Dawkins Whips Followers into Anti-Mormon Tweeting Frenzy

President Obama’s terrible showing at the presidential debate last night understandably has some liberals feeling nervous. Many, including the Obama campaign, have risen to the occasion and critiqued Mitt Romney’s debate performance at the level of substance. Others, unfortunately, have stooped pretty low under the weight of their insecurities. Among the latter type was atheist superstar Richard Dawkins, who lashed out on Twitter against Romney’s religious beliefs.

As a non-Mormon and a liberal democrat, I must admit that I’ve poked my fair share of fun at Mormons and political conservatives. There’s a thin line, though, between poking fun and being mean. One of the more essential attributes of poking fun is that it be—you know, fun. Preferably for everyone, including the one being poked. Dawkins’s remarks weren’t. Nor, unfortunately, were the responses of several of his followers, which he proceeded to endorse by retweeting them.

Some of this could be funny, if said in the right spirit. The idea of equipping the FBI with bulletproof temple garments is a fairly clever play on Mormon folktales about garments’ protective qualities. But here, unfortunately, the punchline isn’t that it would be funny if Romney applied Mormon folk doctrine in his presidential policy. The punchline is that Mitt Romney is crazy, and Mormons are crazy, and who could possibly vote for someone who wears magic underwear? Of course, by reducing Mormonism to a few “weird” ideas that aren’t even central to the tradition, and then further distorting these ideas so that they would be unrecognizable to a Mormon, Dawkins and his followers are indulging in their own brand of “crazy,” silly anti-realism. They’re magicking away their insecurities by asserting their superiority to cartoonish caricatures of other people. For shame.

Comments

Dawkins Whips Followers into Anti-Mormon Tweeting Frenzy — 35 Comments

  1. Don’t laugh. The reason Obama kept staring at his note pad during the debate is that he had a seer stone that he was trying to use as a teleprompter.

  2. I think Dawkins is wrong because I think Obama is really very religious. That 2007 speech of Obama’s currently getting play because it is supposed to show that he is an angry black man rather shows that he is a sincere person of faith.

  3. I grew up with a doctor and a ward full of people with graduate degrees, and I know full well how utterly and completely stupid people can be outside the narrow realm of their specialized expertise.

    I think Dinesh D’Souza (whom I also have a lot of misgivings about) gave the best summary of Richard Dawkins I’ve ever heard:

    “This is what happens when you let a scientist out of the lab.”

  4. I especially appreciate the tweeter whose profile picture depicts him making a vulgar gesture. Classy folks on the twitterwebz. Dawkins is a fundy goon.

  5. Thanks for compiling these, I woulda missed it and it’s fun to see what Dawkins and his disciples are focusing on. Here’s what I think is the quote-of-the-post:

    “Of course, by reducing Mormonism to a few “weird” ideas that aren’t even central to the tradition, and then further distorting these ideas so that they would be unrecognizable to a Mormon, Dawkins and his followers are indulging in their own brand of “crazy,” silly anti-realism.”

  6. First off, Obama did better in the debate than 99% of the population could have in his position. I still think that on policy (i.e. what the debate is SUPPOSED to be about) Obama was right, but Romney’s forceful style did carry the day when it came to style points.

    Second of all, I agree that Dawkins comments are aggressive but less than I often see in political comments on facebook or news articles. In our society we think it is okay to say the nastiest things about people who belong to certain political parties but when it comes to religion, even legitimate criticism is seen as offensive. He has the right to disagree with Mormonism. As most people are probably aware, so do I, though to be respectful, since this is a blog studying Mormonism, I only criticize the church on religious issues when the posts are comparing Atheism and the church. I think it is wrong to say that Mormonism is crazier than Protestantism, but I do think there need to be people who say that there is no evidence that any religion is true. Because those are the facts.

  7. “but I do think there need to be people who say that there is no evidence that any religion is true. Because those are the facts.”

    …Except that those ain’t really the facts, considering the diverse array of religious propositions and perspectives. Your claim begs the question of what counts as “evidence” and what the role of interpretation plays in the ways we construct meaning.

  8. I was just talking this morning about Dawkins with early-morning seminary students…

    I’m probably not the first one to point this out, but one of the unfortunate things about Dawkins is the way his combative, immature approach to debate with those he disagrees with undermines what he does say–whether in the field of biology or religion–that is important and valuable. This is a case in point: by reducing Mormonism to “crazy” and “BARKING MAD” makes me question first the depth of his familiarity with Mormonism, and second his depth of familiarity with anything else outside of the lab.

