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Why Dawkins should have listened to the philosophers

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Who often know something about logical reasoning. From Gary Gutting at Salon:

Atheists sometimes argue the case against God is the same as the case against Santa Claus. Let’s test the logic

Our first concern will be Richard Dawkins’s efforts to refute standard arguments for theism. These efforts suffer from a variety of logical mistakes. His critique of the cosmological argument confuses an implication with a presupposition, while his critique of the ontological argument makes an illegitimate move from distaste for a conclusion to its invalidity. His critique of arguments from religious experience ignores the distinction between when we can explain an experience as illusory and when we should explain an experience as illusory.

[Snippet:] Dawkins’s critique of religious experience goes wrong by starting from the question, Can we explain this experience as illusory? He should instead ask, Is there a specific reason to think that we should explain this experience as illusory? To make his case, he would have to reflect philosophically on the conditions that make it appropriate to dismiss an experience as illusory, and then show that all religious experiences meet those conditions. There is an extensive epistemological literature—often very critical of religion—on how to evaluate the veracity of religious experiences. Dawkins’s argument needs to engage this literature. More.

Of course, people can and do wave logic aside, as they do evidence. But they do not thereby make themselves immune from the consequences.

See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

and

How long should we believe the prophet Matheson? A thought forms: Hey, wait a minute. If that guy were just plain fooling himself, he’d be saying the same things…

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3 Replies to “Why Dawkins should have listened to the philosophers

  1. 1
    bornagain says:

    Interestingly, when an atheist denies the reality of God that atheist, of logical necessity, ends up denying the reality of his own conscious experience, i.e. of his own ‘personhood’, which happens to be the most sure thing that a person can know about reality.

    David Chalmers is semi-famous for getting the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness across to lay people in a very easy to understand manner:

    David Chalmers on Consciousness (Descartes, Philosophical Zombies and the Hard Problem) – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK1Yo6VbRoo

    Philosophical Zombies – cartoon
    http://existentialcomics.com/comic/11

    Although some of the less than forthright atheists will deny that, given atheistic/materialistic premises, they do not really exist and are merely illusions, many leading atheist will readily admit that, given atheistic/materialistic premises, they, as conscious ‘persons’, do not really exist but that they are merely illusions:

    “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.”
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

    “that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.”
    Francis Crick – “The Astonishing Hypothesis” 1994

    “The neural circuits in our brain manage the beautifully coordinated and smoothly appropriate behavior of our body. They also produce the entrancing introspective illusion that thoughts really are about stuff in the world. This powerful illusion has been with humanity since language kicked in, as we’ll see. It is the source of at least two other profound myths: that we have purposes that give our actions and lives meaning and that there is a person “in there” steering the body, so to speak.”
    [A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide To Reality, Ch.9]

    [Nancy Pearcey] When Reality Clashes with Your Atheistic Worldview – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0Kpn3HBMiQ

    Darwin’s Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails – Nancy Pearcey – April 23, 2015
    Excerpt: Even materialists often admit that, in practice, it is impossible for humans to live any other way. One philosopher jokes that if people deny free will, then when ordering at a restaurant they should say, “Just bring me whatever the laws of nature have determined I will get.”
    An especially clear example is Galen Strawson, a philosopher who states with great bravado, “The impossibility of free will … can be proved with complete certainty.” Yet in an interview, Strawson admits that, in practice, no one accepts his deterministic view. “To be honest, I can’t really accept it myself,” he says. “I can’t really live with this fact from day to day. Can you, really?”,,,
    In What Science Offers the Humanities, Edward Slingerland, identifies himself as an unabashed materialist and reductionist. Slingerland argues that Darwinian materialism leads logically to the conclusion that humans are robots — that our sense of having a will or self or consciousness is an illusion. Yet, he admits, it is an illusion we find impossible to shake. No one “can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free.” We are “constitutionally incapable of experiencing ourselves and other conspecifics [humans] as robots.”
    One section in his book is even titled “We Are Robots Designed Not to Believe That We Are Robots.”,,,
    When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is Flesh and Machines by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine — a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “When I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
    Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” Certainly if what counts as “rational” is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational. It has no basis
    within Brooks’s worldview. It sticks out of his box.
    How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t. Brooks ends by saying, “I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.” He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience. He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....95451.html

    Even Dawkins himself admits that if a person lived consistently within his atheistic worldview then life would be ‘intolerable’:

    Who wrote Richard Dawkins’s new book? – October 28, 2006
    Excerpt: Dawkins: What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do.,,,
    Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?
    Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable.,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....02783.html

    As should be needless to say, if you cannot live consistently within your worldview then your worldview cannot possibly be true but must instead be a delusion:

    Existential Argument against Atheism – November 1, 2013 by Jason Petersen
    1. If a worldview is true then you should be able to live consistently with that worldview.
    2. Atheists are unable to live consistently with their worldview.
    3. If you can’t live consistently with an atheist worldview then the worldview does not reflect reality.
    4. If a worldview does not reflect reality then that worldview is a delusion.
    5. If atheism is a delusion then atheism cannot be true.
    Conclusion: Atheism is false.
    http://answersforhope.com/exis.....t-atheism/

    Moreover, this denial of the reality of self, of the reality of ‘personhood’, and the claim that they are merely illusions, backfires big time on atheists since it undermines their ability to make a logically coherent argument for their atheistic position in the first place

    “What you’re doing is simply instantiating a self: the program run by your neurons which you feel is “you.””
    Jerry Coyne – Eagleton on Baggini on Free Will

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    “His critique of the cosmological argument confuses an implication with a presupposition, while his critique of the ontological argument makes an illegitimate move from distaste for a conclusion to its invalidity.”

    Not knowing whether to laugh or cry is cliche, and as such, we more or less take for granted – without really giving thought to the seriousness or flippancy of the claim.

    But that quote, News, strikes me as being an example of Dawkins’ ‘vacuity on steroids’. Is that possible ? I don’t think even with vacuum foam. But I am happy to say that, like most of us on this board (however pretentiously in my own case), I did find that quote hilariously funny; the more so, of course, for recognising Richie’s signature, pompous inanities, delivered as if from Mt Sinai. Oh… I hasten to add : Scientism’s equivalent.

  3. 3
    bevets says:

    Dawkins is brazen in his ignorance of philosophy and theology (not to mention the history of science). A major part of the book involves ripping into the chief arguments for the existence of God. I confess that it is the first time in my life that I have felt sorry for the ontological argument… This is a man truly out of his depth. Does he honestly think that no philosopher or theologian has ever thought of or worried about the infinite regress of the cosmological argument? If God caused the world, what caused God? The standard reply is that God needs no cause because he is a necessary being, eternal, outside time. Read Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Just as 2+2=4 is uncaused and always true, so is God’s existence. Now you might want to worry about the notion of necessary existence. But at least you should know that it is something to worry about. And if you are going to reject the notion, then you must yourself address the key question behind the proof, the question that Martin Heidegger said was the fundamental question of metaphysics: Why is there something rather than nothing? If not God, then what? ~ Michael Ruse

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