The “New Atheism” 5: Meme Theory and HADDs

The “New Atheism” 5: Meme Theory and HADDs

Ian Kluge

Yet another difficulty with New Atheist ideology is that the New Atheists—especially Dawkins, Dennett and Harris—also demonstrate a logical inconsistency by violating their own demand that all genuine knowledge must conform to the requirements of the scientific method.

According to this paradigm, knowledge claims not scientifically testable are no better than superstition or religion. Yet what are we to make of Dawkins’ and Dennett’s adherence to meme theory?

In order to explain the spread and powerful hold of religion, they assert that religion is a meme, i.e. a “unit[] of cultural imitation”31 which functions like a gene for ideas, beliefs, customs, feelings, skills, etc. These are transferred through teaching, imitation and law. As Dennett points out, these memes operate for their own benefit, and must be studied in light of the question “cui bono?” 32 i.e. who gains?

The basic problem with meme theory is that it does not meet the demands of the scientific method. To examine this further, I offer ten reasons why memes are no more than metaphors and not products of reasoning by the scientific method.

Memes:

  1. do not exist in space
  2. are not physical
  3. have no internal structure i.e. no physically separate or component parts or clear boundaries
  4. are not involved in any measurable energetic interactions within themselves, amongst themselves or with other beings
  5. do not show action, agency, e.g. competition, accommodation
  6. have no inherent interests or even self-interests (all their interests are  attributed to them externally)
  7. have no intention and cannot act intentionally
  8. have no inherent reproductive capacity
  9. cannot be quantified
  10. “have no chromosomes or loci or alleles or sexual recombination.”33

Memes also lack definitional precision. How, for example, do we distinguish between the meme phenotype and the genotype? The examples provided by Dawkins and Dennett could refer to either. This lack of precision matters because evolutionary theory requires this distinction; without it meme-theory is simply not a scientific evolutionary theory.

Consequently, Dawkins’ and Dennett’s meme theory is based on a fallacy—that is, a false analogy— not only because memes are so unlike genes, but also because, unlike genes, memes are not scientifically testable. Furthermore, treating memes as if they had inherent interests is an example of a logical mistake known as the pathetic fallacy, which treats inanimate things as if they were alive. Since a non-living thing has no intentions or goals, it cannot have any inherent interests to achieve or lose. Any ‘interests’ it has must be imposed from the outside. In other words, Dennett and Dawkins ignore the overwhelming list of dissimilarities that undermine any attempt to establish a valid analogy in order to explain their naturalistic theory about the prevalence of religion.

Dennett’s claim that memes exist “because words exist”34 is also untenable. In the first place, identifying words with memes does not escape the problems noted above. A word may exist physically as sound or as physical marks on paper, but how does it have intentions or interests or a reproductive mechanism? What internal energy processes are involved in it?

The second problem is that the suggestion is confused. By “words” is he referring to the word-form, or the idea-content? There is no necessary connection between a word-form and what it means, e.g. ‘dog’ can be ‘Hund’, ‘perro,’ ‘cane’ and ‘koira.’ The form of the word and its content are not identical; the same idea-content can be expressed by different word-forms. In that case, which is the meme—the word-form or the idea-content? If the meme is the word-form, then different words for the same thing must express different idea-content; this creates problems vis-à-vis translation between different languages and even dialects of one language: different form equals different meaning. If the meme is the idea-content, then word-forms cannot be memes. But if the meme is the idea-content where does it exist? How does it have interests or intentions?

In the third place, we can see the possibilities of various confusions between genotype (idea-content) and phenotype (individual expression) arising here. If Dennett’s suggestion is true, how are the genotype (idea-content) and phenotype (individual word) connected? Since there is no necessary connection between a word-form and its idea-content, how can one be the expression of the other?

In meme theory, Dawkins and Dennett attempt to establish their own unscientific superstition in order to explain the prevalence of the superstition of religion. Similar remarks might be directed at Dennett’s theory of the HADD, the brain’s supposed ‘hyper-action agent detection device’ which attributes agency or intention to events and entities around us.35 This HADD is the alleged origin of our belief in super-natural phenomenon including God or gods.36 Dennett provides no evidence for the HADD’s existence, merely accepting it as a convenient supposition for his purpose. In short, memes and HADDs are no more than reified concepts.

