Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Richard Dawkins - The Virus of Faith

So Richard Dawkins' The Root of All Evil Part 2 has aired last night. I must say that looking back on both instalments, I expected more than I got but then 2 hours (minus six commercial breaks) doesn't leave all that much room for manoeuvre and at times the programme seemed to suffer a little from overcrowding.

But looking at the blogosphere Richard Dawkins is predictably already being accused of all sorts, simply for speaking his mind on the "sensitive" topic of religion. In my honest opinion, the only really valid point one fellow blogger made was Dawkins' gaffe of stating at one point that "evolution is a FACT", during his confrontation with the Hassidic Rabbi. Apart from the fact that evolutionary biology still has to be considered a theory (albeit one with a phenomenal body of evidence to support it), it is also gefundenes fressen for those who want to brand
evolutionary biology (and with it atheism, just for good measure) as a new religion.

But most other criticisms tell more about the criticasters than their subject:

1. Dawkins' programme was a frontal assault, atheist propaganda: coming from the religious camp, it shows most theists still feel all should tip-toe around subjects like the existence of God and some of the central tenets of both Testaments. No doubt some will pray for us...
2. Dawkins spent too much time on fundamentalists and too little on the liberal side: in the programme itself he shows why; liberals have a pick-and-mix attitude to their faith which simply isn't representative of the core values of their faith. They end up sitting on the fence between science and religion without wholly embracing either. Is it necessary to make this choice? If you want too be logical about things then yes. But being logical is not a legal requirement... The fact that I'd rather sit down to dinner with a moderate believer than a fundamentalist, doesn't change much at all.
3. Dawkins wasn't being scientific. Well, this wasn't a science programme and to expect anyone to make a comprehensive, scientifically supported case for evolutionary biology and against superstition within the framework of a 2 hour TV show would be entirely unrealistic. And why is it that those who base most of their world view on a faith often require evidence and proof from others?
4. Dawkins is angry, so so angry: plain rubbish, someone who speaks out against religion will always be seen as having a chip on their shoulders by the religious crowd. I'm agnostic and Dawkins didn't come across particularly livid to me.

Nearly 150 years after publication of Origins, Darwin's big idea continues to be dangerous...

Some of Dawkins' programme had more of an anecdotal quality: the so-called "Hell Houses" weren't that important in arguing Dawkins' case but it was revealing to see to what lengths some evangelists will go to in order to strike the fear of God into children as young as 12 years of age.

It's a pity Channel 4 hadn't decided to make more room for this kind of programme.

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At 12:13 AM, Blogger Dr Jim said...

To be fair, within evolutionary biology circles, it has gotten to the stage where nothing short of God almighty himself coming down and holding a press conference, is going to refute evolution; thus "fact" and "evolution" often find themselves sharing sentences more these days.

However, due to languid nature of definitions on this subject, evolution will remain a theory ...though not just a theory. After all, a theory has more impact, in my mind, as it is is of course fluid, dynamic and ever improving with "theory" representing the currency of all science. The kind of openness associated with theories is one of their strongest merits.

To state anything as "fact", you either have to be monumentally confident or very arrogant. Dawkins is more the former; organised religion on the other hand, is very much the latter. Thus their facts are dull, lifeless, contradictory and closed.

You're damn right though, why is it that religious groups demand evidence from us when they never demand it of themselves?

As for having enough time in a documentary to explain evolution. This, as ever, will always be the greatest difficulty with any complex science topic, not just those that oppose a religious doctrine. After all, you can explain creation in 45 mins to absolutely anyone, irrespective of ther education. You'd be looking at more than 45 hours to explain evolution sufficiently, because you'd first have to give them a crash course in how science works and what this mysterious term "evidence" means, before you could get them to appreciate the elegance of the model.

The sad thing is, most of those people I come across arguing against evolution generally have no idea what the scientist's argument actually is - all they know is what they've been programmed to think the argument is. Similarly, those lay people who support evolution are completely unequiped to deal with the types of arguments and intellectual dishonesty used by bible literalists.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Gert said...

I'm not always sure why I waste my time arguing with Creationists and most of the ID community, must be a glutton for punishment I guess.

thanks for your comment.

At 10:37 PM, Blogger Dr Jim said...

lol. I know what you mean. I actually gave up years ago, it was one of those undergraduate things. My recent post on the topic is comparatively "out of character" for me these days.

Interesting blog btw.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Well, it's a bit of a pot pourri, but then I never was much of a specialist... It probably explains my current state of moderate impoverishment.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Alan said...

Hi Gert,

You have some interesting articles here. I have been involved in the creationism debate for a couple of years now & maybe I can help shed some light on this theory/fact business.

A theory is simply an explanation for something. In everyday language, the term theory is often confused with the term conjecture that is little more than a guess. In science, however the term refers to an explanation of a very high standard that can be confirmed by the evidence.

A fact is simply something that has been observed to have happened.

The reason a theory should not be described as a fact is that although it may represent a very good explanation for some process, there is always the possibility that someone is going to come up with another differing explanation that is as good or even better.

However, it is perfectly possible for something to be both a theory & a fact. Think of gravity, which is explained to a high degree of accuracy by Newton’s laws. This was superseded by Einstein’s general relativity for even greater accuracy. There are good reasons to suspect that relativity is not going to be the last word on this subject & that another theory which is even more accurate than both Newton’s & Einstein’s will eventually be discovered.

Yet regardless of how you wish to explain it the force of gravity will continue to operate in the same fashion. Gravity in this sense then is fact.

Evolution is very similar to this. Biologists even today are arguing over the exact mechanisms (or their relative importance)that drive evolution & there is little doubt that they will be further refined for some time to come. Nevertheless, evolution has been observed to happen, so in this sense it is also a fact.

In short, evolution is both a theory & a fact.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, says this:

“The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.”

Alan. www.creationism (site currently incomplete/under revision)

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks for your useful comment. I'll check on the www.creationism(.com?) site soon.


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