The Dawkins Delusions

Actually, some people call them the “Dawkins Tantrums.”

There’s no doubt about it though – there is a controversy around Richard Dawkins. Just mention his name in the blogosphere and you get all sorts of extreme reactions. Almost always negative.

Sure, you will get some, usually milder and more reasonable, positive reactions. After all, he is a bit of a scientific rock star. His recent lectures in New Zealand and Australia were sold out. Many had to be shifted to larger venues. And his books certainly sell well.

I myself waited in a queue for 2 hours to get my copy of “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution” signed by the author. As one wit said, this queue seemed to go right back to the “”Big Bang.” But I was in good company and enjoyed the conversations while waiting.

Personally I am always wary of personality cults. Elevate a person to sainthood and you will inevitably find they have feet of clay. I certainly don’t think it has come to this with Dawkins, despite the high regard many people have for him.

And he is a humble person. I heard a story of him seeing some young person wearing a “Dawkins is God” T-shirt. His rather embarrassed comment was “Does this mean I don’t exist?”

Dawkins doesn’t exist

And that’s another slogan, isn’t it? “Dawkins doesn’t exist.” A theist parody on Dawkins’ belief that gods don’t exist – any more than fairies.

I actually think this last slogan encompasses a common reaction to, and misrepresentation of, Dawkins by many religious apologists. Dawkins is their “voodoo doll”. An entity to which they ascribe all their horrible beliefs about atheists. An entity they can quote (or misquote), to satisfy their arguments. And one they can abuse to work off their frustrations.  A very useful entity – but one that doesn’t actually exist. So they had to invent him. Just like a god (or in Dawkins’ case, a devil).

Long before Dawkins’ recent notoriety I had often thought about this phenomenon. Our human trick of creating entities to which we could use as a receptacle for all our own desires, wishes and values. Something we could point to as our great utopian example. Something to aspire to and to use as an example.

So we get the attitude “what would Jesus do?” Jesus being this entity we have idealised to represent all that is good. Whether Jesus actually existed as a real person, anw hat his personality was like if he did exist, is beside the point. We had our own utopian ideal – and anyone who criticises it is hurting the very core of our being.

Dogmatic socialism

I saw this with left-wing socialists from early on. Some of them were Russophiles – they had an ideal picture of the USSR and attributed all the things they imagined for their own vision of socialism to the existing socialism in the USSR – irrespective of the facts.

Then the NZ Communist Party became Maoist and Sinophiles. China embodied the new “ideal socialism.”

Then a falling out and it became Albania.

Some splinter groups went for Cuba or one of the central American revolutionary states.

Similarly some people must have a receptacle for all they consider evil – whether it exists or not. Dogmatic socialists had their version of the USA – it embodied everything they saw as bad and hated.

Being close-minded about open mindedness

One does not have to look very far to find examples of “Dawkins tantrums.” Matt, at MandM provides one in his article Richard Dawkins and Open Mindedness.

Actually, Matt is one of these religious apologists who can be relied on to respond to any mention of Dawkins with a “Dawkins tantrum.” He just can’t help himself as he has a Pavlovian response to the name. He usually responds along the lines of that old chestnut that Dawkins can pontificate all he likes about biology but as he is not a theologian he should shut up about gods. This particular version of the tantrum was made popular by Terry Eagleton in his review of The God Delusion.

( Matt’s title for this particular “tantrum” is a bit ironic as he justifies his own belief as a “properly-basic belief” – a theological term to justify a belief without any need for evidence! Doesn’t seem very open-minded to me.)

Matt’s article got similar knee jerk reactions in comments from fellow apologists. Dawkins ideas were described as “just more of the same old arrogant garbage you find from posturing intellectuals”

And here’s some other similar comments:

“I read Dawkins’ God Delusion and thought it terrible. If every error he made was refuted it would take an encyclopaedia. I thought that some pages could have contained 10 errors per page.”

“Dawkins struggles to realize that nobody with any amount of theological/philosophical knowledge actually believes in these gods he is attacking.”

