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A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy - Comments

unique79's Avatar Comment 1 by unique79

Like Dawkin, I am an atheist –well, sort of. I believe in something larger than the sum of the parts of existence, but I don’t believe that something is omnipotent or omniscient. I also admire that Dawkin visits the Bible Belt as opposed to places like San Francisco. Please excuse the metaphor, but true missionaries don’t go to places populated by believers. (I also imagine the thrill of a good fight is more to look forward to than a nice dinner by the seaside.) Where my disagreement with Dawkin lies is in his approach to the atheism thing. I’m not sure it’s very effective. Anecdotally-speaking, I wasn’t raised to be an atheist; I became one through the nagging pursuit of a restless curiosity that got the better of my dogma. But throughout this journey, I – like pretty much every other human – used information strategically. In other words, when I confronted something contradictory to what I knew or believed already, I was more likely to ignore it or deprioritize it than I was to integrate it into my existing schema. I did not become an atheist because of experiences with confrontational atheists (who I despised). I became an atheist as part of a gradual process, in which the tolerance, respect, and occasional skepticism of others, encouraged me towards a more accidental, contingent, and humanist world view.

As a political scientist (well, almost, still a PhD candidate), I understand the forces initially shaping responses to unfamiliar knowledge to be uncertainty and ambiguity. They aren’t really independent forces, either. If uncertainty is caused by a lack of information, then ambiguity is the process through which various groups and individuals develop competing claims, epistemologies, and solutions for conditions that are – for a variety of reasons – not easily understood. Over and over evidence shows that the brash use of “facts,” “science,” and “rationality” is far less effective than the use of stories, symbols, and emotion. People aren't rational (at least, they aren't just rational; emotion, identity, and ideology are sometimes more potent priorities). I think the reason for this is that humans desire certainty (I’m reminded of the last line of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series, “Happiness is understanding”). A good question for many people is far less satisfying than a good answer. And a good answer contains a beginning, a middle, and an end – and at least some of these parts probably correspond to popular symbols and feelings that reinforce what we believe ourselves to be. Thus, an explanation about the progression of single-celled organisms through space and time and increasing complexities until finally, but not necessarily, they become human beings with almost miraculous physical and intellectual capacity, but of indeterminate future and moral purpose isn’t nearly as palatable as something that tells us in no uncertain terms who we are, what are purpose is (for surely there must be a purpose and a meaning ordained by someone other than ourselves, or so the common hope dictates), and what we will become in some half-expected and satisfactory future. I understand evolution isn’t the easiest fit with these demands, which is why a little tolerance might suffice where theory cannot compete with religion.

I guess what I mean to say is that a good causal story will get you further than a good causal explanation. That and a little bit of subversive tolerance. I wish Dr. Dawkin the best of luck with the children’s book and the Bible Belt. And the decades’ worth of intellectual fodder is a gift. This isn't a critical post, just a suggestion.

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 19:43:45 UTC | #872778

MotherLodeBeth's Avatar Comment 2 by MotherLodeBeth

Just because someone believes in a creator that brought everything into existence doesn't make one religious. It may mean someone is humble enough to know that it wasn't a human who caused everything to be created.

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 20:12:13 UTC | #872788

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 3 by wisnoskij

"Just because someone believes in a creator that brought everything into existence doesn't make one religious. It may mean someone is humble enough to know that it wasn't a human who caused everything to be created."

NO, I am pretty sure that almost everyone would consider that being religious. That is actually basically the definition of religious.

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 20:25:17 UTC | #872800

alaskansee's Avatar Comment 4 by alaskansee

@MotherlodeBeth

You dropped off the other discussions you started pretty quick and without the time for any answers to the questions asked from you. You also seemed to have skipped over the definition of humble in addition to arrogant.

EDIT - I may have confused you with someone else without a dictionary, please ignore the "definition of .... arrogant" comment. I will assume you are aware of the meaning, if not "humble."

