Dawkins' Dilemma

Last time I wrote, I wrote about the New Atheists' decision to make war on civility by proudly announcing that they will not even be respectful of people's religions. Of course, given that their main argument against religion is an argument from ridicule, it doesn't surprise me one bit.

Now, Pastor Dustin S. Segers, the author of the blog Grace in the Triad has written an interesting challenge to Mr. Dawkins that I wanted to set forth here. He begins by quoting Dawkins' view that the God of the Old Testament was a monster.

Dawkins has no qualm with aggressively attacking the various religions of the world, but he seems to take special pleasure in critiquing the Christian God. He states,

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Pastor Segars takes this comment and makes a few worthwhile comments. First, he says:

The fact that Dawkins thinks that the Christian God is a horrible monster doesn’t do anything to call His existence into question. The fact that we personally dislike something does nothing to mitigate against the existence of said entity.

That is so absolutely true. Okay, so Mr. Dawkins thinks that the God of the Old Testament (who is, of course, the God of the New Testament, too) is all of these horrible things. So what? Is that evidence against God's existence? No. I know many people who think the exact same things about President Bush, but certainly President Bush exists (much to their eternal disdain).

Pastor Segars continues:

Dawkins must also provide his epistemological justification for deriding the Christian God in light of his materialism. I would be interested in seeing what he would do with the following syllogisms given the fact that, at least to the best of my knowledge, he believes that only particular, concrete, physical entities exist.

Syllogism One:

1. Material things are extended in space.
2. Objective moral laws are not extended in space.
3. Therefore, objective moral laws are non-material.
4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.

The above syllogism is very problematic for Dawkins as his only options for holding to objective moral norms would be to revert to some type of cultural or moral relativism, adopt some brand of pragmatism, or deny his materialism outright and adopt a Platonic version of atheism. Another helpful syllogism could be written as follows

Syllogism Two:

1. Objective moral laws are universal entities that apply to all people, places, and times.
2. Materialism holds that only particular entities have ontological existence.
3. No material thing is a universal entity.
4. Objective moral laws are not material things.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.

Given Dawkins’ assertion that the Christian God is immoral, one wonders how from an epistemological and metaphysical standpoint he is able to derive immaterial, universal, and objective moral standards by which he then uses to question the character of the Christian God. If all that exists are material, concrete, particular, physical entities, from whence comes good/evil, moral/amoral would transcend to us so that we can appreciate his sentiments as well? As one good friend has said, "the atheist seeks to defend the existence of an 'only marble' universe by appealing to non-marble entities." Thus, Dawkins has to appeal in the very thing he denies in order to argue against the Christian God, namely, immaterial, abstract entities like universal moral norms.

Good question.


FreezBee said…
Hi BK;

I had planned a commont for this post; but as I wrote, it became to large to use as a comment, so I turned it into a post on my own blog.

If you have too much time on your hand, you can read it here.
Dusman said…
Hi Freez,

You said in response to my article on your blog quoting Dawkins,

"On p. 127 of The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes:

DNA gets the best of both worlds. DNA molecules themselves, as physical entities, are like dewdrops. Under the right conditions they come into existence at a great rate, but no one of them has existed for long, and all will be destroyed within a few months. They are not durable like rocks. But the patterns that they bear in their sequences are as durable as the hardest rocks. They have what it takes to exist for millions of years, and that is why they are still here today. The essential difference from dewdrops is that new dewdrops are not begotten by old dewdrops. Dewdrops doubtless resemble other dewdrops, but they don't specifically resemble their own 'parent' dewdrops. Unlike DNA molecules, they don't form lineages, and therefore can't pass on messages. Dewdrops come into existence by spontaneous generation, DNA messages by replication.

That is, while DNA molecules are material, genes = DNA patterns are not, though each concrete instance needs to exist in a material form. Genes therefore violate premise 2 of Segers' Syllogism Two. DNA molecules are particular entities; but DNA patterns are not.

Therefore, Dawkins is not a materialist, at least not according to Segers' definition."

1. Your quote of Dawkins above does nothing to mitigate against philosphical materialism per se nor premise 2 of the aforemenionted syllogism. Since you say that Dawkins makes a distinction between DNA molecules and the collective pattern of those molecules via genes, then this does nothing whatsoever to undermine a physicalistic understanding of the universe because individual, particular, entities being viewed as a collective, patterned whole does not automatically cause one to assume a Platonic view of the universe. It just shows that the materialist can recognize an individual particular having ontological existence as well as a collective group of said particulars having ontological existence.

2. If Dawkins et. al. aren't materialists, then we simply can refute their Platonism in the same way that Aristotle's did. Then we've come back full circle to refuting materialism once again and none of the "Brights" can show us a non-arbitrary, epistemological justification for providing an objective moral standard.

Thanks for interacting and posting a link to your blog article and take care.

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