Tag: Dawkins

The Pope speaks. Richard Dawkins replies.

October 21, 2010 | By | Reply More
The Pope speaks.  Richard Dawkins replies.

Only a few weeks ago, the Pope arrived at Edinburgh to blame people like me (I don’t belong to a religion) for the Nazi holocaust. These outrageous claims constitute the kind of abject bigotry that can lead to ostracism and violence against those of us who, sincerely and after careful consideration of the evidence, do not believe in supernatural beings. As reported by The U.K. Guardian:

Benedict XVI used the first papal state visit to Britain to launch a blistering attack on “atheist extremism” and “aggressive secularism”, and to rue the damage that “the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life” had done in the last century. The leader of the Roman Catholic church concluded a speech, made before the Queen and assembled dignitaries at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, with the argument that the Nazi desire to eradicate God had led to the Holocaust and a plea for 21st-century Britain to respect its Christian foundations.

Incredibly, he described pedophilia as an ‘illness’ whose sufferers had “lost their free will.” The Guardian article is well worth a read. It offers a fascinating look into the corrupted soul of the Vatican.

Richard Dawkins had more than a few pointed things to say about the Pope and his church. In fact, his speech took the form of an sharp indictment. I couldn’t agree more with Dawkins, even though it somewhat pains me to say this. You see, I was raised Catholic and I have many friends who are still practicing Catholics who are generous, kind and thoughtful. It’s a pity that their spiritual leader would rather blame secularists and allow millions of people to die by depriving them of condoms, than to own up to the mass-rape perpetrated and covered up by many of the “leaders” of his Church. On top of that, consider the Catholic Church’s systemic disparagment of women. Such horrifically screwed up priorities.

For many years, the Vatican has annoyed me with its pomposity and hypocrisy, exacerbated by the way the mass media fawns over so many things that Popes utter, rarely pointing out the vagueness or the absurdities. I’m afraid that I’ve now reached a tipping point. It’s time to completely disregard the fact that the Pope is revered by so many others. Despite the fact that the Pope dresses up in expensive clothes and that he works extremely hard to obscure his absurdities with impenetrable language allegedly based on ancient books, he plainly stands before us as a man whose head is filled with numerous terrible ideas.

Here’s what Dawkins had to say:

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Tolerance of Religion Scale

September 25, 2010 | By | 10 Replies More
Tolerance of Religion Scale

In The God Delusion (at page 50), Richard Dawkins presented the following spectrum of theistic probability:

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
7. Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’
Incidentally, Dawkins placed himself at a “6″ on his 7-point scale. See also here.

This above scale is quite useful. How sure are you that there is no “God”? Now you can rank your own confidence level based on a scale that quantifies your beliefs; you can then compare your degree of beliefs to that of others.

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How to refuse to look at evidence and how to evade simple questions

September 4, 2010 | By | 128 Replies More
How to refuse to look at evidence and how to evade simple questions

The arrows of my title are not being directed toward Richard Dawkins, one of the two people engaged in this extraordinary conversation. My title is directed toward creationist Wendy Wright. Her obstructionist tactics suggest that it is simply not fruitful to discuss evolution by natural selection with someone who doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to understand it.

I’ve pasted Part 2 of 7 of this exchange above. The other parts are available at Youtube. Richard Dawkins is a model of patience here. Ms. Wright repeatedly invokes a handful of tactics to stretch out this ostensible conversation endlessly. One tactic is to change the topic whenever Dawkins tries to focus upon real world facts. Another is to send out broad accusations, such as accusing Darwin of racism when, in reality, the Victorian world was filled with people who held views that would now be considered racist and, in fact, Darwin and his writings were notably not racist. In fact, Darwin expressed abolitionist views.

In a recent comment I wrote the following:

I’m tempted to begin a new “policy” from today forward. Those disparaging the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection must, in order to deserve a reply (other than a copy and paste of this comment) must, in their own words, describe the basic elements of the theory and at least a few of the many types of evidence supporting the theory. They must also make it clear that they know how a scientific theory differs from pure speculation.