Someone who believes in a creator certainly does "make one religious", this is a deist, who is certainly religious even if not part of an "organised religion." It is true that deists, like many of the founding fathers, are almost without any danger unlike their theist friends but lacking a specific idea about who your god is does not mean you don't have one, just look at your next sentence where you just couldn't help but evoke a god. Maybe not your god, a very weak ethereal god that doesn't exist if you look at it or think too hard. On the other hand theists, their dogma and how they as individuals choose to interpret it are dangerous, not only to atheists but to other theists and of course deists.

Again you fail so badly to understand even the simplest words that you use. How is it possible to be "humble enough to know" the unknowable? And while you pat your imaginary deist friend on the back you of course know that he will not be going to heaven because your humble self not only know who the real god is but actually what he thinks.

Humble, sure.

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 20:41:48 UTC | #872804

Paula Kirby's Avatar Comment 5 by Paula Kirby

@MotherlodeBeth

Can you please provide a link to any book, article, document, YouTube video, blog or anything else where anyone has ever claimed that a human created the universe and everything in it? I'm sure many of us here will be fascinated to see it. Thanks.

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 21:27:26 UTC | #872815

Feuerbach's Avatar Comment 6 by Feuerbach

@MotherLodeBeth

What you call humility is often referred to as ignorance.

Educate yourself and stop spouting shite.

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 23:58:30 UTC | #872876

nancynancy's Avatar Comment 7 by nancynancy

I was delighted to spot this well written and very positive profile on the NYT website this morning. I left a comment there inviting people to check out this website.

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 00:17:42 UTC | #872884

alf1200's Avatar Comment 8 by alf1200

@motherlodebeth,

You seem to be in the wrong discussion.

You are ASSUMING there is a "creator".

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 02:01:05 UTC | #872915

RDfan's Avatar Comment 9 by RDfan

Comment 1 by unique79: Over and over evidence shows that the brash use of “facts,” “science,” and “rationality” is far less effective than the use of stories, symbols, and emotion.

I presume this refers to RD. If it does, may I ask: have you actually read any of Richard Dawkins' books?

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 02:13:46 UTC | #872919

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 10 by Neodarwinian

I would ask professor Dawkins to swing through San Francisco more often. Below the surface it is a hotbed of secular creationism, new age nonsense and scientific illiteracy. ( while being proud of said scientific illiteracy ) Also a lot more religion than one would think, though mostly deists I would say. Part of the reason I moved out of the Bay Area was the constant encounters with the " graduates " of places like New College. Fortunately, that bastion of nonsensical ideology was shut down due to inability to meet curricula criteria. Also, a surprising amount of mormon contact that I have yet to encounter in NM ( though you see them everywhere )

Actually, when you see scholarship and literacy in the bible belt it tends to be pretty solid. Needs to be to oppose all the nonsense surrounding it.

" Always on the philosophical side. " Interesting. You would think someone having an early African experience would tend toward a hands on biology.

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 03:51:29 UTC | #872934

Vicar of Art on Earth's Avatar Comment 11 by Vicar of Art on Earth

The Liberals made the San Francisco Bay Area so wonderful, the religious right moved here to take advantage of it and ruin it. I am not sure anymore if it is safe to bring out the Book of Mormons and point out Joseph Smith liked very young girls. Some say the male relatives, left with what they considered bastards and unwedable non virgins, shot him and other 20 to 30 year old Mormon males. Jeff Warren is an honest man introducing the Book of Mormons as evidence, although I would hope only women over 25 are around him.

While I am focused these days on economic survival so do not participate in any groups. I am sorry if I sound like I am telling others what to do who are such great people to volunteer. It would be a boon to have a big event where all the local groups could do outreach and a media event that atheists control the positive message. Perhaps "Science education so Americas #1." There is also protection in numbers if Rick Perry wins.

Just as in urban culture, non biological relatives are an important part of life, I think many want an urban clan, part of a larger group that shares similar humanistic values. As the TV show Cheers song said "you want to go where everyone knows your name." Urban Clan does not mean having dinner together although it is proable some of your friends might belong, but minium, if no one you know is around at a conference, you would sit together at least at the begining.

I hope one of the big shots tours the West Coast, San Francisco and it is a party.

