Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mehdi Hasan makes me really angry.

Well, correction, the people who allow and probably even pay for him to share his transparently stupid views in public make me angry. So here's the line-by-line, if I can get through it without breaking something...

"“You believe that Muhammad went to heaven on a winged horse?” That was the question posed to me by none other than Richard Dawkins a few weeks ago, in front of a 400-strong audience at the Oxford Union. I was supposed to be interviewing him for al-Jazeera but the world’s best-known atheist decided to turn the tables on me."

Seems like a reasonable question.  I mean we need to know if we're being interviewed by someone rational or not don't we. Especially since you were no doubt about to ask him some questions about atheism.

"So what did I do? I confessed. Yes, I believe in prophets and miracles." 

We'll get to the prophets and miracles later.  Lets just rewind here - the winged horse? In order to believe in the existence of a winged horse you'd have to throw out everything we know about zoology and evolution.  I'm pretty sure the laws of aerodynamics are getting a thrashing too.  It's ridiculous and ludicrous. So what a brilliant question from Dawkins - exposing you as completely irrational. I guess you felt pretty stupid, hence why you're still going on about it.

"Oh, and I believe in God, too. Shame on me, eh? Faith, in the disdainful eyes of the atheist, is irredeemably irrational; to have faith, as Dawkins put it to me, is to have “belief in something without evidence”."

Another brilliant point from Dawkins.  Wonder if anyone else totally brilliant has ever said that?

"This, however, is sheer nonsense. Are we seriously expected to believe that the likes of Descartes, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Rousseau, Leibniz and Locke were all unthinking or irrational idiots?"

Yes and Aristotle and Plato supported slavery and considered it "natural". Great thinkers can be wrong. Otherwise the first time someone showed up with an IQ over 120 they'd have got everything right and there'd be no more debate about anything.  And in defence of all these people (1) they lived a long time ago before science had reached the modern era, (2) many people nod along with religion because it helps them in their careers, etc and (3) none of them ever EVER said they believed in the existence of a flying horse.

"In trying to disparage “faith”, Dawkins and his allies constantly confuse “evidence” with “proof”; those of us who believe in God do so without proof but not without evidence. As the Oxford theologian (and biophysicist) Alister McGrath has observed: “Our beliefs may be shown to be justifiable, without thereby demonstrating that they are proven.”"

Proof and evidence are not the same, they're highly related concepts though. Proof is enough evidence to draw a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. And if you have any evidence at all on the flying horses issue, call me,  I think New Scientist would be really interested in an exposé. I'm pretty sure that one is neither proven nor justifiable.  Footnote: neither Dawkins, nor me, nor anyone needs to go around "disparaging" faith so long as you keep telling people about the flying horse. Really.  We'll just get some popcorn and watch while you do the job for us.

"The science bit"

Does this not feel like a shampoo advert?  Now here comes the "science"...

"Those atheists who harangue us theists for our supposed lack of evidence should consider three things. First, it may be a tired cliché but it is nonetheless correct: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I can’t prove God but you can’t disprove him. The only non-faith-based position is that of the agnostic."

The only reason that it appears you can't disprove God is because the definition of God is so vague and constantly being changed by religious folk!  If we take the approach of nailing down God (pun intended lol) it's easy to disprove Him/Her.  So (1) if we can agree that "God" means a being who knows and cares about human life and has the power to change things on earth. Then look at the fact that child rapists continue to exist, that good people often suffer painful illnesses, that famine and drought affect whole communities indiscriminately. This proves that He/She either doesn't care or can't intervene. So that God doesn't exist. And (2) if we can agree that this deity rides around on a winged horse, theres the whole of zoology and evolution and all the rest sat there disproving His/Her existence.

"Second, there are plenty of things that cannot be scientifically tested or proven but that we believe to be true, reasonable, obvious even. Which of these four pretty uncontroversial statements is scientifically testable? 1) Your spouse loves you. 2) The Taj Mahal is beautiful. 3) There are conscious minds other than your own. 4) The Nazis were evil."

On the contrary evidence can be presented for all of these things.

1, 2 and 4 are just about definitions.  We can't prove "love" unless we define "love". We could define it based on brain chemistry and then test for the relevant chemicals. We could define it more prosaically on (for example) willingness to perform an unpleasant task on someone else's behalf. Either way as long as we agree on a definition, we can test it. We can define beauty based on the percentage of viewers who consider a sight pleasing. Or we can use definitions based on complexity and symmetry. We could even again look for the chemical balance of a typical brain when it reports identifying "beauty" and then test for it. Evil is fairly neatly defined as deliberate abuse of human rights. We can demonstrate that that occurred.