To his credit, Dennett admits that the HADD and memes are no more than a theory37 but that admission only leads to a further problem: Why does he spend so much time advocating an explanation that is frankly unscientific and for which there is no scientific evidence of any kind?

Obviously there is an enormous inconsistency in criticising religion for its speculations and lack of scientific explicability and at the same time indulging in such speculations in order to explain religion away. This is a clear case of the logical error of special pleading.

When we strip away memes and HADDs, a significant portion of Dawkins’ and Dennett’s argument falls by the wayside. Without them, they simply lack their sought-after naturalistic explanation of the origin and spread of religion. Their indulgence in sheer speculation means they have failed in “investigating the biological basis of religion,”38 and indeed, have failed to investigate religion scientifically at all. They have reified a concept—just as they claim religion does—and then treated their reification as an established fact.

Next time: Adopting Eastern Mysticism

========================
Biblio: 31 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 223; also Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 78.; 32 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 84.; 33 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.223.; 34 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 80.; 35 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 109—115.; 36 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 123.: 37 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 310.; 38 Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 71—72.

Share
www.pdf24.org    Send article as PDF   

21 thoughts on “The “New Atheism” 5: Meme Theory and HADDs

  1. I am a scientist and a very devout “Born Again Atheist”, so my opinions on the matter are admittedly biased.

    We can imagine all sorts of things – picture if you will, a flying hamburger that can propel itself to the moon. Just because we can imagine something doesn’t mean it exists. But if you can convince others that it exists, then you have a religion on your hands.

    Initially, religions were based on promoting explanations that were at least plausible for their time – but the main difference between a “scientific view” and a “religious view” of that explanation is how the person reacts when there is evidence that shows the explanation is incorrect. All religions hold on to their earlier explanation “because it is written” in some ancient text. And that’s how they continue to hold power over other people.

    “The God Delusion” is one of my favorite books, probably one of the only books I’ve read that I’ve agreed with wholeheartedly. It should be required reading in all high schools, worldwide.

    1. Hi HBL:

      Are you serious about your comments, or just surfing? If you”re serious, let me answer you.

      What you say about imagining all sort of things and their not necessarily being true doesn’t describe religion – it exists, get over it – but does accurately describe memes. These are Dawkins’ explanation for persistent mental and cultural phenomena like religion.

      By his definition, science is also a meme (I wonder if he thinks of his brand of evolutionary creation stories – clearly derived from the popularity of Biblical creation stories – as a meme?).

      Scientist call ideas that they make up in their imagination hypotheses, and then test their implications. Judging from your “hamburger” hypothesis, would it be correct to judge that you are in the food sciences?.

      My perspective is that the ideas of religion have to be considered in a similar light, i.e., scientifically. In “The God Delusion”, Dawkins steers religiously away from doing this – as Ian points out, his logic is of the grandstanding, as opposed to the scientific, quality.

      Perhaps I am wrong, but as a scientist I don’t find his sweeping generalizations (and pages and pages of text used for score-settling dispargement of folks he doesn’t like) to be very scientific.

      I do agree that Dawkins likes science, even loves it. I wonder why he gave it up to write books? At any rate, he is driving some very compelling conversations these days.

      At any rate, let us hear from you again if your serious about discussion.

  2. Pardon, HBL, but your flying hamburger is a material entity composed of matter. We know the properties of hamburgers (because we grill them most weekends) and can attest to their lack of flight—unless, of course, we strap them to the top of a frisbee and fling them.

    The problem, I think, with such intentionally silly images (besides their tendency to make light of the discussion) is that 1) God is not a material object that we have ourselves manufactured out of natural components whose properties are known. And 2) it stretches credulity to suppose that the religions claiming billions of adherents worldwide today are the result of baseless imagination. Over the length of our tenure on this planet, Men have arisen teaching the same basic set of spiritual principles about the same type of Being. They have proved the efficacy of those teachings to enough people to cause the same phenomenon to happen, not just once in history, or in one particular type of culture, but repeatedly in a widely diverse array of cultures and times. The idea that all faith arose among illiterate and uneducated savages is simply false.

    Your comment that ‘All religions hold on to their earlier explanation…” is a gross exaggeration. Some traditions DO hold onto their ideas about what the Prophet meant in the face of overwhelming evidence that their interpretation is wrong. But not all do. Even in older forms of faith, the conception of the universe and our relationship to it changes with science’s discoveries about it. The Baha’i Faith has raised this idea: that religion, like science, is and must be progressive and evolutionary to an article of faith. It is, in fact, “written in stone” if you will, that things change and our spiritual understanding of our world and ourselves must also change.

