There is another howler up on the ABC’s Religion & Ethics website today. Neil Ormerod’s qualifications to pompously pontificate over whether Richard Dawkins is a bully come from his job as a Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University.
Ormerod seems mainly peeved that Dawkins doesn’t think that we have free will, and that he sees religious belief as a delusion. The rest is really just philosophical garblewarble over is vs ought and strawmanning Dawkins’ positions, together with indignant cries of “bully” and “you’re angry”. In other words, the usual.
I think Ormerod misrepresents what atheists are saying when he argues:
This goes some way to explaining why Dawkins and his multitude of followers feel entitled to express such contempt and anger toward religious believers. Nothing religious believers say can be tolerated because they are at heart irrational human beings; they are free to be otherwise, and in not choosing to be rational they are failing in some sense to be what human beings should be. They are like a watch that does not properly tell the time. They need fixing. And the proper fix is to be more rational, a better human being, and drop their religious beliefs.
Sure, it would be great if everyone could be more rational. Including atheists. But that’s not the point, and it is simply not true that nonbelievers regard religious people as machines with broken brains who need fixing, in the same way that some religious people regard homosexuals as broken and fixable. If Ormerod would actually read The God Delusion for comprehension, he would realise that large parts of the book are spent indicting the religious for brainwashing their children, arguing that passing on religious beliefs from parent to child is abuse, and pointing out how religious belief correlates with lack of social security and education. Ormerod is lighting a strawman that he erected in the first place. But he has a way out for us atheist mechanists:
If these are not Dawkins’ and his followers’ beliefs about what it means to be human, then all their contempt and anger is nothing more than an attempt at bullying believers, like alpha male primates beating their chests to warn off rivals.
There is that word again, bullying. It is simply amazing how many people do not know what it means, and take it as synonym for “disagreement” or “criticism”. Whether someone says “Your god does not exist” or “Guys don’t do that”, it’s not contempt, nor anger, and certainly not bullying. Calling Dawkins or any other atheist who dares to suggest that the lack of evidence for gods points to no gods existing a bully, is in itself a form of bullying, in employing over the top rhetorical means and inflammatory language to silence opposing views and poison the well.
Even the notion of free will itself is merely an illusion with which we live, and which science will eventually deconstruct into other more basic forces. The whole universe is a purposeless, meaningless set of forces and particles banging into one another according to the laws of physics. How then might Dawkins construe the apparently purposeful appeal to live according to the dictates of reason that is implicit in the aims of his book?
Of course free will is an illusion, our conscious brain is not a decider but merely a spokesperson, and just like being free from religious belief can lead to living a more truthful, productive and altruistic life, so can the realisation of the absence of conscious will. Ormerod’s quote above sounds just like any garden variety strawmanning of the theory of evolution as “random”. The fact that the universe has no purpose doesn’t mean that we can not strive to give our lifes meaning. It just means that we need not appeal to heaven for divine assistance in achieving our goals.
Ormerod’s pseudo-argument boils down to “Dawkins says we can reason people into not believing in gods. But he also says we don’t have free will. So how’s that meant to work?”
I find it a rather pathetic attempt to color Dawkins as a bully, and to repeat once again the old canard of the angry atheist who has nothing but contempt for religion. In other words, it’s business as usual on the Religion & Ethics website.