Monday, 30 June 2008

The Dawkins Debate

I finished Dawkins last night. It had an interesting ending, I must say. Nothing to do with the topic of the book, no conclusion, but...interesting.

I'm not going to start my review/dispute tonight. I'm just too tired to start it now, ya ken? But I'll outline my process, and what I have in mind for future "Dawkins" labelled posts.

At the beginning of the book, I read at the computer with an open Word document in front of me, typing in various responses and comments under assorted headings (poor sportsmanship; needs explication/evidence; concessions I'm willing to make; faulty logic; places where he displays his ignorance of religion; interesting ideas). I realized, though, that I was hogging the computer when I did this, so I transfered to writing in a notebook. This allowed me to read and respond anywhere, including in my bunk before I shut the lights out. It also necessitated that I record everything strictly in chronological order, rather than under headings, but that's actually fine, since the headings limited my responses. As an interesting aside, the notebook I used was the one that I usually bring to church to make notes about the sermon[1]. I thought this notebook was the most appropriate of all my paper caches for this particular project.

I did begin to read The Dawkins Delusion? by the McGraths, but I won't be able to finish it before I have to return the books to the library. It did give me an idea about what the authors thought about TGD and what direction they were going to take in refuting it. This is interesting enough, of course, but I'd already started to sketch out a response throughout the notes I made about the book, and so I'm not too worried about trying to finish The Dawkins Delusion?. Maybe later?

I intend to structure my response to Dawkins' book in various series of sub-themed posts running concurrently. I'll begin with a straight-up refutation of the parts that I can refute and think are worth refuting. This includes the critical points of his book; if I succeed, he will have no remaining argument[2]. As I go, I will try to point out the assorted assertions with which I either wholeheartedly agree or am willing to concede because it isn't relevant/I don't pretend to know the answer. This series I'll likely call "Disputing Dawkins I, II, etc." In these I will stick to argument. I'll also run a series, maybe consistent of only one or two posts, that indicates the places where Dawkins' is deliberately offensive[3]. This will, of course, be non-exhaustive, as I can't be expected to write posts discussing better than half of the pages of a 300-page book. I'll also include assorted stylistic errors. These I will call something like "Dawkins' Style." The third more argumentative series of posts will correct the various misrepresentations of religion as a whole and religious traditions in particular, at least in so far as I know them. These will be something like "Dawkins' Misrepresentations of Religion."

In the interests of being fair, I will also include "Things I Appreciated when Reading Dawkins," which is fairly self-evident, and "Things I Learned Reading Dawkins," which is also fairly self-evident[4]. If there's anything else I want to post about that I isn't covered in any given series, I'll call it "Dawkins Moment 1, 2, etc."

And that's that, I suppose. Oh, I'll mention one basic methodological assumption I'm making. Unlike most papers I have to write for class, I'm putting the onus of Dawkins to make his point. I will try to provide evidence/argument for all of my points, but I want to indicate that Dawkins starts out his book stating that he intends to convert all of his readers to atheism. He sets up that his goal is to convince me, the reader, of his views. My only goal is to throw as many wrenches as possible into his argument. I seek not to convert anyone in these posts; I instead want to 'block' Dawkins from being able convince any of my readers, or to show them that Dawkins' book isn't in fact convincing at all. So if there is a case in which I will only be able to throw doubt on the issue instead of argue effectively for a certain position, than that is enough for me. [5]

That's all on that for tonight.

Goodnight, all.

[1] The practice of taking notes in church seems odd to some people, I realize. My church actually gives space on the bulletin for sermon notes, and provides pens in most of the pews. It is a student church, and notetaking is a habit most of us share. Usually, if I don't write it down, I'll lose the trajectory of the sermon.
[2] Some hypothetical readers would point out that Dawkins didn't actually have anything you'd call an "argument" in the first place. I'll get to this in the "Disputing Dawkins" posts.
[3] It will be convenient to point out at this juncture that I am constructing a fictional entity called "Dawkins" to describe the speaker-figure, and not the historical person of Richard Dawkins who did the actual penning of the book. I write the following for formalist readers who would prefer that I use "speaker" instead of "Dawkins," as per avoiding the Intentional Fallacy: most of my readers will be more comfortable with a name instead of a phantom construction, and I will always try to be clear that I cannot attribute any of the ideas I point out to the historical Dawkins himself. In this case, though, I think it's clear that the historical Dawkins is either deliberately offensive, or insensitive to the point of sociopathy.
[4] These things I learned will be more a self-discovery than the reception of interesting facts provided by Dawkins.
[5] And speaking of method, I'll talk about these footnotes. I noticed that I use parentheses too often, and so I will now try to point parenthetical ideas to important to omit but too tangental to include in the body into these footnotes. I hope it works.

Go to the Dawkins Directory

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