Quite often, I get letters regarding one point or another in my columns. Sometimes they are complimentary, while more often, they are not. Seldom, however, are they worth reprinting. I got a note today, however, that I thought was provocative enough to post here. Below is this gentleman’s note to me, followed by my response.
More food for thought. CDP
Dear Mr Piatt,
I am moved to respond to your recent column on Richard Dawkins primarily because of the last two paragraphs equating faith-based fundamentalism with rationalism. Coincidentally, Dawkins has an article answering his critics in the October/November issue of Free Inquiry addressing this tendency on the part of people of faith to believe that a dedication to reason is just another form of fundamentalist faith. Here are the relevant passages:
It is all too easy to mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Fundamentalist Christians are passionately opposed to evolution, and I am passionately in favor of it. Passion for passion, we are evenly matched. And that, according to some, means we are equally fundamentalist. But, to borrow an aphorism whose source I am unable to pin down, when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal force, the truth does not necessarily lie midway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong. And that justifies passion on the other side.
Fundamentalists know what they believe, and they know nothing will change their minds. This quotation from a fundamentalist says it all “…if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.” It is impossible to overstress the difference between such a passionate commitment to biblical fundamentals and the true scientist’s equally passionate commitment to evidence. The fundamentalist proclaims that all the evidence in the universe would not change his mind. The true scientist, though, knows exactly what it would take to change his mind: evidence. As J.B.S. Haldane said when asked what evidence might contradict evolution, “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.” Let me coin my own opposite version of the fundamentalist’s manifesto. “If all the evidence in the universe turns in favor of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediatel change my mind. As things stand , however, all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favors evolution.” It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I argue for evolution with a passion that matches the passion of those who argue against it. My passion is based on evidence. Theirs, flying in the face of evidence as it does, is truly fundamentalist.
This ends the quotation. What follows are my own thoughts.
In the next to the last paragraph of your column you imply that the rationalist has some responsibility of proving the nonexistence of God. Not so. The burden of proof rests with the person making the assertion. It is not up to the rationalist to prove the nonexistence of a figment of the faithful’s imagination. You also imply that the rationalist cannot prove the nonexistence of God. Not so again. The more clearly defined a deity becomes the easier it is to disprove his existence. It is childishly easy to show that the God of the bible cannot possibly exist.
A final note. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Free Inquiry mentioned above. At the end of the article quoted there is a passage from Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow that is one of the most inspiring and uplifting statements on the human condition you will ever see.
(My Reponse to him)
Thanks for your response. I think, perhaps, that you perceived a couple of the points made in my article differently than I intended.
My comparison of Dawkins to fundamentalists was, in my mind, regarding their seemingly shared interest in eradicating the viewpoints of those other than those they themselves hold. I don’t begrudge Dawkins being a rationalist or an atheist. My concern with him in the public forum is that he prefers to erect barriers to discourse and draw lines, whereas Krauss is more content to use his own knowledge to help enrich others’ understanding.
One of my other concerns about Dawkins’ sentiments is that he holds little or no regard for someone who maintains a view that is not based upon reason. I respect that he holds to the process of reason as sufficient to explain all phenomena in the universe, and that to do otherwise is feeble-minded. I would argue, however, that reason, rather than being an inviolable, universal constant, actually is a construct of human consciousness, as is faith.
Further, to suggest that I claim Dawkins must prove the nonexistence of God would be off-base, I think. What I claim is that he cannot (not that he must or should) prove the nonexistence of God any more than someone can prove the existence of God. Aristotle was far wiser than Dawkins, I believe, when he drew limits around the capacity of reason. He claimed that there is no way to use reason to discuss or lay claim to what existed “before” the universe, as reason by its very nature is bound by the properties of time, motion and matter. Now, Thomas Aquinas used this as a springboard to fit faith into the gap left by Aristotle, which clearly was not Aristotle’s intent. However, he understood that reason had its own limits, a concession which might serve Dawkins well.
Just a few thoughts before my brain goes too soft for the day. Thanks again for your note, and thanks for reading my column, even if it presents a point of view with which we don’t agree. Incidentally, I’ll look for a copy of Free Inquiry.