Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy."
"Intellectuals are people who believe that ideas are of more importance than values. That is to say, their own ideas and other people's values."
I've recently, once again, been engaged in conversations with people who espouse as fact, beliefs (and I call them that purposely) gleaned from a reading of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and possibly some of his other works, or suggested references. This most recent conversation had a very disturbing aspect for me, in that the primary point of contention was Dawkins' belief that religion is a form of mental illness, and that teaching your children about your religion constitutes child abuse, as based on the previous claim. The conversation occurred via a forum, so I had plenty of opportunity to research my counterpoints before I replied each time. In the second last message I posted, I spent hours researching and quoting/citing references regarding the demonstrated medical advantages of having some form of religious/spiritual belief system. From my perspective, this demonstrated that Dawkins' view could be considered to be (purposefully) ignorant of the commonly accepted research on this topic. [see references 1, 2, 3]
However, the person I was having this argument with completely ignored all references I'd made in his reply, and simply restated his belief. He presented no evidence to support his point of view, other then vague generalisations, and a summary of Google search evidence. For example: "I Googled 'religion child abuse', and got over 2 million hits, many of the first few pages from science journals." These rather vague claims I disputed- most of the results I saw for this search were opinion pieces regarding Dawkins' book, and I think number of hits is fairly non indicative of common viewpoints. Especially when your search term would match an article containing the sentence "Therefore, religion should certainly not be considered child abuse."
So why is this disturbing? This person, although he'd completely deny it I'm sure, is one of the New Atheist faithful. Seizing on teachings from Dawkins and his ilk, they will defend their viewpoint with great zeal without actually knowing any of the reasons why they believe it. Ultimately the reason they defend it because of the underlying belief behind the whole movement - that "brights" are somehow of greater value then the rest of us. The following quote is by Dawkins from the Wired article linked from the title of this post:
"Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. ..."
He seems to have covered the only two options off fairly well, hasn't he? (note: sarcasm)
To suggest that most intelligent people are atheists is certainly not something I'm aware has been qualified by research. What is the metric? The number of students in evolutionary biology courses that would call themselves atheists? I certainly wouldn't qualify under that banner, but my IQ of 136, university degree, and job designing software would suggest that I have at least some kind of intelligence wouldn't it? Or is that immediately disqualified by the fact that I also believe that our presently observable reality is not all there is?
I call your attention to the quote from Richard Feynmen at the start of this post. The existence of God immediately dispels all arguments that have been presented, because all arguments I have seen presented are based on the presupposition that God is not real. This presupposition comes from holding the existence of God up against the scientific method, which is the most stupid idea I personally have ever heard. As stated, on non-science issues, scientists are just as dumb as the next guy. And yet, Dawkins makes brash statements about God being "unlikely" and people believe him because he's a scientist. I'm qualified as a scientist - Computer scientist, that is. If I mix some chemicals together in a lab and tell you that drinking them will cure you from cancer, would you trust me? If so, I suggest you seek help. Your life may be in danger. However, this is what people are doing. Basing their beliefs about the supernatural on the opinions of someone who specialises in one aspect of the natural, and seems to suggest that anything that doesn't fit within his particular model of the universe must be fiction.
My purpose in talking about this is primarily because when I read Dawkins' and others arguments about this issue, I start from the viewpoint of them having some basis in fact, and so have to spend a great deal of time finding the necessary evidence to demonstrate that, particularly in the case of Dawkins, they are driven by misplaced bitterness and/or political agendas which overpower their sense of logic and reason and instead provoke them to present small, subjective, hand-picked subsets of data to support claims that further their cause. I would be far better served to acknowledge the truth: that these people are not interested in the truth. They present themselves as men of science in order to be heard, and then do things that are entirely unscientific to try and establish their case. What physicist when faced with an issue of biology would not ask a biologist? Why then does an evolutionary biologist speak on issues of theology? Of psychology? Surely claims about psychological effects of religion on children would be better authored by someone who had some degree of expertise in the subject matter? And yet, instead we get another "Da Vinci Code" - a work of fiction that the public chooses to believe as fact, in order that they might continue to justify ignoring the true questions of their own existence.
The following is a quote from Albert Mohler. I don't even know who this guy is, but he did a write up on the Wired article I've linked, and I found his assessment below to be rather insightful:
The very fact that Wolf remains unconvinced by the arguments promoted by the New Atheists is itself significant. What Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett--along with the other New Atheists--really demand is that society must place itself in the hands of a new and militant atheistic priesthood. Science as defined by these new priests, would serve as the new sacrament and as the means of salvation.
While New Atheism will invoke science to create a false sense of objectivism, it is ultimately interested in becoming the "religion" of choice. That people will get a sense of value by adhering to its precepts. Ultimately though, science has nothing of permanent value to offer on its own. Knowledge is interesting and valuable, but if this is all there is, you might as well die a ignoramus as a genius. You're still dead. New Atheism is ultimately just a campaign for a new aristocracy of self-proclaimed "brights" with a policy of government-instituted atheism. Absurd? I'd say yes. And it seems that religiosity is not a prerequisite for identifying the absurdity of their claims.
Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.
[from the linked article]
The suggestion that religion is mental illness is not only opposed by a large body of evidence, but it is also popularly unpopular. Adherence to a set of religious beliefs produces people who are healthier, happier, more generous with their money and their time, and generally of greater good to society as a whole then their atheist/agnostic counterparts.
Medical Journal of Australia summary of the importance of religion/spirituality in health and well being. Links numerous other articles and studies supporting it's stance.
Criticism of the New Atheist ideas from an acknowledged atheist, and associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He argues that regardless of the existence of God, religion has been demonstrated to be of positive social value.
"People who are religious give more across the board to all causes than
their non-religious counterparts"
"There is a huge “charity gap” that follows religion: On average, religious people are far more generous than secularists with their time and money. This is not just because of giving to
churches—religious people are more generous than secularists towards explicitly non-religious charities as well. They are also more generous in informal ways, such as giving money to family members, and behaving honestly."
See the link for citations supporting this claim.