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Huw Edwards Interviews Richard Dawkins - Comments

Hylo's Avatar Comment 1 by Hylo

That was excellent. Richard came across extremely well, and his arguments and answers were perfectly sensible and rational. It always amuses me when people like the first e-mailer, Muhammed, try to make out that Richard's beliefs about the universe are utterly absurd when he himself is shown to be completely ignorant about what it is he thinks Richard believes.

Tue, 10 Oct 2006 03:51:00 UTC | #5756

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 2 by Garry Bannister

What if there is no universe and Descartes was in fact right? How do we know any scientific ‘fact’ is actually ‘absolutely’ true and not dependant upon some unknown profound relationships that we are not as yet aware of?

Richard Dawkins believes in what his mind ascertains from the material universe by means of scientific scrutiny, i.e. the world we all see, hear, touch, smell and deduce from intelligent observation, the solid and indisputable.

Dawkin’s point of commencement is the manifest reality which he experiences around himself and the world he inhabits. Dawkins therefore builds his truth from evidence and logic.

But I put it to Richard Dawkins, and indeed David Deutsch, that all we ever experience is what our minds create for us. Things only are because we perceive them to be so. Evidence only is because we believe it to be acceptable evidence from our reservoirs of accumulated data. I am not belittling the scientific approach. Science has produced all the great marvels of our modern age, in medicine, communication, industry, etc.

But a holistic experience and enlightenment are not experienced merely through the lens of microscope. Scientific truth is also 'a relative truth' which is just as conditional as is religious 'faith'. The certainty and frozen quality of Richard Dawkin's views seem closed and just as blinkered as those of the American evangelist whom he interviewed. Is there not veiled anger, contempt and even arrogance at times in the attacks made by so convinced an atheist?

Perhaps the ‘golden rule’ is that everything in the end to some degree is relative and so maybe it is better always to leave reasonable room for self-doubt, especially when we are most convinced that we are right, and to allow people to wander freely enjoying the various paths (back-streets,cul-de-sacs,motorways, or whatever)through the awesome wilderness of life.

Tue, 10 Oct 2006 04:44:00 UTC | #5759

Widgetmaker's Avatar Comment 3 by Widgetmaker


If all they wanted to do was to wander around the "back-streets" of life, I think no one (including RD) would have a problem with it. It's when they want to round _us_ up and put us in a corner that we begin to object. It's when they want to force _us_ to support their activities in the abscence of good reasons, when they want to force _children_ to follow their prescriptions for living that we object.
You do not say to yourself, "Oh, their appears to be a car coming my way on this road that I appear to be standing on...but then maybe not...I'll just stand here." You act on what your experience has shown to be pretty good reasons to believe that your senses are giving you reliable information.... and you get out of the way. It is in _this_ sense that most scientists claim certainty.

- Widget

Tue, 10 Oct 2006 07:10:00 UTC | #5761

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 4 by Garry Bannister

Dear Daniel and Widget,

Many thanks for your comments. Certainty of any particular view can make a person confrontational and ready to protect at all costs a frozen position. But as Russell points out both sides of the philosophical debate between materialists and idealists are right depending on the perspective and the framework of their respective arguments. It is not religion or religious faith that causes mischief but rather extreme elements within an ideology. Atheists can be just as intolerant and bigoted as any religious zealot.

My point remains. Evidence is always partial and incomplete. To the best of his intellectual understanding Richard Dawkins is right about evolution. The facts seem very obvious to him and indeed to most of the scientific community that evolution explains the development of complex life-forms on this planet. I defend anybody’s right to hold any point of view even if it is a celestial teapot circling the sun. I raise two objections to Richard Dawkin’s approach.

Firstly his intolerance of those people who have a non-scientific approach to life. He considers religion to be similar to a disease, a virus to be irradiated because he deems to know better since he is a scientist. I am always wary of this kind of ‘I’am right and ‘you’ are wrong attitude.

Secondly, I would argue that there is no reality except that which we experience to be reality. If I feel joy – then the experience of that joy is real to me. But not all of us find joy in the same way. For one person, it may be looking down a microscope, for another it is, perhaps, making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The argument that Richard Dawkins makes that because a person subscribes to a doctrine of faith they are in some way contributing to promulgation of religious extremism is spurious. One might equally say that any person who becomes a doctor is on the same slippery slope that brought about the likes of Joseph Mengele.


Tue, 10 Oct 2006 13:43:00 UTC | #5776

Diplo's Avatar Comment 5 by Diplo

"I am always wary of this kind of ‘I’am right and ‘you’ are wrong attitude"

And so you should be, Garry, if that view is not supported by any evidence. However, if the attitude is backed up strong evidence for it, then what is there to be wary of? You can simply evaluate the evidence and come to your own conclusion based upon reason and logic. It's the message you should be wary of, not the conviction. After all, are you wary of Maths teachers who teach Pythagoras? Are they arrogant in their unswerving belief or is their conviction based upon the desire to educate and enlighten?

