Friday, April 30, 2010

TGD: Chapter Two - America, Religion and Ridicule

Last week we covered the section Mr. Dawkins wrote about monotheism. Today we pick up with a section titled, "Secularism, The Founding Fathers and the Religion of America."

I don't have much to say about this section. He argues that America wasn't founded as a Christian nation, but as a secular nation. He notes the fact that, despite being the world's first secular country, today America is more religious than any other Western country.

I agree with Mr. Dawkins' assertion that America is a secular country, so I won't dispute it. In fact, I agree with Fred Clark that America's secularism is a good thing for everyone.

He gives a few reasons why America is so religious, despite its secular constitution. He has some good theories, but he neglects to mention the first and second great awakenings. If you really want to understand why modern-day America is so religious, you need to study those revivals.

The next section is titled, "The Poverty of Agnosticism." In this section he disagrees with people who argue that the truth about God's existence is forever unknowable. He argues that, while it might be impossible to prove God's existence, we can make an educated guess about the probability of God's existence.

The arguments presented here are the hallmark of new atheism. He makes the comparison with a small teapot orbiting the sun. He points out that, we can reasonably assume that such an object doesn't exist without making an exhaustive search of the solar system. He also points to 'fake' religions like the church of the Flying Spagetti Monster, claiming that such beings are just as plausible as God.

These arguments are both fairly similar. Both arguments assume that there is no credible evidence for God's existence and try to convince the hearer that believing in God is also very silly. Of course, the silliness of an idea has no bearing on whether or not the idea is true. If we had solid historical evidence that the Flying Spagetti Monster had raised a man from the dead, then I would take its church much more seriously. In any case, the belief in God, the Flying Spagetti Monster, Zeus, celestial teapots, or any other idea depends entirely on the evidence. Plenty of people think that quantum mechanics is a ridiculous theory, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Once again I want to stop and point out the kind of argument Dawkins is making. So far Dawkins hasn't addressed the classical proofs for God's existence, nor has he advanced his own "proof" for God's non existence. He hasn't engaged directly with the evidence for or against religion at all. Instead chapter two has been an extended appeal to ridicule.

Again we need to ask, why is Dawkins structuring the argument this way? If the appeal of atheism lies in its rationality, why start with a strong emotional argument? Why not start with the facts? The God hypothesis should stand or fall on its basis in fact, not on our subjective opinion that it is a silly idea.

Dawkins may consider himself a champion of rational thought, but he's not above using an emotional appeal if it serves his purposes.

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