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Life is busy, busy, busy. Working from home is good on days when you… - Sally's Journal
September 24th, 2007
01:09 pm

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Life is busy, busy, busy.

Working from home is good on days when you need to Just Get On With Things, it's rubbish on days when you need to run round and talk to people and organise stuff.

We now have only the European washing up mountain, instead of the world one. It's progress.

Andrew Rilstone has written an articulate piece on why it's fair game to tell Dawkins off for not understanding theology, which I'm very fond of but can't think of anything useful I could do with it except argue with robhu, and he still gets upset when I speak to him. Saying that, I'm not sure arguing with robhu would even be a useful thing anyway. I will offer it up as a link to the great god of my friends page instead.

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From:miss_next
Date:September 24th, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
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Good piece.
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From:megamole
Date:September 24th, 2007 12:50 pm (UTC)
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THE GREAT GOD DEMANDS A SACRIFICE!
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 24th, 2007 01:50 pm (UTC)
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Or, more succinctly:  You don't need to study theology to be an atheist, but such study may be helpful if you're writing a book on religion.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 24th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
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Actually, it's interesting he regards it as an ad hominem attack ... this might suggest not merely that he hasn't cited works on religion by religious people, but that he hasn't read them.  Which is fair enough, if he weren't writing a book about it.
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From:plinthy
Date:September 24th, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
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Rilestone claims Dawkins sees it as ad hominem, and he's almost certainly utterly wrong. It's hard for me not to see it as a willful misreading. Dawkins response makes it clear that he's talking about discourse in general ("must our discussion first address Paul's opinion of Old vs. New Testament before we talk about whether God is made-up") and not about his personal knowledge.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 27th, 2007 01:41 am (UTC)
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It's time for me to admit I haven't read The God Delusion, but have simply extrapolated from other books he's written, in which it seems to me his specific attacks on specific beliefs are essentially rhetorical in their power, which is to say, they sound good but ignore important peripheral information.  I can't legitimately criticize a book I haven't read on those grounds, so stay tuned till I have :)
From:tifferrobinson
Date:October 23rd, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
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No, although if you were writing a book refuting his without reading it that would be going too far!
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From:andrewwyld
Date:October 23rd, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
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What?  Surely I can refute Dawkins based on a decent-sized sample of his books without having to read every single one he's written, can't I?

:D
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From:naath
Date:September 24th, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
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But you are confused. Dawkins is not trying to persuade Christians to become atheists he's trying to persuade Atheists to be Out and Proud and Angry. He's not writing about Christian theology - he's writing about the practice of Christianity as demonstrated by the most infuriating (and dangerous) parts of the Religious Wrong.
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From:emperor
Date:September 24th, 2007 02:12 pm (UTC)
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Dawkins is not trying to persuade Christians to become atheists

Oh yes he is. Or at least, his book The God Delusion claims he is.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 24th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
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But even if he is, surely without sufficient research into the subject from its own viewpoint, he is simply setting up a straw man and destroying that?  Believe me, I find the religious wrong as infuriating as Dawkins does--probably more so since they are turning something I love into a rallying-cry for pride, wrath and, to a certain extent, envy (the cardinal sins it isn't fun to theme a party around).  Robespierre did roughly the same thing for atheism.  I don't think he had many good themed parties either, unless you like bathtubs of blood.

I suppose it would be a bit like taking Nietzsche apart based on the fact that he said "God is dead", which he only did in the same way Shakespeare said "I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er."  Or alternatively disliking Nietzsche because his teachings were abused by the Nazis (one point to Godwin).

Broadly, I think fanaticism is the enemy, not religion, and what concerns me is that Dawkins may inadvertently be stoking the fires of fanaticism among those he least suspects capable of it.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 24th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
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Oh, by the way, I dislike Nietzsche because he wrote a book called Why I am So Wise, which reeks of smug bastardy.
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From:ilanin
Date:September 24th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
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I think Dawkins is mostly writing books for the purpose of selling books at this point, mostly to Americans who like arguing about the merits of religion in public life.

