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We can't hide in our labs and leave the talking to Dawkins - Comments

Mr0Joshua's Avatar Comment 1 by Mr0Joshua

But I'm militant AND cuddly...

...did I just get called a Communist?

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 20:25:00 UTC | #276372

DarwinsPitbull's Avatar Comment 2 by DarwinsPitbull


But I'm militant AND cuddly...

...did I just get called a Communist?

I hope not or else that would mean that me and the author are now sworn enemies and one of us must be destroyed.

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 20:57:00 UTC | #276374

j.mills's Avatar Comment 3 by j.mills

Yeah, it's a welcome contribution, if a little rambly, but once again our fluffy old Prof is labelled as 'militant', 'trivialising', 'confrontational'. Pshaw, sir! Fie!

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 21:03:00 UTC | #276376

Fuller's Avatar Comment 4 by Fuller

I guess confrontational isn't innacurate, as he does confront believers from time to time. But it is sad to see this 'firebrand' idea of Dawkins still thrown around, even by people who should know better.

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 21:16:00 UTC | #276380

splink's Avatar Comment 5 by splink

I agree that you scientists need to explain how science works. I read in The God Delusion that Dawkins was "inveighing" against writing down to people when writing about science but I need to be written down to. Make your shit easier to read or I'm bound to not read it.

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 21:21:00 UTC | #276381

Ascaphus's Avatar Comment 6 by Ascaphus

I look forward to seeing what Al-Khalili and du Sautoy will put forward in educating and inspiring the public with the method and conclusions of science. They have some large shoes to fill, or rather bookshelf to match. I doubt that any author past or present has presented science and biology as creatively or pointed out the sheer cunning of nature as vividly as Dawkins. For my money.


Mon, 24 Nov 2008 21:27:00 UTC | #276383

theonlybap's Avatar Comment 7 by theonlybap

I like what Al-Khalili is saying, for the most part. However, like others, I disagree with his description of Richard as "positioning himself on one extreme," "militant", etc.

It seems some people don't quite get what Richard means when he says religion doesn't deserve the kind of unquestioning respect it is afforded. I don't see Richard trying to insult or trivialize religion, though -- he's questioning, rightly so, these damn crazy beliefs (this might be insulting) that most people have, and trying to get them to do the same. This kind of questioning isn't something that should be attributed to only "militant" atheists, but it's sad that it seems to be so.

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 22:15:00 UTC | #276385

brianjames's Avatar Comment 8 by brianjames

I believe its high time science was brought to the attention of the general public.
When I was a child, in Australia we had some great childrens science shows. The curiosity show, hosted by Prominent scientists of the day, & Why Is It So, with Julius Somner Miller. His passion was contagious.

Educating the next generation is essential if we want a more informed public in the future. The young adults who are into mysticism & other pagan marketing ploys are lost to us now.

Equal media time, page & air space would be a good start. Just a fraction of the time wasted on
reality TV could do immense good.

Scientists are rarely interviewed for thier opinions on anything outside thier field of expertise, sometimes not even then.

The public profile of scientists is almost non existant. The only Scientists who are prominant in the media are the cute & cuddly, non confrontational types.

There are exciting new discoveries every week & they go unnoticed by the public. They all know the sports results, horrorscopes, & other meaningless data, however thier ignorance of scientific progress is remarkable.

Pure science is not even on the radar of the public. Science to them means technology, this is an issue we have to address.

More working Scientists should be out there explaining & defending reason & critical thinking.
If more people understood how science thinks, the enemies of reason would not get away with the pseudo science & misquotaion they depend so heavily on.

Non religious people fall prey to superstition because they dont know what is known.
Once the public is brought up to speed with scientific progress they will be better armed against the spiritual snake oil.

It would be nice if one day people knew the names of the leading scientists in different fields as well as they do Politicians or sports people.

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 23:28:00 UTC | #276395

oasis-al-reason's Avatar Comment 9 by oasis-al-reason

'Richard Dawkins...champion of militant atheism...confrontational, firebrand style"

Yup, I can just imagine the Reverend RD browbeating a frightened audience of fundies and apologist atheists with

"...hear me!, fear the selfish gene!, for I tell ye the wrath of the selfish gene shall be upon ye, and ye, and yous too! and ye shall for all eternity drown in the gene pool!, only to be re-mixed and re-born again and again!, from gene to gene, for ever and ever!..."


