Monday, April 16, 2007

Imperial Darwin

In the New York Times David Brooks muses on the way Darwinism has become the 'grand narrative' of our times. His summary of the science is partial - he seems to be accepting a straight Dawkins-Dennett version, things are much more interesting than that - but, otherwise, this is a fine, thoughtful piece. Evolution has, indeed, replaced religion, culture or history as the preferred bedtime story of our intellectual elites. In some forms, it has also become a crusade, a militant, missionary assault on all non-believers - look at Dawkins's web site with its loony author pictures, just like the ones you see on leaflets handed to you by the assorted crazies that litter Oxford Street. Also on the Dawkins site is this, a report on the rise of aggressive, organised atheism in Europe. And, last year, Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at Oxford and the man whose only words on meeting me were 'I despise you', described religion as 'the crack alley of the intellect. People just go down it for comfort not understanding'. Darwinian atheists - in a way that would have appalled Darwin - are discarding liberalism and tolerance in favour of imperial, world-conquering zealotry. And this, they say, is progress.
PS. Ohmygod, so to speak, and now, from Chris, this.

29 comments:

  1. Ah now, come on Bryan. He doesn't look like a looney. He just looks, well...determined, confident, a touch petulent, perhaps, constipated, even, but not crazy. Alright, maybe a touch screwy, but in a good way, like an eccentric uncle.

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  2. Okay, Neil, bonkers. Can we agree on bonkers?

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  3. People seem to feel there are grand conclusions at stake in evolution that simply aren't there. Save me from a discussion about the divided universe of intelligent design, but that we may have Beethoven's papers to prove that the Missa Solemnis didn't simply appear of itself in one magical moment, and that its gestation evolved over time- doesn't seem to me to make a jot of difference as to the reality of its nature and all its attendant profundities. This truly is a ship of fools.

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  4. Oooh, I don't know. Labelling and all that. Bonkers is a bit too definitive. Blinkered? Come on, I'm giving you the 'b', 'k' and 'er' sounds. A good compromise, I think.

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  5. Religious believers are properly organised: they have access to children, and they interfere with the minds of children, trying to imprint their own beliefs upon impressionable minds.

    I remember the religious attempts to indoctrinate me and my friends in the first 15 years of my life.

    Richard Dawkins attempts to use reasoned argument to influence the minds of adults. That makes him and his like comparable to organised religion? I think not.

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  6. Sow seed thinly in pots or trays. Prick out into final flowering positions when plants are large enough to handle.

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  7. I'm with you, Gordon, 110 per cent (in football parlance). But your description of the proselytising behaviour of believers makes them sound like a paedophile ring. I'm sure that wasn't intentional.
    Andrew, what has Beethoven got to do with it? You lost me.

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  8. Would that be 'A' for 'asshole'?

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  9. The point of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis analogy is that whether its imaginative creation took 10 minutes/ 10 years/ 0 seconds is irrelevant. What is relevant is its existence as it is, likewise life. The idea that life is to be categorised as "just this and not that" as a result of scientific theories is abhorrent and removed utterly from the direct experience of life. To quote Blake, "He who never alters his opinions is like standing water and breeds reptiles of the mind." I would argue that Dawkins and what he stands for demands the imposition of an intellectual theory that actively denies the reality of consciousness in its most profound forms. It has to pretend that these spiritual states are not real; that Zen Buddhism, Christianity, etc all spring from the claims of madmen or liars. That the famous state of enlightenment is a fabrication, that emotions have to be explained in terms of something else, eg love as some kind of cellular urge at the macro level. This is genuinely insane- insanity being a false mental filter upon reality. How could one live in such a manner?

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  10. But lots of people used to live in manors before the imposition of punitive, twentieth century taxation.

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  11. gordon:

    You mean religious folks are actually teaching their faith to their children? That's awful. Dawkins would never do that, would he?

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  12. If I pin a Mensa badge to my Dawkins 'A' T-shirt, will that make me a Bright?

    Or just a w***er?

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  13. How something comes into existence, or evolves, is important, Andrew. It's important to religious and non-religious alike. We would all like to know for sure where we came from, where everything came from for that matter (including great works of art). The desire to know this kind of thing is just a human instinct.

    Just to say, I think you misrepresent Dawkins when you say he denies the existence of religios feelings. He doesn't. He just believes they lead to mistaken conclusions about reality. Although a bit hazy now, I for one seem to recall plumping for the mind-brain identity theorists when I dipped my toe into the philosophy of mind a few years back. Seemed to make sense to me. What do you think? Am I a nut?

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  14. You say, Gordon, that "Richard Dawkins attempts to use reasoned argument to influence the minds of adults." Have you read The God Delusion? It's not a very fine example of reasoned argument. Compared to, say, Francis Collins's The Language of God it seems a hysterical rant, poorly organized, sloppily argued and - if you compare what Dawkins says about Einstein and atheism and what Einstein said himself - intellectually dishonest.

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  15. Frank, you cannot deny that Dawkins employs reasoned argument. He may lose his way occasionally - who doesn't? He may even get a bit hot under the collar at times and throw in the odd ad hominem (it is tempting). But on the whole his case stacks up. I think a lot of people have been put off by Dawkins' character (and I can understand why) and this has muddied the waters. He needs to step off the stage now.

