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Monday, December 25, 2006

Darwin’s Rottweiler Strikes Again

posted by on December 25 at 15:10 PM

Thegoddelusion.jpgEvolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has a new book in which he asserts that belief in god is irrational and that religion has an ultimately corrosive effect on society.
Here’s Dawkins discussing the book on the stiff, British Newsnight, and easily outsmarting Steven Colbert.
I hope his book is under my tree (the biggest, brightest atheists’ xmas tree on the block) right now!

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How does one outsmart a satirical character who doesn't believe in facts or logic? If Dawkins outsmarted Colbert in that interview, then Colbert has been outsmarted in a lot of interviews.

Posted by fromohio | December 25, 2006 4:45 PM

Richard Dawkins represets fundamentalist atheism.

Spiritual self discovery does not always take place within the context of religion and cannot exclusively embrace the rational mind.

Posted by soupchurch | December 25, 2006 7:01 PM

Ditto FromOhio--

Amy, do you understand that CR is not an actual news show? No one goes on there to outsmart or be outsmarted by anyone. Smarts ain't necessaryl--and judging from your post, you'd be the perfect guest.

Posted by Peanut | December 25, 2006 10:38 PM

There is no such thing as a "fundamentalist" atheist. Yes we demand evidence if you are going to make magical claims about the nature of the universe, but there is no dogma involved in atheism. If you show us the evidence of God, then atheism will be no more. But there is no evidence of God whatsoever.

Posted by Tiffany | December 25, 2006 11:02 PM

One thing I always want to ask "rational" atheists is: How do you REALLY know the earth goes around the sun? I mean, I know people have told you this, I know some really smart people say it is true, but, come on, man, like, prove it! It all gets more complicated when we start looking at things like DNA, tectonic plates, gas giants, etc. What real experiential evidence do we all have for believing this? I personally think we take it on faith - we trust that scientists to tell us the truth because of their method.

I say this as one who believes the earth goes around the sun; in DNA, in tectonic plates, in gas giants (or whatever)... I just don't flatter myself by thinking that I am smart enough to KNOW it. So actually, Tiffany, you don't demand evidence, you just demand that someone else you agree with demanded evidence, or says he did. Then the tiny sliver of the universe that we "know" as a result becomes the only thing that exists.

Posted by Jude Fawley | December 26, 2006 12:47 AM

I am a scientist, philosophical materialist, and a hardcore atheist, but I do think Dawkins does show traits of fundamentalism (being intolerant of other views). Plus, in simply calling religion bad for society (which is an old argument -- Marx anyone?), he doesn't take his own evolutionary theory of religion to heart. The general, simplified evolutionary story of religion, which Dawkins borrows from, is that religion was evolved into the human genetic makeup because it establishes "moral" conduct amongst a group of individual humans who are vessels for genes that would rather be selfish than cooperate with others. That is, religion is nothing but a byproduct of evolution creating delusions of the mind in order to have group cohesiveness. What this means is that religion is an innate delusion that has allowed for the creation of societies. So, yes, religion has done a lot of evils. But it appears to also have some benefits; otherwise it wouldn't have survived evolution. What is needed is to channel the delusion to good use (e.g., civil rights movement) rather than for hate. And being arrogantly antagonistic towards religion just makes religious folks defensive. E.O. Wilson (another giant evolution scholar and devout atheist) take a more useful approach; in a book published the same month this year as Dawkins's, Wilson makes an appeal for religious folks to join scientists environmental movements to save "creation."

Posted by dork | December 26, 2006 1:45 AM

BTW, Steven Colbert (who I do worship, irrationally) stumped and outsmarted Dawkins, instead of the other way around, when Colbert asked how is it that evolution, which doesn't involve any intelligent design, is able to evolve humans who are then able to intelligently design things, like Dawkins's book. Potential paradox? Maybe not, but smart question nonetheless, and Dawkins didn't even seem to have caught on to what Colbert was doing. Brilliant satire.

Posted by dork | December 26, 2006 1:49 AM

The weirdest thing about Dawkins is he quite perceptively explains why you can't use logic to argue with religious types, and then proceeds to do just that.

Posted by Art | December 26, 2006 8:35 AM

Oh, and suck it tree-haters:

Posted by art | December 26, 2006 9:17 AM

Oh, and suck it tree-haters:

Posted by art | December 26, 2006 9:17 AM

If one believes that god exists like one believes that a table exists, one is simply crazy.
If one believes that god exists like one believes that the sun will rise tomorrow, then one is irrational because there isn't sufficient evidence for this belief.
If one believes that god exists like one believes that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, then I suppose that's rational enough, but it's hardly of any consequence, and it doesn't seem to te bhe sort of belief that could matter very much.
There is a fourth alternative though, that belief in god is not being convinced of the truth of a proposition at all. Rather religious belief is a hermeneutic commitment - going about life by interpreting the world in a certain way. The problem is that this sort of belief is only rational to the extent that one keeps in mind what one is doing.
When the tentative and underdetermined interpretation devolves into a creed that becomes the touchstone of being among the righteous, chosen, moral, etc. then religious belief has devolved into an ideology.
The Buddha was once asked how he responded to the seeming inconsistency of his teachings on reincarnation and his teachings on the insubstantiality of the self. His response was that when one has built a raft to cross a stream, one needed the raft, and one needed to put a lot of effort into building the raft, but that once one has crossed the stream, it would be crazy to drag the raft along up the mountainside. Real religious adepts have always had this attitude toward doxa and dogma.
Religion is dangerous not because of what is believed, but because of how it is believed.

