another. If Stalin's killings had been in the name of atheism that would be a problem, but for the most part they were not. Will Dawkins get up off the mat now?


Dawkins: Well, I simply deny that. I do think that there's some evil is faith, because faith in belief in something without evidence.

Nope. No movement to get up. We're into a full-on sulk here.


Quinn: But that's not what faith is. You see, that's a caricature and a strawman and is so typical. But that is not what faith is. You have faith that God doesn't exist.

Actually, the second definition of faith is, "belief that is not based on proof." So, no, you'd have to say that Dawkins is spot-on with this one. I agree, however, that Dawkins' position that god doesn't exist is a faith position, but there's a big difference between that faith position, and a faith position that demands all sorts of crazy rules (e.g. why can't we eat anything but fish on Friday again?). Sadly, however, I'm fairly sure Dawkins will fuck the response to this up completely.


Dawkins: What is faith?

Hmmm... potentially interesting comeback.


Quinn: Wait a second. You have faith that God doesn't exist. You are a man of faith as well.

Dawkins: I do not. I have looked at the evidence.

Oh crap. And you were doing so well there for a moment.


Quinn: I've looked at the evidence too.

Dawkins: If someone comes up with evidence that goes the other way, I'll be the first to change my mind.

Quinn: Well, I think the very existence of matter is evidence. And remember, you're the man who has problems believing in free will that you try very conveniently to shunt to one side.

Seriously, the problem is its own answer? That's just stupid. And what the hell does free will have to do with this? Whether he changes his mind through free will or through the application of proper rhetoric it still changes. Surely Dawkins won't take this bait, however.


Dawkins: I'm just not interested in free will. It's not a big question for me.

D'oh!


Quinn: It's a vast question because we cannot be considered morally responsible beings unless we have free will. We do everything because we are controlled by our genes or our environment. It's a vital question.

But this is a red herring, Quinn. Dawkins is not now, nor has ever, argued that people shouldn't receive consequences for poor behavior. You're merely implying that such is the case. Even without free will, consequences are still useful as a way of modifying the environment to modify the organism. The kind of "moral responsibility" you refer to involves the folks with the sharp sticks we're supposed to be afraid of. I think we can do without that, thanks.


Moderator: We are coming to the point at which we kind of pretty much began, which is probably an appropriate time at which to end the debate. Richard Hawkins, Dawkins, excuse me, good to talk to you again, thank you for your time. And to you, David Quinn, columnist at the Irish Independent, thank you very much indeed for that.



And so, the debate ends. So what happened here? Did Quinn kick Dawkins' ass? No, he didn't. He scored off of Dawkins on the topic of free will, but it was because Dawkins allowed himself to be baited, not because of the powerful logic of Quinn's argument. Otherwise, Quinn didn't so much make points as engage in an orgy of obfuscation. If anyone beat Dawkins, it was Dawkins.

This debate ended in a draw and, frankly, it deserved to. Quinn's arguments were pathetic, but Dawkins was essentially trying to accomplish the impossible- to destroy religion through sheer force of argument. Neither party deserved a victory on this field of battle and I am satisfied with the outcome.

Yet, what the reaction to this debate reveals is interesting. Quinn has been hailed as a hero for taking on and "defeating" Richard Dawkins with a few rhetorical tricks and disconnected, irrelevant verbage. Gone, apparently, are the days of Thomas Aquinas. In losing, Dawkins shows us just how close he was to winning. Not winning in his efforts to "prove" religion incorrect but, rather, to reveal many theistic apologetics for what they are:

Tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

UPDATE: See the third and final installment of this series here.

2 Comments:

Blogger Warbler said...

Don't you wish life was like this? Where you could stop everything and insert logical commentary and evidene when needed?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous satan said...

"logical commentary and evidenCe"? My old eyes must be going bad. I thought it looked more like knee-jerk reactions and histrionics. Quinn I know, and Dawkins I know, but.. who are you?

Thursday, October 18, 2007 3:05:00 PM  

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