Well, according to Michael Ruse, any way.

Can any qualified philosophers comment? I found the philosophical arguments in TGD and God is not Great fairly persuasive, but I'm just a musician and a bureaucrat, not a philosopher. Do Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet et al attack philosophical strawmen? Is the ontological argument really as dumb as it appears to be?

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Personally, I think there is some merit to considering the ideas presented by Ruse and not get hung up on the ontological argument thing. Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum share a related position on the same website A Call for Peace in the Science/Faith Battle. An extract fro mthe post will surely inflame this discussion (and further label me as a Troll...)

The New Atheism has become a counterproductive movement, dividing us when we ought to be united. And this movement is not really about science, although it often aligns itself in this way. Science, alone, isn't capable of saying whether God exists, and most scientists don't obsess about such questions. Atheism is a philosophy that goes beyond mere science--a philosophy that its adherents have every right to hold, but that will never serve as a common ground that we can all stand upon

I especially like that last sentence.
No intention of flaming you, but I heartily disagree.

For starters; what is New Atheism? I've been an atheist for most of my life, but I enjoy reading Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al. What am I? When I was a kid I had an orange mohican, a leather jacket, big boots and a snotty attitude. I self-identified as a punk. How would one recognise a New Atheist?

Science cannot judge say whether anything exists unless the object in question is defined. A lot of modern theist apologists spend most of their time dreaming up non-definitions of their deity of choice, in order to avoid asserting propositions that can be investigated, so in a sense you are right (but right for the wrong reasons).

Most scientists are atheists anyway, so don't need to obsess about gods any more than they do about fairies and elves.

Finally; what is the philosophy of atheism? I've only ever heard theists claim that any such thing exists. My favourite description of atheism is that it is a concept without content. The difference between atheism and agnosticism is a moot one in my opinion. I don't believe there are any gods, but if shown good evidence that there are I wold change my mind. I know I don't know everything there is to know, I can concede the possibility that there may be conclusive evidence supporting theism extant which I am ignorant of. Am I an atheist or an agnostic, or both?

Secularism can stand as common ground for adherents as long as theism has any political influence. Atheism may be a factor in secularism, but it is not necessarily the main one. When religion's withered claws are finally completely prised off of the reins of power, when children stop being indoctrinated from birth, when science is taught in schools and creationism is laughed out of the classroom...who knows what atheism will be defined as.

Most British people are effectively atheists; theists are relatively rare here compared to America (and we really are a Christian nation; Bishops in the House of Lords, establishment of Church of England, etc.).
Spot on, my man.

I think what a lot of people actually mean when they say something about atheism IS secularism. At least when they start talking about atheism as a philosophy.
I disagree. Atheism is not a philosophy. Atheism states ONE thing and ONE thing only. No god.
I'm certainly no philosopher, though I've been known to indulge in reading it from time to time. I remember reading Anselm's ontological argument years ago and being completely puzzled by how anybody thought it made any sense at all, let alone that it seemed to be considered definitive.
"God is whatever it is better to be than not to be; and he, as the only self-existent being. creates all things from nothing." - Saint Anselm, Proslogium, Chapter V.
So, by that definition of god, he created himself from nothing. Yeah, you can amuse yourself kicking that bit of nonsense around indifinitely, but it's an ontological oxymoron.
Creation as an act or process is a verb, and to create is to take an action. Action cannot be taken by nothing, and the only way god could have created himself is if he originally existed as nothing. The ontological argument is an oxymoron, and the idea, by it's own primary concept, negates itself. That thing which does not exist cannot create any thing because it cannot take any action. It is impossible by the definition of the action of creation for something to create itself. If something else created god, then he is not the prime creator and is therefore not god, the creator. If he did not create himself out of nothing, he cannot be god.
So, if god did not create himself, then we are left to consider whether he is not god, or if he simply is not.
For all you hitchens critics. He has balls. Bigfucking balls, more than you or me combined. Just look up his water boarding exploits, or how he got arrested for political speech.
It's one thing to have the courage of your convictions. It's another thing to be correct in your views. My only problem with Hitchens is his support for the invasion of Iraq. It was based on the same kind of wishful thinking he rightly derides in others. Big balls are only good if they're rolling in the right direction.

ah, man, I could write fiction all day
then suddenly a bolt of Japanese microwaves will come from orbit and folks will mistake it for gawd!

