Dawkins has been to visit NZ

May 13, 2018

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Religion, Atheism, Dawkins

Dawkins has been talking to audiences in NZ, and a local pastor took to Stuff (opens new window) to complain about him in an article. Now, I'm not saying that Dawkins is without flaws - it's common knowledge that he often opens his mouth on Twitter before thinking about what he's saying, and he's no stranger to controversy. But pastor Geoff Robson seems to have gone overboard in trying to protect his belief.

Geoff starts by saying that NZ is one of the most spiritually apathetic nations in the world. Presumably, although this is not referenced, he's referring to census results showing more kiwis becoming irreligious. But to confuse a lack of belief with apathy is wrong. I know a fair few atheists, and many of them have a keen interest in spirituality - they just don't believe that a spiritual realm is real. Atheists tend to know more about a wide range of religious beliefs than religious people do, and active skepticism (asking questions about whether beliefs are true) is a component of many people's atheism. It's not that atheists are refusing to believe that there could ever be a spiritual facet to our lives, it's just that nobody has ever been able to prove its existence, and religious groups aren't even trying to prove it.

Geoff goes on to say that kiwis have convinced ourselves that the question of god doesn't matter any more, but again the people I know who are atheists take the question of god, and wider questions about the utility of religion, very seriously. I've had many a conversation in the pub with people about the veracity of religion - not just skeptics, but others as well.

Geoff also slips into throwing insults by calling Dawkins the "High Priest of Unbelief" and his ideas "vitriolic and ill-informed", without actually engaging with any of the things that Dawkins has said about religion and showing why they are wrong.

The kicker is when he gets to the point of mis-characterising Dawkins' view as "God isn't real because I hate him". This is something I've heard from Christians before, the idea that atheists still believe in god somewhere deep down, but try to deny him because of their hatred of him. Dawkins doesn't talk about hating god, he talks about how the character of god as described by Christians and other religious groups is not a positive thing, and how religious people often do bad things in the name of their god. None of that means that Dawkins hates god - he simply hates the things done in the name of god. He's famous for his 7 point scale, where 1 is assured belief and 7 is assured disbelief, and he places himself not quite at 7, as he will always have doubt and be willing to listen to new evidence.

Finally Geoff states that Dawkins misunderstands faith as being a belief in the absence of, or contradiction of, evidence. He says that "Christians have zero interest in a belief system devoid of evidence, still less in a belief system that flies in the face of the evidence". Of course, it's a stretch for Geoff to talk about the beliefs of the billions of Christians in the world as if they're all in accord - and I for one have certainly met Christians who are proud of the fact that they have beliefs that defy evidence - that god can perform miracles where there is no evidence that the miracles actually happened, or that their belief in the absence of evidence is a way to show their devotion to their chosen religion. It might be that Geoff thinks that his own belief is backed by evidence, but I know that's definitely not the case for all Christians.

Thankfully Sara Passmore from the NZ Humanists has taken him to task (opens new window).