Archive for November 9th, 2010
This is a delightful and engaging conversation between these two extraordinary thinkers (audio only). Natural selection is the focus, but there is a lot more, including scientific revolutions and fractal animals. Here’s an excerpt from the 18-minute conversation:
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a scientist?
RD: I only became fired up in my second year of a science degree. Unlike you, I was never a boy naturalist, to my regret. It was more the intellectual, philosophical questions that interested me.
DA: I am a naturalist rather than a scientist. Simply looking at a flower or a frog has always seemed to me to be just about the most interesting thing there is. Others say human beings are pretty interesting, which they are, but as a child you’re not interested in Auntie Flo’s psychology; you’re interested in how a dragonfly larva turns into a dragonfly.
RD: Yes, it’s carrying inside it two entirely separate blueprints, two different programmes.
DA: I couldn’t believe it! I remember asking an adult, “What goes on inside a cocoon?” and he said, “The caterpillar is totally broken down into a kind of soup. And then it starts again.” And I remember saying, “That can’t be right.” As a procedure, you can’t imagine how it evolved.
If you stay around until the end of the discussion, you’ll get to hear Attenborough imitating Ernst Mayr.
Caspar Melville is often “bored” by new atheism and finds that the attacks of new atheists are overbroad (e.g., the suggestion bringing up a child in any religion is tantamount to child abuse), but in the U.K. Guardian he admits that new atheism does have its uses:
Hundreds of column inches have been generated by New Atheism and responses to it – not least in my magazine – and, if at times the debate has all the subtlety of It’s A Knockout, it has also been educative, instructive and popular, in the important sense that it has been conducted in a language that most people can understand. It’s sold a lot of books, too.
New Atheism is also good at answering back to particular kinds of arguments. The origins of the New Atheists’ impulse, according to philosopher Richard Norman, lie in 9/11 and the reappearance of a particularly aggressive strain of Christian religious fundamentalism. If, as Norman also argues, New Atheism can be over-generalising and crude in its response to religion, this is because it is a response to crude and nonspecific articulations of religiosity – what could be less specific than bombing a skyscraper, or cruder than Biblical creationism? In the light of this, irascible, rhetorically florid, sweeping, intellectually arrogant New Atheism certainly has its place – some arguments are just asking for it.