“Fortunately though, Dawkins realizes the moral bankruptcy in his worldview and continues to live and state that he lives as a “cultural Christian.” You would think such a move would cause a serious amount of cognitive dissonance since he lives by principles that no more exist on his account than the god he vehemently rejects…but I guess not. I’m afraid many of his followers will pick up on the illusion of objective morality in atheism though and fall into the ills of moral relativism.”

“Dawkins “opens minds”? That actually made me laugh out loud. It is made even funnier because those who uttered it are apparently sincere! For those who haven’t read his polemic, it would only take reading a review or two to get the flavour of the book. There is nothing about the book geared towards opening minds.”

“Dawkins is not a man of intelligence but a Bum! He’s a the poster child of our age!…an age of stupidity in high places. A Fool who says in his heart there is no God. If I may be so humble to suggest! Attack his home base!Attack Evolution! Auckland University is a Socialist State Indoctrination Camp! Of course they endorse Dawkins! Get the State out of Education I say, then at least we wont be funding Anti Christ Socialist atheism!”

Discrediting science with Dawkins

OK, Matt’s post was on his own theological turf. But he and others sometimes launch into misrepresentations of science. And who do they quote as their authority? Well it is often the Dawkins’ voodoo doll.

You want to attack “scientism?” – Well attribute it to Dawkins. Arrogance – Dawkins again. Usually no one bothers to find a quote (after all how many of them have actually read any of Dawkins’ books). But you don’t need to quote in the apologetics ghetto. Everybody nods their heads in agreement, anyway!

I sometimes wonder if religious apologists spend more time studying and thinking about their Dawkins voodoo doll than they do about their gods. He actually gets studied in apologist courses. Lectures are presented about Dawkins’ fallacies. Books are written. And of course, as is usually the case with imaginary  gods and devils a lot of strawmannery is involved.

Well, they say that no news is bad news. Perhaps all this apologetics concentration on Dawkins and attempts to discredit him has its own reward. Perhaps this obsession has created a reaction. Helped sell Dawkins’ book. Attracting people to his lectures. Encouraging purchase of his videos. And bringing financial support to his Foundation for Science and Reason and charities he supports, like Non-believers Giving Aid and  Foundation Beyond Belief.

Many Australians and New Zealanders have recently had a chance to see and hear Dawkins in person. They have learned he is nothing like the rligious apologists’ voodoo doll. That in fact their “Dawkins” doesn’t actually exist.

And their anti-science arguments are just as illusory.

Credit: Images for t-shirts Dawkins T-shirts and Red


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33 responses to “The Dawkins Delusions

  1. But Ken! You are creating a sort of Christian voodoo doll to ascribe all your horrible beliefs about believers. An entity you can quote (or misquote), to satisfy your arguments. And one you can abuse to work off your frustrations. A very useful entity – but one that doesn’t actually exist. So you had to invent him. Just like a god.


  2. Which entity was that, then, Max?

    I am not aware that I ascribe all my “horrible beliefs about believers” to any one person or entity.

    I tend to spread it around, surely.

    And, I think, I don’t ascribe straw men to these real individuals.

    After all, I actually have a lot of time for some Christians.

    We can agree on a lot, respect each other, and accept that we have different ideological beliefs without being upset about it.

    But, enlighten me!


  3. Ok Ken… I admit it I was just playing ;)…mostly… but be aware that there ARE legitimate criticisms of Dawkins… and he IS an amateur philosopher who makes a lot of basic errors. Your attitude risks ignoring legitimate critique of his philosophy by simply chanting the mantra “Dawkins Tantrums!” whenever anyone, for whatever reason, says Dawkin’s arguments are bad. Be careful you don’t turn into what you are attacking.


  4. Max – there are legitimate criticisms of everybody. I have been critical of Dawkins over some of his arguments. But I am specific. I don’t have a knee jerk reaction. As I said – elevate anyone to sainthood and you will find they have feet of clay.

    Bloody hell – read Dawkins’ 30th anniversary edition of “The Selfish Gene” and you will find that Dawkins can be quite critical of himself. It’s quite an educational presentation.

    The fact is that quite a few people demonise Dawkins. Criticise him for things he doesn’t actually say. Attribute things to him that are not warranted.

    It’s because they use him as a vooddoo doll.

    Dawkins doesn’t claim to be a philosopher or theologian. This surely doesn’t deny him the right to express an opinion about the non-existence of gods. Or the philosophy of science.

