Repent, brother Dawkins

By Charles Foster

Richard Dawkins is at it again in the Guardian. It’s the familiar stuff: a fluent, funny, whingeing litany of jibes about genocidal Israelites, filicidal Gods and benighted Tennessean Creationists. We’ve all heard it all before, of course. Dawkins has become a hackneyed national treasure. He’s a sort of pantomime dame – always doing the same old gags. We’d miss him if he didn’t appear. We love him for his ridiculousness, the extremity of his speech, and the extravagant colour of his bile, just as we love the dame’s unfeasibly enormous breasts and her outrageously striped tights. You’ve got to admire the Dawkins-Dame. He never rests on his laurels. His lines might be the same, but he tries to alternate his frocks. This time he’s wearing a very fetching little pretext: read the King James Version. It’s great literature, and it’ll tell you, almost as well as Dawkins himself, just how absurd religion is.
It takes great stamina to carry on doing the same show for decades. Why does he do it? He doesn’t need the money. Surely he’s not so insecure as to need the applause of his scientifically illiterate fan club? Doesn’t he know that there’s almost no one in mainstream biology who thinks that life and the universe are as monolithically simple as he says they are?
He’s done some genuine good. Much of what he says is right, and even more is entertaining. To use an intellect like his to lambast Young Earth Creationists is like shooting dairy cows with heat-seeking missiles. It’s not sporting, it’s not clever, but it is very funny, and it serves a social purpose. But he’s done all he can do. The Messianic mission is as complete as it can be. He’s smart enough to know that to continue will be counter-productive.
So why go on? Perhaps because he’s become his mission. Perhaps there’s no Richard Dawkins inside that scowling, spitting ball of godless epigrams. If he stopped preaching, maybe he’d just disintegrate. Old actors become their parts: when the show stops, so do they.
But I’d like to think that something else is going on. Dawkins, just like everyone else, is desperately searching for a metanarrative. Human beings are stories: they find meaning by finding a place in a bigger story. Dawkins’ rhetoric is that evolution is the only story there is. He writes lyrically about how satisfying he finds his own place in the Darwinian web of life. But, to my ear, he protests a bit too much. If he really finds his own set of answers so utterly fulfilling, why fulminate so loudly against those who aren’t totally convinced? Doesn’t it denote a lack of confidence in his solution? Like the latently gay homophobe, irresistibly drawn to gay bars, (if only to denounce them in the name of Yahweh) Dawkins is obsessed with religion. He wants to convince himself that he’s more cosmically significant than he insists he is.
His suppressed intuitions are correct. If you try to do life, ethics, or anything using any model of humans other than one of a story within a story, you’ll get things wrong.

One of the important things about stories is that they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Ideally the beginning, middle and end of human stories will be linked by a strand other than a mere sharing of the same biological vehicle. That strand has had various names: ‘soul’, ‘self’, and ‘integrity’, for instance. All of which are more or less unsatisfactory. Lack of connection between the three elements has various sinister psychiatric names, including depersonalisation. It’s a horrific diagnosis. It’s the object of many corporations. But it doesn’t seem the right diagnosis for Richard Dawkins. His thundering dissatisfaction is the saving strand.
So, brother Richard: repent. Come out of your closet. Say sorry to all those straw men you’ve so amusingly assaulted. There’s time yet for a good ending to the story that you’ve been.

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112 Responses to Repent, brother Dawkins

  • Mathew Varidel says:

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. You can’t seriously be arguing that he’s wrong because he’s said it so many times, can you?

    • De Pietro says:

      I think he means Dawkins’ behaviour gives the impression of being very religious, perhaps even preacher-like, while he criticizes exactly this extremism in religious fanatics. I agree with Charles. Nietzsche had already warned about the dangers of going to extremes in order to battle monsters
      However, incoherent as he is, I think the world needs Dawkins screaming around.

      “If he stopped preaching, maybe he’d just disintegrate”
      - That was gold.

    • Clare says:

      No, what’s being argued is that his endless need to reiterate and shout louder and louder is indicative of an underlying (be it conscious or not) doubt in what he is saying.

      Professor Dawkins is like any other fundamentalist, be they Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Vegan – he has an inherent need to know he is right and shout down any dissenters, or he feels his very identity is threatened.

      A truly intelligent person, unlike Professor Dawkins, is confident to enough to doubt (a fundamental of philosophical thought, no?). Prof Dawkins is the exact atheist equivalent of the Deep South Evangelical recently reported in a discussion of whether French should still be taught in state schools, who said, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.”

      • Philip Carpenter says:

        Madam, your comments are outrageous. You would need to be a telepath to have any grounds for your assertions.

        A truly intelligent person would not display their bias in such an obvious and spiteful way.

        Perhaps Dawkins see that which you do not. Perhaps he is one of the few willing to point out the truth to a species so steeped in their own habits that they do not see the seriousness of their predicament. Perhaps he is right! And perhaps you do not know as much as you think you do.

        • James Gibb says:

          Mr Carpenter, you have obviously spotted the defining quality of Prof. Dawkins, his transparent humility.

          • Philip Carpenter says:

            Mr Gibb, you would appear to be one of those who prefer style over substance; a rather trivial approach. Whatever his manners, he is doing a good job and he tells the truth, which his protagonists invariably do not.

        • david Wilson says:

          Then again God’s wisdom declares that “For although they knew God, they did not honour Him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Romans 1 22

          So now the nation are asked to worship themselves, much like Professor Dawkins and now think they are love.

          • Philip Carpenter says:

            I think that you would be more at home on YouTube.

            Quoting a discredited 1500 year-old text of dubious authorship is scarcely an intelligent response.

            • Andrew Mole says:

              Dear Mr Carpenter, age is no guarantee of worthlessness, any more than lack of knowledge of the author is. Incidentally, the tide has turned regarding authorship of the New Testament. While there may not be agreement, there are ever more reasons to support the traditional assignments. Your meme may not be fit for survival…

              Good, thoughtful, even-handed article.

              • Philip Carpenter says:

                Dear Mr Mole, presumably aged 13¾,

                Your point wasn’t one; I did not say that it was discredited because it was old. I said that it was discredited. Which it is. However, my point was that to quote such an article is a poor argument. That, you did not address.

                Perhaps you would like to quote the ‘ever more’ support?

                • Andrew Mole says:

                  Dear Mr. Carpenter, if the age isn’t relevant to its worthlessness, then why did you mention it? If that was not the point you were making, then all you are left with is its dubious authorship, which also doesn’t provide any support for your “discredited” tag. You have therefore given no evidence for your statement, so it seems a little disingenuous to ask me for mine. As for your response being an adequate one to Mr Wilson, since you started by assuming that the Bible was irrelevant, your argument was circular. Rather like Mr Dawkins. Of course, Mr Wilson also starts from the same position, assuming something that he cannot prove. So you are in the same boat, as indeed I am, and we all are, on the topic of whether the material world is all that there is and whether there is a God.

                  On the evidence – the Dead Sea Scrolls have been providing new insights into the society of the time, without providing problems for the New Testament, and have provided further illumination of the Old Testament as well as pushing back the dates of the earliest biblical records. Textual criticism is showing that we can rely on what we have as being a reliable transmission of first century documents. Please refer to the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org) for more information. This may not seem like much, but the continuing lack of reliable evidence against the Bible as a historical document is significant. There has also been the clearing away of arguments from silence by archaeological discoveries (please see evidence here http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/The_New_Testament_Is_Verified_Archeologically)

                  Whatever you may think of the accounts of Jesus’ life you cannot dismiss them in the terms that you used.

                  PS I don’t have any problem with evolution, it is the assumption that the world is limited to what we can currently measure that I question. We still have so much to learn.
                  PPS Sorry – didn’t mean to go so far off topic, but Mr Carpenter did request it. It does however touch on Mr Dawkins’ tendency to declare victory in areas where no such victory can be declared, and to thereby embarrass himself.