Mon, 24 Nov 2008 23:46:00 UTC | #276399

Disbelief's Avatar Comment 10 by Disbelief

If it appears that Richard has positioned himself at one extreme then it only goes to show how extremely wrong religious doctrine is about the history of the universe and the origin of species.

I think that as the chair of the public understanding of science he fulfilled his brief very well by simply speaking the truth.

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 23:47:00 UTC | #276400

sunbeamforjesus's Avatar Comment 11 by sunbeamforjesus

How anyone can call R.D.militant or strident is beyond me.On the rare occasions he has raised his voice it is long after his opponent has taken to chewing the carpet.His benificent smile and rapier wit is the right combination to shove up a fuckwit.
Agree about the dearth of good science programs.Even old stuff like Tommorrows World has it's place.
Hopefully Richard realises(and I'm sure he does!)he has a very lucrative future as an author,speaker and torch bearer.I would like to see far more public and television appearances from him in future.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 00:40:00 UTC | #276411

Jamie V's Avatar Comment 12 by Jamie V

It is VITAL that science is presented in an interesting and engaging way, especially at introductory school level. My first science lessons at school were very much based on beginner's chemistry, and because it all seemed very technical and boring and didn't really click with me, I lost interest and found the subject much harder than I might have. I don't have a single qualification in science to my name, something that I deeply regret.

However, if my teacher had started out by demonstrating the size of the universe, the age of the earth, how fast the speed of light is, how we came from a common ancestor, how our species came out of Africa after being down to a few thousand in number, how we are all genetically related - THAT would have sparked my interest and I would have been eager to learn the basics, knowing that I would be taught stirring, exciting things that would fascinate me and enrich me for years to come.

Those examples I mentioned are a few of many that drew me to this site and others around the web. I bemoan my lack of understanding and inability to join in a scientific conversation on anything other than the most basic level, but I glory in that which I am learning now.

Experts in science need to speak out - not just to raise awareness, but to educate, inform and entertain (which is the original motto of the BBC). I included "entertain" because I believe science CAN be entertaining - I couldn't tell you what potassium / argon dating is or how it works, but when Richard mentioned it as a method of dating the meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico that wiped out the dinosaurs, I was entranced that there was actually an accurate method of measuring the date. As I said, I'm not too hot on the details - but I rejoice that there are people out there clever enough to do it, and that others have the good will to tell the rest of us about it and also explain if we ask.

Atoms - you won't believe how small they are!

Galaxies - you won't believe how massive they are!

Teach me! Show me! Boggle my mind - then explain it to me!

Should any of you good people still be reading at this point, I would be grateful for any book recommendations on science for the very young. When my three year old asks me "Who is God?" or "How did we get here?" (which I'm sure he will soon enough), I'd like to be able to give him some good answers.

A lot of people have said that children need to make up their own minds about whether God exists or not. While my instinct is to tell him that God doesn't exist and there's no evidence, I worry that might be too militant a position (even though I feel that allowing the possibility of a God is paying religion too much respect - and yes, I know I can't fully discount the possibility). Your help would be appreciated.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 00:41:00 UTC | #276412

sunbeamforjesus's Avatar Comment 13 by sunbeamforjesus

Jamie V
Hi,a great post!Your sentence 'Teach me! Show me!
Boggle my mind -then explain it to me!just about sums up the way to teach children science.I found with my own 2 sons,now 15 and 13 and science and technology lovers that showing from a very young age is vital.Your garden is full of treasures like stones frogs insects plants EVERYTHING.If you teach a child not just that a paper bag goes bang but how the muscles in his arms make it happen he will thirst after learning.Books come later,show him things first to fire his natural curiosity and he will find the means to learn himself.I was fortunate to have marvelous history and chemistry teachers at school.The history teacher was an archeaologist who brought in the most simple but exciting artifacts for us to handle,fossils,coal, rocks and coins.The chemistry teacher was like something out of Harry Potter,making bangs and smells and colours.I vividly remember these guys and their lessons over forty years later.The god nonsense need never raise it's unwelcome head!

