Thursday, 3 May 2007

The God Delusion?

Tomorrow night, I’ll be participating in a public seminar on Richard Dawkins’ controversial book, The God Delusion. It should be an interesting and lively discussion – if you’re in the Brisbane area, you’re welcome to come along and join us. And on Sunday night (unless, by then, Dawkins has persuaded me to become an atheist) I’ll be preaching on “creation” at St Mark’s Anglican Church.

29 Comments:

Felipe Fanuel said...

Even I have not read it yet, this seems to be a very polemic book.

Good seminar!

Anonymous said...

a few 1000mi too far for me, but I am interested to hear how it goes!

Anonymous said...

sincerely,
erin

byron said...

Love to hear what you've got to say about creation on Sunday. I'm preparing a talk on the environment for Monday.

simone said...

Sounds interesting. Might be there. Thanks for posting.

JoBloggs said...

p

JoBloggs said...

Would love to hear you (and Scott) on this - any chance you'll be posting your notes? (and perhaps Scott would do a guest post?)

Ben Myers said...

Jo: as far as I know, the College will be recording the talks (and perhaps making them available online?); and I think they're planning to print them (or partially print them) as well.

Anonymous said...

I went to a seminar on the book here in Cambridge. There were a number of excellent papers, most notably Timothy Jenkins' 'Closer to Dan Brown than to Gregor Mendel: On Dawkins' The God Delusion. Jenkins is an amazingly original thinker and this piece looks at the genre of Dawkins' writing more than anything else so as to try and get to grips with what he's doing and why it has been so popular. When this article is published it will be really worth looking out for.

Matt

ps I think he's giving the lecture again in Cambridge in early June if anyone should happen to be around.

A deacon, by the grace of God, said...

Wish I could be there! Mazel tov!

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I used to be embarrassed by Christians offering very poor apologetics in the face of brilliant challenges by atheists. Lately, however, the roles seem to be reversed. Dawkins' book is poor and hot on its heels is the even worse book by Christopher Hitchens. If these are the best that contemporary atheists have to offer, they are in sad shape.

Be sure to blog your lecture, Ben.

kim fabricius said...

What worries me, Michael, is that when the atheists are in bad shape - and Dawkins and friends are so out of shape that they ought to be in a fat camp for ideas - that couch potato theologians may follow. Where would Barth have been without Feuerbach?

A deacon, by the grace of God, said...

I hear you, Kim. On the other hand: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens & Co. are DEFINITELY not Feuerbach!

kim fabricius said...

Deacon, exactly!

JoBloggs said...

Thanks, Ben - I'll keep an eye on the College website for those recordings.

MacGabhann said...

I always thought Hitchens was quite good though. At least he has actuallly read Spinoza and Plato. And I think his line of questioning against transcendence is superb and remains to be answered.
It is interesting how you think of Barth's development in oppositional terms only. I wonder what you think he might have learned from Przywara, or what he failed to learn.

Jonathan Keith said...

Hi Ben,

I probably won't make it to the seminar but there's a question I would have liked to have asked you. I've heard it suggested that atheism is in decline and recent books by atheists are a desperate reaction to this. Do you think that's true and are you willing to speculate about the trajectory atheism will follow?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Jon -- that's a very good question, although I really don't know enough about the sociology of atheism to be able to answer this. It's an plausible thesis that the work of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al. bears witness to the decline of atheism.

But one important question would be whether there's an actual decline of atheism, of just a diminishing presence of atheism in the media and in the general public consciousness. My own guess is that the latter might be the case: nowadays, religion is much more a part of the public consciousness in many Western cultures, so that atheists might feel more marginalised than before, even though their numbers might be relatively stable. Again, I'm no sociologist or the son of a sociologist: so that's just an uninformed guess!

MacGabhann said...

