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Archive for August, 2008

I don’t really understand why I am even having to write this post, still the subject keeps coming up in debates that religious people have with Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens to name a few, the disbelief is that some people consider this an argument against atheists when it clearly is not. The thing that really gets me is people also use the notion that Hitler had about the idea of “survival of the fittest” as demonstrating that science without religion can only lead to completely negative things. This is not true and please don’t for any moment consider what I am saying as support for the crimes the Nazi’s committed against all of us. Let’s first decide that the term atheist does not mean much at all, read my earlier post [https://therationalunderstanding.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/there-is-no-church-of-atheism-%e2%80%93-what-does-atheism-mean-with-the-help-of-sam-harris/], in short everyone is an atheist about something and Harris puts it right when he rejects this term. Just because you apply the term atheist to describe yourself it does not mean you belong to some sort of group, on the other hand if you are a catholic and you do certain things which are mostly justifiable because of that faith then you do belong to a group and the group should be held accountable. Ignoring the technical definition of atheist let’s just use the idea that it just means you don’t belong to a group as a working hypothesis, the only thing that atheists agree upon is the rejection of religion. I like to also consider what “science” means, for a start it is not an alternative belief system and there is no church of science. Although science can provide a reason to why religion is wrong, it does not aim to replace it as it deals with a completely different set of constructs. Although the rejection of the ideas of science and atheism in certain terms makes the point, what I want to argue is that rational understanding is the best way, something which includes the rejection of magic (religion) and unfounded ideas but includes in part accepting the tools of science as long as it is rational.

 

Did religion play any part in the final solution? It would be wrong to assume that just because Hitler rejected the Catholic Church as something very distasteful that it had nothing to do with it, after all he wanted to be the God so there was no need for any others, the centuries of discrimination towards Jewish people was a feature of religion. There are many reasons to why the regime came about but it must have not been helped by this, it actually becomes a justification in one of Hitler’s speeches about why the Jewish people are the cause of all known problems it ended in ‘… as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people’, he also cited Christian Love and the need to fight the Jews in the same speech (Cited in Letter to a Christian nation, Harris). It was yet another reason to why the politics of Germany could be helped by religion, has religion ever been outside politics? Well no this time, the Catholic Church agreed to make Hitler a saint upon his death and also ordered that on his birthday all churches in Germany to offer prayers for him. Why would the church care about the final solution since it achieved more in a few years than they had gotten done in centuries, it’s clear that between 40 & 50% of the SS, the ones that were responsible for the most killing and the final solution, were practicing Catholics none of them got kicked out of the church because of their part in such crimes. It is important to remember that Hitler was just one man and the SS were about 6 million strong, so the reason to why the Jewish people were considered subhuman thus making them not treatable as humans is in part due to the Church. The dogma helped to create the regime and their inaction against such a thing speaks towards what would have been the moral thing to do.

 

image.guardian.co.uk

image.guardian.co.uk

 

Were Hitler and the Nazis rational? The German archaeologists of the first part of the 20th century fronted the way offering new methods and massive advancements, still during the time when the Nazis were in power none of these scientists would dare speak out against the notion of the Arian race. Nazi racial theory believed that the Arian race were descendants of the lost city of Atlantis, the blonde blue eyed survivors were the pure race, Atlantis was destroyed when the earth went through its last cycle and the moon crashed into the earth. When it comes to science the evidence must support the theory, it did not and this moves the theory away from rational belief and towards dogma. There is also another side to the wrongful claim of science and that is the notion of “survival of the fittest” which is also claimed that Hitler in particular was thought to believe in strongly and which also went towards the racial theory. This is an assumption based on the idea that we are still subject to that rule, which we are not in most part. Humans have been outside of this natural law for a long time; we take care of our grandparents for example, even past the point where they don’t provide a use. Altruism is common enough and is also outside of this simple survival of the fittest model of explanation. From this we can conclude that racial theory is not rational at all, it’s based on assumptions and fear which is never a real reflection of things. Science is often seen as rational and powerful, still science means knowledge and this is useful when trying to understand other regimes. For example Hitchens argues that the people of North Korea are kept away from knowledge as this is dangerous to the leadership. The knowledge that the Nazis did not want people to know is that there are no genetic differences between groups of people. Neither true science nor rational thought played much of a part in the Nazis creation of racial theory.

The new atheist movement is not just about pointing out that religion is wrong it is also about inquiry, Sam Harris in a debate with David Wolpe said something which was very powerful; the sorts of regimes that cause endless suffering and death are not the result of vast inquiry rather none at all. So to point the finger at atheists blaming them for such regimes is wrong since it is not what the discussion is about, the atheist discussion is examination. Religion is closest to the regimes than it is to the inquiry provided by the new atheist movement, most religious people feel more comfortable about just accepting and using speculation rather than trying to find the real answers. There are lots of examples of this; one is that of Stem Cell research, people that argue that it is wrong are often concern for a small number of cells than about human suffering because they have not been through the inquiry that strongly suggests stem cells are just cells and don’t have a soul. Religion helped create the final solution, it certainly did not help to stop it and of course rational understanding is not promoted within religion. These are the reasons to why not only atheism cannot be criticised for such regimes and more guilt, although admittedly not all, can be placed upon religion. Last of all Dawkins puts it like this, such regimes are not performed in the name of atheism, and in fact they are done in the name of unchallenged belief. So it is up to us all to challenge the non-rational and that includes religion.