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  16. Atkins and Dawkins both seem to have this irrational, unreasonable - nay, delusional faith in the concept of love, completely contrary to the evidence provided by their own personal empirical studies. Why else would they get married and divorced so frequently? Now that is what I would call not very bright behaviour.

    I know. Snippy. Sorry. Well, not really.

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  17. Agreed, Frank. He seems to me every bit as bad as those whom he denounces on this particular issue: just another ranting extremist on the other side of the fence.

    Very smart, but not very self-aware, I don't think.

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  18. I do think it's awful that religious people, either through personal 'tuition', or through the instrument of religious schools, indoctrinate their children with religious beliefs. If they had any genuine confidence in the resilience and veracity of those beliefs, they would let their children form their own opinions when old enough to distinguish reality from fantasy, and when the credulity of early childhood has passed.

    I don't see evidence of Dawkins teaching his daughter any faith. Dawkins holds beliefs based upon evidence and reason, so, by definition, he doesn't have a faith. Dawkins does not represent one faith amongst many, he represents rationality pitched against irrationality.

    Dawkins an extremist? Well, from the age of 5 onwards I was subjected to daily religious assemblies in an attempt to religiously indoctrinate me. That's real extremism for you, a fanaticism so powerful that it drives people to preach their beliefs to vulnerable children on a daily basis.

    Dawkins can just about say anything, and it would only represent a drop of water compared to the shoreless ocean of mendacity, hypocrisy and delusion which is organised religious belief and teaching.

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  19. River of deceitApril 16, 2007 6:56 pm

    I can't take Dawkins seriously. There's something too comical about him. Just look at the pictures of him on his webpage, he's hilarious looking.

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  20. Did Darwin tell you he would have been appalled in a seance Brian or is that an assumption?
    If there is more noise from atheists surely it is a reaction to the resurgence of the Religous Right in the US and the way many followers of Islam are choosing to go about their faith?

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  21. Susan B. d'PhillyApril 17, 2007 2:56 am

    Gordon, if you've not already read it, you really *must* read _Father and Son_ by Edmund Gosse. It's his memoir of his scientist father (Royal Academy member Philip) who was *also* deeply religious (with a small sect of like believers). Gosse was also subjected to intensive religious indoctrination, which he resisted mightily.

    His memoir of how he was affected by his upbringing (mother was also deeply religious, but died an awful death from cancer when Edmund was still just a boy -- and he alone had to stay with her in a London apt. as her companion during the months of her dying) is one of the most powerful books I've ever read.

    It's also pretty short. For all I know, it's standard reading in the U.K., but here I didn't stumble across it until I was an adult looking for memoirs of Victorians.

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  22. I do not deny, Neil, that Dawkins employs reasoned argument. But he does so clumsily and haphazardly. For me "reasoned" implies "dispassionate." Dawkins is not even civil, let alone dispassionate. And an absence of civility in argument always suggests to me a lack of confidence in said argument.
    I don't know what religious gulag Gordon was educated in, but I had 16 years of Catholic education - including a class with Father Wagner, a chemist from the University of Vienna, and several classes with Father Gannon, a philosophy professor from Louvain. Indeed, were it not for the encouragement I received from priests and nuns I would almost certainly not be writing this post - or anything else. I still love the Latin Mass, and do not see why an interest in science should necessarily preclude faith in God, as it obviously has not for John Polkinghorne or Freeman Dyson and did not for Georges LeMaitre or Gregor Mendel.

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  23. Just saw the t-shirts which led to an extended bout of loud laughter. I think I'll go for the Babydoll Baby Blue Richard Dawkins one.

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  24. Just went back for another look. Unbelievable; I think you should post the picture as a thread, Bryan, perhaps alongside one of The Moustache Brothers, and decide which is the happiest, most consoling picture in the world.

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  25. I can't help myself. I went back and to my unending joy, I came across the Atheist Help & Resources section. What resources and help does your average atheist require? Anyway, when you click on this helpful, and of course, humanist section, you come across the following example of practical rationality:
    "The need for critical thinking skills and a humanistic outlook in our world is great. This is no less true in the Black community than in others."
    You will admit, this is extraordinary stuff. I read the first line and found myself nodding vigorously in rational agreement. However I was ill-prepared for the thunderbolt of line two. "This," I said to myself(once I had grown accustomed to the blinding light of illumination) "is Pure Reasoning."
    A quick glance, however, has thrown up a jewel that possibly even stumps that previous example.
    "This information is thought—provoking, intellectually challenging and pure hard—core Atheist."
    You will say, this is not Pure Reasoning, and I will say you are correct. But this is something more; it is a declaration of intent and of herculean pride. Pure hard-core atheism- let the words sick in. This is philosophy with a hammer, and we're not talking inflatable hammers either. Are you man enough to become one of Dawkins' t-shirt clad army of pure hard-core atheists?

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  26. I really should use my time better but I've had another look in the Dawkins zone of enlightenment. You've probably already noticed it but they are calling this The Scarlett Letter t-shirt, obviously after Hawthorne's book of the woman unjustly persecuted by an ignorant and unjust society. So Dawkins wants his followers walking around with his name written on their clothing, proclaiming the unjustness of their persecution by society. He sure is a bastion of clear-thinking rationality.

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