Friday, October 24, 2008

Say What, Richard Dawkins???

"A serious case could be made for a deistic God."
~ Richard Dawkins, October 21, 2008

Those following my current set of posts may want to check out
Melanie Phillips' column in yesterday's edition of The Spectator. 

(A tip of the hat to Bradford at Telic Thoughts.)


Psiloiordinary said...

I don't rate this columnist as being very reliable Cliff. Her headlines can contradict her content.

In this case the column also says this;

"Afterwards, I asked Dawkins whether he had indeed changed his position and become more open to ideas which lay outside the scientific paradigm. He vehemently denied this and expressed horror that he might have given this impression."


BTW - arguments from authority don't count as rational arguments no matter who the authority is or which side the argument is on



Cliff Martin said...


You may be right about the columnist (I'm not familiar with her). I thought her title to this piece was over-reaching, and so I did not include it in my post. However ...

I did read the entire piece, and noted the Dawkins' quote you cited. (And Phillips was fair enough to include it.) But I wonder, did he likewise back-peddle off of his statement that the mystery of life might be explained by some super-intelligent alien life? I have not seen the debate which provided the context for Phillips' column (though I'd love to!) but others have indicated that Dawkins took it on the chin; these statements may have been concessions forced by the content and data presented in the debate itself. Do you suppose?

... arguments from authority don't count as rational arguments no matter who the authority is or which side the argument is on.

Yes, I agree that arguments from authority have no power to prove anything. And note, I am not trying to prove anything. But the testimony of authorities is accepted as evidence every day in courts of law all over the world. You know this. I am merely submitting testimony as evidence.

Most of what I know (and most of what you know) came by way of what someone with authority or knowledge told me, or wrote in a book. So, epistemologically, I see no problem with placing reliance upon the words of those who are well beyond me in understanding. In fact, I'd be a fool not to do so. This does not absolve me of the responsibility to check everything out, to do my own thinking, to cogita tute. But to simply write off or ignore the testimony of authorities is folly.

When I cite authorities offering their own analysis of the data, data that leads them toward some "super-intellect" or creative intelligence, and when those authorities are not theists, I believe that qualifies as good, sound evidence which can help to build a serious case. And, apparently, when pushed into a corner, even our friend Dawkins agrees.

Cliff Martin said...

I've never been to England (but I keep hoping to get there!). So, I have no empirical or even personal experiential basis for my belief that England exists! In fact, everything I know about England (and I know a fair amount) came to me by way of those who have been there, or folks like you who assure me that you live there.

I've never been to the deep cosmology of the theoretical big bang; I've never been to the deep biochemistry of the living cell; I've never personally gone to the deep mysteries of the physics of the cosmos. But these are all key elements in the question of God. So I must place some trust in people who have been to those places.

Why is this not a rational approach?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,




PS for more info;

"Argument From Authority
The basic structure of such arguments is as follows: Professor X believes A, Professor X speaks from authority, therefore A is true. Often this argument is implied by emphasising the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim. The converse of this argument is sometimes used, that someone does not possess authority, and therefore their claims must be false. (This may also be considered an ad-hominen logical fallacy – see below.)

In practice this can be a complex logical fallacy to deal with. It is legitimate to consider the training and experience of an individual when examining their assessment of a particular claim. Also, a consensus of scientific opinion does carry some legitimate authority. But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and a broad consensus to be wrong – speaking from authority does not make a claim true."

From one of my pages here;

Cliff Martin said...


Thank you for the link to your article on clear thinking. I read through it this morning, and bookmarked it for future reference. Well written.

Sometime I hope we can explore some of your thought processes in light of your own stated approach to clear thinking; e.g. Hidden Premise, Confusing Absence of Evidence with Evidence of Absence, etc. But I realize that today, it is my thought processes that are under consideration.

Again, I make no claim to prove God's existence. I am not citing authority statements as proof. So how is it irrational when I note Einstein's personal conclusions on a matter and submit that as evidence?

Everyday of our lives we make choices, often important life choices, based upon what trusted experts tell us. Is this an irrational approach to life?

Question: Is it possible that 1) a Creator exists, that 2) he intentionally offers no proof of his existence, but that 3) he leaves clues that can guide us to him? Possible?

RBH said...

I really want to see that debate, rather than quotations whose context is at best ambiguous.

Cliff remarked

But I wonder, did he likewise back-peddle off of his statement that the mystery of life might be explained by some super-intelligent alien life?

I don't know that Dawkins has ever claimed that "the mystery of life" might be explained by those aliens, but rather when asked if he could supply an alternative hypothesis for the origin of life on earth, he speculated that it might have originated (by naturalistic means) elsewhere and then have been seeded here by the aliens. I refer you here where Dawkins explains in some more detail. The concluding part:

The conclusion I was heading towards was that, even in the highly unlikely event that some such 'Directed Panspermia' was responsible for designing life on this planet, the alien beings would THEMSELVES have to have evolved, if not by Darwinian selection, by some equivalent 'crane' (to quote Dan Dennett). My point here was that design can never be an ULTIMATE explanation for organized complexity.

