Newfound Anti-Atheist Chris Hedges Doesn’t Believe in Coherent Arguments

Chris Hedges, author of the much-praised “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” seems to have become unhinged.

He has a new book coming out with the ever-so-clever title “I Don’t Believe in Atheists,” for which he’s published an advance summary essay and interview at “click-thru our desperate attempts to get you to pay money for words on the internet” publication Salon.

And folks, it’s just terrible. The essay is a mess from start to finish, seemingly utterly impervious to absurdity of its arguments in the face of everything from logical consistency to actual positions of his targets.

Most egregious is the way Hedges can’t seem to make up his mind exactly what sins “New Atheist” targets are guilty of: at some points he assert that, for instance, Christopher Hitchens believes in nothing. But without any explanation, he ALSO makes the charge that “atheists” are starry-eyed utopians that believe in the power of human perfection so strongly that, who knows: maybe they’d kill for it, those crazy buggers. How can both possibly be true?

Now the correct answer to this question is, of course, simply that atheists do not have any sort of affirmative philosophy in common: not even the four he’s most peeved at. The follow-up in this case, however, is that by and large he’s wrong in both of his contradictory claims. Very few atheists (and none of the presently popular “New Atheist” authors) are nihilists , and very few (and none of the presently popular “New Atheist” authors) are starry-eyed about human perfection. Most atheists are explicit pragmatists, not utopians of any stripe. If they celebrate a common cause in science and reason, it is because they think it will make things better, not perfect.  This seems like perfectly reasonable idea: does Hedges really think it’s nuts and the sign of “fundamentalism,” as he implies?

Well, as others have noted, presumably Hedges himself isn’t entirely against the idea of improving the human condition, or else he wouldn’t be paradoxically writing books seeking to convince people to be less reflexively warlike.  So exactly what is so threatening, so outrageous, about likewise criticizing religion and suggesting that the world might be better off with less of it? Hedges never says, exactly: there is no substantive response to these arguments other than to simply call them intolerant and ignorant. Instead we get rejections of bizarre straw men: (“we are not moving toward a glorious utopia. “) followed up by equally insane counter-pronouncements like “we are not moving anywhere” (really? recognizing rights like, say, free speech, is not any sort progress in the human condition? Medicine? Suicide prevention hot-lines? These are all take-it-or-leave it trivialities to Hedges?)

Here’s Hedges accusing the “New Atheists” of promoting:

a belief system as intolerant, chauvinistic, and bigoted as that of religious fundamentalists. They too propose a route to collective salvation. They too believe in the moral advancement of the human species, this time through science and reason. The utopian dream of a perfect society and a perfect human being, the idea that we are moving toward collective salvation, is one of the most dangerous legacies of the Christian faith and of the Enlightenment. Those who believe in the possibility of this perfection often call for the silencing or eradication of human beings who are defined by them as impediments to human progress.

Again: I doubt Hedges can sustain a serious argument to the effect that any of these major figures, much less atheists in general, speak in terms of “collective salvation” or a “perfect society.” In fact, all of them very clearly say that a world without religious faith would not be a perfect world, merely an incrementally better one. All of them are, in fact, students of liberal enlightenment, champions of free inquiry (including the freedom to be offensive, stupid, dishonest, etc.), and are explicitly against coercive measures to enforce belief or agreement, fundamentally. They’ve lobbed rhetorical attacks on religious claims, not called for death camps. And trying to lump Hitchen’s militant stances on the Iraq war into his atheism seems, if anything, quite backwards. It certainly isn’t an attitude characteristic of “New Atheists” as a whole (most of whom seem to be anti-war even to the point of a silly pacifism), nor is it the same thing as Harris’ philosophy-grade ticking time-bomb thought experiments on torture and war.

Here’s another Hedges claim that just seems outright bizarre:

The new atheists, led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, do not make moral arguments about religion.

Of course they do. These arguments are, in fact, the core of their writings for goodness sakes. This is like saying that Stephen King does not write books about horror monsters. When Dawkins calls the God if the Old Testament a monster, he’s not just slinging insults: he’s pointing out that a causally genocidal creature is morally abhorrent. When Harris points out that acting on irrational faith is tantamount to lying, this isn’t an academic classification: it’s speaking against the harm that can be caused by unjustified certainty.

The worst of it though, is this passage on evolution:

The New Atheists misuse Darwin and evolutionary biology as egregiously as the Christian fundamentalists misuse the Bible. Darwinism, which pays homage to the final and complete mastery of our animal natures, never posits that human beings can transcend their natures and create a human paradise. It argues the opposite. The illusion of human progress, in the name of evolutionary biology, is actually anti-Darwinian.

Here’s a meager list of what’s bizarrely wrong here:

  • The use of “Darwinism,” the creationist epithet that falsely implies that Charles Darwin is some sort of patron saint of any particular ideology whose teachings are respected over and above normal scientific evidence.
  • The usual mistake of thinking of evolutionary biology as if it were itself a normative and comprehensive worldview: something all the New Atheists have argued extensively against, not for.
  • Nothing about evolutionary biology, nor any of the writers Hedges is attack, makes any of the grandiose claims he is attacking:
    • Evolutionary biology has nothing to say about the “mastery of animal natures.” In fact, most biologists try to avoid the confusing and misleading dichotomy between supposed “animal nature” and human culture.
    • Evolutionary biology does not declare human progress, as judged by human values, illusionary. Evolution does indeed do away with the idea of “high” and “low” creatures and directional evolutionary development, but nothing about it precludes human beings judging things like the eradication of slavery to be moral progress. This is, then, a complete non-sequitur.

And then there’s this:

But more ominously, the New Atheists ignore the wisdom of original sin, as well as studies in cognitive behavior that illustrate that human nature is often irrational and flawed.

Good grief. Cognitive behavior is Daniel Dennet’s primary scientific interest. Sam Harris is working on a doctorate in neuroscience. I’m betting that both of them know a heck of a lot more about studies of cognitive behavior than Hedges, and I can assure him that both think human nature can be plenty irrational and flawed.

And, wait a minute: he’s really claiming that Hitchens doesn’t think that human nature is irrational and flawed? Seriously? Seriously? The consummate curmudgeon? The petulant pessimist? Who is Hedges trying to kid here?

The sad reality is that, like many would-be voices of reason, Hedges doesn’t seem to have made even the most basic inquiry into the nature of non-belief: his “throw everything and the kitchen sink” style of accusation barely manages to be self-consistent, let alone even close to fair or accurate. Instead, he seems satisfied that if he can declare everyone but himself to be equally extreme that he can play the favored moderate without having to do any sort of heavy intellectual lifting to justify his particular positions.

Boy is that getting old.

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41 Responses to Newfound Anti-Atheist Chris Hedges Doesn’t Believe in Coherent Arguments

  1. pauljub says:

    Some “Christians” just don’t research the widespread atheist population very well.

    I think we’re advancing quite well in health and science, even in crime-fighting. For that matter, the decline in religion is quite an advancement as well. (Note that Jesus skimped in the religion department. He was about new life, not old traditions.)

    Where we *are* losing ground, is in the human soul department. Hedges might want to point that out.

    The problem is, Hedges is “battling” atheists on their own ground, without even beginning to comprehend them.

    And what’s his problem with “Christian fundamentalists”? If he’s Christian, but not fundamentalist, then he really isn’t Christian at all.

    Maybe he should pray.

  2. Bad says:

    I’m sure he prays, that’s not his problem. And I certainly don’t want to see him or anyone become a fundamentalist, or insist that fundamentalists are the only true kind of Christian.

  3. Larro says:

    Excellent retort to Hedges’ essay. [clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap]

  4. Valerie says:

    I have an article on atheism coming out in April/ May in the Edinburgh based PaperBack magazine. My stance is that, as an atheist, I’m naturally against preachy-ness and since I’m probably not alone, perhaps Hedges couldn’t find any fire and brimstone rhetoric from the Atheists on which to base his prejudices and objections. My article focuses on how bad religious groups are at selling themselves well and Hedges seems to have fallen into the same trap. Since most atheists I know don’t tend to gather in halls at weekends and get all clicquey, it’s great to come across someone else taking a cold, hard look at the gibberish that comes out of the mouths of some worshippers. An excellent article, well researched and comfortingly objective.

  5. barryweber says:

    Whoever it is, and from whatever point of view they are doing it, the lumping together of people into categories is wrong. And the larger the category, the more wrong it is. It is as silly to proscribe specific characteristics to all atheists as it is to claim that all Christians or Buddhists or Republicans toe the line on anything specific.

    I’m a pastor who LOVES to push people to think about their beliefs and faith. It takes about two minutes to demonstrate to any group of ‘believers’ that everyone in the room believes in a ‘different’ God. The one thing it is possible to agree on, even among theists and non-theists, is that in the appropriate contexts, we are ALL partly right, we are ALL partly wrong, and that we are ALL wholly ignorant of much, much more than we know.

  6. rustedangel says:

    Thank you for an interesting article.

    As a side note, I wish more of these books would focus on human uncertainty. Can someone point me towards the Hedges of agnosticism?

  7. Bad says:

    rusted, I’m not sure agnosticism is what you mean, in its technical sense. Most of the “New Atheists” are agnostics. I’m agnostic. The basis for most atheists to reject things like faith is, after all, a rejection of the idea that we should leap to conclusions without evidence. Few non-believers would assert a rock-solid certainty about the non-existence of god. Rather, we are unconvinced, and find most of the claims for gods to either be logically faulty or contradicted by reality. In my case, I think plenty of atheists still then mix up the difference between not believing and believing not, but it seems to be and error most people make.

  8. chernwern says:

    I think being fundamental is good. I like being fundamentally male.

    Anyway. Interesting that you should mention that most atheists don’t assert a ‘rock solid’ certainty about the existence/non-existence of God. I’m pretty sure Dawkins is rather certain, and if not then he hates God anyway. Read bits of his book, there’s a lot of anger at someone he’s pretty sure doesn’t exist. Great huh?
    Well God promised that everyone who really, really tries to find him, will. By all means do more research if you’re not convinced; just do it with an open mind hey.

  9. Bad says:

    I’m pretty sure Dawkins is rather certain, and if not then he hates God anyway. Read bits of his book,

    But apparently not the part where he says, rather clearly, that he does not categorically rule out the possibility of a revelatory, personal God (because, as you might note, he explicitly says he isn’t talking about a deistic God), he just finds it very unlikely given the state of the universe and the lack of evidence.

    there’s a lot of anger at someone he’s pretty sure doesn’t exist. Great huh?