Really, it's religion that has the core message of, "This is right and you must believe it" and hides behind the concept of "faith" to avoid having to justify those beliefs. Richard might have strong opinions but he can always logically explain them, as he does so well in this interview.

"But not all of us find joy in the same way. For one person, it may be looking down a microscope, for another it is, perhaps, making a pilgrimage to Mecca."

And for another it might be blowing themselves up in crowded market-place as a short-cut to paradise. If joy is all you seek in life then take drugs or watch soap operas. I'd contend, though, that deep joy can only be obtained through truth, not delusion.

"The argument that Richard Dawkins makes that because a person subscribes to a doctrine of faith they are in some way contributing to promulgation of religious extremism is spurious."
Not everyone who subscribes to a religious belief will become an extremist - that is true. However, the path to extremism starts with an unwavering belief in the truth and a disregard for one's earthly existence, both propagated by mainstream religious teachings. Any creed that teaches that "death is not the end" creates a dangerous foundation that can be built on and exploited.

Tue, 10 Oct 2006 14:05:00 UTC | #5777

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 6 by Garry Bannister

Dear Diplo,

I have to agree with Steven when he says - ‘If the debate is held rationally he (i.e. Richard Dawkins) can't possibly lose’. However human beings are not merely rational creatures. Most of our motivations are hidden from our conscious mind.

You write – ‘After all, are you wary of Maths teachers who teach Pythagoras? Are they arrogant in their unswerving belief or is their conviction based upon the desire to educate and enlighten?’

But this is exactly my point when we create an artificially constructed model – yes certainty within that model can be ascertained and indeed proven. But real life doesn’t fit into such neatly restricted limitations. There are always the unknown factors which make, as Richard Dawkins puts it, even his old professor with a cherished an scientific conclusion for 15 years open to contradiction. I agree with Dawkins that we should always be open to fresh argument whenever it arises. Where I disagree is his almost ‘religious’ certainty in his own conclusions. Evolution does not disprove the existence of a creative intelligence but it is an explanation which appeals to reason.

The other point which I would like to reply to is your statement: ‘Any creed that teaches that "death is not the end" creates a dangerous foundation that can be built on and exploited.’ - the argument that because there is no ‘god’ however that god may be defined does not mean that their is only this material physical universe. In fact David Deutsch whose work is simply ground-breaking in many areas suggests that there may be a myriad of universes, all with their own laws and realities. There is nothing to suggest that human beings are the apex of all existing life-forms, even in this universe there could be other beings of superior intelligence of whom we are not aware. I am not claiming that this is so but what I am trying to point out is that there is always room for doubt in one’s convictions no matter how ‘logically’ sound they may appear.


Tue, 10 Oct 2006 22:43:00 UTC | #5779

Wilfred C. Lyon's Avatar Comment 7 by Wilfred C. Lyon

To Garry,

You seem to be getting and giving all of the comments, I'd like to add mine.

The point that you seem to have missed in the naturalists is that what can be observed or tested by one and be tested by anyone. When all of the tests results agree, we commonly put faith in the theorem, much like gravity. One difference between "faith" arguments and naturalists theories, is that the theory should propose things that can be tested. I have proposed a religion based on the fact that a "creator" made everything just as it was five minutes ago, implanting our individual consciousness with a knowledge of a past life, rocks with testable ages, etc. This concept cannot be tested and does not yield any questions to be further tested. Gravity of Newton, did suggest tests and explained Kepler's observation that the sun was the center of the universe, etc.

It is this that naturalism has for all of us, and why we have gained so much knowledge, useful knowledge. And, yes, just one flaw, or incontrovertible fact can change the theory. Just as the Michelson-Morley experience changed Newtonian physics. In naturalism, there are no absolutes, only certainity in the facts revealed by testing, and only useful in the context of those test, while suggesting further tests.

I think that I may have run on too much, both linguistically and in prose.

Wed, 11 Oct 2006 11:20:00 UTC | #5800

Geoff's Avatar Comment 8 by Geoff

Richard Dawkins is not a consistent atheist.

First, his little interview is dripping with meaningful morality. And as much as Dawkins may protest about philosophy, etc... if God doesn't exist, all things are permissible. You can't have moral laws without a law giver.

Secondly, Dawkins as an atheist says he wants people to make up their own minds. Well, if our minds consist of atoms bouncing around constrained by the laws of chemistry and physics, we don't believe what we believe because it is true. So Dawkins, according to his own beliefs, has to admit that he believes what he believes not because they are true. His atheism undercuts any attempts to utilize logic (which is immaterial btw) and reasoning.

