Paul Copan challenges Richard Dawkins on determinism and rationality

This is from Parchment & Pen. There is an MP3 file linked in the post. (H/T Apologetics 315)


Last week, Richard Dawkins spoke here in Ft. Lauderdale at Nova Southeastern University on “The Fact of Evolution.” The following week, I spoke on “The Fact of God”—also delivered at Nova Southeastern.

[…]I asked Dawkins how he could claim that the naturalist id rationally superior to the theist since, according to his book River Out of Eden, all of us are dancing to the music of our DNA. Our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control—whether we’re theists or naturalists. In fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).

Dawkins gave the odd reply that it’s kind of like Republicans and Democrats—with each group thinking they’re right and the other group wrong. But on what grounds could either side think they are more rational than the other? Dawkins then added that he supposed that whatever view “works” the correct one to hold. But here’s the problem: what “works” is logically distinct from “true” or “matching up with reality”—since we may hold to a lot of false beliefs that help us survive and reproduce, even if they are false. Indeed, naturalistic evolution is interested in survival and reproduction—the “four F’s” (fighting, feeding, fleeing, and reproducing). Truth, the naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland argues, is secondary to these pursuits According to another such naturalist, the late Richard Rorty, truth is “utterly unDarwinian.”

[…]…how can Dawkins condemn “religious” people who fly planes into buildings since they are just dancing to their DNA—just like the naturalist is? They’re just doing what nature has programed them to do. We can further ask: Why isn’t Dawkins denouncing atrocities done in the name of atheism—like those of Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Tse-tung? Dawkins gives the impression that it’s only people of “religion” who carry out horrendous evils. Of course, if Dawkins is right, these mass murderers could not justly be condemned since they too were wired by nature to act as they did.

Paul then excerpts a segment from an interview with Dawkins:

Dawkins:….What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, “Oh well he couldn’t help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.” Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won’t start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that’s what we all ought to… Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. ….

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.

There’s a fuller explanation in the post – I just pulled out some parts to give you the idea.

This is something Christians need to get used to. Atheism should not smuggle in Christian beliefs. Atheism has to stand and fall on materialism, determinism, life ending at the grave, and moral subjectivism. There is no free will on atheism. There are no moral values or moral obligations on atheism. There is no rationality on atheism. There is no meaning in life on atheism. There is no purpose to life on atheism. There is no accountability for sin on atheism. There is no self-sacrificial love on atheism. There is no reward for virtue and self-sacrifice on atheism. It is a worldview

3 thoughts on “Paul Copan challenges Richard Dawkins on determinism and rationality”

  1. Paul Copan should visit Dr. Reppert’s blog since that’s his main thesis. I believe Dr. Dawkins has explained his views on atheist violence and how it is different than Christian violence, though some are not impressed by what he says in that regard.


  2. Dawkins has a religion (though he won’t admit it): it is a species of ‘scientific naiivete’. He believes that (wholly materialistic) science can, or will ultimately, explain everything. That which it does not (yet) explain – and there is much – according to him will eventually become clear enough to us all, through the light of (materialistic) science alone: –

    “If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to embrace it within the natural.” (i.e. as opposed to the supernatural) [ “The God Delusion”, Chapter 1) ].

    That is the basis of his faith. Our knowledge, after centuries of scientific thinking in the making, though still imperfect and incomplete as yet, will eventually become so. Presumably, then we will no longer need science any more, or scientists (like him)? Contrast this view of the role of science, if you will, with that so often expressed by Einstein (whom Dawkins fallaciously asserts was an ‘atheistic scientist’ [Ibid.]).

    Einstein, in fact, consistently refused to accept the label of ‘Atheist’ (though it is true that he was not a believing Jew and preferred, if any label at all, to be thought of as a species of ‘pantheist’ and partial disciple of Spinoza in this regard) and he spoke often of his preferred “attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being” [From a letter to Guy H. Raener Jr., Sept 28, 1949 (quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in ‘Skeptic’, Vol. 5, No.2)].

    Dawkins seems incapable of understanding how a trained scientist, like myself (and there are plenty of us, of course) can be a person of authentic and deep religious faith, yet accept the scientific explanation of the universe – or at least the evolving and changing one: to which there is probably no ultimate ‘end game’ ever, at which point we will know everything, – for science, like all human thought, has always been, will always be, subject to changes; in its theories and subsequent belief systems.. Dawkins seems to believe that people like me are, in some way, trying to ‘have it both ways’ (my phrase).

    But, as Wintry Kinght rightly asserts (above), it is he, Dawkins, who is in fact trying to ‘have it both ways’. We note he is not advocating any kind of return to some ‘law of the jungle’ HUMAN society which is devoid of any concept of good and evil and, therefore, of sin and morality. His naiive belief, which I shall call a ‘faith’, in a simplistic scientific progress towards some kind of ‘nirvana’ of total knowledge and understanding of everything in, and about, our universe is arguably as infantile and immature as Einstein accused belief in an anthropomorphic ‘personal god’ to be, and which he therefore rejected.:-

    “The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.” [Albert Einstein. Quoted in ‘Einstein’s God – Albert Einstein’s Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God’ (1997).]

    – JEFF, Philosopher of the Human Mind, Cultural Historian and Therapist.


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