    Nope. There is some anger, however, at people who deceive others with faulty claims and unjustified certainty.

    Well God promised that everyone who really, really tries to find him, will. By all means do more research if you’re not convinced; just do it with an open mind hey.

    So what you are saying is that if I really really try to believe in God, I’ll believe in God? I’m sure you’re correct, but I don’t see how it demonstrates anything other than that it’s possible to fool oneself.

    And if there is an intelligent, personal God as depicted in the Bible, then there is clearly no need for it to require some sort of elaborate mental scavenger hunt in order to contact people if it wishes to make its existence known.

  10. rustedangel says:

    Bad,

    That’s a fair point. I suppose what I’m getting at is the fact that I find agnosticism to be an inherently more defensible position than aethesim, assuming that the aetheist perspective in question is categorical. As far as I can tell Dawkins is somewhere in between the two, though his focus remains very much on an objection to organized religion and blind religious action rather than on faith in specific.

    The mix-up you mentioned at the end of your post is key, and is one of the reasons I’d like to see a more careful popularization of agnosticism as a point of view; it seems to me it could act as a bridge between the two traditional camps, and maybe make some of the debate less caustic.

  11. Bad says:

    That’s a fair point. I suppose what I’m getting at is the fact that I find agnosticism to be an inherently more defensible position than aethesim, assuming that the aetheist perspective in question is categorical.

    I, of course, think it makes perfect sense to call oneself both a categorical atheist, and categorical agnostic: I fit into both these categories. As does Dawkins. I’m not sure what an “aetheist” is, or if you are using that as some sort of special alternate term that means something different from “atheist.” I’m not sure there is a good term for a non-agnostic atheist. Maybe “aetheist” is it: but I’ve never heard of it.

    Agnosticism cannot be a bridge, because it concerns a different, and perpendicular, subject: knowledge. Most atheists are atheists because they are agnostic (do not claim knowledge of god) and are also unwilling recognize faith as a legitimate shortcut to knowledge, and hence from there to belief. So we’re already standing on that bridge, as it were.

  12. Jack says:

    I finished Hedges’s book last night and found this site through a Google search.

    Some of the book’s points do seem pretty questionable to me, but I thought Hedges was convincing in arguing that many of the recent atheist writers are shallow anti-intellectuals who have a smug and unfounded faith in the complete superiority of Western culture and a tendency to overrate the potential of secularism. If Hedges’s quotes are accurate, it seems that Dawkins has pontificated on the Irish conflict without having any idea what he’s talking about and that Harris favors killing fundamentalist Muslims because we’re swell guys and they’re dangerous barbarians. And even though I admire Christopher Hitchens in a lot of ways, some of his statements about fundamentalist Muslims–such as his view that if you think Palestinian suicide bombers are motivated by despair, then you’re an apologist for Palestinian suicide bombers—are similarly stupid. (As for Hitchens’s utopianism–you’re right about his being cynical, but he also advocates a U.S.-led crusade to secularize and democratize the Middle East.) The point is that for all their talk of rationality, Dawkins, Hitchens, and especially Harris are all fairly dumb in certain ways. Judging from some comments about Hedges that I just read on a message board for Dawkins fans, the same can be said for a lot of atheists–one poster said that people like Hedges should be exterminated, while others spewed out lame, teenager-esque insults like “ass-clown,” “ass-hat,” ass-etc. Hedges’s point is simply that being an atheist doesn’t necessarily make one morally and intellectually superior to all religious thinkers, and he’s definitely right.

    Hedges also does a good job of refuting Harris’s apparent view that Islamic fundamentalists are barbaric savages in comparison to Western secularists. First, Hedges asks us to keep in mind that a lot of positive aspects of Western culture, such as the existence of books, come from Islamic culture. He also notes that the U.S. government has committed acts of terrorism, such as the Hiroshima bombing, that were far more horrible than 9/11. I really wish Americans would keep our own misdeeds in mind when mulling over questions like, “Is it okay to imprison and torture hundreds of possibly-innocent people in order to ensure that 9/11 doesn’t happen again?”

    Overall, I thought I Don’t Believe in Atheists was pretty good, despite its dumb title.

  13. Bad says:

    The fact that one can find things and conclusions that these writers have come to that one can argue are wrong, or mistaken, or even lazy though, is real red herring though. The core premise of their criticism of religion is not that reason always comes to perfect conclusions immediately or that reasonable people can’t be wrong. In fact, that’s quite the opposite of the liberal scientific method they advocate.

    The issue here is the method: reason over faith. Does Hedges agree or disagree with that premise? That’s the issue, not whether Hedges (or yourself) agree with Hitchens about the Iraq war, or if Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins are imperfect.

    I also don’t see how the idea that promoting democracy in the Middle East is in any legitimate sense, “utopian.”

    Hedges also does a good job of refuting Harris’s apparent view that Islamic fundamentalists are barbaric savages in comparison to Western secularists. Hedges asks us to keep in mind that a lot of positive aspects of Western culture, such as the existence of books, come from Islamic culture.

    This really is missing the point then. Harris is talking about suicide bombers and jihadists, not Islamic scholars, or at least not condemning them all the same way. Hedges seems to be folding everything Harris has said about Islam all into only his criticism of the most violent results of fundamentalism… which, frankly, ARE incredibly barbaric, compared to Western secularists or nearly anyone else.

    And while I’m a strong proponent of the idea that Hiroshima should indeed be called terrorism, that still seems like a desperately false equivalence. The fact that Americans are not universally perfect is, again, a straw man. Like it or not, our culture does not, in fact, sanction the execution of women who get raped, or support attacks on schoolbusses full of children. And that really IS better. Is Hedges really such an amoral relativist that he means what he says about no progress being any improvement, no culture better than any other?

  14. Jack says:

    Yeah, he actually does say over and over that human beings are inherently sinful and that all progress is an illusion. That seems to put him as much at odds with leftists as he is with religious fundamentalists and atheistic neocons. Like I said, some of his ideas sound pretty questionable to me.

    I agree that internally, American culture is a million times better than those of any Islamic states. So I’m very grateful to live here. If you look at what we’ve done to other countries, though, it’s as bad as worse as the crimes of Islamic terrorists. I’d say more, but I’m about to get kicked off of the library computer

  15. Jack says:

    (New computer)

    About reason over faith–I think Hedges makes a fairly decent case that non-rational thought can be superior to rational thought at times. He quotes Proust to the effect that consciously and rationally recalled memories lack the truth of involuntarily and non-rationally recalled memories, such as those brought about by smells or tastes. He points out that rational thought can prevent artists from doing their best work, which usually comes intuitively and taps into the subconscious. And he says that even scientific advances can come about through non-rational thinking, as when Kekulé’s dream about the snake eating its tail inspired his view of the benzine molecule. I don’t think Hedges would disagree that rationality is one of the best tools humanity has at its disposal, but he says it’s a mistake to completely dissmiss non-rational thinking or view rationality as our salvation.

    I really recommend the book, which takes only a couple of hours to read. It doesn’t even try to contribute anything to the debate over whether or not there’s a God, and in fact, Hedges’s religious beliefs seem so vague to me that I’d almost call him an atheist. But as an attack on the beliefs of a few selected atheist thinkers, it makes some strong points.

  16. If you don’t mind my saying so, Bad, I would have thought you’d have warmed to someone who has written a book entitled, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”. It seems to me that you’re simply in a bit of a snit here because he’s taking some potshots at some of your favorite binkies.

    While his grasp of some of the positions of Dawkins and Co. may not be perfect, (and by the was, as has been pointed out by others, Dawkins grasp of theology is deeply flawed, a fact you have dismissed as irrelevant) his overall point that the “New Atheists” and fundamentalist Christians are simply opposite sides of the same coin in their utter faith in the correctness of their own views and dismissive intolerance of the views of others–on what is essentially an unknowable subject– is well made. It’s a point I’ve been making for years. A blowhard is a blowhard, even if he’s saying things you agree with.

    The essay itself is not, as you say, “just terrible”. On the contrary, it is well very written by someone who is obviously a moderate and has clearly given this a great deal of thought. For all I know, he could even be an atheist. While you may disagree with him here, I don’t think it’s fair to call the essay “terrible”.

    -smith

  17. Bad says:

    I don’t do snits: I do bad arguments. :) And I don’t agree with people on political principle or similar conclusions.

    Most of the claims about Dawkins lack of theological training are ill-formed and irrelevant. Dawkins never claims to launch into the huge catalog of the elaborate and mostly unintelligible constructions of theological academics: he sets out explicitly to challenge a particular sort of common god belief, and, more importantly, its basis and mechanism: faith. I certainly don’t think he’s perfect in execution or in every detail, but as you know I do think that most of his critics are, frankly, not really responding to his arguments.

    I call it terrible for specific reasons: reasons that I outlined in my post. It’s those reasons that one needs to first address before it makes any sense to psychoanalyze my motives or biases.

    • cesar camba says:

      I read The God Delusion by Dawkins and I enjoyed the structure of the book, how each chapter sought to answer one of the several main arguments believers advanced in defence of theism. Then I heard Hedges talk about politics and really liked his attitude and views.

      When I found out he had some beef with Hitchens and Dawkins I started reading I Don’t Believe in Atheists with relish. What I expected (in view of his political coherence) was an as well structured and argued an essay as Dawkins’s. But I’m on the third chapter and I can’t even recognise Hedges’s characterisation of Dawkins’s arguments, it’s as if Hedges hasn’t really grasped much of Dawkins’s ideas (I’m less familiar with Hitchens, but I suspect the same is happening). I was hoping for a vigorous refutation of atheism and what I’m finding is a dissapointing ascribing of views to a choice of authors that doesn’t accord with my understanding.

      I’m surprised that someone who appears as generally cognisant as Hedges seems to be turning into a slightly hysterical character in relation to religion. In reality this dissonance gives more weight to the atheists side.

  18. I don’t do snits: I do bad arguments. :) And I don’t agree with people on political principle or similar conclusions.

    Fair enough.

    Most of the claims about Dawkins lack of theological training are ill-formed and irrelevant.

