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Old 27th April 2013, 11:00 AM   #1
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Dawkins on the value of theology



Is there anything factually wrong in the quote? Please enlighten me.

Let's also put to rest the claim that Dawkins encourages ignorance about religion. He doesn't. Instead, he urges faith schools to teach about all religions.
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Old 27th April 2013, 11:03 AM   #2
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The whole quote is an expression of ignorance and antipathy.

Why don't you see that a problem coming from someone who bills himself as promoting reason?
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Old 27th April 2013, 11:07 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by mijopaalmc View Post
The whole quote is an expression of ignorance and antipathy.

Why don't you see that a problem coming from someone who bills himself as promoting reason?
Certainly not ignorance. He is essentially correct in all his points. But, you might enlighten us on which you consider false and WHY.

Last edited by fuelair; 27th April 2013 at 11:23 AM. Reason: seperate t and i
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Old 27th April 2013, 11:22 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by fuelair View Post
Certainly not ignorance. He is essentially correctin all his points. But, you might enlighten us on which you consider false and WHY.
Yeah, because the "use" of a discpline is the sole measure of its value. One would wonder if Dawkins would say the same thing about visual and performing arts and how seriously such a pronouncement would be taken.
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Old 27th April 2013, 11:25 AM   #5
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Sic et Non disproves the first sentence.

He seems to have confused science and technology (they're similar, but not the same thing).

His examples of "bad achievements" show that he's not taking his own arguments seriously. If he was, he'd address the copious amounts of erroneous, mistaken, and downright fraudulent research.

The last two lines are demonstrably untrue. Theology has advanced the cause of reason far more than he's willing to admit--particularly in the Middle Ages. We can disagree with their conclusions, but theologians were demonstrably engaging in philosophical inquiry every bit as much as any of the Greek philosophers Dawkins has praised in other works.

On the whole it's one of those soundbites that sounds great, until you examine it in more detail.
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Old 27th April 2013, 11:40 AM   #6
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Oh, I suppose I should mention that I remember a version of the quote to have "never read" any theology. I beginning to think that I might have simply misread the quote in the OP.

If the former quote does actually exist and predate the OP quote, would that change Dawkins' supporters' opinion of the OP quote?
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Old 27th April 2013, 12:03 PM   #7
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I once read a quote from someone who proposed an actual useful function of the study of theology in combating the problems with certain expressions of religious belief.

Quote:
One of the stories told to the young Muslim suicide bombers is that martyrdom is the quickest way to heaven — and not just heaven but a special part of heaven where they will receive their special reward of 72 virgin brides. It occurs to me that our best hope may be to provide a kind of "spiritual arms control": send in specially trained theologians to deescalate the going rate in virgins.
Examples of how that sort of thing might work in practice can be seen here and here.
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Old 27th April 2013, 12:14 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Sic et Non disproves the first sentence.

He seems to have confused science and technology (they're similar, but not the same thing).

His examples of "bad achievements" show that he's not taking his own arguments seriously. If he was, he'd address the copious amounts of erroneous, mistaken, and downright fraudulent research.

The last two lines are demonstrably untrue. Theology has advanced the cause of reason far more than he's willing to admit--particularly in the Middle Ages. We can disagree with their conclusions, but theologians were demonstrably engaging in philosophical inquiry every bit as much as any of the Greek philosophers Dawkins has praised in other works.

On the whole it's one of those soundbites that sounds great, until you examine it in more detail.
How? Please be specific.


Here's the first five questions:

In Sic et Non, Abelard presents 158 questions that present a theological assertion and allows its negation.

The first five questions are:

Must human faith be completed by reason, or not?
Does faith deal only with unseen things, or not?
Is there any knowledge of things unseen, or not?
May one believe only in God alone, or not?
Is God a single unitary being, or not?


Maybe you could point out how any of these apply?
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Old 27th April 2013, 03:19 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by mijopaalmc View Post
Yeah, because the "use" of a discpline is the sole measure of its value. One would wonder if Dawkins would say the same thing about visual and performing arts and how seriously such a pronouncement would be taken.
I am fairly certain Dawkins would have no problem with the arts - and if he had a negative one I am fairly dure many of his admirers woul be surprised and not go along with him on that. Religion does, to me, seem nothing but a performing art - and all too often one that tries to get it's followers to do things that, regardless of the religion's claims are actively evil: do their best to prevent abortions, try to restrict the rights of gays - or just harrass and/or kill them, harrass non-or different - believers, try to pass laws to force others to act according to the religious beliefs of the religious group, try to halt teaching of any FACTS that are proof that the religion has all sorts of science all wrong. I could go on, but these evils on their own fully justify Dawkins' shirt and a lot more like it!!!
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Old 27th April 2013, 03:36 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
I once read a quote from someone who proposed an actual useful function of the study of theology in combating the problems with certain expressions of religious belief.