                  • Philip Carpenter says:

                    Andrew, your arguments are all rather weak. I mentioned its age because it was written at time when men were ignorant of physic, chemistry, biology and a dozen other -ologies, and explained the universe through superstition and fairy-tales. Why would we take notice of a text written in such times of ingnorance?

                    I am not in the same boat as you – there is no onus on my side of the debate to prove that there is no god. That would be a philosophical nonsense. YOU are the people with the extraordinary claims; it is up to YOU to provide the extraordinary proofs.

                    Your ‘archaeological evidence’ is far from being so. You quote a couple of vested-interest sites which yap a lot but provide no concrete and academically verified evidence at all!

                    So – yes indeed I can dismiss Yeshua’s life as reported. Much of it is fiction. There is certainly no evidence that, if he existed at all, he was the bastard offspring of any deity. A fine example your god sets – impregnating the wife of another man for his own peculiar ends.

            • George Watson says:

              Philip,

              Why is Saint Paul’s letter held to be of dubious authorship and why is it discredited

              Who, save yourself, gave you the necessary wisdom to decide what is and what is not

              an intelligent response ?

          • George Watson says:

            Amen, Amen, Amen

            David.

            How many “Post-Modern Thinkers” are seek to be wise in their own conceits” – too many, sadly, far too many.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Thank you both.
    The tone and the consistency give him away. Someone as secure in his faith as he professes to be doesn’t feel the need to denigrate as loudly or as constantly as he does.
    I entirely agree that we need him. And even if we didn’t, I, for, one, would want him.

    • Philip Carpenter says:

      I find the overall tone of your post smugly superior, quite unecessarily so. Your imagery is gratuitously bitchy; whatever the faults of the revered Prof, with whom I have had my own difficulties, I do not see any justification for this kind of condescension.
      Your patronising allowance that you, for one, would want him reflects the most important issue – he is needed in what he does. Religion still has a stranglehold on the minds of the race, and the breaking of that hold requires everything that can be thrown at it. Dawkins has taken a stand that I suspect will be judged well by history, if we break free. So rather than stand sniping from the sidelines, making no positive contribution whatever, perhaps you should consider helping, rather than hindering the poor struggling has-been.

      • Andrew Mole says:

        Sadly, smug superiority is the style of Oxford discourse, and it is practiced by Prof Dawkins as well. If you are against religion as Jesus was, then I support you. If you are for humanism and materialism to the exclusion of all else for your own self-justification, then you are as much a religious bigot as the Pharisees.

      • George Watson says:

        What are you going to say if Dawkins has a conversion experience ?

        How do you know that following his viewpoints will set anyone free ?

        How do you know that Charles Foster’s essay is not making a positive contribution ?

  • Tom Rowlands says:

    Where’s the ethics in this?

  • Charles Foster says:

    Tom: thank you for your comment. Two observations:

    (a) If, like RD, you’ve only got one ruling paradigm, it’s got to do a lot of work. Some of that work is ethical. If there are (as I suggest), reasons to believe that the Darwinian Pope himself isn’t a true believer, that may affect ones confidence in the paradigm.
    (b) In the post I suggest that a competing notion (humans as stories within a bigger story) is more promising if you’re trying to do ethics.

    • Tom Rowlands says:

      Thanks Charles. I’ll grant you your two observations. I can, of course, see the ethical implications of your conclusion; it’s just that you don’t really go on to explore these (beyond a cursory hint). This being a blog about ethics, I’d have thought readers would be more interested in a post focusing on that.

    • Jonathan West says:

      1. What evidence do you have for saying that Dawkins doesn’t believe what he says?

      2. it seems to me that what you’re doing in working with metanarratives (humans as stories within a bigger story) is that you are taking what Dennett calls the “intentional stance”, where you explain things on the basis of the intentions of concious beings. It’s good shortcut, a simplification that allows you quickly to make useful (if not always correct) predictions about people’s behaviour.

      But the intentional stance needs to be grounded at least in principle in something more basic. Dennett describes three stances – the “physical stance”, where you describe something in terms of is physical characteristics, if necessary down to the level of atoms and electrons. Then there is the “design stance” where you can predict something’s behaviour on the basis of its apparent design, so for instance you don’t need to know whether an alarm clock is spring-wound or battery powered, a cursory examination will allow you to work out when it will sound. Although living things aren’t designed, Darwinian evolution allows us to use the design stance, in that although there is no designer, successive evolutionary refinements mean that for the purpose of predicting properties, the design stance works. Then there is the intentional stance as I described before.

      But the point is that unless you accept a dualistic view of the world, then it is necessary to demonstrate (at least in principle) that things you explain using the intentional stance can have a more detailed explanation using the design stance or even the physical stance – showing that even living things with intentions obey the laws of physics, including in the way the intentions themselves work.

      In Dawkins case, much of his past work has been in finding evolutionary explanations for behaviour. There is of course much work still to be done in working out the details, but it is important to establish the principle that intentions (and even ethics) can have a n underlying Darwinian explanation.

      The idea that intentions and ethics are in principle amenable to a Darwinian treatment might be terribly obvious and old hat to you, but there are plenty of people for whom this is a new and rather threatening concept. Moreover the idea doesn’t prevent you from continue to consider ethics using higher-level stances. So it seems to me that Dawkins’ work is not yet done.

      • Charles Foster says:

        Jonathan: many thanks.
        As to (1): as I indicate in the post: methinks the lady doth protest too much.
        As to (2): Yes, there’s philosophical work to be done along the lines you indicate. But RD’s not the man for that job. He’s a biologist and a popularizer. He’s overstated the simplicity of the biology, and done a stupendous job of popularizing his oversimplification. The baton needs to go into the hands of biologically literate philosophers or philosphically literate biologists. RD’s done a great warm-up act. He’s got us listening. Now’s the time for him to withdraw gracefully and let the serious discourse begin.

        • Jonathan West says:

          On point 1 what you have is not evidence, but interpetation.

          On point 2, RD first came up with the idea of looking into evolutionary explanations of behaviour (as described for instance in The Selfish Gene and it has been the subject of a great deal of further biological work since. So why should he shut up, especially as you acknowledge that “he’s got us listening”? Anyway, what do philosophers have to contribute to the process of discovering biological explanations for behaviour?

          • Joe Bonar says:

            I would suggest that philosophers, especially biologically literate ones, could suggest possible relations between behaviors and genes, giving people ideas of things to test for. Yeah, simple and vague, but still I think accurate.

            Also, I agree with you; to the argument seems to be more along the lines of “I’ve heard you enough, now let someone else have a stab at it” whereas that’s not the problem that Dawkins is addressing. He is attempting to confront and expose people to ideas that they have never heard before. As someone from the US, I can assure you that the vast majority of people here have never even considered giving Dawkins any amount of credence whatsoever. In the US people won’t watch documentaries from the BBC because BBC is unreliable. I’m not making this up mind you, I’ve had this said to me, directly, regarding a documentary which featured only NASA scientists (yes, even though it was all americans on the show, it wasn’t an american documentary so that makes it wrong), so the idea that Dawkins should bow out gracefully, to me, is completely baseless and viable only for your particular place in the world. Sure, in Britain where he’s had notoriety for a while, he might seem tired, here in the US, that is not at all the case. This is the same country that lets the state with the least amount of high school graduates dictate what our textbooks will be. So, bear that in mind the next time you think that Dawkins should ride off into the sunset. It doesn’t matter where he’s speaking, it only matters that he’s speaking. The wave of religious fervor in regards to the domination of secular education with religious gobbledegook (because intelligent design is not religious at all, and irreducible complexity is like, totally legit, and the maths say that the universe couldn’t possible have formed this way from the big bang, and so on and so forth) is no better for the rest of the world than the Islamification of asia and africa. It’s all going to end up with religious fanatics with their fingers on the button waiting for a sign from whatever god they worship telling them to smite the nonbelievers.

