It’s Got To Be Seen To Be Believed

Things Richard Dawkins Doesn’t Like To Think About
As you know from previous Zoomtardage, I have through the course of my short career as a professional Christian had to deal often and in public with the two great media-fuelled challenges to historic Christianity. First there was the amusing but very trivial Da Vinci Code (remember all that falluhahaha?) and over the last few months there has been the slightly less amusing but slightly less trivial God Delusion published by Richard Dawkins. I even got to debate the venerable Professor but that was a damp squib if ever there was one. Someday I might get to date him, which is really something I tend to do better than debate.

In the course of reading The God Delusion I was genuinely disappointed at how repetitive the arguments posed were and even more, how Dawkins had lost all the style and aplomb of his earlier great works. It was like Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, without the dignity that comes with being Bertrand (when he is read by a Computer Science student (see Bertrand did some pretty wow! maths in the early 20th Century before becoming a professional atheist)). It doesn’t help that he relies on AN Wilson as his reference point during his chapter on the New Testament. AN Wilson is a newspaper columnist. It would be like me writing a book on evolution and basing what I have said on Mr. Duffy who taught me general science during the Junior Cert. For all the media guff spoken about these books, people are still coming to church on Sundays. Admitedly only 3% of the population do and 2% of the population are clergy.

But shut up already, ok?

For the benefit of your brain muscles (and your soul if you think you have one), here are some thoughts that The New Atheism would have a tough time wrestling with.

Memes are Dawkins way of explaining how beliefs in God are mind viruses. Leaving aside that this has no evidential basis we must ask whether all ideas are memes or just the ideas that Dawkins disagrees with. Because what we end up with, if we think about it carefully, is the conclusion that if Christianity is a meme, then the idea that Christianity is a meme, is in fact a meme. It is a circular argument that doesn’t shed any light on the issue at hand. Do I believe in God because a mind virus has infected me or has a mind virus infected me because I believe in God?

Intellectual Heritage Of New Atheism
When I read the book the first time I heard the echoes of three great men- Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Freud (who first came up with the idea that religious belief was illusion as opposed to delusion) goes unmentioned and Dawkins briefly tips the cap to Karl and Ludwig. Feuerbach argued that humanity created gods in their own image, to symbolise and represent the deepest desires and values of their cultures. Since the Enlightenment Era, the Western societies have increasingly become convinced that God is a barrier to our liberation as people. If Feuerbach was right then the god we could expect Dawkins and the New Atheism to paint a god that didn’t exist and was an irrational obstacle to illumination. Thus, if Feuerbach can explain away Christianity, he explains away the new Atheism as well.

Is Belief An Evolutionary By-Product?
I first came across the idea of an evolutionary explanation for belief in the work of a scientist called Paul Bloom. It caused a great deal of thought in me. Then I came across the work of Justin Barrett who is a neuroscientist in Queens University in Belfast. If religious belief is only a byproduct of our naturally selected minds having produced no direct fitness benefits in our evolutionary past, so too are a host of scientific beliefs, including the belief in natural selection itself. This observation leads to an uncomfortable problem for the anti-theist. If our brains (and the thoughts they generate) have arisen only because of their ability to produce survival-related behaviors and not Truth, how can we trust them to tell us the truth about such matters as, say, natural selection?

Atheism as worldview
Dawkins defines faith as “non-thinking”. He understands faith as belief in the face of evidence but I feel that faith is belief beyond the evidence, which is a subtle but crucial difference. I have faith. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that utterly influences my life. Dawkins however has a belief that equally affects how he views everything and that is his belief that there is no God. Both of us, like all human beings, have a worldview; the foundational beliefs that serve as the framework through which we engage with life and crucially, all worldviews are faith-based in that they can not be substantiated purely by scientific argument. His definition of faith is thus shown to be a flawed dichotomy drawn between his “scientism” worldview and say, your “humanist agnostic” worldview.

Having read and spoken about Dawkins’ latest book at length I conclude that the most important sentence to be wrestled with is this:
The natural order imposes no ideology on you.

The Second Man In The House Is Usurping The First

For the last few weeks Neuro and I have been hosting this gentleman here, Mr. Keith Adams:

Keith Says Hello, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

He isn’t so much a guest as a resident considering that he has donated the next six months of his life to work at the church. We are kicking him out at the end of the week however. It might sound cruel but we need to let him stand up on his own two legs. I mean, he has a degree in Physiotherapy so maybe he is a bit too old for Neuro to be combing his hair in the morning. As you can see, she does a mighty fine job of it.

Keith stayed with us for a few weeks so that he could adjust to the fast paced life of church work in Maynooth. Before this he lived in Belfast so he was lulled into a comfortable coma like all the other residents of that wretched wretched town. Whereas once he lived a life of lectures and partying and late night discussions about changing the world and early morning games of frisbee down on the beach (does Belfast even have a beach? It probably just half heartedly melds into the sea or something)…

Keith assures me that you have to go to Hollywood for a beach. That is down the posh end of Belfast.

Anyway, church life consists of much more reading, discussing big issues, late night brainstorming meetings, early morning socialising with a cool group of older guys… hey wait! My job is just like being in college. Thank you Keith Adams for reminding me of this fact.

Old Man Minister, my boss, has fled the country to go to a big wig Christian conference in America so for the week, I am Captain of Good Ship Presbyterian Church. I began my tenure yesterday morning by preaching a 74 minute long sermon on Leviticus and having an impromptu communion consisting of Big Mac meals torn into pieces and shared around. I like to think I stamped my own style on things.