3 is a strange one.  Great leaps and bounds in progress are being made around consciousness. We may soon have a much neater scientific understanding of it and be able to thus define and test for it.  But there's plenty of evidence for others being conscious by some definition or another. In fact you posing the question suggests to me that you're conscious, although your believing in flying horses suggests only just.

"This isn’t just about metaphysics, aesthetics or ethics: science itself is permeated with unproven (and unprovable) theories."

None of them are about the existence of flying horses. And nothing is unprovable, things may be unprovable with current methods and equipment, but science moves on.  We might once have wondered how anyone would ever prove the earth wasn't flat, but now with space travel, everyone accepts it.

"Take the so-called multiverse hypothesis. “It says there are billions and billions of universes, all of which have different settings of their fundamental constants,” Dawkins explained to a member of the audience in Oxford. “A tiny minority of those billions and billions of universes have their constants set in such a way as to give rise to a universe that lasts long enough to give rise to galaxies, stars, planets, chemistry and hence the process of evolution...”"

Yeah it's a theory. I don't think Dawkins is suggesting it's a fact.

"Hmm. A nice idea, but where’s your evidence, Richard? How do we “prove” that these “billions and billions” of universes exist? “The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language,” the cosmologist Paul Davies has admitted, “but in essence it requires the same leap of faith [as God].”"

No, it's a theory.  One day we may discover wormholes and travel to other universes. Maybe in one of those universes there are flying horses.  Cos there sure aren't in this one!

"Third, there are plenty of good, rational and evidence-based arguments for God. You don’t have to agree with them, but it is intellectually dishonest to claim that they, too, like God, don’t exist."

No there aren't. There aren't any. If there were scientists would evaluate them.

"Take the Kalam cosmological argument – first outlined by the medieval Muslim theologian al-Ghazali, and nowadays formulated by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig as follows:

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Whether you agree with it or not, it is a valid deductive argument, a genuine appeal to reason and logic."

But it's a total nonsense. Firstly because the term "begin" implies there was a time when it was not here, and then a time when it was here. And that only makes sense if we think of time as something that already existed, before the universe. But time, without a universe, is meaningless. Time, and thus beginnings, only starts to exist as the universe comes into being.  Secondly this argument builds a huge huge HUGE paradox. The universe exists so something must have created it. Lets call that thing God. So if God exists something must have created God. Lets call that thing super-God. So if super-God exists...  Incidentally this is a fun game to play if you're having trouble sleeping or don't like the other people at a dinner party.

"Or how about the argument that says the universe, in Davies’s words, “is in several respects ‘fine-tuned’ for life”? Remember, the late Antony Flew, the atheist philosopher who embraced God in 2004, did so after coming to the conclusion that “there had to be an intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical universe”. To pretend that Flew, of all people, arrived at such a belief blindly, without thinking it through, “without evidence”, is plain silly."

If the universe wasn't fine-tuned for life, we wouldn't be here.  That's like the person who wins the lottery saying "God made me win", forgetting that many of the millions of people who didn't win also prayed to a God.  In fact the fine-tuning of the universe is one of the reasons behind the multi-verse theory.  Currently no scientists are debating fine-tuning in the context of the flying horse theory.  And isn't it rather weird to imagine God spent ages fine-tuning universal physical constants to create galaxies, stars, planets, moons, black holes, supernova and life on earth and then looked round afterwards and went "oh, I'll also make a flying horse".

"For Muslims such as me, faith (iman) and reason (aql) go hand in hand."

Yes and then faith blindly throws reason out of the window.

"The Quran stresses the importance of using science, logic and reason as tools for discovering God."

Yes - not as tools for finding out if God exists or not, for "discovering God.  Which is a bit like using crayons to make an omelette. Also in 4:34 the Quran says it's ok to beat your wife.

"“Will you not then use your reason?” it asks, again and again. But hasn’t the theory of evolution undermined Islam? asks the atheist. A few years ago, Dawkins accused British Muslims of “importing creationism into this country”. He has a point. These days, the vast majority of my coreligionists see Darwin as the devil."

Of course they do.  Darwin's work showed for the first time in history that there categorically wasn't and never had been any such thing as a flying horse! What fools they must have felt. Why the next thing someone will tell them the moon isn't really a crescent shape. Ooops.

"Yet this is a new phenomenon. Many of Islamic history’s greatest scholars and thinkers were evolutionists; the 19th-century scientist John William Draper, a contemporary of Darwin, referred to the latter’s views as “the Muhammadan theory of evolution”."

Yes and I've heard people refer to you as a journalist, yet here we are Mehdi, churning through all this nonsense.

