Dawkins, Determinism, and Truth

Philosopher Paul Copan describes his recent experience at a lecture given by Richard Dawkins at Nova Southeastern University:

There I was—the first one in line during the Q&A. I asked Dawkins how he could claim that the naturalist [is] rationally superior to the theist since, according to his book River Out of Eden, all of us are dancing to the music of our DNA. Our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control—whether we’re theists or naturalists. In fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).

Dawkins gave the odd reply that it’s kind of like Republicans and Democrats—with each group thinking they’re right and the other group wrong. But on what grounds could either side think they are more rational than the other? Dawkins then added that he supposed that whatever view “works” the correct one to hold. But here’s the problem: what “works” is logically distinct from “true” or “matching up with reality”—since we may hold to a lot of false beliefs that help us survive and reproduce, even if they are false. Indeed, naturalistic evolution is interested in survival and reproduction—the “four F’s” (fighting, feeding, fleeing, and reproducing). Truth, the naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland argues, is secondary to these pursuits According to another such naturalist, the late Richard Rorty, truth is “utterly unDarwinian.”

To top off his answer to me (without addressing how to ground rationality), Dawkins dismissively quipped that science flies rockets to the moon while religion flies planes into buildings.

Read the rest of the post and see what Professor Copan made of Dawkins’ response.

5 replies
  1. Tom Gilson
    Tom Gilson says:

    Does Dawkins have any clue where Christianity flies planes? He must be ignorant of Christianity's historic leadership in humanitarianism. Willfully ignorant, I would venture to add.

  2. Anon
    Anon says:

    There is absolutely no basis for anyone to claim anything is "true". Such truth claims are deluded whether inspired by science or religion. All we can say is that a particular idea successfully describes what we see around us, or in other words that it works. We are very used to using terms like energy or gravity because they work not because they are "true".

  3. Anon
    Anon says:

    No there is not. You may recognise the following sentence:

    'There is absolutely no basis for anyone to claim anything is "true"'

    However one can say that it works well because it describes what we see around us.

  4. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hello there,

    Your reply is full of contradictions. Here are three I can see straight off.

    You said, 'There is absolutely no basis for anyone to claim anything is "true." This is a truth-claim. Then when asked if there was a basis to claim this was true, you said there wasn't. Very well. I can readily reject that truth-claim.

    You said "No there is not," with respect to my question. Another truth-claim. This time self-contradictory.

    You said, "However, one can say that it works well because it describes what we see around us." But this anti-realism that you're espousing doesn't work. It fails to describe what we see around us, namely, reality.

    Its very odd that you'd say such things.

    You say "No there is not." This is a truth-claim about what you wrote. You say,

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