The Important Knowledge For The Week
The New Testament Social Network has been mapped. Go learn, nerdlingers.

I did actually preach a killer sermon yesterday about scary things- debt, AIDS, trade, Africa and so on. I used these amazing maps to back up my point.

I first started to get the idea that I developed yesterday from this website which ranks you by your salary in terms of a global rich list. Its harder to gripe about my salary after visiting this site. Or wandering around my mansion.

You may not be learned enough to know that IQ tests tell you nothing more than how well you do on IQ tests but they can still be fun. This one is definitely fun. Smart or Stoopid.

I don’t know much about tennis but I do know that David Foster Wallace is a superb writer. He has this great article about Roger Federer, the tennis player and how watching him can be like a religious experience. All I knew about Federer was that his photo is printed on my racket cover and that he was from the same town as Karl Barth. That says alot about me, probably.

I know you didn’t imagine you would grow up to be the kind of person who would spend Monday mornings browsing maths websites. But then again, if you are a little bit older than me you didn’t grow up thinking about the web at all since it didn’t have any porn on it back then and no one knew what it was except for a few mathematicians. But the Tupper Self Referential formula is pretty impressive. You graph it and it produces the formula itself.

Some words are allegedly inherently funny. Sadly, my favourite, loghorrea is not included.

The Man tells me that it is impossible to sneeze with open eyes. Maybe this is the same Man who told me that scientifically speaking, 8 sneezes in a row was equivalent to the muscular spasming of an orgasm. I once sneezed 15 times in a row one hayfeverish morning. I didn’t fall asleep immediately though.

I have a strange feeling that my wife will be the one who finds the idea of going babytarian most amusing. Give up beef. Eat baby!

Your Correspondent, God’s Little Punchline

7 Responses to “It’s Got To Be Seen To Be Believed”

  1. Steve says:

    So, what you’re saying about Dawkins is that his theories actually demolish his own arguments? Something along the lines of “Our view of the world is created through our personal experiences and cannot be objectively proven to be the absolute truth.” Which, if followed through, suggests that God cannot be proven, but is simply a construct in our personal experiences. And, if followed through even more, like you suggest, means that evolution, atheism, pringles (Oh God, please no!!) are all similarly unprovable (not sure if it’s a word, but go with it), and potentially constructs of our experience.

    Oh, I like it.

    But where does that leave us, Z? Are we left in a world of no absolutes at all? How do we function? Where is there left for us to go?

    Or are you suggesting .. I don’t know – what are you suggesting?

  2. zoomtard says:

    Steve, maybe I have misread your comment but I would argue that the major tenets of the Dawkins argument are self-refuting. One’s view of the world is partially subjective because of our inherent finitude but I do not mean to suggest that science does not give us trustworthy findings about the universe.

    I am philosophically speaking a “Critical Realist”. I believe our observations about the world around us are substantial but they are not to be implictly trusted, instead we must always be appropriately skeptical of them (since we are all in some degree, influenced by our subjectivity).

    God, evolution and indeed pringles are all in some arts degree seminar sense, potentially constructs of our mind. You may be a solipsist and believe that all existence is a figment of your imagination. Those people exist and it may just happen that you are the one person who is correct in thinking that. I do not hold to it though.

    I believe that the universe can be trusted because it is ordered. I believe God ordered it. I do not however believe that the ordering in the universe can prove God (so I reject what is called the anthropic principle and its modern incarnation in the form of the psuedo-scientific “Intelligent Design” movement). The problems I have with ID are the exact same in many ways as I have with the New Atheism. They take scientific investigation and put it to use in metaphysics. They abuse it to support their worldview.

    I don’t entirely know what you are asking so I have tried to sketch a few points on my map for you Steve. I basically think Dawkins is wrong and illogical when he talks about God or the lack thereof or anything in the realm of ethics or metaphysics and very very sensible when he writes science.

    Sadly, that is a rarity these days.

  3. Amy says:

    Great post. thanks

  4. Steve says:

    Z, I think you answered what I was asking quite well. I meant through my comment to raise the question of how to deal with subjectivity. I don’t believe it’s all a figment of my or anyone else’s imaginations at all (it being everything in existence). But I do agree with you that there needs to be a measure of criticism with every encounter.

    I suppose I did get carried away with the “I like it” statement. What I like is not the idea of subjectivity and lack of absolutes, but the idea of his own argument being refuted by the very foundation and methods he uses.

    PS: I haven’t read Dawkin’s book, so understand that I’m speaking about the ideas raised here and not the book itself.

  5. zoomtard says:

    Steve, I wouldn’t recommend reading the book. Not because it poses some dangerous threat to your faith but quite the opposite. There are more robust books to read that will stretch you in your understanding of who God is.

    Basically, what I am saying is that whenever Dawkins talks about science he is speaking with integrity. Whenever he infers his atheistic views from science, he is speaking without integrity. He is also speaking illogically.

    Thanks for the comments Steve. Maybe I should post some thoughts on Critical Realism next week….

    Amy, thanks for the encouragement. I am glad you enjoyed it.

  6. anna says:

    just found your blog. have been thinking about the issue of faith/evolution this week.. i will definitely have to look into the whole concept of what being a critical realist means in relation to faith and science. thanks for your insight – very refreshing perspective!

  7. zoomtard says:

    Hey Anna,

    Thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy the site. I will proceed to think through Critical Realism and try and throw my thoughts up here next week.