Wed, 11 Oct 2006 14:18:00 UTC | #5802

Geoff's Avatar Comment 9 by Geoff

And those laws created by mere atoms bouncing around in a certain way, whether they are your parents or whatever, have no ultimate meaning. They are subjective and any person who is thorough enough will set them aside as easily as they arrived.

But that isn't the morality we use. We use a morality that requires theism. Including Richard Dawkins.

Wed, 11 Oct 2006 18:52:00 UTC | #5810

Jacinto's Avatar Comment 10 by Jacinto


How do you get your morality from God? Has God commanded His law explicitly, say, in the Bible? Or has God planted a moral sense in your and my hearts? I’m not quite sure how you would answer so I’ll address both options.

If you think you get your morality from the Bible I’d say you’re mistaken. Read Numbers 31, where Moses orders his armies to kill women and children. Or read Romans 9, where St. Paul explains that God creates some souls to be saved and some to be lost. Is this arbitrariness a model of morality? You may say I misinterpret St. Paul, but then so have St. Augustine and Martin Luther. But a more fundamental problem of getting one’s morals from the Bible or any given law is this: how do you tell the law is good? You may say, if the law is given by God it is a good law because God is good. But how do you tell God is good? How do you tell God is not a joker? You have to find the answer in your heart. You may discuss the issue with others, but in the end it is your heart that will tell whether something is right or wrong. Even an almighty God will not be good merely because He says so. If God were to appear to me saying, stone the adulterer to death, I would probably be terrified with the prospect of going to hell and obey. But that wouldn’t make God’s command good. Stoning an adulterer to death is wrong.

Now the second option. That’s my option by the way. I do really believe we have a moral sense. We tell white from black with our eyes, sweet from bitter with our tongues, and right from wrong with our nervous and hormonal systems. I can no more think that killing a harmless child is right than I can enjoy rotten apples. It’s part of human nature. That’s why the Chinese, Native Americans and Ancient Greeks had morals even though they had no Bible. That’s why Richard Dawkins has morals even though he believes the Bible is a collection of myths. I think many theists and atheists alike will agree that we have a moral sense. But whereas theists believe the moral sense, eyes and tongue were ultimately created by God, atheists believe they evolved by natural causes alone. Morality requires theism no more than vision does. Some have argued that morality sometimes requires individuals to act against their interests, and would thus not be naturally selected. But humans are a social species. One has a lot to gain from cooperating with others; cooperation requires trust and reciprocity, and the basis for that is morality.

Finally to the bouncing atoms. Some atoms came to bounce in a way as to form representations of the world in the animal’s head that were approximately correct. Chase the rabbit: it is food. Flee from the wolf: it is a predator. If you’re found to be a liar nobody will believe you anymore. Other bouncing atoms may not have formed such good mental representations. The latter got extinct, the former survived, and their descendants are still with us; some of them are us.

Thu, 12 Oct 2006 11:09:00 UTC | #5822

Veronique's Avatar Comment 11 by Veronique

To Garry Bannister

"all we ever experience is what our minds create for us. Things are only so because we perceive them to be so.'

You sound like you haven't looked at Descartes properly. Now, in this time, quantum physics can't be 'seen' but the theory is pretty damned good at predicting outcomes and the physical evidence is there.

Comment 9 Vince De luca - get some help with your spelling if not your grammar

Garry - 10 religion is a viral meme. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the obvious connection and its proliferation. You say in post 11 'Most of our motivations are hidden from our conscious minds.' THAT is exactly what RD is saying about the religious meme.

16 - Geoff. Read Plato and maybe I'll talk to you

Fri, 22 Dec 2006 01:38:00 UTC | #12422

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 12 by Garry Bannister

Dear Veronique,

The concept of 'memes' is merely that – a concept or speculation. You write 'now in this time of quantum physics' but we all know that time is relative and has no absolute definable quality within itself. If we are to believe Jacques Derrida even Descartes was off the mark with his historic statement "cogito ergo sum' which according to the deconstructionists is rooted in a set of linguistically posited structured oppositions like conscious and unconscious, deep and shallow, etc.. which promulgate a convenient myth of fixed meanings.

My problem with Dawkins is the same as I have with any fundamentalist perspective that tries to see everything through the prism of his or her own particular doctrine – be that in the world of Christianity, Islam, communism, evolutionism, or whatever. Frozen views are misleading because everything that is, is in constant movement and occupies within its being both what it is and what it is not.

I could accept Dawkinisms if Richard Dawkins predicated all his observations with "from my very limited perspective, knowledge, experience I have concluded" - but no, Richard Dawkins is as arrogant and self-opinionated as the very people he condemns. Which only goes to prove the wisdom of the very old Buddhist teaching that tells of 'Mara', the demon within, who pounces from within but whom we all like to project outside ourselves.

