Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hitchens versus Haldane!

Ed Feser links to a debate between Chris Hitchens and John Haldane.

Something about the very matchup seems foul. Like hearing that Chief Justice Roberts is scheduled to debate Glenn Beck on constitutional law. I get the mental image of John Haldane standing at a street corner holding a sign that reads "WILL DEBATE FOR FOOD". That's probably not his motivation, of course. Maybe he just wants to answer a popular atheist "thinker".

But Dawkins famously has refused to debate various Christians and theists on the grounds that he won't debate creationists (curiously, he debates creationists anyway, and the debates he avoids just happen to be against guys who most think would decimate him, such as William Lane Craig.) Is there any theist who's willing to say, "No, I have no interest in debating (insert New Atheist here). He's a putz and a lightweight."? Isn't it appropriate to have that attitude many times?

That's actually one problem I have with the current christian/theist blogosphere. So many are still fighting the New Atheists, and seemingly will jump on any offer to debate even the most scrubby "I am a wannabe Rational Response Squad member, who were each wannabe PZ Myers, who is the internet wannabe version of Dawkins, who himself wishes he could be Carl Sagan, who everyone forgets was not even an atheist" atheist blogger around. But the world seems to have moved on, and the lasting influence of the New Atheism movement has been to demonstrate that even atheists can be as self-righteous, obnoxious, and irritating as the worst of the christian set.

There's other problems with the whole "debate" approach as well, but that's what stands out to me. Really, I can't recall the last time I've heard of a theist debating another theist, or even another religious believer, on a religious topic. Given what I've said about multiverses, simulated realities, etc, I'd say there's far fewer 'atheists' or 'non-religious' out there than most people really think. Better to debate the Karen Armstrongs than the Dawkinses. Better to debate the neutral monists and panpsychists rather than the materialists.

3 comments:

Ilíon said...

I've always understood Sagan to be an atheist (and his public persona and famous statements are certainly consistent with atheism). This is the second time I've seen you say that he wasn't. Can you direct me to some info to correct my apparent misunderstanding?

Ilíon said...

As for debates, I've never really cared for the whole setup, no matter the topic or participants.

Crude said...

Re: debates, I used to enjoy them, but now? They just seem more and more pointless. Mostly for show, a sport.

As for Sagan, he wasn't a theist. But he expressly denied atheism. Right off wikipedia (I really wish there was an alternative source that was just as accessible for many things):

Sagan, however, denied that he was an atheist: "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know."[36] In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I'm agnostic."[37] Sagan maintained that the idea of a creator of the universe was difficult to prove or disprove and that the only conceivable scientific discovery that could challenge it would be an infinitely old universe.

Now, I think much of Sagan's popular writing and 'spin' of science is not only overblown, but actually harmful to real science. That's a post for another day.

But here's an inconvenient truth: That quote by Sagan pits him squarely against the New Atheists across the board. And as Sagan is held in high esteem by the NAs (Well, principally by the gurgling internet NA foot-soldiers), I never tire of pointing this out. The man at least had some vague inkling of the limits of science, and admitted to as much - and I'm happy to give credit where credit is due.