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Re: [atheists-27] Challenge to debate

From: Martin
Sent on: Friday, September 6, 2013 11:22 AM
On 09/05/[masked]:45 PM, Don Wharton wrote:
Richard Dawkins prefers to call himself an agnostic

Don,

I think I know why you said that, but let's first get back to basics... Look at Chapter 2, titled The God Hypothesis of Dawkins' famous book, The God Delusion. Under the section The Poverty of Agnosticism, Dawkins very carefully lays out a spectrum of probabilities for belief, with seven "milestones" (I would have called them "bands" of the spectrum, but I nitpick), in a nutshell:

Milestone
Label
Probability of God's Existence
1
Strong Theist 100%
2
De facto Theist
Very high, but <100%
3
Technically Agnostic, Theist leaning
>50% but not very high
4
Impartial Agnostic
50%
5
Technically Agnostic, Atheist leaning
<50% but not very low
6
De facto Atheist
Very low, but >0%
7
Strong Atheist
0%

Dawkins then categorically puts himself in category 6,  as a "De facto Atheist", saying:

"I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 - I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Now, I think your remark was coming from the following:

There was a comment by Dawkins at a discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams last year (in Oxford University's Sheldonian Theatre on Feb 23rd 2012, viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bow4nnh1Wv0). This comment was much ballhooed by conservative British newspapers (the Telegraph and the Daily Mail) and religious bloggers. Indeed, the Telegraph's Religious Affairs Editor, John Bingham, flatly stated: "He told the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that he preferred to call himself an agnostic rather than an atheist." However this is a gross distortion. Dawkins in fact reiterated that he is a 6, then in fact clarifying further that he is a "6.9". The Telegraph's distortion was derived from the following actual exchange (at 1:11:40 in the video) between Dawkins and the discussion chair/moderator, the philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny:

Kenny (to Dawkins): "You, I think Richard, believe you have a disproof of God's existence."
Dawkins: "No,  I don't, I don't! You were wrong when you said that! I constructed in The God Delusion a seven point scale of which 1 was 'I know God exists', 7 was 'I know God does not exist'. I called myself a 6!"
Kenny: "Why don't you call yourself an agnostic then?"
Dawkins: "I do. But I think it is rather..."
Kenny (interrupting): “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist!”
Dawkins (being humble): "Well not by me."

Dawkins went on to talk about the problem of agnosticism and why he is a "6.9"

You see what was going on here, Dawkins was simply accepting Kenny's own implicit and simple definition of an "agnostic" as anyone between the two extremes of 'I know God exists', and 'I know God does not exist'. Dawkins never said that he preferred to call himself an agnostic!

By the way, this discussion between Dawkins and Williams would be a great study in preparation for your own debate!

Martin.

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