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Well, according to Michael Ruse, any way.

Can any qualified philosophers comment? I found the philosophical arguments in TGD and God is not Great fairly persuasive, but I'm just a musician and a bureaucrat, not a philosopher. Do Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet et al attack philosophical strawmen? Is the ontological argument really as dumb as it appears to be?

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I have an undergrad degree in philosophy, but I'm definitely not a professional philosopher.

My own philosophical sympathies have in general tended toward Kant and Wittgenstein (though now I'm gravitating more toward Spinoza, and have been doing so for years).

My short answer is that Dawkins makes the radical claim that theological assertions of God's existence are, in fact, empirical propositions. This would make most theologians and many philosophers balk, but Dawkins further claims that this reaction is itself an expression of the social taboo against criticizing religious claims.

If Dawkins's claims are correct (and I tend to think that they are), it renders a whole arsenal of philosophical and counterarguments completely ineffective. I can't imagine that Dawkins is not very well aware of this.

To go into a bit more detail about that "arsenal" for anyone interested . . .

For quite a long time, I felt Dawkins didn't "get" one of the distinctions I perceived as central to both Kant and Wittgenstein: namely, that assertions which can be said to make any sort of rational sense is by definition restricted to empirical propositions -- as Wittgenstein might put it, they are assertions that certain empirical states of affairs either are or are not the case. But both Kant and Wittgenstein seemed to feel that there is a whole realm of human experience that cannot be stated in rational, logical terms -- for Kant, a Christian theist, this was of course the realm of faith; for Wittgenstein (who was something of a quasi-mystic as well as someone who claimed he didn't believe but looked at everything from a religious point of view) this realm couldn't really even be spoken about in any meaningful way, yet it was the all-important "outside" which enveloped the inconsequential "inside" of the strictly empirical, thereby grounding the "meaning" of the world -- ethics, purpose, etc.

In a sense, I think both Dawkins and Kant/Wittgenstein are right. There can never be an empirical proposition that somehow characterizes my experience of a work of art, a poem, or even a color or smell. And for a long time, I gave religious claims this sort of status: they're not speaking in a rational language, but rather a quasi-poetic one, so it wasn't fair to subject them to intellectual rigor.

But I think Dawkins quite adequately addresses this objection in the first part of The God Delusion where he talks about Einstein's "pantheistic religion": that sublime awe at the overwhelming beauty, majesty, and order of the material universe. When physicists use the word "God" as a metaphor for this awe, they're using language in a religious or at least poetic sort of way, not making empirical propositions. And while Dawkins would prefer that they be more careful about their use of language, he really seems to have no problem with that sort of waxing poetic. If that's all that religious people did, there would probably be little reason to object to it.

His claim is quite a different one, and I'm not sure it's grounded in philosophical argument so much as a sociological observation. While theologians and many philosophers like to claim that religious language doesn't make empirical claims, it actually does, in many cases, depending on who is using it and how they're using it. Easy examples: asserting the existence of miracles or that the earth is only 6,000 years. Those are empirical claims about the empirical world, and the people who assert them expect us to believe that they are empirical truths.

This is a world of difference from the sort of quasi-poetic and non-rational language Kant and Wittgenstein sought to make room for, and I think Dawkins is right to point this out, and moreover, I suspect he's also right that social taboo is what prevents even otherwise thoughtful intellectuals from recognizing it.
I don't think Dawkins attacks strawmen - he attacks his target directly
My inclination would be to say they don't. Now Dawkins and Dennet are intelligent guys, and Dennet has some grasp of philosophy, but their work is scientistic and moralizing. Note that when I say 'scientistic' I mean a misapplication of the theories of the physical sciences to inappropriate subjects. Doing ontology with empiricism is like doing math with empiricism; a foredoomed enterprise.

The best argument against God, or any kind of supernatural, and also the wishy-washy 'agnostics' is that presented by George H. Smith in his 'Atheism: The Case Against God'. Attributes like 'omnipotence', 'ominscience' etc. are not only self-contradictory and incompatible with one another they are incompatible with identity or agency at all. When someone says 'God' it has no more meaning than 'Flargh!', the things attributed to 'God' make it non-existent by definition. Yet most atheists seem to be totally unaware of this argument and go on to make rather irrelevant arguments like 'the existence of evil'; as though that were something one could objectively assess. Pretending the word 'God' made sense, if we live in an egoistic Universe then it is literally the case that whatever God wants is 'good' so the so-called 'problem of evil' is nonsense.


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