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 00:59:00 UTC | #276417

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 14 by rod-the-farmer

I fear that far too many teachers of science don't have a real passion for their own subject. Without that, it is most unlikely that any passion for learning about science will appear in their students.

I have offered to help at my local public and high schools, and been turned down, because you can't even be a substitute teacher without some formal certificate. One is hard pressed to avoid the position that educators are really not that interested in education.

BOY I would love to help teach science. Or history. Mr. Passion, that's me.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 01:21:00 UTC | #276435

Chris Davis's Avatar Comment 15 by Chris Davis

All the enthusiasm in these comments for whizz-bang science teaching sits uneasily with a lecture some years back by Prof D. in which he deplored the (still) current trend for trying to make science sexy and exciting - risking disappointment when the acolyte discovers how bloody HARD it actually is.

I especially remember RD reading, in withering tones, a specific quote from an official guideline on science teaching, in which the educator was encourage to make the experimental material suitable to be eaten after the experiment/demo.

At first, my reaction was 'ah, c'mon, you don't want to scare 'em away!'. But then I thought about it, and once again I think the Doc's right: for actual nascent scientists, science is already exciting. A tool that homes in on Truth is intrinsically exciting to some people, and good Fact needs no whizz-bangs.

Jazzing up Science Ed in the hope of seducing students whose natural bent is showbiz or warfare is really just wasting their time. They're not going to like the massive tedium involved in finding that elusive Fact, no matter how startling.

But this is not to say that science itself shouldn't continue to be pushed to the public for the breakthroughs and wonders it produces. It deserves more respect and awe than it has in some circles. Just don't give people the false impression that lab or field work is like The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It's about hard, diligent, boring graft a lot of the time.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 02:16:00 UTC | #276467

javb222's Avatar Comment 16 by javb222

Jim undermines his own point that we need more RDs by calling him "extreme" without any reasons and comparing with Thatcher/communism (didn't get that bit).

Also, he has no balls (sorry). Criticising Sarah Palin is easy. Criticising Islam isn't, and Jim gets it dangerously wrong by equating Islamic stupidity with the relatively benign European superstitions.

We don't need scientists to bring dogmatic moderation. Apart from being wrong, I don't think this kind of moderation helps society. No, I think we need scientists to bring militant objectivity.

EDIT: In any case, I look forward to seeing his TV programme.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 02:29:00 UTC | #276472

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 17 by Tyler Durden

Comment #290328 by javb222

Criticising Sarah Palin is easy.
And so much fun :)

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 02:43:00 UTC | #276474

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 18 by Roger Stanyard

BrianJames "Pure science is not even on the radar of the public. Science to them means technology, this is an issue we have to address."

Methinks yo do protest too much. Try walking round aany half decent bookshop in the UK or a decent public library or look at the BBC News web site or any half decent newspaper (as well as the Daily Mail). Developments in science are not only widely and frequently reported but also, similarly, read.

In the main bookshop in the town where I live, science books probably outnumber books on religion by 10-1 or maybe 20:1 (depending on definition of science).

We can all whing about how ignorant others are of our own knowledge. So what? Historians complain that "the public" don't understand history, economists that "the public" and much of business are ecdonomically illiterate, engineers that people don't get engineering.

It is a fact of life that we all specialise and all have deeply limited knowledge of most areas outside of our core expertise.

Complaining that the "public" are ignorant belongs in the Daily Mail and the Torygraph. It's the whinge of the old fart through history.

Even if people are well educated, they will be attacked with the same idiotic nonsense. As the philosopher Isiah Berlin once concluded, clever people are either those with a little knowledge of a lot of subjects or those with a lot of knowledge about a single subject. None of us are real polymaths. Indeed, we are all basically rank amateurs about the vast majority of subjects.

I point out that you to, Brian, are a member of the very same public which you seem to despise for their ignorance.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 02:55:00 UTC | #276478

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 19 by Roger Stanyard

Brian James "Scientists are rarely interviewed for thier opinions on anything outside thier field of expertise, sometimes not even then."

