Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Thoughts Exactly

The popular theologian Alister McGrath irritates me, but I've never been able to point to exactly why as well as PZ Myers did recently on Pharyngula.   

Here's what I'm talking about:
McGrath asserts that the Gnu Atheists are prisoners of "mere rationality", that we're trapped in the "dogma of the finality of reason", and even claims that we're just rehashing discredited 18th century philosophy that claims a sufficiency of logic and reason to discern the nature of the universe. It's utterly bizarre that at one point he can notice that foundation of science in reliance on empirical evidence, and then go on to complain that these Gnu Atheists, who he generally likes to accuse of scientism and overly demanding of mere evidence, are now a gang of armchair pontificators who insist on the primacy of reason alone!
It's simply not true. Gather a mob of unruly atheists to confront theologians like McGrath, and we are not chanting demands for them to expand on their logical 'proofs' for the existence of gods (those freakin' bore us), we're more likely to be chanting "evidence, evidence, evidence" and pointing out that their fantasies are built on weak to nonexistent foundations.
 He then goes on to say these two gems which sum up everything I feel about McGrath and his ilk.
McGrath reverses everything, though, and tries to argue that the scientists who constantly question their hypotheses and measure them against empirical reality are the prisoners of mere rationality, while the dogmatists who build a cage of improbable extrapolations from flawed and limited ancient texts are wandering about free. He's literally engaging in double-speak and reversal of meaning.
It is revealing that McGrath is willing to argue that abandoning reason is a virtue, while still failing to bring up any empirical evidence that his imaginary magical explanations actually reflect anything particularly relevant about the universe.
On top of what PZ has said about McGrath, another thing that annoys me is how he says things that I find absolutely void of any substance, yet he speaks them very eloquently. What I'm trying to say, is that he makes idiocy sound intelligent. He makes wild assertions that 'Christianity makes better sense of things', without demonstrating how it actually accomplishes this. It seems like he is only one step away from making the argument (perhaps he actually has made it without me realising) that God gives meaning to a cruel universe that would otherwise have no purpose. Needless to say, the level of comfort a belief or belief system provides its adherents has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not it is actually true. A father in heaven watching down on you may be comforting, while a mindless universe that is inhospitable to life might be depressing, but neither of the emotional responses to either option is any reason to believe or disbelieve them.


  1. My wife asked me if we 'just rot' after we die. She is still clinging to belief, even though she would not be welcomed by any church that told her admittance was dependent on realizing certain doctrines. I told her that I do not know. And that's OK. The thought has been settling in and perhaps soon she will realize I am not 'filling my head with ideas from all the books I read'. I am just using the faculties that I have.

  2. Yeah, some people find discomfort in the idea that when we're gone, we're gone. I don't find it particularly alarming or disconcerting, but I find that it gives me motivation to do something with the limited time that I know I do have.