    I can think of a number of people who claim philosophical or theological credentials but who make outrageous comments about science and the philosophy of science (and the non-existence of gods). Usually I am prepared to debate them on their claims – not argue about credentials.

    After all these terms cover a multitude of sins. There are philosophers who regularly make quite stupid claims about science and epistemology (and philosophy).

    Don’t be taken it by the word “philosopher.” This is one area where one has to be discerning.

    Now Max. If you think “Dawkins’ arguments are bad'”- well say so – specifically – in the appropriate places. You might find I agree with you.

    But I am very unimpressed by knee jerk reactions. Very unimpressed.


  5. Then be careful not to have them 😉


  6. kiwimadeadmin

    you’ve entered your website with the “at” symbol where a “dot” should be… just FYI


  7. Dawkins is first & foremost a world renowned Biologist – then a celebrity atheist.

    People who don’t know anything about him tend to place him solely in the later category totally ignoring his groundbreaking work in the field of biology, genetics etc.

    Theists in particular are guilty of this error and prefer to ‘snipe away’ at his arguments against the supernatural, rather than seeing he is a well-balanced, rather mild, self-critical character who is amongst the greatest living intellects on the planet.

    See ya.



  8. Ahem. Call me a philosopher (and you would be right) but this is simply not true:

    “( Matt’s title for this particular “tantrum” is a bit ironic as he justifies his own belief as a “properly-basic belief” – a theological term to justify a belief without any need for evidence! Doesn’t seem very open-minded to me.)”

    “properly-basic belief” is not a theological term; it is a philosophical one, coming from a particular school of epistemology.

    Now, we can debate whether such properly-basic beliefs exist and whether belief in god, gods, et al., are properly basic (as an atheistic I don’t think theistic beliefs are basic, but mathematic beliefs might be), but don’t dismiss the view just because it comes from someone with a theological perspective that is different from your own (which, I’m afraid to say, is what your argument amounts to when you dismiss Matt’s contribution to the debate).

    If you want people to engage in the arguments Dawkin’s puts forward against theistic belief, then you need to afford people with similar respect. Matt has a point when he says that Dawkin’s view of the philosophy of religion is old-fashioned and out of date. He provides an argument to that extent; he isn’t creating a voodoo doll and he isn’t having a tantrum; he’s doing what any self-respecting expert (and although I disagree with his positions, he does have the relevant expertise, being both a theologian and a philosopher) would do, which is call Dawkins to task for presenting strawman arguments rather than engage with the contemporary theological and philosophical arguments.

    Which, I might add, is precisely what Dawkin’s does (call people to task) when advocates of Intelligent Design use outdated evolutionary theories to try and discredit the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.


  9. Mathew, I don’t think it is open minded to advance an argument of “properly basic belief” as a justification for a belief, a claim, about reality. Especially when used as a last resort, after using other arguments, it sort of rules one out of serious discussion.

    Humanity didn’t get where we are today by justifying propositions about the real world that way.

    Reality is just too counter-intuitive for that sort of approach not to be sensibly challenged.

    Many people have a theological perspective but still make proposals which can be debated and tested. My criticisms were of the use of that argument not Matt’s perspective – although I do realise the two are linked in his case.

    However, forget Matt – his post and the comments were purely used as an example of this knee-jerk reaction. I often find people attribute things to Dawkins which just aren’t so. And that the very mention of his name can precipitate such behaviour. The comments I quote shows how childish this can be. (And Matt does tend to have a thing about Dawkins making him prone to such inappropriate reflexive response).

    It is something which concerns me as I used to react in a similar way because of his book “The Selfish Gene” – which, to my shame, I didn’t read 30 years ago.

    What a waste of time and really it wasn’t open-minded of me.

    Now that I have at last actually read some of Dawkins’ work and heard some of his talks I can appreciate how silly, and sad, such knee jerk responses are. And I usually find the people who tend to react this way may have never read Dawkins.

