Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bellicose proselytizing atheists - a superb put-down

Anyone who regularly patronizes bookstores can’t help noticing the number of books pushing atheism. "The God Delusion" and "Godless" by Richard Dawkins, "God is not Great: How religion poisons everything" by Christopher Hitchens, "The End of Faith", by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett’s "Breaking the Spell", and so on ... They’ve been on the shelves for a few years now and remain prominently displayed so sales must be good.

Anyone who has read these authors couldn’t help but notice the strident, intolerant, arrogant posture the so-called New Atheists have adopted against religious belief and believers. Hitchens’s title says it all. Dawkins’ contempt is similarly blatant. And they all rely on arguments based one way or another on modern, and in quantum-physical string theory and cosmology, postmodern ‘science’.

David Berlinski, a professor of mathematics and philosophy, science writer and agnostic ("a secular Jew" whose "religious education did not take") decided, in defense of religious thought and sentiment, to take on these atheists. In his recent book, "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions", he does so with razor sharp wit and logic. Some samples:

... When [Sam Harris] writes that he has been ‘dumbstruck’ by Christian and Moslem intellectual commitments, I believe the word has met the man.
... The sciences, many scientists argue, require no criticism because the sciences
comprise a uniquely self-critical institution ... Individual scientists may make mistakes, but like the Communist Party under Lenin, science is infallible because its judgements are collective.

... physicist Victor Stenger scoffs that it is the "last resort of the theist who seeks to argue for the existence of God from science and finds all his other arguments fail". Sheer chutzpah, if I may use the Greek for cheek. It is Stenger who is arguing against the existence of God "from science."
... Having begun with Stenger, I might as well finish him off.... he has completely misunderstood the terms of the problem ... A man must really know his limits, as Clint Eastwood observed.
No less than the doctrines of religious belief, the doctrines of quantum cosmology are what they seem: biased, partial, inconclusive, and largely in the service of passionate but unexamined conviction.
To an editorial in ‘Nature’ that claims: "The idea that human minds are the product of evolution is ‘unassailable fact’ ... With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside." [Berlinski replies:] Those not willing to put such sentiments aside, the scientific community has concluded, are afflicted by a form of intellectual ingratitude. – It is remarkable how widespread ingratitude really is.
I would find Hitchens’s thoughts even more gratifying than I do had he not enlarged them to encompass nonlinear dynamics and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, subjects that in his ineptitude he waves like a majestic frond.
On Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg’s nihilism: "The more comprehensible the universe becomes ... the more it also seems pointless." He has a point. The arena of the elementary particles – his arena – is a rather depressing place ... What is it’s point?
Berlinski doesn’t argue in favour of any particular religious beliefs but instead shows how the bellicose proselytizing atheists’ arguments from science are full of logical holes.

"The Devil’s Delusion" is a real gem. Berlinski is a credit to agnostics; the religious will thank him; atheists will hate him. It’s win, win, win.

14 comments:

pettitji said...

It seems you are doing just what the atheists are accusing you of doing. Making ad hominem attacks rather than answering the simple question "What evidence is there for the existence of a god?"

JR said...

No ad hominem attacks here, just a few teaser quotes with the author's biting 'conclusions'. I recommend you read the book to get his full argument.

As for answering the "simple question" about evidence for the existence of a god, I take Berlinski's position. I'm agnostic. There's lots of 'evidence' but no conclusive proof either way. He demonstrates that in the end atheists' absolute conviction that there is no god is faith-based, much like the religious conviction that God does exist. Once again, I recommend you read the book. It's a gem!

David said...

There's lots of 'evidence' but no conclusive proof either way

What evidence is there for the existence of a God? I see a lot of evidence that suggests he is unnecessary.

David said...

It really is intellectually dishonest to equate the scant evidence for his existence, with the mountains of evidence suggesting he is unnecessary, and therefore, unlikely, particularly in the form attributed by his believers, who just keep pushing him into ever-smaller gaps.

David said...

absolute conviction that there is no god is faith-based

I might suggest that their evidence is significantly stronger, and I should add that no intelligent atheist believes in anything absolutely. Perhaps very strongly, but not absolutely. Good strawman though.

David said...

Berlinski! I knew I recognized the name, and when I checked Wikipedia it all came back to me.

Berlinski is an intelligent design moron. Good source you have there. For your information, he's hardly a respectable scientific mind. By his reckoning, "God done it" is just as satisfactory an answer as any complex scientific one.

