Dawkins Thinks Badly (Arguably)

This is not quite as clear an instance of sloppy thinking as the previous example; however, there is something not quite right with what Richard Dawkins has to say about fairy-ology.

In this interview, Dawkins responds to the criticism that he appears to know little about theology, and seems to think that it is possible to defeat an opponent without dealing with their strongest arguments, as follows:

Look, somebody who thinks the way I do doesn’t think theology is a subject at all. So to me it is like someone saying they don’t believe in fairies and then being asked how they know if they haven’t studied fairy-ology.

The first (minor) point is that Dawkins  misrepresents the objection here. To express it in fairy terms, the objection isn’t that one cannot know whether one believes in fairies if one hasn’t studied fairy-ology (because clearly non-belief doesn’t require expertise). It is simply that if one wants to show that belief in fairies is irrational (or something like that), then one needs to know a fair bit about fairy-ology.

So what about this claim? Is it necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational?

The answer is that it is certainly arguable that in some circumstances at least it is necessary.

In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy, where there are “proofs” of fairies that many (some?) people take to be valid, where there exists a huge variation in what people take fairies to be when they say that they believe in them… when all this, and more, is true:

There is absolutely an argument that it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

This is not to argue that more sophisticated arguments about fairies, God, the Loch Ness monster, etc., are more likely to be right than their less sophisticated equivalents. It is simply to argue that it will be a good deal harder to show how they are wrong. And also that at least part (but only part) of showing that a belief is irrational is to show how it is wrong. (It is also not to argue that there is no merit in showing how unsophisticated beliefs are wrong; clearly it is desirable that this is done.)

 I’m not sure why this is contentious. More knowledge makes for better criticism, doesn’t it? Why would it not?

Leave a comment ?

93 Comments.

  1. Jeremy you say :

    “The answer is that it is certainly arguable that in some circumstances at least it is necessary ”

    but this seems like a red herring because Dawkins would not deny that in some circumstances it is necessary ( to know some fairy-ology) but not in cases where :

    1) fairy-ology can be shown to be bogus discipline
    and

    2) where we have independent means to establish that God does not exist.

    In other words Dawkins is arguing that in this particular case, with respect to theology , it is not needed .

    Secondly with your move to the effect that it is irrational to dismiss fairy-ology you seem to be begging the question against Dawkins who has an independent argument for showing that theology is bogus .

  2. Hang on a minute!

    First, Dawkins doesn’t think it possible to show that God does not exist (well, depending on what you mean by “show”);

    Second, how can you show that something is a bogus discipline unless you know a bit about it? Is that possible? That’s a geunine question. At the very least, you’ve got to know that it is one of a certain class of disciplines or something like that.

    What is the independent argument for showing that theology is bogus (it can’t be that God doesn’t exist – because that really does beg the question [as far as theology is concerned, anyway])?

    Again that’s a genuine question because in the interview I’m talking about he just asserts that theology is bogus (which is fair enough – it is just an interview).

  3. But *if* it is the case that all of religion is predicated on belief in the existence of some entity (or entities) called ‘god’, and Dawkins can show that such belief is irrational or (unlikely that it may be) that such an entity does not or can not exist, then there is no real need to understand religion. I accept that if you want to *then* pursue arguments about what people really mean when they talk about god or spirit or any other religious argument, you’d need to engage with the details, but not if all you want to demonstrate is that the base of such belief is misguided or incorrect.

  4. Tony – But surely that all begs the question; it is no doubt true that Dawkins can show that belief in a certain kind of God is irrational; but not all beliefs about God are equal. And isn’t that where theology comes in?

    How can Dawkins know that there aren’t some (many) conceptions of God he hasn’t shown to be irrational unless he knows what these are, what they involve, how objections are addressed, etc?

  5. Well Dawkins is surely allowed to say that he knows one or two things about theology . It is uncharitable reading of him surely , to make him come out saying that he needs to know absolutely nothing about the discipline. He seems to be making a weaker claim ( and Jeremy is interpreting him as making a strong claim ).

    His position is similar to someone who says that Astrology is a bogus inquiry ,roughly because it doesnt aim at truth.

    Here is the thing if you grant this point to Dawkins then surely it is not the case that you need to know much about the discipline in question. Consider Ptolemaic astronomy : is it true that I have to know lots of Geocentric astronomy in order to know that core tenet of Ptolemy’s system is false ( that earth is at the center of universe ) ?

  6. is it true that I have to know lots of Geocentric astronomy in order to know that core tenet of Ptolemy’s system is false ( that earth is at the center of universe ) ?

    I think that’s the wrong question. The right question is whether you have to know a lot about the beliefs of the Ptolemics in order to show that the belief that the earth is at the center of the uinverse is irrational.

    And that answer is that it is quite possible that you would have to. (Actually, this is an interesting example because it is certainly argued that when the Copernican view first appeared, the evidence didn’t justify belief in it.)

    The question if whether a belief is true is (partly) separate from whether it is rational to hold it.

    But I also think that the challenge you pose isn’t equivalent. After all, my argument is simply that the more sophisticated the belief system, the more one needs to know in order to demonstrate that its beliefs are held irrationally. It might well be that the ptolemic system isn’t that sophisticated (so can be knocked down quite easily).

  7. Also, I’m not sure that this:

    He seems to be making a weaker claim

    is true. His response – roughly – to a further question about sophisticated beliefs was simply to state again that he doesn’t need to know about fairy-ology in order to show that belief in faries is not justified.

  8. The trouble with this bit –

    “In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy”

    it seems to me, is that for the bulk of those two thousand years the competing explanations were comparatively thin. There were masses of unanswered questions around, which was a context in which belief in a single powerful deity would have been considerably more rational than it is now. So the inspiration, and the outstanding minds, and the major works, all have to be somewhat discounted. They’re not worth as much as they would be if all that applied now – which it doesn’t. Steven Weinberg put it this way in a conversation with Natalie Angier of the NY Times in January 2001: “As you learn more and more about the universe, you find you can understand more and more without any reference to supernatural intervention, so you lose interest in that possibility.”

    To put it another way, to people looking at the issue now today, it is bound to seem that the people constructing those two thousand years’ worth of detailed arguments were working from drastically inadequate knowledge, and that that fact alone is enough to vitiate the worth of what they could say. It seems in a sense a waste of time to look at their arguments simply because they lacked so many of the tools that are commonplace now.

    That doesn’t apply to current or more recent arguments, but it seems to me it does apply at least up to 1859.

    Hey, you designed the site, so you’re the only one who knows how to do the nice yellow indented quotes. How about letting us in on it? How about some guidance on what html is allowed?

  9. it is bound to seem that the people constructing those two thousand years’ worth of detailed arguments were working from drastically inadequate knowledge, and that that fact alone is enough to vitiate the worth of what they could say.

    But many of the challenges that theologians and philosophers were dealing with a thousand years ago are precisely those which are levelled against religion today. (The major exception, of course, being those associated with Darwinism. But Darwinism doesn’t rule out God; it just makes lack of belief in God intellectually respectable. And, as you know, I wouldn’t dream of claiming that lack of belief in God wasn’t intellectually respectable.)

    Obviously scientific progress has removed specific reasons for believing in supernatural forces – we no longer explain thunderstorms in terms of the wrath of God, for example – but that isn’t what is at stake here: what is at stake is whether it is necessary to know about theology in order to demonstrate that belief in God, generally speaking, is irrational.

    And it is necessary. Otherwise, all that happens is that you demonstrate that some beliefs about God, the world, etc., are irrational.

    But that’s easy. (Though I say again, it has value.)

  10. “But many of the challenges that theologians and philosophers were dealing with a thousand years ago are precisely those which are levelled against religion today. ”

    Well that’s why I said my objection doesn’t apply to current arguments. But I do think it makes the two thousand years of the outstanding minds point (for one) less compelling. Those outstanding minds were operating under a handicap. It’s probably not a coincidence that contemporary outstanding minds don’t gravitate to theology or theological arguments so much.

  11. Ah right. I didn’t mean to suggest that the fact that great minds were attracted to God type stuff was an argument in favour of God type stuff (because clearly there are great minds not attracted to God type stuff). I just meant that the fact that they were great minds would probably mean they were saying interesting and (relatively) sophisticated things (though obviously such things that would reflect the tenor of their times, etc.)

