Fisking Fitzgerald – Dawkins gets under the skin (…again)

I stumbled across this attack piece on Huffington Post.
I find it slightly surprisingly for a left-leaning organisation to publish such a blatant a attack piece directed at Richard Dawkins.
And it is such plainly daft, anti-atheist, bigoted nonsense that it deserves a thorough fisking.

For many years now Richard Dawkins has been working like a demon, you might say, to discredit all belief in God. He has now said that he wants to have the Pope arrested when he comes to Britain for later this year for covering up “crimes against humanity”.

Why not start an attack piece with some old-school ad hominem.
Dawkins most definitely has been working very hard to promote the atheist viewpoint in books such as The God Delusion, but he has been working hard to promote evolutionary biology, his professional discipline, with equal vigour in such works as The Greatest Show On Earth.

Most atheists I know are great people, sticking to the truth as they see it. Most also remain open to new possibilities and acknowledge that they are not entirely omniscient, and are respectful to those who think differently to themselves.

Dawkins, however, often seems to have only contempt for the majority of human kind who, unlike him, do believe in the spiritual. His selective campaigning about political issues makes me wonder: is he really an objective seeker of truth, or is he someone who just hates and wants to undermine Judaeo-Christian principles?

This is totally ludicrous. I suggest that Fitzgerald read, or re-read, The God Delusion.
Dawkin’s is exceedingly clear that he does not exclude the possibility of, although he determines it to be extremely remote, the existence of a god. This puts him firmly in the camp of atheists who “remain open to new possibilities and acknowledge that they are not entirely omniscient”.
And as for his selective campaigning; Dawkins has campaigned vigourously against the war in Iraq, been very active for the Great Ape Project and advocates replacing the British monarchy with an elected President.
Hardly the one-dimensional caricature trying to “undermine Judaeo-Christian principles” that Fitzgerald portrays.
And the way Fitzgerald starts with the whole “some of my best friends are atheists, but…” argument is repellent.

Dawkins has many times tried to say that Einstein was not spiritual in the way most people understand it. Yet Einstein said this:

“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

Here is perhaps the most important scientist of all time, with an incredibly profound mind, but with the humility to acknowledge how feeble and frail the human mind really is. Our universe is far from explained and the more our scientific knowledge increases, the more mysterious our reality seems to be. It is untrue to say that the settled explanation of our universe is that it is a meaningless accident that functions solely on mechanistic principles.

Einstein also said; “Teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up the source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests” and “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God, and I have never denied this but expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
The second of which is quoted quite a lot by Dawkins, and it seems to support his assertion that Einstein was a scientific materialist, with a certain kind of almost spiritualist wonderment in the nature of the universe.

Richard Dawkins has become a sort of Messiah for some atheists. He is an evolutionary biologist. I’m not sure why he feels that expertise in such an arcane field gives him authority to pronounce on spiritual questions. But, if biologists hold the keys to heaven, people may wish to consider the thoughts of Nobel Prize winning microbiologist Werner Arber, or eminent geneticist, Francis S. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project. Both are believers in God, and both find evidence for the divine in science itself. The debate about the reality of the spiritual is fascinating and is of profound importance to human kind, but Dawkins increasingly only brings to it noise and hatred.

Hardly a messiah.
Some of the weakest chapters in The God Delusion, some of which should have been excised by a judicious editor, are on the philosophical and theological positions for atheism. Dawkins is, after all, an evolutionary biologist, and should have left those sections to others more qualified.
Atheists regularly fisk each other. P.Z. Myers, for instance, is noted for attacking the FFRF, an organisation whose objectives he vigourously supports.
Arguing against Dawkins as an authority but then, in the very same paragraph, arguing for Arber and Collins, beggars belief.
Dawkins himself has been very keen to separate out his personal convictions as an atheist from those as an evolutionary biologist and educator.

It is unfortunate that others, like Fitzgerald, continue to conflate his two strong positions.

Dawkins is right to be angry about the awful cover up of child abuse in the Catholic Church, but he seems to have a tendency himself to be very selective in the issues he shouts about, and those he remains silent about. In that sense, he can be seen to hush up the many horrendous crimes committed by atheist ideologues in the 20th century.

Many earlier atheistic ideologies despised Jewish and Christian thinking, and were often obsessed by natural selection. The Nazi ideology, for example, was inspired in part by philosophers like Nietzsche who proclaimed that “God is dead” and that Christian morality was a “slave morality”, not befitting an “uebermench”. Atheistic communism, as manifested in the Soviet Union, hated religion, “the opium of the masses” and it brought about the murder of millions more in Gulags and purges.