    Sent from my iPod


  10. Two ts, Ken; Matthew, not Mathew.

    Anyway, “properly basic beliefs” are not contrary to open-mindedness; that’s a strawman argument. I suspect that you probably have a whole host of beliefs about mathematics, and most of these beliefs are based upon axioms, which are a species of such basic beliefs. It simply isn’t the case that humans don’t have what appear to be basic beliefs, which is why Foundationalism, in Epistemology, still continues to be a contender for the justification of beliefs and knowledge (I’m not a fan of Foundationalism, being a Coherentist, but that’s by-the-by). Now Matt does have arguments (which he has provided on his blog a number of times) as to why he thinks belief in god is properly basic; dismissing him because you think it’s not open-minded isn’t a) an argument against his argued-for position and b) shows a lack of open-mindedness on your part to analyse his claim and make a considered response to it, which would have been a much better thing to do that label his argument a tantrum.


  11. Sorry about the spelling, Matthew. Not helped by a small iPod key board.

    Sent from my iPod


  12. Matthew – I am not at all interested in debating Matt on his beliefs in gods, or his arguments for them. I believe such debates are a mugs game. Matt can believe what he likes about gods and develop any theological arguments in justification, it doesn’t interest me at all for these reasons.

    I know what you are saying about basic beliefs. As a scientist, of course, we do learn to question even these. And to be careful about what we claim is basic.

    It strikes me as a pathetic argument for a god belief. However, one can’t really deal with such matters without a structured god hypothesis – and we know that is not likely to appear soon.

    I don’t debate these issues with Matt – I am sure he has plenty of theologically minded collaborators to debate him.

    However, I will debate passionately (and have done so) when he attempts to use similar arguments in his criticism of science and scientific philosophy. That is where my interest lies.

    My article was about the demonisation of people like Dawkins and the effect he seems to have on people like Matt. The way they behave reflexively when his name comes up.

    That phenomenon is what some people are calling “Dawkins tantrums” (not my name incidentally but I like it). It’s got nothing to do with their god beliefs or arguments for them – although obviously there are motives in these.

    In fact, there are a few atheists who react similarly – Ruse and AN Wilson stand out. Even Massimo Pugliucci. I will, and do, also take issue with them if I think them wrong.

    It’s got nothing to do with god beliefs – at least on my part.


  13. Pingback: We don’t know! « Open Parachute

  14. “properly-basic belief” – a theological term to justify a belief without any need for evidence!

    “properly basic belief” is a philosophical term, specifically one used in epistemology. Three cheers for Matthew Dentith for pointing this out.

    Ken, Why do you think criticisms of Dawkins should be classified as “Tantrums” or knee-jerk reactions when reasons are given to explain why the person thinks so? Matt gives such reasons, as do atheistic philosophers such as Ruse, as do all the people who publish responses to his work.


  15. Yes, Stuart, and how far do you think I would have got in my job using a “properly basic belief” as a justification for my scientific decisions?

    I would have been laughed at and, if I persisted, unemployable. This is not a good way of understanding reality – completely inappropriate. (and extremely desperate as last resort in this case).

    Others use the “tantrum” term. I use knee-jerk when appropriate. Some people just can’t help themselves when they hear the name – even when they don’t (for a while there Matt was following me around in blog discussions raving on about Dawkins when it was irrelevant to the discussion. I think he actually had a knee jerk reaction to the word “science” or just a defence of science).

    As I have pointed out Ruse and a few others behave the same way. Bad behaviour by an atheist is still bad behaviour – their ideology doesn’t justify it.

    And you have possibly noticed that I have no problem with criticising Dawkins or anyone over specific issues. I have myself. In the end I find I hardly ever read a book where I don’t find something to disagree with. That’s part if our rich diversity of life.

    But I don’t respect those who criticise reflexively and inappropriately.

    And a lot if that does go on around Dawkins. That is obvious.

    Sent from my iPod


  16. The doesn’t at all address my question as to why you should classify someone’s reaction as a “Dawkins tantrum” when they give specific reasons for their criticisms of Dawkins.


  17. Although I like the term “Dawkins tantrums” it is not one I have actually used – yet. I only recently came across it – so give me a chance.

    Read the article Stuart. A very relevant word is strawmanery.

    In my experience quite often, well actually very often, those indulging in this reflexive actions really are using the imaginary “Dawkins” as a voodoo doll.