  12. Devin Carpenter

    Here’s what I think Dawkin’s would say:

    There is no reason for people to have theorized about things concerning fairies since there was no reason to believe in them in the first place. In other words, I could make up “X” and write thousands of pages concerning “X,” but if one can show there was never any reason to believe in “X” in the first place, the “thousands of pages” become null. As Dawkins showed in his Time interview, he is open to a kind of deist’s version of god. What Dawkin’s is criticizing is the anthropomorphic, personal God of Christianity; and in that respect, I think it truly is the same thing as fairies, and so, he is right in his critique.

  13. Devon – But surely part of what fairy-olody (theology) attempts to do is to explain why there are reasons to believe in fairies (God) in the first place

  14. “The question if whether a belief is true is (partly) separate from whether it is rational to hold it.”

    Obviously this is an important distinction but could we not make the same point about the rationality / justification ?

    Suppose that A is insane and hence not a reliable source of information . Am I not justified in not taking what he says seriously *without* bothering with the fine grain of his beliefs since I know that he is crazy ?

    Ok now everything hinges on why we think that A is crazy but suppose that you grant that point would you be willing to grant that it would be rational to disregard A’s reports etc. ?

  15. Jeremy says :

    “But surely part of what fairy-olody (theology) attempts to do is to explain why there are reasons to believe in fairies (God) in the first place”

    Is this true ? Theology is not same as philosophy ( Dawkins would want to say with some justice ) . To explain that faith grounds belief in fairies is not really to offer reasons for such beliefs. ( and this is the type of theology Dawkins has an issue ).

    Where we do encounter giving of reasons in fairy-ology i.e. offering of arguments ( cosmological, ontological etc ) we are dealing with philosophy and this is not shunned by Dawkins .

    I think a distinction between Dawkins and Dawkins* is needed . Jeremy is criticising Dawkins * but not necessarily Dawkins.

  16. Ah – well maybe there is just disagreement here about what constitutes theology and philosophy. I’d have thought that people like: Augustine, Pelagius, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, Ibn Sina, Al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Ibn al-Arabi, Philo of Alexandria, Moses Maimonides, Baal Shem Tov and Moses Mendelssohn were doing both theology and philosophy.

    I don’t think you it is possible to pull these things apart so easily.

  17. I think we can safely assume that Dawkins knows that theology includes fair amount of good philosophy so why is he so dismissive ? Why use the pejorative ‘fairy-ology ‘ ? Does it make sense to call the discipline ‘bogus’ if it includes thinkers like Aquinas ?

    Complaint seems to be that it doesnt matter how good philosophy in this area is because it is deployed not in pursuit of truth but to justify scripture and this disqualifies the approach. Aquinas then is a slick bull-shitter and propagandist. ?

  18. I’m not sure why this is contentious.

    It depends on the angle from which you approach the statement.

    If the foundational premise is false then what follows can be dismissed as irrelavent. If it is thought to be true then you would need to engage which the argument in order to attempt to disprove it.

    I think Dawkins is approaching this argument from a different perspective than we would normally expect.

    Hope that makes sense, as I’m not overly skilled in expressing my thoughts.

  19. because it is deployed not in pursuit of truth but to justify scripture and this disqualifies the approach.

    This is either an argument by definition; or an oversimplification. Moses Maimonides, for example, was quite clear that if there is a conflict between what reason teaches us and what the Bible has to say, then it is necessary to alter our understanding of the Bible. Ibn Rushd fought a rearguard action against Qur’anic literalism – believing that philosophical speculation was consistent with the view that the Qur’an was open to more than one interpretation.

  20. Jeremy dont both thinkers you mention also hold that reason and scripture ( when reason is functioning as it should ) cannot come into conflict . This follows from accepting uncritically that scripture is devine.

    If this is so then their accomodation between reavealed and non revealed is guided by the background assumption that scripture cannot be false.

    So Maimonides is not allowing that scripture can be false when there is conflict between the two. All he is saying is that it is our understanding that needs to be revised.

  21. that reason and scripture ( when reason is functioning as it should ) cannot come into conflict .

    That’s true of Maimonides. I’m not sure that Ibn Rushd would have put it quite like this, though.

    But it doesn’t follow that any accommodation must be guided by the background assumption that scripture cannot be false. Maimonides is quite clear that our understanding of scripture is revisable.

    Also, there are many other theologians who downplay the significance of scripture (e.g., many of those who were attracted to various kinds of mysticism [e.g., Philo]).

    It’s interesting that this conversation is in a sense proving the point I’m trying to make. We’re now talking about the details of theology. And the more that we both know about it, the better we’ll be able to argue our positions (or get to the truth of the matter).

  22. Jeremy, does one require a deep study of astrology to say one does not believe in star signs? Unlike faries, astrology is something people have believed in for some time, like religion. I dismiss star signs as being nonsense, and yet my knowledge of the subject is not huge. Say I started explaining my objections to astrology – it suggests humans are influenced by celestial bodies in a bizarrely specific way, the patterns we give to stars are abitrary, and that the day in a year we are born influencing our personalities just makes no sense. Would you dismiss my objections until I’ve read up some more on astrology?
    NB, I would allow that people born towards the end of the year may encounter different experiences to people born in the summer, regarding when they start school. But this is nothing to do with astrology.

  23. But Andrew, the argument isn’t about whether one needs to have a deep knowledge of things in order not to believe in them.

    The argument is simply that if you want to demonstrate that the beliefs of astrologers are nonsense, then you’ve got to know something about those beliefs.

    And yes, that’s exactly what I think.

    But I repeat what I said earlier, and in the original post, not all beliefs systems are born equal. Belief systems are more or less sophisticated (which is independent of whether or not they are right or wrong). The more sophisticated, the harder to show how they are wrong, the more you’ve got to know.

    Why is this contentious?

  24. If you would like to quote someone like this:

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    Use this tag:
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  25. The argument is simply that if you want to demonstrate that the beliefs of astrologers are nonsense, then you’ve got to know something about those beliefs.

    What if there is “proof” from outside the belief system that effectly disposes the initial propositions upon which astrology, fairyology or theology rests? Why then does one need to engage with the arguments from within the belief system?

  26. “Why then does one need to engage with the arguments from within the belief system?”

    Again, this will depend partly on the sophistication of the belief system you’re dealing with.

    But not least here there is thought that you’re not going to know what the “initial propositions” are – or how believers handle objections to them – unless you know what is going on inside the belief system.

    For example, what exactly do people mean when they talk about God. Because Baal Shem Tov, for instance, had a very different idea about God than Mordecai Kaplan.

  27. Devin Carpenter

    I guess the real question is…what are these “good” reasons that theology gives you to believe in God? Allan Orr critiqued Dawkins at length in “The New York Review of Books” because he didn’t address recondite theologians and their ideas but then…never really said what these great ideas were. Can anyone enlighten me as to what arguments are considered so spectacular (other then blind passion) to cause a rational person to believe in Yahweh?

  28. Yes, but it isn’t about whether there are good reasons to believe in God (or at least that’s not what I’m talking about).

    It’s about whether belief in God is rationally defensible.

    Obviously I’m not claiming it is – I’m simply arguing that in order to know whether it is or not, you’ve got to know about the arguments employed to this effect.

  29. But do you have to know about the arguments from beginning to end? Or is it enough to know what the starting assumptions are and that they are wrong?

    That’s the part that stumps me, I think. However sophisticated or detailed the arguments are, if they start from unreasonable assumptions, is it necessary to dispute them all through? Can one not just reject the starting assumptions and not bother with the rest, on the grounds that if the starting assumptions are wrong, the rest is going to be beside the point?

    Of course that’s not to say the starting assumptions are wrong – maybe they’re not. But if they are…investigating further seems pointless.

  30. Or is it enough to know what the starting assumptions are and that they are wrong?

    If the belief system is unsophisticated then de facto it might well be enough just to show how the starting assumptions are wrong.

    But the thing about sophisticated belief systems is that there are often responses to the various criticisms that are directed at starting assumptions. Also, people’s starting assumptions can be modified as a response to criticism, etc.

    Again, the more that one knows about this stuff, the more likely one’s criticisms are to hit the target.