    Well, some are, perhaps, but not all. For example, if I were to write an essay attacking Evolution, while simultaneously acknowledging that all I knew about the subject was what I had learned in high school biology class, wouldn’t you have every right to question my credibility on this subject? Sure, I might still be able to hit the mark once or twice just out of dumb luck, but such an essay would be justifiably ripped to shreds (probably by you).

    I call it terrible for specific reasons: reasons that I outlined in my post. It’s those reasons that one needs to first address before it makes any sense to psychoanalyze my motives or biases.

    Psychoanalyze you, O Bad one? Now that WOULD be fun. ;)

    I happen to agree with some of the points you make in your post; Hedges does seem to get a little carried away at times. I just couldn’t help noticing that you seem to get a bee in your bonnet whenever someone has the temerity to question Dawkins.

    -smith

  19. Chris says:

    “How can both possibly be true?”

    Very simply: the phenomenon of “cognitive dissonance” is well-known. Just as an overzealous Christian can believe in “turning the other cheek” and also believe in violent revenge – a cognitive split that often causes much guilt and bitter self-loathing in Christian extremists – so can a fundamentalist atheist believe what Hedges avers Hitchens believes.

    What is objectionable about Hitchens and Dawkins is not that they promote “reason over faith,” it is that they’re engaged in self-deception about the rationality of their own perspectives. Dawkins may think he arrived at his beliefs about the world through the pure power of deductive reasoning, but he most certainly did not. He’s in error. His notion of the “selfish gene,” for example, and the “extended phenotype,” have more in common with Calvinist theology than anything resembling scientific neutrality.
    And the reason is simple: scientists are no freer of inherited cultural biases than anyone else. In hindsight, I can certainly see just how much of my own understanding of the world has been shaped by my WASP background. I’m not a Christian, but certain things I used to believe were true, I see now, I believed not because I deduced them through the untainted power of reason and logic, but because they dovetailed with things I’d already been acculturated to believe. In short, precisely where I thought I was being reasonable, I was actually being led by primal feelings.

    In fact, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins are all TEMPERAMENTALLY Christian, even if they are not Christian intellectually. Overtly they are atheists, but covertly their behavior has its origins in beliefs generated by our Judeo-Christian lineage.

  20. Bad says:

    so can a fundamentalist atheist believe what Hedges avers Hitchens believes.

    While possible, but a far more reasonable explanation is that both of Hedges charges are wrong, and he’s just tossing out these criticisms without even thinking to consider whether they make sense.

    His notion of the “selfish gene,” for example, and the “extended phenotype,” have more in common with Calvinist theology than anything resembling scientific neutrality.

    Uh, what? They are simply ways of thinking about elements of biology that have both strengths and weaknesses: both of which Dawkins discusses. Calvinist theology? Where do you get this stuff?

    And the reason is simple: scientists are no freer of inherited cultural biases than anyone else.

    This completely misses the point. They don’t claim to be. They don’t need to claim to be. All they need to be is committed to reason as a tool to improve and help correct bias. That is the point: not that any given reasonable person has to be perfect or flawless.

    In fact, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins are all TEMPERAMENTALLY Christian, even if they are not Christian intellectually. Overtly they are atheists, but covertly their behavior has its origins in beliefs generated by our Judeo-Christian lineage.

    This is just way too ridiculously simplistic to be a helpful characterization. Heck, temperamentally Christian? Exactly what is “the” temperament of a Christian?

  21. Chris says:

    “Temperamentally Christian” – one of the hallmarks of Christianity, historically, was its notorious intolerance towards other religions and its claims of exclusive access to the truth. And this is by no means a hallmark of all religions. The stridency with which Dawkins and Hitchens express themselves – also their willingness to persecute and resort to character assassination those who disagree with them – do I really have to spell out how typically Christian all this is?

    You write of Hedges’ book, “The use of “Darwinism,” the creationist epithet that falsely implies that Charles Darwin is some sort of patron saint of any particular ideology whose teachings are respected over and above normal scientific evidence.”

    If that is what Hedges implies, he’s to be commended, for he’s substantially correct. To see how Dawkins actually treats people who disagree with him, read this:

    http://www.world-mysteries.com/rmilton_darwin1.htm

    To see how Dawkins’ ostensibly scientific, but actually very theological, worldview emerges out of some very familiar tenets of Christianity (more Calvinist than anything else), and certainly NOT out of a neutral examination of the fossil record, or of genetic experimentation, read this:

    http://www.edge.org/documents/ThirdCulture/j-Ch.3.html

    Finally, to see how science itself emerged out of non-science, and how it is still thorougly saturated with non-scientific notions, including Puritanism, read this:

    http://www.richardwebster.net/godphysicsanddarwin.html

    I will reiterate, scientists are no freer of cultural/theological influence than anyone else. Those who are most able to extricate themselves from hidden biases and errors and logic traps, are those who have the most humility and are most able to recognize their own immersion in a 2000 year old tradition of culture. Dawkins and Hitchens, unfortunately, lack this humility and self-awareness, and the consequence is that their work is littered with erroneous logic and flawed, wrong-headed argumentation, despite their gifts as prose stylists – Dawkins in particular is a superb stylist and lucid writer, but the ideas themselves, despite their marvelous packaging, are frequently wildly off the mark.

  22. Chris says:

    “Temperamentally Christian” – one of the hallmarks of Christianity as a religion is its notorious intolerance towards other religions, and claims of exclusive access to the truth. For an example of Dawkins’ persecuting impulse and willingness to engage in censorship, read this:

    http://www.lauralee.com/milton2.htm

    To understand the derivation of Dawkins’ cosmology from orthodox Christianity, read this (the quote from Brian Goodwin where he paraphrases Dawkins, and translates his concepts into theological language):

    http://www.edge.org/documents/ThirdCulture/j-Ch.3.html

    To see how science as we know it emerged out of non-science, how physics is entangled with metaphysics, read this:

    http://www.richardwebster.net/godphysicsanddarwin.html

  23. Bad says:

    Your first link is pointless: it simply gives Milton’s accusation, with no evidence of exactly what it was that “spiked” his article or what the criticisms of it were. This is just yet another content-free “you criticized me and convinced other people that what I was claiming was bunk and bs, so therefore you’ve censored me!” accusation. You have and I have no basis, just on Milton’s claims, to know whether his arguments (which were a writeup based on his book) were really serious ones, or whether they relied on gross misrepresentations.

    As to your Goodwin link, I’m afraid I don’t see a whole lot of legitimacy in the “translation” here: it seems like a bunch of mostly sloppy poetic leaps in reasoning to make a connection that is in any case not particularly relevant to the concept in question. This seems to be an unfortunate example of how criticisms more in line with the humanities and textual interpretation get misapplied and turn into a rambling attempt at amateur psychoanalysis when they are used to discuss scientific concepts.

    As for your last link, I never said that science didn’t emerge in part from non-science. I just don’t see how that in any way legitimizes non-science scientifically. Again, to claim that Dawkins and Hitchens position is that people who put reason over faith, or reject faith, will henceforth never be in error, is just a lame straw man. No one has claimed that scientists aren’t or can’t be biased. But science is a method larger than any one scientist, and a method better than virtually any other at helping to reduce and correct this biases. That’s precisely why it’s a good idea for anyone who worries about bias. If you’ve got a superior alternative, we’re all waiting with bated breath to hear it because that would be a great advancement in itself.

    If not, then what exactly is your point, other than vague assertions that Dawkins and Hitchens are substantially off the mark… on what? If having strong opinions equals fundamentalism, then I guess you are a fundamentalist too, and so is everyone, and the word has little meaning.

  24. Chris says:

    My first link is not pointless: you dismiss Milton’s argument as just his word against Dawkins’, but it isn’t. I DO have a basis in assuming his arguments were serious ones, because the arguments ARE RIGHT THERE FOR YOU OR ANYONE TO SEE! Milton DOES lay his arguments out on the line: his article lists half a dozen different ones. Dawkins’ didn’t want these arguments to see the light of day, and they never would have without the Internet. In what way is Milton illegitimate in writing this article? And furthermore, when you say I have “no basis” and “no way to know” whether his statements were truthful or misrepresentations, well, actually, there’s a little something called RESEARCH one can do. I happen to have read a great deal of the literature on evolutionary biology, and it’s increasingly clear to me that the holes in the neo-Darwinian synthesis (the school of thought Dawkins subscribes to) are REAL. His particular elucidation of evolutionary theory is full of holes, for a very simple reason: too much of it is theology in disguise, not science. Yes he’s a very lucid writer, and yes he’s extremely articulate, but that doesn’t make him right. And even if he were right, he wouldn’t have the right to engage in censorship (and yes, that’s exactly what he did).

    You dismiss the Goodwin argument out of hand, but offer zero evidence as to why it is wrong. This is not rational thinking, and it’s not really an argument at all. This isn’t surprising, as Dawkins also refuses to respond to Goodwin’s point. The reason is simple. He has no serious, articulate rebuttal, and neither do you. (That’s also why he tried to block Milton from publishing, rather than letting him publish and then shredding his published points, as any serious scientist could do if Milton really were as big an idiot and ignoramus and apologist for creationism as Dawkins likes to pretend.)

    Simply claiming Goodwin’s argument is “rambling” and “inappropriate” (without bothering to explain why) doesn’t make it so. Goodwin’s point is rather simple, and very valid: the implications of Dawkins’ arguments for human society are almost identical to those of old Christian theological notions about the nature of the world. Both nature and human nature remain exactly as they were assumed to be back in the days when the Church ruled the roost. To claim that the genes are “selfish,” is almost identical to claiming human nature is sinful. To go further, as Dawkins does, and claim that human beings alone of all the animal kingdom can transcend their genetic conditioning is almost identical to very familiar, centuries, even millennia old Christian doctrines, that human beings alone among all the species can find “grace” or “salvation,” we alone can transcend our base, animal natures. Of course, for the Christian, this transcendence has to involve accepting Christ as our Saviour, but everything else remains the same. Your dismissal of Goodwin’s argument isn’t based on any more complex thought process than: it’s wrong because I say it’s wrong. Funny, that’s also as sophisticated as Dawkins’ rebuttal gets, more proof that his arguments are flawed, for if Goodwin were really off the mark, it should be easy to show this. Neither you nor Dawkins are evidently capable of doing so in the slightest.