He's good at writing about evolution and behavioural genetics. I don't really pay much attention to the rest.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 24th, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
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This makes a lot of sense, though I think he is more idealistically motivated.  Perhaps I am incorrect.
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From:feanelwa
Date:September 25th, 2007 10:14 am (UTC)
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Parties around the theme of pride could be quite fun, as long as nobody decides to screen a world cup football match in Soho on the same day.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 25th, 2007 12:07 pm (UTC)
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Do lions have pride parties?
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From:mair_aw
Date:September 26th, 2007 01:52 am (UTC)
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 26th, 2007 09:10 am (UTC)
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Oh, that kind of pride.  I'm ashamed to be straight myself, and hide in little alcoves fancying women.  Actually true.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 2nd, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
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http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com/2007/09/everything-you-never-wanted-to-know_27.html

Final paragraph.

S.
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From:plinthy
Date:September 24th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
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Following Rilestone's claim to its conclusion, there's no one in the world qualified to criticize religion in general[1] , since no one knows enough about the curlicues of all faiths.

The stuff about faeries completely misses the point of why Dawkins wrote the book. If belief in Leprechauns was having a major effect on the educational and foreign policies of the world's most powerful nation then Rilestone might well be writing a book about it.

[1] Which I think is ultimately what Dawkins is trying to do; he mostly talks about Christianity because that's the context he's writing in, but most of the criticisms can equally well be levied at any religion (though perhaps the chapter on proofs of god would have been shorter for most other religions).

From:gjm11
Date:September 26th, 2007 12:54 am (UTC)
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Rilstone. Rilstone. Rilstone.

Andrew Rilestone. Richard Dawkings. Stephen Hawkings. Aarghing aarghings.

Er, excuse me. Just had to get that off my chest.

I suppose it could be argued that if you're going to claim that all religions are wrong then you *do* need at least a decent working knowledge of all religions. The way to avoid that is to say "Religions with properties X, Y and Z are wrong" and argue on the basis of properties X, Y and Z. But then everyone lines up to say "Oh no, *my* religion doesn't have property X at all, which you obviously think it does, silly you". Which is in fact exactly what's happened with Dawkins. Of course, unless they mean "my private religion, which may or may not have anything to do with the hordes of other people who ostensibly belong to the same religion" it doesn't really appear to be true, but that doesn't stop them.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 27th, 2007 01:33 am (UTC)
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I don't think you do need to, but emphasizing the difference between atheism as a belief and agnosticism as a doubt, you can either state your disbelief in God in general as a positive concept with dogma, like other religions, or, yes, you have to refute any definition of God going, and therefore become a universal religion expert.  My suspicion is Dawkins doesn't regognize the validity of the former requirement but (rightly but incompletely) feels the latter is too great a restriction on atheism.

As far as restrictions on other beliefs go, anyone who holds one is perfectly entitled to consider his commentary irrelevant if it is essentially inaccurate in some way.  If he intends to critique a specific religion (and he seems to) then, yes, inaccuracy is a serious criticism.  Imprecision, which would be commensurate with an admission of partial ignorance on his part, would be less of one.
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From:aureo1e
Date:September 25th, 2007 09:50 am (UTC)
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The whole argument confuses me. I guess it's point is for people to clarify their own positions by testing them against opposing ones. I'm pretty sure neither side is going to concede anything.

I haven't seen anything I'd class as particularly clever in the debate inasmuch as I've followed it either though. I suspect that people think a position close to their own is rather clever and witty, and the opposing one misses the point completely. Since my own feelings on the matter can be described as a sort of enlightened apatheistic ignosticism, nothing seems applicable to me.

From what I've seen, there's a lot of straw-man type arguments going on. Dawkins/P Z Myers use a bad Emperor's (*) New Clothes analogy and Rilestone counters with a Iraq war comparison. I'm not convinced by all these arguments that start "Saying religion is X is like saying {ludicrous analogy Y}". It doesn't really go anywhere, unless the point of the whole endeavour is for each side to wind the other up.
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From:feanelwa
Date:September 25th, 2007 10:17 am (UTC)
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I am trying to pack another box whenever I want to continue an argument with somebody rude on the internet. This puts me in the awkward position where internet trolls and people who don't like me may be actively helpful in making me better prepared to move house on Saturday. If you were to do the same with bowls of washing up instead of boxes, perhaps arguing with Robhu could be indirectly a very useful thing.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 27th, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)
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Nice concept :)

Auto-apologies if I have been trolling:  It is very far from my intention to do so.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 27th, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC)
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Surely the best answer is not to read things that get you so fired up you want to start random arguments in the first place?
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From:feanelwa
Date:September 27th, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC)
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I'm afraid my future-seeing skills aren't always good enough to know when the comments to a post I am about to read will contain something that will make me angry. Besides, for the cases when something does make me a little angry, sometimes it is better to politely explain something the poster hasn't thought of than to ignore it, for example "why do people keep telling me off for standing over the yellow line when an underground train is approaching?".
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From:pw201
Date:September 25th, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC)
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I see gjm11 is on the case, thus saving me the trouble. Still, I thought I might post here instead.