Here: I present a real scientific mind discussing some of these issues. Please pay close attention. You might just learn something. Richard Feynman on doubt, uncertainty and religion

David said...

...and in quantum-physical string theory and cosmology, postmodern ‘science’.

Are you making an implication here, because I suspect you don't have a clue what you're saying, other than to suggest that "quantum-physical" string theory (what the hell does "quantum-physical" mean?) or cosmology are somehow equivalent to the more wishy-washy, Sokal-suffering branches of postmodern philosophy. In the process, you've demonstrated either ignorance or disdain for both fields, physics and philosophy. Please, at least stay away from science.

Oh, and do avoid anyone from the intelligent design movement. Using them as a reference deals a death blow to any attempts at scientific credibility.

JR said...

Whoa! What’s this flurry of comments?

Lots of evidence that suggests he is unnecessary.” That “suggests”, sure, and atheists point to it at every opportunity as the basis for their faith in the non-existence of a god. That same evidence can be, and often is, equally convincing to others for God’s existence.

Mountains of evidence “suggesting”? Again, same answer. Scientific atheists claim that all science points that way. The religious people believe it points the other. I’m strictly agnostic.

... no intelligent atheist believes in anything absolutely.” If so then they lack faith and that puts them closer to the agnostic camp (Berlinski’s) than the true atheists’. Dawkins, Hitchens and many others claim to be absolutely convinced.

Speaking of crappy sources, it’s a bad idea to refer to Wikipedia for that kind of information. It’s notoriously biased and otherwise unreliable. The article on Berlinski is largely the opinion of and references to his critics. Hardly an objective source. And your “moron” comment only betrays your immaturity. Anyway, Berlinski is agnostic. He does not believe in intelligent design and has said so often. Here for example: “I have no theories to offer — not even theories of intelligent design, which I have rejected in the pages of Commentary....

I admire and respect Richard Feynman greatly and have read nearly everything he’s written (excepting his PhD level research papers).

Quantum-physical? No mystery - think quantum physics.

Halfwise said...

Wow, David, you are a comment-generating machine.

JR this is a great topic for debate but hopeless in terms of resolution.

Whichever position one takes on it, the arguments eventually become circular; we accept or reject evidence based, ultimately, on the position that we arrived with.

But thank you for identifying the book.

David said...

as the basis for their faith in the non-existence of a god

Wrong. The evidence is used to buttress a belief in the non-necessity of God. It provides strength for the belief that he is a creation of mankind. You want to use the word 'faith' to mean belief given the evidence, but faith is belief in the absence of evidence, or despite the evidence.

That same evidence can be, and often is, equally convincing to others for God’s existence.

Really? Provide some of that evidence. Just one from Berlinski's book, if you have to. I'm curious.

Scientific atheists claim that all science points that way. The religious people believe it points the other.

The religious people either misunderstand it, misinterpret it, or lie about it to make it support their preconceived faiths. It has been demonstrated over and over again, even in a court of law (the Dover trial).

I’m strictly agnostic.

And? Everyone is agnostic to some degree. Any Christian is also an atheist with respect to Thor.

If so then they lack faith and that puts them closer to the agnostic camp (Berlinski’s) than the true atheists’

As I said, everyone is agnostic to some degree, because they CAN'T know. Berlinski is ignorant of the science - a good example is his support for intelligent design.

Dawkins, Hitchens and many others claim to be absolutely convinced.

Wrong again. Dawkins does not claim to be 'absolutely convinced'. He has said that he is extremely convinced, but never absolutely. I doubt make any claim to absolute belief. Put the strawman away.

Speaking of crappy sources, it’s a bad idea to refer to Wikipedia for that kind of information. It’s notoriously biased and otherwise unreliable. The article on Berlinski is largely the opinion of and references to his critics.

Does he not work for the Discovery Institute? Is that fabrication? I don't need to go much further than that to know that he spouts pseudoscientific nonsense.

Anyway, Berlinski is agnostic. He does not believe in intelligent design and has said so often.

Why then is he a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute? You are aware that these people lie all the time right? They even lied on the stand in Dover. Their stated goal is to get ID taught in classrooms, and to undermine the teaching and study of evolution. You've been duped. I hope you didn't buy his book.

I admire and respect Richard Feynman greatly and have read nearly everything he’s written (excepting his PhD level research papers).

If I were you, I'd read WAY less Berlinski and WAY more Feynman. Hell, read WAY more of just about anyone else than Berlinski. He's a fraud.

Quantum-physical? No mystery - think quantum physics.

