Friday, October 20, 2006

Crusading atheist meets his match

Richard Dawkins, who is making the rounds of English and American radio and television talks shows promoting his new book, The God Delusion, is about as articulate as they come--which is one of the things that makes him so dangerous. But he met his match recently on a British radio program in Catholic journalist David Quinn.

The mp3 file can be found here.

Then there is the hysterically funny interview Dawkins had with Stephen Colbert at Comedy Central that you can find on YouTube here.


Anonymous said...

"Met his match" what a nonsense. Quinn constantly interrupted Dawkins in a very aggressive way and gave him no chance to develop his arguments. Intolerance at its worst - a very time-honoured tradition of religion.

Fil said...

If Quinn is supposed to be a reasonable spokesperson for theism, I think God should really revamp His Communications Dept.

Martin Cothran said...


Gave him "no chance to develop his arguments"? I guess I give Dawkins more credit than you do. His own skills in debate are formidible. You talk about him like he is some tender flower who is not capable of standing on his own two feet in a discussion.

He was debating a journalist for crying out loud--not a fellow professor at Oxford. Quinn clearly blew him away on two points: the justification for the belief in matter and free will. On both of these points Dawkins had his opportunity and all he could say on the first was that "scientists are working on the problem", and on the second that he was "not interested in free will."

Dawkins could have "developed" arguments on these points, but didn't. He chose instead to dismiss them with glib remarks that betrayed nothing but the fact that he had no arguments to develop.

Martin Cothran said...


Quinn actually made substantive criticisms of Dawkin's arguments. Was your remark supposed to be a substantive criticism of Quinn? If so, I'm afraid I missed your point.

Anonymous said...

You must be kidding me. Quinn didn't blow him away, Quinn didn't actually say anything except to prsent a dualism that is simply irrational.

Quinn couldn't come up with any evidence for why his belief was different than for that of fairies and apparently thinks that because matter exists so should God without answering the question of where God came from.

Dawkins isn't interested in free will because it's simply not an argument worth making. I would go the other way and say Quinn became so flumoxed and emotional he simply didn't make sense.

Noe of what Quinn said could even begin to remotely count as a substantive counter. He simply has nothing to support his claims.

Martin Cothran said...


Quinn made two very clear arguments:

1. If there is no God, then there is no free will; and if there is no free will, then there is no morality; therefore, if there is not God, then there is no morality.

2. If there is no God, then the existence of matter is unexplainable; but matter is not unexplainable; therefore, God exists.

Now they may very well be good refutations of these arguments (ultimately, I don't think there is), but simply saying "scientists are working on it" and "I'm not interested in free will" are not among them.

Jason said...

How can the two above be solid arguments? How is free will (whether or not it is real or an illusion) be an argument for or against god? Theists often take free will to be god-given as a conceit, but there is no rational reason to link the two.

Second, how exactly does it follow that matter depends on god? In order to pose these questions, Quinn, as Dawkins says, "defines the problem out of existance." If you take the conceit that matter and free will require god, then I suppose every breathing moment is a theological proof. But in the real world, Quinn adds nothing to a real discussion.

Martin Cothran said...

My main contention was not that they were solid arguments, but that they were ARGUMENTS, and that Dawkins did not counter them with arguments of his own--he doesn't address them at all.

I went to the trouble to state them in more formal terms than Quinn did, with clearly stated premises and conclusions. I would be glad to address whatever problems you have with the arguments, but that's probably best done if you tell me what exactly your problem with the arguments are. Is it the reasoning itself or the premises? If the premises, then which ones?

DavidJ said...

I agree that Dawkins met his match in Quinn - and have commented on it here:

James said...

This guy made no point whatsoever. He simply presented complex questions that he himself has no answers to and pointed to the fact that Dawkins doesnt either.

I will tell you one thing. Religion has never solved one scientific mystery the world has faced so Dawkins in saying that science is working on it is saying the only hope of having it solved are men of science.

Whn a man says I see no more proof for god than for dragons or fairies then the only retort from the believer should be evidence or simply not talking because it only gets more stupid from there.

Anonymous said...

to martin cothran,

Quinn is using Aristotelian syllogism, better known as if-then statements. The refutation to that argument, or more precisely the logic of those statements, can be found in "The History of Western Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell, specifically pgs 195-202. That statement is only 'true' if the relationship has already been determined to be true. It is almost circular reasoning. If 'this' then 'that' and if 'that' then 'this', but how can you be sure that 'this' depends on 'that' without resorting to basic linguistics? Empirical evidence is first needed to establish the statement of truth; otherwise it is just logic of linguistics. And since tangible proof for the relationship of morality, free will, and God has yet to be found the premise for Quinn's argument doesn't exist; therefore his argument is false. Simply put the idea of an unmoved mover has first to assume that there is an unmoved mover.

Martin Cothran said...


You said, "Quinn is using Aristotelian syllogism [sic], better known as if-then statements."

First of all, syllogisms are not statements; syllogisms are composed of statements.

Secondly, you seem to be suggesting that all Aristotelian syllogisms are "if-then" syllogisms. But Aristotelian syllogisms include both categorical syllogisms and hypothetical syllogisms, and "if-then" (or "conditional") syllogisms are just one type of hypothetical syllogism.

You then say, "The refutation to that argument, or more precisely the logic of those statements, can be found in "The History of Western Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell, specifically pgs 195-202." Russell is refuting categorical argumentation in his book (and he doesn't refute it, he just dismisses it, much like Dawkins dismisses Quinn's two points), not hypothetical arguments. In fact Russell, along with Alfred North Whitehead and Ludwig Wittgenstein, were the developers of modern logic, which includes only hypothetical reasoning, of which conditional "if-then" arguments are a part.

In other words, if Russell is going after "if-then" arguments per se (which he most certainly is not), then he's only undermining the very system of logic he helped invent.

I'm afraid you need to do a little more research on this one.