    They may well have specific reasons for their criticisms but usually their specific claims are just wrong. Very often these people have not actually read the book (that would offend them to do so) but they make all sorts of claims. Usually they go quiet when asked for specific references to their claims.

    That is the issue. Dawkins is charged with claims or beliefs he has never made or doesn’t hold. That’s why I say their imaginary “Dawkins” doesn’t exist. Like their gods they have had to invent him.

    Max, for example, attributes “science of the gaps” to Dawkins – no reference of course (and anyone who has read or heard Dawkins knows that is not true). How often do we hear the charges of “scientism” – again no reference and not true.

    The fact is that Dawkins seems to exert some sort of power over these people. They just can’t leave him alone.

    Now I have no problem with real and relevant criticism of Dawkins – I have some myself. But this silly knee jerk reaction discredits the people who indulge in it.

    They disqualify themselves from rational discussion of the issues.

    Stuart, if you have a specific criticism to make of Dawkins, make it. But, come on, be specific and provide the evidence.

    Sent from my iPod


  18. Ken,

    You say,

    Although I like the term “Dawkins tantrums” it is not one I have actually used – yet. I only recently came across it – so give me a chance.

    Now I have read your article above. And in light of the above quote would you like to retract the following quoted from your article above?

    One does not have to look very far to find examples of “Dawkins tantrums.” Matt, at MandM provides one in his article Richard Dawkins and Open Mindedness.


  19. Ah, so I have actually used it. Must be my first time!

    Seems quite an appropriate use to me. What is there to retract?

    Come on Stuart. Be specific.

    What is your problem?

    Sent from my iPod


  20. This is my problem;

    When reasons are given, surely calling criticisms of Dawkins a “tantrum” is unjust. Clearly, given people like Matt Flanagan and Michael Ruse’s explanations for their critiques, these are not tantrum-like reactions at all.


  21. They are when they are reflexive knee jerk reactions and the charges are straw men.

    Sent from my iPod


  22. Do you really believe that it is just, in the specific instance of Matt’s article “Richard Dawkins and Open Mindedness”, to characterize it a “reflexive knee jerk reaction,” when his multiple reasons for his criticism were clearly articulated and thoughtfully examined?

    These reasons, despite your name-calling, remain unchallenged.

    You have been making vague allusions to straw men arguments. Would you care to substantiate this, or is this empty rhetoric?


  23. I have to agree with Stuart here; as I tried to point out, Matt isn’t having a tantrum. He’s trying to have a discussion. You’re the one committing the strawman fallacy here, Ken.


  24. Stuart, read the article again. It is about this phenomena of reflexive knee jerking. The partular theological arguments Matt produced are irrelevant. As I have said this sort if discussion is a mug’s game which is surely illustrated by Matt’s use of the “properly basic belief” argument. Surely a Claytons argument if there ever was one.

    But here is a simple experiment you could try (you might find your own knee jerking interfering though).

    Try mentioning the name “Richard Dawkins” in different groups you are part of. Do it in a neutral, non-judgemental manner.

    Note the reactions. In some groups these will be neutral, perhaps concentrating on the subject under discussion. In others you will get a flood of negative responses (rather like the comments I mentioned in the article of Matt’s).

    This is a sign of a typical Pavlovian reflexive response. It’s a conditioned response, no doubt from the hours of criticisms of Dawkins (actually the imaginary “Dawkin”) these people have been exposed to. (I usually find such people have never actually read Dawkin’s writings – just criticism of them).

    Ironically the reaction of theologians to one of Dawkin’s books has produced am obsession and granted a power to Dawkins quite out of proportion to the actual content of the book itself. Sent from my iPod


  25. Ken, you gave Matt’s article as an example of knee-jerk reactionary and tantrum-like response to Dawkins. The particular arguments Matt made are therefore entirely relevant. They are indicators that his response to Dawkins not a tantrum.

    The straw man argument is yours.


  26. No they aren’t Stuart. And anyway I am certainly not going to discuss Matt’s specific arguments. As I said I think that is a mug’s game. I have absolutely no interest in theological jelly wrestling.

    The Pavlovian conditioned response is what interests me.

    Try the experiment.

    It is interesting. Put Dawkins and open mindedness together and I don’t respond with “The God Delusion” (although he does discuss the scientific ethos of honesty and acknowledging mistakes a little there.