  • Sister Y says:

    “Dawkins, just like everyone else, is desperately searching for a metanarrative.” Yes, yes, yes! We all have desperate need of one! Too bad there isn’t one out there to find.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Hello Sister Y: you may well be right.

  • Cleo says:

    The trouble is, when your opponents are equally fanatical, you can’t withdraw from the engagement without the other side claiming victory. “Oooh, Dawkins stopped writing his column… it’s because he knows he’s wrong and our mythical divine being is great!” Just look at all the asshats who chimed in “guess he’ll know there’s a god soon enough” when Hitch died.

    It’s not like he’s tilting at windmills; there’s a real conflict here. Unfortunately, it’s a conflict more along the lines of a child with a flyswatter declaring he will rid the world of all flies: sure he’s going to smack the stuffing out of those that come near, but as long as his only weapon is the flyswatter, there will ALWAYS be more flies.

    • Frank Mason says:

      You can certainly withdraw if you are not fanatical, as many have done. The debate that Dawkins is engaged in is a shouting match between “evangelical” atheists and equally fanatical young earth creationists. A great number of people, be they agnosticts, theistic evolutionists or whatever, simply couldn’t be bothered to engage in the shouting, regardless of whether Dawkins or his opponents are claiming “victory”.

  • Anthony Drinkwater says:

    There’s nothing that philosophers shouldn’t do.

    Prestigious philosopher enters the ring to conquer world-famous geneticist and part-time god-slayer and what do we get but more ad-hominem body-blows than any world title fight. 
    First, the pre-fight Mohammed Ali style psychological attack : ”he’s just a has-been who’s been singing the same one-hit song for decades; in his day he was fine, but he’s been stuck on the same mono-rail for too long. It’s getting ridiculous”
    Then the punches to the body – one, two, three followed by the devastating upper-cut : ”he’s over-punching for his weight.”
    Then the rabbit-punch : ”he’s not really a fighter at all, just a guy subliminally searching for a lost metanarrative - get out of the ring, jerk! Don’t try to convince yourself that you’re a fighter. Go thunder against someone else.”
    Decision on points : an entertaining drawn contest.
    PS : the referee passed his drug test

    • david wilson says:

      Richard Dawkins has his work cut-out. There is only one Richard Dawkins who has perhaps another 50 years and there are still 2 billion Christians, let alone the other faiths. Will he save the world?

      • Philip Carpenter says:

        Pride goeth before the Fall, David. There may be only one Dawkins, but there is a Dennett, and there is a Harris …. also Krauss, Pinker, Fry …. one could fill the available space. Only in the last fifty years at most has there been a significant movement against the grip of religion. It has become groundswell and barring the fall of civilisation bue to interference by asteroid or eg Yellowstone Park, will see the continued diminishing of the mind-forg’d manacles that have held the race back for so long.

        • George Watson says:

          It would be wise for you, Mr. Carpenter, not to hitch your wagon of atheistic hope to Dennett or Harris or Krauss or Pinker…

          none of them are deep thinkers and little of what they have to say is of great, let alone, lasting value.

          Surely you can find someone more profound to be your champion.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Anthony: many thanks as ever. I hope that I wasn’t really ad hominem, but rather diagnostic. A diagnosis has to be expressed as relevant to a particular patient, and if the pathology is nasty, that has to be said. I have a genuine affection for RD. I think he’s an honest man and has done a much needed job.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Cleo: thank you, and well put. No: he’s not tilting at windmills. There’s a real job to be done. Perhaps, too, if he shut up it’d be construed by some of his opponents as capitulation. But not by anyone who was capable of being convinced by argument. Isn’t there something suggestively febrile about the fact and tone of his persistence?

  • Vincent says:

    I don’t get the impression that Dawkins is “searching for a metanarrative”. I think he found one a long time ago and is vigorously defending it. It’s evolution by natural selection. According to Dawkins it’s “the only show in town” (not sure that’s verbatim, but it’s more or less his conclusion in “The Greatest Show…”)

    As for the the recent piece on the King James Bible – he was invited to contribute by the Guardian, presumably because someone there has read ‘The God Delusion’ and recalled his warm words about the KJV’s literary merits. The piece is a response to the negative reaction of Grauniad readers to Michale Gove’s plans to send free copies of the KJV to every school in the land. I don’t think there’s any need to speculate further about his motives.

    You appear to be implying that he’s not so certain of his conclusions, even that he may secretly be wracked by doubts, whilst doing so in a way that allows you plausible deniability if someone calls you out on this. Suppose I was to speculate on your motives for writing this piece. Suppose I implied that Dawkins’ thrilling godlessness has disturbed you and so, to comfort yourself, you’ve constructed an argument based on what you imagine is really going on in his head. You want to convince yourself that he’s secretly looking for a greater “cosmic significance” (I’m NOT saying that this is actually the case). I imagine you’d think you have a better idea of what’s going on inside your head than I do, and I’d have to agree. In the same way I think Dawkins has a clearer idea of his motives that you do. When asked about his “obsession” with religion, he invariably answers along the lines that he’s obsessed with the truth. It must be pretty galling to be an expert in an area of science the reality of which is routinely denied by people who simply don’t know what they’re talking about. His “obsession”, by his own account, stems from this frustration. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable account of his motives to me. I see no reason to suppose he’s secretly looking for another answer, and every reason to believe he’s sincere when he denies this.

    “The lady doth protest too much” could be thrown at anyone with strongly-held beliefs. Consider dear old Rowan Williams. Could he secretly be an atheist and that’s why he’s always preaching? Might it be that he isn’t seeking to persuade others but rather himself? Well in a world as crazy as ours, I suppose it’s just possible that the Archbishop and/or Dawkins might secretly harbour their doubts despite their apparent commitments, but it seems far more likely to me that they both genuinely mean what they say.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Vincent. Many thanks.
    Yes, all of RD’s writings scream: ‘There’s one metanarrative: natural selection. It explains everything.’
    I’m not implying that he’s not so certain of his conclusions: I’m asserting and arguing it.
    Your conclusions on my motives for writing the piece might well, for all I know, be right. All psychoanalytical help gratefully received. Most of my good friends have a far better idea of what I’m about than I have.
    Sure, ‘the lady doth protest too much’ has wide application. But not, I think, to Rowan Williams. He’s got a healthy and fecund relationship with doubt.

    • Chris says:

      I just had to chime in at this.

      RD’s writings do not scream that natural selection explains everything, unless “everything” really means “biology and the behavior of biological organisms”.
      Also the Rowan Williams section leads me to believe that you haven’t read Dawkin’s The God Delusion, otherwise you’d know that RD always leaves room for doubt! Williams is so certain that he even picked a specific denomination of Christianity with its own creeds and dogmas. If he is as filled with doubt as you contend how could he do that?

  • Vincent says:

    Charles

    Indeed, you weren’t “implying” anything. I was trying not to sound too strident. ‘To imply’ is more gentle than ‘to argue’!

    Just to clarify, I wasn’t really speculating about your motives – I was trying to show why I thought speculating about others’ motives was unhelpful. It’s generous of you to concede that my hypothetical conjecture regarding your motives “might…be right”, but the point I was trying to make is that it could just as easily be wrong (in fact I’d want to say “is more likely to be wrong”), and that you’ll know better than me about what motivated you. By extension, I’d say that Dawkins’ own account of his motives is, with all due respect, more credible than yours.

    I agree about Rowan Williams – he was a poor example for me to use, but you take the more general point I think. In much the same way that you have a “genuine affection” for RD, I’m rather fond of Rowan Williams. I’d much rather share, say, a train journey with him than with Richard Dawkins! I have many objections to Dawkins’ arguments, but I don’t doubt his sincerity. In your reply to another poster you describe him as “an honest man”, so I guess you agree with me. Perhaps you’re arguing that Dawkins has subconscious doubts about his atheism…?