  9. BHodges, Just because there are multiple opinions does not mean that each opinion is equally valid. If one person says the moon is made of rock and another says the moon is made of green cheese, then we shouldn’t automatically treat these opinions as equally likely. It is the same with whether God exists. If we saw the laws of physics being regularly broken, then that might be some evidence of God. If we saw the stereotypical face of God in the sky, that would be pretty good evidence. If we had specific events predicted in the holy books that came true in the future (not because the books were written to conform with past events and not because the followers of the religion made the event happen, but something that was unpredictable and unable to be caused by human methods) that would be pretty good evidence for a non-human writer of the book. But we don’t see any of that. Religion is based on faith, which can’t be proven and yet people live their lives so sure that they are right. We should base our beliefs on Occam’s Razor: if the world around us can be explained without needing a theory (such as the existence of God), then we should assume that this theory isn’t valid until we have evidence to support it. Don’t invent the idea of God unless we have some reason for why we should believe in him.

  10. Hibernia, why would the laws of physics being broken be evidence of God?

    Because I don’t think that would be evidence, actually.

    Edit: Also, the concept of Occam’s Razor is utterly irrelevant here – because who says God is a “complicating factor” in the first place?

  11. “BHodges, Just because there are multiple opinions does not mean that each opinion is equally valid”

    Funny how often I hear responses like this from fans of Dawkins. It’s like they instantly enter some weird mode (brainwashed? barking mad mode?) in which they state strange truisms as though they overturn anything I already said, which of course, they never do. They also drop phrases like “Occam’s Razor” in ways that suggest they either don’t understand Occam’s razor or they don’t understand the present theme of conversation.

    Dawkins fan enters a subway, overhears conversation about God and excitedly jumps in, citing Occam’s razor, which in context of the current discussion adds precisely nothing. It gets tiresome.

  12. PS, I don’t subscribe to every sentiment in the following observation by a theologian (which can safely be dismissed as the ravings of a BARKING MAD individual by the Dawkinsites), but Chesterton raises some intriguing points here:

    “The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s. Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. A bullet is quite as round as the world, but it is not the world. There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern religions. Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable MARK of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument. As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out. Contemplate some able and sincere materialist . . . and you will have exactly this unique sensation. He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world. Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea. The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is so very small. The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in.”

  13. It seems like for most people (such as BHodges, and Casey below) the main complaint about Dawkins is “he’s a meanie!” Sometimes, I agree, he isn’t as diplomatic as he should be, but sometimes his harsh words are justified. But none of that has anything to do with whether he is right or not. His general logic is sound. If you want to disagree with him, THAT is what you should be talking about.

    BHodges, do you understand what the term “occam’s razor” means? Because it isn’t clear from you comment if you do. You act like Atheists aren’t allowed to use that term and rather than actually discuss the issue, you just reject the idea of occam’s razor without explaining why.

    Let me help you get why it is so important. Occam’s razor says that we should go with the simplest theory that fits the evidence. Some people might think that there are fairies in the garden making the flowers bloom, but we can explain how the mechanics of flower production works scientifically without needing to invent the idea of fairies to explain it. The same goes with God. We can explain the world quite well without needing a Theistic God that intervenes to answer our prayers (they have actually done studies where groups secretly pray for certain sick patients. There is never any statistically significant difference between the patients that are prayed for and the patients that aren’t.) The laws of physics show why the sun rises, why the rain falls, why winter comes. We don’t need to invent a god to explain that. Occam’s razor actually is the solution to the problems in your last post. Conspiracy theories fail occam’s razor because they require large number of assumptions without evidence. (Seth, does that answer your question? You seemed to be suggesting that you thought Occam’s Razor supported the existence of God but you also said that it was “irrelevant”, phrases which contradict each other)

    Also, for those who don’t understand why the burden of proof is on the theist, here is a picture with a quote from the final Harry Potter book where the issue of the existence of God can be compared to the book’s description of the existence of the resurrection stone. Hopefully this other example will help people to understand why it is up to the theists to prove God’s existence.

    http://vi.sualize.us/hermione_she_gets_it_picture_w3G8.html

    Also Seth, if the laws of physics were violated in non-random ways (for example, let’s say a family was poor and starving and they prayed for food and it just poofed into existence in front of them) then that would be good evidence for an intelligent being of great power. But we don’t see recorded miracles like that. Sure, we hear stories, often from Pentecostals, about how their mother’s best friend’s sister’s mailman prayed and his cancer disappeared, but they never show us the medical charts proving this.