Cliff Martin said...


Yes, I too would like to hear the full context of Dawkins' statements. I understand that the bit about a case being made for a deistic God was in his opening statement, not in the heat of debate. My guess is he was trying to define the terms of the debate down, effectively preempting Lennox's evidence for God which could be construed as evidence for a deistic God. I could be wrong, but that's my guess.

Perhaps the debate will be available for viewing at some time. I did, last night, watch the the Dawkins-Lennox Debate which occurred on October 3, 2007. I had never heard John Lennox before. I was impressed. Dawkins also got in some very good points. Everyone will view such debates though their own paradigm-tinted glasses, of course. But I thought the debate was fairly even, no clear winner. I'd be interested in your response, if you can find time to watch the debate.

RBH said...

Cliff, I've had that 2007 debate sitting in an open tab for weeks hoping to find time to watch it through. One of these days I'll do it. :)

Steve Martin said...

Hmm. That is an interesting quote. But, I’m not even sure it is such a big deal. Even if Dawkins came to the point of unambiguously acknowledging that a Deistic perspective was intellectually coherent, I’m not sure it would be a big deal. I know the ID community trumpeted Anthony Flew’s “conversion” quite loudly a couple years back. If this is what we Christians call progress, I think we’ve got a huge problem. Being part of the new creation involves trusting God, not simply assenting to his existence. Believing in a God who is not involved with, nor cares about, his creation is as far from trust as not believing in any God at all.

Mike said...

Dawkins has been backed into a similar corner before in debates with Alister McGrath, and Ben Stein in Expelled (- in no way take this as an endorsement of the movie, it was TERRIBLE). The need for an ultimate cause is a weakness in McGrath's position that he is not proud of, and that he grudgingly concedes, but he will not be pressed to endorse - because he sees no tangible evidence with which to label that cause "divine" or "alien".

Cliff Martin said...

Indeed, it may be a bit premature to count Dawkins in the company of the redeemed. Still, I think his concession is very significant in light of the arguments he presents in The God Delusion. Still, as the others have indicated, we should withhold judgment until we can hear Dawkins words in context. Melanie Phillips may be something of a sensationalist. Dawkins admitting a God sells copy!

Thank you for stopping by. I agree with what you are saying here. I've seen some of the McGrath debates. John Lennox, I think, does a better job. (And I assume when you typed "McGrath" the second time you meant Dawkins??)

Mike said...

Yes you are correct. I meant Dawkins. I discovered McGrath because we used his book "Christian Theology" in class. I look forward to hearing the Lennox/Dawkins debate(s). Thanks.

RBH said...

On this topic, see this comment on another blog for some background and analysis of Dawkins' remark. Note particularly the remark that immediately followed his comment about deism:

I was there as well...this woman has no idea.


Yes he did say this - although he said immediately afterwards that he would be "unconvinced" by such a case.

Anonymous said...

At least in the link rbh provides, notice that Dawkins himself squirrels out of admitting that yes, he did say this. It takes another sympathetic poster to admit that the quotes are accurate, and then stressing that Dawkins immediately said the he was still unconvinced by the idea of a creator. But Melanie Philips never said otherwise - in fact that article says outright,

"True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies."

But that still leaves Dawkins' quotes intact. Yes, he conceded that a serious case can be made for a deistic creator - and yes, as has been pointed out, that really is a concession as well as a deviation from Dawkins' previous point of view. No one was accusing Dawkins of being a deist here, closet or otherwise.

His excuse amounts to 'it was a debating tactic' - "it is a standard reasoning technique to bend over backwards to concede that a better case can be made for X than for Y a prelude to putting the boot in to Y." But he didn't say that a better case could be made for the Deist's deity than the Christian God. He said a serious case could be made for a deistic God, full stop.

What he's doing now isn't clarifying, or explaining. It's backtracking. Because he's seen how rattled his True Believers get when it's admitted that some kind of designer can be seriously, reasonably argued - John Loftus doesn't seem to know what to think, going from endorsing Dawkins' "new" viewpoint as much more reasonable (and admitting he vascillates between atheism and deism over on Vic Reppert's blog), to not believing that there is a god of any kind, and he's in agreement with Dawkins' obviously consistent position - you know, the one he thought was far less reasonable than the 'new' one.

Cliff Martin said...

An alternative atheistic approach we may be hearing more is to suggest, as my skeptic friend Tom does here (the 7th comment), that deism is really nothing more than a brand of atheism. If that argument gets serious play, then atheists can eat their cake and have it too: "there is no god, and btw, maybe he did design all of this."