    This is not unique to the Baha’i revelation, though—the sacred texts of all the revealed religions make reference to this need for growth and change—but it is strikingly clear in the writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha to which Ian Kluge refers.

    “Religion and Science are inter-twined with each other and cannot be separated. These are the two wings with which humanity must fly. One wing is not enough. Every religion which does not concern itself with Science is mere tradition…” That is from a religious text.

    The “religious view” you cite is not, in fact, a “religious view” for there is no singular such view. It is a dogmatic view and it can be found anywhere humans interact. I recall with some bemusement the initial reaction to Walter Alvarez’s first papers on the KT boundary event. His detractors insisted that the truth (the dinos were done in by volcanic activity) was literally written in stone—in such places as the Deccan Traps.

    Dogmatism, I believe, is the real enemy of science, faith and reason, whether it rears its ugly head within religion or without.

  3. Dear Half-Baked Lunatic,

    I am sorry to hear that “The God Delusion” is one of your favorite books. Like “God is Not Great,” “The End of Faith and “Breaking the Spell” it is chock full of identifiable, i.e. nameable errors in elementary logic. If you want them all documented in detail go to http://www.bahaiphilosophystudies.com/articles/ . These logical errors are apart from the errors of fact (especially regarding philosophical issues) that undermine Dawkins’ book. I would want to expose high school students to better logical reasoning than that.

    Your argument about the origin of religion is an example of the “genetic fallacy” – an error Dawkins also makes. The “genetic fallacy” claims that a truth-claim or idea is true or untrue because of its origin. However, the past of a concept is irrelevant to its intrinsic merit. In logical terms, the fact that religion may – or may not – have arisen as you describe says absolutely nothing about its truth value. A truth-claim is not true or untrue because of its origin; it is true or untrue because of its intrinsic merits or lack thereof.

    Thus, even if the belief in God began with flying hamburgers, the latter fact is logically irrelevant to the truth or non-truth of the belief in God. The “genetic fallacy” is a fallacy of relevance, i.e. it is off topic and does not answer the question, in this case, showing the existence of non-existence of God. The origins of religion are not logically relevant to God’s existence or non-existence.

    Your next argument commits the “fallacy of omission” by leaving out much important material about the topic at hand, in this case, the origin of religion. Cosmological explanation may have been one of the instigating factors, others being religions’ social, economic, political, aesthetic and psychological factors.

    Having committed the fallacy of omission, you then indulge in the fallacy of overgeneralization by claiming that “all religions” stick to earlier explanations because these are written in “some ancient text.” That, of course, side-steps the crucial question of how the ancient texts are read – literally, symbolically, morally, existentially, allegorically or anagogically. All of these modes of interpretation were practiced in the Jews, medieval Christians and Muslims not to mention the Greeks. Hindus and Buddhists also distinguished literal from non-literal interpretation.

    IOW, *some* but by no means all religions stick to ancient literal readings. For example, in 500AD St Augustine wrote a book explaining how “Genesis” was not to be taken literally because it was not a “scientific” (his word) text. In short, your statement is a vast overgeneralization that does not stand up to factual analysis. This causes a problem for your argument.

    The problem is that once your premise statement is seen to be a vast overgeneralization, your argument about the difference between religion and science is significantly weakened.

    The same problem dogs your premise statement that sticking to the ancient texts is “how they continue to hold power over other people.” Because it is based on an unsupportable generalization, the force of the argument is severely reduced..

  4. Hey guys, take it easy on our friend! We want to engage with him, not pile on,

    HBL says that religions offer explanations that they stick to even when superseded. Isn’t that generally correct.

    1. I think that’s true of certain segments of religious society. AND I think it’s perfectly understandable and that if we could show some understanding of the phenomenon and compassion for those caught up in it, we might achieve better results than a frontal attack such as Dawkins et al have given.

      What is one thing that most people fear in life? Change. The world is, increasingly, a chaotic mad place politically, technologically, culturally. Look at the changes that have taken place in the world just since the birth of the Baha’i Faith in 1844. We’ve gone from horse and carriage to car and jet. We’ve seen the advent of computers, TV, space flight, the Hubble telescope. Not to mention the radical shift in social mores and attitudes toward violence and sexuality.