  • Charles Foster says:

    Vincent: many thanks. I know you weren’t speculating about my motives. But my response was intended to show (or at least say), that our critics sometimes know more about us than we know about ourselves. That’s certainly been my experience of the more perceptive reviewers of my books.
    Yes, I take Dawkins to be a sincere, honest man. We don’t have access to all our own layers. I was seeking to suggest that at some level (no doubt inacessible to him), he’s uncomfortable with the creed he’s so eloquently preached for decades. Hence his shrill dogmatism.

    • Jonathan West says:

      He’s only called shrill by those who oppose him. And they call him shrill to distract people from the fact that they cannot or will not address the substance of his arguments.

      On several occasions, when a Christian commentator has made comment to the effect that Dawkins is shrill, I’ve challenged him to describe instead in what way Dawkins is wrong. Specifically, I have asked them to analyse chapter 4 of The God Delusion, “Why there almost certainly is no god” and explain what errors of fact or logic Dawkins has made which render his conclusion unsound.

      Nobody has yet taken up the challenge. Would you care to have a try?

      • Andrew Mole says:

        My impression is that Keith Ward addressed it quite well – “Why there almost certainly is a God”. I would assume that you disagree, though. Still, I would say that if you start off by assuming that the materially measurable is the only substance, then of course you come to RD’s conclusion. Of course, I cannot prove my conclusions by those standards, any more than Keith Ward can.

        PS KJV in schools – not much good from a Christian perspective either. Koine English please!

      • George Watson says:

        “Why there is certainly no god”

        What an odd statement to make.

        Do you or do you not believe that there is a God – Mr. Dawkins ?

        No hedging, do you trust all your strongly held “knowledge” in genetics/evolution or not ?

        If you do not, then don’t blame people who wish to believe – despite all your claims of evidence of it not being the case -

        that there could be a Divine Creator who is far, far, far, far wiser than any of us and who, alone, knows what is best for us

        and whose ways and means are a mystery rightfully withheld from us mere humans.

        How is that Mr. West ?

  • Charles Foster says:

    Re shrillness: not at all. He’s called shrill by lots of people, myself included, who agree entirely with the motive and basic premise of his crusade.
    Re the substance of his arguments: as I pointed out in the original post, he’s an embarrassment to professional biologists. I’ve not met one who doesn’t cringe at his dogmatism. As to all the peripheral stuff, (which he says are corollaries of his presumption that the universe is as simply explained as he says it is by his outdated pastiche of neo-Darwinism), he’s got some very good points, engagingly made.
    Chapter 4 of the GD is cracking stuff. I don’t agree with it all. Some of the reasons are set out in my book ‘The Selfless Gene’. To enlarge on the reasons here would be to wander wildly beyond the scope of the blog. But I might just have a go at it elsewhere.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Jonathan: Everyone I can think of. It’s mainly, true, the testimony of what they don’t say – often for fear of being thought a covert creationist. Get them off duty, off the record, and the confessions come pouring out. Ball back in your court: can you thnk of anyone working at the frontiers of evolutionary biology who’s said: ‘Yep: RD fairly and fully reflects the nuanced multi-valency of modern ideas about how biological complexity is generated’? Anyway, there’s a good summary of the consensus, with references to the supporting authorities, in the essays by Peter Godfrey-Smith and Elizabeth Lloyd in the Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Jonathan. Looking forward to your list. In the meantime you might find interesting the references in the essays to which I referred you.

    • Jonathan West says:

      Why should i produce a list? You’re the one who has made claims that RD embarrasses biologists. Justify that claim.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Please read the references I gave you.

  • Sam Meyerson says:

    Methinks Mr. Foster himself doth protest too much. Perhaps this is out of envy, since Dawkins’ books sell better than his.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Very possibly true, Sam. I’ve acknowledged that I have very limited insight into my own motives.

  • Sam Meyerson says:

    It is remarkable and indeed fortunate then, Charles, that you apparently have better insight into Dawkins’ motives.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Fortunate, Sam, but not particularly remarkable. As you’ll have seen discussed in the thread above, it’s a very common experience for writers (and it is certainly mine), that critics see more than we do of our own motives for saying things.

  • Sam Meyerson says:

    Fascinating! How can this be ascertained, I wonder?

  • Charles Foster says:

    Just like lots, if not most, of the really important things, it can’t – in the sense that you’re hinting.

  • Sam Meyerson says:

    Even more curious! So is the claim entirely baseless? Presumably there is *some* reason behind your assertion, no? What might that be?

    • Jonathan West says:

      The usual case is wishful thinking – wanting something to be so and therefore believing that it is so.

  • Charles Foster says:

    If you choose to think so, Sam.
    Welcome back, Jonathan. No doubt I’m just as, if not more guilty of wishful thinking than the next man.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Joe: many thanks. You’re right, my perspective is distortingly Anglo-Centric, and it would be wonderful if RD could make headway in the US.

  • Joe Bonar says:

    I don’t want to bicker or get into a lengthy discussion about this because I’m likely to never see this page again, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that because some biologists will say off the record that they don’t agree with every little thing Dawkins says is good cause to claim that Dawkins is necessarily preaching a bastard biology (paraphrasing). Now, if anyone thinks that any one person is out preaching the absolute orthodoxy of any scientific field I think you’ll find plenty of people to say that they’re not. So really, I think the argument is invalid in that there is no orthodoxy for ANY science. Turns out that gravity moves faster than light, we thought the speed of light was the universal speed limit for decades, now we know we’re wrong. That’s what makes science great, that it continually changes to reflect a new understanding of our universe, so to say that Dawkins is somehow doing a disservice to biology, I would say that is largely incorrect. To say that he has not kept up with research as well as a biologist currently working on several grants, yeah, I mean, come on. That’s like saying that it’s a shame George Foreman doesn’t get back in the ring, or that Michael Jordan doesn’t lace up for another season. When you get older you get to relax a bit, and in Dawkins’ case that means he doesn’t have to spend all evening reading research papers and journals just so he can get up and counter the same exact arguments over and over and over and over. If your job is to deal with rats, and you haven’t had any new species of rats introduced to your environment, then why change the way you get rid of the rats if that way already works and does so efficiently?

    Ok, so yeah, he’s more extreme in his professions than you fancy. Great. You’ve actually bothered to consider his position; there are millions of people who haven’t. Telling him to go quietly into that good night is completely counterproductive towards the goal of educating people about the current state of biological knowledge. He’s not out there to bolster atheists, or raise awareness of new and innovative techniques regarding the relationships of various genes, he’s there to tell people “Hey, your bible is a book that contains some things that aren’t true, namely, the biological stuff, this is a much better and more practical line of reasoning that is backed up by evidence and research relying on testable hypotheses that have been confirmed through repeated tests showing us that we can make these basic claims, you should stop acting like it’s not true because you’re wrong.” And this isn’t directed at everyone. If you’re religious and you believe that the evolutionary theory is correct, then awesome, go about your life, but if you think that the earth was created 6-10,000 years ago via magic and that we all descended from Adam and Eve, then you should really pay attention because there’s some stuff you probably haven’t seen or considered that you really ought to. Sure, when he says it, it doesn’t sound like that, but if you had to keep arguing with people who didn’t believe in electromagnetism do you really think you’d be presenting your ideas in a moderate fashion? Or how about geologists who have to counter ideas like hollow earth or an expanding earth (you should youtube that one, it’s awesome, also, there’s the electric universe, and so on). You can only argue that the sun is up for so long before you have to grab the person by the face, point it up at the sun and punch them when they refuse to acknowledge that the sun exists (unless they’re blind, then, really, I mean, that’s just mean) (also, I don’t mean up as in the direction, I mean up as in at this moment we can see the sun.. well, for me I can’t because it’s almost 2:30 in the morning, but for you brits the sun should be out).

