Monday, January 16, 2006

"The Virus of Faith"

From the Channel 4 site relating to "Root of all Evil" Part 2.
Physicist and Nobel prizewinner Stephen Weinberg describes religion as an insult to human dignity. 'Without it,' he says, 'you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.' Dawkins agrees. It is more moral, he says, to do good for its own sake than out of fear. Morality, he says, is older than religion, and kindness and generosity are innate in human beings, as they are in other social animals. The irony is that science recognises the majesty and complexity of the universe while religions lead to easy, closed answers.
Once again, how do you decide what is "good" or "evil" if this reality is everything that there is? Dawkins is scandalised that a doctor might be killed because of his or her support for abortion. Why? In what sense is it more evil to kill a doctor than it is to abort fetuses? On what basis has he decided what is good and evil? These are religious categories that are loaded with emotional and social significance, and if he is going to do away with religion, then he needs a new epistemological foundation for them - which he has to justify before using them. Or he needs new words for them that aren't so emotionally and socially manipulative. In terms of basic critical thinking skills, listed here, Dawkins is falling down on at least #2,4,5 and 11.

And incidentally, if Dawkins is going to argue that Christianity justifies the murder of abortion clinic doctors (which I would dispute), then can he please explain why he endorses a worldview that was the basis of the guillotine, the Final Solution and the Killing Fields. In what sense is the ugly face of humanism more acceptable than the ugly face of religious belief?

And also, do we have any evidence that if people reject the idea of religion, they will then "do good for the sake of doing good"? I would suggest the evidence is the opposite - that if people believe that they can get away with something, they will. Here is an account from a trial of what some people allegedly thought they could get away with. What religion are the accused?

Also, if religion is a virus handed down from generation to generation, what is its source? Is it intelligently designed? Is it a mutant? There are various traditional answers. One is the Marxist answer - that it is a tool used by the ruling class to oppress the proletariat. The fact that religious faith has outlasted the opposition of atheistic communism has falsified this claim. One is the Freudian answer - that our belief in God is a projection of our feelings about our own fathers. But this probably says more about Freud's relationship with his own father than about anything else. One is that it is an idealistic projection of our desires and aspirations. But if so, why would we create something that was as profoundly negative and threatening as the idea of hell? One answer is that religion reflects - albeit in a blurred and confusing way - something that is true - that there is a reality that is beyond the boundaries of the humanistic universe. Unsurprisingly, Dawkins doesn't even consider that. "There is no God" - as the fool has said in his heart.

As anticipated, Dawkins has said precisely the sort of things that he was expected to. He does nothing for the "public understanding of science" - despite that being the nature of his professorship - in fact, he apparently pays no attention at all to scientific debates about the place of religion. (Did anybody hear him mention "NOMA"?) He offers no new insights on the issue of religion, makes no interesting points beyond the sort of thing that a Christian student in university would have to deal with during a mission week - just with the addition of a few tens of thousands of pounds production costs - and made no serious attempt to establish whether there might be a thoughtful response. Nice one, professor. I think it was Denyse O'Leary who said in the past that she could get most Christians to believe in evolution - if only Richard Dawkins would shut up. Perhaps if he talks much longer, he'll end up converting most non-Christians to something other than humanism.