    And by the way, you might also have examined what Lynn Margulis (one of the most respected and influential biologists of the 20th century) had to say about Dawkins in the same post. She complained about his arrogant, high-handed refusal to debate her, and his willingness to caricature her writings rather than debate them seriously. Neither Goodwin nor Margulis is an orthodox religious believer of any sort, Margulis is perhaps the greatest thinker about evolution of her generation, yet they both have serious problems with Dawkins because of how he treats their arguments (that is to say, he doesn’t answer them, he caricatures them). As Chris Hedges also does, and for good reason. You seem not able to grasp the fact that there are perfectly good reasons to dislike Dawkins’ sophistry, even if one is not a Christian, a Muslim, or any other religious believer. Likewise, there are good reasons to find fault with Harris and Hitchens.

    As for your last paragraph, I’m afraid it’s you who is engaged in straw-man tactics. Hedges didn’t claim that reason or science weren’t useful tools, only that the Enlightenment notion of the purely rational actor is a myth and an illusion (a perspective also shared by just about every major post-Enlightenment novelist, philosopher, poet, or thinker). Nobody claimed reason was bad: Hedges claimed that Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris are less driven by reason, and more by emotions, including bigoted feelings, than they imagine they are. Having strong opinions doesn’t make one a fundamentalist, but pretending one’s opinions are driven by a close examination of facts when they most certainly are not, and not allowing any counter-evidence to filter in and affect one’s views, is fundamentalism. Hedges is calling them out on their complete ignorance of the Muslim world, their pretense of knowledge about areas they have no first-hand knowledge of, their pretense of basing their views on sober, methodical scrutiny of something, rather than what it actually is based on: caprice, prejudice, unexamined and inherited assumptions about people they have never met, regions of the world they don’t know the history of and mostly haven’t visited, and don’t want to understand on a deeper level.

    It goes without saying that reason is an extremely useful faculty, but what doesn’t get emphasized enough (except by people like Hedges) is that most of us are considerably less driven by rational motives than we think we are. That’s why Hedges compliments and admires Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre – atheists who really do the hard thinking required – yet simultaneously berates Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins – who pretend they do the hard thinking, but very rarely do. That isn’t incoherent argument, it’s an accurate placement of the New Atheists vis-a-vis the vastly more intelligent, thoughtful, rigorous, and truthful Old Atheists.

  25. Bad says:

    I DO have a basis in assuming his arguments were serious ones, because the arguments ARE RIGHT THERE FOR YOU OR ANYONE TO SEE!

    That has nothing to do with whether or not YOU know that those arguments make any sense or not. They certainly sound like sketchy misrepresentations to me from what I know of what he’s talking about. But I haven’t really looked into the issue so I can’t say, mostly because all of this is pre-mass-internet and hard to track down the specifics on.

    Dawkins’ didn’t want these arguments to see the light of day, and they never would have without the Internet

    That’s your story. But even Milton’s claims don’t seem to be based on any first hand knowledge of what Dawkins actually argued, or what the actual issues were. Why is that? Why take a position when like, the meat of the supposed gotcha is completely missing?

    How is it Dawkin’s word against Milton, when Milton doesn’t include any of Dawkin’s actual words or arguments?

    And furthermore, when you say I have “no basis” and “no way to know” whether his statements were truthful or misrepresentations, well, actually, there’s a little something called RESEARCH one can do. I happen to have read a great deal of the literature on evolutionary biology, and it’s increasingly clear to me that the holes in the neo-Darwinian synthesis (the school of thought Dawkins subscribes to) are REAL.

    Lots of people claim this, and in my experience, very few of them actually know the first about what the Neo-Darwinian synthesis even is or says. And regardless, this still wouldn’t have nothing to do with whether Milton’s specific arguments have merit or not. Neo-Darwinian ideas could be completely bonkers and Milton’s particular claims could still be all wet as well.

    And even if he were right, he wouldn’t have the right to engage in censorship (and yes, that’s exactly what he did).

    No, that’s merely the story you and Milton tell: and based on, as far as I can tell, very little knowledge at all as to why they listened to Dawkins, or exactly why Dawkins objected and what he said. The fact that all of this is simply left out of the account, when it is utterly critical to determining whether or not Dawkins was unfairly trying to spike the article (which, by the way, isn’t “censoring” in any case: censorship is when someone uses coercion to silence you, not when someone refuses to pay to publish your ideas on their own dime)

    You dismiss the Goodwin argument out of hand, but offer zero evidence as to why it is wrong.

    Wrong? As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything TO his argument. It’s just a bunch of innuendo based on all sorts of vague assumptions about Dawkins’ character, coupled with incoherent leaps of logic and confusions about what Dawkins is talking about.

    The part you pointed out, the supposedly “absolutely clear” thing Goodman claims, has no basis. I can’t argue against it any more deeply than that because Goodman makes no argument for it. He just claims that they are the same things, translated. But they aren’t even close.

    But nothing in Dawkins discussion of genes has anything to do with sin or salvation. For instance:

    To claim that the genes are “selfish,” is almost identical to claiming human nature is sinful.

    Except that this is an almost laughable mistake: talking about “selfish” genes is not meant in any sort of emotional manner: that’s known as the pathetic fallacy, by the way. The selfishness of genes isn’t good or bad. It’s a way of thinking about how genes work. It has nothing to do with concepts of sin, and it isn’t meant to have any particular implications for human society. All of this is just bizarre confusion your part.

    Funny, that’s also as sophisticated as Dawkins’ rebuttal gets, more proof that his arguments are flawed, for if Goodwin were really off the mark, it should be easy to show this. Neither you nor Dawkins are evidently capable of doing so in the slightest.

    It is easy to show it. In part because there just isn’t very much there to rebut. And what there is, Dawkins has rebutted hundreds of times over. You just don’t want to hear it. It’s easy for you to run around claiming that he doesn’t want to debate than to actually demonstrate that this is so. He’s debated all these ideas: at least the ones that even rise to level of making sense.

    And good grief, does Goodman really make the “still dogs” argument? No wonder people would think he’s a closest creationist: that’s like the tell tale confusion of someone who doesn’t really understand how evolutionary taxonomy works.

    It’s as stupid as arguing that all mammals are “still” mammals, and thus haven’t really changed into anything else. Evolution actually doesn’t predict that the descendants of dogs will be anything other than “dogs.” Their descendants will be rightly classed all together as dogs, no matter how much they speciate or diversify over time. Just as eukaryotes are “still” eukaryotes.

    She complained about his arrogant, high-handed refusal to debate her, and his willingness to caricature her writings rather than debate them seriously.

    The fact that scientists bitch about each other is not exactly incredible news, especially when Margulis is involved. And not taking on every single person that wants to debate something is not the same as being afraid to debate. The only reason I can respond to nearly every on this blog, for instance, is that I have so relatively few. Nearly everyone with some fringe idea seems to want to get Dawkins to have some sort of big debate or sit-down with them. I think Dawkins, pretty reasonably, thinks this is sort of silly: he’s not the only scientist on the planet, after all.

    For most of the time when Lovelock and Margulis were pushing Gaia, and when I resume Dawkins poo-pooed it, it was pretty much a vacuously new-age nothing. They’ve done some better work recently to ditch the new age nonsense and formalize ideas about natural biases towards homeostasis, dropping the bizarre and pointless poeticisms. Maybe it’s worth another look now.

    As for your last paragraph, I’m afraid it’s you who is engaged in straw-man tactics. Hedges didn’t claim that reason or science weren’t useful tools, only that the Enlightenment notion of the purely rational actor is a myth and an illusion

    I’m not sure you understand what a “straw man” is. The straw man here IS Hedges claim that anyone, and especially Hitchens, Dawkins, etc, thinks that anyone is “purely rational.” Even actual enlightenment thinkers didn’t think that caricature, no matter what post-enlightenment novelists fancied.

    And the idea of a rational actor is being confused and misused here (just like you confused “selfish” genes). We talk about rational actors in, for instance, economics, not because we believe that people are perfectly rational, but because this provides one decent model for predicting behavior (particularly mass behavior). It isn’t a concept that is supposed to imply that reason is perfect and scientists are unbiased. That’s nonsense.

    Nobody claimed reason was bad: Hedges claimed that Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris are less driven by reason, and more by emotions, including bigoted feelings, than they imagine they are.

    The same boring accusation could be leveled at anyone. And it isn’t in any way a coherent response to their arguments about reason over faith. The fact that they may have lots of failings, or may even be completely wrong about the details of, say, Islam, doesn’t actually speak to or address or rebut their core arguments the way you and Hedges are implying.

    You seem not able to grasp the fact that there are perfectly good reasons to dislike Dawkins’ sophistry, even if one is not a Christian, a Muslim, or any other religious believer. Likewise, there are good reasons to find fault with Harris and Hitchens.

    I never said there weren’t. Indeed, I’ve criticized some of their arguments myself. But by actually discussing their specific claims, not telling stories with huge parts missing to accuse them of things, or drawing nonsensical parallels between genes and theology.

  26. Chris says:

    For the last time, drawing a parallel between “genes” AS DAWKINS COMPREHENDS THEM TO FUNCTION and theology, is anything but nonsensical. You say there is no parallel, and Goodwin has no point – but you still haven’t gotten around to explaining why the concept of a “selfish gene,” and the attendant beliefs about the natural environment, AS DAWKINS HIMSELF HAS FREQUENTLY EXTRAPOLATED THEM, has absolutely nothing in common with theology. Hiding behind the condescending nonsense that “there’s simply nothing to rebut” is a flagrant cop-out. Goodwin points out that the selfish gene theory strongly resembles old ideas about Original Sin. That’s certainly true. To borrow from Dawkins’ favorite guy Jesus, he’s made the mistake of putting new wine in old bottles, clothing very, very old perceptions about the nature of the world – the nature of nature, if you will – in new, technical language, but just because the idiom has changed doesn’t mean the core stances have.

    The neo-Darwinian (failed) synthesis has a LOT to do with theology – so much so that even Time and Newsweek reporters have noticed the parallel. (The mistake they make, of course, is assuming that therefore science confirms and consolidates “the wisdom of the ages,” instead of what is closer to the truth: science is heavily influenced and directed by “the wisdom of the ages”). I can only conclude that you haven’t actually read any of the writings of the major Christian intellectual figures of history (Augustine, Calvin, Luther et al.), and hence aren’t equipped to recognize the analogous patterns that Goodwin correctly observes.