    Anyways, I liked the article, just not the ideas… I hope you don’t take that negatively, I mean it as positively as possible.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Joe: thank you again. For the avoidance of doubt I think that RD has done a great deal of good. I’m on his side in relation to many things. My problem is with his oversimplification of complex things, coupled with his dogmatism. These, of course, are the main besetting sins of the religious fundamentalists with whom he shares such a lot ideologically, and without whom he would be nothing. If you’re going to insist as loudly as he does that there’s only one paradigm, I’d have thought that there’s an obligation to represent fully and fairly what the mainstream says about that paradigm – if only to say that he disagrees with their views. He’s got a fanatically loyal following am0ngst people who aren’t professional scientists and who are unable to insert the necessary caveats into his soundbites. Lots of people are being misled. Sure, it’s less harmful to be misled by him than to be misled by a benighted Southern Baptist pastor. But he should have higher standards than the pastor. His acolytes deserve better.

    • Jonathan West says:

      This is all a bit vague. Could you give an example of his oversimplification of something, quoting the specific words used? Similarly some point where you feel he has been inappropriately dogmatic, also providing a specific quote.

      Without that, there’s no means of knowing what you mean and whether you are being reasonable.

  • Charles Foster says:

    Jonathan: hello again. Since I’m off on holiday for half term, I’ll just have to refer you, narcissistically and unsatisfactorily, to my book ‘The Selfless Gene’, where you’ll find an emetic glut of examples.

  • Charles Foster says:

    The sort of thing I was thinking of, though, was RD’s failure to acknowledge the problem for his neo-Darwinian monolithism of the whole area of epigenetics. Lamarck’s easing back.

  • Julian Bennett says:

    Charles, I found your comment on Dawkin’s media post does not engage with any of the content of that post and had little to do with “practical ethics.” This is a shame because there is plenty of content in Dawkin’s media comment that concerns practical ethics . Dawkin’s claims that:

    “People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality… The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.”

    The above claim is supported by some good old fashioned biblical guides to morality such as stoning people who work on Sabbath, being willing to kill your son if you believe that you have been commanded to do so from your God that are at odds with what the most sane people would count as morally acceptable behaviour.

    That is Dawkin’s argument – but you don’t touch it. Instead of engagement we have a series of character attacks. This was initially entertaining, because I didn’t think you were serious, but now it is boorish.

    You mention that you are not aware of what your own motives are, and others may understand them better than yourself. Perhaps you are indirectly communicating that you have a personal problem with Dawkin’s? It is true that what he says offends many people’s cherished beliefs. There are many people who really want it to be true that there is an all powerful, all good, immaterial person, that is watching over them and listening to their prayers. Dawkin’s continually points out the absurdity of such beliefs.

    This attitude to religious belief could be the topic of a practical ethics post. How should we treat those who hold beliefs that appear absurd and contrary to known evidence? What should our attitude be to religious beliefs if they are useful fictions? Should they still form part of our educational process?

    Instead of a discussion on practical ethics there is a continuation of the character attacks on Dawkins – only this time without the wit. So now Dawkin’s is an embarrassment to professional biologists. This is because sSome philosophers of biology (like the one’s you cited) disagree with him over the view of natural selection popularised by Dawkins way back in the seventies. [That is not really a convincing argument that Dawkin's is generally held to be an embarrassment to other biologists]

    However this digression, like the opening post, has nothing to do with practical ethics, and it is not even funny.

    I come here to read posts on practical ethics.

  • Khalid Jan says:

    There appears to be a thin ethics oriented stream in Charles’ observation of Dawkin. Take for example Charlie Sheen: since loosing his role in Two And A Half Men, his name often appears in various news headlines. Why? Simply because of ‘his desire for personal recognition.’ If he refrains from making ‘irrational,’ ‘foolish’ and ‘wild’ statements, he will basically evaporate from the minds of people. Similar is Dawkin’s situation: in an ocean where ‘new minds’ are surfacing almost every second, he has to find something – be it unrelated to his profession – to preserve his recognition. This loss of recognition, is what I believe Charles is attempting to highlight: “If he stopped preaching, maybe he’d just disintegrate.”

  • sandra delemare says:

    Brilliant! I’ve long thought that Dawkins does protest too much. As if, if he says it long enough and often enough, he’ll believe it himself.

    • Philip Carpenter says:

      Translation:

      “I am gratified to read something which agrees with my prejudices regarding Professor Dawkins; these include the suggestion that the professor is suffiently insincere regarding some of his own pronouncements that he needs to reinforce those pronouncements by excessive repetition.”

      A mind such as yours should be kept away from the subject of ethics.

  • Tim Mason says:

    If you really wanted to talk about the relationship between narrative and ethics, you could have taken on Strawson, who is highly skeptical, or Macfarlane, who argues that in many parts of the world, narrative is seen as something for children, and of no concern to grown-ups, or Tilly, who, despite a love of good stories, argued very strongly that they should be cast aside if we want to see how the world really works.

    But I think you actually just wanted to be catty about Dawkins.

  • Jonathan da Silva says:

    Why does someone write a load of rubbish professing to know something of others motivations and ideas. As usual when people reach of ad hominem mockery we can safely assume they have no arguments. This author would not publicly debate in this stylised stupid manner so why waste a blog. That you’ve written half the comments reflects negatively as well. You dare not debate a point Dawkins makes but mock him and try to ram it down anyone who comments.

    You have no arguments but fear not rhetoric and anti intellectualism are the modern meme (a term coined by Dawkins I believe).

  • Eugene says:

    Dawkins arrogant???

    Not like those religious people then, who know the mind of God, who know why we are here, the point of it all, why the universe was created, what happens to us after death, what the point of hell is, why God created us, what are rewards and punishments will be, who the real God is, what the point of life is, why we should worship God, why God needs our prayers, etc., etc.

    • Andrew Mole says:

      Arrogance is definitely bad. The Bible has some good quotes on it. You will find certainty of the knowledge of God’s motives there too. Perhaps you think that Jesus is arrogant. But then, if he is who he said he was, then that is not arrogance, which is claiming authority that you don’t have.

      That seems to be RD’s position too. Charles, do you think it would be right to assign a Messianic complex to RD?

  • Anna Romano says:

    jOE bONAR – ER. Sorry to destroy your illusions about Islamists having THIER fingers on the buttons- it’s more like us
    Who used those fingers in WW2?

  • Anna Romano says:

    JO – you are far, far too long winded, we know what you are trying to say.
    Clare actually has a point
    It seesm like you consider Dawkins an athiest saint. ha ! ha! That’s the whole point of the article

  • G Campbell says:

    This will wind up the much more intelligent and rational atheists, but what they and Dawkins forget is that you can’t argue God out of existence. As C.S. Lewis said, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

    Right I’m off with my irrational spiritual experiences back to YouTube

    • Philip Carpenter says:

      Wind us up? No, dear boy. Arguments with no meaning will not affect us unduly – we do not attempt to argue that which does not exist out of existence. That would be futile, would it not? We attempt to point out that no-one has yet provided any credible evidence that the fantasies of the religious, or ‘spiritual’, if you must use that affectation, are anything but wish-thinking.

      I hereby acknowledge that this thread has deteriorated from its original purpose and suggest that it should be archived, before someone starts adding videos.

  • Charles James Jaggers says:

    Obviusly the writer does not like Prof Dawkins. Richard Dawkins has consistantly spoken his truth quietly and plainly over the years and has written many informative books. I find what he has to say refreshing in it’s honesty. All religion is based on lies I am glad that we have people like Richard Dawkins who stand up for the truth.

    • George Watson says:

      How do you know, without any scintilla of doubt that all religion is based upon lies ?

