30 October 2011

Reasonable Faith: A Dialogue of the Deaf, Part 4

And so, finally, after two statements and a series of responses, the debate was brought to an end. It had been decided that there wouldn't be a vote to see which speaker the audience believed had won -- which I thought was wise, given the partisan nature of the crowd and the fact that it was pretty unlikely than anybody had changed their mind in response to the arguments they'd heard.

Instead there was a short informal discussion chaired by one Peter S. Williams, during which Atkins made it clear that he regarded atheism as the normative state of human belief, such that it didn't really need arguments to justify it, and continued to hold to the line that Craig's arguments were wholly faith-based. He felt Craig was placing anecdotes over evidence -- despite his own Independent aside and in determined scorning of Craig's references to Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin's work -- and condescendingly claimed that Craig's arguments would have gone down a storm a thousand years ago.

Nonsense, of course; Craig's argument would have been impossible a thousand years ago, not least because the Aristotelian revolution as led by the likes of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas didn't happen until the thirteenth century. Yes, the same Aristotelian revolution that gave the scientific method its theoretical and first practical underpinnings, because western science only became possible when Aristotelian thinking was tied with the Christian belief that God had made the Universe in a way that was reliable, and that nature would therefore act in accordance with natural laws.

Anyway, when quizzed on where he stood on philosophy in general, Atkins dismissed it out of hand, calling it  'a complete waste of time'. He conceded that moral philosophy has its uses -- he could hardly do otherwise, given how he'd argued that morality is something we work out ourselves -- but insisted that philosophy in general was just idle speculation.

He didn't seem aware of just how bizarre, not to mention ironic, that claim was coming from the mouth of someone who'd quoted Voltaire, cited Zeno, and argued against miracles on the basis of David Hume's philosophy, but then, he didn't seem a particular thoughtful sort. He seemed blissfully unaware of how the scientific method itself is wholly dependent on a series of philosophical presuppositions, and was scathing when Craig pointed this out to him.

On then to morality, with Atkins equating morality with usefulness -- an attitude that quite a few philosophers, starting with Socrates, would have had cause to question -- and saying that he believed it immoral to intervene in anyone's life. Well, not quite anyone, he explained. If he could intervene in Hitler's life, he would.

I'm not sure what he meant by that. Did he mean if he could go back in time to stop Hitler he would do so? Does he mean that he'd intervene in the life of a modern Hitler? Was he saying he'd go back in time to kill Hitler if he could? Your guess, frankly, is as good as mine.

The only thing I was left certain of, at 21:33 on Wednesday 26 October 2011, Peter Atkins blinked first, being the first person in the evening to mention Nazis. 

And so, with Godwin's Law finally having been fulfilled, it was time to call the evening to a close.

We'd a good chat in the pub afterwards, mind. 

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