The argument from authority (or lack thereof)

In the natural sciences arguing from authority is frowned on. Sure, we do have to give credence to authorities when attempting to understand subjects outside our field. But, in our own areas (and in the end with any scientific subject) authority counts for nothing. After all the best test of any scientific idea is to measure it against reality. Evidence counts more than authority.

So I always find arguments from authority  weak. And when the arguer uses only that approach, maybe even using the argument from authority as a way of ignoring evidence (or even details of the argument itself), I suspect that argument from authority has become a way of avoiding the issue completely. One can end up debating at length the importance of authority, or the rights of others to have opinions, and never once deal with the real issue which sparked the debate.

Natural science vs ideological agendas

While argument from authority tends not to be used by natural scientists I find that it is far more commonly resorted to by those who may have ideological agendas. So I was interested to come across this confirmation in a comment from the linguist Noam Chomsky:

In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different fields. I’ve done work in mathematical linguistics, for example, without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I’ve often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor’s degree in mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in this subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible – the discussion dealt with the subject, not my right to discuss it.
But on the other hand, in discussion or debate concerning social issues or American foreign policy, Vietnam or the Middle East, for example, this issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom. I’ve repeatedly been challenged on grounds of credentials, or asked, what special training do you have that entitles you to speak of these matters. The assumption is that people like me, who are outsiders from a professional viewpoint, are not entitled to speak on such things.
Compare mathematics and the political sciences – it’s quite striking. In mathematics, in physics, people are concerned with what you say, not with your certification. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. Generally speaking, it seems fair to say that the richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is the concern for content.

Chomsky (1979 ) Language and Responsibility: Based on Conversations With Mitson Ronat Translated by John Viertel. New York: Pantheon. [French original: Dialogues avec Mitsou Ronat. Paris: Flammarion, 1977.]

Reviewing “The God Delusion”

In my experience this argument from authority (or avoiding argument by debating authority) seems widespread with religious apologists. To paraphrase Chomsky: “the poorer the intellectual substance of a field, the greater there is a concern for credentials, and the less is the concern for content.” I think that’s an apt description of the field of theology, don’t you?

This stuck out (to me) like a bloody nose in Terry Eagleton’s infamous review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He starts with:

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”

And that is basically it. He contends that Dawkins has no credibility discussing the possible existence of gods or otherwise – because he is not a theologian and has no training in theology! And that’s basically it! No attempt to discuss or debate the issues raised in Dawkins’ book.

And that particular review seems to have been used as a template for almost all reviews by religious apologists of books written by the so-called “new atheists.” It’s become a knee jerk reaction – mention the words “Richard Dawkins” and he is derided as being ignorant, (specially of theology) with never trying to discuss any issue he raises. In a sense this technique has been successful – it has given religious adherents (and some atheist “accommodationists“) a way of avoiding issues raised by Dawkins and others. But, of course, this tactic is completely unsuccessful in countering Dawkins’ arguments for anyone who seriously considers them. That is the problem with the argument from authority ( or lack of authority) – there is no engagement with the issues.

An avoidance technique?

Personally I find that when debates with religious apologists deteriorate to arguments from authority (or lack of authority) I start to think of better things I can do with my time. Perhaps my discussion partner is attempting to lead me on a wild goose chase to avoid the real issues. To waste my time.

A recent example with a local blogger concerned his dogmatic support for “divine command ethics.” A commenter pointed out that such ethical systems had a basic problem outlined in the Euthyphro Dilemma. Applied to this situation the dilemma for “divine command” ethicists is – are “moral truths” ” good and just because God wills it.” Or does “God wills it because it is good and just.” Inevitably in any real situation such an ethicist is making her moral decision for her god by appealing to some other outside source of morality. Or they talk themselves into the silly position the apologist W. L. Craig did recently when he ended up justifying biblical infanticide, genocide and ethnic cleansing – because it was commanded by his god (see Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide).

The blogger resorted to an argument from authority by declaring “Euthyphro Dilemma has been well and truly dealt with by divine command meta-ethics. This has been done so many times I find it incredible that anyone still brings it up!” As far as he was concerned that was the end of it. No details were going to be discussed under his watch. And indeed, when I pointed out that  such an attitude is to be expected for “divine command” ethicists – “Such self deception is common in ideologically motivated groups of all types” –  and not to “be surprised that others aren’t convinced” – I was accused of “trolling.” And banned from further commenting!

Well, that’s another way of avoiding discussion, of avoiding the real world.


My message – question authority. But also be suspicious of arguments from lack of authority. Avoid arguments related to authority and get to the heart of the matter – the evidence.

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79 responses to “The argument from authority (or lack thereof)

  1. I am not sure you are entirely fair about some of the reviews od Dawkins. A lot of them said not that he did not have the right to talk about these issues, but that the CONTENT of his work was so poor that it demonstrated his lack of knowledge. They also go on to describe why the CONTENT describes this. Couple of things for you to read here that may broaden your understanding a little:

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/re-made-in-america-remembering-the-new-atheism-2006-2011/

    old chestnut http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-god-delusion-by-richard-dawkins-425934.html

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  2. Max – I am not sure you are being entirely fair in your comment. After all I didn’t set out to analyze every single review did I? Nor am I making a blanket claim – just that this approach has been common in reviews by apologists and accomadationists.