  • John Gill says:

    Hello, sorry to jump in late on this discussion, my apologies if this is not deemed proper.

    One issue that seems to have been skirted here is validity of an ethical standpoint. Should an ethical opinion be discounted because of the philosophy on which it is based? I would argue that RD, religious fundamentalists and all other shades inbetween, are equally entitled to promote their own ethical standpoints. Trying to argue that a particular philosophy is right or wrong seems an ultimately fruitless exercise, even though the debate may be interesting.

    It’s like trying to argue whether our universe is the only universe or one of many. Mathematic and scientific arguments can be made for both sides (so I believe, I confess my maths and science skills halt abruptly at A level). Since the premise is impossible to verify either way by empirical observation, the point is moot.

    If we are to endorse the idea that there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ philosophies, I believe this would be a dangerous path to tread. Every person has the right to choose their own philosophy. Although if it is a particularly psychotic philosophy, they would be made to pursue it in a straight jacket and a padded cell. Learning to co-exist peacefully and constructively with those who don’t agree with our philosophy is, in my opinion, part of what makes us human. I make this point to myself primarily, because I find RD’s “shout loudly at those who disagree with you” approach distasteful. I recognise it would be rash and arrogant of me to discount his arguments for this reason. His philosophy is no less valid than mine.

    • Andrew Mole says:

      Dear Mr Gill, your statement that “his philosophy is no less valid than mine” must be wrong if we are to believe in truth, which RD certainly does. The problem with where your last statement leads is that we become our own measures and we have no way of judging a Pol Pot or Manson. On what basis do you decide that one person should end up in a padded cell? I would agree that I cannot be sure that my philosophy is more valid than his, and that I should live peacefully with him as far as it is possible, but I still have to decide on what basis to live my life, and that requires a philosophy that sees value in itself relative to others, and society has to define one as well.

      • John Gill says:

        Dear Mr Mole, you are right, if each of us were to to be governed solely on our own philosophy, we would descend into anarchy. Development of a stable civilisation requires a corporate ethic that all are prepared to be bound by. It is on this basis that we are able to identify and deal with the Pol Pots and Mansons. It would be an interesting aside to discuss the history and development of ‘The Law’, to see how different cultures apply a corporate ethic.

        Your comment “if we are to believe in truth” is an interesting one. Truth, by which I assume you mean anything that is empirically verifiable by scientific observation, is not something that requires belief. It simply is. Whether an individual chooses to accept truth or not is merely an indicator of their own (ir)rationality. However, I think I understand where you may be coming from. There are truths “out there” that are as-yet unknown or unobserved. In the absence of the aforementioned scientific observation, these ‘truths’ do require belief, or faith. My philosophy encompasses the idea that, in addition to the ‘as-yet unobserved’, there are truths that are unobservable, unknowable. As such, faith and belief can sit beside a scientific understanding of the universe without contradiction. The recent discovery of the Higgs boson has only served to reinforce this part of my philosophy. Far from writing the final chapter on the standard model of particle physics, this discovery has only just allowed us to open the book. The more we learn about our amazing universe, the more we find we don’t yet know.

  • Larry Katz says:

    Off course Professor Dawkins continues to be angry. He continues to be angry not because he doubts his message, but because he sees that the human race continues to head over a cliff.

    • charles jaggers says:

      People will believe in fantasy and stick to their beliefs no matter how ridiculous the seem ie. Scientology .evangelical christians,Dan Browne theories,Incas predicting the end of the world and countless other delusional beliefs that take the believer away from his real down to earth problems.

    • George Watson says:

      Larry,

      The human race has long, long, long, long, long been heading off a cliff.

      The grandiose self-indulgence that the young seemed to have genetically inherited is going to lead to what ?

      Dawkins can say whatever he wants – their self-indulgence mocks all of his words.

  • John Gill says:

    Charles – I agree with you about the down to earth problems. A philosophy that does not provide ‘real world’ benefits for human society, in my opinion does not seem a worthwhile philosophy.

    It’s worth noting that fantasy and belief are not the sole reserve of the religious extremists and nutjobs either. Throughout the history of science, some theories have been shown to be accurate, some have been discredited. Until properly peer-reviewed, observable, repeatable proof can be shown, any scientific theory is just that, a theory that some believe in and some don’t.

    Before Faraday did his work on electromagnetics, the prevailing understanding amongst the scientific community was that magnetism moved in straight lines through a material they called ‘aether’. Faraday believed they moved in circles, and that there was no such thing as aether. He was laughed at. But he was right, and devised an experiment to prove it. Now all electromagnetic understanding is built on the fact that magnetic fields (a term that faraday coined) move in circles, and aether has long been consigned to the scientific graveyard as A Bad Idea.

    To argue that all today’s theories must be correct because we are now so much cleverer than we were back in Faraday’s time belies a scientific arrogance that actually holds back human understanding and development. We need people who challenge received wisdom from time to time, because some of them might actually be right.

    • George Watson says:

      John,

      A) Faraday was great.

      B) Modern Scientists, or at least the ones that long to be in front of the cameras – desperately need a large dose of humility.

      • Philip Carpenter says:

        George,

        Having read all of your recent comments, I conclude that your guiding thoughts are
        less to do with academic rigour than the thinly disguised urge to discredit those whose views challenge your security. There is also an element of hypocrisy in your posts – you challenge the ability of others to determine wisdom, yet make your own claims to what is wise.
        Your thinking is incomplete, something I find common to those receptive to religious superstitions.

        • George Watson says:

          Sorry Philip,

          I did not know, nor was I told, you were the lone arbiter of all that is wise and that you alone decide what has
          academic rigour and what does not.

          I asked what would count as evidence and how someone would know that all statements of a certain type are lies.

          I praised the postings of a those whom I believe have said something important – whether you grant it to be important
          or not does not matter.

          Continue to be wise unto your own conceits and continue to do so as long as you wish but you will not change the way
          the Universe is, nor what most humans think or believe – you, like Dawkins, presume that because you hold something
          to be true – it must be true and so you think your thoughts are complete – something I find common to those who worship
          the man-made Idol of Science.

          • Philip Carpenter says:

            George, I have to resort to the ad hominem; you are a pompous ass, incapable of seeing the shortcomings of your own arguments even when they are pointed out to you. Mind you, the combination of sarcasm and strawman argument is amusing.

            However, I’ll try to enlighten you further: the fact that a large majority hold a view is more often than not an indication of that view’s indadequacy. It is a very poor guarantee of truth. Philosophically, it cannot be accepted as a serious argument at all. Indeed , it is naiive and childish.

            Your second straw man – “you will not change the way the Universe is”; I made no reference to this possibility, nor even hinted at it. This is more illustrative of your thinking than of mine. You are clearly attempting to shore up your own doubts by refuting an arument that was not made. Poor discourse.

            Your third straw man – “you will not change the way the Universe is…”; again, I made no such assertion. This is all YOUR presumption, based on your antipathy to the views you assume that I hold. To clear it up for you, I seek no change in the universe; I look to see how the universe presents itself. I observe; I do not try to interpret what I see through the lens of primitive superstition, dogma of wish-thinking.

            I suspect your true appearance is something akin to the tub-thumping of the archetypal American Evangelist. The thin veneer of intellectual academia is cracking, old chap.

            • Andrew Mole says:

              Dear Philip (it seems that we are now on first name terms), I would be surprised if the thinking of any of us was complete, but of course, we generally assume that ours is more complete than that of the people we are debating with. You and George are starting off from different assumptions. If there is a God that interacts with humanity in some way, then your dismissal of his position as “dogma of wish-thinking” may well be wrong (although not necessarily so, of course). Similarly, if the world that we can measure is all that there is, then of course George’s position must be some form of superstition (although not necessarily primitive). It may not be possible to “prove” this one way or the other, although, certainly, some positions held by archetypal American Evangelists have a very good chance of being wrong if the world is really causal and rational and if there isn’t a perverse God up there playing tricks.

