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Post no. 84 (Betting on a duck at the horse race)

April 10, 2012

I know that this is old hat, but I just couldn’t stop myself commenting about it.

Richard Dawkins’s position as the world’s most famous atheist was acceptable. It was as unscientific a position as belief in God – in any god, really.

“He exists”

“No he doesn’t”


But in a new-ish twist Dawkins now declares himself to be agnostic.

If it weren’t so stupid it would be funny.

An eminent scientist takes a scientific stand on an eminently unscientific matter. He doesn’t even know what he is talking about. He doesn’t seem to understand what believers mean by God.

There’s the word “God”.

Attack! (Rabidly)

So Pavlovian, really.

And he, of all people, should know what is scientific and what isn’t. His own field – evolutionary theory – is a minefield. There’s solid science throughout, but a small faux pas can blow you sky high. It’s a thin line that divides evolution and speculation.

Dawkin’s latest soundbite is like betting on a duck at the horse race, really. He’s got the short end of the stick.



From → The Elephant

  1. Hi Sir. I don’t understand the thrust of your argument. Are you in disagreement with Dawkins or the “controversy” surrounding the comments?

    To me, this is a fairly cut-and-dry matter, that I’ve seen play out in the papers many times. Usually involving Hitchens, or Dawkins or other famous “atheists”.

    Anyway, I sense a discussion I can actually contribute to. Can you restate your position?

    • I think that agnosticism is taking the scientific method a step too far.

      The existence of God as Catholics, at least, understand the “term” is not testable. So you can’t say that the jury on God’s existence is out, Same applies to Hitchens’s “antitheism”.

      Bear in mind that the essence of scientific method is testability.

      • You’d rather Dawkins use the term “Atheist”?

        That term is usually criticized by Christians as making an illogical positive assertion of God’s nonexistence. Making a false claim to certainty, in other words.

        When you listen to folks like Dawkins or Hitchens talk about the subject at length, their position seems consistently to be a lack of belief, because of a lack of evidence. That’s basically the worldview: lack of faith-based knowledge & insistence on material evidence.

        You are free to disagree with that on it’s face, of course. But I don’t see how God’s testability factors in, or invalidates the “agnostic” label.

      • Agnosticism is, essentially, misapplied scientific method.

        You can’t say “I’ll wait for evidence that proves or disproves the existence of God”

        The God we Catholics believe in is not a verifiable entity. There are zillions of signs which we interpret as evidence that God exists, but none that one can call “scientific evidence”

        Atheism, on the other hand, is a better suited tool than agnosticism in this scenario. I won’t go into the validity of the position, but it’s a more credible stance.

  2. So in order to be a credible stance, one must make a positive assertion about whether God does or does not exist? Based on what? In the case of theists, based on faith, clearly. But in the case of Atheists, it’s entirely arbitrary. The terminology gets kind of fuzzy here. I assume that you’re referring to a hypothetical atheist who firmly states, “There is no God” rather than a more agnostic (and common) breed that simply states “There probably is no God”.

    Say what you want about Agnostics (they’re wishy-washy, lack conviction, whatever), it’s an honest position to say “I accept nothing as knowledge except what material evidence suggests to me”, and to refuse to claim certainty on such matters.

    I mean, you’re free to opine, but if the gyst of your premise is “Some things must be taken on faith, evidence alone is not enough”, some agnostics (including myself) would disagree with that on it’s face.

    • Yes, I think so.

      If we had to believe in God because “evidence” points that way we’d be applying scientific method. We observe a phenomenon, and build a theory which “accounts” for all or most of the observations.

      The theory can be refined – or debunked – with a series of testable assertions.

      A Catholic wouldn’t go “Look at the perfection of the eye. There MUST be a God.” Rather we’d say “Look at the perfection of the eye. Then the God who created* it must be infinitely more perfect.”

      God is a given. There is nothing outside of him and independent of him.

      We have nothing to show for it as such. And the only acceptable counter to that is its diametric opposite

      (*A clarification about the use of created. By created I don’t mean that the eye just popped into existence one fine day. Rather, in nature, we’d see the rules that God laid down at the moment of creation. Whatever happened later had to happen within the parameters of those laws.)

  3. As a fellow Catholic, I think I disagree. I don’t think Dawkins has any business calling himself an agnostic, but my argument is that one can’t be claiming that they aren’t sure about God when they’re as militantly anti theism as he is.

    However, I believe the more Catholic position is to acknowledge the possibility that science could, and in the event that scientific progress, properly ordered, were to continue indefininitely, would prove the existence of God.

    God’s existence is a given to those of us who believe, but all that exists in the observable natural universe is from God. Science and faith do not contradict. How could it?

    Anyways, as for the atheism/agnostic thing, I think claiming that one does not know, or is unsure, of God’s existence is a more reasonable thought than an arbitrary assumption that he doesn’t exist. Therefore, if one falls into the “I don’t know” camp, agnostic seems to be a fair word.

    I will add though that militant agnosticism is one of the least rational things I’ve ever seen, but I guess it’s out there.

  4. “And the only acceptable counter to that is its diametric opposite”

    I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t believe that you would really feel that way, if presented with it in the real world. A faith-based atheist is pretty much a contradiction in terms. But if an Arbitrary Atheist challenged you by saying “Of course God doesn’t exist. Why? Because, he just doesn’t. It’s a given” – would you really feel that’s a reasonable/credible/acceptable statement? Would you feel satisfied with that person’s belief, and leave him be? Or would you expose his nonsense?

