(Written in early 2011)
Richard Dawkins is a British ethnologist and evolutionary biologist, an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.
Dawkins claims to speak to truth as a scientist. But, occasionally according to some who have read him in greater detail than have I, he goes beyond the empiricism of science. They accuse him of being philosophically naive and counter him with what yours truly in his impatience and laziness considers argument that is too long and too obscure.
For the sake of simplicity I'll refer only to the claim that in his book, The God Delusion. Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist. (I confess to not owning the book.)
Language is a problem whenever we open our mouths, and philosophers pounce on language in their analysis of what meaning there is in what people are trying say.
If someone says he does not believe in Jehovah, or Krishna, or Shiva, or the sun god Utu, or a tooth fairy he is taking an agnostic position. He is not saying that any of these gods does not exist; he is saying simply that he does not believe in them, and he can defend his position by saying that he sees no reason or no evidence that gives him reason to believe in any one of them.
To shift from agnosticism to atheism involves definitions. Agnostics can be called atheists in that they are godless. Putting that aside, an atheist as popularly understood would say something like "there is no god" – different from saying I don't believe in any god. To defend a statement that there is no god requires a definition of god, if the statement is to have much meaning. Is the statement-maker, for example, referring to the God of Spinoza? God as Nature?
Moreover, proving a negative (there is no tooth fairy) cannot be done.
By stating that there is no God the atheist has gone beyond the empirical world of sight and reason – science. He has gone a step too far. The agnostic who says he does not believe in the tooth fairy can ask someone who does what is this tooth fairy that he believes in and on what grounds does he justify that belief. The burden of explanation is on the believer. One can be on solid ground philosophically in asking questions rather than declaring the propositions that believers do.
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