Browsing articles in "atheism"
Jul 19, 2011
neil

What’s it like to debate the new atheists?

Tomorrow John Lennox debates Peter Singer at Melbourne Town Hall.

Jul 13, 2011
neil

New Statesman article attacks Dawkins’ intellectual reputation

A remarkable post in the New Statesman by David Allen Green is yet further demonstration of how Richard Dawkins’ star is waning even among the liberal intelligentsia in our media.

Green’s closing comments are telling;

Can Richard Dawkins still credibly pose as a champion of rational thinking and an evidence-based approach? In my opinion, he certainly cannot, at least not in the way he did before.

The principle of the “survival of the fittest” applies in respect of intellectual reputations as it can elsewhere, and what now happens to the intellectual reputation of Richard Dawkins may be an example of the principle in practice.

Jul 6, 2011
neil

‘He’s not with us’ – The atheists embarrassed to be associated with Dawkins

Prof. H. Allen Orr is an evolutionary geneticist. He is University Professor and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester. He was one of only thirteen winners (alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John Maynard Smith) of the Darwin-Wallace medal presented every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London for “major advances in evolutionary biology“. He’s also an agnostic.

Surely he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want reviewing your book if your name was Ricahrd Dawkins.  Wrong. Writing in The New York Review of Books Orr is scathing about Richard Dawkins;

The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labelled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur…his book makes a far from convincing case. The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkin’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way…One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it.

Peter S Williams who’s book A Sceptic’s Guide to atheism is a treasure-trove of quotes and links draws attention to Peter Steinfels’ article in the New York Times;

The criticism [of  The God Delusion] is not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the cast God-fearing conspiracy.

On the back of Dawkins book it reads ‘The God Delusion – timely, impassioned and brilliantly argued‘. It would appear that a growing list of philosophers and scientists who share his skepticism when it comes to religion are not persuaded, they’re just a little embarrassed.

Jun 29, 2011
neil

Dawkins and the empty chair

William Lane Craig has two doctoral degrees, has published over 30 books, debated the world’s leading atheists including Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, but STILL Richard Dawkins will not debate him!



 

With thanks to Tony Watkins for this.

Jun 17, 2011
neil

The one argument atheists can’t answer

When the apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians who found themsevles increasingly on the margins of society, mocked and even insulted here was his advice;

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

In our increasingly secular society how do we respond to the growing numbers of people who are not just sceptical about Christianity but are downright hostile? How do we answer militant atheists who think no good thing comes from believing in God and that the only good religion is a dead one?

Well we should answer their arguments and there are good books worth reading and giving away on why Dawkins and Hitchens et al. are wrong.  But maybe we have one knock-down apologetic argument that atheism cannot answer – the power of a transformed life.

The great defender of the Christian faith, Francis Schaeffer, said ‘the greatest apologetic is love’.

The one thing that atheism cannot explain or understand or rubbish is the extraordinary power of a transformed life.

So when the Guardian this week ran a story on the remarkable work of a church who decided to pour out their lives in sacrificial service of drug-addicts and prostitutes it was a great reminder that maybe Peter was right. When the pastor of a bible-teaching, Jesus-preaching church also says ‘”The real issues are how we should express and find love for the outcasts and the downtrodden” the world even as it accuses Christians of doing wrong still sees our good deeds and acknowledges something remarkable is going on.

John Harris author of the Guardian piece writes;

A question soon pops into my head. How does a militant secularist weigh up the choice between a cleaned-up believer and an ungodly crack addict? Back at my hotel I search the atheistic postings on the original Comment is free thread for even the hint of an answer, but I can’t find one anywhere.

The last Roman Emperor who viciously persecuted the church was Julian. He hated Christians with a vengence but even he conceded;

[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.

 

 

Jun 1, 2011
neil

Is it reasonable to doubt evolution?

In a recent debate with a number of atheists we’ve been discussing whether or not William Lane Craig (the man the New Stateman described as having a reputation for ‘eating atheists for breakfast‘) is a worthy opponent for Richard Dawkins who until now has refused to debate him.

One key issue is whether Lane Craig’s concerns over evolution discredit him. Lewis Wolpert said of Lane Craig on this issue,  “Oh Boy! Are you ignorant!

The question I want to address in this post is simply this, is it reasonable for an intelligent mind to doubt the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution or MUST doubt over the theory be regarded as a display of culpable ignorance?

A. Evangelical Christians who are evolutionists

Some, like Dawkins, argue that atheism is a logical consequence and necessary deduction of evolutionary theory.

Stephen Jay Gould profoundly disagrees and writes:

To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue fo God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.

