06 March 2008

On the futility of arguing with atheists

Elizaphanian has been posting a series on atheism, and reading the comments on one of his posts has convinced me more strongly than ever of the futility of arguing with atheists.

An agnostic friend of mine came to the same conclusion, and I blogged about it in Militant atheism goes West. Since he puts the case much more convincingly than I can, I won't repeat his arguments here.

But one thing I will repeat. A blogging friend wrote in his LiveJournal about the new brand of atheist TV evangelists. He has now deleted his LiveJournal, so links to it will no longer work, and I hope he won't mind if I reproduce his post on That fool Dawkins
Rational debate about the existence/ non-existence of God, and the ethical implications thereof, is good. It belongs to human dignity to seek to discern what is true.

There is an academic discipline which studies questions such as what constitutes a warranted belief, what religious language ‘means’, whether it has a possible reference and what it means for our conceptions of the good life. That discipline is philosophy. There is also an academic discipline whose remit of study includes the atrocities committed in the name of religion. That discipline is history.

So why, when Channel Four want to air a programme about these issues do they give air-time to a biologist with no training whatsoever in either discipline? Moreover one whose previous pronouncements in this area have only been published because he has piggy-backed on his (justified) scientific reputation and which, considered in their own right, are unworthy of a moderately bright A-level student..

Yet another example of the ignoring of the humanities in mainstream culture and, in spite of the irrationalism of our age, the persistence of the Victorian cult of the polymath scientist. Boo, hiss.


Nick said...

It's also futile arguing with someone who subscribes fundamentally to any religion. They believe what they believe not based on experience or reality, but on a book, and even then are immunse to see inconsistencies and contradictions. The Bible contradicts itself from the word go: first positing a creation mythe of the world, then juxtaposing this with the creation of man (first and then the world). These were written 600 years apart, but no one seems to notice...there are in fact MANY problems, including whether Adam was a man for the symbol for a tribe. Either answer gets you into trouble. If he was a symbol then did Jesus die for a symbol that symbolically brought original sin to Earth. If he was a real person, how did two sons procreate? With their mother? As such the Bible must lay itself open to plenty of license and interpretation, which of course, it does.

Sam Charles Norton said...

There was this Hindu who saw a scorpion floundering around in the water. He decided to save it by stretching out his finger, but the scorpion stung him. The man still tried to get the scorpion out of the water, but the scorpion stung him again. A man nearby told him to stop saving the scorpion that kept stinging him. But the Hindu said “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting. It is my nature to love. Why should I give up my nature to love just because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting?”

Steve Hayes said...

The Rap,

"They believe what they believe not based on experience or reality, but on a book"

I rest my case.


Nice story :-) I must remember that.

Yewtree said...

It's a pity your friend deleted his LJ - if that quote is anything to go by, it was a good one.

The fact that Dawkins has attained such popularity is, to my mind, evidence of the low standard of public debate.

That said, many atheists think he is an embarrassment to atheism, apparently.

If open-minded atheists want an overview of what religion is really like, may I suggest the excellent sociological study "The Spiritual Revolution" by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead.

Steve Hayes said...


Yes, I'm sorry he deleted his LJ. There was a lot of good stuff in it, always worth reading. I wish he'd left it up for others to read, even if he did not add to it, but he said as long as it was there, the temptation to spend time on it was too great.

I'm quite happy to discuss various things, even religion, with intelligent atheists who want an exchange of views.

But when the "dialogue" is like lifting the needle from an old-fashioned gramophone record and replacing it in the same place, it rapidly become boring. I've had enough of that from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Yewtree said...

Yes, unfortunately the Dawkins book has completely polarised the debate.

Apparently Dawkins claims that if you believe one slightly irrational thing, it just gives encouragement to fundamentalist nutters. I don't see how that is the case. A moderate position on any issue does not encourage extremism - in act fact, the extremes provoke each other.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the never-ending shouting match between true believers in reductionist scientism and true believers in equally reductionist exoteric religion has no solution.

This reference explains why.


Plus a similar reference



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