Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Disputing Dawkins I

The Power of Rhetoric

Well, I've been wallowing around, waiting to get access to the computer and, to be honest, the courage to attempt to articulate all that I see wrong with Dawkins' so-called argument. I will begin with the Word document I made of the first chapter or so.

As the McGraths pointed out in their book, Dawkins uses extensive rhetorical devices in addition to logical argument. I hadn't the time nor the patience to examine every sentence for this, but let's look at an early one for a taste of it. This passage comes in the introduction--spread over pages 5 and 6, to be precise.

Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design). Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely [pg break] a work of Satan. But I believe there are plenty of open-minded people out there: people whose childhood indoctrination was not too insidious, or for other reasons didn’t ‘take’, or whose native intelligence is strong enough to overcome it. Such free spirits should need only a little encouragement to break free of the vice of religion altogether.

Here Dawkins creates a dichotomy for us. The first category is made of "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads." The second category is made of "free spirits." The faith-heads are religious, the result of indoctrination, who likely won't read the book. Dawkins also indicates, through negative definition, that the faith-heads are closed-minded. Look at this wording: "But I believe there are plenty of open-minded people out there." This is a shift from the first, strongly implying that the open-minded people are a different sort from the faith-heads. If it were a sonnet, it would be called a volta. The second category, the free-spirited people, are open-minded. They are intelligent, or have resisted their "childhood indoctrination," or didn't receive such brainwashing. Those who fit in the open-minded people category, therefore, are already resisting religion by the time they read the book. "A little encouragement" will allow them to break into the free pastures of glorious atheism, escaping from the sheep-pen of "the vice of religion."

Notice what this does: it primes the unsuspecting reader to think of themselves in terms of this dichotomy. The reader can choose between being religious, closed-minded, unintelligent, and brainwashed, or being open-minded, intelligent, independent of thought, and a fledgling atheist. Further, Dawkins almost seems to say, "If you finish this book without having turned atheist, then you are not open-minded and your native intelligence is not strong enough to overcome the intellectual abuses your parents brought upon you." Well, he does say this, but it's all implicit. And if the reader doesn't watch out for this, if the reader thinks the introduction is "safe", if the reader doesn't employ critical reading and just let's the meaning sink it...then the reader will be forced to make a decision between one of the two camps.

What this all leaves out, of course, is that the possibility exists that you could be an open-minded, intelligent, religious person--or, for that matter, a closed-minded, unintelligent, atheistic person. Or, really, someone who falls somewhere else. And I must point out that this part of the book comes before he even hints to a reason why he would consider religious people to be closed-minded. This, then, is not a culmination of a line of thought, but what he opens with.

Let's ask these questions, to which I don't have answers: What does he mean by open-mindedness? What does he mean by "native intelligence"? What methods of immunization would a Christian reading his book have? Does Dawkins suspect that critical reading, or the questioning of motives, methods, and assumptions be among those resistences?

My overall conclusions about this paragraph are fairly simple: Dawkins here attempts to divide his audience between a set of dichotomies that are heavily weighted to one end. (If you know anything about the creation of dichotomies, you won't be surprised to find that all the negative sides correspond, and all the positive sides correspond.) Dawkins then invites the reader to pick one side of the dichotomy by either being convinced by him or not, and he dresses up the side that is convinced to look much prettier than the other side. Easy as pie. Luckily for me, and unluckily for Dawkins, I wasn't fooled.

All of this discussion does not come close to suggesting that Dawkins' argument is faulty. Instead, I begin with this close reading to indicate how Dawkins primes his audience to believe what he wants to tell them. If you are among those who believe(d) what Dawkins writes, and wonder how you could be so convinced without there being any argument at all, as I claimed previously, will claim now, and will substantiate later, then rest with this knowledge: Dawkins had brainwashed you with clever rhetoric, but if you read my words and the words of many others who have seen through his tomfoolery and prestidigitation, you can break free of the vice of Dawkins altogether.

Go to the Dawkins Directory

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