Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Bit More On Dawkins And Religion

Caption: Richard Dawkins during a reading from his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth at the University of Washington, October 8, 2009.

Image credit: Cujo359

Last Thursday I saw Prof. Richard Dawkins speak at the University of Washington. Dana Hunter has a good description of his talk. I agree with her assessment that he's an engaging speaker.

One of the readings he gave from his new book reminded my of this issue. A couple of critics had decided, without checking whether it was actually true, that Dawkins had suddenly decided that saying religion and science weren't compatible in his mind wasn't a good idea. Here's a passage from the first chapter of The Greatest Show On Earth that ought to show they really didn't do their homework:

To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they'd put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore. All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed! If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely 'symbolic' meaning, perhaps something to do with 'original sin', or the virtues of innocence. They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally. But do their congregations know that? How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, which symbolically? Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess? In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused. If you don't believe me, look at the Appendix

The appendix he mentions quotes some rather appalling statistics from polls suggesting that people in America and Europe believe to an astounding degree that human beings did not evolve from other life forms, and that humans and dinosaurs existed simultaneously.

It ought to be clear by now that his opinion hasn't changed. There is still plenty of reason to think that religion and science aren't compatible. Faced with evidence like that in the appendix, it's hard to disagree.


Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

incommensurable, not 'incompatible.'

religion can be compatible with science, as newton and others proved repeatedly.

the problem is they are not situated in the same universes.

the Founders realized you cannot found a politics on "faith." It is inherently unjust, prejudiced towards the 'faithful.' Seems to me they founded their politics on the material realities conveyed to them by the "Enlightenment." They were scientific humanists, before it was necessary or useful to make a distinction.

Cujo359 said...

Incompatible is the term Dawkins uses in The God Delusion, and I think it's justified. People can keep contradictory thoughts in their heads. That doesn't make those thoughts compatible, it just means that people have figured out a way to live with them simultaneously.

I think it's fair to say that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were both products of the Enlightenment. It contained a number of the principles of that movement, and a secular view of earthly events was certainly one of them.

Dana Hunter said...

We're talking M&K Ultra here. Homework isn't in their vocabulary - at least not if they have the slightest chance of misrepresenting someone's views. Gah. I think you noticed that subtle little dig he got in at them when he was talking about the zeitgeist n such.

Cujo359 said...

I haven't paid enough attention to M&K. All I figured was that given that the reference to zeitgeist was a bit forced, it was probably a joke.