Examples of how that sort of thing might work in practice can be seen here and here.
You're good at this.
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Old 27th April 2013, 03:36 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by mijopaalmc View Post
Oh, I suppose I should mention that I remember a version of the quote to have "never read" any theology. I beginning to think that I might have simply misread the quote in the OP.

If the former quote does actually exist and predate the OP quote, would that change Dawkins' supporters' opinion of the OP quote?
No. Theology is that which supports one or more gods with no more evidence than thinking up "proofs" that are nothing but words (akahilosophy).Therefore I fail to see what effect reading same would have unless the reader has a weak, easily influenced brain. Whether Dawkins has or not (and I presume he has), I am quite certain he got a good laugh out of it (I did when I did - during the same time period I was reading Durant's History of Civilization).
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Old 27th April 2013, 03:46 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by fuelair View Post
No. Theology is that which supports one or more gods with no more evidence than thinking up "proofs" that are nothing but words (akahilosophy)
The word you're looking for is sophistry, not philosophy.
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.Therefore I fail to see what effect reading same would have unless the reader has a weak, easily influenced brain. Whether Dawkins has or not (and I presume he has), I am quite certain he got a good laugh out of it (I did when I did - during the same time period I was reading Durant's History of Civilization).
Actually, theology is not simply the production of "proofs" for the existence of god. It is primarily engaged with interpreting holy scripture and reconciling them with reality. Certainly, if there is no religion then there is no need for theologians. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world, and if you want to understand what the faithful believe and why, you should probably consult a theologian.
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Old 27th April 2013, 04:01 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
The word you're looking for is sophistry, not philosophy.
That seems to be a common and often deliberate mistatement on the JREF forums.

Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
Unfortunately, we don't live in that world, and if you want to understand what the faithful believe and why, you should probably consult a theologian.
Unfortunately, sometimes the faithful don't believe what the theologians say the faithful believe.
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Old 27th April 2013, 04:09 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by mijopaalmc View Post
That seems to be a common and often deliberate mistatement on the JREF forums.
LOL, yeah I seem to recall seeing that confusion before...

Quote:
Unfortunately, sometimes the faithful don't believe what the theologians say the faithful believe.
And that's often a good thing. When people start to really examine the theological teachings of their church, they start to peel away from organized religion. You hear people start to say things like "I'm against organized religion" and then "I'm not religious, but I believe in God" and finally "I don't really know". Once a person is agnostic, it's not too hard to swing them towards materialism.
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Old 27th April 2013, 04:19 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
LOL, yeah I seem to recall seeing that confusion before...



And that's often a good thing. When people start to really examine the theological teachings of their church, they start to peel away from organized religion. You hear people start to say things like "I'm against organized religion" and then "I'm not religious, but I believe in God" and finally "I don't really know". Once a person is agnostic, it's not too hard to swing them towards materialism.
Is this the voice of experience speaking?
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Old 27th April 2013, 04:28 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by tsig View Post
Is this the voice of experience speaking?
It's pretty much what happened to me (and is currently happening to my mom).

I didn't read any Dawkins until long after I was an atheist. I'm kind of curious as to how many people here were believers who were "deconverted" because of his books, writings, and other works.
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Old 27th April 2013, 04:54 PM   #17
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Theology: The study of the unknowable

It's as useful as a sand merchant at the beach.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:24 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
I once read a quote from someone who proposed an actual useful function of the study of theology in combating the problems with certain expressions of religious belief.

Examples of how that sort of thing might work in practice can be seen here and here.
The purpose of theology is to combat the damage done by theology?

I don't think this necessarily counters Dawkins' point to be honest.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:27 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Last of the Fraggles View Post
The purpose of theology is to combat the damage done by theology?
The damage isn't going to go away on its own.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:31 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
It is primarily engaged with interpreting holy scripture and reconciling them with reality.
Reconciling them with reality is a particularly generous interpretation of the goal of theology.

If theologians were interested in reality they'd use science rather than theology as the tool.

It appears they are more interested in maintaining the facade of consistency between theology and reality within the limits of their own religious beliefs and prejudices.

