Monday, March 19, 2012

Alister McGrath's Boat

Yesterday I shared a video by well-known theologian Alister McGrath in which he shares a few "brilliant" observations, including the fact that atheists were apparently "appalled" when Richard Dawkins "let the cat out of the bag" by admitting he can't prove there is no god. The secret's out, folks! Richard Dawkins is "really" an agnostic! Flee to the mountains, for the end is near! How could Dawkins betray us like this?

No, Dr. McGrath, atheists were not appalled. They weren't shocked. They weren't blindsided by any stunning confession from Richard Dawkins. Why? Because we can fucking read. Mike D at The A-Unicornist explains it brilliantly:

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.

Mike's mentioning William Lane Craig's absolute certainty reminds me that theists are - generally speaking - the ones who claim absolute certainty vis-à-vis the god proposition: so much so that to not believe is a sin worthy of eternal damnation. Atheists - also generally speaking - tend to recognize that proof is most of the time found only in mathematics and bottles of liquor, and that life is lived based on probabilities rather than certainties. Even science doesn't deal with proof, but with degrees of certainty in an attempt to provide the best possible explanation based on the evidence. Science works because, to borrow Mike D's words, it's amenable to evidence.

Dr. McGrath, admitting his agnostic theism, argues that "we're all in the same boat" when it comes to belief. Theists cannot prove there is a god. Atheists cannot prove there is no god. This "Same Boat" apologetic is hardly new. Theists use it in an attempt to bring everyone down to their level. If we're all in the "same boat" intellectually, emotionally and ecclesiastically, then theism shouldn't look too unreasonable by comparison. It's a weak attempt to give theism credibility. It's weak because, guess what? We are all in the same boat! Dr. McGrath is correct, which means we're all agnostics. Dr. McGrath is wrong in that the inability to prove something doesn't give us carte blanche to believe anything. Religion doesn't magically become reasonable once we realize that there might be limits to reason and what we can actually prove.

Ironically, atheists have been trying to get people to realize that we are all in the same boat. In fact, it's this "same boat" argument that helped me realize and admit that I'm agnostic.

McGrath's video frustrates me because he's intelligent, well-read and should know precisely what Richard Dawkins (and atheists in general) think. I have even recommended Alister McGrath in the past to people who are looking for an intelligent Christian thinker to read. But now I'm just disappointed. Mike D is right when he says: "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."

Either way, I have lost some respect for Alister McGrath.


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