    At the very least, one should exercise a principle of caution in this respect: Know thine enemy.

  31. “I’m simply arguing that in order to know whether it is or not, you’ve got to know about the arguments employed to this effect.”

    Fair enough but this cannot be criticism of Dawkins because he accepts something like that since he thinks that he can show that theology is bogus discipline .

    To hold such a view involves knowing fair amount about the discipline. So his sin cannot be that he thinks that he needs to know nothing about theology. It is rather that having studied it he has come to the conclusion that it can be ignored ( because it is a fake inquiry ).

    Now we might want to obviously disagree with Dawkins on this particular point but that seems to be another matter and has very little to do with what Jeremy wants to pin him down to : that Dawkins thinks he can usefully criticise theology without knowing anything about it.

  32. So his sin cannot be that he thinks that he needs to know nothing about theology.

    Yes, but surely, the whole point about the fairy-ology analogy – from Dawkins’s point of view – is that he does not think we do need to know about fairy-ology in order to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    If this isn’t what he means… well then I’m baffled.

  33. D 1 : we can know that belief in fairies is irrational even if we know *nothing at all* about fairy-ology. ( we dont know whether it is true or false or justified )

    D 2 : we can know that belief in fairies is irrational even if we disregard what fairy-ology says. ( because we know that it is false or not justified ).

    Why think D 1 is what D is saying ? It seems totally uncharitable to D plus it is easily refuted. Why not see him as maintaining D2 and then try to show that even on this more plausible interpretation he is still wrong ?

  34. Yes, but surely, the whole point about the fairy-ology analogy – from Dawkins’s point of view – is that he does not think we do need to know about fairy-ology in order to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    To be fair, he has said no such thing.

  35. Guys – I think we’ll just have to disagree about what Dawkins is saying.

  36. Fine, I’ll leave you to think it over 😉

  37. I want to know how you are separating the ‘sophisticated’ belief systems from the unsophisticated ones. If I got away and write a thousand page book on astrology, have I made the central beliefs of astrology more sophisticated? If someone has already written a book debunking the main flaws in astrology, do they now have to update it to take into account my book?

    Perhaps they do, if the people they’re targetting have all read my book and believe it. But I don’t think Dawkins is targetting people who’ve extensively studied theology. The book is aimed at the vast majority who have not.

  38. Another question is whether one needs to have studied theology to DEBUNK or at least argue against Dawkins’ ideas.

  39. In Professor Alistair McGrath’s book “Dawkins God” the professor submits, as I understood it, that memes is not a scientifically proven entity but rather something that Dawkins believes exists. Does this mean that Dawkins expects the general populace to share his belief simply because he believes memes or what he defines as memes, exists? Why then, are beliefs in other entities dismissed as being irrational. If “meme” is merely a descriptive word for a belief system why can “Fairy-ology” or “God” not be a descriptive word for other belief systems?

  40. To be fair to Dawkins, Poppy, I’m not sure how committed he is to the idea of memes. When I interviewed him, he was very reluctant to talk in terms of memes.

  41. If I understood Jeremy’s point correctly it was that in order to demonstrate the irrationality a belief, one must know the nature of that belief, and the strongest supporting arguments for it. One must know enough fairy – ology to be in a position to falsify it.
    However we interpret Dawkins’ statement he is either saying he can know or legitimately assume that there’s no God, and/ or he’s saying that beliefs about the nature of God, and the best reasons for believing in God are unnecessary to considering God’s existence. Both of these claims are false.
    I think what Dawkins actually wants to say is that he knows sufficient fairy/ the – ology (he knows claims about existence , evidence for and arguments for) to know that more knowledge would be useless. We who think his reasoning is shoddy beg to differ.

  42. Hah ! You say your hard disk crashed. It was the fairies did it, if you would but perform the ritual obeisances, these things would not happen.

    Call in your electronic engineers, and they will be as baffled as anyone as to the true cause; even if they find some mechanical trauma, there is still the cause of the trauma, and I tell you, it is the fairies.

    Eventually, all cause-seeking leads to the fairies.

    Religion is just a respectable gloss put on the fairies, so as to support a priesthood and control the populace and make it all seem logical. Yet individual cases very often do not fit the general rules. All fairie action is individual and personal.

    The reason more is not known on the subject, is because one Mr. Norrell collected and sequestered all of the relevant texts years ago.

  43. Quite agree Red..

    The debate on the existence of God is one which has been going for decades, centuries. Various reputable theological/philosohpical thinkers on both sides of the fence publishing their own scholarly journals stating their own relative arguments. A main-stream, mass-market novel, written by a Biologist which can be purchased cheaply from Tesco somehow does not carry the same weight.

    The audience which Dawkins’ book is being targeted (mass main-stream), are in many cases more susceptible to accepting Dawkins’ argument at face-value, and more worryingly, as being factually correct.
    I am not implying that Dawkins does not have the right to his opinion, rather, his mis-informed beliefs and reasonings do not bring anything new to the debate, and in many ways his own mis-information only hinders its progression even further.

    Whilst it is important that such a debate takes place in the public arena, we must also remeber exactly what it is we are debating-the existence of a God (religion). At the very heart of religion is faith, a belief. If the doctorines of Catholicism, for example, were a certainty, it would be reasonable to expect that there would be significantly more Catholics that there presently are. It is not a certainty, as we do not have solid, concrete evidence; however what we lack in evidence we make up for in faith.

    As Jeremy points out above, not all beliefs about God are equal, they vary, and thus requiring a knowledge of theology. One flaw of Dawkins’ book is his tendency to brush all belivers with the same stroke due to his gaps in knowledge or/and refusal to accept the need for theology. Surely if one is to argue the case against God, it is necessary to have a solid understanding of the belief structures in order to argue against them. Fairy-ology (as a study) meanwhile would not be necessary as the belief in faries seems to be fairly simple, consistant, universal therefore not requiring a particular study, unlike religion.

  44. What we lack in evidence we make up for in faith, but it is necessary to have a solid understanding of the belief structures in order to argue against them? But what’s the point of arguing with faith? Faith isn’t about argument.

  45. Darwiniana » Talking philosophy blog - pingback on March 7, 2007 at 9:57 pm
  46. Ophelia is right, surely. Religion requires faith, which lies untouched by rational argument. You can know all there is to know about theology, but it will never help you to win the argument. All roads eventually lead to the same response; ‘I don’t have an answer, to that, I just know it to be true.’

    Dawkins’ comparison might not stand up to close scrutiny, but to my mind it still stands. In any case it couldn’t be adequately expounded in an interview. He, and indeed all of us, clearly know a great deal more about theology than we do about fairyology. With reference to Zdenek’s first point, he already knows the beliefs of the Ptolemics; the faithful are asking that he learns geocentric astronomy.

  47. But it just isn’t true that faith is impervious to criticism – unless there is some kind of conceptual hermetic seal here. A person might have faith in the absence of evidence, but their faith might well be threatened by the existence of confounding evidence, logical incoherence, etc.

  48. You all might get lots of new visitors via Political Theory Daily Review-hopefully for the best.
    Dawkins’ Freud-Messianic slam-dunk is constructive.I swear I’ve pierced plenty of serious religionists’ beliefs by polite persistence.
    Fairyism differs essentially from theism in that nobody shoves a hot poker or gun in your face to enforce it.
    Skeptic’s credo-The onus of proof is on the claimant.
    Back tomorrow for a look.

  49. Andrew Talbot

    I’m with Danny on the onus of proof. The reason why science is unique in human history is because its results are falsifiable, unlike the claims of religion. I don’t need to be an expert on any set of non-entities to know that truth claims about them are a waste of time. I don’t feel compelled to prove that belief in god is irrational because the exercise is a setup. This is so whether we are talking about sophisticated beliefs or just sophistical ones put forth by those whose aims are to obfuscate and not illuminate. Further, a great book bought cheaply at Tesco might improve our fact base, or might be a pile of self-contradicting and/or deluded drivel. The cost of the book, avoirdupois and the letters after the author’s name are not excellent measures of its worth. As Ophelia pointed out, the fact that brilliant people have argued for a position in the past does not mean their arguments need to be taken seriously when better information is available.

