Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

February 15, 2008

Richard Dawkins and Madeline Bunting Discuss Religion

Filed under: culture, religion, science — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 1:14 pm

Richard Dawkins and Madeline Bunting have a discussion on some of the topics raised in Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion.”  Dawkins’ main contention was quite simple: the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient being is a scientific question.  A universe with a God in it is quite different from a universe without one.  Science can and should aid our reasoning in determining the basic truth of statements such as: did Jesus have a father?

Bunting does a respectable job of waffling through the discussion.  She criticizes Dawkins’ strategy, complaining that confronting people’s beliefs is not a proper way to get them to like you.  Ironically, Blunting has particular difficulty in explaining exactly what belief is and whether or not she believes Jesus had a father.  She was, at that point, displaying a classic case of cognitive dissonance.  Her eventual out was her ill-defined “emotional” truth.  Truths that at their heart are personal and subjective.  Why particular Biblical claims fall into this category when they can clearly be objectively verified, Blunting fails to properly explain.  The most likely explanation is that they simply have no other refuge.



  1. I’m a fan of Dawkins , however it ought to be more frequently exposed that Richard does believe that God exists albeit with low probability

    Comment by Jonathan Clark — February 15, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  2. As a Dawkins fan, I’m sure you are aware that the “low probability” Dawkins is talking about is he is only as uncertain that there is no God as he is “about fairies at the bottom of the garden.” (pg. 51 The God Delusion) Calling that low doesn’t properly do it justice, it is more like infinitesimally small. And it isn’t that Dawkins believes God exists, it is the range of uncertainty that Dawkins feels exists in any absurd proposition.

    At its root, the problem is a variation of Descartes’ “malicious demon” and you won’t get much further than Descartes did, “I think therefore I am.“ If you are as intellectually honest as Dawkins, you have to admit everything else rests within ranges of uncertainty. The distinction isn’t useful because there are an infinite number of propositions that Dawkins will admit roughly equal amounts of agnosticism about. You display an enormous amount of bias by singling out the God hypothesis in particular. For example, there are the pink unicorn hypothesis, the invisible dragon in my garage hypothesis, the fairies at the bottom of the garden hypothesis, and Russell’s teapot hypothesis, all of which have about the same chances of being true in Dawkins’ view as the God hypothesis. However, I get the feeling by your pretext, use of the word “exposed” and your biased mischaracterization (all in one sentence no less) that you may not be as intellectually honest as you’d like others to believe. I also don’t hold out much hope that you’ll grok what I have said either. Here’s to hoping that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    Comment by codesmithy — February 16, 2008 @ 8:21 am

  3. I have heard Dawkins in a lecture series in Oct 2005 at the Center for Inquiry.

    Please consider a good alternative to Dawkins and Sam Harris, the old Van Harvey.

    Or it is even better to read Geza Vermes to clean up our religious past.

    Comment by Protest I — February 19, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  4. Hi Protest, Van Harvey and Geza Vermes seem interesting, would you care to summarize which works are particularly reflective of their thinking and a short description as to why they are important alternatives to Dawkins’ and Harris’ views? I’m having trouble putting your comment in the context of the post and my understanding of the topics under discussion.

    Comment by codesmithy — February 20, 2008 @ 6:09 am

  5. Dawkins uses, inappropriately, the scientific method to assess theology. If he wishes to seriously find fault with the “God” concept why doesn’t he use theological arguments? He cannot because he is not trained to do so. He is professing an expertise outside his specialism and so his opinions are on a par with those of the “man in the street”.

    Comment by David P. — February 19, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  6. Hi David P.

    What you are suggesting is that there is a way of knowing something outside of science. You seem to use the word theology to encompass this way of knowing. I don’t feel Dawkins necessarily has to address theological arguments because they often fall comically short of what they aim to “prove.” I haven’t met a theological argument that works for Jehovah that wouldn’t work equally as well for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or invisible magic unicorns. But, in fairness, Dawkins does address many of them in his book, The God Delusion.

    Secondly, the Bible does make claims about the real world. Do you think Dawkins is unqualified to assess the likelihood that Jesus was born of a virgin? Or that chemists can assess the possibility of turning water into wine? Or that physicists have nothing to say about the likelihood of a body ascending into heaven?

    So, please tell me, how did “God” get his DNA into Mary? Did Jesus even have DNA? For the sake of argument, let’s say we somehow obtained Jesus’ DNA and it turned out that there was a 99% likelihood that Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera was the father, would you still insist God was the father, or would science still have nothing to say about religion, even in principle?

    Third, I consider authority, in itself, pretty worthless. Seeking the opinion of scientists is usually worthwhile because they know lots of independently verifiable information about the universe we inhabit. One of the most important aspects of scientific knowledge is that you don’t just have to take the scientist’s word for it, you can always do the experiment yourself. Tell me, how does a theologian know anything besides revelation, scripture and reflection? What happens when we find no evidence or contradictory evidence for a 6 day creation approximately 6000 years ago, or a global flood? How about the world being flat? What if we measure the efficacy of prayer and find no effect? Can scripture ever be wrong? More importantly, when in your life has revelation without supporting evidence ever proved to be verifiably correct?

    There is no problem with Dawkins using science to assess the claims of religion. If the two conflict, which they do, I am going with the one that has consistently proven to work. It has nothing in particular to do with Dawkins except that he puts forward convincing arguments using the consistently proven method of knowing.

    Comment by codesmithy — February 20, 2009 @ 6:00 am

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