It is my repeated impression that those attempting to criticize the facts and theory of evolution by natural selection are actually attacking some something else, something that biologists, geo-biologists, geneticists, botanists and other scientists do not support. In short, they are attacking straw men. The only reasonable reply to such attacks is to direct the commenter to set aside a few hours and to read a good book on natural selection.

There’s a lot more discussion about this video a website with a most extraordinary name: WhyWontGodHealAmputee.com. Soricidae’s Blog offers a play by play for one section of the Wright-Dawkins exchange.

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Richard Dawkins discusses the Greatest Show on Earth

August 8, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
Richard Dawkins discusses the Greatest Show on Earth

In this Fora.TV video of a talk he gave at U.C. Berkeley, Richard Dawkins discusses his most recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth. In the early minutes of the talk, he explains why fossils are “icing on the cake” and he illustrates the “problem” with gaps by use of a humorous story.

At minute 43:00, Dawkins explore the anthropic principle. At minute 49:00, Dawkins comments on the use of the word “why,” as part of his comment on the question “Why are we here?” He explains: It’s no more deserving of an answer than the question: “Why are unicorns hollow?” Dawkins also comments on the mechanism the creates conscious pain at minute 52:00, before declaring his own attempt to explain it to be incoherent. On the likelihood of a random mutation improving an organism, Dawkins points out that it is highly unlikely: “There are many more ways of being dead than alive.”

This video offers lots more engaging back and forth in the comments portion, following the main presentation.

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Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth

April 28, 2010 | By | Reply More
Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth

Richard Dawkins released The Greatest Show on Earth in November to really and truly assemble substantial amounts of understandable evidence in one place for those 40% of Americans who can’t stand to follow the evidence where it leads and for those of us who want the hordes to quit making excuses and to follow that evidence. I haven’t read Dawkins’ new book yet (though I own it), but Jerry Coyne has read it, and he reviewed it at The Nation.

Coyne begins his review by characterizing the absurdity of refusing to acknowledge evolution by natural selection. The situation is as bad as as this hypothetical:

Imagine for a moment that a large proportion of Americans–let’s say half–rejected the “germ theory” of infectious disease. Maladies like swine flu, malaria and AIDS aren’t caused by micro-organisms, they claim, but by the displeasure of gods, whom they propitiate by praying, consulting shamans and sacrificing goats. Now, you’d surely find this a national disgrace, for those people would be utterly, unequivocally wrong. Although it’s called germ theory, the idea that infections are spread by small creatures is also a fact, supported by mountains of evidence.

Coyne also describes Dawkins’ chapter setting forth powerful evidence illustrating that evolution is a tinkerer:

In a wonderful chapter called “History Written All Over Us,” Dawkins shows that animal anatomy is like a medieval palimpsest, carrying traces of our evolutionary ancestry. Human goose bumps, for instance, serve no function: they’re remnants of the muscles used by our mammalian ancestors–and our living relatives like cats–to erect their fur, making them warmer and giving enemies the illusion of greater size. Modern genome sequencing has also uncovered vestigial DNA: useless, broken genes that are functional in our relatives and presumably were too in our ancestors. Our own genome, for instance, harbors nonfunctional genes that, in our bird and reptile relatives, produce egg yolk. Embryology–the study of development–brings more proof to the table. The pharyngeal arches of the early, fishlike human embryo are derived directly from the gill arches of fish, though they go on to become, among other things, our larynx and eustachian tube.

Coyne has given us a well-written review. Now it’s time for me to go read Dawkins’ book itself, so I can speak first hand. BTW, Catch this excellent 3-minute video of Dawkins describing the purpose of writing The Greatest Show on Earth.

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New edition of Darwin’s Origin with a Creationist Intro

September 17, 2009 | By | 9 Replies More
New edition of Darwin’s Origin with a Creationist Intro

While watching this video, try counting Kirk Cameron’s lies. Just incredible. What does it tell you when someone is so utterly insecure about his own arguments that he lies about his opponent’s positions?

