Saturday, April 7, 2012

Richard Dawkins Is a Liar and a Coward And That's Good Enough for the New Atheists

The last two weeks I've had time to listen to several debates and one infamous non-debate between several relatively prominent atheists and  the philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig.   Craig is an evangelical theologian as well as a philosopher so, as you can imagine, I, as a religious and political liberal, have got several areas of disagreement with him.   I regret to have to say that I haven't heard a liberal who is as effective a defender of the reality of God, though I have heard a few who are as good a defender of their religious persuasion.

William Lane Craig has creamed every atheist in debate which I've listened to on  the question of whether or not it's reasonable to be persuaded to believe in God .  Unlike them, he knows his stuff and he comes fully prepared.   It would be impossible for anyone who cares about logic and evidence based argument to not be impressed  by his presentation.  You can hear that in his debate with as prepared an opponent as his fellow philosopher Peter Millican at Birmingham University.   You can be impressed with  the thoroughness of his preparation and his pretty astonishing depth of knowledge of his points.   While you're doing that, notice the lack of derision, sneering, appeal to audience prejudice on his part.   While Peter Millican, to his credit, also largely forgoes those cheap debate tricks,  he's one of the rare atheists who doesn't make that the dominant feature of their case.

A week after that debate,  Richard Dawkins was challenged to debate Craig at Oxford  on the question, Is God a Delusion, to defend what is probably his most widely read book.   From what I understand, after quite a long time of letting the invitation go unanswered and increasing criticism for being afraid to debate Craig, Richard Dawkins said that since Craig was an "apologist for Genocide*"  he wouldn't appear with him.  And speaking of derision, sneering and appeals to prejudice,  Dawkins began his excuse note this way:

Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of William Lane Craig.  He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a "theologian".**

As much of the more informed criticism of  The God Delusion noted that Dawkins pretty much demonstrated his complete lack of knowledge of the topic including theology, he seems to be willing to continue in his ignorance of the topic on which he is basing his wider and current claim to fame.   It's clear from his activities in the last decade that Dawkins' fan club is satisfied to hear him expound on topics he clearly knows next to nothing about and is about which he is proud to flaunt his ignorance.   But, in the absence of an effort on his part to inform himself, what else can Dawkins do but assert that his ignorance constitutes a superior position to that of his opponents expertise.   That Dawkins is a total fraud on the subject is good enough for his supporters and the media which is as ignorant of the topic as he is.

To Peter Millican's credit, and due to his actual knowledge of the topic in question , he introduced William Craig Lane at Oxford when he appeared with the empty chair that Dawkins would  have occupied if he hadn't proven to be a coward and a fraud.  Also appearing were three professors to raise points for Craig to answer.  One of whom  was Daniel Came, lecturer in philosophy at Oxford.   He, to his credit, was very critical of Dawkins' cowardice and dishonesty in refusing to debate Craig.  In his open letter to Dawkins,  advising him to correct his ignorance of the topic of his most famous book,  he said:

You dismiss Professor Craig as a ‘professional debater’ and state that you are not willing to debate anyone less senior than a bishop. Professor Craig has a PhD in philosophy and a PhD in theology. He is Research Professor in Philosophy at Talbot University. He has published more than thirty books and over a hundred papers in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Given your passionate and unconditional commitment to truth, I can only think that you were not aware of Professor Craig’s credentials when you made the above reference.

He also said:

I understand that you have also commented that ‘a debate with Professor Craig might look good on his CV but it would not look good on mine’. On the contrary, the absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part. I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.

"Apt to be interpreted as cowardice" on Dawkins' part,  is putting it as mildly as possible.  Being very polite, Came didn't point out that Dawkins' CV contained hands-down evidence that his excuse for not appearing with Craig was, to put it plainly, an obvious lie.

Richard Dawkins,  the most famous and widely respected voice of atheism today,  is obviously ignorant and dishonest as well as a coward.    Yet, as Craig says in the beginning of his address at the Sheldonian,  new atheists who demonstrate that they are entirely ignorant of theology and philosophy,  and often even of science,  are always using Dawkins as an instant refutation to someone with his proven competence and accomplishment.    The new atheism is almost entirely dependent on that kind of appeal to authority.  Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Sagan***, etc.

The new atheism is a shallow, bigoted, hypocritical, intellectual fad which, unlike most intellectual fads, is firmly based in ignorance and falsified history.   It is a symptom of the rot that materialism makes of liberalism and intellectual life.   I think that it has played a major and mostly unadmitted role in heading science and society down one dead end after another.   I think that Richard Dawkins' scientific claim to fame is a prime example of materialism producing superstition masquerading as science.  He joins many other materialists who have used the appearance of science and promissory materialism ideologically to attack religion, constructing an entirely speculative, evidence free and even illogical "science" in the process****.   I have become ever more convinced that materialism is an ideology which is fatal to liberalism which can't be founded in anything but an assumption that people possess free will,  inherent rights and other non-material qualities which are the basis of their civil rights and their claim to a decent life.   And there is nothing to it.  

