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.