Richard Dawkins has a post on this new wacko edition of Darwin’s Origin, and a suggestion that concerned citizens go pick one up and chop out and throw away the 50-page intro.

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Charles Darwin’s exceedingly dangerous idea

March 28, 2009 | By | Reply More
Charles Darwin’s exceedingly dangerous idea

In Darwin’s dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Daniel Dennett describes Darwin’s idea as the “best idea anyone has ever had.”

In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and a physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea.

What exactly was Darwin’s dangerous idea? According to Dennett, it was “not the idea of evolution, but the idea of evolution by natural selection, an idea he himself could never formulate with sufficient rigor and detail to prove, though he presented a brilliant case for it.” (42) Dennett considers Darwin’s idea to be “dangerous” because it has so many fruitful applications in so many fields above and beyond biology. When Dennett was a schoolboy, he and some of his friends imagined that there was such a thing as “universal acid,”

a liquid “so corrosive that it will eat through anything! The problem is: what do you keep it in? It dissolves glass bottles and stainless steel canisters as readily as paper bags. What would happen if you somehow came upon or created a dollop of universal acid? With the whole planet eventually be destroyed? What would it leave in its wake? After everything had been transformed by its encounter with universal acid, what would the world look like? Little did I realize that in a few years I would encounter an idea-Darwin’s idea-bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks are still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.

(63) Darwin’s idea is powerful, indeed. Many people see it as having the power to ruin the meaning of life.

People fear that once this universal acid has passed through the monuments we cherish, they will cease to exist, dissolved in an unrecognizable and unlovable puddle of scientific destruction.

Dennett characterizes this fear is unwarranted:

We might learn some surprising or even shocking things about these treasures, but unless our valuing these things was based all long on confusion or mistaken identity, how could increase understanding of them diminish their value in our eyes? (82)

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Richard Dawkins discusses The God Delusion on Minnesota Public Radio

March 17, 2009 | By | Reply More
Richard Dawkins discusses The God Delusion on Minnesota Public Radio

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, has spent countless hours defending his positions before lay audiences. What’s really impressive about Dawkins is the way he keeps his cool under fire (I was first impressed with Dawkins’ composure when I viewed this episode, involving Dawkins’ interview of the gay-bashing hypocrite, Ted Haggard).

Consider this condescending interview conducted 3/4/09 by Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio. You can listen to the entire one-hour interview here. At the beginning of this interview, Miller could barely hide her disdain for Dawkins. Many of the people calling the show to ask questions were much more open-minded than the host–they certainly didn’t pick up the host’s mocking tone.

Miller began the interview by branding Dawkins a failure because people weren’t running to convert to atheism, despite Dawkins’ hope (expressed in The God Delusion) that people reading his book would be caused to rethink their beliefs in religion. Dawkins explained that he did hope that people would rethink their beliefs, but that his book didn’t fail merely because people didn’t abruptly quit their religious affiliations. Here’s the hope Dawkins expressed when he wrote The God Delusion:

I hope to persuade . . . a substantial number of middle of the road people that there’s nothing wrong with a disbelief in God … there’s nothing outlandish about it. It’s probably what they’re like anyway, whether or not they admit it to themselves.

Miller then worked to corner Dawkins with a belief expressed by theist John Polkinghorne that there are no hard and fasts truths. Dawkins agreed with Polkinghorne on this general point, but advised Miller that this doesn’t mean that we have no understanding of anything.

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Richard Dawkins moves on to those other Enemies of Reason

August 26, 2007 | By | 1 Reply More
Richard Dawkins moves on to those other Enemies of Reason

Richard Dawkins is famous for his criticisms of organized religion.  In this new two-part video (see here and here), he moves on to examine spiritualists, faith healers, dowsers, homeopaths, astrologers and others who shun evidence in order to practice their unsubstantiated trades. Much of this video is straightforward and succinctly edited. Dawkins restrains himself in […]

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