  14. I have to say Chris, I have become extremely bored with liberal democrats mocking Romney’s religion this election cycle. It was boring when some on the Right were doing it in 2008, and it’s even sillier now because it’s mostly the same recycled stuff. For me, it’s pretty much an admission that they’ve lost the arguments on policy and politics.

    I’ve been telling my friends for months after Romney clinched the nomination that if Romney takes a lead in the polls, the Obama campaign would find a way to inject Mormonism into the debate to damage Romney politically just like Senator Ted Kennedy did in Massachusetts in 1994 when he being challenged in the polls. Now that Romney has taken the lead in the latest polls, I sure hope I’m wrong.

    Additionally, it’s been unfortunate that most of the written analysis from Mormon/non-Mormons this cycle about Romney’s religion vis-à-vis his public/private life/career has been underwhelming–more reflective of political bias and partisanship rather than thoughtful analysis. There have been a few exceptions, a couple pieces and writers that stand out, but on the whole, in my opinion, this has not been a proud moment for the blogging, journalism, or Mormon studies community.

  15. My longer post got sent to the moderator and hasn’t been posted yet. It could be that there is a glitch and it didn’t get sent, so I’ll provide a summery here.

    I think that a lot of people, such as BHodges and Casey, seem to give their main argument against Dawkins as “he’s a meanie”. But they don’t really seem to respond to the issue of Atheism itself. While I think Dawkins could be more diplomatic sometimes, sometimes his harsh words are necessary to bring the issue into focus.

    BHodges, Occam’s razor matters a heck of a lot in any discussion about religion so I don’t see why you are unhappy with it being used. It says that we should go with whatever theory requires the least assumptions. If there are two theories A) that plants grow from sun and water and B) that plants grow with the help of fairies, we should believe A because we can prove the existance of water and sun and can test how they affect plants while we can’t do either with fairies. The same goes for god. We can show how the world responds to scientific laws, but we can’t show proof of a divine being interviening at any point. So it seems wrong to just assume that such a being exists when people don’t see any real facts supporting this around them. “The world is amazing, therefore God” is not a good argument. BHodges, Occam’s razor disproves the conspiracy theory example in your post because the conspiracy theory is the one that requires the most assumptions.

    Seth, does this clarify things? You seem to try to argue that occam’s razor both supports God and doesn’t matter, both of which aren’t true. And to answer your other question, if someone was poor and prayed for food and it just poofed into existance in front of them, that would be good evidence for an intelligent being with great power. But that never happens.

  16. Hibernia86, you’re more unfamiliar with theology than I am with Dawkins, I guarantee it. I appreciate the lecture, though. It’s the same one Dawkins denizens give over and over again, as though it’s their own Apostle’s creed. I don’t have time to go the rounds with you, but I suggest starting by actually familiarizing yourself with the work of actual theologians and religious thinkers before attempting to critique their ideas using ill-fitting ideas from 18th century writers.

    http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Physicist-Theology-Sciences-Polkinghorne/dp/0800629701

  17. Hibernia, I didn’t say Occam’s Razor supports God at all.

    I was pointing out that it’s completely irrelevant to the question of God and mostly amounts to a completely substance-free way for atheists to use big impressive-sounding words that ultimately have no point for the discussion whatever.

    And Hibernia, your alternatives A and B are, of course, completely ridiculous.

    Religious people believe in photosynthesis too you know.

  18. Final point – food miraculously appearing before you would NOT be evidence of a God whatsoever.

    Is food appearing in the “replicator” in Star Trek evidence of the existence of a God?

    Why would you automatically think “that must be God” just because a hamburger materialized on your dashboard?

    It could be space aliens, it could be a superhero, it could simply be a rift in space-time that has a completely scientific explanation. Or it could be something like a God – but it turns out he’s the universe’s biggest jerk – like the character “Q” in Star Trek Next Generation.

    Why do you automatically jump to “God” from all the alternatives you have available?

  19. BHodges is giving what is called the “Courtier’s Reply”. The argument against me basically boils down to “Oh, if only you’d read X, Y, and Z then you’d understand” and tries to get me to do all the work on his wild goose chase. If these theologians are so great, then why can’t you summarize their arguments for me? Trust me, I’ve heard all the standard Theist arguments and know the fallacies involved. If you really think you have an argument to support your belief, then give it. Don’t hide behind the elitist argument that we must bow to the theologians when you can’t even describe their arguments. I gave my argument and you didn’t respond to what I said. If you expect people to respect your beliefs, you need to be able to defend them.

