January 30, 2008

By how much can you miss a point

Über-Catholic Dad29, when he's not obsessively navel gazing over liturgical minutiae, occasionally unearths some classic material. For example this gem, delivered in elegantly scented Jesuit prose, alleged to debunk a couple of recent bestsellers, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great.

Via ol' Dad, Fr. Edward Oakes, S.J. (I can never see those initials without thinking of Fr. Gassalasca Jape, S.J., one of Ambrose Bierce's fictional collaborators on The Devil's Dictionary) disgorges the following:
It is ... blinkered ahistorical myopia that makes reading these books such a surreal experience. For like a “red thread” running through all their other arguments, each book has one central claim: Belief in God causes violence. The obvious corollary to this thesis is almost too absurdly risible to merit formulation, and some authors are just coy (or embarrassed) enough not to say it out loud; but others are bolder and shout it from the rooftops: If only atheism would take hold as the majority view throughout the globe, humans would lose their propensity for violence, lion would nestle beside the lamb, children would regain their long-lost happiness, swords would magically turn into plowshares, churches would empty and the resultant collapse in the market-price for incense would alone reverse global warming.
Eh, no. Neither author claims that said belief is the sole cause of violence, nor that the absence of belief would eradicate all violence. Only that belief has led to much violence, and postulates that whatever violence proceeded from belief may well have not occurred in its absence. So that leaves Oakes, S.J. with, well, appeals to Adolf Hitler and Joe Ratzinger, as it turns out. In other words, nothing.

Speaking of risible, as if on cue, the esteemed Professor John McAdams wanders cluelessly into ol' Dad's comments thread to deposit this profoundly rudimentary misunderstanding:
[Re:] The burden of proof is on the one making a claim.

Yea [verily?], but saying God exists is a claim, and saying that He does not is a claim.

Your claims don't get any special advantages.
Except Dawkins, for one, makes no such claim. Dawkins is a scientist, and scientists don't go around claiming to prove the non-existence of beings, supernatural or otherwise. In fact, throughout Dawkins's frequently uproariously funny book, he allows for the — albeit vanishingly small — possibility of "god." His point is that the evidence for it is nil and the arguments in favor of its existence are so threadbare and unconvincing, it's more than reasonable to rule out god in the meantime, for the most part.

That being the 99.99999999999999999999999999999% part.

This is generally the position of most atheists, and also why the claims are not comparable as McAdams seems to think.

Oddly enough, ol' Dad's webpage prominently displays an animated "God Bless America" graphic, which in turn features images of the destruction of the World Trade Center. If memory serves, that event was engineered and conducted by a gentleman named Mohammed Atta, who left frighteningly detailed directions as to the proper ablutions to be performed over his corpse on the occasion of his successful religious martyrdom and ensconcement at Valhalla.

Notably, he didn't ask to be buried with copies of Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Note: The author denies his insolence is evidence for the existence of god, although he acknowledges the argument has been made.


Display Name said...

Honest folks can have a rousing debate about the facets of the "Can you prove a negative?" question, of course. Those who are paying attention might even learn something about how we can decide something is so exceedingly plausible or implausible as to be crowned provisionally "true" or "false". McAdams has obviously applied this sort of reasoning to the Kennedy assassination.

AutismNewsBeat said...

A statement of fact cannot be insolent. Another great post, IT.

illusory tenant said...

Thanks H-Blog, you're too kind.

Dad29 said...

When Oakes uses the phrase "...thread runs through" he does not imply 100% assertion by either of the authors.

But then, were you to read him accurately, you'd have no basis for insolence, eh?

illusory tenant said...

The point, unfortunately, is that Oakes S.J.'s "obvious corollary" is a straw man of grandiose proportion.

He is correct, however, in that his corollary is "almost too absurdly risible to merit formulation."

But he went ahead and did it anyway.