Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The "New Atheists" Are Not Logical

As I've mentioned before, the "New Atheist" crowd are a group of people with above average intelligence who happen to be gifted in the art of the spoken and written word.  Richard Dawkins is a biologist by training, Chris Hitchens was a journalist, Sam Harris was trained in neuroscience (plus a BA in philosophy).  Of this group only Daniel Dennett has advanced training in Philosophy - receiving his Ph.D from Oxford.  As such, the first three could be forgiven to some extent for failing to truly understand what it is that they claim to be refuting.  Dennett, it would seem, has no excuse.

This group has done inestimable harm to the general public by wrapping their flawed and incomplete comprehension of theology in a veneer of erudition and confidence.  Often more bluster than substance, these aggressive and often intolerant people are long on attitude and short on facts.  For instance, Richard Dawkins believes that he refuted the Cosmological argument in "The God Delusion" by claiming that the main thrust of the argument is that "everything has a cause" and therefore "what caused God?"  The only issue is that no one ever presented the argument like that - not Aristotle, nor Aquinas, nor Al Ghazali nor Maimonides.  The argument has always been that "that which begins to exist has a cause" which closes the loop on the "what caused God" rebuttal.  So one of two things is possible - either a) he was unaware of this - which would seem highly unacceptable for someone writing a book refuting God's existence (without refuting any of the actual arguments that theists make in favor of His existence) or b) he did it willfully - which is deceptive and intellectually dishonest.  Which one do you think it is?

Ok, so maybe they're not that versed in classical theology but they sure can think!  Isn't the force of their reason enough to put the last nail in the coffin of the the folly that is religion?  Not so much.  I recently came across an essay by Ian Kluge on a website called that outlines the (very many) logical errors in the writing of these four men.  His stated aim of the piece is not to demonstrate their lack of theological prowess but rather to "show that their reasoning is not to be trusted."  Here's a sample from the Hitchens section:

I.  GOD IS NOT GREAT by Christopher Hitchens
# 1: much of this book is an extended non sequitur: proving that God does not exist is logically distinct from God’s nature, i.e. God may be evil but He may exist nonetheless.
# 2: It is also a category mistake, i.e. confusing the category of existence with the category of ethics. Goodness or badness cannot prove that something does or does not exist.
# 3: “It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers or heretics or adherents of other faiths.” (p. 17): Besides being an error of fact, this is non-sequitur: it does not follow from the fact that some religions have ‘interfered’ that all have or that all “must” do so as part of their inherent nature.
# 4: This is also an unsupported assertion and an sweeping generalization (fallacy of accident), i.e. a confusion/conflation of ‘some’ with ‘all,’ i.e. a failure to note exceptions.
# 5: “Once again, religion has poisoned everything.” (p. 27) Rhetorical exaggeration: this has no reasonable content, i.e. is logical and scientific nonsense, i.e. this is not a proposition that is amenable to scientific testing and has no scientific meaning at all – which leads Hitchens into inconsistency since he thinks our thought should be scientific.  It is irrational: how could religion poison mother’s milk, the manufacture of ball-point pens, and the activity of bird-watching? What does “poisons” actually mean? If he means it as a metaphor it is either an example of poetic license, hyperbole, in which case there is no point trying to prove it – it can’t be; or it is meant literally, then H has discovered scientific evidence of a new agent that can poison mother’s milk, the manufacture of book-ends and prospecting for beryllium. He provides no such evidence. This claim is pure rhetoric, i.e. has no reason to support it but relies on emotional connotations.
He makes 119 points in part I and an additional 180 points in part II.  Read it and see if you feel that these folks are the brilliant thinkers they are purported to be.
Bravo Mr. Kluge...

1 comment:

  1. Dawkins' argument against the cosmological argument is direct and obvious proof that he does not understand the argument he claims to refute. The cosmological argument explains the origin of all empirical i.e. natural objects in the universe. These objects have several things in common: (1) contingency: they come into and go out of existence; (2) have a external cause; (3) are limited in time and space; (4) are dependent on other things. This is true of everything in the universe and is, therefore, true of the empirical universe. (If every part of a machine is made of steel, then the machine is made of steel too.) Unlike Aristotle et al, Dawkins does not understand that we cannot explain the origin of empirical objects with characteristics (1) to (4) by appealing to another empirical object as their cause. This merely leads to an infinite regress - which can never lead to an answer, and is a sign of logical errors. The source of empirical objects must by virtue of logic be something that is exempt from characteristics (1) to (4). It must be super-empirical or super-natural, i.e. beyond empirical nature. In philosophy, this entity is called 'God' - though it is not the 'God image' of any particular religion and is not necessarily even conscious. Dawkins only sounds convincing to those who are philosophically too ignorant to spot his mistake.