Richard Dawkins


#1

Do most athiests consider the works of Richard Dawkins to be the strongest case in favor of atheism ever made or he is just the most popular at the moment? Is there any other person or philosophy who atheists would hold up as a stronger advocate of atheism?

I thought I would post this review of Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” for those of you who are more philosophically inclined. Please don’t ask me to explain or defend it.

The Dawkins Confusion by Alvin Plantinga


#2

I’m more of an agnostic than an atheist, but I’ll respond anyways. I don’t necessarily consider his arguments to be the strongest arguments in favor of atheism; although, he is one of the most vocal and well-known atheists. He actually has some good arguments but has the unfortunate habit of being an arrogant jerk about it.

I’ve read his book The God Delusion. His arguments against theism are stronger than his arguments for atheism. It was an interesting book to read, even if I didn’t find his reasoning all that sound. The chapter on morality was a good read. He also does a reasonable job explaining why the Anthropic Principle is not an argument in favor of theism.


#3

Benedictus

What did you think of the article I linked, and who do you think does a better job of advocating atheism?


#4

More from Alan Plantinga


#5

So why does he think theism is enormously improbable? The answer: if there were such a person as God, he would have to be enormously complex, and the more complex something is, the less probable it is. . .

(From the review.)

I first heard Dawkins make this statement on a televised lecture, and it startled me. It occurred to me then that Dawkins must not be very familiar with the basics of Christian theology, especially Catholic theology–which has always taught that God is spirit, not matter, and the primary attribute of spirit is simplicity. Spirit has no parts, no complexity whatsoever.

Now, if Dawkins wants to argue for a complex God, fine; but a complex God is no God at all. For complex things can come apart, can decompose. A simple reading of Theology for Beginners, by F.J. Sheed, would have helped him to understand that we do not believe in a complex God.


#6

From what I have heard of the man, Richard Dawkins is a fantastic biologist, a mediocre theologian, and a bad debater. The God Delusion seems to be merely the soup du jour for insecure non-theists and easily-offended theists.


#7

Mirdath

Who in your opinion does a better job of advocating the rationality of atheism or agnosticism, and what did you think of the article and the link to the other writings of Plantinga?


#8

Nick << What did you think of the article I linked, and who do you think does a better job of advocating atheism? >>

Some people think Atheism: The Case Against God is a strong book, the author (George H. Smith) was in his early twenties I think when it was published early 1970s. You can hear Smith debate Reformed scholar Greg Bahnsen in MP3 here.

Even more sophisticated is Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (1990) by Boston Univ professor Michael Martin. Counter with some Kreeft and Craig and you’ll be all right. :slight_smile:

Phil P


#9

Me :smiley:

(nope, no self-esteem problems here…)

and what did you think of the article and the link to the other writings of Plantinga?

The review itself held some just criticisms, some unjust. And this:

[quote=Alvin Plantinga]Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God. (snip) the theist neither wants nor needs an ultimate explanation of personhood, or thinking, or mind.
[/quote]

is perhaps the biggest cop-out I’ve ever seen. For Plantinga, it seems, all arguments that may be connected to the supernatural boil down to ‘God did it, and that’s the way it is’.

Not particularly satisfying; and I find it surprising that more theists are not actually insulted by his statement that they are uninterested in an explanation of what constitutes a person or mind. What more demeaning comment on theism can there be than that which states that its adherents don’t even care what ultimately makes up a person? Plantinga reduces theists from thinking humans to bored sheep for whom God is the answer to everything and further questions are unnecessary, if not dangerous. If he truly believes that, why is he a career theist philosopher?

I don’t have time right now to read the rest of his writings, but I may get to them soon.


#10

Your number of posts made me think of the upcoming 4th of July. (oops, you just posted another- bummer- sorry)

I’m watching the South Park episode that has Dawkins in it. Apt.


#11

Hello, thought I’d say a few words. I recently finished The God Delusion and Plantinga’s critique of it. I have an enormous respect for both men. Plantinga is a brilliant philosopher theres no doubt about it. He has some really strong arguments for his Epistemology. Unfortunately, Dawkins’ arguments come from what he knows best and that is science. I think he does branch too far into something he doesn’t understand well enough However, this isn’t to say that Plantinga has any decent arguments for God either. In fact, its always been amazing to me that Plantinga can be such an intelligent and influential philosopher and still argue that his belief in God is justified because believers have a seperate “Holy Spirit faculty.” Not to mention the ethical issues of a Calvinistic theology (he is a devout Calvinist despite being the big gun at Notre Dame).

   With all this said, I do think Dawkins arguments destroy the simple and literalistic Christianity of the majority of America. He does not argue well enough to defeat the big guns in philosophy but others can and have. There is a section where Dawkins addresses the most popular arguments for the existence of God and its useful even if just to show people that these aren't serious arguments anymore. The book does have some merit and by the way if you lived in Oklahoma believe me, you would be frightened to "come out of the closet" as an atheist. In this part of the country you can be completely isolated by the community and in some cases run out of town depending on where you are. The US is overwhelming Christian and yes it has become popular to bash Christianity in Academia. I disagree with this method, I think the fundamental ideas of theism should be under attack not just Christianity. If an academic attacks Islam or a different form of theism other than Christianity, THAT is dangerous.

#12

Do you have names or links to verify?