In that regard, its at best a dishonest endeavour from the start and clearly of no value to the non-believer, nor ultimately to the believer.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:35 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by tsig View Post
Is this the voice of experience speaking?
Yes.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:37 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
The damage isn't going to go away on its own.
No, and while I'm not 100% convinced your theological methadone treatment is the solution, that doesn't change the fact that it was theology that caused the damage in the first place nor make it relevant to those not already mired in it.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:40 PM   #23
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I tend to agree with Dennett's idea that theology grew out of the fact that holy scriptures were not very intellectually satisfying to more intelligent people in, say, medieval times who found it difficult to make sense of the way that the world is compared to the properties God was supposed to have. In order to rationalize belief in God all kinds of ingenious arguments were developed which in turn were found intellectually unsatisfying by other intelligent people who in turn made their own arguments that nonetheless failed to satisfy those who held to the first school of thought, and so on...

I don't think it was some Machiavellian scheme to fool the "weak minded", but rather a sincere effort to explain the way things were. Science was not really an option back then in the same way it is today. That said, I have sympathy with Dawkins who would rather cut through the Gordian knot of theology.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:42 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Last of the Fraggles View Post
No, and while I'm not 100% convinced your theological methadone treatment is the solution, that doesn't change the fact that it was theology that caused the damage in the first place nor make it relevant to those not already mired in it.
If you just want to say "I'm an atheist, and I don't care at all what believers do or think one way or the other", then no, it's probably not relevant. If you do care, though (especially if you care beyond simply wearing a t-shirt with a slogan that you bought on richarddawkins.net), then it is relevant.

You can choose to try and aggressively hector believers out of their belief as your solution, but I prefer a different method.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:48 PM   #25
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Usually when Dawkins talks about theology in this context it has to do with what theology has produced as far as a discipline goes. Theology arguably does not provide improvements to infrastructure for example. By its very nature it inspects the spiritual implications throughout history. Dawkins would argue that does not help the grass to grow or the sun to shine.

So I actually agree with the quote provided that's the context.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:50 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Lowpro View Post
Usually when Dawkins talks about theology in this context it has to do with what theology has produced as far as a discipline goes. Theology arguably does not provide improvements to infrastructure for example. By its very nature it inspects the spiritual implications throughout history. Dawkins would argue that does not help the grass to grow or the sun to shine.

So I actually agree with the quote provided that's the context.
Yes, but Dawkins also rejects Gould's NOMA.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:55 PM   #27
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Is Wikipedia definition OK?
Theology (from Greek Θεός meaning "God" and λόγος, -logy, meaning "study of") is the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology

If it is, first of all, there are couple of issues related to the definition and reality. Real rational, systematic studies of the concepts of god would usually end with the "not real" conclusion (OK, most probably, most likely not real). Despite of this, theologists (at least most of them) seem to behave as if god was something real. OK, at least their specific concepts of god, for a Christian theologist certainly will consider, for example, Maya theology as false.

Another issue is that it seems lots of theologic discussions are not that different from discussions regarding works of fiction. The discussions about the relationships between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are as connected to reality as discussions about the technology of Star Trek. Maybe even less.

We could also add to this the fact that theology has been used as an excuse or a reason or a trigger for nasty things. However, other human enterprises have been used for this too. But starting a fight due to theologic disagreements seems (OK, nowadays) something rather silly.

Despite all of this, theology is sold as reality and thus in many cases its comes too close of being a scam. I would see no problems at all with theology if it were "sold" as what it actually is: a part of mythology.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:56 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
If you just want to say "I'm an atheist, and I don't care at all what believers do or think one way or the other", then no, it's probably not relevant. If you do care, though (especially if you care beyond simply wearing a t-shirt with a slogan that you bought on richarddawkins.net), then it is relevant.

You can choose to try and aggressively hector believers out of their belief as your solution, but I prefer a different method.
You don't need to study theology to see what believers do and say. In fact, you won't actually find it there.

If I want to know why they do or say something I can ask them. Or listen when they tell me why they do or say it.

That seems far more efficient than attempting to study the entirety of theology and then having to second guess which particular part of the contradictory messages contained within one particular believer is using to justify today's actions or words.

I have no desire nor need to hector believers out of anything. However, if people promote idiocy then I am free to point it out as idiocy. I refuse to defer to superstitious nonsense out of some misguided respect for religion.

My only concern is when theists try to enforce their beliefs on others. I don't need to study theology to identify when that is happening. Nor do I need to study theology to reject 'God says it is true' as a justification for anything at all.

I have no crusade to eliminate religious belief, my crusade is to eliminate the influence of religion.
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Old 27th April 2013, 05:59 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Last of the Fraggles View Post
You don't need to study theology to see what believers do and say. In fact, you won't actually find it there.
Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't.