    And really one important point I am making is that the argument is often from lack of authority (well poisoning) as in “his work was so poor that it demonstrated his lack of knowledge.” That is still a way of avoiding the issue and really it only discredits the user. After all in a science seminar if the speaker does present poor work we deal with that by discussing the work and it’s faults. A front-on dismissal confined to calling the work poor would be seen as indicating a problem held by the critic.

    I read both the articles you link. They don’t impress me – but that is not surprising considering their firm and strident ideological position.. Both do use a form of the argument from authority or lack thereof. But they also mix this in with straw mannery, etc. I guess that is also fairly common.

    But the blatant use of argument from authority or lack thereof is still a common theological way of avoiding issues. Glenn and Matt provide plenty of examples – and given that they both should understanding logical fallacies I can’t help feeling it is intentional.

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  3. “Max – I am not sure you are being entirely fair in your comment. After all I didn’t set out to analyze every single review did I? Nor am I making a blanket claim – just that this approach has been common in reviews by apologists and accomadationists. ”

    Fair enough…. although this statement:

    “And that particular review seems to have been used as a template for almost all reviews by religious apologists of books written by the so-called “new atheists.” It’s become a knee jerk reaction ”

    does make is seem as though you are making a blanket statement just a little bit…. and you really have to stop confusing amatuar bloggers with scholars!

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  4. I think a large proportion of religious apologists classified as “scholars” really couldn’t be compared with the best bloggers – the quality of their work is so questionable. Take Plantinga’s recent attempts to claim there is a conflict between science and religion (he equates “naturalism” or “atheism” with religion for this argument. Or his claim that unguided revolution just can’t explain human ability to comprehend its environment. In this he bases all his biochemical argument and faith on ID proponent Behe – and ignored all other biochemists! Or his claim that atheists have something wrong with their brains because that don’t automatically believe in his god without evidence!

    Now, compare that sort of “scholarship” with the writings of evolutionary scientist bloggers like Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers.

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  5. Pingback: The argument from authority or lack thereof | Open Parachute | Secularity (under construction)

  6. I’m always amazed at how people so casually dismiss the existence of Santa without having any real qualifications to do so. Imagine someone holding forth on Santapologetics whose only knowledge of the subject is watching the first 10 minutes of “A miracle on 34th street” and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on the existence of Santa Claus.”

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  7. Cedric is onto it. The christian apologists casually dismiss the cargo cultists, when there is (was?) compelling physical evidence for a Cargo God, and lots of good stories as ‘evidence’ too. Haven’t they done some real reading on this?

    And it’s surprising that Christchurch, NZ, people haven’t got a Poseidon Church going, when evidence for Poseidon (the God of Earthquakes) is all around them. Those christian apologists should be thumbing through the ancient Greek texts to get up to speed.

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  8. What a lot of the reviews I have read have done is to look at the arguments Dawkins has addressed and his counter arguments and shown that he does not have a very good level of philosophical/logical reasoning. Ie. they are directly addressing the content and then concluding that Dawkins lacks any expertise or reasoning skills.

    But perhaps we have looked at different reviews.

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  9. Max, my perception is that, yes, many have actually referred to some of the details – but as for “addressing” the points this is almost always done in a biased way, often using arguments which amount to strawmannery (as in McGrath’s , many writings on the book). Reminds me of the different answers people get applying Bayse theorem to the probability of a god’s existence. Depending on one’s ideological starting point one can get 97% or 0.01%. And this is why I am so cynical of the use of the word “scholars” to refer to many/most of these critics, including Glenn and Matt who consider themselves in this category.

    Mind you, this sort of problem may not be picked up by the reader who is already in that ideological camp. Isn’t that always the way?

    Actually, very few theologically inclined reviewers get the point. Dawkins’ book was not a philosophical screed or theological one (and no, he doesn’t have specific skills in that area – although as a scientist his logic and reasoning skills are pretty highly honed. [“Philosophical” skills can sometimes be a disadvantage in this area]). His book was a consciousness raising exercise and Dawkins has often admitted some areas of it are thin (as for example an evolutionary analysis of the origins of religion) – they were not meant as detailed analyses.

    So, that sort of criticism borders on strawmannery as well.

    Despite not being all things to all people (no books ever are) the book has been immensely successful in its declared task. And I strongly believe this has been helped by the negative, and often puerile, criticism from the theologically inclined. It was timely and marketed immensely well – none of this is attributable to Richard (I don’t think he has any skills in this area – he leaves it to his expert publishers).

    It is a book that has sold incredibly well. It has changed lives. And it certainly changed my personal opinion of the author. Like any book I have ever read there are bits I disagree with or find pointless. But this is perfectly natural and doesn’t take away anything from the very real impact this book has had.

    And giving credit where it is due, this impact has been helped immensely (I think) by the negative theological and accomadationist reviews and the knee jerk reaction of dogmatic and strident theists.

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  10. By the way, Max, my criticism of the argument from authority or lack thereof is not restricted to theistic philosophers and theologians. I am also critical of non-theistic philosophers who exhibit the same arrogance. That’s why Chomsky’s point was so relevant.

    In my writings and blog readings on human morality I have very often found the same approach from non-theistic philosophers. The same argument that one should not comment in this area unless one has a doctorate in philosophy (follow the debates between Coyne and Massimo Pugliati, for example). Just consider the so-called “Hume’s law” – I am amazed at how often this is used inappropriately by these expert philosophers to deny the credibility of people writing on morality.

    It may have something to do with protecting territory in vague areas – and therefore is less common for natural scientists. But to me it just seems like professional jealousy.