"As I pointed out on these pages back in January, “one of the earliest theories of natural selection was developed by the 9th-century Iraqi zoologist (and Islamic theologian) al-Jahiz, 1,000 years before Charles Darwin”. And almost 500 years before the publication of On the Origin of Species, the acclaimed Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun wrote his Muqaddimah, in which he documented how “the animal world then widens, its species become numerous . . . the higher stage of man is reached from the world of the monkeys...”"

Impressive. Now lets play a fun game called "whose religion stopped those ideas becoming widespread, being tested and then used as a basis for further research?"  You go first.

"Stages of man
There is, indeed, nothing in the Quran that prevents Muslims from embracing evolution."

No, nothing at all. Nothing except WHHHRFFF WHHHRFFF what's that, nothing in the Quran that WHHHRFFFF WHHHHRFFF prevents Muslims from WHHHRFFF WHHHRFFF oh I'm so sorry I can't hear what you're saying - there's something landing behind me over here WHHHRFFF WHHHRFFF well fuck me it's that flying horse of yours Mehdi. Now, what was your point about the compatibility of the Quran and evolution again?

"In his recent book Reading the Quran, the Muslim commentator Ziauddin Sardar notes how creation is presented “as a dynamic, on - going phenomenon that is constantly evolving and changing”. Sardar points to verse 14 of chapter 71, where “we are specifically asked to reflect on the fact that ‘He has created you stage by stage’ ”."

Evolution definitely doesn't show that human beings were created in stages by a deity.  Also you might want to be honest here and admit that the Quran also claims the old 6 day Extreme Makeover: Universe Edition version of creation.

"Yet the theory of evolution, whether Muslims accept it or not, doesn’t explain the origins of the universe, the laws of science or our objective moral values."

No, it explains the evolution of humans and other animals, plants, etc.  Hence why it's called the theory of evolution. Other scientific theories explain those other things.  And what objective moral values? The ones, once widely believed and today still practiced in much of the world about how it's ok to beat your wife? See ... the Quran (4:34).

"In short, most of us who believe in God do so not because we are irrational, incurious or immature but because He is the best answer to the question posed by Leibniz more than 300 years ago: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

So here we are.  The New Statesman is now publishing an article espousing a 1400-year-old answer to a 300-year old question?  And that answer is: something exists, so something else (of unknown origins) must have made it, I imagine He probably rides about on a flying horse. I weep.


Thesauros said...

Well, I followed right up to your lottery analogy and then it just got too silly.

Good luck on your journey.

Ozzy Nujjoo said...

I began writing a response to this, which ended up becoming way too long. Hence, I've placed the response on my blog: https://orthodoxsubmitter.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/a-response-to-kate-smurthwaites-piece-on-mehdi-hasan/

My first post, in fact!

Philip G said...

I have a 'koran project' koran in the bathroom that I am working my way through. I hope it is considered to be disrespectful to read it whilst moving my bowels.

The writing is so utterly of the primitive 'god the alpha male' style, just like the bible. It scares me that people will so readily believe it to be the word of a deity.

I really don't want to engage the services of anyone who believes such utter rubbish to be 'fact'. I just couldn't trust their judgment.

Thesauros said...

Oh ya? What if you drop a really big turd and can't get the toilet unplugged and the only plummer you can get has "Christian" stamped across his forehead?

Obviously you have not given enough thought this serious and complicated issue.

James Piechowski said...

You have a great blog here Kate. I tend to agree with most of what you say. You certainly have a lot of strings to your bow! Please keep up the fight against the harmful effects of religion, the fight against the political dogma of the right, and the fight against misogyny.
Whilst you made an impressive attempt to refute the religious arguments, Kate, the responses were obviously condensed summaries, and hardly fully comprehensive (and nor should they be - this is a blog and not a debating forum). So I find it strange that apologists like to pick apart what you wrote here, as if it must be the best we atheists have, and so that's some kind of victory for them. Frankly, the battle is being fought elsewhere.
For example, William Lane Craig recently debated atheist Lawrence Krauss in a series of debates in Australia - to me, WLC's arguments were not convincing. He was polished, but Krauss ultimately seemed more logical. Other notable atheists such as Sam Harris and Dan Dennett are also worth looking up on YouTube if you want debate.
I did find Dawkins' initial comments to Medhi Hassan insensitive, although of course he is right about the inherent irrationality of not questioning dogmatic religious beliefs. I find it unfortunate that the latter has taken such an aggressive riposte, but that's often the Dawkins effect - he riles people up. He is hardly perfect - I consider his attitudes towards women are often less than ideal, and there is the problem of him being too "strident". Believers should note that it's not as if Dawkins is universally held up as some kind of paragon in atheist circles - he is in many ways just as controversial a figure for us.