Wow. The old chestnut of Redutio ad Hitlerum.
Two facts that Fitzgerald needs to become aware of;

Hitler was most likely a non-Denominational Christian, based upon his book, published prior to his ascendence, and his speeches and policies.

His open verbal attacks against various established denominations are no more surprising than the acrimony of many of the sectarian schisms within Christianity itself.
“After Satan there is no greater rascal than the Pope.” – Martin Luther.

As recently as 1979, the Cambodian genocide killed 1.7 million people. These were murdered by communist atheists. War crimes tribunals are now being set up in Phnomh Penh. The Tibetan people continue to be persecuted by an atheistic tyranny. It is perfectly reasonable to be critical of the many bad things done in the name of religion, but I don’t see Dawkins loudly decrying the actions of atheists in Cambodia or Tibet. Why? Because his preference appears to be to emphasise religiously motivated barbarism over the many wrongs prompted by some atheistic ideologies.

Perhaps it is because in case of both Cambodia and China these barbarisms were not “done in the name of” atheism. They were done in the name of communism.
Conflating communism with atheism, as Hitler also did by-the-way, is yet another familiar logically fallacious bagatelle that the religious try to bring out as a convenient stick with which to beat atheism.
As Dawkins is a supporter of the dis-establishment of Monarchy and Religion in the UK, to be replaced by a secular, elected head-of-state in a system similar to the USA, you can hardly call him a communist.

Many now see Dawkins as something of a narrow-minded fundamentalist himself, increasingly redolent of a man with no sense of smell going around shrieking to everyone that their sense of smell is a delusion.

Perhaps Dawkins imagines that by promoting his grim personal philosophy as the ultimate truth, and by viciously attacking ancient moral systems upon which Western Civilization is founded, he will bring about some sort of atheist utopia. He seeks to magnify wrongs done by religions, and to breeze over the immense horrors brought about by some atheist belief systems. Yet we have seen what atheist utopias can look like.

Atheism is not new: the ancient Greeks knew it well, and in the 1600s Bacon said “a little philosophy inclineth a man’s mind to atheism, But depth in philosophy bringeth men’s mind about to religion.” What is new about atheism’s current incarnation is its increasing virulence and disrespect for other ways of thinking.

By now I am getting quite tired of refuting, line-by-line, every poorly constructed ad hominem fallacy. But ever onward.
After reading Dawkins’ works on evolutionary biology, or even The God Delusion and other pro-atheist works, I would hardly call his personal philosophy “grim”.
If anything it is quite inspiring, liberating and motivating.
Has Fitzgerald even read Dawkins?

The fact that Fitzgerald has to quotemine 17th Century philosopher is quite telling.

Why not pick a noted philosopher from the 20th century?
Perhaps because most of them were atheists?

Yet some say this New Atheism is endangered; not necessarily philosophically, but demographically. This seems to be especially true in Europe, which is a far more secular place than the United States.

Ed West of the Daily Telegraph in the UK, recently noted that: “Across the western world the fertility rate of religious conservatives far outstrips that of non-believers, so much so that modern liberal secularism is endangered. That, anyway, is the thesis of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, a fascinating new book by Eric Kaufmann… It may well be one of the most significant books of our era.

“It used to be taken for granted that, just as liberal democracy meant the end of history, so it also meant the end of religion. Once people became rich, educated and sexually liberated, they left irrational beliefs and other such nonsense behind. Christianity declined steadily from the mid-19th century but it wasn’t until the 1960s that European societies were able to fully abandon the emotional baggage of their civilisation’s infancy, and especially its repressive attitude to sex.

“But if what Kaufmann is saying is true – and the demographic data suggests it is – then the contraceptive Pill was not so much secular Europe’s liberation as its cyanide tablet… New Atheists comfort themselves with the idea that religious people will continue to drift their way, like rustics to the city, but the figures do not bear this out….

“It’s happened before: Kaufmann believes that Christianity’s rise from 40 followers to 6 million within three centuries had less to do with conversions that with higher birth rates, since the Christians rejected such pagan practises as polygamy and infanticide.

“Today we view the ancient world’s attitude to infanticide as barbaric and incomprehensible, but perhaps future generations will look at our attitudes to abortion in the same way – that’s not because pro-lifers would have won the argument, simply that (in addition to the effect of the Pill) abortion is killing the atheists of tomorrow.”

