Thursday, August 19, 2010

The God Delusion

Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting pens for The New York Times' Opinionator blog an examination of Richard Dawkins' atheistic arguments in his book The God Delusion. Like almost every serious thinker who has written on TGD, theist and atheist alike, Gutting finds it long on eloquence and short on compelling, rational argumentation.

Gutting states:

Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren't appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires.

The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one's own intellectual problems. Dawkins simply does not do this. He rightly criticizes religious critics of evolution for not being adequately informed about the science they are calling into question. But the same criticism applies to his own treatment of philosophical issues.

There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God's existence.

Friends of Dawkins might object: "Why pay attention to what philosophers have to say when, notoriously, they continue to disagree regarding the 'big questions', particularly, the existence of God?" Because, successful or not, philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions. Believers who think religion begins where reason falters may be able to make a case for the irrelevance of high-level philosophical treatments of religion - although, as I argued in "Philosophy and Faith," this move itself raises unavoidable philosophical questions that challenge religious faith. But those, like Dawkins, committed to believing only what they can rationally justify, have no alternative to engaging with the most rigorous rational discussions available. Dawkins' distinctly amateur philosophizing simply isn't enough.

If you're interested in a philosophical critique of Dawkins' argument you might profit from Gutting's offering. Or you could check out our own more extended review of TGD in the Viewpoint Hall of Fame.


An Inclination Toward Tyranny

The progressives in the Democrat party continue to exhibit their utter disregard for the spirit of the First Amendment and their inclination toward totalitarian exercises of power.

Most recently Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for investigations into those who oppose the building of the New York mosque. One of our most powerful political leaders wants to set government thought police to snooping into the backgrounds of those who have opinions which differ from her own. This smells of abuse of power, intimidation and an attempt to suppress freedom of thought and speech.

According to a report in

The California Democrat, in a statement provided to POLITICO, adopted the split position of the Interfaith Alliance, a nonpartisan group dedicated to religious tolerance and separation of church and state. Although it blasted the Anti-Defamation League for strongly opposing the Park51 project, the Interfaith Alliance also agreed with the ADL's argument that the public should know where the money for the center is coming from.

"I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance, that 'We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center,'" according to Pelosi's statement, quoting the Alliance's position. "'At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.'"

"I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded," she said. "How is this being ginned up?"

This is either stupid or malevolent. What right do politicians have to investigate people for expressing an opinion? What does it matter who's spending money to oppose the mosque? Ms Pelosi wants us to believe that there's a symmetry in this matter where none exists. There's no equivalence between a pro-Hamas Muslim who has expressed anti-American sentiments in the past building a mosque in proximity to the site of 9/11 and the protestations of those who are offended by this project. [For the record, I don't think it's the government's business who is funding either side in this controversy. The mosque shouldn't be built whether it's being funded by Saudi Wahhabis or the estate of Mother Teresa.]

No one in the United States should ever be required to explain to any authority why they hold the opinions they do. No one should ever have their financial records sifted through just because they hold views that the ruling class doesn't like. Ms Pelosi is confusing the U.S. with the U.S.S.R.

We might also, while we're at it, ask her exactly who among the 70% of Americans who oppose the mosque is she going to have scrutinized? Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has come out against the mosque. Will he be investigated? The families of 9/11 victims are average Americans who oppose the mosque. Will she have government gumshoes looking into their funding?

It's disconcerting to ponder that this woman is third in line to the presidency, but it's good for us to see the predilections of the progressive mindset. In the Orwellian world they inhabit intimidation and coercion of citizens who have committed no crime is a perfectly acceptable tactic. Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are mere inconveniences, speed bumps on the road to more government control of Americans' lives. The inevitable endpoint of Ms Pelosi's kind of thinking is the tyranny of Big Brother.

She sounds like had she watched the movie The Lives of Others she would've been sympathetic to the East German Stazi.