      Is it any wonder that people try to find an anchorage in the midst of this swift stream of progress? You and I might agree that that anchorage is formed by the central spiritual teachings of faith—teachings that underscore our fundamental relationship to God and to other humans. But if you’re in a faith tradition that has transferred its concept of “core beliefs” from spiritual principle to specific forms of doctrine and ritual, the swift progression of events may seem to be trying to knock you from your foundations.

      It seems to me that the solution may lie in encouraging people of faith to re-attach to the principles underlying their faith so that they might detach from the ephemeral.

      Hey, doesn’t Jesus give a parable about this? Something about building our houses on rock instead of sand?

  5. HBL says that religions offer explanations that they stick to even when superseded. Isn’t that generally correct.”

    HBL’s statement is a serious over generalization, and, therefore, as such, it is incorrect. What is meant by ‘sticking to their explanations?’ If we insist on reading Genesis literally, the answer is clear, but what if we say, like Augustine in 500 AD, that Genesis is not about physical creation but about our relationship to God? It is a divinely inspired story to illustrate our dependence on God (a good Baha’i point) not to be taken as a scientific (Augustine’s term) account. Are we then still sticking to our original explanation? I don’t think so. We have advanced beyond literalism to an understanding that clashes with no scientific theory and is not even in principle falsifiable.

    HBL’s claim is only true if all religions remain rigidly fundamentalist-literalist all the time on all issues. The problem is they don’t. That’s why I brought up Genesis. Protestant fundamentalist-literalists stick with their original explanations but Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and others don’t do that. The same is true in the long and varied history of Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.

    This topic is one of the tremendous weaknesses of the new atheist arguments: they assume that religions are always literalist, uniform and unchanging in doctrine and practice. Such is simply not the case. Doctrine and how doctrine is understood varies tremendously, which is why knowledge of the different ways of reading scripture is so important. I have yet to read a new atheist author who has even a basic understanding of this issue.

    As far as being critical goes, I think I and others have been quite kind and focused strictly on the arguments being advanced. By way of contrast, here is what Thomas Nagel, a world-renowned atheist and philosopher of science has to say about Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”: “a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument.” (The New Republic, Oct. 16, 2006)

    If new atheists and believers are to find genuine common ground, then all ideas must be examined critically; otherwise the project will become impossible.

    1. Hi Ian:

      I wrote that “HBL says that religions offer explanations that they stick to even when superseded. Isn’t that generally correct.” You argue against this apparently but I can’t follow your logic. Isn’t the statement “generally” correct?. Note, “generally” doesn’t mean “always”.

      According to the Baha’i Teachings, “all religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time.” Is this incorrect too?

      The point, as I see it, is that you have to look what people mean to say, not the inaccurate way that they phrase it. Is that not right?

      I would say that if atheists and believers are to find genuine common ground, then all ideas must be examined forgivingly and with love and generosity, not critically unless someone indicates that they are ready and sophisticated enough to do so, or “otherwise the project will become impossible.”

      Stephen

  6. I googled your atheist trinity without finding any source for the arguments that you so easily refuted.
    “The straw man fallacy occurs in… a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position and then refuting it, thus giving the appearance that the opponent’s actual position has been refuted…”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    1. Are you saying you couldn’t find any material on memes? I’ve read of Dawkins’s meme theories in several places, but it was some time ago. I think one of those was on his web site.

      There are also several commentaries on meme theory by other atheist philosophers. I believe Scott Atran wrote some commentary on it.

      At any rate, if you could be more specific, it would be helpful.

      1. Janus, Maya

        I have noted the straw man and the straw religion as the main villians in Dawkins’ books. I am trying to encapsulate a number of comments above.

        The flying hamburger is an typical example of straw religion. it is am attempt to lampoon all forms of belief. As others have shown, Dawkins and other athiests have a serious set of internally generated, arbitrary beliefs which they hold to strongly. A rebuttal of them is not to point out they hold them ‘religiously’. They are not religious, they are fanatical. Athiesm is not a religion, it is a set of counter-statements. It will solve nothing. Large experiments involving the widespread adoption of their point of view have, arguably, not carried human society forward. Athiesm lacks content. It is ‘un-something’.