Strange, with a PhD, an MASc, and two bachelor's degrees (one in Physics), I've never heard of anyone calling it 'quantum-physical string theory'. Is that in order to distinguish it from classical string theory? What string theory did you have in mind that didn't require quantum physics?

JR said...

Half-wise, You're right. It is impossible for us to resolve ultimate questions of existence, it's source and meaning, etc. For both believers in God and believers in the non-existence of a god it boils down to faith. Berlinski annoys the heck out of atheists when he points out that their arguments from science are much less than they imagine - and he's a hoot to boot.

David, You admitted you had barely heard about Berlinsky. I think you should read his book before you dismiss him on the basis of hearsay. Don't be afraid to listen to arguments you suspect you won't like. You probably won't like a lot of what he says, but at least you'll have a rational basis for criticizing him.

I know of Berlinski's association with the Discovery Institute and that people there believe in the ID hypothesis. So what? Berlinski addresses both in the reference provided above. And he repeats his position in "The Devil's Delusion". I take him at his word.

On reading Feynman - as I said I've already read most of (and I'll add, reread much)Feynman. He's great!

It's nice that you have a PhD in something and a BSc in physics. However, my use of the phrase "quantum physical string theory" was intended for those who may not be as learned as you, who might not know that the "string" theory I referred to involved quantum physics and not, say, Cat's cradle or the violin.

Mike said...

Berlisnki (whom I have read - his dreadful "A Tour of the Calculus" nearly put me off of math forever) and you seem to misunderstand the meaning of atheism.

It is merely a lack of a belief in a god or gods. It says nothing about positive beliefs. Apart from not holding a belief, most atheists have wide and sometimes opposing beliefs - think of the a range from Buddhists and Taoists (who are atheists) to those few that do make the positive claim that there is no god (Penn Gillette, for instance).

Being atheist means NOT having a belief, until compelling evidence is presented. Therefore, it is not based on any kind of faith at all, but rather on the complete inability of believers to make rational arguments for their position.

And there is some irony that the more specific the god claim is, the easier it is refuted, such that modern religions are nothing more than a wishy-washy bunch of fell-good claptrap (god is love and all that nonsense). I am an atheist and I have no belief in a God or gods because there is no evidence for that conclusion. But I will be positive to say that the God character depicted in the Christian Bible does not exist, not only because there is no evidence, but there is lots of evidence to the contrary to what is written there in.

Atheism is a 'religion' based on faith as much as not collecting stamps is a hobby.

JR said...

Mike, I don’t know about “A Tour of Calculus” but “Devil’s Delusion” is a treat.

If I misunderstand the meaning of atheism, I must have lots of company. There seems to be as many “understandings” as there are web-sites discussing it. I take that to mean it’s definition is pretty much up to individual taste (somewhat like modern Christianity) - not that there's anything wrong with that. Though the definition you seem to prefer sounds not too far from Berlinski’s agnosticism.

Anyway, Berlinski’s book takes on a specific variety of atheist - the strident, bellicose, proselytizing variety that includes Dawkins, Hitchens and the like who assert a positive conviction that a god does not exist and who argue from science to support their beliefs. You say they are small in number. Maybe so, but these particular ones are prominent, noisy, arrogant and often rude about it - which is what prompted Berlinski to write his book.

I am an atheist and I have no belief in a God or gods because there is no evidence for that conclusion.” An agnostic would add that there is also no evidence for concluding there is no God or gods.

Atheism is a 'religion' based on faith as much as not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Hah:)
But not really. Someone who doesn’t collect stamps doesn’t give it a thought. You apparently give a great deal of thought to your beliefs.

Tony McManus said...

"David Berlinski, a professor of mathematics and philosophy".

Wrong. Berlinski has a decades old Phd in philosophy- to which he's contributed nothing since, holds no qualification whatsoever in mathematics (writing awful pompous pop math books is not a qualification) and regularly lies about his non-existent achievements in that field. He has published no original peer reviewed work in any field at all and when he tries to appear learned as he sneers at his betters, he ends up a laughing stock- witness his hopeless performance against biologist Ken Miller who effortlessly demonstrates Berlinski's utter ingnorance of the subject. far from being a professor of anything- he's been quickly fired from every academic job he ever held and currently lives on welfare checks from the so-called "Discovery" Institute where he is the house narcissistic bore.

He is nothing more than an pseudo intellectual fraud who should be reminded of his lies eg. about Von Neumann (a real mathematician) every time he opens his mouth.