  50. Since faith is that sentiment which arises when we are uncertain of something, but must act or come up with a decision anyway, aren’t we really talking of the probability that something exists or doesn’t?

    If something exists and we are certain of it, we have “faith” 100%. Most of us, however, would call it certainty, not faith. If something, such as God or a fairy, does not exist, and we are certain of it because we have no evidence, we are also 100% certain.

    Faith is called into discussion always in a certain measure. Dawkins is referring to God or fairies, it seems to me, in the same dismissive way, since the evidence of their non-existence does not require further study into either theology or fary-ology, just like any invented concept cannot legitimately become a subject of study.

  51. Not sure I get JS’s argument here. It would be correct that you have to know what the evidence theists (or fairyists) base their belief on is, so you couldn’t know nothing about theology or fairyology broadly defined. But you certainly don’t need to know about the minutae of theology to reject theism because the core tenets and primary arguments are readily available and comprehensible to anyone. So unless there is some special secret sophisticated theology that I don’t know about (and you’d think the theists would actually deploy it!) Dawkins doesn’t need to know the details of theology (as an academic discipline, most of which is not concerned with proving the existence of god) over and above that which is available to most interested observers.

    I think this is particularly the case when the kinds of ‘sophisticated’ arguments we’re talking about often drift off into a world wishy-washy definitions where god=this or that abstract noun, whereas Dawkins is rather more interested in the kinds of interventionist god that exercise the minds of your average religious believer.

  52. Andrew Talbot

    The branch of theology that has to do with explaining why one ought to believe in the God of scripture is apologetics. Christian apologetics generally imports Aristotelian logic as a prop for saying that if scripture says it then it must be so. This only counts as evidence if one is willing to accept the obvious circularity in the argument. Many people, though by no means all of the billion odd Catholics, accept this even now. However, since the provability of an assertion has been held to rest on empirical evidence since the 18th century, apologetics has not been seriously practiced by the best theologians for some time. It’s been quite a while since the best thinkers were all theologians. The enlightenment meant the authorities stopped burning free-thinkers wholesale. However, as Voltaire points out, witch burnings kept on in Europe well after the Lisbon earthquake shook the faiths of many. During the late renaissance, the leading lights lined up on either side of co-opting reason in the service of the church (Erasmus) or trying to pillory reason as a ‘whore’ (Luther). Later, they tried to attack science in subtle and not so subtle ways. Over time, the leading thinkers of the day gradually lost interest in questions like whether the existence of god was provable or if believing was grounded in the best science of the day. Richard Feynman didn’t have to be a theologian so he started out tinkering with radios rather than reciting scripture. The debate is interesting again because the fate of all humanity quite literally now hangs in the balance. It is no longer adequate to allow that thinking people who want to live in an open society should allow their practice of tolerance to be used against them in violent ways by people who are interested in creating theocracy (dictatorship by priests) by any available means.

  53. Andrew Talbot

    …billion-odd catholics, as in more than, not that they are all odd.

  54. Jeremy, I throw in with zdenek’s more charitable reading of Dawkins. On that reading, Dawkins, and all of us, know as much as we need to know about God to find belief irrational:

    God loves you.

    and

    You are going to Hell.

    When critiquing Dawkins, moreover, it’s important to remember that his target of scorn isn’t the sophisticated philosopher and God the “prime mover” or “necessary being” or “foundation of existence”. Rather, it’s the God that the bulk of Christendom recognise: God the “Angry old man in the clouds”. Criticism that Dawkins doesn’t engage, say, the Kalam or Ontological arguments, is beside the point.

  55. Bang on, Craig. People posting here to say “We don’t need evidence, we’ve got faith” are really not helping their cause.

  56. Furthermore, bringing Memes into this is completely irrelevant. Memes is purely a philosophical way of describing the spread of ideas. It makes no comment on the truth of those ideas. And discussing whether ‘memes’ exist or not is beside the point.

  57. Criticism that Dawkins doesn’t engage, say, the Kalam or Ontological arguments, is beside the point.

    No it is not besides the point. Dawkins’s fairy-ology thing was a response to the criticism that he doesn’t engage with sophisticated believers.

    He didn’t say look my arguments are addressed to people who believe in the Angry old man in the clouds. He said (roughly speaking) – you don’t need to know about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    So his position seems to be:

    1. Yes, there are these sophisticated beliefs;
    2. But I don’t have to worry about them, because, by analogy, I can show that fairies don’t exist without engaging with fairy-ology.

    So my argument is not besides the point.

  58. I suspect that Dawkins might have issue with there being varying degrees of sophistication. If position 2 that you list IS a fair approximation of Dawkins’ viewpoint, where do you see the fallacy?

  59. The fallacy is exactly as I outlined in my original post.

  60. Isn’t the following a fair enough position to take in a book:
    “If you believe in God due to the Kalam or ontological arguments, then bully for you. However, if you believe because you see God as the only explanation for biological diversity, or due to Pascal’s Wager, etc, then I can point out the fallacy of those reasons.”

  61. “There is absolutely an argument that it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.”
    Dawkins DOES know ‘a fair bit’ about religion though. It’s not like he’s come into the book making no reference at all to popular arguments for God.

    I think his point was that there comes a point that if something’s not true, then it’s not true regardless of how much more sophisticated the belief system gets.

  62. Eric MacDonald

    Broadly speaking, I agree with Jeremy. But there is a serious problem lurking here. The trouble with theology is that there are no agreed ways of measuring progress. In my experience (and I have been an Anglican priest for many years), theology is a very elusive activity. As soon as you think you’ve got it pinned down, it goes shimmering off in a different direction.

    I was just reading Feuerbach’s “Essence of Christianity” and the Harper Torchbook edition is prefaced with Karl Barth’s essay on Feuerbach, which, essentially, concludes by saying that not only is Feuerbach shallow, but that his position is risible. However, Barth acknowledges that Feuerbach was right on the money so far as 19th century theology went. It’s just that 19th century theology was shallow and risible too. Serious theology wouldn’t give that kind of ground to its critics. It would, in Barth’s terms, occupy more impregnable ground.

    But it’s really worse than that. For instance, in his book on “The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology,” David Kelsey lists the diversity of ways in which scripture has authority for theology, pointing out that biblical scholarship ‘cannot be *decisive* because these decisions are also shaped by an act of the imagination that a theologian must necessarily make prior to doing theology at all.’ (170) If, as this suggests, theology is at is foundation a work of imagination, then the whole idea of a critical discipline is brought into question, especially when, as with Kelsey (and I could point the same out with a number of theologians), it licenses a bewildering diversity of truth claims (if, indeed, that is what they are).

    In other words, it may indeed be true that where many people take theology seriously it is necessary to have some understanding of it if we want to understand the kinds of intellectual or imaginative concerns that these many people have. But it is not clearly the case that knowing these things will help us understand what theology is really about. Dawkins’ point is that it is not *about* anything, and therefore, however culturally important (and he acknowledges its cultural importance, and the need to help children understand something of the variety of religious outlooks and beliefs), and that the onus is really on the theologian to show us that it is really about something.

    That, I think, is why he takes very simplistic religious beliefs as his baseline, because if theology is not about something “out there,” as it were, about God or gods or some supernatural reality, then it is a purely imaginative construction à la Don Cupitt, and really has little to tell us about what is true. Sophisticated believers, arguably, are those who use language in such a way as to escape the plain meaning of the words, and substitute imaginative creations in an effort to make religious belief consistent with what we do know about the world. The theologies of Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann (and many others) are really like that, but the point that Barth was making in relation to Feuerbach is that, when theologians do that, you can really cancel through by the religious beliefs and end up with the imaginative construction alone.

    The onus is really on the theologian to show that there is such a subject matter, and that there is such a domain of knowledge of extra-human, extra-natural being (whatever that means). Lots of people have said that Dawkins should not dismiss theology so cavalierly, but what they have not done is to show that he is actually wrong to do so by pointing to something that theology has shown us to be true.