    Seth, if you think that Occam’s razor is “substance free” and “irrelevant” then you either don’t understand it or are choosing to ignore a point you don’t like. The point is that the more assumptions you make in an argument, the less likely it is to be true. That DOES matter. Saying that there is an invisible super being controlling the universe is like saying that we never landed on the moon or that 9-11 was faked by the government. It requires too many assumptions without evidence. If you disagree with the above comparison, then show me the evidence.

    And yes, choice B is ridiculous. That’s the point. If Christians can use logic when it comes to photosynthesis, why can’t they do it for the world at large. If you understand that fairies aren’t needed to explain the growth of plants, then why can’t you see that god is not needed for the physical laws to function?

    If you read my last post, I specifically say that the creation of food from nothing would support the existence of an intelligent being with great power. Nowhere did I say that it had to be God. It would require more evidence to narrow it down to that.

  20. No, it isn’t at all like conspiracy theories about the NASA moon landings, the Kennedy assassination, the Spaulding conspiracy – or any other ridiculously involved conspiracy.

    Adding God into the equation of how the universe was made does not complicate the theory of the universe at all. Since it does not complicate the picture – Occam’s Razor is irrelevant to the discussion and is nothing more than fashionable posturing.

  21. It does complicate things. Option A) the world works according to physical laws. Option B) the world works according to physical laws but also is sometimes changed by a super being in a way that fits his ultimate plan although such changes have not been scientifically verified. Option B, which has God, is more complicated, but the evidence for each is identical. Therefore option B is (much) less likely and we should chose option A. God is much less likely than a naturalistic universe.

  22. No Hibernia, because option A actually isn’t any more simple.

    In option A – you have a universe, but you have no clue why.

    In BOTH option A and option B you have a universe that works according to physical laws and so forth, Big Bang, energy, matter, all that stuff.

    But in both option A and option B you have the need to explain WHY the universe is there at all. And neither option is a simpler explanation. The atheist answer has all sorts of complicated problems involved with it.

    Atheists just like to think that their option is simpler because they avoid thinking about the problems with it.

    You haven’t simplified anything Hibernia. You’ve just hidden from the problem and seen fit to congratulate yourself on how clever you are.

  23. And good grief – WHY is God “less likely” in a naturalistic universe?

    You’re just full of uncritical assertions this evening, aren’t you…

  24. Last word to Hibernia: you’ve demonstrated no familiarity with any theologian, contemporary or older, and appear to be approaching the discussion from the lens of people like Dawkins, who also have zero familiarity with theological discussions. I don’t provide you a link to avoid engaging you, or to lead you on a wild goose chase. I do so because I don’t have time to waste on Internet pseudonyms who show disregard for critical thought even while trumpeting their superior critical thinking. I don’t provide Polkinghorne to suggest he has all the answers, or that you’ll magically “understand” by reading him, but rather that if you’re truly interested in talking through such matters with people of theistic faith you would do them the courtesy of engaging them on their views rather than importing massively weak arguments form people like Dawkins. Yeah, he’s a jerk, but that doesn’t make him wrong. Unfamiliarity is what makes him relatively useless on these matters.

  25. I think ultimately, Dawkins is good for the Christian cause. By repeating “there is no evidence for God” like a mantra he’s actually 1) driving many people to actually re-discover the strength of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, 2) displaying the vacuousness of his position in a way that separates those who are willing to think from those who are not.

    Anyone that has studied Aquinas, Anselm, Plantinga, Craig, Augustine, Leibniz, al-Ghazali, Aristotle, Plato, Maimonides, etc. at length knows that the question of God’s existence is NOT so easily dismissed as lacking any evidence whatsoever. God is NOT an “explanatory hypothesis” that can be shaved away with Occam’s Razor or thrown away due to “lack of evidence.” Anyone who tries to push these preposterous ideas is simply betraying their own ignorance and can safely be ignored – God never was any of those things to the greatest thinkers in history.

    So I think, on balance, Dawkins is good for Christianity. And I think that his voice is being increasingly disregarded and marginalized (rightly so) as time goes on, so anyone who is worried about his influence need only take comfort in the fact that he’s successfully separated intellectual wheat from the chaff for the couple decades he’s been around.

