Friday, August 08, 2008

Big ego small man

Who are you going to believe?

Professor Richard Dawkins: BSc Zoology, MA and D.Phil, D.Sc all of Oxford. Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and five honorary doctorates. Author of 9 books

Christopher Hitchens: BA Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Oxford, contributing editor to Vanity Fair, writer for Slate Author of 17 books and co-author/editor of 9 others.

or Ian Wishart, New Zealand talkback radio host, author of numerous books of limited NZ circulation.

Yes I'm afraid I had to laugh when I saw that Wishart had written a book called "The Divinity Code" in a vain attempt to confront both Dawkins and Hitchens. I wont buy it yet, as I am sure I'll be able to pick it up in a bargain book sale somewhere in NZ next time I'm there.

Dawkins and Hitchens wont be losing sleep, indeed I doubt they will even give Wishart the dignity of bothering to read his book, if they know the man exists at all.

Wishart's website says it all about his credibility, with the hard hitting publications he has endorsing it:

"A Critically-Acclaimed Writer:

”The closest thing to a John Grisham novel, but it is the real thing” - Waikato Times

A writer who is prepared to tackle the difficult subjects...well researched
and very compelling” - The Advocate

“ exceptionally thorough...skillfully blends [an] informative picture” - Evening Standard

“His research is deep and thorough” - Wairarapa Times Age"

Yep, the Waikato Times, Wairarapa Times-Age, global authorities on... the Waikato and Wairarapa. "The Advocate" which surely isn't the gay magazine from the USA. When I type in the phrase to Google I just get "Wishart's quote" hmmm. Could it be the newspaper from Burnie, Tasmania? Could it be the Northern Advocate from Whangarei? Yes probably.

Then the Evening Standard. Wow. A quote that is dotted too, so Googling it doesn't quite work. Must be the Evening Standard in London right? Or am I right in suspecting it is the Manawatu Evening Standard?

Now call me cynical, but I don't regard four provincial New Zealand newspapers to be authorities on a book, and able to tell me whether "research is deep and thorough". Not even the NZ Herald or the Dominion Post, let alone the Times (that's London), Guardian, New York Times or Daily Telegraph, or even the Age in Melbourne. Wishart can't get a good review (or a review?) from a newspaper from any city with a population of more than 200,000.

I know there are thinkers of a religious persuasion who can make cogent, well researched arguments for supernatural beliefs, even though I am unlikely to agree with them, but Wishart?

Save your money, wait till they are piled up like Mike Moore's and Jim Bolger's books have been, in bargain bins - and then have a good laugh.


ZenTiger said...

Wishart's book was actually very good.

As for Dawkins, he's been going down hill. His book, the God Delusion has already been picked apart by many fine minds, but quite frankly, even the likes of me could do a good job.

Just because Dawkins anti-religious views are as popular as Paris Hilton, doesn't mean he put forward a good argument. He seems to think believing in evolution is somehow "proof" that God doesn't exist. That's nonsense.

Hitchens has a fine mind, but some-one apparently so bitter (or is it the alcohol?) reveals some kind of personal vendetta that can cloud his thinking in some areas.

Anonymous said...

Z tiger you're full of shit.

Dawkins puts the case very well for the wild improbability of god.

Hitchens' book is probably better again. Religion (god) certainly poisons everything!

Wishart's will be good, though for unintentional laughs.


Murray said...

And as a first year undergrad I wrote a paper that demolished the position of two men with similar qualifications as those you listed.

Letters after your name is not an asurance of the quality of an argument nor does a lack of them restirct you.

This in fact was an point of my paper. They addressed their own standing while attacking another persons, not the actual arguments.

You opening position is weak and has no relevance to the position.

I'm giving you a D, try again.

ZenTiger said...

Gregster, I'm simply expressing my opinion here having read Dawkins AND Wisharts book AND other books that critique Dawkins. In the absence of further "proof" I can see why you might not take my comment with much seriousness.

However, before I go to any sort of effort to critique Dawkins (which I'm more likely to do in a post) can you please confirm if you have read the Divinity Code or perhaps "Answering the New Atheism" by Hahn and Wiker?

Your statement that I'm full of shit would surely be based on having actually read books that provide a rebuttal to the Dawkins Testament?

Hitchen's belief that religion poisons everything is a reflection of spending too much time looking at history as politics. He's ignoring a lot to support his biases. It's like focusing on the dangers of water to the point that we forget to acknowledge its importance.

Brian S said...

I usually agree with Liberty Scott on most things and many of his posts are fine example of blogging, but I have to agree with Murray on this one: Arguments should be judged on their merit and not on their sources. Anything else is authoritarianism, which all good libertarians should abhor.

Gregster: Saying god is widely improbable is nonsense: theories are either true or false. There is no such thing as a probability a theory is true as there is no objective way to calculate such a probability. Either god exists or god does not exist. Our best theory at present is that god does not exist and it is our best theory because no cogent criticism of that theory has been found whereas lots of cogent criticisms can be found of the theory that god does exist. It is not a question of probabilities.

libertyscott said...

Murray, besides you being condescending, my point is that Wishart is a lightweight. The man is philosophically inconsistent and has an almost perverse obsession with Helen Clark's sexuality - as if that matters. He's a News of the World type reporter, not a serious journalist. I'm judging Wishart on his past and the fact he COULD have been very influential and argued cogently against statism has been spoilt by his own bigoted obsession with sexuality.

