Monday, January 22, 2007

 

The Root of All Evil: The God Delusion (Online Video)

Video: The God Delusion, Part 1 of Richard Dawkins' "The Root of All Evil" mini-series, is again available online (click on the above link).

The program was produced by Channel 4 (UK) whose website states:

In this two-part Channel 4 series, Professor Richard Dawkins challenges what he describes as 'a process of non-thinking called faith'. Dawkins is well known for bringing to a wide audience the complex scientific concepts that underpin evolution. His first book, The Selfish Gene (Amazon UK | US) was an international bestseller.

Truth lies and faith

He describes his astonishment that, at the start of the 21st century, religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth. Science, based on scepticism, investigation and evidence, must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and unshakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science.

In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress - to become more enlightened and more tolerant.

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The above also links to a book review of The God Delusion (UK | US) written by Daniel Dennett (Author of Breaking the spell: Religion as natural phenomenon) for 'Free Inquiry':

...What do I wish were different in Dawkins' book? The same thing I wish were different in mine. Sometimes he just cannot conceal his mounting impatience with the arguments he has obliged himself to consider, and when his disrespect, or even contempt, shines through in spite of his strenuous efforts - I know just what he's going through - he must surely lose many readers. Good riddance to them? Well, no, this is a problem. Serious argument depends on mutual respect, and this is often hard to engender when disagreements turn vehement. The social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport (creator of the winning Tit-for-Tat strategy in Robert Axelrod's legendary prisoner's dilemma tournament) once promulgated a list of rules for how to write a successful critical commentary on an opponent's work. First, he said, you must attempt to re-express your opponent's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way." Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism. I have found this a salutary discipline to follow - or, since it is challenging, to attempt to follow. When it succeeds, the results are gratifying: your opponent is in a mood to be enlightened and eagerly attentive. But this is well nigh impossible when the arguments you wish to rebut are too flimsy. For one thing, you fear that hyper-patience will appear patronizing and simply drive other, swifter readers away. For another, we are dealing here with arguments that in most instances no longer have identifiable living exponents. Who stands by the Ontological Argument today? There are historians of philosophy and theology aplenty who will lovingly teach the argument (and its variants and rebuttals and the rebuttals of the rebuttals) but with few exceptions they don't defend it. It is treated as a interesting historical example, a Worthy Attempt, a jewel in the treasure-house of religion and philosophy, but not as a consideration that demands a response in today's arena of argument. That being so, giving the argument the Full Rapoport Treatment would be misplaced effort, comically earnest...

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Richard Dawkins' homepage at Oxford University is not very informative but he now has an official website at http://richarddawkins.net/.

This is split into the "Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science" (a variation on the Discovery Institute's "Center for Science and Culture"?):

"The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS or RDF) is a non-profit organization founded by biologist Richard Dawkins in 2006. It is trusteed by Dawkins and Claire Enders in the United Kingdom along with Karen Owens in the United States. As of November 2006, RDFRS has not been approved for non-profit status in the United States following its application 6 months prior. On this fact, Dawkins commented "I don't know too much about these things, but what’s annoying is how religious organizations get such an easy ride, while we really have to argue for it" (Wiki)

The original "Introduction to the Foundation (Video)" is no longer available - probably as a result of sorting out the Foundation's charity status - but the transcript began:

"I have just visited my local branch of Britain's biggest bookshop chain, and this is what I found: six books on astronomy and nineteen books on astrology. The real science is outnumbered three to one by the pseudoscience. There were twenty books on angels, which means that angels and astrology together (39) outnumber the totality of books on all the sciences (33). When you add in the books on fairies, crystal healing, fortune telling, faith healing, Nostradamus, psychics and dream interpretation, it is no contest. Pseudoscience outnumbers science by at least three to one, and I didn't even begin to count the far larger number of books on religion. This is not, of course, an academic bookshop. Oxford is well supplied with those, and they'd show a very different result. I made my counts in a popular bookshop, presumably typical of the nationwide chain of which it is a part - indeed, the chain's buying policy is centralized in London, and we may be sure that strenuous and expensive efforts are made to reflect popular taste. As a statistical generalization, the general public, as opposed to an academic readership, prefers irrational books over books that reflect what we know about the real world.

A recent Gallup poll concluded that nearly 50% of the American public believes the universe is less than 10,000 years old. Nearly half the population, in other words, believes that the entire universe, the sun and solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, and all the billions of other galaxies, all began after the domestication of the dog. They believe this because they rate a particular bronze age origin myth more highly than all the scientific evidence in the world. It is only one of literally thousands of such myths from around the world, but it happened, by a series of historical accidents, to become enshrined in a book - Genesis - which, by another series of historical accidents, has been translated and disseminated to almost every home in the land plus - infuriatingly - every hotel room. Even before science told us the true story of the origin of the world and the evolution of life, there was no reason to believe the Jewish origin myth any more than the origin myths of the Yoruba or the Kikuyu, the Yanomamo or the Maori, the Dogon or the Cherokee. Now, in the 21st century as we approach Darwin's bicentenary, the fact that half of Americans take Genesis literally is nothing less than an educational scandal.

The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America. I am one of those scientists who feels that it is no longer enough just to get on and do science. We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance. We even have to go out on the attack ourselves, for the sake of reason and sanity. But it must be a positive attack, for science and reason have so much to give. They are not just useful, they enrich our lives in the same kind of way as the arts do. Promoting science as poetry was one of the things that Carl Sagan did so well, and I aspire to continue his tradition."

The 'other half' of http://richarddawkins.net/ goes to "The Official Richard Dawkins Website" where you can read Chapter 1 of The God Delusion:

"Carl Sagan, in Pale Blue Dot, wrote:

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

All Sagan's books touch the nerve-endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration. Consequently I hear myself often described as a deeply religious man. An American student wrote to me that she had asked her professor whether he had a view about me. 'Sure,' he replied. 'He's positive science is incompatible with religion, but he waxes ecstatic about nature and the universe. To me, that is religion!' But is 'religion' the right word? I don't think so. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist (and atheist) Steven Weinberg made the point as well as anybody, in Dreams of a Final Theory:

Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe.' Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal.

Weinberg is surely right that, if the word God is not to become completely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally understood it: to denote a supernatural creator that is 'appropriate for us to worship'.

Much unfortunate confusion is caused by failure to distinguish what can be called Einsteinian religion from supernatural religion. Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so), inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own. The dramatic (or was it mischievous?) ending of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, 'For then we should know the mind of God', is notoriously misconstrued. It has led people to believe, mistakenly of course, that Hawking is a religious man. The cell biologist Ursula Goodenough, in The Sacred Depths of Nature, sounds more religious than Hawking or Einstein. She loves churches, mosques and temples, and numerous passages in her book fairly beg to be taken out of context and used as ammunition for supernatural religion. She goes so far as to call herself a 'Religious Naturalist'. Yet a careful reading of her book shows that she is really as staunch an atheist as I am." [Atheism]

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Recent posts include:

"Intelligent Design: 'A War on Science' (BBC Horizon Video - 49 mins)"

"'The Only One in Step' by Richard Dawkins"

"Anti-Religion Extremist Dawkins Advocates Eugenics"

"Notes on Charles Darwin's voyage to the Galapagos by Richard Dawkins"

"Evolution: Richard Dawkins on 'The Colbert Report' (Video)"

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