    Why not deal with each issue on the evidence and as it stands?

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  11. Yes his book was a success, and I am sure it changed a lot of peoples lives.

    However it is still important to identify what sort of work it is – which I think you have done well. It is as you say largly a propaganda/apologetics work – and not really a philosophical work. I would actually classify much of McGraths work in the same category. Ideologically driven apologetics which sets out from the start to defend a view rather than to actually seek understanding.

    I look on both sets of apologists (whether atheists or theists) with the same opinion: both use onesided arguments, both fail to address the other sides views in a fair manner.

    So as you say his work is a success – and has probably converted many people (as he intended) … but is not a success in actually adding anything new to the debate or honestly addressing the issues involved.

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  12. No, Max, I didn’t describe it as a propaganda/apologetics book.

    And it does have the intention of far more than “defending a view.” Which comes back to it’s time and place. This was a time when people were getting really pissed off with religion – not only because of the violence of 2001, but also of the arrogant intrusion into science and people’s lives. Religion had patently proved it could not understand or describe reality or human morality – yet keeps pretending that it does. Dawkins’ publisher picked up on this and decided the time had come.

    While I don’t like the term “new atheists” there are ways in which this phenomenon is new. For the first time people are not afraid to call a spade a spade in this area – and this has been particularly valuable from a scientific viewpoint.

    No, it didn’t add anything to the debate about religion and gods – but why should it. Has any book done this in the last century? I don’t think so – all the arguments are old and rehashed. This is partly why I think the “god debate is a mug’s game – it looks back instead of forward

    Dawkins and his mates did add something to recognising that atheism is just as valid a view as any other – more so because it has facts and science on its side. Rather than defending a view it was asserting this view and that is what has upset the accomadationists and theologically inclined.

    And I don’t think you can in any way support your implication that the book is dishonest..

    OK – it’s good that you can see McGrath’s scholarship is not real – but what about all the others? Do any of the theological scholars have anything new or serious to add? Seriously?

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  13. “No, Max, I didn’t describe it as a propaganda/apologetics book.”

    I must have misread you. Sorry.

    “And it does have the intention of far more than “defending a view.” ”

    What I meant by this is that Dawkins starting point was one of atheism, and this was also going to be his conclusion. There was no sense that he was open to looking at the arguments and deciding upon their merit which way the evidence lay. It is in this sense that I call it a work in apologetics. Much like Christian apologetics works are not genuinly open to looking at the evidence and seeing where it leads and being honestly open to all sides of the debate.

    “And I don’t think you can in any way support your implication that the book is dishonest..”

    I don’t think it is “dishonest” as such. i just don’t think anyone could think that Dawkins was really looking at the arguments he addresses in an unbiased manner. He started off determined to come to one and only one conclusion.

    “OK – it’s good that you can see McGrath’s scholarship is not real – but what about all the others? Do any of the theological scholars have anything new or serious to add? Seriously?”

    I am not really a theologian as such. But like you I find a lot of theological works to be circular and one sided. the difference is that I placea lot of the atheist religion hounds in the same camp whereas it seems to me you have double standards.

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  14. I think Dawkins, like many people who currently don’t believe in gods, say that if there were credible evidence supporting a god hypothesis they would accept that. have a read of his 30th anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene where he has a set of notes outlining areas where he was originally mistaken and explains how he has revised his views.

    This is quite normal in science – so in that sense his approach was not circular. Contrast that with religious apologists who have declared that they would not give up their belief even if the evidence proved them wrong.

    So I don’t see in any way that it is a double standard for me to acknowledge that theology starts with it’s conclusion whereas science starts with the evidence. Not at all – its not a matter of balance or level playing fields. One epistemology works the other does not.

    The fact remains that while little in Dawkins book was probably new to me (except perhaps his discussion of the fine-tuning argument) the book still has value tor readers because it rehearses the scientific explanation to the theological attacks.Inevitably such books will.

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  15. Yes it is common in science. My point is that Dawkins is no more scientific when it comes to his assessement of religion than and other apologist. religious or otherwise.

    You are right that theology does often start with the conclusion. What you are failing to see is that when Dawkins steps into debates about religion he does exactly the same thing.

    I know it is sometimes hard to look at ones hero objectivly – but this is what I am encouraging you to do.

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  16. There is a difference between the scientific ethos and human nature. That is why science is very unnatural to us, while theological thinking is not.

    In these sort of debates we all behave in the natural way – start with our position (after all we have often invested a lot of time, evidence and reason in reaching that position), and then present arguments for our position. Perfectly natural and, in itself, not scientific (but often how science starts before we collect the evidence). That’s why I dislike debates, as positions start as being entrenched.

    But I can understand it when Dawkins and others say they would change their views in light of evidence. That is also my attitude. The fact remains that in this debate there has never been a credible structured god hypothesis to consider. Consequently we haven’t anything to challenge our current evidence and reasoning. That is why most of the arguments are old hat.

    it is not a matter of heroes – or demons. I have thought badly (basically for ideological reasons) of Dawkins for over 30 years – a waste as consequently I had never read his books. My current attitude is now based on his writings, talks and one small personal interaction with him.

    I am too old to have idols – they always turn out to have feet of clay and I have no illusions about Dawkins faults. He is human.

    It’s just that the human faults I see in him are not the same as the ones you and his many detractors see. I suggest they are more objectively determined (now) for a start.

    And there is an incredible amount of rubbish written about the man, from all sides.

