18 March 2012

Alister McGrath is either willfully ignorant or intellectually dishonest

Bud over at Dead Logic brought to my attention this embarrassing video by Alister McGrath about the 2012 Global Atheist Convention. McGrath repeats some pretty standard-issue fallacies, but there's one thing in particular that is simply not up for argument that I want to hammer him on. Here's the vid:

The part that grinds my gears is when he parrots the supposedly shocking confession that Richard Dawkins isn't 100% certain there is no God, that he 'admits' he can't prove there is no God, and that he's an "agnostic atheist". Atheists, claims McGrath, were "appalled" by this revelation.

Here's the thing. McGrath wrote a book a while back called The Dawkins Delusion, which was (obviously) supposed to be a response to Dawkins' bestseller The God Delusion. But it just so happens that The God Delusion has a whole freaking chapter in which Dawkins explains, in lucid detail, his agnostic atheism. He even charts it out in a handy list he calls "the spectrum of theistic probability". Dawkins points out that it's just intellectually honest to admit that we can't be absolutely certain about much of anything. That's the thing about an evidence-based worldview – it's amenable to evidence.

That stands in stark contrast to someone like William Lane Craig, who has stated unequivocally that no amount of evidence could convince him that his faith was false. That's called "gnostic theism" – he claims to know the truth with infallible certainty.

See, the term "agnostic", coined by Thomas Huxley, comes from the word "gnosis", meaning "knowledge". There's a distinction between knowledge and beliefs. You'd think someone who teaches at Oxford would know that. You can be a gnostic theist or a gnostic atheist. Gnostic atheism is more commonly known as "strong atheism". But most of us, out of intellectual honesty, are agnostic theists or agnostic atheists. We admit that we might be wrong. We admit that new evidence could change our minds. To be a gnostic anything, you have to be intellectually dishonest – like, y'know, William Lane Craig.

Which brings me to my point. We shouldn't have to point out to Alister McGrath what Richard Dawkins actually thinks about agnosticism, since he spelled it out quite plainly in The God Delusion. And btw, after that chapter, the next chapter is called "Why God Almost Certainly Does Not Exist"shouldn't the words "almost certainly" be a ludicrously obvious indication of Dawkins' position? And yet McGrath puts on this charade to insinuate that Dawkins has made some kind of devastating confession. What incredibly dishonest bullshit! McGrath should be ashamed of himself.

McGrath, having dedicated an entire book to criticizing The God Delusion, has either willfully ignored what's actually written in it, or he's aware of it and intentionally erecting a straw man. Willful ignoramus, or liar. Take your pick.

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