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Is the position taken by Dawkins on religion justified?

Post of the Month: July 2007


Subject:    | I respect Dawkins as a biologists though I don't agree with his views on religion.
Date:       | 31 Jul 2007
Message-ID: |

Einar wrote:
> I understand perfectly his orbiting teapot comparison, meaning that it
> is possible to conceive of a real lot of things that can not be refuted
> easily by science, why choosing one such over another?

> One can also point out that, no theory about what exists or does not
> exist beyond this universe, can be scientifically proven or refuted by
> science, which does not stop people from creating all kinds of theories
> about just that. In addition there is the fact that no information can
> get to us humans faster than the speed of light, which means that
> everything we know about the universe is old information which may be
> obsolete. At the very least there is no way to make sure of that.

It's actually very simple.

Historically, saying "this is a religious belief" gives an idea a free pass from having to have proof. Or having to make sense. For one thing, for most of human history, people would kill you for asking for proof or internal logic in the local dominant religious ideas.

If you say "there is a herd of antelope on the other side of that hill," someone will go look. If there isn't one, they'll want you to stop saying there is. If you say "I live in a house which is completely round and _at the same time_ completely square," people will say WTF and call you crazy. These rules of being true and making sense are pretty much universally accepted for real-world, non-religious statements.

But you can make parallel statements on religious matters and no one is supposed to complain. "This book is completely true and accurate because _it says so in its own text_, and any facts that contradict it are evil and wrong." "This piece of bread is now really and actually the flesh and blood of a god _without changing in any testable way_."

Dawkins makes people mad because he verbally and publicly applies real-world standards of truth and falsity to religious matters. If I say that my son's favorite toy talks to him and gives him guidance _in ways no one can ever prove_, you call me crazy. If I say that an invisible Deity talks to me and guides me _in ways no one can ever prove_, Dawkins calls me crazy on exactly the same grounds and demands the same level of proof from the talking God that he would from the talking toy.

Moderate believers (and many nonbelievers) say "It's rude and unfair to hold Religious Ideas(tm) to ordinary standards of proof. You mustn't do it, unless it's something immediate and serious like 'God wants me to mutilate my kids,' because it hurts people's feelings and causes social unrest."

True Believers say "sure, other people's Religious Ideas(tm) are obviously false and using normal standards of evidence to cut them to pieces is fine. But MINE are true, and if you try the same trick on them it proves you're evil." Some places they have the power to kill or imprison you for this evil act. Other places they long for the good old days when they did.

Dawkins calls bullshit on both those sets of restrictions. I'm sure it's easier because he lives in a society where neither the Hush, Don't Be Rude rules or the Die, Heretic rules have much power. (I also suspect that he has the kind of personality that enjoys calling bullshit on sacred cows.)

But I think he's also doing it out of a deeply held moral belief, i.e. that making up stuff that isn't testably true about religion is just as much a lie as making up stuff that isn't testably true on any other subject. I for one admire his morals.

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