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  17. Yes. When Dawkins is doinf science he is a scientist. When he is doing philosophy however he is a philosopher. And what his critics say is that he is a bad one. As demonstrated by his attempts at philosophy.

    I agree about debates being a useless forum for any real learning/discussion. And I suppose I see books like The God Dellusion (and the equivalents on the Christian side) as a sort of on paper debate… and I dislike them for much the same reason.

    I have NEVER seen someone in one of these “god” debates suddenly pause and say… “huh. You have a really good point there. i will have to think that one over… but you have me stumped.”… and as you often point out this is the sort of comment you WOULD find in a scientific forum.

    Dawkins acts no differently in either debates or his books, and this is why I bundle him in with the Christian apologists. Same coin. Different sides.

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  18. Two points, Max.

    1: This playing the man rather than the ball is cowardly. That’s why I keep saying that one should deal with the issues, the actual arguments, evidence and data. Instead to continually denigrate the messenger avoids the argument. It attempts to create a situation where anything associated with the name Dawkins is automatically rejected out of hand because he is “shrill, strident, angry, fundamentalist and a bad philosopher.” This is cowardly and a huge problem with the argument from authority or lack thereof.

    This is a common political tactic – eg an extreme example being the Maoists labeling opponents as “capitalist roaders” and McCarthy labeling “communists” with drastic and deadly consequences. As well as covering up the real issues.

    It’s dishonest and cowardly.

    2: have a look at The God Delusion. Most chapters are on questions of science – and Dawkins does actually acknowledge his lack of knowledge in areas like quantum physics, climate change etc. (He is known and respected for his humility on such matters). He defers to the experts. (He actually does this also in philosophy – just that he thinks people like Dennett are better philosophers than Plantinga and Craig. I certainly think he is correct there. And like many scientists he thinks that theology, as popularly understood, is not a real area of honest scholarship).

    Now questions like “irreducible complexity,” evolutionary science, fine tuning, origin of the universe, Bayesian arguments, roots of morality, education of children, defense and protection of children, homosexuality and rights of women, NOMA, aesthetics, etc (I am just leafing through his list of contents) are justifiably scientific questions – at least in large part. Yet your mates want to deny a scientist’s right to discuss such issues – and do so by calling it philosophy!

    Again such an approach is cowardly – redefining arguments as “philosophy or theology” and calling Dawkins’ well respected scientific expertise “bad philosophy.”

    I am extremely happy to follow details of arguments that are raised in books like this and welcome the opportunity to follow critiques of them. But such playing the man rather than the ball and denigrating the role of science in understanding reality just turn me off. They are a sign of cowardice and weakness (and usually arrogance).

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  19. Who are “my mates”

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  20. Other than curiosity over who I am being grouped with. No further comment as you don’t really disagree with me. We both think arguments should be judged on their merits, not by who made them. I just think there are a lot better atheist philosophers out there. Mackie say. I honestly don’t think Dawkins God book would have been published if he was not an expert in another field. So the authoririty argument you want to reject is very much in play with his work. Unlike Dennnet or Mackie, I don’t think Dawkins’ work stands alone without the big name.

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  21. Max, of course there are more capable atheist philosophers than Dawkins. Just as there are more capable cabbages, or climate scientists than Dawkins. He doesn’t pretend to be a philosopher, cabbage or climate scientist and, as I say, defers to experts. I think to a fault as in my criticism of his latest book The Magic of Reality. Here he deferred and omitted when I though he was still capable of making important points.

    Dawkins book was published because he is an excellent science communicator and writer. Many people value and appreciate those skills. And they do appreciate him recognizing spades for what they are.

    And part of the appreciation people have derived from his ability to live up to his advice of asking “how do you know that?”

    Now, if you thought this was just a matter of philosophy why aren’t those philosophers you recommend now a household name instead of Richard? Why aren’t they publishing best seller books? And why aren’t they attracting huge crowds when they speak?

    Perhaps the answer is not just in them not having the right communication skills. Perhaps people don’t see “philosophy” as particularly important in this area. And if that us their attitude it’s a bit difficult, short of professional arrogance, finding arguments to counter it.

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  22. Sorry to disturb you two but I have a fantastic example of the scientific mind able to to engage on issues rather than rhetoric.

    This article (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10775272) was published on Boxing Day by Phillip Yock, Asst Prof of Physics, Auckland University.

    Apart from being bloody lucky to have someone like him make the mainstream media and comment, take a look at the comments section. In it, Prof. Yock takes the time to listen and evaluate argument based on content – even when the comment is prefaced by “I don’t know much about physics but…….”

    It really does fit well into Ken’s model

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  23. Good question. I guess the answer might be similar to the answer to “why are braindead televangelists so popular”…. because people appreciate style and charisma over content! And this applies to the atheist as much as the theist unfortunatly.

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  24. Oh. And who are my “mates”!😉

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  25. No, Max, your failed that one. Often philosophy is just irrelevant to what we are interested in. I guess I am equating such philosophers, who divert attention by demanding proof that we aren’t brains in a vat with your silly televangelist. Science actually trumps philosophy when it comes to the real world. perhaps people want real content, not pretend content.

    My use of “mates” was just a loose term inclusive of all those reviewers whose approach you were defending and I was attacking. I thought that was obvious – not meant to be insulting to you.

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  26. Thanks XChequer | – I had seen the article but, yes, the comments are interesting. If Yok had insulted the commenters by telling them their science was bad, and stopping there, he would only have alienated everyone. I suggest that is what happens when so-called philosophers respond to honest arguments by telling us we need to do a PhD in philosophy before we can possible comment are doing the same.