Dawkins has a great mind, an inventive and intuitive imagination but the war he is waging is not with the world outside himself but within.

Thank you for your comments.

Garry Bannister.

Tue, 26 Dec 2006 15:32:00 UTC | #13009

goddogit's Avatar Comment 13 by goddogit

Dear Garry,

It looks to me that you yourself are engaged in the exact sort of behavior you accuse (nasty word!) Prof. Dawkins of.

You are "polishing your mirror." In public.


Tue, 26 Dec 2006 15:37:00 UTC | #13011

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 14 by Garry Bannister

Dear Goddogit,

Is it really half past three in the morning where you are?!

There is no mirror to polish.

Best wishes,

Tue, 26 Dec 2006 15:49:00 UTC | #13012

JohnC's Avatar Comment 15 by JohnC

Scientific truth is also 'a relative truth' which is just as conditional as is religious 'faith' ... Perhaps the 'golden rule' is that everything in the end to some degree is relative ...

Garry, the problem here appears to be your post-modernist epistemology. Science does not claim to find "absolute truth" but that does not put all truth claims on an equal footing. It specifically does not make scientific empirical claims as "conditional" as those made in the name of religious faith. American fundamentalists declare the world to be less than 10,000 years old on the basis of their faith in the literal truth of the Bible. Science tells us that the actual age of the Earth is around 4.5 billion years, and though this estimate could be revised somewhat in the light of subsequent evidence the probability of it ever approaching the fundamentalist claim is so vanishingly small as to render the Biblical estimate "false" by any rational definition of the word.

Tue, 26 Dec 2006 16:26:00 UTC | #13014

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 16 by Garry Bannister

Dear JohnC

Descartes, whom some still call 'the father of modern philosophy', posed a fundamental question in its most extreme form: 'How can I be sure of anything?' His answer has been argued about ever since, but the question still stands today as a moment of hesitation or doubt to be held over any pronouncement, be it scientific or philosophical.

If I were a caveman and some one told me that the world was round, I should most likely laugh, pointing out that if it were round people would simply fall off it or if I were a scientist in the late 19th century and someone attempted to explain to me about quantum physics it would also seem equally bizarre, flying in the face of all conventional reason.

Time may not be as we consider it now and space may be no more real that cyber space. What we can say is that from the information available to us, we have concluded that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. I have no objection to people considering they are right, or that they have arrived at, as honestly as possible, the correct conclusions within the parameters of all the evidence available to them. That is fair enough. The objection is to any claim of exclusivity. And I mean by this: that simply because I am right there is no other way of looking at reality that may be considered valid. There's the rub.

Our grandchildren will surely look back and smile at our many misconceptions of the universe but nonetheless humanity has already performed many amazing feats of ingenuity, turning stones and rocks into computers and aeroplanes and the like. However, the mind is not just inspired by reason, it is also driven and excited by many other things such as feelings and crazy wisdom. Although I am not a theist, I am constantly overwhelmed with incredible awe by the musical genius of JS Back who has given a dimension of understanding and meaning to my life that no theory of evolution ever could. Bach's greatest works were inspired by his faith in God, as were the works of John Bunyan, Alighieri Dante, William Blake...the list is endless.

Perhaps it is a mistake to turn any thing into a god, even 'reason' and logical deduction'. Science is only one of the instruments in the great orchestra of experiencing and explaining reality.

Happy New year!


Wed, 27 Dec 2006 04:34:00 UTC | #13049

JohnC's Avatar Comment 17 by JohnC

Garry, you parade a series of non-controversial propositions: the mind is not just inspired by reason, the beauty of Bach's music, current scientific knowledge will be overtaken by new discoveries and understandings. Yes, yes and yes. Indeed, such observations border on the banal, but they do not justify placing the truth claims of religion and science on the same footing. In the spirit of your post, and as New Year present to those who missed it, have a listen to this short excerpt from Neil DeGrasse Tyson's closing contribution at the recent Beyond Belief conference.

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 05:34:00 UTC | #13052

Garry Bannister's Avatar Comment 18 by Garry Bannister

Dear JohnC

And as a return New Year's gift to you have a listen to this short excerpt from Melvin Konner's contribution at the same conference.


Wed, 27 Dec 2006 07:38:00 UTC | #13054

JohnC's Avatar Comment 19 by JohnC


While I have no qualms about recommending Neil's "sermon" to anyone, I must admit to feeling genuinely conflicted about Mel's sometimes mean-spirited - sorry, I can think of no more appropriate adjective - attack on Richard and Sam. I perhaps might have felt better if he had bothered to stay for the remainder of the conference and engage in some dialogue on his viewpoint ...

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 08:00:00 UTC | #13055