    I located an interesting quote by Dawkins in a review of his work:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0KZH/is_2_12/ai_30216765

    “Interestingly, Dawkins, a convinced atheist, seems to accept original sin. Mankind, of all living creatures, is able to rebel against `the tyranny’ of self-replicating genes. `Be warned,’ he writes, `that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to.'”

    “Little help from biological nature….” “We are born selfish…. let us understand what our selfish genes are up to….. upset their designs…. no other species….” Gee, sound familiar at all? It sure would if you’d ever read any Saint Augustine, or any Martin Luther or John Calvin. But then, to know why this is theological, you’d actually have to have read some theology, and know something about your own cultural heritage. Goodwin does. Richard Webster does. Richard Dawkins does not (or not nearly enough).

    Here Dawkins doesn’t just make a statement about “the way things are,” he makes a moral, ethical assumption: namely, that in order to do good, in order to be altruistic, we have to RESIST, not FOLLOW, our “natural” drives and instincts. Resisting one’s natural drives, having to put a tight leash on them, RESISTING and FIGHTING our own natures, our own impulses and instincts, is one of the hallmarks of Christianity, particularly in its more Puritanical varieties. Dawkins is, at the very least, a Puritan (admittedly, a highly intelligent one), as his own statements about nature and human nature, and advice on how we should interpret them, make crystal clear.

    As Nietzsche pointed out, the concept of “fighting the instincts” really emerged in full force first among the Greeks with Socrates and Plato (arguably the first and greatest of all Puritans), and subesequently the Platonist influence on Christianity made it a central tenet of Western culture itself. Dawkins’ beliefs are shaped by Puritanism whether he knows it or not. So are mine, so are yours, so probably are Goodwin’s, but some of us are more aware of these contingencies than others – and hence can take steps to extricate ourselves, at least partially. from the invisible envelope of culture (2000 years of history).

    Even the good little Christian folk have (some of them) done an about face and started to jump on the “selfish gene” bandwagon, for the obvious reason that it plays right into their hands, by telling them “scientifically” what they already believe about nature and human nature “religiously”:

    http://www.thinkagain.us/counter_point.html

    I can assure you, also, that I do know what a “straw man” is. Evidently you do not. Many people do indeed think of themselves as essentially rational actors. To say that NO ONE – absolutely no one – ever thought this way is, well, it’s nonsense. Dostoevsky’s NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND, for example, was written as an answer to a very popular novel (which Lenin greatly admired) that posited exactly that: the essentially rational actor, whose capacity for reasonable behavior was so advanced his emotions and drives and instincts were completely under control. But yet again, all this is beside the point. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris of course posit a host of irrational forces driving OTHER people – but the point is, they hubristically believe they are largely exempt from this. OTHER people may lack objectivity and reason, but they’re quite sure they’re driven by reason and logic. Hedges calls their bluff, for as he points out, they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about half the time when they discuss “what religious people think,” “what Muslims think,” yet they act as if they were led to these conclusions by their reason.

    As to Gaia, it certainly was not a vacuous New Age nothing. (And even if it was, Dawkins should have been able to show it was – to imply it was so vacuous as to be beneath his time is simply yet more dishonest, evasive rubbish. Goodwin is nonsense, Gaia is nonsense, Milton’s article is nonsense – and yet, if it’s nonsense, it should be easy to prove as nonsense. The fact that neither you nor Dawkins – nor, indeed, anyone else I’m aware of – has been able to do so indicates to me that it ISNT nonsense – and by the way, the “it’s all nonsense, beneath any serious thinker’s consideration” tactic is, needless to say, one of the favorites of religious dogmatists throughout human history – if you can’t kill ’em, snidely imply the ideas are beneath consideration, thereby sparing yourself the difficult task of refuting anything.)

    Margulis’ resentment was based on the fact that Dawkins liked to snipe about her ideas, but wouldn’t actually debate them. Why not? Since he has so much free time to debate intellectual lightweights and creationists? Could it be – is it just possible – that he likes to spend his time debating mainly people who are his intellectual inferiors, and is too chickenshit to debate people who are his intellectual equals or superiors? After all, he spends an awful LOT of his time in public debates. So why not Margulis? Given how often he does public debates and public speaking, Margulis’ complaints are not whinging, they’re eminently justified. He’s too scared she’d wipe the floor with him.

    I hate to burst your bubble, but Gaia makes sense of the facts in a way that the neo-Darwinian (non) synthesis has utterly failed to do. For an excellent explanation as to why, I present you with this (but then, I expect you’ll just roll your eyes and dismiss it contemptuously, yet again failing to offer an iota of evidence as to why it’s wrong):

    http://www.ascentofhumanity.com/chapter6-4.php

    And I’m so glad you brought up the “rational actor” in relation to economics, for this also is a fatally flawed (and highly harmful) concept:

    http://www.ascentofhumanity.com/chapter4-8.php

    Certainly Hedges’ arguments are flawed, and I by no means agree with everything he has to say, but he isn’t the dolt you make him out to be either. Much of his criticism of the New Atheists is bang-on. A much more thorough and lucid analyst of the self-deceptions of modernity, and of the incredible confusions we have as a society about the relationship between rationality and religion, secularism and faith, is provided by Richard Webster, who, if he is correct, it necessarily follows that a good deal of what Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens think is incorrect:

    http://www.richardwebster.net/thepoliticsofthebody.html

  27. Bad says:

    Goodwin points out that the selfish gene theory strongly resembles old ideas about Original Sin. That’s certainly true.

    No it isn’t. And that’s why you have this quite backwards. You’re insisting that I have to refute Goodwin’s comparison. But he hasn’t made his case: he’s just suggested that they are the same by drawing out these non-sequitur “translations.” What else is there to refute? The things Goodwin describes are not in Dawkin’s explanations. Dawkins simply does not use the concepts that Goodwin claims are parallel. He isn’t speaking of the concept of selfishness for genes in moral terms at all. And the reason humans can rebel against their genes is not because of any path to salvation, but because they are capable of self-reflection. All of this is descriptive. Goodwin tries to turn it into moralizing theology. That basically just gets everything wrong right from the start.

    “Little help from biological nature….” “We are born selfish…. let us understand what our selfish genes are up to….. upset their designs…. no other species….” Gee, sound familiar at all?

    Yes: it sounds like the same confused comparisons that Goodwin was pushing. It’s trying to make Dawkins say things that everyone knows that Dawkins didn’t say. But it would be so much easier to argue against him if we just invent stuff he must “really” be saying, right?

    There’s no merit to that at all.

    Here Dawkins doesn’t just make a statement about “the way things are,” he makes a moral, ethical assumption: namely, that in order to do good, in order to be altruistic, we have to RESIST, not FOLLOW, our “natural” drives and instincts.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but that IS a descriptive statement, not a normative one. And Dawkins does not even make the argument that people are “naturally” selfish in any case. That’s not what he even means by selfish in terms of genes. You’re just flatly wrong here. Have you even read his book? It seems like so many people seem to know little more about it than their own misinterpretation of the title.

    Many people do indeed think of themselves as essentially rational actors. To say that NO ONE – absolutely no one – ever thought this way is, well, it’s nonsense.

    Now you’re switching around your claims, as well as trying to make statements extreme and silly when they weren’t to begin with. Again: the idea that even enlightenment thinkers believed that anyone was perfectly rational is a total caricature.

    And I’m so glad you brought up the “rational actor” in relation to economics, for this also is a fatally flawed (and highly harmful) concept:

    The article you link to doesn’t even seem to know what rational actor model in economics is all about or is for, or what its stated limitations as a model are, much less explain why its flawed.

    and yet, if it’s nonsense, it should be easy to prove as nonsense. The fact that neither you nor Dawkins – nor, indeed, anyone else I’m aware of

    Well then the problem is pretty obvious: it’s you: you aren’t aware of the fact that countless people have argued at length why these things are nonsense. If you were, you wouldn’t be here asking me what the basic responses to these things are. It’s not like you’re the first person in the universe to point them out.

  28. Chris says:

    Why don’t you just admit that nothing anyone says that goes against the grain of what you believe will be granted a fair hearing? You keep saying Goodwin is misreading Dawkins, but he isn’t. Dawkins DOES make moral and ethical extrapolations from his descriptive statements. He makes them more often in interviews than in books, but he makes them. To argue otherwise is simply to stick one’s fingers in one’s ears and pretend that black is white.

    What part of “tyranny” of our genes and altruism getting very “little help from biology” don’t you grasp? That is NOT simply a descriptive statement like E=MC squared, that’s a statement that DOES have moral, ethical implications. If I’m the parent of a child, and I continuously teach them that their own genes are a “tyrant,” that altruism is NOT something “natural” but something “taught” – guess what? That’s a statement with ethical implications and a particular ethical slant. Agree or disagree with the ethics involved, but it simply IS ethics. And it’s an ethics that Augustine and Plato would have appreciated and understood, but that older Greeks of Homer’s time (for instance) would not have.

    No, Dawkins doesn’t beat us over the head and explicitly tell us we must all curb our instincts. But he doesn’t have to. The idea is there implicitly. Do you think a Christian of the Middle Ages had to have someone always spell out for them every single facet of their conduct? Or, having internalized a sense of Original Sin, was that enough to largely guide his or her day-to-day behavior?

    Here we go again: the article doesn’t “know” what a “rational actor model” in economics is about or for…. well, please, go on…. why don’t you explain what a “rational actor model” is for? That would be a first. That would be your first actual refutation of a divergent point of view. Instead, what we get for the 20th time or so, is the same old “that person doesn’t get it,” “this person doesn’t grasp….” “if you’re too stupid too understand don’t expect me to explain it…” in other words, dogmatic religious bullshit from someone who can’t build a coherent argument of any sort, and so resorts to sarcasm (and fake science) as a defense mechanism.

    The problem is not me if a blogger presents himself as a free-thinker and rationalist, but then proves, through his rude and condescending treatment of posters, that he is anything but. You attacked Hedges argument. You failed to make your case. I pointed out the nature of your failure as a thinker. And now you resent the fact.

