Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Blind Leading the Blind

Alister McGrath has written another vacuous piece attacking the new atheists. He seems unhealthily obsessed with them.

It's an extended exercise in equivocation on the meaning of faith. He starts by complaining how the naughty new atheists caricature faith:
One of the core New Atheist assertions, endlessly and uncritically repeated on New Atheist websites, is Richard Dawkins's dogmatic statement that faith is "blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence."
For Dawkins, this means that faith counts as a "form of mental illness." This nasty intellectual perversion is limited to religious people. "Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion."
Fair enough (except it's obviously not limited to religious people, and I have no idea who would say that - the quote doesn't say that); generally speaking the faithful I've met do make the leap of faith in the face of evidence to the contrary; that is certainly how I became a theist. But it's true also that other theists claim a different basis for their belief, including, apparently, McGrath. Since it's not "blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence", it must be because of evidence, mustn't it?
Faith is based on reason, yet not limited to the somewhat meagre truths that reason can actually prove.
So McGrath agrees with the new atheists that faith goes beyond reason! Welcome aboard. Except in one particular; that the truths that reason 'proves' (to be charitable, let's allow that in the non-scientific sense) are 'meagre'. These 'meagre' truths, of which McGrath is so contemptuous, include:

  • Man was not fashioned from dust and woman from his spare rib
  • The Earth was not magicked into being before there was any light
  • Women are not subservient to men
  • Homosexuals are not doing anything wrong
  • All religions cannot all be right; they can all be wrong
  • There is no need to take what another person says on trust
  • Freedom of belief is a good thing, and religions usually only encourage belief in themselves
  • Freedom of expression is a good thing, and religions usually discourage questioning of belief
McGrath goes on:
It is not a blind leap into the dark, but a joyful discovery of a bigger picture of things, of which we are part. It is complex and rich idea [sic], which goes far beyond simply asserting or holding that certain things are true.
If it's a joyful discovery of a bigger picture of things, then why can it not be demonstrated? Here's the thing; theists 'discover' bigger pictures all the time. They either relate to reality or are a figment of their imagination. How to decide? Of course, there's only one answer to that, and McGrath won't like it.

Theists present multifarious and contradictory 'bigger pictures' to non-believers, and then moan at them for quibbling about evidence. If we are to accept McGrath's word without evidence, then we may just as well accept a Muslim's, a Jew's, a Scientologist's or Al Queda's. Theists then say, no, you must discover it yourself. No, no, and again, no. Without reason and evidence one cannot be sure one isn't fooling *oneself* any more than the many theists clearly are. To think anything else is to adopt the arrogant mantle of omniscience. Far from being scientistic, new atheists are simply being modest in their claims to knowledge; while theists presume to know more than their fellows. Such hubris.

McGrath promises more of this drivel, so it's going to be a long road to Golgotha.


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