I know there are better arguments for religion that Wishart, but I unsurprisingly agree with Dawkins and Hitchens. I have yet to find an organised religion that isn't morally damnable. The moral acts of the religious are not, per se, because they are religious - because morality is objectively rational and justifiable in this world, without resort to the supernatural.

Any objective analysis of the great religious texts shows them to be a bizarre hotchpotch of writing that only by some contortion of teachings could be said to have a consistent thread through it. Religion continues to this day to get in the way of reason and morality in many parts of the world - Islam is the most well known example, but Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Hindus in India, Christians all over, are all trying to impose force and fear upon people in the most unconscionable ways.

ZenTiger said...

I think it's a pretty ignorant view of religion to lump them all together as much the same.

That's a bit like saying politics destroys everything, and people that follow communism are just as bad as people that follow libertarianism. It's all a hodge podge of arguable ideas, some of which concern themselves overly with material distribution of goods and force their state backed control on others in unconscionable ways.

The issue is with all social constructs (viewing religion and cultural institutions, even systems of trade as well as political constructs) that people mis-use them terribly due to their own imperfections.

Religion is one of the reasons that morality was delivered to the world. If you don't believe me, read some Hayek. Need references?

Finally, this post was not about criticising religious texts. It was about other thinkers who have reviewed Dawkins and Hitchens and picked apart their arguments.

So far, I seem to be arguing with two people that haven't even read Wishart's book, let alone the books from noted scholars that have critiqued Dawkins. It makes for a tough discussion. And you say religious people aren't interested in working from "facts" I suppose :-)

libertyscott said...

Zen- Fair point about lumping them all together, although I'd love to know which religion doesn't espouse fear and violence.

Curious you call religion a social construct though :) isn't that exactly what all religions state they are not? If they are not supernaturally inspired, they are simply all fraudulent by definition.

I'd argue morality wasn't "delivered to the world", but rather is inherently rational and maximises the utility to individuals, so is bound to emerge. Religion also delivered immorality in spades, still does. Back to your earlier argument, but believing in the supernatural is not a prerequisite to morality (nor immorality).

Fair final point too Zen, direct me to a text better than Wishart (I simply find him loathsome) and I will happily read it.

I've read Dawkins, part read Hitchens and would like to read a good rebuttal.

ZenTiger said...

Hey Liberty.

I think the core principles promoted by Jesus don't espouse fear and violence. Buddhism is another that's fairly light on the doctrine of first strike.

As I've said before though, imperfect people manipulate anything to fit their biases and achieve their motives.

My comment about religion as a social construct is more around how atheists see religion, as well as say historians and sociologists.

Taking God out of the equation, or applying evolutionary principles to religion and you end up with philosophers saying "If God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him"

So to look at religion as a social construct can still provide value, whether or not God exists. This is the approach Hayek takes when he sees how religion worked like an evolutionary force, where cooperation and putting the community ahead of the self helped generate social stability which provided for economic and technological advancement, ironically by allowing individuals a greater degree of freedom living in a "restricted" society than individuals had living in a free, but insecure and chaotic society.

Which is a bit like what you said anyway.

As for the supernatural, and using God as an authority backing a moral framework versus morality without religion - that's just philosophy. I'm not arguing against you on your point, but equally, if God exists, then its not stupid to pay attention to him. It's not about prerequisites really.

If we applied logic to the chances that earth supports life, we'd probably decide it was improbable. The fact it does makes the point moot. In the end, if the evidence is there, probability doesn't matter.

This is certainly the first part of Dawkins logic, but relies on a greater random chance to have countless billions of molecules move a statues hand by vibrating in the same direction for a long period of time than allowing for a creator.

In any event, science is another path to discovering how the universe ticks. But ultimately, it could also suggest that God was very clever when he created the Universe and set the exact rules that would allow for life, create it from the inert, and then have it so that it sought to "live". Religion and Science may never have the cross-over, which is why science should never threaten religion and vice versa.

Anyway, I recommend the book Answering the New Atheism by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker as a short but interesting rebuttal to Dawkins. It's short and to the point. Probably necessary if any Dawkins fans are likely to read it.

I wished it went into meatier theology to discuss more complex questions, but on reflection realised Dawkins never raised them. Thus, it leaves a few gaps in terms of exploring the case for God in a satisfactory way, but it provides a balanced view and manages not to drop to the same level of Dawkins in terms of the abuse and scorn Dawkins mixes into his discourse (His rather virulent tirade against the virgin birth puzzled me for example. If God exists, a virgin birth wouldn't be a problem. 100 years ago people might have no inkling how it could be done even in human terms, but IVF is pretty common place now. If humans can work such miracles, Dawkins needs to save his scorn for more appropriate events.)

Unfortunately, this is not the book a NZ library would ever stock. Jeromes bookshop in Auckland would have it and do delivery. Alternatively, if you email me, I'm happy to post it to you, if you want to post it back. We'd have to agree to maintain our "secret identities" though).

Hope this blurb makes sense - I tend to regret those brain dumps with no review...but gotta get some work done!

Anonymous said...

I have read Dawkins, Hitchens and also Wisharts 'Divinity Code'. Dawkins is logical and well referenced, Hitchens an interesting perspective. Wishart's however is simply a sensationalist exercise in self gratification. Honestly I used to respect the boy for his investigations into winebox etc, but now I just feel embarrassed for him. Self-advocating and pandering to the fears of an out-of-touch conservative minority, bully for him, don't bother wasting time reading his tripe, it isn’t worth the paper that it is printed on.