Dawkins is sloppy when he talks about the Bible or Christian history, something which a good research assistant could have corrected if he'd bothered to ask them, I guess. This means some of the parts of the book where he's arguing that the things he's misinterpreted are in fact silly will miss the point.

Still, I take the main arguments of the book to be the "Ultimate 747" argument, and more generally his argument that the sort of good God that most theists (rather than those with theology degrees or liberal Anglicans) believe in should make an observable difference to the world. I don't think Rilstone's managed an argument against that. I've said this to Andrew Rilstone, of course, but he's not really answered that point, I think.

re robhu, I thought he'd flipped his "Tis the East, and atreic's arse is the Sun"/"atreic is dead to me" switch to "dead to me" and wasn't talking to you at all, no?
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From:atreic
Date:September 25th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
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Yeah. Last I heard from him was he sent me an email telling me off for filling in his public polls when bored, because I wasn't keeping to my side of his internal model of how "him not speaking to people" should work.
From:gjm11
Date:September 26th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
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I think the "Ultimate 747" argument is strong if it's just meant to be a refutation of arguments from design, but weak if it's meant to be a positive argument against theism. Its key premise (that something complex is very unlikely to exist without arising from something simpler) isn't obviously enough true. Sure, it's plausible, and it's a very natural generalization of Ockham's razor, but one can doubt it without obvious craziness. Also, a theist (though not, e.g., an orthodox Christian) could surely believe in a superhuman supernatural creator-of-the-universe who got that way by some sort of ethereal evolution or something. (Actually, I think Dawkins has some sympathy with that sort of idea, at least to the extent of thinking it's less silly than most actual religions.)

There are a number of very good things in the "Ultimate 747" chapter other than the argument itself, incidentally.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 27th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)
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Is the "ultimate 747" thing a reference to Fred Hoyle's comment on evolution?

What bothers me is that there is an unexcluded middle between atheism and creationism ... one which I consider myself to occupy.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 27th, 2007 01:38 am (UTC)
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Whoops.  The unexcluded middle comment was me, sorry.

:)
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From:pw201
Date:September 27th, 2007 08:59 am (UTC)
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Wikipedia has the details. It is a reference to Hoyle's comment, and an attempt to turn such comments against their originators, by arguing that God (as conceived by most theists) is complex and requires a more basic explanation.

Theistic replies to this argument are that Dawkins is assuming materialism, that God is in fact simple, and that, since God is believed to be "necessary" (in the philosophical sense), arguments about "who made God?" are ruled out of bounds by that belief. I think the latter two are silly. They both seems to rely on assertions about God which are asserted specifically to make his existence plausible, so that it'd be possible to rephrase them as "if God exists, he is simple and necessary". The problem then is that such a God doesn't look much like the personality portrayed by various religions, ISTM, and Dawkins's argument is against a personal God.

wrt materialism, I think it's OK to say that there might be a realm where complex things don't need to be built up from simple things, but again the question is why anyone would think that.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:September 27th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
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I think Aquinas usually does that bit backwards--god is that which precedes all.  Assuming that there are initial events, which may not be unique, god is identified as these events or their cause. o; As such any precursors are assimilated in that definition of god.

Of course, identifying such a god with the God of any religion is completely impossible.  A total materlialist atheist would identify the big bang as "god" in this sense.

I think it's fair to say that any god existing within a universe is essentially just a big person, so any meaningful argument about theism has to accept extra-universal boundaries.  Confucius would of course remind us that life is complicated enough without speculating on realms beyond it, which seems a fair point to me, but speculating on their absence is as unfounded as on their presence, burden of proof notwithstanding.  It's never stopped us in the past, in short.
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