Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dawkins' sexed-up atheism

How does Richard Dawkins respond to Antony Flew's allegation that in The God Delusion Dawkins misrepresents Einstein's view of divine intelligence:

'Antony Flew, having lost the ability to write a book, was persuaded by a Christian ghost writer, Roy Varghese, to let him write it instead. It is one thing for a footballer or a supermodel to use a ghost writer, but there is something absurd about a philosopher using a ghost writer. Flew has now apparently lost the ability to read a book, too, for his 'review' of The God Delusion turns out to be a review of its index and nothing but its index. He only needed to read Chapter 1, in order to see the absurdity of his claims about my treatment of Einstein.'
(Quoted in The Telegraph)

The unashamedly personal nature of much of Dawkins' response, from someone who makes much of being a promoter of well reasoned argument, hardly amounts to an adequate rebuttal of Flew's charge. Leaving that aside, lets take up Dawkins' point that one only need read Chapter 1 of The God Delusion to see that he has provided an accurate representation of Einstein's view of God:

'A deist, too, [like a theist] believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs. Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a nonsupernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.

'There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like 'God is subtle but he is not malicious' or 'He does not play dice' or 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic. 'God does not play dice' should be translated as 'Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things.' 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' means 'Could the universe have begun in any other way?' Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. . . . .'
(Quoted on Dawkins' website)

Is it accurate to portray Einstein as an adherent of Dawkins pantheism as 'sexed-up atheism'? Here's what Einstein had to say on an occasion when he was asked to define God:

'I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist.'
(Quoted in M. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Princeton 1999, p. 48.)

Looks like Flew might have a case.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A secularist bigot

Desperate atheist cries of foul play over Antony Flew's 'conversion' continue (see Thursday's post below). In 2008 a number of comments on the customer reviews on Amazon of Flew's book, There is a God, maintained that Flew's contribution to the book was not genuine and he had been a victim of manipulation because he was old. Flew has been moved to refute such serious allegations here.

This link also contains a review by Antony Flew of Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, where Flew takes Dawkins to task for, among other things, failing to properly represent Einstein's views on divine intelligence. Flew, justifiably angered by Dawkins' underhand attempts to discredit him, also charges him with being a secularist bigot.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The honest ex-atheist

Anthony Flew, the well known philosopher, having argued the case for atheism for fifty years, caused a scandal when he revealed in 2004 that he had changed his mind and now believed in the existence of God. Flew's philosophy has always been guided by the Socratic principle to follow the argument wherever it leads and it is a tribute to his openness of mind that he remained wedded to this maxim even when it led to what must have been for him uncomfortable conclusions. Unlike the so called 'new atheists' who sidestep serious philosophical arguments, Flew has spent the whole of his academic life in active engagement with philosophical theism.

Atheists have had great difficulty accepting the revision in Flew's thinking with anything approaching good grace. It is telling that on hearing of Flew's conversion Dawkins accused Flew of 'tergiversation' (apostasy) in his 'old age'. Rumours immediately began to circulate on the internet that, weakened by fear, Flew had succumbed to a deathbed conversion. Flew repudiates this charge in his book, There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind, New York, 2007, where he points out that since he does not believe in an afterlife he has nothing to gain from his conversion in this respect.

Here is an interview with Flew where he talks honestly and with modesty about the evidence of 'irreducible complexity' that led him to revise his beliefs in favour of some sort of intelligent design. However, atheists rumours have not abated and a bizarre introduction has been pasted onto this film suggesting that Flew is suffering from the first signs of dementia, and hence the victim of a religionist plot by its makers. Certainly in the film Flew occasionally pauses to think before he speaks, and at one point has difficulty pronouncing a word, but all this is hardly remarkable in a philosopher and a man of eighty plus years. If these are the symptoms of the onset of dementia then I suspect we must all have it. It seems that ordinary explanations like thinking before one speaks or revising one's beliefs are alien concepts to the atheist.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A.C. Grayling's Careful Logic

The philosopher A.C. Grayling has written a special piece for Dawkins' website prompted by the much publicised judgment by Cherie Booth (aka Mrs Blair) in which she is reported as letting a man off with a suspended sentence for an assault because he was religious. In the piece which was posted last Thursday Grayling boasts he will 'pick through the logic of Mrs. Blair’s view carefully':

'[Cherie Booth's] remarks to the jaw-breaking ‘devout Muslim’ (so the newspapers described him) Shamso Miah imply that she thinks that religious people have a greater tendency to be good than non-religious people. What justifies this assumption? Is it the fact that self-avowed non-religious people commit atrocities against other all other people, religious and non-religious alike, explicitly in the name of their non-religion, indeed driven to such actions in service of their non-religion? Of course not. So on what basis other than prejudice and religious sentiment can Mrs. Blair claim, in a judgment made in a British courtroom, that someone ought to be more leniently treated because he is religious? The wrong done to non-religious people of good character by this judgment, and the perversity of the judgment in itself, make it right that the National Secular Society (NSS) has lodged a complaint against Mrs. Blair.'

Grayling's judgement of Booth is unremitting:

'The point that emerges from this unedifying matter is that Mrs. Blair has proved herself unfit for the bench, and a vigorous reassertion of judicial impartiality and inclusiveness is needed. It ought to come as a corollary to a disciplinary action against Mrs. Blair, her removal from the bench, and a commitment to having better reasons for keeping violent people out of prison than that they believe in ancient pre-scientific superstitions.'

