Saturday, 2 October 2010

Keep our noses out of it!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Ahem…

“Dawkins is a know-it-all. How can he criticise Christianity when he hasn’t read [insert religious text here] or studied at [insert theological seminary here]? Dawkins just needs to stick with his biology and keep his nose out of things above his head.”

This rebuttal cracks me up every time, but it’s not a serious intellectual argument so I won’t spend too much time on it. People who employ it generally need a quick get-out-of-jail-free card when they notice their argument going south. I’ve experienced the same incantation similar to, “perhaps you need to read more books from the other side”. Inferring, of course, that I haven’t read what they’ve read, but when I do, pow! It’s gonna change my life and I’ll see the light because, you know, that’s what happened to them.

The charge that one cannot criticise someone’s position or the fundamentals of their religion because I may not be steeped in theological lore and writ is ludicrous. How exactly do they maintain a belief when they clearly haven’t studied for countless hours either? What right does the arguer have to claim the intellectual high-ground and deny their opponent similar standings when both do not have the supposedly ‘desired’ training? Such a standard immediately falls when the implications of one’s own shortcomings become clear.

Of course I’m supportive of diversifying one’s reading material to weigh objectively the various duelling positions, but there comes a time when the evidence so far gathered must be addressed and a provisional decision made in light of said evidence. After all, the religious person likely made their decision through the same procedure (although it’s very unlikely they gathered and weighed any evidence of other religions before choosing their own). But there are simply too many books published and possible schools to attend to ever satisfy such deviously shifting goal-posts. I’ll let P.Z. Myers take it from here; he paints it better than I can:

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.
I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

I’m actually astounded by how many anti-Dawkins arguments are defused with this simple fictional tale. It’s useful for those who don’t believe their particular god concept on show, but don’t expect the religious to spot the irony. As usual they’ll both bat it away and reply: “well, that’s not relevant because god’s word is revealed and totally different from fashion!” and they’ll begin to fill the room with that pungent red-herring smell. Indeed, this argument destroys pretty much all of Alistair McGrath’s tired and overly irritated arguments.

Interestingly, the religiously minded arguer never indicates exactly which theological arguments are being omitted or overlooked that require my attention. Perhaps they could point me in the direction of some astounding new proof for the existence of god! Because, (they seem to think) if I haven’t found the truth about god, that he exists, then I clearly haven’t been searching high or low enough. Of course, as I sit there waiting with bated breath for this new, revolutionary proof I know deep down it’ll be a re-hash of a worn-out old proof I’ve already seen, either that or a heartfelt plea to personal faith and revelation which doesn’t impress me one iota.

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