        It has always seemed odd to me that athiests exert so much effort to discuss religion – a topic about which, based on the evidence I can find, they obviously know so little. Adopting the straw arguments of the new athiests requires intellectual enfeeblement.

  7. Hi Stephen,

    My logic isn’t hard to follow. The claim is an over-generalization which means that there are enough exceptions of various kinds and for various reasons to undermine the validity of the generalization. Is the statement “generally” correct? That depends on what is meant by ‘sticking to one’s original points.’ For example, if a religion re-interprets a teaching away from a scientifically mistaken literalism and reads the teaching as symbolic – is it still ‘sticking to its original point’? That is what Augustine did with Genesis in 500 AD. So is the Catholic Church still ‘sticking to its original position’? The truth of the general claim varies from issue to issue, and sometimes, from denomination to denomination.

    The Baha’i statement also has to be read in a properly nuanced fashion. If we say everything about these religions is “superstitious” then we will inadvertently condemn even those teachings and practices that harmonize with the Baha’i Faith. We will be “hoist with our own petard.” But Abdu’l-Baha does not make this error. I read him as saying that all of them – on one or more issues – have fallen into superstition. That, I think, is a supportable proposition.

    If we look at what we think people mean, we will soon snarl ourselves in endless assumptions and misunderstandings. (That’s 30 years of teaching speaking.) How do you know that they actually mean to say? Isn’t that presumptuous? I think the most respectful thing is to take people at their word and then support and/or critique.

    I have no idea of what you mean by examining ideas “forgivingly.” Surely that doesn’t mean we let factual or logical errors slip by unnoticed – because that would defeat the whole purpose of exploring our ideas to find a common ground. How can we find common ground if we don’t examine each others’ ideas critically, i.e. analytically?

    Examining people’s ideas critically shows them great respect by taking their ideas seriously enough to analyze them for truth content, to reflect on the logical and scientific consequences and to formulate a rational reply. (That’s exactly what new atheists don’t do when they simply replace all references to God with the flying spaghetti monster.) Personally, I doubt that any new atheists who is willing to post on this forum is so unschooled, unsophisticated and tender that s/he is incapable of having his/her ideas scrutinized carefully.

  8. I really didn’t mean to set off a firestorm here. Primarily what I was trying to say is that just because we can think up the idea of a ‘god’ doesn’t mean that one really exists, just as a flying hamburger doesn’t exist although we can conceive of one.

    Again, not trying to be confrontational – but to me, the concept of ‘god’ is just an idea that someone came up with to explain things that couldn’t be explained any other way – and the idea caught on. If anyone is interested, here is an old posting from my blog that might shed a little more light on the reasons why I feel the way I do:
    http://www.halfbakedlunatic.com/post/2008/11/15/What-do-you-believe.aspx

    1. “What I was trying to say was just because we can think up the idea of a ‘god’ doesn’t mean that one really exists”

      That’s a given. What I’m trying to say is that’s not the level at which I or most believers I know BELIEVE. We don’t believe “just ’cause” someone thought it up. My own belief current in God is the product of life experience and study.

      The people who adhere to the world’s major revealed religions and their offspring do so because, first of all, a human being appeared who claimed direct experience with the Deity. He offered evidences of that claim of one sort or another. He gave teachings aimed at building a community of believers who transcended the material circumstances in which they lived to progress to a new stage of social interaction and individual virtue.

      If you look at the spiritual teachings of Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Zoroaster, Moses, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah (and there are others, but these are the most accessible) you will see that 1) These Avatars / Prophets spoke of God in similar terms; 2) spoke of their relationship with God in similar terms; 3) spoke of our relationship with God and with each other in similar terms.

      Taken as part of a continuum and allowing for cultural and temporal differences, the unity of thought in these teachings is remarkable. Our concepts of God, however much we have allowed our own desires and limitations to shape them, sprang from these teachings. And as popular as it is to go back and attribute the teachings of Christ, say, to a cadre of individuals who made Him up out of whole cloth, the fact that other individuals have given us these same types of revelations argue against this “fluke” theory.

      After having studied the above-mentioned teachings, I find it difficult to adhere to the idea that they were simply coincidentally coherent flukes or imaginings.

      Oh, and I, for one, enjoy firestorms.

  9. Hi David:

    Thanks for the update!

