Thursday, 12 February 2009

On Darwin's birthday...

I simply MUST post the discussion on my facebook status, which is just breathtakingly wonderful in its thoughtfulness, respect and depth. I'll update it through the evening till I change my status. And it's coming here so my non-fb friends/readers can add to it. All times are GMT.

In case I haven't said it enough:


Irim celebrates Charles Darwin's 200th birthday with joy - she ♥ s him and wishes she could watch Dawkins clean the floor with the Bish of Oxford tonight.

ER at 09:12 on 12 February

Irim at 09:19 on 12 February
Seriously. I've loved Darwin's work forever, despite its misappropriation for a lot of racist science. As for Dawkins, his manner annoys the hell out of me, but I am sick of people knee-jerk hating him b/c they're 'religious'. And scientifically illiterate religion doesn't get a 'pass' from me. It's so obvious to me that Dawkins is the way he is because religion hurt him at some point or he felt that God let him down - otherwise he wouldn't be so angry. I'm tired of the supposedly charitable religious joining groups like "Richard Dawkins can go fuck off" without really listening to him. xx

ER at 09:22 on 12 February
Mine's not a knee-jerk response, I've read the book!

V at 09:40 on 12 February
Love Dawkins!

at 09:46 on 12 February
Hon, as I've said, Dawkins' manner annoys the hell out of me, but he is an *excellent* scientist. I may not agree with a lot of what he says, but his arguments are often elegant & beautifully laid out, unlike many religious arguments - e.g., a recent article we discussed was an example of much of the very poor, unchallenged argumentation that happens in religion all the time - because they are only writing for the converted and never examine/challenge their assumptions, and borrow arguments/evidence from the 'correct source' (read: the Pope) without examining it.

I want Dawkins to win because he's BETTER, not b/c I like him.

You've read the "God Delusion", hate him with abandon-but the worst thing you can do is want him to disappear. Theology needs men like Dawkins because theology is stagnant, and needs the challenge of men like him to really pull its finger out and do some REAL work, move forward and...well, evolve, to borrow a word today's birthday boy might appreciate. xx

T at 09:48 12 February
Dawkins speaks the truth and people don't like that. He is confrontational because he has to be. The world needs a few more skeptics like him.

Irim at 09:52 on 12 February
Well said, hon - but I have wondered if more people would actually *listen* if he weren't quite so abrasive. The world definitely needs more sceptics, no question there. And what are you doing up at 04.48 in the morning?? xx

T at 10:17 12 February
Early morning flight to meeting.

C at 10:23 on 12 February
I don't think religion and science have to be mutually exclusive. If religion argues that God created everything, in its final form we see today, then God created humans to have a frontal cortex.
It is this cerebral creation that gives us the ability as man, to question the world around us with science.
To deny people like Dawkins a voice and to ignore scientific discoveries, means to deny and ignore the humanity God himself has created!
Go Dawkins! :-)

fr R at 10:25 on 12 February
I agree that Dawkins must have been hurt by religion at some point, and that is his one of his weaknesses. His knowledge of theology and especially philosophy is also poor, and that means he is out of his depth. He was much better in his 'The Selfish Gene' phase, which is beautifully written. On religious matters he doesn't offer arguments, but rather seeks to ridicule, something which he is rather good at. As a result 'The God Delusion' is entertaining, but he does not present any good arguments against the existence of God. It rather counts against him that he doesn't employ the same kind of academic rigour in religious matters as he would for science. God - what a load of dangerous rubbish -simply isn't good enough. As for the other side of the debate - it is sad when religious people who respond fall in to the trap of ridiculing Dawkins, employing the same kind of rhetoric that he does. Speaking as a scientist and someone who believes in God, I know that we can do better than that.
Irim at 11:16 on 12 February
Ah, my fellow biologist, the friar, weighs in :-)! Hey, hon.

[His knowledge of theology and especially philosophy is also poor, and that means he is out of his depth... It rather counts against him that he doesn't employ the same kind of academic rigour in religious matters as he would for science.]

I haven't read "God Delusion" in full yet, but if that is indeed the case, it is a strike against him as an academic: if you are making an argument, you should know your field, your opponents' field and every building block of your argument backwards and forwards, otherwise you're the one who's guilty of using selective evidence to prove your pet theory rather generate one - cardinal sin for a scientist.

Oh no, I accused a scientist of a religious crime...see, they do mix ;-)

Well said, C - creation may be true, but science and maths are the languages God used to create the universe, and we should learn them to the full. xx

L at 11:49 on 12 February
I still cling to my belief in "God" (for lack of a better term) despite Dawkins's arguments; I'm not a scientist so maybe I didn't expect the same rigor that a scientist would--but he convinced me, really, on many levels. I still believe in God because my idea of God has always been the God of Einstein, the God of e.e. cummings, "when God decided to invent everything/he took one big breath bigger than a circustent/and everything began" and the idea of an interfering, manipulating God has no meaning to me anyway.