    I’m actually genuinely surprised, because I’ve never heard anyone take this kind of tack before.

    • “Of course God doesn’t exist. Why? Because, he just doesn’t. It’s a given” – would you really feel that’s a reasonable/credible/acceptable statement? Would you feel satisfied with that person’s belief, and leave him be? Or would you expose his nonsense?

      I can’t prove conclusively that there is a God; “my” God is not testable. It wouldn’t surprise me if people thought me mad. That’s why it’s faith. I’ve got to believe that he exists. The stuff around me I call “evidence” that God exists is only there because God exists, so it’s a bit of a circular reference really. God is the be all and end all of all that is and nothing is outside of God.

      You’re free to believe it or not. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for evidence for or against.

      • “You’re free to believe it or not. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for evidence for or against.”

        Okay, but human beings aren’t really being compelled to make a decision at all. Agnostics don’t demand evidence, they just don’t see any so they don’t make a decision. Personally, I can understand and acknowledge that faith is faith and reason is reason, and one doesn’t justify the other. But I don’t see how that’s a mark of unreasonability for agnostics in general.

      • I had written this post some time ago.

        I would ask you to please skip to the 3rd paragraph – the bit about Philip Henry Gosse. Gosse’s theory is eminently untestable. It deals with the physical world, granted, but there is no way you can test it. You can wait for evidence to help you decide either way all your life. It’s never going to come by.

        Same with the existence of God. That’s why I think agnosticism is unreasonable.

        Also, if I’m going to use “material evidence” to support my idea of God, I’ll end up using God to fill in gaps in my information. There will come a time when all physical phenomena will be explained by science. There will be no need for a God to explain how everything works.

        The grave mistake many people commit, in my opinion, is that they see something beautiful and say “Wow look at that! There really is a God in Heaven.” I think it’s stupid. Because one day we’re going to explain how that beautiful thing is there and where will that leave God?

        God and nature are on 2 entirely different planes. If I explore and know all of nature I will still not find something that conclusively shows me God as it would show me, say, a Higgs boson.

        I don’t know if I’m making things clearer or worse.

  5. Hi John. Welcome to my little corner in the ether 🙂

    I thoroughly agree that science will never contradict faith, and vice versa, because there is only one truth.

    My point is that science is not about belief.

    The existence of God is not a scientific phenomenon. Admittedly all creation points to God, but not necessarily (from a scientific point of view).

    I don’t think that it’s logical to wait for “scientific evidence” before one decides that God exists or not. What sort of evidence would be acceptable for agnostics?

  6. It won’t let me indent anoher comment onto the chain.

    Anyway, I follow what you’re saying. No confusion. Message received – zero distortion.

    But you didn’t really answer my question. There is no force of nature, or law of reasonability that compels an individual to make an assertion regarding whether a deity does or does not exist. So if an agnostic (militant or otherwise) decides that faith is not a legitimate path to knowledge – what makes that so unreasonable? Must one answer with a certain yes or no? Or can one just leave the question unanswered?

    I understand your message about God-related things being above/apart/distict from natural phenomenon, and not tied to it. I appreciate it, although obviously I don’t agree with it.

    But the breed of atheist you would prefer doesn’t exist. Atheists generally don’t make assertions of a similar or parallel nature to your faith in God. Whether under the label of Agnostic or Atheist, the gyst of the “anti-theist” position is a rejection of faith, and arbitrary beliefs in general, and placing observable evidence (or science, if you like) as paramount in gathering facts. They’re not seeking to mix faith and reason, or use one to justify the other. They just simply reject faith.

    Now as for the emphasis on testing as crucial to science. I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with this, but regardless, I’d like to make a point about where the burden of proof lies. Even militant atheists do not claim to have proven God’s non-existence. So testing doesn’t really come into play in a Dawkins-esque rebuttal of theism. Of course, a theist like you wouldn’t claim proof, so the onus is not on you either. Unfortunately, some theists do (namely evangelical creationists), and folks like Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris make a full-time job out of countering them. But anyway, that never amounts to an assertion of God’s nonexistence, so it doesn’t equal a hypothesis, and thus doesn’t require testing. It’s just calling an unscientific spade an unscientific spade.


    • Okay. By agnostic I mean someone who doesn’t pronounce himself on the non-/ existence of God before he has sufficient evidence to decide.

      In this world, short of God (or Jesus or the Holy Spirit) appearing to each and everyone of us and telling us “Hi guys, I exist, see?” there will never be compelling evidence for the existence – or not – of God. There has to be a – wait for it – leap of faith, at some point.

      So, by my understanding, an agnostic is a person who is waiting for something that will never come.

      Of course, on a purely utilitarian level it makes no difference whether one decides to believe or not. One can, as you say, remain undecided. This is worrisome for Catholics, obviously, because we wish salvation for everyone, even though we’re only responsible for our own. But that’s an entire matter altogether.

      • Fair enough.

        I’ve met agnostics like the people you describe, but in my experience they’re just people who aren’t really that interested in the subject matter in the first place. Rather than run the risk of appearing to others as they actually are, they use the title as a way of appearing engaged without putting any actually effort into the endevour.

        For Dawkins, it’s kind of a hedge or caveat. 99.999% Atheist, in other words. For myself, I like very much the notion of a creator, and accept the possibility, but cannot make the leap of faith required for an Abrahamic deity.

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