    No, I think of his “Prayer for my Daughter” which is all about making up one’s own mind and separating reliable methods of knowing from bogus ones.

    It’s a great article.

    Sent from my iPod


  27. Matthew, who is Matt having a discussion with? It was a magazine article, wasn’t it – not a discussion paper. My reading of it is that he was reacting to something which had the words “Dawkins” and “open mindedness” in. I see that as a conditioned response – which I have experienced with Matt in the past (this current manifestation has nothing to do with me).

    As I said, I am interested in the conditioned response. I have zero interest in Matt’s theological arguments. I have seen him do them before in similar inapropriate responses to words like “Dawkins” and “science”. Maybe of interest to theologians but not me. I consider that a mug’s game.

    The experiment I suggest would actually be an interesting one to perform. One for psychology students perhaps.

    Enough about Matt. He us irrelevant to my post. It is the knee jerk Pavlovian reaction which interested me. And the way people set up ideals and demons in religion and politics. I have been struck by the similarities of this process in religion and political ideology for many years.

    Sent from my iPod


  28. Ken,

    Matt gave reasons for criticizing Dawkins arguments. He spelled them out really clear. His was therefore not a knee-jerk reactionary and tantrum-like response.

    You have not given any reasons for criticizing Matt’s article. You have made vague allusions to straw men arguments, but refuse to substantiate them. And now even refuse to discuss his reasons when his article was the primary example you used as a “Dawkins tantrum.”

    Your bluff has been called. You’ve created a straw man version of Matt, and all your rhetoric is empty.


  29. Stuart, I started to have doubts and went back to my article. No, I was right. It wasn’t about Matt or his theology. Or about charges that the university is a socialist indoctrination camp. Or that Dawkins was a bum.

    These were only examples demonstrating the Pavlovian response some people have to certain words.

    I could have quoted other examples. I could have taken other situations (eg how do different groups react to the word “Russia”).

    However, this one is very relevant to scientists and the frequent attacks on science that I see.

    It was also about how people set up ideals or gods and demons. The later is operating here. It is a subject that has intrigued me for years (as my examples probably indicate).

    No, I won’t discuss Matt’s theological arguments (although I notice a certain refusal to engage over the one throw away remark I made about Matt’s properly basic belief). Nor will I discuss charges that universities are socialist indoctrination camps. Or that Dawkins is a bum.

    So give up your attempts to impose a jelly wrestling match on your swamp of theology.

    But I would seriously be interested in your response to the points made in my article:

    1: the word “Dawkins” does elicite a knee jerk reaction from some people;

    2: that humans commonly seem to set up positive and negative ideals – gods and demons, Russia and America, etc., to act as receptacles for their own desires and prejudices. Because these ideals don’t actually respond to the real entities they are actually imaginary.

    Hence “Dawkins is god” (or devil) and “Dawkins doesn’t exist” seems appropriate

    Sent from my iPod


  30. Ken,

    . . . I was right. It [my article above] wasn’t about Matt or his theology. . . . These were only examples demonstrating the Pavlovian response some people have to certain words.

    You haven’t escaped the fact that you have used a false example. You yourself have created a demon out of Matt.

    In response to your two points made in the article;

    1.) Sure, I can believe that some people do. But most people have well-reasoned arguments as to why they respond negatively to Dawkins’ arguments and therefore their reactions do not qualify as knee-jerk or tantrum-like. Matt is a good example of this latter group. You have refused to show how Matt’s reaction was knee-jerk or tantrum-like, so therefore

    2.) you are good example of someone who creates straw men just to burn them.


  31. Good Stuart, you acknowledge the problem. We may not agree that Matt provides an example. However, from my perspective I believe he is. I have seen Matt respond to discussions of climate science with his well rehearsed attack on Dawkins. (Dawkins is irrelevant here as it is not his field and he acknowledges that he must follow the experts).

    So we will have to disagree on that specific example. I imagine that you do agree on the others who refer to Auckland Uni as a socialist indoctrination camp and Dawkins as a bum.

    On the second point I inerpret your response as reluctant agreement together with an inevitable swipe at me.