  29. Chris says:

    Oh, and by the way, you’ve misread certain points made above. Milton’s article being spiked wasn’t a case of an editor, Dawkins, refusing to publish or pay. Dawkins wasn’t the editor. Dawkins got wind of the article and contacted the editor, urging him not to publish it. An entirely different scenario, and hence your “correction” of my point isn’t really one. A reader review on Amazon succinctly makes the crucial point about Milton’s writing:

    “Hard science, like chemistry and physics, rests on physical experiments that can be duplicated under controlled conditions (Cooper’s Criteria, Koch’s Postulates, etc.). As one moves further away from being able to conduct direct experiments, one becomes more and more dependent on observation and intrepretation, both of which depend on human beings, their faults, frailties, and failings. The more one depends on intrepretations, the “softer” is the science. Extrapolating outside your dataset is always speculation, period. It doesn’t matter how well you guess, it is still a guess, and not hard science. End of story. Evolution science is a mixture of some hard and some very soft science, and a whole lot of politics, ego, and fear (fear of religion and loss of power).”

    Acknowledging that fact means that, yes, there is some truth to Hedges’ presentation of Darwin as a kind of “patron saint” of a “particular ideology”. There is a mix of real science and “soft” science and pseudo-science going on in the field evolutionary biology – and it was ever thus – hence the horrors of Social Darwinism and murderous eugenics in the past. And yet, all these horrific crimes were committed by people who thought of themselves as enlightened and rational actors.

    I also notice you didn’t comment on my final Richard Webster link, or on the link about Gaia. All of this is relevant to the self-deceptions of atheists who behave like religious zealots. There is one point on which I strongly disagree with Hedges however. He claims they lack a sense of sin, but I’d use the word “hubris,” not “sin,” for the view of human beings many of them have is dark and negative indeed.

  30. Bad says:

    Why don’t you just admit that nothing anyone says that goes against the grain of what you believe will be granted a fair hearing?

    This is not an argument.

    You keep saying Goodwin is misreading Dawkins, but he isn’t. Dawkins DOES make moral and ethical extrapolations from his descriptive statements.

    You keep shifting the goalposts, dodging your original claims. Goodwin makes a specific comparison to a specific set of arguments that Dawkins makes: arguments which, by the way, he backs up with evidence rather than bizarre innuendo about how this or that view “translates” into Calvinism (which means… what anyway about its accuracy?). And yet here you are saying that Dawkins makes moral and ethical arguments generally. I’m not trying to turn black into white: I’m trying to point out a bunch of lousy arguments.

    What part of “tyranny” of our genes and altruism getting very “little help from biology” don’t you grasp? That is NOT simply a descriptive statement like E=MC squared, that’s a statement that DOES have moral, ethical implications.

    Saying that something has implications for morality and ethics is not the same thing as something being normative. And you keep trying to stretch the language used into contexts where it hasn’t been used. And, in addition, you’re also wrong about what Dawkins talks about when he considers altruism from an evolutionary perspective. The idea that evolution is simply about who is the nastiest and most aggressive is a myth.

    Or, having internalized a sense of Original Sin, was that enough to largely guide his or her day-to-day behavior?

    Original Sin is a very specific theological construct, with a specific (and very bizarre) take on morality. Trying to cram an idea like genetic predisposition into “Original Sin” is an intellectual waste of time that tells us nothing useful about either concept. You seem to think it’s meaningful to basically accuse anyone who ever says anything about observed natural tendencies of copying “Original Sin.” I see neither sense nor utility in such a comparison.

    Here we go again: the article doesn’t “know” what a “rational actor model” in economics is about or for…. well, please, go on…. why don’t you explain what a “rational actor model” is for?

    Certainly: it’s a predictive model. In economics, we use lots of different models of agent behavior. Rational actors are, in fact, just one way of modeling things, albeit one that has proven very useful. But economists do not use models as grand philosophical constructs: they are useful only insofar as they work. There are also a lot of good reasons why we think, not just assume, that people are best modeled as rational actors. We’ve actually tested a lot of the basic assumptions out directly. We are also aware of the weaknesses of the model: the things it misses or can’t take into account very well.

    That would be your first actual refutation of a divergent point of view.

    You’re wrong. You’ve simply ignored all the times I’ve given specific explanations. Perhaps its easier to play the wounded martyr than to really engage in debate.

    You attacked Hedges argument. You failed to make your case.

    This is truly laughable. I gave specific reasons as to why Hedges critiques were lousy. Your primary form of argumentation has been to cite all manner of personal grudges and attacks on Dawkins, none of which have much substance to begin with, and none of which really do much more than distract from the question of whether this or that argument of Dawkins is correct or not. You’ve carefully reframed your claims over and over to avoid my specific critiques, and then made a lot of noise about how I haven’t answered you. Which is pretty lame, given that most of your claims and accusations have little evidential substance to begin with.

  31. Bad says:

    Oh, and by the way, you’ve misread certain points made above. Milton’s article being spiked wasn’t a case of an editor, Dawkins, refusing to publish or pay.

    I didn’t misread that at all: in fact I specifically talked about the paper as a separate actor. What seems to have confused you is that the paper is itself commercial enterprise that has a right to publish or not publish anything it wants, and take the advice of anyone, including Dawkins as to whether something has enough merit to warrant publication. It was that which I was referencing when I pointed out that this wasn’t censorship regardless. And you still haven’t explained or given any evidence of why the paper listened to Dawkins, and what his actual complaints were. How can you ask me to judge that these reasons were illegitimate or that the paper’s decision was one of unwarranted bias against brilliance, if you and Milton can’t even be bothered to tell me what they were?

    A reader review on Amazon succinctly makes the crucial point about Milton’s writing:

    This reader is confused, though in a very common way: they seem to think that biologists don’t do experiments to test truth claims, or that we can’t run experiments or test claims with evidence if the subject in question concerns past events, or that somehow observations with eyeballs are more important than evidence period (of which eyewitness is only one kind, and not even the most reliable). But biologists don’t just “guess”: like any scientist they go out and test all their claims against the evidence. And we don’t have enough to test, we go out and find more evidence. It’s the all same method.

    Acknowledging that fact means that, yes, there is some truth to Hedges’ presentation of Darwin as a kind of “patron saint” of a “particular ideology”. There is a mix of real science and “soft” science and pseudo-science going on in the field evolutionary biology – and it was ever thus

    Again, these are just more vague, ad hominem accusations, not substantive arguments against modern biology, and most are characterizations based on the confusion I described above. Cranks have made these same claims against any branch of science that’s stood in the way of their big dangerous ideas – and it was ever thus.

    And yet, all these horrific crimes were committed by people who thought of themselves as enlightened and rational actors.

    As opposed to… what? Martin Luther King Jr. who saw himself as, what, stupid and irrational? Give me a break. The fact that people think they are correct and act on it, but are in reality wrong, is hardly anything to do with reason, science, or any specific discipline of science, in particular.

    I also notice you didn’t comment on my final Richard Webster link, or on the link about Gaia.

    I have a life, as it happens. I can’t cover everything right immediately when you say it, and I’ve already spent a ridiculous amount of time responding to you. And like it or not, it’s rather childish and arrogant to demand that I read a long rambling essay or else must immediately admit that it’s claims are true and I have no response to them. No: first you need to establish that there is any merit to these claims to begin with. There are hordes of cranks demanding attention, and then insisting that because they don’t get immediately satisfaction they can declare victory. So what?

    I might as well accuse you of dodging my point about Goodman’s bizzare “still dogs” confusion since you seem to have passed right over that, despite it being a criticism far more substantive than any you or Goodman have made about Dawkins.

    But if you want me to spend my time running errands as you demand, as quickly as you demand, maybe you should just make the arguments yourself instead of giving me a bunch of reading assignments. That would speed things up at least.

    He claims they lack a sense of sin, but I’d use the word “hubris,” not “sin,” for the view of human beings many of them have is dark and negative indeed.

    Like much of what you write, it’s hard to tell what you are trying to get at here, other than that you hate your targets. They lack a sense of hubris, but they have a dark and negative view of humanity? The latter is simply false, if you read what they actually think about humanity, but how does one lacking a sense of hubris (which implies lacking humility or that pride can be false) even square with “dark and negative?” You just seem to be throwing out everything bad thing you can think to say about someone’s views, regardless of whether it all adds up.

  32. Chris says:

    What you describe as “reframing” is my using different words and phrases to make essentially the same argument. I am not shifting ground, I’m standing ground.

    Genes are “tyrannical,” they are “selfish,” we are “lumbering robots” at the mercy of our genes, altruism gets “little help from biology”…. these sorts of beliefs didn’t spring fully formed out of the head of Zeus, you know. To aver that altruism is NOT natural but almost entirely cultural, is not, and never can be, a strictly neutral value judgment. Twist and turn all you wish, but there is no way to make this anything other than what it is: a statement with moral and ethical implications.

    If by “normative” you mean that Dawkins doesn’t WANT it to be this way – that he isn’t happy nature is “this way” – well, guess what? Neither were most Christians. They didn’t particularly WANT to be filthy and sinful creatures – they just assumed that’s what they were. Tennyson wasn’t CELEBRATING when he described nature as being “red in tooth and claw”. The question, however, is whether a particular worldview is correct, not whether it is “normative”. And Goodwin is skeptical about the validity of Dawkins’ arguments (which, contrary to what you say, he does not, for the most part, do a good job of defending with proof) precisely because it’s a tad too similar to some age-old “truths”.

    If the selfish gene idea is really not value-laden, then Dawkins obviously would not have gone on to say some of the things he said about what human nature is basically like. You accuse me of using the Pathetic Fallacy, but that’s Dawkins’ fault, not mine. He employed the metaphor “selfish,” but just because he applies the modifier to “gene” and not “brain” doesn’t mean Goodwin has misunderstood him. For he himself deduced certain “truths” about altruism and human society from his own metaphor that do indeed follow on from the usual meaning of “selfish” as it is used in ordinary everyday conversation, applied to “minds” not “genes”.

    You accuse me of stretching his language into contexts where it hasn’t been used. Except it HAS been used in those contexts, otherwise Dawkins (and other sociobiologists) wouldn’t arrive at some of the conclusions they DO in fact make about human nature and society. I wasn’t the one who called altruism a learned and not natural behavior (whereas selfishness and egoism are profoundly natural), I wasn’t the one who put a spin on altruism vs. egoism very similar to (because derived from) Puritanism and Platonism: Dawkins was. Those were his words, not mine.