Why should they be interviewed outside their area of expertise? I don't get that argument at all.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 03:08:00 UTC | #276482

Duff's Avatar Comment 20 by Duff

I think the good professor once called himself an "intellectual pugilist". So maybe we shouldn't get all worked up when someone else calls him "militant" or a "firebrand".

When I grow up, I want to be an Intellectual Pugilist!

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 03:20:00 UTC | #276483

BobbyWoodruff's Avatar Comment 21 by BobbyWoodruff

Roger Stanyard:

Why should they be interviewed outside their area of expertise? I don't get that argument at all

Because a scientists views on any subject are (at least) as valid as a priest or rabbi or imam, all of whom are invited to comment on subjects on which thay have no expertise?

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 03:44:00 UTC | #276487

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 22 by irate_atheist

19. Comment #290335 by Roger Stanyard -

The public are ignorant.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 03:45:00 UTC | #276488

phatbat's Avatar Comment 23 by phatbat

Perhapse Richard should adopt a new tactic.

Whenever he speaks or writes he should say something like this at the beginning:

"Now i'm going to say some things that some poeple will hear as militant or aggressive in style, while others hear it as gentle. My challenge is for those who accuse me of militancy in the following words, please quote the parts word for word which you find to be so."

It has always struck me that those making the accusations never seem to actually quote Richard. I asked my friend to do so recently after he made some comments about Richard in the recent chanel 4 series, he was unable to recall a single sentence or set of words which backed up what he was saying and i dare say this will be the case in nearly every single accuser.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 04:03:00 UTC | #276505

D'Arcy's Avatar Comment 24 by D'Arcy

If Richard is at "one extreme" of atheism, where is Irate? Off the scale somewhere?

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 04:13:00 UTC | #276511

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 25 by Roger Stanyard

Irate states "The public are ignorant."

No we are not. Or are you not a member of the public?

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 04:26:00 UTC | #276520

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 26 by Roger Stanyard

BobbyWoodRuff "Because a scientists views on any subject are (at least) as valid as a priest or rabbi or imam, all of whom are invited to comment on subjects on which thay have no expertise?"

That's simply just wrong. Having worked with clerics in the anti-creation arena they do have areas of expertise. Your argument is arrogant, facile, ignorant and dangerous.

It's about as stupid as claiming that all scientists are atheists.

If you want to pick a fight with religion, rule number 1 is "never underestimate your opposition".

You just have. You fail.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 04:34:00 UTC | #276523

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 27 by irate_atheist

Roger -

I am a member of the public. There are a great many things of which I am ignorant.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 04:37:00 UTC | #276526

Pete H's Avatar Comment 28 by Pete H

Coincidentally my kids and I have just completed watching the last of the 4 episodes of Marcus du Sautoy’s presentation of The Story of Maths.

It is an excellent production. While the kids would otherwise have preferred to watch The Simpsons my 14 year old enjoyed it and actually found it relevant for his school work. (Which wasn't the point - I'm trying to ensure they find this stuff inherently interesting rather than experiencing lacklustre exposure in school.) Even my 10 year old stayed alert and interested through all 4 episodes. And he’s someone who claims that everything except football is gay.

So I rate du Sautoy as having passed the discerning child test.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 04:47:00 UTC | #276533

flying goose's Avatar Comment 29 by flying goose

I don't think Richard is a firebrand, I heard him being described the other day as quite gentle. Perhaps his firebrand image comes from the fact he won't hide what he thinks or feels. Given some of the stupid views of those he has interviewed (and I, a cleric, have been shouting at the television.) I should imagine it might be quite difficult to stay patient, which Richard always does. He does call spade a spade, but that is honesty, not militancy.
Some people get offended for England, and whilst they exist, some will continue to call Richard militant, strident, etc. If he wants to take offence that, that is his right. Perhaps we need to stop being offended by it and focus on the issues.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 05:07:00 UTC | #276538

debaser71's Avatar Comment 30 by debaser71

For all the terrible writing and finger pointng at least this guy understands that people need to step into the gap created by Dawkins and others. My only comment to the author would be, though, that he doesn't need to attack Dawkins to step into that gap.

Tue, 25 Nov 2008 05:17:00 UTC | #276542