But Grayling's non sequitur has come under fire from a legally minded fellow atheist who, to his credit, points out that a defendant is allowed to put to the judge whatever mitigation they see fit to establish good character, which could be a wide variety of things. From the fact that Cherie Booth in this particular case accepted the religious observance of the defendant to be an indication of good character, it does not follow that she considers it to be a necessary condition of good character. Nor does it mean that this was the only factor she took into consideration in reaching her decision. So much for Grayling's careful logic.

Having failed to demonstrate that Booth discriminated against atheists, by showing some leniency to a religious believer, Humanists are now trying to make out that the 'real story' is not discrimination, but whether religious belief should be accepted at all as an indicator of good character. Some people never know when to give up.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sour Grapes ?

Tomorrow the National Secular Society's Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year 2010 award will be given to an 'individual who has contributed significantly to the cause of secularism'. One of those nominated for the award is Peter Hearty for his 'hilarious and telling' blog, Platitude of the Day, which is a parody of the Thought for the Day early morning slot on BBC Radio 4. The problem with Hearty's attempted parody is that everyone who contributes to Thought for the Day is 'satirised', no matter what they say. The indiscriminate nature of this makes Hearty's agenda seem more like petty spite than biting satire. Now, one need not be a fan of the Thought for the Day programme to wonder why something which attempts to provide some brief edification among the daily horror of news stories and political events would be targeted at all (aside from the simple fact that it has religious content, of course). One might be forgiven for concluding that this is petty revenge for the fact that the secularist/humanist/atheist cabal were unsuccessful in their attempt to hijack the programme for their own ends. Looks to me like a nasty case of sour grapes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Physician Heal Thyself

You've got to hand it to those jolly souls at the National Secular Society who are flogging the notion of 'de-baptism' and a 'de-baptism' certificate to go with it. The certificate, they suggest, in true comedic form, should be displayed in the 'hallway (porch, loo, lean-to, etc.) as an outward sign of the inner rationality that inspires your being'. Their website exhorts the baptised: 'Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had!' Given that, according to the NSS, 'the concept of baptism is a complete fantasy that has no meaning outside the heads of the religious', its members seem to be peculiarly exercised by it. Followers are urged to make their 'de-baptism' official by insisting that their names be removed from baptismal registers and church records which, if the letters to the website are to be believed, involves going to extraordinary lengths to achieve. According to Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society:

'They simply don’t want to be part of the statistics that are used by the churches to demand more privileges. They don’t want to have any formal connection with institutions that they perceive to be counterproductive to peace, harmony and common sense.'

But, the attempt to undo historical records has an Orwellian ring which makes Sanderson's commitment to 'common sense' look a bit shaky. His fondness for 'peace' and 'harmony' looks equally loosely based given his opinion expressed elsewhere on the site:

'The growing amount of interest in the concept of de-baptism indicates that people are not just indifferent to religion – which has been the traditional British approach – but are actually becoming quite hostile to it.'

Perhaps someone should point out to Sanderson that the 'traditional British approach' is one of tolerance. Sanderson clearly relishes the growing hostility that he and other secularists are promoting towards the religious, and the claim that this is all intended as 'irreverent' and 'lighthearted fun' sits uneasily with Sanderson's unmistakable intentions. But then secularists and atheists seem to have a predilection for this way of proceeding: on the one hand proudly proclaiming themselves as the very epitome of reasonable and rational behaviour while all the time excoriating, insulting, and openly encouraging animosity towards those who they accuse of failing to make full use of their reason, simply because they don't reach the same conclusions as they do. But then I expect it would infuriate secularists to be taken to task for failing to abide by the maxim: physician heal thyself.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An atheist speaks the truth!

Occasionally one comes across an honest atheist. Here is an example: Atheists are more annoying than believers. However, as the comments section shows, the brain of the atheist is generally addled.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Equality and tolerance secular style

Many in the media are, predictably, in a state of indignant hysteria because the pope has voiced an opinion on an issue in British politics: Harriet Harman’s Equality Law. For most secularists and humanists the pope's input is beyond the pale. The fact that the pope represents Catholics in this country who are British citizens, and that they, like everyone else in the country, have a right to be heard in a democracy seems to have escaped even the more restrained voices.

On today’s Daily Politics show, Jo Coburn, one of the presenters, gets to the heart of the matter which is about the rights of the Catholic Church to choose to appoint who it wishes to senior positions. Jo asks why the Catholic Church should be exempt from some aspects of the equality legislation which would force it to consider employing practising homosexuals for high ranking jobs. Shouldn’t the Catholic Church, like everyone else, be bound by the same laws designed to promote an equal and tolerant society?

But this is very little to do with creating an equal and tolerant society and everything to do with certain groups (in this case, gay activists) seeking, not simply tolerance of their choices, but rather approval and endorsement of their practices from those who they know for certain are ideologically opposed to them. But, opposition per se to the thought and practices of others is not an infringement of their human rights, unless you live in a police state. Personally, I find the views of humanists offensive. Yet, should I wish to become a high ranking member of the British Humanist Association it would hardly be reasonable of me to expect to be considered for the position while continuing to publicly espouse and practice my religious beliefs, and neither could the refusal by the British Humanist Association to consider me for the post be considered by any sane person as an infringement of my equality rights.