Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tony Benn and Richard Dawkins debate the value of religion

This is rather interesting: A militant and rude atheist - or so these hosts seem to think of him - versus a very generous, kind and unorhtodox religous man. My kind of debate! Though I agree more with Benn, I think he could have made a better case for some of it. Benn does, it seems to me, make some good points about ethics and religion as a "culture." Sadly, however, Benn misses the point of the discussion. And the hosts of the show are very unfair and not too polite to Dawkins.

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  1. An interesting, and friendly discussion. Note that Benn shifts the argument to make the case for religion. I would call his defense a functional argument that religion is good as a basis of morality. But Dawkins also uses the same kind of argument against religion. The driving emotional force behind his criticism of religion seems to be that religion is immoral since it (obviously?) promotes violence.
    Benn is in good company in his moral argument for religion. Kant did the same thing. I may have missed it but I think that Dawkins could have replied with the readily available counter-argument that religion cannot be necessary as a foundation for morality because "even" atheists can be moral. Benn is a likable fellow but did he answer Dawkin's question? Is Benn a "true believer" or only a functionalist who does not care about what the belief is as long as it promotes morality?

  2. Yes. I fear Benn evaded the question. Too bad. Also, I thought Dawkins was treated unfairly and hostily. Now, Dawkins is guilty of this himself. He can be rude, hostile, and insulting to religous folk. But We should not return the same treatment to him. And he was behaving pretty well this time!

  3. Hello Ross and Matt. Ross, I think Dawkins did breifly address the point that atheists do have access to a moral code when he noted that anyone can 'cherry-pick' the verses from the Bible that may suit them. He seems to then argue that we ought to by-pass the Bible as a source for morality, and utilize our moral philosophy, which is the method we use to pick and choose which verses we think support our moral view.

    I think Benn is guilty of a Straw Man (continually) as he presumes that science and religion are seen as competitors (by scientists) over HOW we should live. Dawkins specifically addressed this point more than once. It is not the role of science to answer moral questions--perhaps similar to looking for an analysis of Joyce from a mathematician.

    But saying that does not reduce the purpose/benefits of science in anyway. Just as, an argument can be made, say by one like William James, religion does not lose its efficacy if its beliefs cannot be scientifically validated.

    I like Benn's point that he fears the 'diagnosis prior to death than death itself.

  4. I have to agree with you Chris. And this rather surprised me. I'm familiar with Benn from his political stances and speeches. He's normally quite thoughtful and inspiring.

    I think in this case Benn simply was speaking on a subject matter he really has not really thought about with much depth.

    Dawkins, of course, is unfairly hostile to religous belief- he always has been. But he bahaved himself, and the hosts should have treated him with more respect.


Comments from many different points of view are welcome. But I will not publish any comments that are hateful, insulting, or filled with profanity. I welcome and encourage dialogue and disagreement but will not publish any hate speech.