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 05:16:55 UTC | #872946

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 12 by huzonfurst

Only slightly off topic: what's with the annoying sound effect that accompanies the video? Once at the beginning to brand it - maybe - but it keeps coming back! What kind of person (or corporation) thinks it's a good idea to degrade someone's talk with this kind of crap - are we children who need muzak to keep our attention from wandering?

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 12:04:26 UTC | #873056

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 13 by Oromasdes1978

unique79

Is there something so utterly wrong with science and all the study that has gone into and will go into the exploration of our knowledge and understanding of this universe that just isn't enough for you that you have to hope there is some incredibly improbable nonsense that explains it all? I honestly do not see how wishful thinking about such things makes it any better than the knowledge that we DO have and can prove.

MotherLodeBeth

No human or being "made" the universe, that would be very silly and highly improbable. Plus there is nothing humble about believing nonsense.

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 12:31:52 UTC | #873066

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 14 by Alan4discussion

Comment 1 by unique79

Thus, an explanation about the progression of single-celled organisms through space and time and increasing complexities until finally, but not necessarily, they become human beings with almost miraculous physical and intellectual capacity, but of indeterminate future and moral purpose isn’t nearly as palatable as something that tells us in no uncertain terms who we are, what are purpose is (for surely there must be a purpose and a meaning ordained by someone other than ourselves, or so the common hope dictates), and what we will become in some half-expected and satisfactory future.

There is no requirement in science to distort facts to tell people stories they like to hear. Those of limited intellect and education will no doubt like a simplistic explanation. Every dodgy salesman knows this! Evolution is about the biological development of all life on Earth. Not just human life.

I understand evolution isn’t the easiest fit with these demands, which is why a little tolerance might suffice where theory cannot compete with religion.

Science does not fudge the issues to pander to the "demands" of the deluded. There is a difference between polite presentation of factual information, and deception aimed at currying support. Reputable science does not compromise with falsehood. Religion has nothing to offer in understanding the evolution of life.

The scientific understanding of evolution, has nothing to do with human aims and aspirations, or cultural "moral" values. They are not included in Darwin's theory. You are confusing different sciences.

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 14:35:57 UTC | #873106

Corylus's Avatar Comment 15 by Corylus

Comment 1 by unique79 :

As a political scientist (well, almost, still a PhD candidate), I understand the forces initially shaping responses to unfamiliar knowledge to be uncertainty and ambiguity.

Congrats on the studying.

They aren’t really independent forces, either. If uncertainty is caused by a lack of information, then ambiguity is the process through which various groups and individuals develop competing claims, epistemologies, and solutions for conditions that are – for a variety of reasons – not easily understood. Over and over evidence shows that the brash use of “facts,” “science,” and “rationality” is far less effective than the use of stories, symbols, and emotion.

This sounds to me like a theoretical definition, and suggestion for, the use of propaganda. However you are the political scientist, so I am sure that you will tell me if I am mistaken here.

The thing is science - as a method - is not one out of several political strategies that can be advocated for, and popularised by, a judicious use of spin. It is instead the best strategy we have for seeking an understanding of how the world actually does work. Yes, given scientific facts are sometimes interpreted differently due to the viewpoints of those looking at the data produced. Yes, as different types of scientific inquiry become more diffuse (or "soft") and attempt to bring together different areas of knowledge into a coherent whole, then the confidence that we can have in their predictions becomes more provisional. (N.B. this is not a criticism of the soft sciences at all - they allow as to made certain types of predictions that we would otherwise be unable to manage - just a realisation about their nature). However, this understanding of science as an incomplete body of knowledge does not detract at all the efficacy of science as a method. Put simply: it works.

People aren't rational (at least, they aren't just rational; emotion, identity, and ideology are sometimes more potent priorities). I think the reason for this is that humans desire certainty (I’m reminded of the last line of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series, “Happiness is understanding”).

The desire for certainty exists, but this is itself based upon a desire: the desire for the cessation of fear. The unknown is, for many, frightening. However, it needn't be that way (here I am reminded of Marie Curie's statement that, "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less"). A unexplained event is an opportunity for reducing fear - rather than a reason for it.

A good question for many people is far less satisfying than a good answer. And a good answer contains a beginning, a middle, and an end – and at least some of these parts probably correspond to popular symbols and feelings that reinforce what we believe ourselves to be.