    You wrote “what I was trying to say is that just because we can think up the idea of a ‘god’ doesn’t mean that one really exists”. Of course!

    However, given the way you phrased it, I wasn’t quite sure whether you were serious or not. My experience is that there are lots of “born again” new atheists out there who were formerly born-again religious folks with an ideological mindset and a rigid righteousness about the absolute truth of their perspectives and the falseness of everybody else’s (and an aversion to reason).

    I read your posting on your blog and liked it. My equivalent is here. I’m a Ph.D. physicist (with 50 or so publications in quantum optics) and resonate to your thinking.

    There are, I think, solid reasons for believing in God. For example, consider that our day-to-day experience is either with people having their own minds, with concepts or ideas, or with sensory input mediated through our own mind. We must admit, I think clear, that mind has a very real existence (without it, we couldn’t share these ideas).

    Given that it is logical to assume that our minds exist, it is also logical to assume that minds are part of existence. Necessarily, then intelligence, creativity, etc, all those things that we associate with minds are also real and part of existence.

    Then, generalize. Much in the same way that we can generalize from the specific empirical data of falling apples and the orbiting moon to the idea of the law of gravity, we can also generalize from the existence of mind and its qualities to the generalized existence of mind and its categories, i.e., God. All of this is very proper, logical, and in accord with the best traditions of science. (Of course, we also have to consider the evidence for this generalized concept of God.)

    The point I want to make is that the concept of God is only illogical if we assume that material things are the only things that have real existence. This assumption – rather absurd if you think about it – is a 19th century concept that is very deeply and firmly rooted in the metaphysical assumptions of modern secular culture AND religious literalism and modern ideas of intelligent design, etc. We can talk more about that later if you want.

    Stephen

    1. Stephen I think it is necessary to move in small steps from flippant rejection by athiests to a considered possiblity that non-material things havea real existence. The human is one of the best examples as we are all able to experience ourselves.

      I maintain that the human brain is incapable of storing the information (memories) of a human lifetime, complete with low resolution video. It is already known that we are able to recall every day and everything in that day and details like licence plates that one did not think one noticed at the time. As more and more is known about the functions of the human brain, it is becoming clear there is nowhere to store all that information. Where, then, is it? It exists independent of the human body. If it can be shown, as I believe it increasingly is, that we have conscious existence outside the corporeal body, that is a step to possessing the first key.

      My point is scientifically testable and logically supportable.

      1. Hi Crispin.

        These days, there seem to be two types of things that people think of as non-material. One is obvious things like mind, thought, etc. The other are the more traditionally religious things like life after death, etc.

        You seem to arguing for the later. Am I right? If the mind can’t store all of its memories, then there has to be a non-material “storage space.”

        I think it would be a heck of thing to try to prove as you would have to have a valid estimate of the memory capacity of the brain, and then a measurable “brain dump” of a lifetime of memories.

        Stephen

    2. Stephen wrote: Then, generalize. Much in the same way that we can generalize from the specific empirical data of falling apples and the orbiting moon to the idea of the law of gravity, we can also generalize from the existence of mind and its qualities to the generalized existence of mind and its categories, i.e., God. …

      I love this. I think it illustrates the way the same process of reason applies to both religion and science.

      Can I quote you on that? :=)

  10. In addition to being tested by experience, the concept of a supernatural being or God has also been tested by rigorous logical analysis. Admittedly, this is the “God of the philosophers” and not the “God of Abraham and Isaac” but the God of the philosophers” provides the ontological foundations for belief in the latter.

    Philosophers both in the past and the present have provided proofs for the logically necessary existence of such a being, or provided up-dated versions of historical proofs. Even the much disputed ontological proof has been up-dated by no less than Kurt Godel who thought it was logically airtight.

    One of the weaknesses I see in the new atheists is that they have not done very well in handling these proofs. The worst case is one author’s failure to understand the proof from degrees (also used by Abdu’l-Baha) and his use of it to prove the existence of ultimately smelly feet.

    If atheism is going to be an intellectually viable world view, it will have to definitively dispose of these proofs both in their traditional and modern forms, and, dispose of them as they are actually presented, not in a parodied or misunderstood form. I have yet to read a single new atheist author who has done the necessary homework to actually get a philosophical grip on these proofs. Failure to do so will only confine the new atheists to being furiously indignant – i.e. being as emotion-based as the very fundamentalists they despise.

Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.