A- Can people truly have a blind spot when it comes to understanding?
B- Is being ‘smart’ in a particular field imply you can understand other fields as well?
The short answer for both is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, respectively.
In these meetings I tried to explain in detail that Dawkins completely misrepresents Aquinas arguments, yet, I failed. Was such failure my fault? Perhaps… I am no trained philosopher and although I consider myself a student of Aquinas, I certainly cannot claim to be an expert. Moreover my field is physics, not philosophy, so the way I explain things is not proper.
On the other hand I do not think it’s entirely my fault. Indeed, what I have clearly noticed is that people who accept Dawkins’ arguments have, in general, an enormous “Blind Spot” when it comes to philosophy and especially metaphysics.
Indeed this blindness is truly a disease, with clear symptoms.
The first symptom that gives away this blindness is that they fail to see any difference between Dawkins’ explanation of Aquinas’ arguments and what Aquinas truly says. This cannot be my fault as I referred to different works that explain clearly Aquinas arguments and also the difference between what Dawkins and Aquinas say. Yet they stumble on the dark.
One might claim that I see this ‘ghostly’ difference because I believe and agree with Aquinas’ conclusions while I disagree with Dawkins’. In reality there IS a difference and this difference has been pointed out not only by ‘believers’ but also by several non-believing/atheist thinkers such as Michael Ruse, Bruce S. Sheiman and Terry Eagleton. I could probably add Antony Flew as well to this list, but since his rejection of atheism he had become a “pariah” among his former fellow atheists (or at least the 'new atheists') who treated him with scorn and attacked with a substantial amount of bile (funnily enough Hitchens in his book ‘God Is Not Great’ affirmed that atheists do not ‘excommunicate people for having different opinions’… well so much for that statement hey!). So if these people (and many other), who are certainly not biased pro-religion, see a difference in the arguments exposed, it cannot just be the fruit of simple wish-thinking.
The second symptom is any refusal to try to understand the arguments. This refusal takes three approaches. The first one is the ‘Courtier’s Reply’ (CR) which I already discussed in my former post, quoting Feser’s insightful article. Of course they do not realize that the CR is not at all a good argument (not in the case against theist arguments in any case). While in the CR example the emperor’s nakedness is something that everybody can see and it is not something that needs to be proved or that is assumed, the ‘existence of God’ (or other statements in theology) is not as easily dismissible. If one wants to discuss if God’s exists or not, and he rejects the other person’s arguments since he sets his own conclusion before hearing the opponent's arguments, defining his position true a priori, then there is no discussion anymore. Also it’s an irrational way to prove one’s point.
The second way is to cry ‘semantics!’ Aquinas works cannot be lazily translated. Even a ‘faithful translation’ requires understanding what Aquinas means with specific terms. ‘Motion’, ‘substance’, ‘essence’ and other terms Aquinas uses have a specific meaning that does not correspond to the meaning we give today to these words. Instead of taking the time to understand Aquinas words they just shove it all under the carpet, claiming it’s all semantics. Well it is semantics… i.e. the understanding of the meaning of the words, but this does not mean you should not take the time to understand! Unless you are lazy or intellectually dishonest, that is.
The third way is crying ‘it’s not a proof!’ What they mean is: ‘it is not an empirical or scientific proof’. This is the fallacy of scientism, thinking that all knowledge and all proofs are restricted to the realm of physical sciences. Edward Feser already commented on this topic extensively in here.
The third symptom is the blindness to notice Dawkins flawed arguments. As with the ‘first symptom’ several atheist or non-believing thinkers agree that Dawkins’ philosophy is feeble at best.
An example is when Dawkins’ makes the analogy with the piece of gold that can be divided into many pieces until the last piece of gold saying something like ‘ok not all series can regress at infinity yet even so this does not mean that a series terminator is God’… and compares this with the impossibility of infinite ontological linked casual series that Aquinas discusses. It’s like comparing an apple to a brick and claim that you cannot eat an apple because you break your teeth biting a brick. This is of course just the essence of the problem with Dawkins’ arguments… I will elaborate this point further in the future of my blog, quoting properly from his book.
So far, I think, I can say that I have indeed proven that those who accept Dawkins’ arguments above Aquinas clearly suffer from a serious case of ‘mental blindness’.
The question is: are these people stupid?
I am sure most believers are tempted to say ‘yes’… however the answer is ‘no, they are not stupid’.
For what is worth, I do not think Dawkins is stupid either: he just acts stupidly when he discusses religion (due to his personal and antagonistic bias), there’s a substantial difference.
The main issue is that being knowledgeable and smart in a field does not immediately transfer such knowledge and intelligence into another field.
This I have seen within physical and mathematical sciences themselves. I have met biologists who had quite a hard time understanding physics or mathematics or vice versa some physicists who could not grasp some ideas in biology or biochemistry.
These difficulties will only deepen when we go from physical sciences to philosophy or theology, which apply a different mode of reasoning.
Dawkins’ and followers mistakenly think that because they are perhaps accomplished in their own field of knowledge, they automatically understand philosophy and theology, assuming it’s something simple and easily grasped as basic arithmetic.
However, anyone who is not a philosopher and tried to seriously study philosophy realizes that things are not as trivial as that.
Hence one cannot say that Dawkins’ and his disciples are stupid. They might be very intelligent indeed; the trouble is that they are blinded by their own hubris and such hubris immediately nullifies the value of their intelligence outside their ‘home field’.
One then might ask: Can someone discuss the light with a blind man? Can someone discuss the truth with someone who is mentally blind to it?
I fear that the answer is ‘probably not’.
PS: If it's not clear I am not here claiming that all non-religious people are 'blind'. Of course some (or perhaps many, but silent) atheists or agnostics have taken the pain to read Aristotle and Aquinas in detail and not all non-believers hide behind the 'Courtier's Reply', but are humble enough not to dismiss the theist arguments a priori.
Unfortunately in the world there is a lot of stupidity and blinding hubris going around, which affect people no matter what they do or do not believe.