  63. Andrew Talbot

    Following on Eric’s post, it may be instructive to note that Barth’s magnum opus was The Church Dogmatics. The name was not chosen at random. He became neo-orthodox and reached the conclusion (along with Luther over 400 years before) that it is grace that saves us not reason, and so christian theologians should stop pretending that their authority comes from anything other than the word of God and the witness of the saints. He parted ways with Tillich quite markedly. For Barth, Christianity had to report the truth about the world and report the defining moment of history or it was worse than useless. He was opposed to any liberal idea of Christianity as a metaphor or myth. Neo-orthodoxy since then has regarded Tillich pretty uniformly as a heretic because he tried to mix christianity with modern ways of thinking about the world. For Tillich, on the other hand, theology was about something important if we could only pin it down. His Systematic Theology is magisterial and sincere, but has been criticized as incoherent. One gets the sense reading Bultmann (the only one of the three to be really notable as a biblical scholar) that he didn’t believe Christianity had truth claims nor was it especially spiritual or enlighened. Joseph Campbell was in the last camp for sure.

  64. “I’m not sure why this is contentious. More knowledge makes for better criticism, doesn’t it? Why would it not?”
    This seems to suggest that Dawkins doesn’t HAVE this knowledge, and that he could have criticised better had he learned more. While obviously the more you know the better, it doesn’t follow that everything you learn has to be expressed in your argument. It might help you to argue with me if you research my background, who I am etc. But having done this research you don’t have to stick it into your critique of me if you don’t think it helps your argument.

    At any rate, the broad message of the opening post seems to be that Dawkins doesn’t go far enough. But the book had specific aims. Would those aims have been better served by going deeper into theology? I don’t think so. A longer book that discussed the more complex theological points might have diluted its impact, going into reasons to believe that most readers wouldn’t even have considered.

    I don’t believe Dawkins thought he was writing an ‘ultimate’ book on the subject, or he wouldn’t be supporting other people’s books on the same subject. What’s more,

  65. Jeremy,

    I agree that Dawkins’ analogy does is false as he states it.

    However, I suspect I know what he might have been implying. Theology as a supposed body of knowledge is, in effect, an edifice built upon foundations which consist of certain axioms or premises. In other words, much of theological doctrine is derived in some way or other from certain basic premises.

    In such a situation, one does not need to examine all of this derived knowledge if one is seeking to undermine it. One only need to show that the basic premises are false or contradictory, or that the argument is a non sequitur. Therefore, it is not necessary to be an expert on all theology in order to deem its results false. One only need examine its starting premises.

    It matters not how sophisticated an argument is, if its premises are false, or if the result is a non sequitur. Equally, it matters not how vast is the body of theological thought, if it is all based upon weak foundations. I think that is what Dawkins what implying with his fairy-ology analogy.

    That does, of course, still leave the task of showing that these foundations are weak.

  66. …which is what he attempts to do in the book.

  67. Was just thinking, isn’t Dawkins making the same error A.C.Grayling ( who should know better being a philosopher ) is making here :

    “Religion is;. . . the pre-scientific, rudimentary metaphysics of our forefathers, which (mainly through the natural gullibility of proselytised children, and tragically for the world) survives into the age in which I can send this letter by electronic means.”

    The idea is that since religion has disreputable origins it must be false ( i.e. religious beliefs ). This looks like genetic fallacy to me.

  68. There’s a difference between origins that are disreputable (eg associating eugenics with Nazis) and origins that are simply fase.

  69. To suggest that eugenics originated with the Nazis would be simply false.

  70. No the idea is that religion is disreputable from epistemic point of view because it is kind of bad science ( so it would have inadequate methods of confirmation and so on ) or so the claim goes.

  71. On second thought Dawkis has a good reply to the ‘genetic fallacy ‘ crit. : it is a fallacy to reject or endorse an idea based on its history/origins only if the origins are irrelevent .

    But in the present case since religion has not changed in the relevant respect ( viz. with respect to how justification works in this context ) it is still a kind of bad science.

    So it is relevant to mention its origins.

  72. “To suggest that eugenics originated with the Nazis would be simply false.”
    I stand corrected, (although to many people the subject is tainted by association with the Nazis). However, as any other example would do, I don’t believe your correction affects my point:
    There’s a difference between origins being dismissed as disreputable, (which is a logical fallacy comparable with an ad hominem attack) and dismissing origins for simply being false.

  73. What you’re all ignoring is the first part of the quote: ‘Somebody who thinks the way I do…’ – & simply linking it unexamined to the proposition ‘Doesn’t believe in god (or whatever).

    But Dawkins is leaving the way open to impute other thoughts to this ‘someone’, (‘who thinks the way I do’), & what these thoughts are is in principle verifiable.

    So let’s say that this ‘someone’ thinks that
    1. the belief that god exists is false
    & also that, for example
    2. belief in god can be explained scientifically
    3. some or all implications of belief in god are wrong
    4. some or all consequences of this belief are undesirable.
    5. The universe is in fact 13.7 billion years old.

    It is with (3) & (4) that this ‘someone’ has a problem (if he believes them). If he is going to claim that theist beliefs cause undesirable behavior, the onus should be on him to say what those particular beliefs are & what is their causal relation to undesirable behavior.

    He doesn’t have to be a doctor of theology, no, but he should know enough history, psychology, anthropology & comparative religion to be able to support his general view of theism.

    This is what is wrong with Dawkins; it’s not his central conviction that theism is erronious, it’s his attitude, his complete insensitivity to the place of religion in culture & history.

  74. Well I laughed when I read the Dawkins quote. Thanks for a good laugh.

  75. In reply to Jeremy’s claim that sophisticated systems of belief somehow manage to avoid the dissolution of their starting propositions, I offer this analogy.

    Imagine a pillar upon which a pyramid of gymnasts is balanced, the pyramid elegantly designed, the gymnasts elaborately decorated. This is our sophisticated system of belief.
    Remove the pillar.
    Pyramid falls down.

    No matter how sophisticated the belief system, the dissolution of its starting propositions leads to the reducing of all concepts derived from it to, essentially, null.

  76. Come on, this is too easy. All that happens in this situation is that a theologist builder comes along rebuilds the pillar, and you find that the pyramid is back up again.

    The whole point is that sophisticated theology doesn’t allow you to knock down starting propositions.

    It it were as easy to knock down religion as (many) of you guys seem to think then all this would have been over a long time ago.

  77. Jeremy:

    1) “The whole point is that sophisticated theology doesn’t allow you to knock down starting propositions.” Perhaps that is to the detriment of sophisticated theology. It could be that it’ s all about to avoiding refutation and disproof .

    2) “If it were as easy to knock down religion as (many) of you guys seem to think then all this would have been over a long time ago.”
    I think this is fallacious logic. Why should the longevity of an idea be proof of its intellectual strength? For me the longevity of literal belief in the Christian Bible is proof of human stupidity and nothing else, as an example.

    3) “All that happens in this situation is that a theologist builder comes along rebuilds the pillar, and you find that the pyramid is back up again.” Not quite. For example at one time we thought we needed God to intervene constantly to keep the planets of our solar system in their paths. Then
    Laplace came along and showed that we could predict their movements completely with Newtonian mechanics. Similarly with Darwin. So in your analogy the pillar cannot always be rebuilt in the same place. And at some stage it becomes impossible to build a new pillar under the pyramid in that place. Unless it is possible to continually redefine God to allow the pyramid to be moved to a new location with a new pillar. But then the concept of God would be bordering on useless if not actually useless. If I say something is large and green and you say it is small and red then we are not talking about the same thing.
    Similarly with theologians and believers: often two individuals have such differing concepts of God that if they were talking about something else they would agree they were not talking about the same thing. But when the subject is God this does not happen.

  78. ” It could be that it’ s all about to avoiding refutation and disproof .”

    Sometimes it’s explicitly about that…

    “I think this is fallacious logic. ”

    It’s not a logical point. And, as for the literal truth of the Bible – well, I wasn’t talking about that.

    “But when the subject is God this does not happen.”

    Hang on a minute, it happens all the time!

    Anyway, the point is that it isn’t possible to know that the concept of God employed by theologians is “bordering on useless” unless you know the theology.

    Hence proving my point (again!).

    I must say that I do find all this there isn’t any sophisticated theology stuff rather…errr… well bizarre.

    If someone employs say an argument from design then that is *more* sophisticated than saying, for example, “God exists because the Bible says so”.

    Similarly, the irreducible complexity argument for design is more sophisticated (though obviously wrong) than say gaps in the fossil record.

