04 October 2011

Liberal Religious "Strawman" Arguments Directed Against "New Atheists"

On 2 October 2011, a subscriber to the the Unitarian Universalist Theology email discussion list said the following:
"But in fact, it seems to me that BOTH the Christian Fundamentalists and the Secular Atheists have decided to exclude all the other points of view from the debate. Each of them allows the other to participate so that they can each have a strawman."
To borrow the Wikipedia definition, a strawman is " ... an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position."

To be fair to the various vocal atheist and freethinkers out there, most of them are aware of liberal religious voices out there. And (to paraphrase Greta Christina and others) atheists would not be speaking out against religion very much if the predominant type of religion was Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Reform Jewish, Quaker, etc (less harmful and more likely to do good in the world).

When atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens ignore liberal religion, it's not because liberal religion doesn't exist.

It's because liberal religions are statistically insignificant and are not representative of religion as it's commonly practiced in the world.

Here are some Gallup polling et al. findings that support this view that literalism and fundamentalism are widespread in North America and not some sort of "strawman" invented by the so-called "new atheists":

  • 92% of Americans believe in God

  • 81% of Americans believe in Heaven

  • 70% of Americans believe in Hell

  • 78% of Americans believe in angels

  • 70% of Americans believe in the Devil

  • 40% of Americans believe in creationism

  • 38% of American believe in evolution with God guiding the process that created humans

  • 16% of American believe in evolution as an unguided and undirected process
This unguided and undirected aspect of evolution is the dominant view in biology and is supported by observation and experiment.

Go Google the "Luria-Delbrück experiment" to read more about the finding that mutation -- the source of variation for natural selection -- is randomly generated and undirected without any consideration for the long-term future of the organism's well-being.

If 40% or more of the North American religious expression were Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ, then I think you could make a good case for Dawkins et al. pushing a "strawman" fallacy.

However, 78% of North Americans rejects evolution as it is understood by the scientific community on religious grounds. Perhaps the so-called "new atheists" have a legitimate complaint about religion as it's commonly practiced.

I would suggest that this new atheist "strawman" allegation is itself a "strawman" argument directed towards atheism.

[Cross-posted to Philosophical Penguins]

1 comment:

fausto said...

I suspect the original writer used the word "strawman" too loosely, and you picked up on the unintended connotation of logical fallacy. If you change "strawman" to "whipping boy" in the original comment, it sounds about right. But there's even an overtone of strawman in your own comments here, Steve. If a liberal Episcopalian or Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic, who accepts and believes scientific theories of evolution, were to read your post, I bet he or she would ask, "Am I really so different from a Quaker or a Congegationalist?" and would conclude, "Steve is using me as both a whipping boy and a strawman, and he doesn't even realize it."