Saturday, April 13, 2013

Evaluating Critiques

I found a recent post on Patheos' Sermons from the Mound rather interesting. I was pleasantly surprised that Yvonne Aburrow was willing to concede as mach as she did in her "Atheist critiques of religion" piece. I agree with quite a bit that she writes but she does hedge a bit even within her concessions and she misunderstands a few of the critiques she presents as being from an atheist perspective. And, of course, there is a certain amount of self-deception involved.

In "Critique 1: 'It’s all irrational'" She accepts that religion is mostly irrational but then tries a little special pleading. Aburrow claims:
"However, my religion has to be compatible with reason and experience. When it goes beyond the empirical evidence, those bits are marked 'working hypothesis' and 'conjecture'.
There are degrees of irrationality; not all “woo” is equally irrational. Just because I posit the possibility of earth energies as a working hypothesis to explain certain experiences that I have had, does not mean that I also believe in ley lines, homoeopathy, or other forms of “woo”. I’d quite like to believe in homoeopathy, but having examined the evidence against it, can only conclude that it doesn’t work."

Actually, it does not have to be anything. Whether something is compatible with reason is not dependent on whether we want it to be or not. It seems that her idea of what constitutes evidence is as flimsy as her understanding of logic and reasoning. She creates an artificial distinction between the unfounded believes she accepts from the ones she does not. "Earth energies" has no more merit in terms of science than "ley lines." There is no evidence for it. She accepts evidence that homeopathy is crap but doesn't see the need to acknowledge or apply the evidence that makes "earth energies" as ridiculous to believe.

Aburrow ends up falling prey to an all too common misinterpretation of an atheist argument "Critique 2: 'The moderates give shelter to the extremists'" It is true that "The moderates do not 'give shelter' to the extremists." But that essentially side steps the real critique. Most atheists understand that moderate and liberal theists do not personally condone or agree with extremists. The fact that they themselves believe in a variety of superstitions and supernatural concepts and/or practices is the problem. Since religion has no real standards you cannot make a useful distinction between them. If you accept one set of unfounded believes how can you honestly criticize another set of metaphysical interpretations? You can't. In that sense liberal and moderate believers indirectly contribute to an atmosphere that allows for extremism to flourish. Assuming that someone can rise from the dead is no more logical or valid a belief than being rewarded in some type of after-life for killing people here on earth. That is the essence of the critique.

She gets into delusional territory in "Critique 6: Religions indoctrinate people." Aburrow creates another false distinction when she claims, "Fundamentalist religions indoctrinate people; liberal religions don’t." They may not be as blatant or focused on indoctrination but that does not mean it does not occur. How do contemporary Pagans (Aburrow is a Pagan) establish and maintain doctrines, rites, and rituals? The same way other faiths do it: indoctrination. I have met a number of Pagans and though I'm not familiar with all forms of Paganism I can certainly say with confidence that those who claim a direct to Celtic cosmology are full of shit. I have heard them make claims that contradict all known historical research regarding ancient Celtic beliefs and practices. How did they come to such conclusion? It was definitely not through anything resembling research. It was through what they were taught by other Pagans. Abuurow's only argument against indoctrination is that people switch faiths. If that were adequate proof then it should be concluded that no religion, not just liberal variations, use indoctrination. It's a bogus premise.

"Critique 7: 'Liberal religion is just moving the goalposts'”reveals yet another common fallacy. In this section Aburrow quips, "One aspect of the atheist critique of religion that has me completely baffled is the objection to classifying the obviously mythical aspects of religion as a metaphor." Really? I have yet to come across an atheist who does not acknowledge the use of metaphor and symbolism even among self-proclaimed fundamentalists and "literalists." It is not a lack of understanding on our part. Most of us simply see the underlying mentality and meaning being unchanged. Even symbolically most religious concepts and practices are ridiculous nonsense. Here's a thought, spraying perfume on a mound of shit may hide the hideous stench for a little while but it does not change the decaying unhealthy mass underneath. Sure you can make use of it in some specific ways (fertilizer) but that also does not allay its potential dangers. Think Aburrow will see that those sentence can be taken literally or metaphorically? Does my purpose or meaning change in either case?

Overall, Aburrow is far more fair and tolerant of atheists views than many of her fellow theists but she still misses the mark in a number of ways. If she really wants to get it accurate and think more about atheist arguments she should spend more time reviewing what atheist actually write and say.

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