Gould recognises the category mistake that Dawkins is making. It really shouldn’t surprise us therefore to find that there are eminent evangelical Christians who are full-blown evolutionists. For example;

Francis Collins: A physician and geneticist who was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health (US) by President Obama. He is a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honour given by the President, for revolutionizing genetic research) and has also received the National Medal of Science. He is the author of The Language of God and founder of the Biologos Forum.

Dennis Alexander: The Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where he is a Fellow. For many years he was Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme in Cambridge. Since 1992 he has been Editor of the journal Science & Christian Belief. He is the author of Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?

Alexander has written:

The ‘Darwinian theory of evolution, whatever may have been the various ideological uses to which it has been put since 1859, is essentially devoid of either religious or moral significance, and those who try to derive such significance from it are mistaken.’

B. What exactly is William Lane Craig’s own position?

1. WLC has no theological issue with evolutionary theory

He comments on his own website:

I think, for the reasons explained in the podcast, that an evolutionary theory is compatible with the biblical account in Genesis 1.

2. For WLC it is a scientific not a theological question

The question of biological origins is for me a straightforward scientific question: what does the evidence indicate about the means by which God brought about life and biological complexity?

3. It would therefore be inaccurate to describe WLC as ‘a creationist’ in any meaningful sense of the word

As far as the literature is concerned ‘creationism’ is a term reserved for those who reject the theory of evolution preferring either a literal reading of Genesis 1 or adopting ‘Intelligent Design’.

In other words to label WLC a creationist is to redefine the term and effectively to render it meaningless. If ‘creationism’ means only ‘God is involved’ well  ALL theists from 7-day young-earthers through to full-blown evolutionists should be called ‘creationists’ which is a bit of a pointless exercise.

4. WLC has not rejected Darwinian evolution.

WLC regards his own position as ‘agnostic’ on the issue. He remains unpersuaded but argues he is persuadable.

C. Is it intellectual suicide to be unpersuaded by current theories of evolution as Lewis Wolpert suggests?

Given that Lewis Wolpert regards the evidence to be excellent and to doubt it as an admission of the ‘ignorant’ it is surely inconceivable that any in the scientific community would be anything other than neo-Darwinian?

Are there any atheists and/or agnostics who are sceptical or at least remain to be persuaded with regards current theories of evolution?

1. 1 in 11 atheists in the US are sceptical of evolution

Michael Gerson notes in the Washington Post:

The latest findings of the Pew Forum’s massive and indispensable U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reveal some intriguing confusion among Americans on cosmic issues. About 13 percent of evangelicals, it turns out, don’t believe in a personal God, leading to a shameful waste of golf time on Sunday mornings. And 9 percent of atheists report that they are skeptical of evolution. Are there atheist creationists?

One wonders why 1 in 11 atheists are sceptical?

2. Why can’t evolutionary biologists agree amongst themselves as to the mechanism of evolution if the evidence is that strong?

Which theory of evolution is so obviously true that we should without doubt accept it? The gradualism of Dawkins & Dennett or the punctuated equilibrium of Stephen Jay Gould?

If micro-evolution over time becomes macroevolution why isn’t it obvious to Gould?

Darwin himself said in The Origin of Species

geology assuredly does not reveal any such graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory’

Does the fossil record offer the strength of support that the neo-Darwinian theory claims?

The Palaeontologist Steven Stanley in his book Macroevolution: Pattern and Process writes:

The known fossil record fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphologic transition and hence offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid.

John Lennox marshals the evidence from palaeontologists sceptical of the gradualist model in his book God’s Undertaker including these two quite extraordinary quotes

Stephen Jay Gould:

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology.

Niles Eldridge:

We palaeontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change] knowing all the while that it does not.

No wonder Dawkins, John Maynard Smith and others were so hostile in their attacks on Gould, et al. In what became known as the ‘Darwin wars’ Maynard Smith said Gould ‘is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory.’

3. Why are a number of leading writers on science questioning the scientific consensus if the evidence is overwhelming?

a) Evolution: A theory in crisis – Dr. Michael Denton

Denton writes on his own website:

I have  never accepted the mainstream ‘Darwinian view’ that  life on earth and particularly mankind are the products of blind unintelligent processes.  I have  always been convinced and argued throughout my academic career that  our existence is ultimately a matter of design.  My primary intellectual aim has always been to show that the findings of science support the traditional teleological and anthropocentric view of  the world.

b) What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piattelli Palmorini

Here we find materialist atheists quite at odds with Dawkins. Here’s an extract from p.153,

“OK; so if Darwin got it wrong, what do you guys think is the mechanism of evolution?” Short answer: we don’t know what the mechanism of evolution is. As far as we can make out, nobody knows exactly how phenotypes evolve.