    And so on, and so forth.

    Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.

    It’s like Andrew Wiles’s first attempt at solving Fermat’s Last Theorem. It turned out to be wrong, but in a way so subtle that only a vanishingly small number of people could understand how it was wrong.

    Now sophisticated theology isn’t sophisticated like that. But the fact that it is wrong, doesn’t mean it is not sophisticated (when compared say to the kinds of arguments that would be employed by the person who sent me an email yesterday saying: “There is a GOD and it is only the “Fool” who believes otherwise.”)

    So spare me all this “begging the question” stuff.

    Here’s a challenge for you all. If there is no sophisticated theology, then it’ll be easy for you to get something published in a theological journal. So go for it! 🙂

    Plantinga’s modal logic stuff, anybody?

  79. Ooops. I’m in the wrong thread. Oh well. 🙂

  80. Jeremy:

    I am disappointed by your response.

    Take my second point.

    You wrote originally
    “If it were as easy to knock down religion as (many) of you guys seem to think then all this would have been over a long time ago” Structure: If…then . How can you now say “It’s not a logical point” ?

    I deduced from your original point that the longevity of an idea is testimony to its intellectual strength. I gave a counter-example – the persistence of literalist belief in the Bible – so it’s no counter-argument to say you’re not talking about literalism. You definitely are, by implication, since you are talking about long-lived ideas.

    “Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.” This only seems plausible. I say fairies exist but i know nothing else about them . I am simply wrong. You say fairies exist and have various properties. You are wrong in a more complicated way. But you are also more wrong that I am because you made the same error as I did – that fairies exist – and then went on to add more errors.

  81. Paul

    It is not contentious to argue that the more sophisticated a belief system, the harder to falsify, the longer it is likely to be around.

    Ideas are subject to Darwinian pressures.

    My response to your thing about literalism wasn’t a response to the point about longevity, since I wasn’t making a logical point about longevity.

    Actually, I’m not really sure what your point about literalism is – people do defend it. Some of the defences are quite sophisticated (though absolutely barmy, obviously). I wouldn’t like to go head to head with someone from Answers In Genesis, for example. I don’t know enough about the science.mAlso, I’m not sure literalism has been around that long. Well it certainly hasn’t in its modern form (though obviously that’s true by definition). Literalism has been considered a heresy in the past, certainly. (Because it tends to be anthropomorphic).

    Anyway, my basic point stands. If it were as easy to deal with theological arguments as is suggested by DogStar Sirius, we wouldn’t be having this argument; Plantinga wouldn’t be doing his stuff; the Discovery Institute wouldn’t be doing their stuff; Answers in Genesis wouldn’t be doing its stuff; and so on.

    We all agree – well here at least – that mostly this stuff is nonsense. We just disagree about whether it is sophisticated, and whether it is easy to falisfy. I think a lot of it is sophisticated (relatively speaking), and I think it is difficult to falsify. I also think that if this weren’t the case then the game would have been up a long time ago. (Which isn’t to say that there would not still be religion.)

  82. Jeremy:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I do not agree that sophisticated idea systems are necessarily harder to refute, nor that one has to be au fait with all their more abstruse variants/deductions.
    As an example: Godel did not have to work all the way through Principia Mathematica. His Incompleteness Theorem refuted it at its base. Another example: No matter how sophisticated a paticular Christian philosophy may be, it would all be in vain if we were to discover (really this time) the bones of Jesus.

    I do agree that the harder a system is to refute the longer it will persist, all else being equal. However I do not accept the same sort of thing in reverse: that if a system persists then it is hard to refute. (Whence my point about human stupidity.) I therefore heartily concur with your last sentence .

    When you have “Christian” “theologians” saying that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead then I do not see how theology could be refuted.

  83. Paul

    nor that one has to be au fait with all their more abstruse variants/deductions.

    I guess Russell and Frege would be another example. But actually it isn’t quite this straightforward. You certainly have to know that there are no responses to the refutation.

    So with Andrew Wiles’s proof – in the end, he was able to come up with a solution to the thing which knocked down the first version of his theory.

    You’ve probably come across Lakatos’s stuff on sophisticated falsificationism. This whole debate was partly driven by the problems of falsification.

  84. Jeremy:

    I think the Wiles example is misleading:

    Wiles started at a very sophisticated level of mathematics. He then struck out into new mathematical territory, making it even more sophisticated. His error was somewhere in this new area. Hence the refutation of his original proof did not affect anything up to his starting point.

    To get back to Christianity, a simple refutation is available in principle: proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead. No matter how sophisticated a particular Christian theology might be it could not survive that.

    It seems to me that in principle it is not possible to prove that a sophisticated system ideas can only be refuted by a sophisticated disproof.

  85. Paul.

    I’m not sure we’re actually talking about the same thing here.

    I don’t think there is a *principle* that a sophisticated system can only be refuted by a sophisticated disproof.

    If I have said this – and I’m not sure that I have (though maybe I should have been clearer) – then I take it back. It’s not a matter of principle – that’s what I meant when I said I wasn’t making a logical point. (Actually, it isn’t even a matter of a sophisticated disproof.) It’s an empirical claim. You know a tendency, one which – and this is my specific claim – is true in the case of religion, because of the fact (as per my very first post) that people have been debating these issues for thousands of years, have developed detailed apologetics, etc. And the point I was making is that you have to know about these kinds of arguments in order to show that belief in whatever you think you have disproved is irrational.

    I still find it baffling that this is contentious. (When we’re talking about religion.)

    No matter how sophisticated a particular Christian theology might be it could not survive that.

    That’s an argument by definitional fiat. There are plenty of people calling themselves Christian who do not believe in the resurrection.

  86. Jeremy:

    Thanks for the clarification in the first part.

    Regarding being Christian without believing in the resurrection: In “Wise Blood” the author has a character start his own church, (from memory) The Church of Salvation with Christ. Trying to book a room for lodging his putative landlady asks him if he is Catholic or Protestant. Neither, he replies. She says if he is not a Catholic he must be a Protestant. After some wearying to and fro in this manner he eventually accedes to being called a Protestant.
    People who do not believe in the resurrection are Christians in the sense he is Protestant. They are not Christian just because they call themselves that.

    The point is that if terms can be infinitely malleable then debate is impossible. How could anyone refute Christianity if it does not even need Christ , for example?

    There is another problem with your “empirical” claim. I can tell if something is irrational without knowing everything about it. For example, Capgras’ syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capgras_delusion). Someone suffers a particular type of brain damage and becomes convinced people they know -such as parents – have been replaced by zombies. I do not need to be a neurologist to see the irrationality. I do not have to listen to the arguments of the sufferer (for example explaining why no one else can detect the zombiness) to see that they are wrong.
    There’s another condition whose name escapes me. The sufferer is for example missing a left arm and also has brain damage (I think). The sufferer believes the left arm is still there. I have seen on TV a doctor asking a sufferer to scratch the doctor’s hand first with the right hand and then with the left. The sufferer obliges. When the doctor queries the action of the left hand then the sufferer asks why can he not see it . The capacity of the mind for this sort of self-delusion is very large. Sufferers can rationalise the situation with quite sophisticated arguments. Yet anyone else can immediately see the irrationality.

  87. Apologies, I mistyped because I could not see the screen properly for all the egg on my face. In ‘Wise Blood’ it was The Church of Salvation *Without* Christ, hence the irony of it’s being labelled “Christian”.

  88. Dawkin’s does shows a cursory knowledge of the OT and of ‘Reformed’ theology (i.e. Calvinism), so you can’t act like he knows no theology. This is all just a red herring. The argument is basically that because Dawkin’s didn’t go to seminary and get heavily indoctrinated into a specific systematic theology that he can’t saying nothing ’bout God’s existence or non-existence is a weak arguments…the absolute weakest argument.

    Now, that being said, I clearly don’t agree with Dawkins that there is no God. And if I were to attack Dawkins it would be on one of two ways,

    1. He is heavily tied down to two and and only two theologies, i.e. Calvinism and OT theology. He can’t disprove Marcionism.