    In calling him a Puritan, I am not ridiculing him. Virtually everyone, including me, bears the influence of our Puritan and Christian heritage, even if we don’t believe in God. But that is part of Hedges’ point: he’s saying stop allowing hubris (he calls it sin, but I’d say hubris, I strongly disagree with him on this point) to guide you into projecting irrationality and blind acceptance of millennia-old acculturation on other people. They aren’t the only ones driven by forces they don’t understand. To some degree, we all are, self-professed rationalists not least.

    The key problem with most “scientific” skeptics, ironically, is that they aren’t skeptical enough when it comes to their own heritage. Hedges is confused on this point, but that doesn’t make his whole argument wrong. Richard Webster (a better writer than Hedges) expresses this perfectly:

    “The orthodox view of secularism maintains that it is a stage in which human cultures grow out of their need for religious ideologies, and gradually free themselves from all forms of repression, tyranny and irrational superstition. Church and state are separated and religion, insofar as it survives at all, is relegated to the private sphere. It survives in the body politic as a kind of ideological appendix which no longer has any real political function.

    “Because most of us know remarkably little about the history of our culture, and because we in the West appear to know startlingly little about our own Judaeo-Christian tradition, it is extremely easy to persuade people to accept the view of historical progress out of which the orthodox understanding of secularism grows. The emergence of secular political states, on this view, signifies the triumph of reason and the defeat of religion.

    “What I would like to suggest here is that orthodoxy has turned historical reality upside down. If we only knew our religious tradition a little better than we do, we would recognise that the ostensibly secular ideals of the Enlightenment and of modern liberal individualism, far from signifying the defeat of the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition, are actually its greatest triumph. For the great prophets of the Judaeo-Christian tradition did not set out to make their favoured religious ideology all-powerful and all-visible. They set out to make it like their God – all-powerful and invisible. Insofar as this ideal was ever achieved it was achieved above all in the Christian tradition – and especially in the Puritan tradition. If we wish to understand the true origins and nature of the kind of body politic which is idealised in the democratic West, we need to examine afresh our own cultural revolution – the religious revolution which took place in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”

    Much of this was already intuited very early on by the likes of Nietzsche, Max Weber, and William Blake. But Webster articulates it more clearly. And it is precisely because he is right about this that the behavior of so many nominal atheists is so saturated still with the accents of Christianity, and Puritanism in particular.

    Another way of saying this is that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and yes – sorry to say -you – are not TOO atheistic, you all aren’t atheistic ENOUGH. You aren’t TOO rational and TOO skeptical and TOO scientific, you aren’t ENOUGH of these things. You are skeptical and questioning about everything except what you should be most concerned about – the still enormous shadow cast by Christianity and Platonism on all of society – science, economics, politics, philosophy, even art and literature. And precisely those who believe themselves free thinkers are often the most entangled of all (they are unconscious Platonists).

  33. Chris says:

    About the Amazon reviewer: he is not confused. The reviewer didn’t claim biologists don’t conduct experiments or test claims, he claimed that SOME of what passes for biology is “soft” science. Not ALL, SOME. It’s a mixture of soft and hard, yet most people assume it’s all hard (except fundamentalist preachers, who assume it’s the work of Satan).

    Would I put Dawkins into that “soft” category? For the most part: yes. Many of his assertions are not testable. Or, if they are, the tests reveal something profoundly at odds with his beliefs (which he nonetheless refuses to integrate into his belief system). Contrary to what you assert, the evidence for something along the lines of Gaia is much stronger than many people believe. That’s why I linked to some of it (which you refuse to read because it’s “childish” and “immature” of me to demand you read a “long rambling essay” because I haven’t established the merits of it.)

    But the “long essay” is a model of clarity and concision. It’s not difficult to read. The real reason you won’t read this stuff is you’re afraid. You’re afraid of what you might discover: that you (and Dawkins) have been barking up the wrong tree. And Dawkins’ argument against Milton was that he was a creationist, a bald-faced lie. This is why his behavior was disturbing. Milton doesn’t defend Intelligent Design, yet Dawkins claimed he did. Which reinforces Hedges’ distrust of him, which is why Hedges wrote his book. You don’t like Hedges’ argument, but while it’s flawed and confused, it’s not altogether wrong. Some parts of it are very true.

  34. Bad says:

    What you describe as “reframing” is my using different words and phrases to make essentially the same argument. I am not shifting ground, I’m standing ground.

    Not at all. I already explained, for instance, why your shift from claiming that Dawkins argues for some sort of normative description of genetics in Selfish Gene to saying that the fact that he has moral opinions in general is completely moving the goalposts, or trying to pretend that irrelevant things justify your previous claims.

    To aver that altruism is NOT natural but almost entirely cultural, is not, and never can be, a strictly neutral value judgment.

    Again, this is just stupid. Dawkins does not argue that altruism is “almost entirely cultural.” What he does, in fact, is argue that what we know as altruism has its roots in how genes work.

    And Goodwin is skeptical about the validity of Dawkins’ arguments (which, contrary to what you say, he does not, for the most part, do a good job of defending with proof) precisely because it’s a tad too similar to some age-old “truths”.

    Again, neither of you have made a good case that it’s at all similar. You just take one idea, claim it’s similar to another just because it sounds vaguely the same, or includes a similar word (ignoring that it is used differently in a different context) and try to claim that Dawkins is arguing for things that he isn’t. What you and Goodman are doing is about as useful as people who apply Nostradamus’s poetry to modern events and claim he made predictions about 9/11.

    This is largely, I suspect, because you don’t have the ability to argue against what Dawkins argues directly. You need to make up a bunch of stuff that’s easier to argue against. You speak of “soft” science, but what could be softer than using literary “translations” of what someone has said to claim that they are saying something different?

    If the selfish gene idea is really not value-laden, then Dawkins obviously would not have gone on to say some of the things he said about what human nature is basically like. You accuse me of using the Pathetic Fallacy, but that’s Dawkins’ fault, not mine.

    Dawkins has talked at length about how that language has confused people. It may be to some extent his fault. I guess he failed to anticipate how shallowly critics would bother to read his work before claiming it says things it doesn’t.

    I wasn’t the one who called altruism a learned and not natural behavior (whereas selfishness and egoism are profoundly natural)

    Again, someone who’s actually read his book wouldn’t say this, because they would know that there are many things we call altruism that Dawkins suggests are based in genetics: he shows how altruistic strategies on the macro scale arise out of opportunities for genes in the genetic scale.

    Another way of saying this is that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and yes – sorry to say -you – are not TOO atheistic, you all aren’t atheistic ENOUGH. You aren’t TOO rational and TOO skeptical and TOO scientific, you aren’t ENOUGH of these things.

    Blah blah blah. Personal accusations made about our supposed psychology. All suspiciously unwilling to grapple with our specific arguments and criticisms. If Christian philosophy has some good ideas that have a lineage to my ideas, so what? What I care about is whether the ideas we have now hold up, not their origin (genetic fallacy, anyone), though of course I think the case made for these connections is both weak and highly selective (for instance, to argue that decidedly rejecting a lot of the core ideas of Western religion all needs to be credited to western religion is pretty questionable logic)

    About the Amazon reviewer: he is not confused. The reviewer didn’t claim biologists don’t conduct experiments or test claims, he claimed that SOME of what passes for biology is “soft” science. Not ALL, SOME. It’s a mixture of soft and hard, yet most people assume it’s all hard (except fundamentalist preachers, who assume it’s the work of Satan).

    And yet, you and the reviewer don’t give any actual evidence of this: he claims that biology somehow “moves away” from controlled experiments, but he doesn’t justify this claim. You claim that “some” these ideas can’t be tested, but in fact they are.

    Now, there are some elements of so-called evolutionary psychology that are questionable in this vein, but these are generally looked down upon by biolgoists, including neo-darwinisnists, including Dawkins, so that doesn’t really help your case much.

    The real reason you won’t read this stuff is you’re afraid.

    Rolleyes. Again, every crank from the timecube guy to orgone makes this pointless accusation. But in fact we have read all about this stuff. We have argued it. Just because th 100th person comes along with their own take doesn’t mean that we are obligated to spend our time arguing it with someone too lazy to actually do anything other than link to it.

    Contrary to what you assert, the evidence for something along the lines of Gaia is much stronger than many people believe.

    You misunderstand: the primary problem most scientists have with Gaia is not that it’s “wrong” but that it isn’t even “wrong.” It frames things in this elaborate language all to end up repeating what we already know, just with some sort of teological spin that doesn’t seem to have any justification or explanation. More recent efforts have done away with that spin, and have produced more coherent ideas about homeostatis and so on. Good on it. Your linked author, however, seems to want to put the teology right back. And most of his arguments aren’t really substantive arguments at all: they are the same kind of “oh you guys are just scared at how brilliant I am and how cool teology is!” posturing that seems to be your bread and butter.

    And Dawkins’ argument against Milton was that he was a creationist, a bald-faced lie.

    This is just Milton’s account of things, again, not what Dawkins actually said or argued.

    You don’t like Hedges’ argument, but while it’s flawed and confused, it’s not altogether wrong. Some parts of it are very true.

    I laid out what I thought was wrong with Hedges reasoning, which is a heck of a lot more than you’ve bothered to do for most of this back and forth.

    Oh and I can name several of points I made, like the hubris one, which you have not responded to in your last two posts. That must mean that you are afraid of them and know that I’m right. you coward! (see how stupid and pointless that form of argumentation is?)

  35. Chris says:

    About “hubris” – you yourself, in your original post, rolled your eyes at Hedges “claiming that HITCHENS doesn’t think human nature is irrational and flawed” – “the consummate curmudgeon”, “the pessimist?”. When I claim Hitchens has a dark view of human nature, how is that “hateful”? How is that any different from what you said, that he is a great pessimist? I don’t hate Hitchens or Dawkins, I mean exactly what I say: their view of nature and human nature is dark and pessimistic (because Puritanical). You say almost the same thing about Hitchens at least.

    You say “Dawkins does not argue that altruism is almost entirely cultural.” Except that he does. Talk about cognitive dissonance here! I provided a direct quote where he DOES claim human altruism can get but “little help from biology”. If our biological inheritance can help us very little in developing altruism, aren’t our genes part of our biology? Then it follows our genes can help us but little in developing altruism.

    You claim he says altruism “has its roots in how genes work”. But, in fact, your remark is your own personal paraphrase of Dawkins, whereas mine is a direct word-for-word quote. So even if he does assert something along the lines of what you say (and I agree, I seem to recall something along those lines as well) the confusion and the cognitive dissonance here is Dawkins’, not mine. You claim I’m just stupid, but funny, my quote was a direct one. It wasn’t a paraphrase. Yours was a paraphrase.