    Well we have to expect a few swipes in this sort of discussion.

    Sent from my iPod


  32. My worry is that if you are going to classify Matt’s article (which presents reasons for his belief) as a tantrum, then you are committing the Self-Sealing Fallacy by defining Matt’s reasons as evidence of his having a tantrum. Especially your characterisation of Matt’s citation of having a ‘properly basic beliefs’ as evidence for your position. As I’ve previously said, ‘properly basic beliefs’ are part of some formal epistemologies and you can’t just dismiss them out of hand without explaining why such dismissal is justified. That’s tantamount to having a tantrum, I’m afraid.


  33. Matthew – I pick up that you want (or wanted) to see a discussion of reasons for belief. I’ll comment on that in the 2nd part of my reply. (I have broken it into parts to make it clearer).

    1: No Matthew – I am not classifying Matt’s article itself as a “tantrum.” My post was not about his article. Rather I am commenting on the reflexive response he exhibits.

    Just as noting that Pavlov’s dogs salivated on hearing a bell was in no way a judgement of salivation. It is a judgment of an inappropriate response (salivation was unnecessary), brought on by conditioning.

    A few years ago I did an experiment asking a group of people to tell a story when hearing a conversation in Russian between two young girls on a bus. I was wondering how they would relate to the sounds of the words. What meanings they would attribute.

    One guy responded (inappropriately) with a rave about secret police and the evils of communism. Now – he may have been largely correct in what he said – I won’t judge that. But his was an inappropriate conditioned response to the word “Russian” and the Russian language.

    Conditioned responses in situation like this can mean we don’t hear things properly or we ghettoise ourselves. This guy, to me, seemed to allow his hatred of communism deny himself the chance to appreciate a beautiful culture.

    I had a conditioned response to Dawkins which prevented me from reading anything of his for 30 years because I thought “The Selfish Gene “ was a justification of human greed. It offended my socialist beliefs. That was cutting off my own nose because if I had read it I would have found it was an argument for the evolutionary origins of altruism – just what I needed.

    Such conditioned responses can be inappropriate in several ways. I am sure Matt was reacting in his usual way with arguments developed in response to Dawkins book “The God Delusion”. Similarly those who commented on the post (I quote some of them above).

    But frankly – if I was to talk about Dawkins and Open Mindedness (which apparently initiated Matt’s response) I would have referred to his “A Prayer for my Daughter” which is specifically about that. Or the anniversary edition of “The selfish Gene” where he critiques some of the things he said in the first edition. Or about comments he makes in many of his books about the need for scientists to have an ethos of honesty and be able to change their minds.

    But if you have a hammer you see everything as a nail. I am a scientist, Matt a theologian.

    My article is about the way people have conditioned responses, the fact this exists around Dawkins, and the way our species seems to set up ideals – gods and devils – as repositories for values and attributes. That these gods and demons are imaginary.

    2: Regarding reasons for beliefs and the “properly-basic belief” concept – I have debated with Matt about these before. The concept of scientific knowledge he argues for is to me very naive and needs challenging. That’s where my interest lies.

    I am not interested in theological arguments which to me seem dishonest by nature. They start with an assumption which they then argue for. I see that as a mug’s game. People can have their god beliefs – I am not interested in them as long as I don’t have to be exposed to them.

    However, these sort of arguments often do encroach into the scientific sphere. Arguments for sky pixies based on cosmology, or “fine tuning” or morality inevitable enter into the scientific sphere. And very often they are opportunistically misrepresenting science and scientific knowledge.

    I am more than willing to get into this discussion around scientific knowledge. Stuart has really raised this and associated issues in his article Are logical arguments evidence? I think he badly misrepresents scientific knowledge in this and intend to write a brief note critiquing it. No doubt this will clarify my throw-away comment on the irony of Matt’s use of the “properly-basic belief” concept in discussing open mindedness.

    This might take a few days as I am currently rather distracted by my partner’s chemotherapy treatments which take priority.

    So, Matthew, I hope that clarifies things for you. My knee jerk comment related to Matt’s reflexive response – not to his article itself, which doesn’t interest me.

    I am more than willing to discuss questions relating to reasons for belief, especially around science.

    Hopefully you will comment on my article when it is posted.


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