  26. Hib, I have tremendous respect for Dawkins’ work as a biologist, along with the many thorny complications modern science has presented for traditional theistic explanations of the universe, particularly in regards to human evolution. Nevertheless, the man’s tactics and rhetoric are reprehensible. His lack of diplomacy is irrelevant to whether he is actually correct, but humans are social creatures first and rational ones second, and I see little value discussing things with anyone who adopts an aggressive, adversarial posture of binary debate over thoughtful and respectful discussion. It’s the same reason I’d never sit down with a Westboro Baptist church member to talk Christology. Of course, if you want a fight there are plenty who are willing to oblige, and my criticisms apply to them as well. It’s more fun to memorize wiki articles on logical fallacies than to research the (ugh) other side in depth, so until you get to that point have fun with your trolling!

  27. BHodges: You did it again! You say you don’t have time to debate the matter, but you have time to write these paragraphs. I’ve heard the standard arguments for the existence of God: the teleological argument, arguments based on qualia, arguments based on morals, the ontological argument, Pascal’s wager, ect ect… Don’t just give me a reading list. Prove that you know enough about these sources that you know that they are actually worth reading. Summarize their arguments here if you want to prove that they are as good as you say that they are.

    Syphax: God is not an explanatory hypothesis? Try telling that to the Christian population at large. They use God to explain all sorts of things: where the world came from, where morals come from, how prayers get answered (or rather what causes them to believe that prayers get answered), how sin is forgiven, where we go after death, ect. If God wasn’t an explanatory hypothesis, then he wouldn’t explain anything, meaning that he wouldn’t do anything, meaning you’d never be able to prove whether he existed or not, meaning talking about him would be as pointless as arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is a really sad day when people honestly say that they think it is “preposterous” to ask for evidence before believing something.

    Also, Dawkins good for the Christian cause? ….yeah, not so much.

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/survey-non-religious-americans-on-the-rise-in-every-state-37380/

    Casey: You say you want respectful debate, but then you basically define “trolling” as anyone who disagrees with you. If you really think there is an argument for God’s existence that I don’t understand, then please provide it. I’ll be here. Like I said in my first post, I’m only debating here because a post about Atheism was put on this blog. If you want to talk about other topics on other posts, then feel free to. I won’t bring up atheism or disbelief on this blog unless it is specifically mentioned in the post. But if you do talk about disbelief, I reserve the right to comment on it.

    Seth: I should point out that I’m talking about the Theistic God in my posts. That is a God that answers prayers, does miracles, or otherwise interacts with the world. That is what I’m saying there is no proof for. Yes, even if someone believes in multiple universes or God or any other theory, someone else can always say “well, what created that?” or “well, what allows that to exist?”. But saying “we don’t know the ultimate truth about reality” is not much to build a religion on. You would literally have no theological points whatsoever on which to base the faith because it would entirely be based on things you had no information on. Science is about the world around us which we do have evidence for. There is no evidence that any God is changing the natural world so you can guess all you want about the ultimate reality, but that doesn’t provide us any information about life here on Earth.

  28. No, you’re just wrong – at least about classical theistic demonstrations of God’s existence. And you can’t point a finger at “Christianity at large,” any more than I can blame Stalin for souring me on atheism in general. As Edward Feser says in regards to the Cosmological Arguments through history:

    ‘Since the point of the argument is precisely to explain (part of) what science itself must take for granted, it is not the sort of thing that could even in principle be overturned by scientific findings. For the same reason, it is not an attempt to plug some current “gap” in scientific knowledge. Nor is it, in its historically most influential versions anyway, a kind of “hypothesis” put forward as the “best explanation” of the “evidence.” It is rather an attempt at strict metaphysical demonstration. To be sure, like empirical science it begins with empirical claims, but they are empirical claims that are so extremely general that (as I have said) science itself cannot deny them without denying its own evidential and metaphysical presuppositions. And it proceeds from these premises, not by probabilistic theorizing, but via strict deductive reasoning. In this respect, to suggest (as Richard Dawkins does) that the cosmological argument fails to consider more “parsimonious” explanations than an uncaused cause is like saying that the Pythagorean theorem is merely a “theorem of the gaps” and that more “parsimonious” explanations of the “geometrical evidence” might be forthcoming. It simply misunderstands the nature of the reasoning involved.’

    And until pop atheists like Dawkins realize this point, comments like “Who designed the designer?” and “There’s no evidence for God,” are basically shibboleths to help people identify who actually knows what they’re talking about and is willing to actually engage the real arguments for God’s existence, and who are just the mindless drones being jerked around on puppet strings by people like Dawkins.

  29. Hibernia, attributing the decline in religion in the US to Dawkins is giving the dude waaaay too much credit.

    He’s just riding the wave – he’s not the one who caused the splash.

  30. And Hibernia, I have no idea what your last paragraph in response to me has to do with any of the points I raised. You seem to be avoiding them, actually.