Is atheism being de-selected by natural selection? The more militant New Atheists appear to have a lot in common with the more fanatical religious fundamentalists, in that both are marinated in fear and hate, posses an iron certainty that they alone are right, and seek only to mock and deride those who think differently to themselves. These people create a lot of noise, and do not contribute meaningfully to a most fascinating debate about our universe and our place in it.

Is this a new class of logical fallacy? Argument from Demography? or is it just a rephrasing of yet another old chestnut?
I do find it sad that Fitzgerald does not seem to realise that the so-called new atheists ARE contributing meaningfully to a most fascinating debate about our universe and place in it.
If they were not then what is the point of his article?

The picture painted by Eric Kaufmann of future society divided clamorously between fundamentalist atheists and dogmatically religious groups is not pretty. Perhaps all sides ought to ponder Hamlet’s phrase, “there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies.” For as soon as we begin to think that we have all the answers, we are wrong, and curiosity and wonder dry up.

Something I actually agree with, finally, although only partially.
I find the idea of fundamentalist religion, which is on the rise globally, disturbing in the extreme.
And it is being facilitated, in part, by the sappy kind of liberal, free-pass, religiosity that Fitzgerald promotes in his very post.
We need, as a society, to be steadfast against it.
Something that, currently, only the new atheists seem to have the balls, or lack of humility, to do.

Yet secularisation has brought society the ability to expose the hidden actvties of religious authorities. A theocracy is as bad a place as a secular dictatorship. Both science and our shared wisdom is of profound importance to all of us. Atheists, believers, agnostics all have a huge amount to contribute to building a better society. Some of the most moral people I know are atheists, and some of the least moral are fervent believers. Neither side has a monopoly on truth or on virtue. But it is in a spirit of co-operative discourse that truth is best served, and sadly nowadays Dawkins appears to bring only discord, thereby making the truth ever more distant.

I find it strange that Fitzgerald seems, on the surface, to be in complete agreement with everything Dawkins has ever said on the nature of morality in society, but at the same time so totally ignorant of this fact.
Perhaps it is the very act of merely questioning if a Pope is above secular law, something that Martin Luther also did, that Fitzgerald has found so personally offensive that he cannot bring himself to accept that, in many instances, he and Dawkins are on the same page.
Fitzgerald does not have the balls to even address the disarmingly simple question Dawkins and Hichens have dared to raise.
Should the pope be considered above secular law?
Instead he uses the piece as a simple ad hominem attack on Dawkins.

I am sure he is sincere in believing his own preaching; but in reality he cannot and does not know the ultimate truth about the universe and the nature of mankind. And history shows that societies without a shared moral compass can be deeply destructive to human life, happiness and well-being. He claims the verdict is in, but the jury is out. The only clear truth is that his cold and premature verdict can bring human beings profound suffering and despair.

How moral does conspiring to hide the criminal acts of paedophiles sound to you?
I would personally rather live in a totally amoral atheistic world than one where the shared moral compass permits people who facilitate paedophiles to be immune from criminal prosecution.
But even in an amoral atheistic world there would still be a shared morality simply because humans are a naturally social species.
[Something on which Dawkins has spoken.]

Perhaps the most apposite warning for Dawkins comes from Einstein himself:

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

Dawkins seems to feel that he has unravelled the mysteries of the universe. He is not the first to suffer from that delusion, and he will not be the last. As the ape-descended Dawkins struts around imagining that he knows the workings of every dimension of an infinitely complex universe from his tiny perch on this speck of a planet, the gods, in which he disbelieves, must be laughing big time.

Nothing, NOTHING, in anything that Dawkins, or any other new atheist for that matter, has ever written asserts that he “feels that he has unravelled the mysteries of the universe”.
If anything, Dawkins says clearly that the universe contains even more questions whenever science finds a single answer.
And that the pursuit of knowledge, using the rigours of the scientific method, is the path to true knowledge.
[Rather than some credulous, pseudoscientific, superstitious, mumbo-jumbo.]

Or, as I tend to say, “Science is about asking the right questions; Religion is about giving the wrong answers.”

One thought on “Fisking Fitzgerald – Dawkins gets under the skin (…again)

  1. D R Hosie says:

    Damn good read, Mr Graney.
    And as I like to say:
    “Straight and Narrow Be The Way,
    but MATH is the Path” 8)

    PS – ‘fraid you made my blogroll.


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