For an argument in favor of atheism, though, I found Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" much more powerful.

Darwin's the man. Happy birthday to him.

T at 13:28 12 February
Frankly, I take exception to the idea that one has to be "damaged" by religion to hold the kinds of beliefs that Dawkins does. I grew up in a proper Catholic household and I hold pretty much the same beliefs. While I disagree strongly with most of the Catholic Church's positions, I wasn't damaged in any way. Indeed, I acknowledge those aspects of my religious upbringing that were positve. Yet on the very same day that the Church finally comes to terms with Darwin, it refuses to denounce a church leader who denies the Holocaust. Is that progress? Not by my definition.

Irim at 13:34 on 12 February
Hiya, hon, good to see you & thanks for friending me :). I hear you, though I suppose I've always been more of a panentheist: God is in everything but is also beyond everything (in line with some Qabbalists, I think, which puts me in good company) and I really must make a 2009 resolution to read the book - I've seen some of his telly work.

I googled Julia Sweeney and read an interview with her - and I found it incredibly powerful as well, esp as I read the Bible a lot and go, "WTF? Would I want a God who did THAT to his creation, even if they don't agree with/recognise him? That sounds human, not divine, to me."

To everyone so far - thank loving the comments/discussion. Darwin would be proud, I think :-). xx

Irim at 13:49 on 12 February
Tom, we're not saying that someone has to be damaged by religion to hold those beliefs: one of my closest friends is an atheist and grew up happily and well-balanced, never knew anything else. But she rests much more easily in it than Dawkins does and is very happy for people to believe what they want. If you're a theist, she doesn't give a damn; she loves listening to your arguments and putting forward hers.

What Robert and I are saying is that Dawkins' *behaviour*/emotional affect - his rage, his scorn, his lack of calm - when the subject comes up, as well as his need to convert everyone - seems to point to a sense of betrayal. We could be totally wrong; we're just speculating. But in my experience, that kind of intense anger nearly always points to unresolved issues.

Remember, I said I want him to win tonight!

And FYI, I make the EXACT same extrapolation about friends who are Catholic converts from Anglicanism and do nothing but pour scorn and hate on their old religion. xx

fr. R at 15:33 on 12 February
Tom, I second what Irim just said - atheistic views are held calmly and rationally by many people. But unlike Irim, I hope that Dawkins does 'loose' tonight, and continues to do so until such time as he starts to fill the gaps in his knowledge and provide good arguments that enhance the debate. It is not enough to be a good rhetorician - look how often in history good orators and rhetoricians are later judged as misguided, even dangerous. I don't want to over exaggerate Dawkins' influence too much, and what I say about him also goes for the religious side of the debate too. But with any important issue we might care to mention, the consequences of an aggressive irrational line being allowed to substitute for proper reasoning can be grave. It takes courage and integrity to do it properly, but the struggle is worth it. Not to do so can lead to an unthinking fractured society with little mutual understanding and respect.

ER at 15:55 on 12 February
Good grief! I went to class, came back, turned on facebook and found that the response I'd been drafting all through my lecture this morning had already been made.

I don't know whether to be grateful you saved me the effort or annoyed that you got there first (twice), R!

T at 16.34 on 12 February
I've had a 2 hour flight and a 1 hour drive to formulate a response. And part of me very much wants to let loose with both barrels how much I disagree. To address, point by point, why the characterizations of Dawkins are wrong. But I won't. I prefer not to get into these debates, and I'm going to do the prudent thing and bow out now.

Irim at 16:50 on 12 February
I'll admit that I'm sorry not to hear your response, hon, though I understand & respect why you won't, and that's cool. I freely admit that what I have of Dawkins is only *an impression*, and I'm extrapolating from that - I'll be the first to put my hands up and say that how I perceive Dawkins' manner is subjective; he *feels* angry & overzealous to me.

As I said, I haven't read "God Delusion" in full, just excerpts, so I can't answer to what Robert said about philosophy and theology - they're not my areas. Again, I will say that his science is brilliant, his arguments tend to be exceptionally elegant, and I DO have a lot of time for him. There's some serious substance in his arguments, as I said above, theology could use the challenge, and we DO need sceptics like him to keep pointing out inconsistencies, discrepancies - men like him will force us to search for the truth and not sit on our asses.

BTW, this has been so fantastic, I've blogged it - sans names or pics but mine. xx

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