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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Endless Debate...

Folks who pay attention to such things are probably aware that staunch atheist Richard Dawkins, about whom I've written before, appeared on Bill O'Reilly's program this past Monday. How did he do? Well, you can see for yourself or read a transcript prepared elsewhere:

Personally I don't think he did that well but, really, he didn't do that badly either. Generally O'Reilly responds to dissent with yelling and sarcasm so I'm impressed at how much Dawkins managed to say. At the same time, Dawkins really failed to take advantage of some of Bill's talking points. That initial assertion that it takes more faith to be an atheist than a theist? I've heard that one before but, really, it never makes any sense to me. Why should it take more faith to believe in things that we can perceive, and in processes that we can measure and validate, than in an entity that defies our common experience on virtually all levels? An all-powerful, invisible, infinitely intelligent presence that exists without any physical constraints whatsoever? That's the easier position to accept? If so, I fail to see how a theist can exclude relatively mundane things like UFOs, Bigfoot, Leprecauns or the Tooth Fairy. Once you argue that the standards of evidence* are such that I have to prove why something that utterly defies what we know about the world doesn't exist, disbelief in anything becomes virtually impossible.

I will, however, compliment Dawkins on his brief rebuttal to O'Reilly about Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin. We're often told about how they were the worst mass murderers in history and they were all atheists. Hitler, as it happens, was not an atheist and even persecuted atheists.** Stalin was, but his crimes against religion were probably motivated more by a fear of a rival powerbase than anything else. Frankly, Stalin wasn't very nice to much of anyone. Mao? Largely the same story with the exception that he set himself up as a sort of pseudo-deity. In any case, Dawkins' point that Stalin and Hitler had mustaches but we don't think mustaches caused genocide is a useful one. Correlation, as it were, does not equal causation.

So, not such a bad performance, but nothing too exciting either.

And, as always, the battle continues.

* I'm probably on about the whole "standards of evidence" thing because the atheism page on Conservapedia has recently been "adjusted" to make it less friendly to atheists. As a result, there's now this fantastically bizarre set of assertions: "There are active and passive senses in which the term "atheism" can be used - because of the nature of the term the active sense is the original and by far the most common. However, in debate the sense in which atheism is defined may shift from "the active denial of the existence of God", to merely "the passive lack of belief in the existence of God". This can be seen as an attempt to shift the burden of proof from the atheist to disprove the existence of God, on to the theist to prove the existence of God. Recently a number of atheists have attempted to redefine the meaning of atheism as a lack of belief in the existence of God because they wish to shift the burden of proof in regards to the question of the existence of God." It's like they're writing from the Bill O'Reilly playbook.

** e.g. On taking power, Hitler banned freethought organizations and launched an “anti-godless” movement. In a 1933 speech he declared: “We have . . . undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

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