Posted by kinaidos | December 26, 2006 10:11 AM

I'm reading the book now, and he does make a very good case for atheism and comes down pretty hard on agnostics.

One thing I don't think he appreciates though about the agnostics, its a bit like listening to a discussion about baseball while not giving a rats ass about baseball. Listening to an argument over the designated hitter sounds very foolish. You have better things to waste your beer on.

Posted by deadken | December 26, 2006 10:14 AM

One thing I don't think he appreciates though about the agnostics, its a bit like listening to a discussion about baseball while not giving a rats ass about baseball.

Yes! The problem with atheists is that they spend too much time arguing with theists, thus making themselves seem equally obsessed with God. It's like a Far Side cartoon: "blah blah blah God blah blah blah God". Doesn't matter what's being said, it's all about God.

Posted by Randy | December 26, 2006 11:13 AM

There is nothing more important in a materialist's life than an in depth discussion of the unfairness of the American League's desisgnated hitter. Pitchers must be made to bat if they are to be considered true ball players. To one who grows up in a strict fundamentalist National League household, praying to the Philadelphia Phillies- the designated hitter represents the irational, the fanatics. All atheists are rational Philly fans. Though some of us secretly cheer for the M's in our adopted city. There is no better way to waste your beer or buzz than discussing the designated hitter and how they should be banned.

Posted by SeMe | December 26, 2006 12:36 PM

The scientist's (& atheists) credo can be reduced to a single joke: A man is looking around on the street at night. Another guy asks him what's wrong. "I'm looking for my wallet."
"I'll help you, where do you lose it?"
"Back in the dark alley."
"Why are you looking out here?"
"Because the light's better."

Science studies a small area, the things that can be proven to be true. Yet, there are things that can't be proven either way, and yet are true. Godel proved the existence of things that are true and cannot be proven to be true a long time ago, and still atheists demand "proof" for anything they chose to 'believe' in.

Posted by Queequeg | December 26, 2006 3:17 PM

And there are things that can't be proven that are not true.

Posted by Gryph | December 26, 2006 3:36 PM

In support of deadken's point, atheism and agnosticism aren't mutually exclusive; they can overlap. Whereas, atheism is about the content of one's beliefs, agnosticism is about being doubtful or noncommittal about theism or anything else (fyi, I'm agnostic about the designated hitter). Thus, it's false to pit atheists against agnostics.

Posted by embrace uncertainty | December 26, 2006 3:38 PM


I think that you need to read Godel a little closer.

Posted by Yawn | December 26, 2006 3:41 PM

Dork @7: It's not a paradox at all; that's the whole point of evolution. Life increases in complexity and therefore ability by gradual degrees. It does so via a self-contained and -consistent process (natural selection), which needs no creator or intelligent design to explain.

I used to consider myself a "theoretical" agnostic, in that I would hold to an agnostic view on the philosophy of god and religion, but in day-to-day life I was basically an atheist. Then I actually thought about the whole thing, and decided I was fully atheistic after all.

How many agnostics out there actually live, day to day, as anything other than an atheist?

Posted by Tahn | December 27, 2006 7:50 PM

So, um, Tahn, the paradox isn't against evolution via natural selection, but that evolution is antithetical to the notion that the human mind does indeed produce intelligent designs (that is, choices in design from a conscious entity with free will). Since the human mind/brain came about through natural selection, then it is subjected to the same physical laws of cause and effect of the natural world. The material brain for an atheist cannot have free will; we are merely phenomenological observers of our own complex meat machine. And human creations are only an extension, however complex, of the forces of natural selection. I myself don't think it's a paradox and alluded to it by answering whether it's a "potential" paradox with "maybe not." My stance is that there is no intelligent design in evolution or in what humans design.

My point was to simply show how Colbert outsmarted Dawkins by having Dawkins proclaimed that he intelligently designed his book and then asking Dawkins how that squares with the rest of his materialist claims.

Posted by dorky | December 28, 2006 12:37 AM

I think the material brain can have free will; consciousness has evolved as an emergent property of a massively complex self-modifying chaotic network (NB. that's "chaotic" in the mathematical sense of the word). It seems staggeringly unlikely that we would be as and where we are today if our thoughts and decisions were entirely deterministic.

So yes, we can and are capable of intelligent design.

Posted by Tahn | December 28, 2006 4:06 PM


Posted by big-dick | January 8, 2007 6:24 AM

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