Mary Midgley in her review of the book in the Guardian newspaper writes

There is not – and does not have to be – any single, central mechanism of evolution. There are many such mechanisms, which all need to be investigated on their own terms. If one finds this kind of position reasonable, the interesting next question is, what has made it so hard to accept? What has kept this kind of dogmatic “Darwinism” – largely independent of its founder – afloat for so long, given that much of the material given here is by no means new?

The explanation for this might be the seductive myth that underlies it. That myth had its roots in Victorian social Darwinism but today it flows largely from two books – Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity(1971) and Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene (1976)

c) Why US? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves –  Dr. James Le Fanu

AN Wilson interviewed in the New Stateman reflects;

I think the jury is out about whether the theory of natural selection as defined by neo-Darwinians is true, and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book Why Us? by James Le Fanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian “gradualism”? But these are scientific rather than religious questions.

d) Shattering the Myths of Darwinism – Richard Milton

One Amazon reviewer comments:

Milton DOES NOT support creationism, he doesn’t even discount evolution as a scientific reality – he merely asks WHY the self-styled Darwinists and neo-Darwinists don’t stop mouthing off at anyone who disagrees with them and start finding some answers to these unanswered questions.
Alternatively, if Darwinism, in all its variations, CANNOT provide the answers, for goodness’ sake let’s move on and find a bigger and better theory.

4. Why have over 500 scientists expressed their concerns over the evidence for neo-Darwinian theories of evolution?

There is a myth circulating that a good knowledge of science and a careful consideration of the facts will compel any reasonable mind to accept Darwinian evolution.

If this is so why have over 500 scientists signed a statement which reads as follows;

We are sceptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.’

A list of all names is available and prominent signatories  include U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell, American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow Lyle Jensen, evolutionary biologist and textbook author Stanley Salthe; Smithsonian Institution evolutionary biologist and researcher at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information Richard von Sternberg, editor of Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum – the oldest still published biology journal in the world – Giuseppe Sermonti and Russian Academy of Natural Sciences embryologist Lev Beloussov.

Conclusion

All I have sort to demonstrate is

1. There are a significant, if relatively small, number of sceptics within the scientific community. There remain some who are yet to be convinced of Darwinian evolution as an all-encompassing theory.

2. The vast majority of sources I’ve considered are atheists. This is a scientific argument on which atheists and theists alike are divide.

3. It is inconceivable that such a number should be regarded as simply ‘wrong’ and dismissed as simply demonstrating a culpable ignorance of the evidence.

4. There exists still room for doubt and for someone such as William Lane Craig to declare himself agnostic ( and NOT opposed) towards evolution is intellectually credible.

Post-script: The limits to our understanding

Dr. James Le Fanu in ‘Why Us? How Science rediscovered the mystery of ourselves’ concludes:

The greatest obstacle to scientific progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge

If the history of science teaches us anything it is that we are wise not to presume to know too much not least as certain scientific ‘facts’ have to in some instances be modified and in others have to give way to new theories based on a better understanding.

May 28, 2011
neil

The New Statesman on why Dawkins disappoints and the man who ‘eats atheists for breakfast’

‘There has never been a really convincing philosophical argument for the non-existence of God’

I don’t agree with all of it’s conclusions but an interesting read not least for recognising the failure of new atheism to defend their cause with any great ability.

May 19, 2011
neil

Fantastic response to Hawking & heaven by fellow MND sufferer

May 16, 2011
neil

Hawking says ‘there is no heaven’

In an interview in the Guardian yesterday Stephen Hawking confirmed his belief that ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark

Hawking also argues that ‘Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing‘ a claim that is widely disputed within the scientific community.

For a Christian response to the idea of an uncaused universe see William Lane Craig’s Cosmological argument

May 15, 2011
neil

Why one Oxford Univ. atheist suggests Dawkins is a coward

An Oxford University Philosopher and atheist has written an open letter suggesting that Richard Dawkins might be running scared for refusing to debate Dr. William Lane Craig, arguably the greatest Christian apologist and debater of our time.

Dawkins has consistently refused to debate Craig even though Craig has debated just about every atheist debater out there. Why when Dawkins will debate lesser men without any hesitation does he continue to avoid Craig? It certainly looks as if he is trying to dodge a debate!

In his letter Dr Daniel Came from Worcester College writes,

The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.

“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”

For the full story see the Telegraph report.

For a great expose on Dawkins His Grace has some very interesting insights.

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