    2. He thinks aliens created us! Aliens!!!! I mean come on! Why not just go ahead and believe in fairies?????

  89. Jeremy Stangroom

    The argument is basically that because Dawkin’s didn’t go to seminary and get heavily indoctrinated into a specific systematic theology that he can’t saying nothing ’bout God’s existence or non-existence is a weak arguments

    No it’s not.

  90. <

    Belief systems are more or less sophisticated (which is independent of whether or not they are right or wrong). The more sophisticated, the harder to show how they are wrong, the more you’ve got to know.

    In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy, where there are “proofs” of fairies that many (some?) people take to be valid, where there exists a huge variation in what people take fairies to be when they say that they believe in them… when all this, and more, is true

    This is a good summary the main point you have tried to make over and over (and have concluded that you are correct about). In the form of a syllogism:

    Premise 1: Belief systems are more or less sophisticated.
    Premise 2: Sophistication of a belief system is independent of it’s correctness.
    (Adapted from the second Quote)
    Premise 3: Belief systems have existed for a long time.
    Premise 4: Belief systems inspire great human achievements.
    Premise 5: Great people in history have endorsed belief systems.
    Premise 6: Many people believe there is proof for belief systems.
    Premise 7: More knowledge makes for better criticism.

    Through these premises you have induced:

    Conclusion: The more sophisticated a belief system is the harder it is to disprove and to disprove a belief system it you must have an intimate knowledge of it.

    Fallacy 1: The first part of your conclusion directly violates your second premise. Sophistication can not increase legitimacy, as you state and I agree with, if it is to be taken as independent of the belief system.

    Fallacy 2: The only premise you actually provide for your second claim is that more knowledge makes for better criticism. Premise 3-6 are mostly irrelevant filler (IMHO). It appears that you are inducing the second claim on the basis of a personal value for knowledge. From this premise I could make the following claim:

    I have studied fairies my whole life and know more about them than anyone on the planet. I am the highest of fairy experts. I say fairies are real and no one can dispute that because no one has more knowledge than I do about the subject of fairies.

    This imagined person has to provide no evidence for his claim and based on your claim no one can criticize him because no one has more knowledge on the subject then he.

    I believe part of the allure of this argument is that it appears that you are trying to avoid a hasty conclusion. I do not think this is the case.

    You have said:

    So spare me all this “begging the question” stuff.

    I will not spare you, you are begging the question when you say:

    it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.</

    Belief systems are more or less sophisticated (which is independent of whether or not they are right or wrong). The more sophisticated, the harder to show how they are wrong, the more you’ve got to know.

    In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy, where there are “proofs” of fairies that many (some?) people take to be valid, where there exists a huge variation in what people take fairies to be when they say that they believe in them… when all this, and more, is true

    This is a good summary the main point you have tried to make over and over (and have concluded that you are correct about). In the form of a syllogism:

    Premise 1: Belief systems are more or less sophisticated.
    Premise 2: Sophistication of a belief system is independent of it’s correctness.
    (Adapted from the second Quote)
    Premise 3: Belief systems have existed for a long time.
    Premise 4: Belief systems inspire great human achievements.
    Premise 5: Great people in history have endorsed belief systems.
    Premise 6: Many people believe there is proof for belief systems.
    Premise 7: More knowledge makes for better criticism.

    Through these premises you have induced:

    Conclusion: The more sophisticated a belief system is the harder it is to disprove and to disprove a belief system it you must have an intimate knowledge of it.

    Fallacy 1: The first part of your conclusion directly violates your second premise. Sophistication can not increase legitimacy, as you state and I agree with, if it is to be taken as independent of the belief system.

    Fallacy 2: The only premise you actually provide for your second claim is that more knowledge makes for better criticism. Premise 3-6 are mostly irrelevant filler (IMHO). It appears that you are inducing the second claim on the basis of a personal value for knowledge. From this premise I could make the following claim:

    I have studied fairies my whole life and know more about them than anyone on the planet. I am the highest of fairy experts. I say fairies are real and no one can dispute that because no one has more knowledge than I do about the subject of fairies.

    This imagined person has to provide no evidence for his claim and based on your claim no one can criticize him because no one has more knowledge on the subject then he.

    I believe part of the allure of this argument is that it appears that you are trying to avoid a hasty conclusion. I do not think this is the case.

    You have said:

    So spare me all this “begging the question” stuff.

    I will not spare you, you are begging the question when you say:

    it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    Your assumption that if we increase the complexity and sophistication of a belief system it makes it more correct is a poor conclusion to come to. It seems like your trying to apply the argument of irreducible complexity to theology… the more complex the more it proves god exists… Have you not heard of Occam’s razor?

    Paul hit the nail on the head:
    <

    Belief systems are more or less sophisticated (which is independent of whether or not they are right or wrong). The more sophisticated, the harder to show how they are wrong, the more you’ve got to know.

    In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy, where there are “proofs” of fairies that many (some?) people take to be valid, where there exists a huge variation in what people take fairies to be when they say that they believe in them… when all this, and more, is true

    This is a good summary the main point you have tried to make over and over (and have concluded that you are correct about). In the form of a syllogism:

    Premise 1: Belief systems are more or less sophisticated.
    Premise 2: Sophistication of a belief system is independent of it’s correctness.
    (Adapted from the second Quote)
    Premise 3: Belief systems have existed for a long time.
    Premise 4: Belief systems inspire great human achievements.
    Premise 5: Great people in history have endorsed belief systems.
    Premise 6: Many people believe there is proof for belief systems.
    Premise 7: More knowledge makes for better criticism.

    Through these premises you have induced:

    Conclusion: The more sophisticated a belief system is the harder it is to disprove and to disprove a belief system it you must have an intimate knowledge of it.

    Fallacy 1: The first part of your conclusion directly violates your second premise. Sophistication can not increase legitimacy, as you state and I agree with, if it is to be taken as independent of the belief system.

    Fallacy 2: The only premise you actually provide for your second claim is that more knowledge makes for better criticism. Premise 3-6 are mostly irrelevant filler (IMHO). It appears that you are inducing the second claim on the basis of a personal value for knowledge. From this premise I could make the following claim:

    I have studied fairies my whole life and know more about them than anyone on the planet. I am the highest of fairy experts. I say fairies are real and no one can dispute that because no one has more knowledge than I do about the subject of fairies.

    This imagined person has to provide no evidence for his claim and based on your claim no one can criticize him because no one has more knowledge on the subject then he.

    I believe part of the allure of this argument is that it appears that you are trying to avoid a hasty conclusion. I do not think this is the case.

    You have said:

    So spare me all this “begging the question” stuff.

    I will not spare you, you are begging the question when you say:

    it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    Your assumption that if we increase the complexity and sophistication of a belief system it makes it more correct is a poor conclusion to come to. It seems like your trying to apply the argument of irreducible complexity to theology… the more complex the more it proves god exists… Have you not heard of Occam’s razor?

    Paul hit the nail on the head:

    “Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.” This only seems plausible. I say fairies exist but i know nothing else about them . I am simply wrong. You say fairies exist and have various properties. You are wrong in a more complicated way. But you are also more wrong that I am because you made the same error as I did – that fairies exist – and then went on to add more errors.</

    Belief systems are more or less sophisticated (which is independent of whether or not they are right or wrong). The more sophisticated, the harder to show how they are wrong, the more you’ve got to know.

    In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy, where there are “proofs” of fairies that many (some?) people take to be valid, where there exists a huge variation in what people take fairies to be when they say that they believe in them… when all this, and more, is true

    This is a good summary the main point you have tried to make over and over (and have concluded that you are correct about). In the form of a syllogism:

    Premise 1: Belief systems are more or less sophisticated.
    Premise 2: Sophistication of a belief system is independent of it’s correctness.
    (Adapted from the second Quote)
    Premise 3: Belief systems have existed for a long time.
    Premise 4: Belief systems inspire great human achievements.
    Premise 5: Great people in history have endorsed belief systems.
    Premise 6: Many people believe there is proof for belief systems.
    Premise 7: More knowledge makes for better criticism.

    Through these premises you have induced:

    Conclusion: The more sophisticated a belief system is the harder it is to disprove and to disprove a belief system it you must have an intimate knowledge of it.

    Fallacy 1: The first part of your conclusion directly violates your second premise. Sophistication can not increase legitimacy, as you state and I agree with, if it is to be taken as independent of the belief system.