Thus, an explanation about the progression of single-celled organisms through space and time and increasing complexities until finally, but not necessarily, they become human beings with almost miraculous physical and intellectual capacity, but of indeterminate future and moral purpose isn’t nearly as palatable as something that tells us in no uncertain terms who we are, what are purpose is (for surely there must be a purpose and a meaning ordained by someone other than ourselves, or so the common hope dictates), and what we will become in some half-expected and satisfactory future.

That is not a good answer that is a persuasive answer. I rather think that you are conflating the two things, and that this is not advisable. People instead need to be shown how a 'good question' is the first step on the road to understanding. Certainty is more tricky I admit, for we accept scientific facts as contingently valid, but we cannot give up this epistemological humility without negating the very method that we utilise.

In science, teleological explanations are not 'good' explanations because they (practically) discourage further research and (theoretically) go against the understanding gained by the philosophy of science, for teleological and contingently valid are at variance with each other. I do understand that you are suggesting a strategy for increasing acceptance of science, but the strategy itself is antithetical to its aims: making it all rather a nonsense ... rather like eating for weight loss :P

I understand evolution isn’t the easiest fit with these demands, which is why a little tolerance might suffice where theory cannot compete with religion. I guess what I mean to say is that a good causal story will get you further than a good causal explanation. That and a little bit of subversive tolerance.

Evolution not fitting into the emotional desires of the uneducated does not impel me to shown a 'little tolerance' or even 'subversive tolerance' (in this case a euphemism for not telling the whole truth and 'spinning' what is told) it instead impels me to simply say "tough".

The answer to the bible belt is not lying: the answer is more education. The answer is in showing the facts as we know them and letting them speak for themselves. Yes, many will reject said facts out of hand, but as the volume of facts is made apparent, these people will become smaller in number. If the choice is between letting them stew in their own ignorance or deliberately lying, then I really would go for the former. The cost would not justify the minimal; and reducing; returns.

This isn't a critical post, just a suggestion.

I know :)

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 16:08:51 UTC | #873148

Sample's Avatar Comment 16 by Sample

Don't skip the written article for the video, it's a good read.

Mike

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 23:24:59 UTC | #873353

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 17 by KRKBAB

It's a shame that two posters (unique79 and MotherLodeBeth) make some controversial posts and virtually disappear and then the rest of the thread is sidetracked into responding to said hit and run artists. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and article about RD. It's nice to read something about RD by an educated and intelligent author for a change. I really like his answer to the idiotic charge that in order to criticise something as lame as deep religious philosophy you must study it. It also instantly brings to mind Hitch's quote: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" (I hope I got that right).

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 13:44:35 UTC | #873559

Jay G's Avatar Comment 18 by Jay G

"Professor Dawkins often declines to talk in San Francisco and New York; these cities are too gloriously godless, as far as he is concerned. “As an atheistic lecturer, you are rather wasting your time,” "

I can't speak for San Francisco.

As for New York, I wonder if he has some other New York in mind. I've lived here my entire life. It seems to me that there is plenty of work to be done in New York for an atheistic lecturer. Richard might have a point if he limits his idea of New York to Manhattan. There is, however, a large unconquered territory outside of Manhattan. Certain sections of Brooklyn come to mind (Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg).

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 13:55:29 UTC | #873564

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 19 by KRKBAB

Comment 18 by Jay G- It's all relative. Even though NYC might seem bad to you, it's nothing compared to the bible belt. Excuse the silly expression, but you get more bang for your buck in Dixie when it comes to battling the influence of god on society- don't you think?

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 14:23:02 UTC | #873575

Jay G's Avatar Comment 20 by Jay G

Comment 19 by KRKBAB :

Comment 18 by Jay G- It's all relative. Even though NYC might seem bad to you, it's nothing compared to the bible belt. Excuse the silly expression, but you get more bang for your buck in Dixie when it comes to battling the influence of god on society- don't you think?

I agree that the South, as far as I can tell from my safe haven here in the North, is a God fearing environment in a way that NYC can't match. My point was that NYC is not as God free as some might think.

I note that Mr. Dawkins IS coming to NYC to sign his new book.