…nowadays, religion is much more a part of the public consciousness in many Western cultures…

My goodness, Ben, what planet do you inhabit? If by a religious consciousness you mean a sort of one family of humanity being reasonable together then perhaps, but if you mean God exists, let alone is sovereign, then I suggest you get out there and talk to people. You know to people who actually have to work to earn a living. They don’t refer to God willingly. And if God is brought up its with the assumption that it is the same God across the board, and really what’s the difference these days between a humanist and a religionist except that one holds a quaint notion that the other is big enough to tolerate. Say what you like about Dawkins and his ilk, but at least his secularist fundamentalism indicates some sort of Godly presence in their lives. Most people are simply oblivious to deists or atheists.

Ben Myers said...

Hi MacGabhann -- yes, you've got that right. By "religion" I certainly don't mean "God"!

I just think that, especially post-9/11, religion (as a cultural phenomenon) has become a much more prominent part of public "discourse". At least that's my impression. But no, I certainly don't think that everyone now believes in (or talks about) God!

Ben Myers said...

By the way, the seminar went pretty well. Scott Stephens' paper in particular was outstanding: it was an uncompromising Barthian critique of Christian "religion" via a sympathetic reading of the militant atheism of Dawkins and Hitchens. The philosopher, Phil Dowe, gave a sympathetic account of some of Dawkins' arguments. And my own paper was a more pedestrian (historical) account of Dawkins' attempt to rehabilitate the notion of a perennial "warfare" between faith and science.

For anyone who's interested, the audio recordings of the talks will be available on the College website in about a week's time.

olvlzl said...

Michael Westmoreland-White, I'd thought Hitchens must be kind of steamed that he'd gone to the bother to write his Mother Teresa book only to have the franchise stolen by the Dawkins-Harris co.

I find the Dawkins cult endlessly interesting. First he wrote a thoroughly awful book, if I'd written a paper like that for my music history seminar I'd have flunked. Then his readers, in complete ignorance of the subject, think he's written the only book on the subject that needs to be read, until his next one....

Most interesting of all, to me, is that his "science" of evolutionary psychology indulges in the construction of entirely speculative fables based on absolutely no physical evidence to "explain" the evolution of alleged behaviors constructed out of phenomena which might not be discrete "behaviors" at all... It's my suspicion that they have stolen the honorable word "evolution" to pin onto their evolved form of sociobiology in order to pull the wool over people's eyes to keep them from looking at the shoddy foundation of it. THEN they accuse all religious people of biblical fundamentalism, pretending that all Christians take the instructive stories of the bible and believe them to be history and science.

They've got it really bad here in the U.S. And on top of the Dawkinsites, we've got Harrisites too.

Jonathan Keith said...

I believe that atheism is a rational position, and I don't think less of anyone's mental abilities just because they're an atheist. But this book seriously challenged my faith in the rationality and integrity of Richard Dawkins. I thought I detected a note of repressed self-doubt in all that bluster, too. He makes the kind of overt displays of smug certainty that one finds in some creationist literature, and which, to me at least, smacks of rationalization.

olvlzl said...

Jonathan Keith, I would agree that the kind of atheist who says "I don't believe" and leaves it at that is rational, the kind of atheist who says "I know there isn't a God", is not being rational, they are stating a belief as a fact. It is impossible to know that there is or isn't a God. I just got done listening to Jonathan Miller on TV promoting a TV history of atheism. Leaving aside that the clip they showed of someone mouthing an incomplete quote from Thomas Jefferson, clipped down from a longer piece to make it seem as if he was endorsing atheism when he wasn't I was struck at how disappointingly banal Miller's assertions were. They were all couched in talk of math and science, both entirely comprising tools to deal with the physical universe and applying them to the problem of a God which he, himself said was immaterial, by definition. It's as if these people never heard what the nature of science was, that it is a set of specialized proceedures to deal with the PHYSICAL universe. That is what is so surprising about the thoughtful ones in the "I know there isn't" group. They couldn't have thought very deeply about their assertions at all.

macgabhann said...