    Fallacy 2: The only premise you actually provide for your second claim is that more knowledge makes for better criticism. Premise 3-6 are mostly irrelevant filler (IMHO). It appears that you are inducing the second claim on the basis of a personal value for knowledge. From this premise I could make the following claim:

    I have studied fairies my whole life and know more about them than anyone on the planet. I am the highest of fairy experts. I say fairies are real and no one can dispute that because no one has more knowledge than I do about the subject of fairies.

    This imagined person has to provide no evidence for his claim and based on your claim no one can criticize him because no one has more knowledge on the subject then he.

    I believe part of the allure of this argument is that it appears that you are trying to avoid a hasty conclusion. I do not think this is the case.

    You have said:

    So spare me all this “begging the question” stuff.

    I will not spare you, you are begging the question when you say:

    it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    Your assumption that if we increase the complexity and sophistication of a belief system it makes it more correct is a poor conclusion to come to. It seems like your trying to apply the argument of irreducible complexity to theology… the more complex the more it proves god exists… Have you not heard of Occam’s razor?

    Paul hit the nail on the head:

    “Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.” This only seems plausible. I say fairies exist but i know nothing else about them . I am simply wrong. You say fairies exist and have various properties. You are wrong in a more complicated way. But you are also more wrong that I am because you made the same error as I did – that fairies exist – and then went on to add more errors.

    At the end of the day I would agree with your conclusion if it were modified as such:

    It is easier to disprove a belief system it you have an intimate knowledge of it.

    While less absolute than your conclusion it’s far easier to defend.

    It is not necessary to know a fair bit about X to show that belief in X is irrational. Where X can equal any of the following: fairies, magic, ghosts, gods, trolls, elves, the force, vampires, Godzilla, Cthulhu, wizards, Optimus Prime, Chewbacca, Big Foot, Spock, Frankenstein, Samus Aran, (and the list could go on forever)… It is irrational to assume that fiction and reality can be the same, that things exist with out evidence of their existence.>

    At the end of the day I would agree with your conclusion if it were modified as such:

    It is easier to disprove a belief system it you have an intimate knowledge of it.

    While less absolute than your conclusion it’s far easier to defend.

    It is not necessary to know a fair bit about X to show that belief in X is irrational. Where X can equal any of the following: fairies, magic, ghosts, gods, trolls, elves, the force, vampires, Godzilla, Cthulhu, wizards, Optimus Prime, Chewbacca, Big Foot, Spock, Frankenstein, Samus Aran, (and the list could go on forever)… It is irrational to assume that fiction and reality can be the same, that things exist with out evidence of their existence.>“Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.” This only seems plausible. I say fairies exist but i know nothing else about them . I am simply wrong. You say fairies exist and have various properties. You are wrong in a more complicated way. But you are also more wrong that I am because you made the same error as I did – that fairies exist – and then went on to add more errors.

    At the end of the day I would agree with your conclusion if it were modified as such:

    It is easier to disprove a belief system it you have an intimate knowledge of it.

    While less absolute than your conclusion it’s far easier to defend.

    It is not necessary to know a fair bit about X to show that belief in X is irrational. Where X can equal any of the following: fairies, magic, ghosts, gods, trolls, elves, the force, vampires, Godzilla, Cthulhu, wizards, Optimus Prime, Chewbacca, Big Foot, Spock, Frankenstein, Samus Aran, (and the list could go on forever)… It is irrational to assume that fiction and reality can be the same, that things exist with out evidence of their existence.>

    Your assumption that if we increase the complexity and sophistication of a belief system it makes it more correct is a poor conclusion to come to. It seems like your trying to apply the argument of irreducible complexity to theology… the more complex the more it proves god exists… Have you not heard of Occam’s razor?

    Paul hit the nail on the head:

    “Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.” This only seems plausible. I say fairies exist but i know nothing else about them . I am simply wrong. You say fairies exist and have various properties. You are wrong in a more complicated way. But you are also more wrong that I am because you made the same error as I did – that fairies exist – and then went on to add more errors.

    At the end of the day I would agree with your conclusion if it were modified as such:

    It is easier to disprove a belief system it you have an intimate knowledge of it.

    While less absolute than your conclusion it’s far easier to defend.

    It is not necessary to know a fair bit about X to show that belief in X is irrational. Where X can equal any of the following: fairies, magic, ghosts, gods, trolls, elves, the force, vampires, Godzilla, Cthulhu, wizards, Optimus Prime, Chewbacca, Big Foot, Spock, Frankenstein, Samus Aran, (and the list could go on forever)… It is irrational to assume that fiction and reality can be the same, that things exist with out evidence of their existence.>Belief systems are more or less sophisticated (which is independent of whether or not they are right or wrong). The more sophisticated, the harder to show how they are wrong, the more you’ve got to know.

    In a world where people have believed in fairies for more than two thousand years, where fairies have inspired many of the great achievements of human civilisation, where some of the outstanding minds in human history have believed in fairies, have debated their existence and nature in some of the major works of literature and philosophy, where there are “proofs” of fairies that many (some?) people take to be valid, where there exists a huge variation in what people take fairies to be when they say that they believe in them… when all this, and more, is true

    This is a good summary the main point you have tried to make over and over (and have concluded that you are correct about). In the form of a syllogism:

    Premise 1: Belief systems are more or less sophisticated.
    Premise 2: Sophistication of a belief system is independent of it’s correctness.
    (Adapted from the second Quote)
    Premise 3: Belief systems have existed for a long time.
    Premise 4: Belief systems inspire great human achievements.
    Premise 5: Great people in history have endorsed belief systems.
    Premise 6: Many people believe there is proof for belief systems.
    Premise 7: More knowledge makes for better criticism.

    Through these premises you have induced:

    Conclusion: The more sophisticated a belief system is the harder it is to disprove and to disprove a belief system it you must have an intimate knowledge of it.

    Fallacy 1: The first part of your conclusion directly violates your second premise. Sophistication can not increase legitimacy, as you state and I agree with, if it is to be taken as independent of the belief system.

    Fallacy 2: The only premise you actually provide for your second claim is that more knowledge makes for better criticism. Premise 3-6 are mostly irrelevant filler (IMHO). It appears that you are inducing the second claim on the basis of a personal value for knowledge. From this premise I could make the following claim:

    I have studied fairies my whole life and know more about them than anyone on the planet. I am the highest of fairy experts. I say fairies are real and no one can dispute that because no one has more knowledge than I do about the subject of fairies.

    This imagined person has to provide no evidence for his claim and based on your claim no one can criticize him because no one has more knowledge on the subject then he.

    I believe part of the allure of this argument is that it appears that you are trying to avoid a hasty conclusion. I do not think this is the case.

    You have said:

    So spare me all this “begging the question” stuff.

    I will not spare you, you are begging the question when you say:

    it is necessary to know a fair bit about fairy-ology to show that belief in fairies is irrational.

    Your assumption that if we increase the complexity and sophistication of a belief system it makes it more correct is a poor conclusion to come to. It seems like your trying to apply the argument of irreducible complexity to theology… the more complex the more it proves god exists… Have you not heard of Occam’s razor?

    Paul hit the nail on the head:

    “Give it up guys. Some theology is more sophisticated than other kinds. It’s all wrong, of course – but some stuff is wrong is more complicted ways than other stuff.” This only seems plausible. I say fairies exist but i know nothing else about them . I am simply wrong. You say fairies exist and have various properties. You are wrong in a more complicated way. But you are also more wrong that I am because you made the same error as I did – that fairies exist – and then went on to add more errors.

    At the end of the day I would agree with your conclusion if it were modified as such:

    It is easier to disprove a belief system it you have an intimate knowledge of it.

    While less absolute than your conclusion it’s far easier to defend.

    It is not necessary to know a fair bit about X to show that belief in X is irrational. Where X can equal any of the following: fairies, magic, ghosts, gods, trolls, elves, the force, vampires, Godzilla, Cthulhu, wizards, Optimus Prime, Chewbacca, Big Foot, Spock, Frankenstein, Samus Aran, (and the list could go on forever)… It is irrational to assume that fiction and reality can be the same, that things exist with out evidence of their existence.

  91. wow somehow that last one got a little messed up sorry about that…

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