Sunday, November 15, 2009

some assumptions about Peter S Williams' probably bad arguments

Canto: I've just found an essay by our Peter Williams, online. It tries to get stuck into one of our heroes, A C Grayling, who has apparently written a book, Against All Gods. 
Jacinta: Oh, yum, we must read that, and we must have more fun with this Williams bloke.
Canto: Okay, let's go then. Apparently in his Sceptic's Guide to Atheism, Williams goes through all the atheist arguments in detail.
Jacinta: Yes, but what does he mean by the atheist arguments. I mean some arguments, like the design argument, are arguments for the existence of God, whereas the problem of evil argument is an argument against the existence of God...
Canto: Well, according to Pollard, he examines the 'faith is the root of all evil' argument and finds it without foundation, naturally.
Jacinta: What? That's not an atheist argument. Oh, he must be talking of the title of Richard Dawkins' TV doco. Come to think of it, that was a bad choice of title. Of course faith isn't the root of all evil. If we have to talk of 'evil', and I find the term almost as useless as 'sin', then surely we agree that it has many roots. I've never heard an atheist arguing that faith is the root of all evil. Ever. I mean, not a smart atheist.
Canto: A bright?
Jacinta: Of course, there's the Hitchens argument that 'religion poisons everything', but that has a completely different logical form from 'religion is the root of all evil'.
Canto: Mmm, let's see, the second proposition has the form 'all a comes from b', the first proposition has the form 'b causes a', or something like that - where 'a' means 'evil' and 'b' means 'religion'. I was never really that good at logic.
Jacinta: Anyway, they're largely rhetorical claims, not full-blown rational arguments. Next.
Canto: Pollard says that 'the argument that science leaves no room for a God is also dismissed'. And that's all he says about that one!
Jacinta: Mein gott, we are going to have to buy the book. You know I don't like to provide funds for these guys.
Canto: What gets me is how Pollard talks about 'a God', when the use of the indefinite article demands that 'god' shouldn't have a capital. Is Pollard just ignorant of grammar, or is that he can't bear to write 'god' without a capital even when grammar demands it? Methinks it's the latter.
Jacinta: Well-spotted Canto - the guy's a full-on scabby-kneed believer!
Canto: Let's keep to the arguments. The next one's a beaut. Williams, according to Pollard, debates 'whether the 'Who designed the designer?' argument is logically valid, or even coherently expressible'.
 Jacinta: Wow - that sure is a beaut. Talk about self-serving. Of course it's coherently expressible, as well as logically valid. But of course, Williams' ploy will be to argue for an idea of god so vague, so 'beyond our ken' that the term 'designer' just doesn't cut it...
Canto: Let's not assume, Jass. Let's just say that prima facie it doesn't sound like a promising approach. Anyway, we'll finish off this review of the review of A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism next time, and then we'll get into the real meat - Williams' actual essay contra Grayling.
Jacinta: Fabulous.

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