              So, will you admit that your thinking must be incomplete, just as everyone else’s is?

              • Philip Carpenter says:

                I have never claimed that it was otherwise. I therefore have no admission to make.

                You (and others) have to move away from the position that the products of the imaginations of past primitive peoples has to be regarded as a legitmate starting point for discussion. It does not, unless you wish to give serious discussion time to fairies, Roswell aliens and the planet Xenu.

                You must know already that it is not possible to prove a negative in these circumstances, nor is it a sound intellectual position from which to argue.

            • George Watson says:

              Philip, I am glad that I amuse you – seems that I am the only one on the blog who does.

              Actually the “crowd” whether intellectuals like it or not, seem to have a better handle on the truth
              than any individuals. This is a blog on Ethics and Ethics, as Aristotle reminds us has to do with what
              Society holds to be just/worthy so dismissing the “crowd” out of hand will not do the work you wish that it would do.

              As for changing the way the universe is or what the vast majority of people believe – the way Dawkins and you
              make your points is not effective – the Universe, whether you want it to or not will go on and on and people will
              find meaning where they choose to find meaning and for the vast majority of humans it is not in worshiping at the
              “Idol of Science”.

              You claim to be a Rationalist – as such you know that you can be mistaken, and if we add up the historical examples
              of scientists and mathematicians being mistaken – they are far more instances of being mistaken than being correct
              and under present day scientific theory we should assume that all scientific judgements are imperfect.
              You say you do not interpret through the lens of primitive superstitions, dogma or wish-thinking.
              Hmm: What about modern superstitions ? Scientific Dogmas ? And your own wish that people would give up
              anti-rationalism ? Seems you must have some of those since you say that you observe – but surely you have not
              carried out every experiment that you trust in and done a statistical study that gave you a confidence interval you
              trusted in – oops – that is right all Science ask that you trust in certain levels of confidence intervals…hardly pure
              rationality at work there…

              I have never thumped a tub in my life.
              As for American Evangelists…perhaps a good old Revival Meeting might do your soul good.

              I checked the status of my veneer of intellectual Academia – seems to be doing quite well.

              You never answered why you say – presuming it was the Bible or at least New Testament – is discredited.

              While I don’t care for the ‘snarkiness’ of your comments, to quote the students, I do like your style of writing.

            • Philip Carpenter says:

              For the second instance of “you will not change the way the Universe is”, please read “you think your thoughts are complete ” …. drat. Copy-paste error and a lack of proof-reading. Sorry about that.

  • Jason says:

    “It’s the familiar stuff: a fluent, funny, whingeing litany of jibes about genocidal Israelites, filicidal Gods and benighted Tennessean Creationists. We’ve all heard it all before, of course. Dawkins has become a hackneyed national treasure” I think maybe from my POV people like Dawkins are boring if only for the reason that seem intentionally controversial. However I think if you look at all of his thinking there is more than the usual “litany”, but is it worth drudging through the surface negativity which Dawkins projects in order to find new ideas? Probably not for me personally. I find Dawkins need to preach is ….well… too needy for my tastes.

  • Prof. Rudi Affolter says:

    Richard does it in the hope of shaking people out of these crazy, primitive superstitions. We are living in the age of science and rationality. I challenge the religious to produce just one iota of empirically, testable evidence of the existence. You cannot, because religion is based on “faith” as you yourselves always admit and assert. Science is testable producing valid results.

    • John Gill says:

      Richard is clearly passionate about his mission of shaking people out of their “crazy, primitive superstitions” of that there is no question. But, as highlighted by Charles Foster in the original post, RD’s approach only serves to increase the resistance of such people against the very thing he is trying to enlighten them to. Whilst he is championed by those who agree with his atheistic viewpoint, he is derided by those who don’t.

      I would say we have been living in the age of science ever since the first person picked up a flint and fashioned an axe out of it. Science is a constantly evolving discipline. Rationalism is relative. Some things educated scientists considered rational 150 years ago (aether, anyone?) is now recognised as nonsense. Who is to say that 5 years from now, someone may discover that there’s no such thing as dark matter, it was just an anomaly thrown up by an inaccurate mathematical assumption? The point is, we don’t know.

      People ‘of a religious persuasion’ are prepared to accept that there could be a God outside that which is observable by humankind. As has been pointed out by a number of people on this thread already, proof of the existence or non-existence of something beyond the realms of measurable science is impossible. Trying to use a scientific debate to settle the matter, to my mind, is a waste of time.

      I think that RD’s mission would be better served by encouraging people to question why they have the need to believe in something that cannot be empirically tested. This seems to me to be the root of the issue. If my understanding of RD’s philosophy is correct, he asserts that to be rational, one cannot accept something which cannot be scientifically observed or measured.

      My problem with his viewpoint is that there are facts about our universe we do not yet have the technology to observe or measure. This applies equally to sub-atomic particle physics as well as the far reaches of the universe. I suggest these facts are no less real despite not having been measured by science. (I have deliberately sidestepped the whole existential argument “if a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound if no-one is there to hear it?” which is another philosophical line of debate entirely.)

      No matter how far our scientific technology advances, I would argue that we can never learn everything about our universe (my subjective opinion, granted). There will always be something else to discover. Whether or not a God exists beyond the reaches of human science does not impact the furtherance of our understanding of universe. I puzzle as to why RD thinks it does.

  • charles jaggers says:

    Only those who hate truth hate the great Richard Dawkins.He has the courage to tell it how it is. There is subjective truth “I had a feeling on the way to Damascus.” or empirical truth ” all black sheep are black.” Richard deals in the empirical kind . He doesn’t give the religionists room for their fantasies that’s why they hate him.He takes away their crutches.

  • HeatherTN (@braintumourlady) says:

    “Only those who hate truth hate the great Richard Dawkins.He has the courage to tell it how it is. There is subjective truth “I had a feeling on the way to Damascus.” or empirical truth ” all black sheep are black.” Richard deals in the empirical kind . He doesn’t give the religionists room for their fantasies that’s why they hate him.He takes away their crutches.”

    Are you not aware of how like some of the ‘religionists’ you sound?

    As an ‘ignorant, delusional, unintelligent, backward thinking ‘religionist’ or as I prefer to be known, a person of faith (hang on to your hats boys! A Mormon to boot!)’ I find all this arrogant posturing a bit annoying from those who supposedly are so much more intelligent and reasonable than myself.

    Contrary to popular belief, some of us ‘religionists’ can read, write, go to the loo by ourselves and be able to cross the street safely, Employ reason, live in the real world, employ logic when it is required etc. Not all of us engage in wars or brainwashing our children. Hell, some of us even for instance (and please don’t pass out at this!) LIKE AND INDULGE IN SCIENCE!!! SOME OF US EVEN HAVE A UNIVERSITY DIPLOMA/DEGREE/MA/PhD in SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINES! Wow! Now there’s a revelation, oops, sorry didn’t mean to use such a swear word on the Sabbath!

    My point which I know I am not making terribly well is that, I don’t care if someone wishes to argue the toss about atheism or not, but what I object to from *any* stance is to be considered ignorant, delusional or abusive because I choose to believe in a deity. It is MY choice and one that has come from a lot of thought, experience and investigation.

    Dawkins can object to religion as much as he likes, that is his right, privilege and world view, to write books etc about how wrong we are etc. But he does NOT have the right to make out that we are ignorant imbeciles that belong in cages, or preferably somehow made extinct as contaminants.

    Truth or no truth, his stance sounds like that of past persons who would rather incite a war, than look at ways of finding peace and understanding. He is like most humans of his ilk (religious or not) who prefer to dominate rather than find common ground and purpose.