We're all digital now.
That's the only language/philosophy that'll bring any government house down

word is Iran has riots again
can't wait for the footage
one theocracy goes they all do IMHO
One strategy encountered in philosophy is to challenge others' and one's own views via thought experiments (John Searle's 'Chinese Room' or Hilary Putnam's 'Twin World' come to mind). In relation to atheism, I'm tempted to exploit an analogy with the framework of a thought experiment set up by John Rawls in his influential A Theory of Justice. This is essentially (and very crudely) to abstract away from all the ethical and judicial substance of current human societies and their institutions that we know something about, and to imagine an 'initial position' in which people are elaborating, behind a 'veil of ignorance', just what they might eventually agree to as a fair and just distribution of social capital and procedures for sustaining it.

I think this occurred to me because, as the intial post about the 'New Atheists' foreshadows, it is very difficult for many to see atheism other than as a reactive response to already existing cultural and religious mega-themes, and atheists defining themselves other than negatively. My 'Rawlsian' hunch is that were it otherwise, were we in an 'initial position' in which, while being aware of the degree of systematisation of knowledge about nature and reality afforded by science, we remained behind a 'veil of ignorance' in relation to the thousands of gods which have come and gone, then which of the (purported) 10,000 religions in the present-day world would we set about inventing for our own perceived benefit, if any?

This 'inverted world' scenario would seem to afford something like a normative status to the cultural assumptions of those kinds of secular societies now emerging (but without any residual reactive stance to a religious history). Might this then make the concept of 'atheism' simply disappear through redundancy?

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, OUP 1973
I think that's about right, Dave. I think if religion weren't so dominant, it would be just another flavor of woowoo, like ghosts, ESP, etc. And in that scenario, atheism would simply be an unnamed flavor of skepticism. "So you say this Jesus guy drove demons out of some guy into a herd of pigs and then stampeded them off a cliff? Without even paying the pig farmer for damages? And this is where morality comes from? Riiiiiight. Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"
I have an undergrad degree in philosophy, but I'm definitely not a professional philosopher.

My own philosophical sympathies have in general tended toward Kant and Wittgenstein (though now I'm gravitating more toward Spinoza, and have been doing so for years).

My short answer is that Dawkins makes the radical claim that theological assertions of God's existence are, in fact, empirical propositions. This would make most theologians and many philosophers balk, but Dawkins further claims that this reaction is itself an expression of the social taboo against criticizing religious claims.

If Dawkins's claims are correct (and I tend to think that they are), it renders a whole arsenal of philosophical and counterarguments completely ineffective. I can't imagine that Dawkins is not very well aware of this.

To go into a bit more detail about that "arsenal" for anyone interested . . .

For quite a long time, I felt Dawkins didn't "get" one of the distinctions I perceived as central to both Kant and Wittgenstein: namely, that assertions which can be said to make any sort of rational sense is by definition restricted to empirical propositions -- as Wittgenstein might put it, they are assertions that certain empirical states of affairs either are or are not the case. But both Kant and Wittgenstein seemed to feel that there is a whole realm of human experience that cannot be stated in rational, logical terms -- for Kant, a Christian theist, this was of course the realm of faith; for Wittgenstein (who was something of a quasi-mystic as well as someone who claimed he didn't believe but looked at everything from a religious point of view) this realm couldn't really even be spoken about in any meaningful way, yet it was the all-important "outside" which enveloped the inconsequential "inside" of the strictly empirical, thereby grounding the "meaning" of the world -- ethics, purpose, etc.

In a sense, I think both Dawkins and Kant/Wittgenstein are right. There can never be an empirical proposition that somehow characterizes my experience of a work of art, a poem, or even a color or smell. And for a long time, I gave religious claims this sort of status: they're not speaking in a rational language, but rather a quasi-poetic one, so it wasn't fair to subject them to intellectual rigor.

But I think Dawkins quite adequately addresses this objection in the first part of The God Delusion where he talks about Einstein's "pantheistic religion": that sublime awe at the overwhelming beauty, majesty, and order of the material universe. When physicists use the word "God" as a metaphor for this awe, they're using language in a religious or at least poetic sort of way, not making empirical propositions. And while Dawkins would prefer that they be more careful about their use of language, he really seems to have no problem with that sort of waxing poetic. If that's all that religious people did, there would probably be little reason to object to it.

His claim is quite a different one, and I'm not sure it's grounded in philosophical argument so much as a sociological observation. While theologians and many philosophers like to claim that religious language doesn't make empirical claims, it actually does, in many cases, depending on who is using it and how they're using it. Easy examples: asserting the existence of miracles or that the earth is only 6,000 years. Those are empirical claims about the empirical world, and the people who assert them expect us to believe that they are empirical truths.

This is a world of difference from the sort of quasi-poetic and non-rational language Kant and Wittgenstein sought to make room for, and I think Dawkins is right to point this out, and moreover, I suspect he's also right that social taboo is what prevents even otherwise thoughtful intellectuals from recognizing it.
I don't think Dawkins attacks strawmen - he attacks his target directly




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