Monday, February 06, 2006

Me and Ricky Dawkins


Biomorphs created using Richard Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker program

Once decades ago I found myself cornered at a dinner party by an elderly Scotsman who had recently undergone a religious conversion. He was particularly interested to hear that I, at the time an undergraduate, was a student of Comparative Religion, and buttonholed me rather relentlessly on the subject. He elicited from me an admission that I was myself not religious, but had taken up the topic to try to understand better why such patently self-delusional thinking was so prevalent throughout human history. Then he hurled his finest rhetorical lightning-bolt at me: "I was once like you! Yes I was! But that all changed when I realized: I was living in a Gawwwwdless Univairrrrse!"

Why, imagine that, I think I mumbled. I did manage to extricate myself from the inquisition soon after -- citing, I think, the sudden onset of a kidney stone or perhaps a collapsed lung, memory isn't clear -- but the vivid image still lingers of the triumph in the man's eyes as he watched, expectantly, for his Idiot Logic take effect, for me to fall writhing and speaking in tongues, overcome by remorse at how wrong I'd thitherto been. But alas, the tortured logic fell on deaf ears. That's some dramatic Christly tautology there, Angus, and I bet it sings like a contralto down at the parsonage, but me and Ricky Dawkins, we ain't buying.

It's a bit difficult, watching the world explode into madness, as Monotheists of all stripes bums-rush us headlong into some kind of hideous epoch-defining confrontation over conflicting ideas about an invisible all-powerful being whose existence I find about as credible as that of Santa Claus. It's simply blindingly obvious to me that the Flock are being manipulated into beliefs and attitudes that are diametrically opposed to their own best interests by malign puppeteers who exploit their irrationality and goad them into madness.

This Sunday's WashPost had a long piece on religion and science, well worth the read. In the first part of the piece, one Catherine Crocker, a profoundly silly woman, walks a gullible biology class at NoVa Community College through some of the most transparently Bad Science you're likely to read this or any other year. (Helmut at Phronesisaical has the Philosopher's Smackdown -- off you go! And P.Z. Myers Explains It All For You.

The second half of the piece, intended to provide, one supposes, the thumbsucking "balance" that such things require so as not to inflame the easily inflamed, is a portrait of biologist Richard Dawkins. I've banged on about this before, and others have said it as well: in a Breughel landscape of insanity, bad faith, desperately knotted thinking and crazed cupidity, Dawkins shines out of the darkness like a Bodhisattva, a pillar of mental health in a vortex of madness.

You can read the article in its entirety over at the Post, but here's one extract that I found particularly noteworthy. The Problem of Evil ("If God is all-powerful, why does He permit evil?") is often posed to Sunday School classes, and the answers, to those of of us not in the Monotheist Camp, are pretty hilariously circular, making old Gawdless-Univairse-boy look like David Hume.

So what if you simply remove Deity from the question? Doesn't the following simply make more sense?
"The sheer amount of suffering in the world that is the direct result of natural selection is beyond contemplation," Dawkins told me. He recently published a collection of essays called A Devil's Chaplain, drawing on a phrase Darwin employed to describe the indifferent cruelty of nature, where wasps paralyze caterpillars segment by segment so their larvae may feed on living meat: "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of nature." But in response to his wife's suggestion that Frankenstein-like selfish genes have created living monsters, Dawkins believes that, alone on Earth, human beings can rebel against the mechanistic indifference of nature. Understanding the pitiless ways of natural selection is precisely what can make humans moral, Dawkins said. It is human agency, human rationality and human law that can create a world more compassionate than nature, not a religious view that falsely sees the universe as fundamentally good and benevolent.
So go. Go burn an embassy, go torture a child with threats of Hellfire, go tell gay people they're subhuman, go make sex a horrible, guilty act, go torture logic with your Gawdless Univairses. Me and Ricky Dawkins, we're going to build a decent world with the materials at hand and not pixie dust.

17 comments:

Carl said...

I saw that article in the Post magazine. Looked at the picture, which included in its caption something like, "'There's really not much evidence for evolution,' Crocker says." I did not waste my time any further.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

Maybe even read this.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

Sign up here.

John Ferguson said...

Neddie,

I'm surprised that, at this late date, you seem shocked by how captivated by their religion most humans on this planet are today--and have been for millenia.

Neil Shakespeare said...

Great post, N. But geez, it's like beating a dead horse, isn't it? There's just no arguing with the religious goonsquadders. God is passing along all those subliminal messages to them, you know...

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

Well, FUK! Goddammit, Dawkins. They won't let us have heroin. What other opiate can we use?

Bobby Lightfoot said...

I think God might exist but that he's an utter cunt.

I'm a "Vagnostic".

Hee hee hee.

simcrdeb- a digital simulation of a debutante that you can do nasty things with.

helmut said...

As usual, I'm with Bobby's utterly filthy sense of the divine, but was too timid to say it. Rock stars vs. academics....

I don't know, Neil. Beating a dead horse? I don't have kids, but I worry about the ones growing up who'll think that electricity is a miracle and Visa cards are fairy dust.

Anonymous said...

Very Phillip Pullman-esque.

There is nothing in the imagined world of the divine that compares to the inspiring, heartbreaking choice of humans, evolved out of a ruthless, grasping free-for-all of nature, to be good and loving in the face of an uncaring world.

What god has ever shown such courage or compassion?

Kevin Wolf said...

Amen, Neddie.

Oops - did I say that?

ifdishoa - If I did, for sure

Matt said...

Here's a tiny bit of sanity emerging from the morass (as opposed, Bobby, to the morgina): Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative .

mothworm said...

"I was once like you! Yes I was! But that all changed when I realized: I was living in a Gawwwwdless Univairrrrse!"

His argument is, "I used to be an atheist because I believed there was no God, but that all changed once I realized there is no God!"?

Shinsyotta said...

Richard Dawkins is a hero. The Church of Virus has him as a saint, and rightly so, in my opinion. Dawkins will be remembered for both his scientific and cultural contributions.

Anonymous said...

Richard Dawkins will be remembered alright. The man undoubtedly posesses one of the greatest minds of our time. He is also a c**t. As sound as his ideas may be, his demeanour is one of pure arrogance and self-importance. He needs a good dose of compassion.

NonProphet said...

I disagree, Anonymous. Sure, Dawkins can be abrasive at times, but having read some of his stuff I can assure you this is not a trait that defines him.

He is definitely passionate (a good thing). This presents itself partly as a tendency to not suffer fools gladly - the abrasive aspect you refer to, I think - but also as a genuine concern for clearly communicating the wonder of nature to those with open minds. Take the time to read "A Devil's Chaplain"; I think it might alter your perception of the man.

I for one can understand why he gets hot under the collar at some of the fundamentalist bull he has to deal with publicly on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

Has any of you ever met Dawkins? I have had the misfortune to do so and despite his obvious intelligence he does come off rather as a smarmy, holier than thou, jerk (to put it mildly). I am no friend of the religious but neither should we give scientistic chest pounding as found in the article above much time either. Do you all believe that every religious person to have existed really was duped, shallow and stupid? Do you think scientists are so much better? Last I saw, it was the triumphalist humanism of naive science-believers which led to the attrocities of the 20th century.

I'm just glad Ricky Dawkins is impotent

Bob Dwire said...

Anonymous: come out from under your stone and let us have a name.