Larry Taunton and Talking Animals

Larry Taunton does not like Dawkins’ newest book.

This time, Oxford University’s professional unbeliever is out to spread holiday cheer with a new children’s book, The Magic of Reality. Christmas is, after all, the season of magic, and lest children confuse sugar plum fairies and flying reindeer with the observable and repeatable, the professor has loaded neither toys nor goodies on his sleigh but a heavy dose of “rational skepticism.”

There’s not a single atheist who has a problem with the magic of imagination.  Our problem is when people fail to draw the line between fantasy and reality.  Stories of people rising from the dead are fantastic.  Believing those stories is a cognitive failure.

The implicit thesis of the book is that religious explanations of “reality” are silly and utterly incompatible with the scientific endeavor.

And a damn fine thesis it is!  Global flood?  Woman being made from a rib?  Talking snake?  Yes, these are incompatible with science.  As usual when believers sneer at rationalists for their love of reality, Larry does nothing to explain why such folderol is not obscenely offensive to science.

Jewish traditions are lumped with those of the Tasmanians, the Christian story of Jesus with that of Cinderella, because one is as absurd as the other. Never mind, kiddies, that it was the Judeo-Christian tradition (not Cinderella) that gave rise to the very science Dawkins occasionally practices and the civilization from which he draws most of his moral and intellectual sensibilities.

Say what?  Show me in the bible where it tells us how to build a telescope or where it teaches how to solve for x.  That religious people were scientists gives religion no more right to claim responsibility for science than racist scientists give ownership of the enterprise to racists.

And if you think Dawkins derives his moral sensibilities from Christianity, I have a bridge up for sale in the Bay Area…

Factual errors aside, the irony of Dawkins’ crusading is that he is crusading at all. In so doing, he has unwittingly mimicked the Christian missionary and evangelistic efforts that he so hates.

Jesus, do I ever get annoyed at hearing that line.

Yes, zealots are passionate.  So are many vocal atheists.  Just like PZ Myers has children, so he’s just like Fred Phelps.  Makes sense as long as you flee from logic like a vampire from the sun.

Yes, we think we’re right and we are trying to convince others of it.  That similarity is not the problem with evangelists.  The problem with evangelists is in the way they differ from the rationalist ideal.  The problem is their apathy/disdain for evidence, their insistence that others must organize their lives around the evangelist’s beliefs, and a host of other qualities that would humiliate someone if not for religion praising them.

Larry finishes up with presumably the best dig in his arsenal.

Then again, maybe Dawkins is seeking to become atheism’s Oxford equivalent to C.S. Lewis, whose stories continue to excite the imaginations of young and old alike some five decades after his death. If so, the Lewis estate need not worry. The place of the pipe-smoking inventor of Narnia within the canon of children’s literature is firmly intact.

You’re missing the point, Larry.  I love Narnia.  I thought The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was a great book.  You must realize that fantasy is not under attack.  The problem is not with closing one’s eyes and visiting a magical world that could never be.  The problem is when people start believing lions and snakes really talk, or that evil witches are really among us, because the text of a book says so.  Eight year-olds can make that distinction.  It’s a pity when grown men cannot.

Via Steven Olsen.

Apparently these charges against The Magic of Reality are being dispensed by others (also with comparisons to C.S. Lewis).  PZ makes short work of them.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Never mind, kiddies, that it was the Judeo-Christian tradition (not Cinderella) that gave rise to the very science Dawkins occasionally practices and the civilization from which he draws most of his moral and intellectual sensibilities.

    Sorry Larry but science has been with humanity since the beginning, well long before any goat- herding religion crawled up in the Middle East. Science is what has allowed us to survive this long. That some believers today are so ignorant of history they feel like they can give credit for human ingenuity to religion is hardly an arguement in religion’s favor.

  • Jeffrey

    I thought the ‘atheist C.S. Lewis’, in terms of fantasy stories, was Philip Pullman. I know I’ve heard the Dark Materials series described as ‘atheist Narnia’ several times, and having read it, I can see why.

  • opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces

    I’ve been so tempted to get the book – it’s well written and beautifully made, and the perfect present for children in, say, the last years of Primary and the first years of Secondary school. But I don’t have any kids the right age to give it to, dammit! (mind you, I’m still tempted even so).

    Taunton’s comments are unintentionally hilarious. Bloke must be an idiot if he thinks those are valid or persuasive arguments.

  • Mark

    The basis of most of science education is “because the text of a book says so.”

    • Zinc Avenger

      Did you not study science at school? Did you do no experiments? The bit where you say “because the text of a book says so” is where science education rarely has time to get into, say, special relativity. If you want to, you’re welcome to study it for a few years, after you have mastered the fundamentals. Science operates on the principle of reproducible results so you are free to go reproduce it. You don’t need faith that F=ma to know that standing in front of a moving car results in unpleasant sensations.

  • ShavenYak

    It’s interesting that Taunton didn’t attack the book nearly three months ago when it was first published. I guess he wanted to make sure the timing was right so he could tie his screed in with the War on Christmas and try to paint Dawkins as a Scrooge intent on ruining the holiday.

  • Robert B

    Mark, does a book just say that the speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second, or did scientists figure that out via rigorous testing and experimentation? Did they look it up in a book, accept that it was correct, fiddle with the results until it matched what the book said and then told people to believe the book? Did they examine their results regarding the speed of light and use their results to open up new areas of study and research, determining that light acted as both a particle and a wave, or did they split into two sects, warring with one another over the correct interpretation of light, burning one another at the stake to perform double slit experiments?

  • sam

    thanks this post