Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Transference of competence"

Came upon a nice interview with Alister McGrath, biologist, deacon in the Church of England, Oxford University professor (principle of Wycliffe Hall) and 'distance debator' of Richard Dawkins (whom apparently declines his overtures to a public debate). Here's a piece (emphasis mine);

"What do you think of Dawkins’ understanding of religion and theological matters?

Dawkins seems to assume that his audience is completely ignorant of religion and, therefore, will accept his inadequate characterizations of religion as being accurate. And I think his entire method is based on the assumption of the transference of competence.
In other words, because this man is a very competent evolutionary biologist, that same competency is evident in, for example, his views on religion. And really, one of the things I find so distressing and so puzzling in reading him was that his actual knowledge of religion is very slight. He knows he doesn’t like it, but he seems to have a very shallow understanding, for example, of what religious people mean by the word “faith.”

So why has the media not called out Dawkins on his religious ignorance?

The reason that Richard Dawkins has become so influential is that his rather strident, rather aggressive views resonate with what quite a lot of people hope is indeed the case. And so, if you like, Dawkins has become a figure who is better known for his rhetoric than his reasoning.
On those relatively few occasions when he does try to engage Christian theology, he does show himself to be embarrassingly ignorant of what Christian theology is saying."

And here's a little snippet from Michael Ruse's review of McGrath's "Dawkin's God";

"...I have long been irked by Dawkins — as well as philosopher Daniel Dennett, evolutionary biologist William Provine and company — for not knowing the first thing about Christian theology and for not making any effort to know about it. But, as Dawkins rightly said when ignorant philosopher Mary Midgley criticized the selfish-gene theory, she laid herself open to attack by those who knew what the theory was really about. Same for Dawkins and company — they leave themselves open to attack from those who actually know something of theology."

It's really nice to hear someone of Michael Ruse's calibre saying this about his scientific peers, whom he would regard as fellow atheist-leaning agnostics. But his words strike so much more deep for the fact that many of them actually bother to engage in debates and author book which allege to be 50% about "religion", without bothering to know something about christianity in particular. Precisely like debate someones beliefs without knowing them - nor what constitutes belief! Again, Dawkins ignorance is evidenced in this debate with Michael Poole.


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