I am far more interested in politics as a tool for preserving life and to enhance the decency of life for people and the rest of life on Earth than I am in this ideological war.   I had hoped for years to avoid it but this issue is inescapable in defending the very basis of that effort.   It is a huge surprise to me that, as I've learned more and thought more about this issue that someone like William Lane Craig actually defends the basis of liberalism more strongly than political liberals.  I've gotten over the discomfort that having that in common with an evangelical philosopher and theologian gave me because the position that we both oppose is absolutely destructive of liberalism.   As he points out in one of his debates,   Dawkins explicitly rejects the reality of morality and the other qualities of human beings that are essential for civil rights to be valid.   He also points out the massive inconsistency of Dawkins and the new atheists between their materialist denial of the reality of morality and rights while asserting their preferences on the authority of morality and rights.

As I said here several weeks ago,  I have known atheists who were moral and good people even as those qualities can't be accounted for with materialism.    Somehow, they bridge that gap in their own behavior, for some reason.   I am absolutely convinced that a society that is dominated by materialism will not do that, the individual virtues of such atheists are not universal or even very commonly found among people.  Not even those who are not materialists.   Even among those who profess to believe that God requires us to treat other people as we would like to be treated, that is more said than done.   But the fact that there is nothing in atheism that can produce that moral stand is real and does have results.  I'm convinced of that by the moral atrocities that materialist governments have been in every case.

Liberals got in the habit of averting their eyes from those histories, largely on the basis of opposing the extravagant and sometimes dishonest, anti-democratic, anti-communists here and in other Western countries.   I grew up in that milieu, though I did notice that materialism can't support free will and inherent rights just about from my first encounter with it.   Back then the left was not so dominated by materialism as it has come to be.  Then it was Martin Luther King and other religious leftists who were the face of the left.  As time has passed and materialism came to dominate the left there has been a hollowing out of the basis of liberalism due to materialism.  That is,  I am sure, the reason that the left has failed.  As Dawkins and other atheists gain influence among liberals, that corrosion will continue.

If liberals cede the role of defending the metaphysical and religious basis of human decency to conservatives, liberalism will die.  If it's not already dead.   Religious liberals have to stop withholding what they have to say on these points.  There is no reason to,  what the new atheists have to say is absurd and refutable,  their replacement of informed advocacy with derision and their weirdly dishonest folklore is not worthy of respect.

*  You can hear Craig's response to Dawkins' charge that he was an apologist for genocide against the Canannites at the end of his appearance sans Dawkins.

** As one of the comments to Dawkins' excuse at The Guardian pointed out,  it's unbelievable that Dawkins was telling the truth about the professors of philosophy he knew not knowing who Craig is:

Richard Dawkins is clearly being disingenuous when he says that "none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either." How about AC Grayling and Daniel Dennett? Those are two first-rate atheistic philosophers who Dawkins shares a very close relationship with. Grayling is a partner of Dawkins for the BHA and Dennett is an admittedly close friend who is on the front page of this site! Here is the key point: they have both participated in public and formal dialogues with Craig! So I cannot even imagine what other philosophers he contacted. It should be rather humiliating for those uninformed scholars. Surely we can all agree that Dawkins is being disingenuous here.

I think it's reasonable to conclude that Dawkins is lying when he claims to have consulted "professors of philsophy" as to Craig's identity.   If he'd consulted YouTube he would have found that out.

***  I'm hoping to get around to deconstructing the bizarre reputation of Carl Sagan in the future.

****  Listen to Craig's discussion of multi-universe and related theories in relation to the implications of the fine tuning of physical constants.    While those arguments, just as all arguments in this area, materialist as well as religious, are matters of persuasion instead of unavailable proof,  I'm going to say that I find the teleological arguments far more persuasive than unpersuasive.

There is some disagreement over just how many such independent factors there are, but by some counts there are over 100, although not all requiring the above degree of precision.[38]But the apparent probability of all the necessary conditions sufficient to allow just the formation of planets (let alone life) coming together just by chance is utterly outrageously tiny—by Roger Penrose's calculation, the probability of chance alone producing cosmoi capable of producing planets is 1 in 10 raised in turn to the 10123 (Penrose 1990, 343–4). With respect to key enzymes occurring by chance, astrophysicist Fred Hoyle throws around numbers like 10-40000 (Hoyle 1982, 4–5). (Although there is no consensus, some, following e.g., Emile Borel, suggest that a probability of occurrence of less than 10-50 can be taken as equivalent to practical impossibility.) Apparently crushing improbabilities of that order tied to the apparent value of a life-permitting (or intelligence-permitting) universe has given rise to cosmic fine-tuning arguments for design, according to which improbable fine-tuning of the cosmos for life and intelligence is taken as empirical evidence of design, purpose, and deliberate intent. In fact, the tighter the constraints, the more reasonable it becomes to see design in the conditions meeting those constraints. Other things being equal, deliberate, intentional design would constitute a plausible explanation for a universe like ours existing against the odds and out of all the myriad possible life-precluding or life-hampering universes.

I am also persuaded that the automatic, derisive dismissal of arguments like those are, entirely, a matter of ideological fashion instead of reason. I don't think there is any reason for religious believers who find them persuasive to apologize for that, considering that the materialist response are speculations like multi-universe theories and illogical assertions about their persuasive power for atheism.  As Craig points out, multi-universe theory very likely compounds problems of fine tuning for that line of atheist argument.   Multi-universe theory could require far more fine tuning than our known universe appears to.