In any case, it's only one part of religious studies, not the be-all and end-all of it.

Quote:
My only concern is when theists try to enforce their beliefs on others. I don't need to study theology to identify when that is happening. Nor do I need to study theology to reject 'God says it is true' as a justification for anything at all.

I have no crusade to eliminate religious belief, my crusade is to eliminate the influence of religion.
Which is closer to how I feel than Dawkins' position: I am personally atheist, but a secular society, not an atheist society, is what I work towards.
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Old 27th April 2013, 06:31 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
Yes, but Dawkins also rejects Gould's NOMA.
I do as well but honestly I think it's an irrelevant concept in regards to the quote. It's a whole other debate really.

Again I was trying to show that there is a specific context to which Dawkins usually makes these arguments; I believe the little quote block does not capture that context. Every time I've heard Dawkins discussing the failures of Theology such as when he talks about theology as a college study he opines that it's essentially damned useless as it does not promote knowledge but instead applies tautology to either past events or potential future events. I think a lot of scientists tend to find the discipline of Theology to at the very least not participate in human progression (whatever that means...) and at worst inhibit it. That's what I gather from the quote and Dawkin's previous discussions on the subject.

DOMA is another issue with respect to Gould's Rock of Ages. Gould argues that the NOMA are conventional. Dawkins says that certain conventions in science give explanations that, under subjective criticisms in NOMA, would overlap. Because of this Dawkins has issues against NOMA. I think that's fine and would expect it considering that science works in continuum of discovery. It is not a static practice so its discoveries can provide new implications unlike theology* (or so I and others argue) cannot provide new implications but rather different interpretations from Scriptures and its exclusive discourse (such as RaMBaM in Judaism).

*There is also an issue of Religious empiricism which by its nature DOES encroach on the Magisterium of science which Dawkins argues against; this is obvious though and I would assume that even Gould would agree with Dawkins on the issue if it were the only example. It is not though.

ETA: To be clear this is the origin of the quote

http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/88

The context is very clear here. I agree with his sentiment.
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Old 27th April 2013, 06:58 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't.

In any case, it's only one part of religious studies, not the be-all and end-all of it.



Which is closer to how I feel than Dawkins' position: I am personally atheist, but a secular society, not an atheist society, is what I work towards.
It really isn't, I doubt there is much difference across the 3 of us. The difference seems to be one of style primarily.
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Old 27th April 2013, 08:36 PM   #32
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What have Dawkin's atheist polemics ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When have Dawkin's atheist polemics ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to Dawkin's atheist polemics, read them, debated about them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all Dawkin's atheist polemics were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! Dawkin's atheist polemics don't do anything, don't affect anything, don't mean anything. What makes anyone think that Dawkin's atheist polemics is a subject at all?
I think my version is just as apt.
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Old 27th April 2013, 08:43 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
I think my version is just as apt.
Well if you consider the content of Dawkin's polemic in the context of the quote I don't see how it's apt. Hell it wouldn't matter who said it (by its own characteristics a polemic does not depend on its author for validity) so really the polemic of "Theology is less than or equal to zero for promotion of human progress by whatever scoring system being used (probably the true issue here anyways) and science is greater than 0 by any degree even in the presence of its horrors."

Under that definition which is probably the widest possible interpretation of it, I cannot determine what makes you feel your edit of the quote is apt. It doesn't even serve as a proper caricature. It serves as someone who has not really processed the quote either in its context or veracity; ie you don't know what it means or what it's referring to and in the spirit of ignorance you decided to draw a mustache on it and crack wise.
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Old 27th April 2013, 09:05 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by Lowpro View Post
Well if you consider the content of Dawkin's polemic in the context of the quote I don't see how it's apt. Hell it wouldn't matter who said it (by its own characteristics a polemic does not depend on its author for validity) so really the polemic of "Theology is less than or equal to zero for promotion of human progress by whatever scoring system being used (probably the true issue here anyways) and science is greater than 0 by any degree even in the presence of its horrors."
Sorry, I'm having a hard time understanding what you're saying here. Are you suggesting that I'm defending theology? Because I'm actually not. I think both theology and Dawkin's atheist polemics are alike in their relative value to the human race (especially when compared to science). So yeah, still apt.
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Under that definition which is probably the widest possible interpretation of it, I cannot determine what makes you feel your edit of the quote is apt. It doesn't even serve as a proper caricature. It serves as someone who has not really processed the quote either in its context or veracity; ie you don't know what it means or what it's referring to and in the spirit of ignorance you decided to draw a mustache on it and crack wise.
Actually I DO know what it means. I'm fully aware of Dawkin's "contribution" to atheism, which has been nothing more than preaching to the converted. People who find Dawkins to be a tiresome demagogue are not always theists.