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  27. But the televangelist is successful precicily because they DO tap into the fears and hopes of humanity… in exactly the way the “brain in a vat” style philosopher does not. I don’t see how you are equating the two.

    Re: Mates. That is OK then… I was fearing you were grouping me in with Matt and Glenn!@

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  28. Well these televangelist don’t tap into anything positive with me. I think they just turn thinking people off, or provide humour. As do a lot of naive philosophers and theologians.

    Far cry from those credible scientists who do a good job of communicating science – even if they do have to suffer a bit of professional jealousy.

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  29. There are an abundance of amateurs constantly inventing perpetual motion machines, free energy, or solving Fermat’s Last Therorem. Unless they are credentialled physicists or mathematicians it is perfectly normal for academic journals to dismiss them as cranks.

    The same applies to your beloved Dawkins.

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  30. Yes, ropata, I think Dawkins also dismisses them as cranks.

    A problem in philosophy and sociology though is often the cranks do get into the journals – as demonstrated in the Sokal hoax.

    Perhaps that explains all those stupid screed written by theologians these days – are they all hoaxes?

    But isn’t the joke on those poor benighted people who treat these people as authorities?

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  31. “But the televangelist is successful precicily because they DO tap into the fears and hopes of humanit”

    Ahhh, fears, eh? The proven fertile breeding ground for the theist

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  32. No.. they don’t tap into anything POSITIVE perhaps. But unlike the “brain in a vat” philosopher they tap into real human emotions and needs. That is why they are so successful. The sort of philosopher you mention does not do this.

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  33. XChequer. Indeed tapping into fear is a powerful motivator and can be used for all sorts of evil: getting poor people to hand over their money, inciting racism, making people kill in wars, making people buy your brand of pimple lotion… etc. etc.

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  34. Yip. Fear of missing out is a prime marketing tool.

    “getting poor people to hand over their money, inciting racism, making people kill in wars, making people buy your brand of pimple lotion”

    Lets fisk this.

    Poor people handing over money – Could be any number of churches, take your pick, I believe they call it Tithing.

    Inciting racism – Lets all hate the heretics who worship false gods, damned muslims etc. Yup, check. Anyone of somany churches. Anyone who thinks that this doesn’t happen in real life needs to take a trip to the US. And these guys are our hope for a brighter global future. Thats not to say that the perversion of Islam is any better. Oh, and stand up Catholicism and take a bow – nobody over more centuries has got institutional racism down as pat as the Catholic Church.

    Making people kill in wars – Oh boy where do I start? Shall we get medieval on it with the crusades or go to something a little more current where many people living in the US (and elsewhere) believe that the Iraq War, Afghanistan etc is something of a Holy War, “my gods bigger than your god” type thing, Lets get the infidels (Heh! It works in both religions!) etc

    Making people buy your brand of pimple lotion – ……ok, I sorta fall down on that point.

    But lets face it, Saatchi and Saatchi should really bow down to the likes of the Catholic Church who have been, for years, the acknowledged experts in fear and loathing – collectively summed up in the term Marketing.

    Sorry all, just saw those words and had a rational bout of theist distaste that had nothing to do with this thread and everything to do with me missing Chris Hitchens.

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  35. Yes. You can find these sorts of faults in any organization. Including the Catholic Church.

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  36. And this applies to the atheist as much as the theist unfortunatly.

    That magical balance fairy has entered the room.

    I honestly don’t think Dawkins God book would have been published if he was not an expert in another field.

    You “think” so? Honestly? I see.

    So the authoririty argument you want to reject is very much in play with his work.

    Because…you think so? Ah.
    Assertions are such wonderful things.

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  37. Oh God help us… can you fix your spam filter please Ken?

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  38. Fair enough Cedric. So what is YOUR analysis of this blog? What is YOUR analysis of my assertions. Give some of YOUR thoughts. Would be good to hear YOUR views.

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  39. There is more to theology than fundamentalist protestantism. The NZ bloggers getting all the air play here seem to be far removed from many serious theologians of liberal or catholic views.

    I suspect there are PhD’s in theology, and DD’s, out there who would laugh these NZ bloggers out of court. Pope Benedict, for starters.Where that leaves the rest of us, hard to know. Limbo, maybe?

    Meantime, in the real world of the US, where ‘faith’ (and mega $’s) can elect presidents, the Republican primaries are overflowing with hot gospellers. And the religious vote for the catholic Rick Santorum is now being closely analysed.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-gehring/the-catholic-case-against_b_1184224.html

    Hard to see how the US southern baptists (conservative, fundamentalist protestants) could support him, to begin with. Yet he got lots of Iowa votes. Maybe some of our theological commentators can explain all this?

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  40. “The NZ bloggers getting all the air play here seem to be far removed from many serious theologians of liberal or catholic views. ”

    Very well spotted. It is a great shame that some people read the NZ blogs and think that this is a good representation of Christianity in New Zealand… it ain’t!

    Like

  41. Fair enough Cedric. So what is YOUR…

    No, that won’t do.
    What I said was fair enough. Leave it at that.

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  42. The hypocrisy of this blog and Ken’s acolytes astounds me once again. Surely if any argument is worse than the appeal to authority it is an appeal to the “merits” of ignorance! Which is what Ken’s “defense” of Dawkins amounts to.