#13

Honestly, there are LOTS of good philosophical arguments against theism. However, the most important argument, I think, is the idea of unfalsifiable concepts being meaningless outside of their cultural perspective. You probably well know that Popper is the one that introduced this concept into common usage. I think I remember reading on here someone mentioning that atheism is the default position, just as not believing in ghosts is the default position. The burden of proof is on the positive claim and the arguments have all fallen short. I mean, Plantinga is one of the most respected and intelligent theistic philosophers out there and some of his arguments for God are almost painful to read because of how shallow they are.
These two concepts are the strongest case for atheism as far as I’m concerned. What do you think is the strongest argument in favor of theism?


#14

I will let the theist philosohphers explain that, I would only mess it up.

Just curious though what specifically does Plantinga say about unfalsifiability, where does he go wrong in your opinion?

What specifically is shallow about his arguments for God?


#15

I’m sorry, I wasn’t very clear in the last post and I threw some names around carelessly.

Karl Popper was a philosopher of Science who introduced the concept of falsifiability. In a nut shell, this means that for any proposition, it must be possible to falsify it or it falls into the realm of simple faith. In science it would be a useless endeavor to search for something that is impossible to observe. My example of an unfalsifiable concept was a ghost. A ghost is an incorporeal, invisible being that cannot be observed. If it were able to be observed, then clearly it would not be incorporeal or invisible. People claim that ghosts can be proved by their interaction with the physical world but the proof is severely lacking and the default position is to say that supposed supernatural causes of noises in the attic or “visions” have natural causes. This can be applied to God as well. God’s features simply do not allow the existence of God to be observed and this means that there is just as much reason to hold the default position of disbelief in God as we do not believe in ghosts.

Plantinga doesn’t necessarily have too many "arguments’ per se in favor of God, but his most famous arguments are concerned with whether or not belief in God is justifiable. He argues that if believers had a faculty for receiving the holy spirit, then they would be justified through this faculty. This would be like saying people who believe in ghosts would be justified if they had a sixth sense. Of course they WOULD be justified but does that mean we believe people that say they see ghosts…and you get my point when I say that this is shallow.

Now I do admit that he has presented a new version of the Ontological argument which is stronger than the original but does have similar problems. A discussion of this would have to include Modal Logic which I am not very familiar with but if you are interested just google “Plantinga Ontological Argument” and feel free to read yourself into a gigantic headache haha. Seriously, unless you are of a certain temperment you might have trouble getting through the logic stuff but some criticisms are generally modal logic free and accessible to normal folks like me.


#16

Yes I have also heard Plantinga often criticized for his use of modal logic, and I also only have a cursory understanding of it so I really cant say anything. But as far as being a Calvinist, while being true, he is often thought of as a black sheep by most Calvinist scholars. This is probably a side effect of his arguments normally get lumped into the evidential apologetic method where most ‘sophisticated’ Calvinists prefer presuppositional approaches (Van Til, Clark, Bahnsen et al) which Calvinists will often argue is the more Biblical method.

This is easily the best article on Modal Logic btw (much better than wikipedia):
plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-modal/

As far as Dawkins is concerned, I cant really take him seriously after watching his movie on YouTube. Most atheists i’ve talked to are at most lukewarm about him and his approach and I remember reading a really interesting article on WIRED about him and Dennett and Harris that had to do with their militant atheism.
Dug it up:
wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html


#17

Carlos,

I would say Dawkins and Harris are pretty hostile in their arguments and written works, but if you’ve ever seen them speak, they are generally polite and do not argue from emotion.There are some exceptions with Dawkins of course, one instance comes to mind of when he got a bit heated with Ted Haggard…but I think it was justified. I do not see how you can think of Dennett as militant though…he is the epitome of how I think a secular humanist should conduct his/herself. He is polite, good humored, honest and shows respect where respect is due. He points out many of the good attributes of religion when others won’t even throw religion a bone.Harris is pretty militant with his arguments but he is always respectful in debates.

We all know that when people start to feel cornered, they will fight back. Usually this entails a minority of people who really don’t care about offending people and make their voices heard loud and clear. Remember the civil rights and feminist movements all had their share of militants but the average feminist or civil rights advocate was generally a normal person like anyone else. Same with the militant homosexuals, most of them were kind and quiet people who just wanted to be recognized as legitimate citizens. (which they still aren’t). Atheists are tired of backing down and submiting to the majority opinion, so they are now facing Christian America head on.


#18

Is love unfalsifiable?


#19

The conclusion lets it down. Generally true beliefs are adaptive whilst false beliefs are not. For instance if there is an equal probability of a mutation causing me to believe that red apples are ripe and green apples are ripe, the red apples mutation will win out, because the green apple person will eat unripe and less nutritious food.

However this isn’t always the case. For instance a belief that unburied bodies will rise as ghosts and take revenge on the living is false, but it is adaptive. In fact the microbes dead bodies attract may spread to the living.

Generally, however, you can trust your senses and your reason.


#20

Dawkins is a very good writer and polemicist but his understanding of philosophical theology is fairly shallow (he dismisses the arguments of Aquinas for example in merely a few pages). He is strongest when he argues using science, but what he mostly shows is that old natural theology doesn’t work in explaining the structure of living organisms, as well as the findings of modern evolutionary biology, but that has been known for a while.

Far more powerful arguments have come classically from David Hume and more recently by J.L. Mackie and Antony Flew, and to a lesser extent Bertrand Russell.


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