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 14:50:20 UTC | #873585

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 21 by KRKBAB

Comment 20 by Jay G- yeah, point taken. Maybe it's the fact that most of the people RD knows from those cities are academics?

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 15:23:08 UTC | #873595

Jay G's Avatar Comment 22 by Jay G

Richard says at the end of the interview clip: "You're not a whole person unless you......understand why you're here in the first place. "

What does he mean by a "whole person"? Were there no "whole people" before 1859? Sounds like those advertisements that tell us you're not a whole person unless you buy product X.

I'm not disputing the truth of science. I am saying, however, that a person can live a full, satisfying life without bothering himself with these questions.

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 16:26:49 UTC | #873626

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 23 by ZenDruid

Richard says at the end of the interview clip: "You're not a whole person unless you......understand why you're here in the first place. "

Simply changing the 'why' to 'how' works well enough for me.

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 18:34:09 UTC | #873657

Jay G's Avatar Comment 24 by Jay G

Comment 23 by ZenDruid :

Richard says at the end of the interview clip: "You're not a whole person unless you......understand why you're here in the first place. "

Simply changing the 'why' to 'how' works well enough for me.

Me too, if I can have a pint with that.

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 18:51:22 UTC | #873663

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 25 by ZenDruid

Gladly. Sierra Nevada 'Tumbler' is on tap today.

Oh, and Frohes Fest to all!

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 19:04:55 UTC | #873666

M69att's Avatar Comment 26 by M69att

Comment Removed by Author

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 21:50:30 UTC | #873736

M69att's Avatar Comment 27 by M69att

Comment 17 by KRKBAB :

It's a shame that two posters (unique79 and MotherLodeBeth) make some controversial posts and virtually disappear and then the rest of the thread is sidetracked into responding to said hit and run artists.

Oh I don't know, I could easily live without the blob of tripe served by MotherLodeBeth but, were it not for unique79 I would never have had the pleasure of reading the response by Corylus. Beautifully written, uncompromisingly solid and yet in no way belittling. A worthwhile read in it's own right.

The article itself is also a lovely read and, I hope, an ambassadorial piece to those who misunderstand RD's motives. I just don't get why people can't see that it's about a love of learning and he just can't stand things that stifle it. Surely these are precisely the qualities we hope for in our educators.

Enjoyed the video too though I do wish he hadn't made the comment about 'Whole People'. While I understand the frustration and also struggle to understand how anyone could not be fascinated by these questions the fact remains that there are those that just aren't and I'm not comfortable with the suggestion that they are not whole people (perhaps they are just a little dim;-). Also it is just such an easy thing to seize on for negative reasons. I would not be at all surprised to see that little quote edited out of context and on youtube.

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 22:47:01 UTC | #873759

The Truth, the light's Avatar Comment 28 by The Truth, the light

Comment 2 by MotherLodeBeth :

Just because someone believes in a creator that brought everything into existence doesn't make one religious. It may mean someone is humble enough to know that it wasn't a human who caused everything to be created.

POE or Troll? You decide.

Thu, 22 Sep 2011 04:49:00 UTC | #873822

SoHelpMeReason's Avatar Comment 29 by SoHelpMeReason

I don't mean to detract from the message, because it's very good and he's very articulate and this is just a nice piece in general...but if I may be a pest and gently inquire...does anyone else think it slightly odd the professor has a tendency to blink so frequently? I mean, I only bother to waste time on this trivial inanity because his slightly jittery, somewhat anxious, demeanor and fast talking in moments of tension can occasionally literally work against him. That godawful creationist movie Expelled comes to mind.

Always be confident, Dr. Dawkins! We're with you, all of us! Give 'em all you got! :)

Thu, 22 Sep 2011 06:34:09 UTC | #873829

mmurray's Avatar Comment 30 by mmurray

Comment 2 by MotherLodeBeth :

Just because someone believes in a creator that brought everything into existence doesn't make one religious. It may mean someone is humble enough to know that it wasn't a human who caused everything to be created.

Whoever suggested a human caused everything to be created ?

Michael

Thu, 22 Sep 2011 07:45:46 UTC | #873842