    When it comes to theology and philosophy Dawkins is utterly inept. Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against God so eloquently that dudes like Ken and Cedric applaud uncritically.

    Another fail for the blog’s purported aim to open minds.

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  43. Gosh, when I see the words “hypocrisy” and “acolyte”, I always think of religion in its many guises for some reason. Can’t think why.

    When religion tries to explain itself with science, does no one else see the irony? And when religion, blind as it is to its own shortcomings, then abandons evidentialism for the self supporting nature of itself – i.e. you must believe because……well, you just MUST! – well, then regular people just don’t get it, eh?

    When people manufacture an “industry of cool”, an industry of I can explain religion with logic even though by its own nature it is illogical – but worthy of serious discussion nevertheless.

    If anything is failing to open minds, evidence suggests that it is organised religion, ropata. The evidence being a lack of people going to church.

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  44. When it comes to theology and philosophy Dawkins is utterly inept.

    Ah, the courtier’s reply.

    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against God…

    Oops!
    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against Santa…
    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against pixies…
    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against the Flying Spaghetti Monster…
    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against Baal…
    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against Zeus…

    (giggle)

    Tell us ropata, how much inchoate rage do you have against Orisis?

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” —Stephen F Roberts

    Like

  45. XChequer, I agree with much of your hugely generalised critique of religion. Is that supposed to be a defense of Dawkins-ism?

    Like

  46. No. It was a defense of rational thought, argument and logic in the face of religion.

    Like

  47. Cedric never actually has any of his OWN ideas or opinions. Telling that!

    Come on Cedric. What is YOUR analysis of the blog and my comments?

    Like

  48. The “Courtier’s Reply” is [over] used when atheists are attacking …
    When scholarly commentary is cited on [a] point, it’s then that the atheist retreats to the Courtier’s Reply; ‘Oh I don’t care about your scholarship, I don’t need to know anything about the Ancient Near East milieu, I don’t need to know anything about Hebrew and Greek, I don’t need to refer to the scholarly consensus on the interpretation of this passage, I can just dismiss your interpretation because I don’t believe in God so the Bible is just junk anyway’. It’s a limpwristed way of running away from the argument when the facts become difficult.

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  49. Cedric never…

    It’s not about me.
    It’s about you.

    I honestly don’t think Dawkins God book would have been published if he was not an expert in another field.

    You “think” so? Honestly? I see.

    So the authoririty argument you want to reject is very much in play with his work.

    Because…you think so? Ah.
    Assertions are such wonderful things.

    Fair enough Cedric.

    Yes, it is fair enough.
    You have nothing. Distractions will not save you.

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  50. ‘Oh I don’t care about your scholarship, I don’t need to know anything about the Ancient Near East milieu, I don’t need to know anything about Hebrew and Greek, I don’t need to refer to the scholarly consensus on the interpretation of this passage, I can just dismiss your interpretation because I don’t believe in God so the Bible is just junk anyway’.

    Oh goody.

    Oh I don’t care about your scholarship, I don’t need to know anything about the North Pole, I don’t need to know anything about Carols and bedtime stories, I don’t need to refer to the scholarly consensus on the interpretation of this passage, I can just dismiss your interpretation because I don’t believe in Santa so “Miracle on 34th Street” is just junk anyway’

    Good times.
    (sniff)

    Santapologetics

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  51. Cedric you seem to have lost the point somewhere.. oh that’s right you never had one.
    But you do provide a fine example of the facile type of rhetoric that Dawkins-drones seem to admire.

    Meanwhile there are some serious reviews out there that summarily dispatch the Dawkins canards.

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  52. You are continually wrong.
    All I have to do to make your assertions about your magic, invisible sky daddy look dumb is just to switch the labels around.
    There’s no need to change a thing.

    All you can do is vent and chew the furniture.

    Oh I don’t care about your scholarship, I don’t need to know anything about India, I don’t need to know anything about Vedic scripture and the richness of the Hindu pantheon, I don’t need to refer to the scholarly consensus on the interpretation of this passage, I can just dismiss your interpretation because I don’t believe in Vishnu so “Bhagavad Gita” is just junk anyway’

    Beautiful. So very beautiful.

    Like

  53. Cedric you are “not even wrong“. Possibly even worse than Dawkins chapter 4 where he plays his “trump card.”

    He claims that a God who could create a universe must be much more complicated than the universe is. Complex beings can only appear through evolution so for a God to pop into existence without a cause is vanishingly unlikely. It is impossible to overstate how bad this argument is and yet Dawkins is extremely proud of it. He is like a small child who has just created a mud pie and expects bounteous praise for his artistic genius. The scientific standard model tells us time began with the big bang. The universe came from somewhere without time, from eternity, and in that case all bets on probability are off. It is senseless to say that one eternity is more or less likely than another. With eternity to play with, nothing is unlikely. Indeed everything might be a certainty. As for evolution, it is an algorithm that cannot occur with time to operate in and to invoke it in this case is daft. It is the sign of a man with a mania for evolution. At one point Dawkins dismissed the idea of God being eternal. How on earth can he justify that? An eternal being is the only way to end the infinite regress of creation and creators. Now you see how foolish Dawkins was to make light of the cosmological argument for God, which addresses just this question.

    This is just one example of why scholars in the fields concerned dismiss “The God Delusion” as a simplistic polemic. Yet Dawk’s dimwitted disciples think he’s done something original! How ironical.

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  54. One man’s “scholar” is another’s “dimwitted disciple.”

    Scholar is such a pretentious term.