    One would do better to look towards a young American chap called Chris Stedman, an atheist who is reaching out to find a common ground between the religious and atheist communities. This man is promoting an idea that while we *wil* disagree, we can do so politely, by looking at what is in common, not what divides and maybe have a better respect for each other as a result.

    That surely is the more *intelligent* and grown up approach, which the shouters and haters on both sides would do better to emulate.

    • Philip Carpenter says:

      Wrong on so many counts, Heather. Much of what Charles Jaggers says is empirically true.

      Being a ‘person of faith’ is not something wehich gains respect; it means that you are prepared to believe the unbelieveable in the absence of any reliable supporting evidence. That makes the other accusations quite valid – it is quite arguably delusional, backward thinking and voluntarily ignorant. Being a mormon also works against you. To believe the utter nonsense that Joseph Smith – a known and convicted con-man – promulgated is worse than the average delusion.

      Your uneccessarily sarcastic outburst is pointless. It argues for nothing except the human ability to run two sets of books, or more.

      Your statement regarding choice is also pointless. So what if it is your choice to believe in a deity? All that says to a rational person is that you regard is your own choice to run your own set of delusions. Again – so what?

      Dawkins has every right to accuse the religious of being ignorant and delusional. In terms of what is KNOWN, it is the most rational description of religious activity. AND, you poor emotional creature, Dawkins has never even hinted that the religious “belong in cages, or preferably somehow made extinct as contaminants”. And why should we, who regard your religious activities as stunting the development of an entire species, treat you with respect? What you do, what you claim to be true, what you attempt to poison the minds of succeeding generations with is, as far as the rational are concerned, one of the greatest untruths the race has to contend with.

      It is not intelligent and mature to afford respect to those who choose to turn back to the frightened, ignorant, bleating childhood of our species. How would you treat a 30-year-old who wanted to stay in kindergarten?

    • charles jaggers says:

      I hate no-one but I wont and don’t think that anyone else should put up with religionists presenting their myths as actual truth. This. what Richard speaks out against.

  • HeatherTN (@braintumourlady) says:

    Thank you for your reply. It confirms my original suspicion of your lack of ability for empathy and desire to understand, only to push your own version of what actually is intolerance in the name of ‘rational thinking’.

    The 30 year old not wanting the kindergarden?

    I would treat them with gentleness, compassion gently take their hand and try to reassure them that no matter what they believed, or not, or no matter how they see the world, they are as equally precious and unique. I would allow them to learn and have self determination. I would tell them of my belief and allow them to make up their own minds but to treat those around them with respect and love. I certainly wouldn’t call them delusional, and tell them that there is a section of society not worthy of respect. Sound familiar? It should but apparently according to you and others, I do not have that capacity.

    Sadly it seems, you lack the very same capacity for seeing past your own prejudice and claiming only you can be correct. So really you are no different to the ‘delusional’ people you rail against. I remain unconvinced of your particular argument, because even empiricism can and does have it’s limits. Time to go back to being delusional and ignorant me thinks. Funny that though, most of my friends, religious, atheist, whatever, think I have a brain in my head that words rather well.

    • Philip Carpenter says:

      What a saint you are ….

      And would you allow that 30-year old who preferred the kindergarten to educate the next generation? Or run the country? How about re-wire your house?

      You miss much of the point – which is that I do not HAVE any prejudice; only the religious can be said to have prejudice. They have already decided what IS, despite having no evidence upon which to base their decision.
      I make affirmative claims only for what can be seen and verified, not for my imaginings or the imaginings of others – especially Bronze Age goatherds and 19th century con-men.

      Instead of reacting emotionally to my comments, read them again from an entirely rational position, if you are capable of it. Of course I am different to the delusionals – I don’t accept dogma and wish-thinking. And your brain may work ‘rather well’ in all other repects, but your mind is limited by your beliefs QED.

    • charles jaggers says:

      You talk about empathy but obviously do not understand what it means . Empathy is when a person can learn to walk in another’s shoes . It’s about connections between people. All I want to make clear is that myth is not fact. I do not respect anyone who peddles myth as fact many wars have been started by that attitude. For example the master race ,chosen people demonising women , gays ,races etc.etc. To have a decent world we need clarity.People can believe what they like as long as they do not portray it as objective fact and bibles ,Korans whatever as the absolute word of god.I would class anyone who believed that as delusional or at the very least misguided. They would be in my view someone who has committed intellectual suicide. You can’t communicate with that type of person unfortunately.There is no evidence that an entity called god ever existed.You can believe that he did but do not put it in a science lesson because it would be a lie.

  • George Watson says:

    Philip – everyone’s mind is limited by their beliefs, you just happen to hold your beliefs in higher esteem than Heather TN’s.

    Charles – people start wars because they want to – if they cannot find an religious reason to do so, they will find an economic one
    to do so.

    “There is no evidence that an entity called God ever existed”

    Well what counts for evidence ? That someone in the past said they had an encounter with God
    or does God have to take on the appearance of having a Physical Body in order for His existence to count as evidence ?

    “You can believe that He did but do not put that in a science lesson because it would be a lie”

    Can we presume that when someone “lies” that they clearly know the truth and that they clearly know they
    are not telling the truth and that their intention is to deceive the listener ?

    If so, can we then say ‘Falsehood” would be better than a Lie, unless the person really did not believe in God
    but still wanted to deceive people and so wrote what you hold they should not into a Science lesson ?

  • Philip Carpenter says:

    I haven’t dealt with your last post yet, George … however …. here you are introducing uneccessary sophistry.

    Yes, by definition, minds are limited by beliefs. What matters then is the extent of that limitation. The mind of the rationalist is in general open to new information and makes only working assumptions pending any better explanations that are found. The minds of the religious are closed in one rather important direction, which they compund with all sorts of peripheral nonsense.

    Your other questions are bordering on the nonsensical – you cannot have evidence of non-existence, now can you? And it is not reasonable to discuss this deity for whose existence you have no evidence as though its existence was a self-evident fact. You can suggest ‘might be’, but you cannot not state ‘is’. Thus your question “what counts for evidence ?” is at the least disingenuous, possibly a deliberately intended confusion. There IS NO EVIDENCE; it is not reasonable to then ask your opponent in debate to define how this non-existent evidence should appear if it actually existed. You are making the affirmative assertion – YOU prove it.

    “You speak with forked tongue, White Man”.

    • George Watson says:

      “The mind of the rationalist is in general open to new information and makes only working assumptions pending any better
      explanations that are found.”

      Saw on the news that the claim that bacteria could use Arsenic to live on is now highly disputed though the scientist who
      made the claim stands by her story. I wonder who is not being rational in this case ?

      When you say: ” is at least disingenuous, possibly a deliberately intended confusion.” – how do you know ?

      I asked the question of those who say there is no evidence for the existence of God.
      Since they can find no physical evidence for God’s existence, I ask them what would count as evidence ?
      Does God have to physically appear to you ?

      Why do you automatically discount what an ancient text states ?
      In that Text it is stated that God did appear to Abraham.
      Are you ruling out as absolutely impossible that there is a God or just that God cannot physically appear to us,
      or that no ancient text should be trusted, or this particular text or just that story in the that particular text ?

      You made the first assertion that there is no evidence for God in earlier posts and implied that anyone who believes
      in such primitive superstitions is rather a fool.

      So all I asked is what would count as evidence to you that God exists.
      I don’t recall saying that the existence of God is a self-evident fact.

      I don’t speak with a forked tongue as I am more Native American than anything else, 27/32nds.

  • Bronson Whitmore says:

    All of you might like the apologist, Ravi Zacharias.

  • charles jaggers says:

    It is going very circular ,we still cant prove that ghosts ,ghoolies.
    ,fairies ,gods, godesses,dragons, majic mermaids , wicked witches exist. Despite the insistance that they do exist by believers in those things. Life is too short for pointless arguements.

  • Michael says:

    Was there a point in there somewhere?

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