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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Book review: Dawkins considers ID science - false science - also pronounces on free will and child sex abuse

At Vere loqui, Martin Cothran notes that Richard Dawkins’The God Delusion, provides ammunition to ID advocates.

ID theorists are familiar with the accusation that ID is both unfalsifiable and anyway, already falsified. (The fact that the two claims can be maintained comfortably at once illustrates the extent to which materialism and Darwinism function as ideologies. In general, all arguments in support of an ideology, even contradictory ones, feel good to the ideologue. He attacks others for not supporting his view even when his view is literally incomprehensible.)

Dawkins will have none of that, however. He wants to be consistent. He accuses the National Center for Science Education of being the "Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists," because it misguidedly appeases religious people by insisting that ID is not science (and therefore the religious people should ignore ID in favor of Darwinism). Dawkins would prefer that NCSE attack the religious people's beliefs.
Dawkins, an Oxford scientist and the most popular contemporary defender of evolution, directs withering criticism at NCSE for wimping out in its argument with religious opponents of evolution by saying that the realms of science and religion are totally separate concerns-that scientists should stay on their side of the line and theologians on their side, and everybody can live in peace. Dawkins maintains that religious claims (and, ipso facto, the claims of Intelligent Design) are broadly scientific in character, that they make claims that are falsifiable-and that, in fact, they are false.

As Cothran notes, the ID guys should be glad to hear that.
..., whenever advocates of Intelligent Design hear the argument that Intelligent Design is not science, all they need to do is point to the new book by the man who is perhaps the leading advocate of evolution today who says that this argument is not only wrong, but an example of intellectual cowardice.

Actually, the NCSE approach works pretty well in practice, because it throws up a lot of smoke, panicking soccer moms into declaring a stream of breathless inanities like "there is a place for God - and a place for Darwin!" God bless 'em, the moms are usually pretty pleased with themselves, even if Dawkins isn't pleased with them at all. And they vote.

Meanwhile, two other Dawkins items of note: Over at Uncommon Descent, Bill Dembski quotes comments Dawkins made at a book signing in Washington:
Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or ... But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.

Dawkin's general denial of free will sounds quite disjointed in the original too (I am not quoting selectively). But keep in mind that his view is the accepted (though wrong) one in materialist neuroscience, as Mario Beauregard and I will show in our forthcoming forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).

While we are here, Dawkins offered The Dubliner some comments on the Catholic Church. After rejoicing to hear that a seminary was shutting its doors*, he writes,
The Catholic Church has developed, over the centuries, brilliant techniques in brain washing children; even intelligent people who have had a proper, full cradle-Catholic upbringing find it hard to shake it off when they reach adulthood. Obviously many of them do - and congratulations to them for it - but even some really quite intelligent people fail to shake it off, powerful evidence of the skill in brainwashing that the Catholic Church exercises. It's far more skilled than, for instance, the Anglican Church, mere amateurs in the game.

One difficulty with Dawkins' approach to things will be readily apparent here. He cannot entertain the possibility that an adult might not be a materialist and therefore might consider that there is good evidence for the Catholic view of life. That is to say, he does not believe - more to the point - he cannot believe in a mind apart from the brain. So any belief other than materialism must be mere indoctrination. But again, let me warn, his is the accepted view in many quarters. The aberration is that he pronounces it so openly.

Just how twisted all this becomes can be seen from Dawkins' comments for The Dubliner on child sex abuse:
Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place. I had a letter from a woman in America in her forties, who said that when she was a child of about seven, brought up a Catholic, two things happened to her: one was that she was sexually abused by her parish priest. The second thing was that a great friend of hers at school died, and she had nightmares because she thought her friend was going to hell because she wasn't Catholic. For her there was no question that the greatest child abuse of those two was the abuse of being taught about hell. Being fondled by the priest was negligible in comparison. And I think that's a fairly common experience. I can't speak about the really grave sexual abuse that obviously happens sometimes, which actually causes violent physical pain to the altar boy or whoever it is, but I suspect that most of the sexual abuse priests are accused of is comparatively mild - a little bit of fondling perhaps, and a young child might scarcely notice that. The damage, if there is damage, is going to be mental damage anyway, not physical damage. Being taught about hell - being taught that if you sin you will go to everlasting damnation, and really believing that - is going to be a harder piece of child abuse than the comparatively mild sexual abuse.

Reading this put me in mind of the all-too-numerous Canadian teen and twenty-something boys I know of who have committed suicide as a result of sex abuse. I have never heard of one who committed suicide over a hellfire sermon.

(These sex abuse cases occurred in Anglican settings, but that is simply because, before becoming a Catholic, I was active for decades in the Anglican church. Any scoutmaster, headmaster, children's aid society head, or youth pastor with an ear to the ground will hear of sex abuse cases in any setting that caters to children and teens. Complete prevention may be impossible, but good leadership is distinguished from bad by how it is dealt with.)

*Incidentally, Dawkins would be horrified to visit my own parish in Toronto, where the Fathers of the Oratory are raising money to expand the seminary.

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