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  55. Cedric you are “not even wrong“.

    You don’t seem to have read your own link.

    An argument that appears to be scientific is said to be not even wrong if it cannot be falsified…

    I’m not making an argument.
    You are.
    It’s your claim. I’m just borrowing it and switching the labels around.

    Observe:
    Of course atheists don’t think there is a God for theologians to study. So what? The argument must be to show that there is no God.

    Oh joy. Oh sweet joy.

    “Of course atheists don’t think there is a Santa for theologians to study. So what? The argument must be to show that there is no Santa.”

    In his arguments against God, the sloppy thinking gets even worse. We are repeatedly assured that a universe where God existed would be very different from one where he did not. This, Dawkins claims, makes God a scientific hypothesis. But we are never told how the universe would be different if God didn’t exist, or what experiment we should do to verify his non-existence. The treatment of the traditional proofs of God’s existence is largely an attack on straw men.

    Yay. The sweetmeats have arrived…

    In his arguments against sweaty, magic football socks, the sloppy thinking gets even worse. We are repeatedly assured that a universe where sweaty, magic football socks existed would be very different from one where he did not. This, Dawkins claims, makes sweaty, magic football socks a scientific hypothesis. But we are never told how the universe would be different if sweaty, magic football socks didn’t exist, or what experiment we should do to verify their non-existence. The treatment of the traditional proofs of sweaty, magic football socks’ existence is largely an attack on straw men.

    For me, the most significant argument for the existence of God is personal experience. Here, Dawkins’ treatment is grossly inaccurate. When he talks about the visions afforded to pilgrims by Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, when the sun was seen to dance, he says this didn’t happen because the rest of the world didn’t shake too. Given that the dancing sun was a vision, Dawkins’ counter is ridiculous. A vision shared by thousands of people must have an external cause and cannot be a trick of the mind.

    “For me, the most significant argument for the existence of sweaty, magic football socks is personal experience. Here, Dawkins’ treatment is grossly inaccurate. When he talks about the visions afforded to pilgrims by Our Unwashed Athlete of Gipperville in 1977, when the sun was seen to dance, he says this didn’t happen because the rest of the world didn’t shake too. Given that the dancing sun was a vision, Dawkins’ counter is ridiculous. A vision shared by thousands of people must have an external cause and cannot be a trick of the mind.”

    Devastating intellect there. Not.

    Like

  56. Darn, almost forgot…

    At one point Dawkins dismissed the idea of God being eternal. How on earth can he justify that? An eternal being is the only way to end the infinite regress of creation and creators. Now you see how foolish Dawkins was to make light of the cosmological argument for God, which addresses just this question.

    “At one point Dawkins dismissed the idea of Ganesha being eternal. How on earth can he justify that? An eternal being (Ganesha) is the only way to end the infinite regress of creation and creators. Now you see how foolish Dawkins was to make light of the cosmological argument for Ganesha, which addresses just this question.”

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  57. In other words your only defense of Dawkins inanity is a further retreat into moronic mockery and anti intellectualism. What a sad state this blog has declined to. Now I remember why I stopped bothering …

    Like

  58. …is a further retreat into moronic mockery and anti intellectualism.

    It’s your arguments.
    Not mine.
    Yours.
    Yours and the childlike theologian that you linked to.

    I just borrowed your arguments and switched the labels around.

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  59. In my mid-20s I decided to refute Christianity to set my conscience at ease. Two subjects that I turned to in order to accomplish this were philosophy and science. They backfired on me. Several months later, I very reluctantly accepted Christ.

    This is how he thinks about himself.
    His conscience was not at ease. Exactly why, we don’t know. Perhaps he killed and ate the still-warm flesh of a small child? Perhaps he was a Christian having a teen-ageish crisis of faith? Perhaps he was a Christian having a teen-ageish crisis of faith because he killed and ate the still-warm flesh of a small child?
    No matter.
    His conscience was not at ease and he wanted to ease it so…he decided to refute Christianity.
    Okaay. That makes sense. Not.

    So he turns to philosophy and science.
    To refute Christianity.
    Yeah, sure.

    But it all went wrong and he ended up accepting Christ after a few months.

    (…awkward silence…)

    That has to be one of the most trite testimonials I have ever read on the internet.

    Allow me to demonstrate:

    In my mid-20s I decided to refute Mormonism to set my conscience at ease. Two subjects that I turned to in order to accomplish this were philosophy and science. They backfired on me. Several months later, I very reluctantly accepted the teachings of Joseph Smith.

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  60. Ropata. Just ignore the kid. He has no ideas or thoughts of his own. Don’t waste your time.

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  61. He has no ideas or thoughts of his own.

    They are not my arguments at all.
    I’m just borrowing them and switching the labels around.

    You are left chewing the furniture.

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  62. Exactly. No original ideas.

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  63. What part of “They are not my arguments at all.” and
    “I’m just borrowing them and switching the labels around.” do you not understand?

    Of course they are not my ideas. Original or otherwise.
    Stop listening to the voices in your head, Max.

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  64. Scholar is such a pretentious term.
    Still struggling to understand why a published scientist like Ken would suddenly decide that academic credentials are now irrelevant?

    Sean Carroll wrote a worthwhile article on this topic: Trusting Experts. An insightful comment:

    As a social scientist and a professor who teaches his students never to accept authority blindly (in matters of social science, at least), I think your final point is spot on (and more important than your first two). People have more of an incentive to accept or disregard authority in socio-economic and political matters–such as the Laffer Curve–whereas few people tie up their identity with supersymmetry or the germ theory of disease, for example.