    A philosopher, David Stove, I don’t agree with on many issues, but do agree with on this, had this to say about Dawkins (as paraphrased by Denyse O’Leary in her review of his work):

    “Stove here discusses Dawkins’s view that, thanks to the magic of natural selection, genes can appear to behave selfishly. Selfish genes are the only real players in life, according to Dawkins.

    The basic problem is that the only possible object of selfishness is a self. That is, selfishness is a quality of a mind/brain that is inordinately focused on itself (as a whole) as opposed to a hierarchy of needs that include the self but also other selves in an environment. Cruella Deville, who wanted to slaughter 101 Dalmatian puppies to make a coat, might be selfish, but her actual genes are as irrelevant to the idea of selfishness as viruses or prime numbers.

    “Dawkins admits that he is speaking figuratively when he says that genes are selfish, but does that rescue his concept? Stove thinks not….” I think not as well. You blame this not on Dawkins’, but on how “language has confused people”. But one of those “confused people” is none other than Dawkins himself. The pathetic fallacy of the selfish gene, the inapt reification of his metaphor, doesnt just occur in his detractors, it also occurs in the author himself very frequently. As Stove put it:

    “Stove goes on to suggest that Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene is just another instance of fatalism, like astrology, Freudianism, Marxism, and Calvinism. He argues that many people like this sort of thing because it confirms what they feel they have always known, that either they or someone they know is born to lose. They are but puppets, and the selfish gene is a puppet master that suits them well. So anything can be blamed on genes, and genes never defend themselves.”

    And then we have:

    “Incredibly, Dawkins insists at one and the same time that altruism “has no place in nature,” but nonetheless asserts “let us try to teach generosity and altruism.” (p. 126) But how can we? How are we to acquire altruism if it has no place in nature, let alone teach it?* And remember, we are but puppets of our genes. At this point, it is fair to say that Dawkins isn’t making any sense.”

    Why is it my fault, or Stove’s fault, or Goodwin’s fault, if we’re confused here? Isn’t the confusion here mainly Dawkins’ own?

    “It gets worse. As Stove notes (p. 128), in addition to the selfish gene, there is also the meme. Memes are allegedly anything that can be transmitted from one human to another by non-genetic means. They infest our brains and manipulate them, whether they are ideas, beliefs, attitudes, styles, customs, fashions. [b]Do not bother to ask whether neuroscience has discovered any correlate of a meme. Of course not.[/b]”

    The ultimate criticism of Dawkins (and by extension, the entire socio-biologists’ project) is presented by Stove in his own words:

    [i]”… for every once that Dawkins says that genes are not purposive, he says a hundred things, (many of which I have quoted), which imply that genes are /em> purposive. And that Williams, likewise, says countless things which imply that genes are purposive, although he doubtless believes (while never actually saying) that they are not. If the writer of a book says a certain thing twice or once or never, but implies the opposite over and over again throughout his book, a rational reader will take it that the writer’s real opinion is the one which he constantly implies; not the other one.”[/i]

    You keep insisting Goodwin and I have simplistically misread Dawkins, but the cognitive confusion is, in fact, Dawkins’ own – and yours, insofar as you have failed to note the numerous inconsistencies and self-contradictions (which as I say, has something to do with a kind of back-door, covert religiosity on Dawkins’ part).

    And you insist Gaia has been demolished a hundred times over, but it hasn’t (which is why you don’t link to a single one of these definitive refutations – because they aren’t there).

  36. Bad says:

    About “hubris” – you yourself, in your original post, rolled your eyes at Hedges

    This is a pretty good example of how incoherent your arguments have been, and why its hard to muster the energy to respond to them knowing the bizarre tangents we’ll fly off to next. I raised the hubris example specifically about your argument, which didn’t make a lot of sense. It was hateful because it was incoherent kitchen sink “everything they do is bad” attack, not because it describes Hitchens as a pessimist (and frankly, I don’t think pessimism is even remotely the same thing as having a “dark and negative” view of humanity). I also raised it again as an example of how silly your “you didn’t respond to this particular point, so that must mean you concede it!” gambit was. You’ve addressed neither of these points.

    You say “Dawkins does not argue that altruism is almost entirely cultural.” Except that he does. Talk about cognitive dissonance here! I provided a direct quote where he DOES claim human altruism can get but “little help from biology”. If our biological inheritance can help us very little in developing altruism, aren’t our genes part of our biology? Then it follows our genes can help us but little in developing altruism.

    This is exactly the problem: you think in disjointed quotes that as far as I know, are culled at random from the internet, rather than following his arguments. In the book, Dawkins distinguishes all sorts of things that we would all call examples of altruism from a form of altruism that has no justification in genes per se. When you insist that he is arguing that altruism is not genetic, you mistakenly are including all those former things. But Dawkins does claim those things are genetic: they are simply forms of altruism that actually reduce down to strategies that promote the success of particular genes.

    . So even if he does assert something along the lines of what you say (and I agree, I seem to recall something along those lines as well) the confusion and the cognitive dissonance here is Dawkins’, not mine.

    No, you simply aren’t listening to what he’s actually saying, and then oversimplifying things based off random quotes without reading the context of the entire argument.

    The pathetic fallacy of the selfish gene, the inapt reification of his metaphor, doesnt just occur in his detractors, it also occurs in the author himself very frequently.

    Actually, yet again, Dawkins and other more reasonable critics beat you to this punch long long ago. The problem of what word to use for what he’s been describing has been debated quite a bit, and even Dawkins has said that he has mixed feelings about it. The real problem is that no one really knows how best to describe these things in a language that really only has words and concepts that related to intentionality. Dawkins is upfront about this in the book itself, and discusses it even further in later editions. It’s an explicit and known source of confusion: a necessary evil for clear and concise description.

    Virtually all of Stove’s complaints that you quote are simply a matter of hitting Dawkins on the exact same point over and over: his use of terminology that implies intentionality when in fact that’s not what he means. But the fact that he says so, and says straight out that every time he uses those terms one should NOT think that they carry that conventional interpretation, does not make Stove’s objection credible. The “constant” implication isn’t one, because this very problem was already identified and apologized for, by the author himself.

    Now, there are legitimate arguments to be made about whether one can do better: come up with language that doesn’t have this problem. But it’s not an easy problem to deal with. Being glib and misrepresenting the challenge, however, isn’t in the realm of serious criticism. And what is being described is in any case far too complicated for “fatalism.” What sort of fatalism has so much diversity and flexible adaptability?

    You keep insisting Goodwin and I have simplistically misread Dawkins, but the cognitive confusion is, in fact, Dawkins’ own – and yours, insofar as you have failed to note the numerous inconsistencies and self-contradictions (which as I say, has something to do with a kind of back-door, covert religiosity on Dawkins’ part).

    But I haven’t “failed to note” them: I’ve explained how they are a feature of your misrepresentation.

    And you insist Gaia has been demolished a hundred times over, but it hasn’t (which is why you don’t link to a single one of these definitive refutations – because they aren’t there).

    Hogwash. Most of the best critiques are in journals and books I can’t link to: James Kirchner, John Harte, and Doolittle all gave punishing critiques of the idea as it was originally stated. Dawkins lists several reasons against the strong Gaia idea in Extended Pheonotype.

    And again, you don’t seem to be getting what I’m saying. The chief problem with Gaia is not that its refuted as false, but that it was unintelligible insofar as actually suggesting anything concrete. It’s quite odd that you’d spend so much time lambasting Dawkins for using the word selfish, even with all his caveats about how best to understand that usage, and then turn around and defend an idea that described life on earth as a “community of trust,” and meant it semi-seriously.

    Regardless, the most telling thing here is that Lovelock and Margulis received harsh criticism, went back to the drawing board, and improved things, to the point where people now think there is more to it. That’s precisely how its supposed to work.

  37. Chris says:

    Lovelock and Margulis did not go “back to the drawing board” because of Dawkins. That was Margulis’ method all along: to improve and re-think and refine all of her theories. I find it amazing you fail to recognize that Margulis’ achievement as a working scientist, as opposed to a popularizer, is much greater than Dawkins’.

    The issue is not that “community of trust” is figurative language – because of course it is – but that this metaphor is based on real observation. Any idea, any theory, requires the use of figurative language and tropes and metaphors and similes in order to make it widely understandable. But behind the metaphor lies real experiment and real observation. By contrast, nobody has ever observed a “meme” at work (because it’s a tautology and a redundancy – it doesn’t illuminate how or why ideas catch on, it simply muddies the waters). A “meme” cannot be verified or falsified – it’s simply a redundant and unnesssary figure of speech Dawkins coined – whereas the ultimate implications of Gaia almost certainly will be proven true or false some day. As of now, the evidence strongly suggests: “true”.

    Nobody criticized Dawkins for employing figurative language in his books, because the use of tropes is a necessary part of all descriptive language of any complexity. What Dawkins was criticized for using vivid metaphors to cloak highly questionable assumptions. An even worse offender is Steven Pinker, whose undeservedly acclaimed book THE BLANK SLATE is an embarrassment, and should be shelved in the “Religion” or even “Fantasy Novels” section of the bookstore, not the “Science” section. What Ludwig Wittgenstein said of Sigmund Freud’s dream theories is just as true of Dawkins’ or Pinker’s ideas:

    “This is a SPECULATION. It’s the sort of explanation we are inclined to accept. It is not put forward as a result of the detailed examination of varieties of [empirical observation].”

    Contrary to what you claim, the same criticism cannot be levelled at Lovelock and Margulis except perhaps when the Gaia idea was first formulated. Gaia is not another Kipling-esque “Just So” story. If it’s wrong, it will be shown to be wrong. And if it is rejected by Dawkins, it isn’t because there is no evidence out there to suggest its validity, but because Dawkins already has a firmly entrenched worldview that is antithetical to the one which Gaia implies. Instead of reconsidering his vision of the universe, he simply puts certain conceptual notions out of sight and out of mind.

  38. goldnsilver says:

    Chris – great response.

    Bad – you are a brittle, egotistical and false debator.

  39. Foundation for Defense of Democracies

    Newfound Anti-Atheist Chris Hedges Doesn’t Believe in Coherent Arguments | The Bad Idea Blog

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