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Koukl is a religious man and the main point of disagreement is based upon the idea the new atheists make assumptions in order to make their argument work. In particular he attacks Dawkins in the God Delusion based on the summary on page 188, although it is clear that most likely a summary of what is being said is only as strong as the arguments that precede it, he does not concern himself with that in this presentation. Unlike Koukl I’ve actually read the argument before I got to the summary so I understood where these comments came from. By the same measure I would be guilty of committing the logical fallacy of ‘straw man’ by suggesting that Christianity is appalling as it teaches that it does not matter what actions you perform, no matter how morally wrong they are, after all if you say sorry then you will be forgiven. Of course this is not true and is an oversimplification based on not knowing enough about Christianity. Koukl is making it seem very easy to discount what Dawkins is trying to put across, the fact that people are listening to him worries me greatly since he does not actually show why it is wrong. Saying “this does not advance the argument” over and over again as a criticism of Dawkins is at least hypocritical since, as Robin Ince puts it, the suggestion is the religious argument is “the magic man done it”. For this reason I think it is fair to cite religion has an inhibitor of generating knowledge as it is normally the end of the conversation never the start. Let’s go to Koukl’s points:

Dawkins summary point 1 is “One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how one of the complex, improbable appearances of design in the universe arises” Koukl responds to this by saying that statement does not advance the argument, it’s just an opening assertion and has nothing to do with the conclusion [post hoc: god does not exist]. This is really relevant, to give you a taste of it what Dawkins meant, he wrote about why it took us so long to see evolution as the possible creator of the complex things that are in our environment. That first makes it clear that it is difficult to understand the place we find ourselves in and also that we have the need or want to understand it at least in some form. In particular God is one of the possible answers, it fills the need that we all have. Dawkins highlights the argument of the worship of the gaps, in other words when we cannot explain something either by lack of intelligence, knowledge or ability then it is very simple to argue God did it. From what we do understand about our place in the universe it seem so difficult to us to imagine the forces that created the complex objects in it. I think this speaks to our psychology and it is relevant because it shows us explaining things is not only difficult it also goes to explain that we often get it wrong. This is why religion is here, not as a true account for things but as a useful tool set (to an extent).

Dawkins summary point 2 is “The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design with actual design itself…” Koukl responded by saying it is natural to assume design when things look like they have been and therefore, again this does not advance the argument. Dawkins is very clear on this point, mostly because Koukl missed out the second half of this statement. We see complex objects that are designed by us, for example a watch or computer, using this same form of logic we can then assume that in order for humans to exist therefore, something more complex than us must have designed us. In other words we cannot see that the horseshoe could have made the blacksmith, it is not how our experience allows us to think. Just because something comes to us naturally that does not result in it being true. Taking an example from another Dawkins book, the blind watchmaker, it is perfectly logical to see a beach where the large stones are set further away from the water and the smaller stones closer to it. If you don’t understand roughly the ideas of wave power and gravity then how could you assume anything other than someone sorted the stones out to make that pattern. Just seeing something which appears to be designed does not mean that it has been designed, that is just another assumption. It advances the argument because it challenges our assumptions of the forces that could have created living things, including us and the universe.

Dawkins summary point 5 is “although we currently have no natural explanation for the appearance of design but we should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.” Koukl responded by saying we don’t have evidence but maybe we will get some, these are irrelevant features of the dispute because yet again this does not advance the argument. Dawkins and Koukl, at least I think Koukl is, referring to the key numbers that allow for the right chemical and physics conditions which allow for living things to exist, such as the power of certain forces that appear to be constant everywhere. I have a problem with Dawkins, which I don’t have with many other writers, rather than sticking to the subject Dawkins talks about science as almost the replacement for religion. Don’t get me wrong it is and I can see how this argument is formed, it is just most people don’t understand science and it creates comments like Koukl’s. I think the correct response to Koukl is in the summary point made by Dawkins; we as yet do not know how the universe was created to which we may not have answers for a long time. Still the point is before evolution we did not see how the complex objects on earth could have been created without a creator, so the door is open for an explanation similar to that of evolution to explain the universe. This I suggest is much more of an honest approach than God done it. If we can get to an explanation for the universe which is equal to evolution in terms of its power, then the requirement for God is once again reduced.

Koukl misses out large parts of the summary points, there is of course 187 pages before Dawkins makes the summary points so no one is better to explain how Dawkins got there than Dawkins. The point is missed and although I have only highlighted certain issues you can see the general direction and how it does provide the all important advancement to the argument. Koukl argues that all these points of at fault due to Circularity still this is not how I see it. Go and read the book for yourself because the answers are all in there, it is a shame that Koukl did not really bother to do that. Stating Dawkins summary point 1 is the start of the argument does show that he either did not read or did not understand all the pages leading up to summary points on page 188. Koukl is guilty of not advancing the argument and circularity, he does not understand critical thinking and reasoned thought, and that is what is wrong with Christian views – they are unable to see how other people don’t think like them! Dawkins added something to the debate, Koukl did not!

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