    Or perhaps there is some kind of intellectual snobbery at work? Ken has often expressed disdain for philosophy despite the fact that its very purpose is intellectual rigour.

    As a mathematics major I agree with xkcd: http://xkcd.com/435/🙂

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  65. Cedric… no not worth my time.

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  66. Keep telling yourself that. Maybe it will help.

    They are not my arguments at all.
    They never were.
    I’m just borrowing them and switching the labels around.
    You are left chewing the furniture.

    Whining about how I have “no original ideas” is hugely unimpressive.
    Stop listening to the voices in your head.
    Perhaps you should pray on it?

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  67. Cedric do you know the difference between a rational, factual debate & sarcastic trolling?
    Some of us are trying to respond honestly to Ken’s challenge. What you are doing is infantile and a waste of bandwidth.

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  68. Come off it Ropata! You admit yourself you only come here to amuse yourself. If you were at all serious you wouldn’t be so childishly aggressive.

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  69. Get over yourself ropata.
    You are continuously wrong. And a windbag and dishonest.

    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against God…

    What’s not to love about rich material like that? It’s just begging to have it’s labels switched around.
    It’s a perfectly simple and reasonable thing to do and it’s amazingly effective. Not as a mockery but to show how horribly flawed such claims are.
    You don’t have a response except chewing the furniture.

    I don’t hate you. I know nothing about you.
    You are just a disembodied anonymous person on the internet.
    I am so secure in my position that I don’t have to play guessing games about your age or education. It doesn’t concern me.
    You are nothing to me-in a good way.
    I have no interest in making ad hominem attacks.

    Yet your magical superstitions are fair game for criticism.
    It’s not a “no go” zone for me. That doesn’t make me a bigot. It makes me a skeptic. It makes me interested in the truth.
    When I make a statement I can back it up with examples.
    Before I type, I try and challenge my own statement and fact check everything.
    It’s what I do.
    It’s the very essence of me.

    When somebody makes an airhead assertion then I will ask them to quote or give specific examples. I’ll ask for evidence.
    I’m smart that way.
    When they try to wheedle or come up with a shoddy hair-brained example or change the topic or ask me what “MY” opinion is then…I have them.
    And I will ride that little cretin all the way home with tidings of comfort and joy.

    If however, someone has the good grace to fairly and honestly defend their position then they earn my respect. If they find that they made an assertion that, upon reflection, they can’t support properly and they withdraw said assertion then…I am disarmed by their candor and honesty. They are home free. I can’t touch them.

    You and others like you don’t argue.
    You assert and then you are shocked and pissed off that others don’t meekly accept your assertions.
    Science deniers of all stripes always perform the same ritual dance steps.
    Yet the very fact that you can only whine and twist and throw insults around should tell you how weak is your position.

    I use insults too. A spade deserves to be called a spade. It doesn’t make me the bad guy. It makes me honest.
    Somebody says something stupid? I’ll cut them some slack…the first time.
    Yet if they keep doing it then I’ll gleefully get stuck into them.
    I’ll be happy to call them and their position stupid. I will with great happiness quote their dull-witted statements in full back at them when they try and weasel and and pull the wool over people’s eyes.
    I love quotes. Love ’em.

    Sometimes, I’ve misjudged a person and gone off-half cocked. Yet I’m big enough to admit to a mistake and apologize. It happens.

    You are the infantile one. I’m doing the right thing.

    Atheism – How many gods do YOU not believe in?

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  70. Comprehension fail.. I have written a good half dozen critiques of the OP (with hyperlinks), but the only response has been some lazy insults, silly semantics, and claims that I am angry about something?? I guess there’s no defense like an off topic rant eh Cedric’?

    I am not trying to establish the existence of a particular God (that would be off topic) I am simply gobsmacked that Ken thinks credentials and expertise in entire academic disciplines are somehow irrelevant because a soil scientist or a zoologist says so.

    Absolute idiocy.

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  71. Why do you lie?

    Behold the power of the quote:

    Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against God…

    You can’t do anything except chew the furniture.

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  72. Again you fail to understand … the context was a critique of Dawkins lack of expertise in philosophy. Evidently you are even worse.

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  73. … the context was a critique of Dawkins lack of expertise in philosophy.

    So what?
    What you said was wrong.
    There is no atheist rage against invisible, magic sky people and there is no need for Dawkins to express it.
    Atheists don’t rage against invisible, pink unicorns either.
    It’s absurd.

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  74. There is no atheist rage against invisible, magic sky people and there is no need for Dawkins to express it.
    riiiight, and Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Hitchens wrote “science books” that had nothing to do with God (cough, cough)

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  75. Ropata. Don’t waste your time replying to the kid. AS you have observed he has no actual thoughts of his own. When asked for his own oinion nothing is ever forthcoming.

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  76. …riiiight, and Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Hitchens wrote “science books” that had nothing to do with God…

    That statement does not support your previous statement.
    It does not follow.
    You are evading and just waving your hands about.

    Atheists don’t hate magic, invisible sky people.
    It’s truly dumb to say so.
    This is why you are unable to back up your statement with evidence.
    There’s no quote or interview from you where Dawkins is doing what you claim.
    You are lying.

    Like

  77. Correction: That should be “rage” not “hate.

    As in…Yet he expresses the atheist’s inchoate rage against God…

    Idle twaddle.

    Like

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