ETA; this is really in response to the question posted at the opening of this thread, and it is certainly an apt commentary on that. That there is nothing factually wrong with it doesn't mean that there is anything of value in it either.

Here is the context of the quote. I fail to see anything of any significant merit in the entire editorial save for the fact that it is not factually in error anywhere. Will people abandon their superstitions and turn their backs on the priests as a result of his platitudes? No.
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Old 27th April 2013, 09:11 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
I once read a quote from someone who proposed an actual useful function of the study of theology in combating the problems with certain expressions of religious belief.
Would the study of theology be theologyology?
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Old 27th April 2013, 09:27 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
Would the study of theology be theologyology?


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Old 27th April 2013, 09:42 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
Sorry, I'm having a hard time understanding what you're saying here. Are you suggesting that I'm defending theology? Because I'm actually not. I think both theology and Dawkin's atheist polemics are alike in their relative value to the human race (especially when compared to science). So yeah, still apt.

Actually I DO know what it means. I'm fully aware of Dawkin's "contribution" to atheism, which has been nothing more than preaching to the converted. People who find Dawkins to be a tiresome demagogue are not always theists.

ETA; this is really in response to the question posted at the opening of this thread, and it is certainly an apt commentary on that. That there is nothing factually wrong with it doesn't mean that there is anything of value in it either.

Here is the context of the quote. I fail to see anything of any significant merit in the entire editorial save for the fact that it is not factually in error anywhere. Will people abandon their superstitions and turn their backs on the priests as a result of his platitudes? No.
So let me get this straight. What you were trying to present by your edits was a caricature of "Dawkin's Polemics" being irrelevant is because regardless of the veracity of the facts, there is no value in it.

I have to disagree and in fact I would argue that such a position (I am assuming it is your position but it is a simplification so it may not be good enough) is the exact problem that Dawkin's article (and therefor the sentiments/context of the quote) rails against. There IS value in science at all times when it's a fact by empiricism rather than a fact by tautology (arguably the reason that Theology is considered useless to progress).

I don't care what Dawkins has said; it doesn't matter who said it. What matters is whether it's correct. The factual veracity is what determines the value, not whether its in an echo chamber or "preaching to the converted".

Also you do understand the difference between a polemic and a platitude right? It's as if your suggesting that Dawkin's Polemic was given as a platitude and I would say that with just the cute little quote from the OP and no context that probably would be a platitude (more like a cherry picked quote...) but the whole article gives a basis for it; a good one too. Hell I was the one who gave the source for it so please don't pretend I missed it.

But here, let me condense what I'm saying. What you think about your little cutesy edit (and subsequent justification) is not apt, if anything it was worse after your justification because it both conflates platitude with polemic but also you're trying to dismiss it by saying that even though the content is factually correct it still has no value. The irony is that Dawkin's little article was specifically saying Theology provides no positive value (arguable I'm sure; it's a sentiment I don't agree with completely but 9/10 aint bad) AND is not correct. It's almost like you're making a statement that says "Your words are correct, but your message is useless" against an article that says "Theology's message is useless because it doesn't have efforts to be correct (empirically anyways and I again I think that's arguable but 9/10 aint bad)". I just think that's ironic and deserves to be mentioned.

Just on so many levels I'm finding what you've said in this contribution from Dawkins and the generalized contributions from Dawkins to be well...it's as if he pisses you off about a few things and now that poisons everything he's done. That's just weird. He's contributed to dialogue among many disciplines. He's contributed to civil discourse which especially where I live was very difficult to have. The fact that he DOES have dialogues across the line (even if he loses) encourages theists to have the discussion because it's happened and the world has yet to explode basically. If you think he's been inside the echo chamber I will just have to disagree on that.
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Last edited by Lowpro; 27th April 2013 at 09:48 PM.
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Old 28th April 2013, 01:38 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
I think my version is just as apt.
Perhaps.

It's rather irrelevant though as I have never heard anyone say that people need to study Dawkins' polemics before they can understand atheism or that not doing so means you are horribly uninformed or anything of the like.
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Old 28th April 2013, 03:35 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by ANTPogo View Post
Yes, but Dawkins also rejects Gould's NOMA.
Who doesn't? Read why it's wrong here.
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Old 28th April 2013, 03:39 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
Actually I DO know what it means. I'm fully aware of Dawkin's "contribution" to atheism, which has been nothing more than preaching to the converted.
False.
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