Dear Olvizi,
What you write sounds all very interesting but you've lost me. Why is it impossible to know that there isn't a God? And what do you mean about science being just a "set of specialized procedures" to deal with the physical universe. Isn't physical itself just a concept?

olvlzl said...

Macgabhann. I meant that if someone wants to make a distinction between what is believed and what is known, which I don't believe anyone has ever successfully distinguished in terms of science (if anyone know, please tell me) some criteria would have to be met. In the "I know that God doesn't..." kind of atheism certainty or at least the reliability of the knowledge backing up the position would have to be very high, if not irrefutable. This is clearly not possible since any number of possible definitions of individual gods, some with incomprehensibility as a part of their definitions have, in fact, been proposed. Something which is defined as incomprehensible is not able to be falsified. And that's only one definition that couldn't be falsified, an immaterial God, one outside of the physical universe wouldn't be susceptible to the methods of mathmatics or science, which are all tools for the understanding of the physical universe. Any applicablity they have for any proposed existence outside of the phyisical universe is undefined at best, impossible in fact.

It is seldom remembered that math and science are inventions of the human mind, no other species that we know of practices either. They begin in human observation of the physical universe and are a means of addressing the physical universe. Even math, sometimes seen as entirely outside of the physical universe, in at least its higher forms, is extended through logic, buiding on the base of the simpler math which more obviously orginates in humans addressing their physical experience. The same statements are clearly true of logic, itself.

The fudging of these facts often doesn't impinge on science or other areas of life which ignore these simple facts, addressing them doesn't have any real life effect. But it's exactly in Dawkin's area of work, the behavioral and cognitive science that they are not only important but they are basic to the very thing they pretend to be doing science about. Many of the things that his school of biology pretends to deal with scientifically is likely the product of reification and conflation, the original sin of the behavioral sciences. I think that in their habit of fudging their professional work might just be the origin of large parts of his hobby career.

"Physical" as just a concept? That's another question that I don't think has ever been defined or disposed of. But I don't think that what I said about any of the above really depends on it.

I don't know what someone might make of any of this but in the ambiguity of these areas is where I find for all of us the freedom to believe.

Joel Corney said...

Dear Ben,

I went to the Seminar on Friday night and found it to be one of the most interesting 'church' things I've been to in a long time. I haven't read Dawkin's book (and probably won't get around to it either), but it was great to see theological issues presented and discussed with such vitality! I'm encouraged to get back into reading more on science and theology (had started reading McGrath's trilogy a little while ago but didn't stick it out).

I too would like to see the transcripts/papers from Friday night (in fact it was in searching for some more by the 3 presenters that I came across your blogspot).


Cheers.

erin said...

It certainly seems that many of the new atheist voices don't seem to address postmodern philosophical concerns much. Maybe we'll get lucky and phrenology will be fashionable again. I'm looking forward to the transcripts/recoridngs of the time!

olvlzl said...

Erin, funny you should say that because after a long time of concentrating on the scientific side of things it was exactly Dawkins' and most of all Daniel Dennett's blather that made me conclude that science is less able to handle these questions than history and philosophy. You can't find only one, single truth about most questions in history of philosophy but unlike science they can deal with the enormous mass of evidence and experience that these questions necessitate. Dawkins simply throws out what he doesn't like or which would call his pre-ordained conclusions into doubt and plows on in ignorance. He is really not much different from the Bibilical fundamentalists he opposes. His is simply a different kind of fundamentalism.

I really resent Dawkins and his friends for stealing the word "evolution" to cloak their "evolutionary psychological" speculations in the cloak of the real science of evolution. It makes any discussion of their failings harder because you're always having to point out that you're not a fan of the pseudo sciences of "creationism" or "intelligent design".

Post a Comment

New book

Archive

Contact

Although I'm not always able to reply to all emails, please feel free to contact me.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.

TOPO