Atheists of the left hold a Feel-Good Rally 12

Here is part of a half-good half-bad speech by Richard Dawkins at the recent Left-dominated “Reason Rally“:

What a magnificent, inspiring sight! I was expecting great things even in fine weather. In the rain – look at this: This is the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing.

What? A few thousand wet lefties the most incredible sight Dawkins can remember ever seeing? A man who has looked deeply into the workings of evolution?

Well, we suppose he meant he had never seen so many atheists gathered together. But was it incredible that they should do so? Lefties are by definition collectivists.

The sharper, critical thinkers among you may have discerned that I don’t come from these parts. I see myself as an emissary from a benighted country that does not have a constitutional separation between church and state. Indeed it doesn’t have a written constitution at all. We have a head of state who’s also the head of the Church of England. The church is deeply entwined in British public life. The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over.

So far, so good.

How sad it would be if in the birthplace of secular constitutions the very principle of secular constitutions were to be betrayed in a theocracy. But it’s come close to that.

If he was referring to the possibility that the fundamentalist Catholic, Rick Santorum, may become president, we agree it is something to dread (though we think even he would be preferable to Obama).

How could anyone rally against reason? How is it necessary to have a rally for reason? Reason means basing your life on evidence and on logic, which is how you deduce the consequences of evidence.

Like the Left doesn’t do, sir!

In a hundred years’ time, it seems to me inconceivable that anybody could want to have a rally for reason. By that time, we will either have blown ourselves up or we’ll have become so civilized that we no longer need it.

When I was in school, we used to sing a hymn. It went, “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be.” After that the hymn rather went off the rails, but those first two lines have inspired me. It is a thing most wonderful that on this once barren rock orbiting a rather mediocre star on the edge of a rather ordinary galaxy, on this rock a remarkable process called evolution by natural selection has given rise to the magnificent diversity of complexity of life. The elegance, the beauty and the illusion of design which we see all around us has given rise in the last million years or so to a species – our species – with a brain big enough to comprehend that process, to comprehend how we came to be here, how we came to be here from extremely simple beginnings where the laws of physics are played out in very simple ways.  The laws of physics have never been violated, but the laws of physics are filtered through this incredible process called evolution by natural selection  to give rise to a brain that is capable of understanding the process, a brain which is capable of measuring the age of the universe between 13 and 14 billion years, of measuring the age of the Earth between 4 and 5 billion years, of knowing what matter is made of, knowing what we are made of, made of atoms brought together by this mechanical, automatic, unplanned, unconscious process: evolution by natural selection.

We have no quarrel with any of that. We’re ready at all times to sing the praises of the laws of physics and glorify having the consciousness to know them – and to express gratitude to the likes of Darwin and Dawkins for explaining them to us.

But now he slips off the rails of reason.

That’s not just true; it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because it’s true.

No, no. He’s not reasoning. Truth is not beauty, and beauty is not truth. Truth applies only to statements: so yes, Darwin’s statements are true. Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, has to do with feelings only, and is superfluous to the laws of physics.

And it’s almost too good to be true. How is it conceivable that the laws of physics should conspire together without guidance, without direction, without any intelligence to bring us into the world? Now we do have intelligence. Intelligence comes into the world, comes into the universe late. It’s come into the world through our brains and maybe other brains in the universe. Now at last – finally – after 4 billion years of evolution we have the opportunity to bring some intelligent design into the world.

That we understand, and we applaud him for saying it.

Then he opposes “Intelligent Design” (a euphemism for God) with the intelligent design that human beings are capable of, and we appreciate that too.

But there are areas where the application of design is not intelligent:

We need intelligent design. We need to intelligently design our morals, our ethics, our politics, our society.

Design society!  There speaks the collectivist, the socialist. Dawkins, the brilliant exponent of evolution, there abandons reason. Politically he  is on the side of the emotions, has the Left’s moral vanity, its conviction that it knows what’s best for all of us and will force its design on us whether we like it or not.

We need to intelligently design the way we run our lives, not look back to scrolls – I was going to say ancient scrolls, they’re not even very ancient, about 800 BC the book of Genesis was written. I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don’t despise religious people; I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, “I have so much respect for you that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas.”

Fine, but it isn’t the case that the only alternative to religion is socialism.

… Science makes us see what we couldn’t see before. Religion does its best to snuff out even that light which we can see.

So we’re here to stand up for reason, to stand up for science, to stand up for logic, to stand up for the beauty of reality and the beauty of the fact that we can understand reality.

I hope that this meeting will be a turning point. I’m sure many people have said that already. I like to think of a physical analogy of a critical mass. There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists or secularists or agnostics. We are far more numerous than anybody realizes. We are approaching a tipping point, we’re approaching that critical mass, where the number of people who have come out becomes so great that suddenly everybody will realize, “I can come out, too.” That moment is not far away now. And I think that with hindsight this rally in Washington will be seen as a very significant tipping point on the road.

We share his wish for more atheists to make themselves known – especially to us – but we don’t think the wet lefty rally in Washington will prove a tipping point.

And I will particularly appeal to my scientific colleagues most of whom are atheists if you look at the members of the National Academy of Sciences about 90 percent of them are non-believers an exact mirror image of the official figures of the country at large. If you look at the Royal Society of London, the equivalent for the British Commonwealth, again about 90 percent are atheists. But they mostly keep quiet about it. They’re not ashamed of it. They can’t be bothered to come out and express what they feel. They think religion is just simply boring. They’re not going to bother to even stand up and oppose it. They need to come out.

Religion is an important phenomenon.

Yes, dangerously important in it’s baneful effects.

Forty percent of the American population, according to opinion polls, think the world – the universe, indeed – is less than 10,000 years old. That’s not just an error, that’s a preposterous error. I’ve done the calculation before and it’s the equivalent of believing that the width of North America from Washington to San Francisco is equal to about eight yards….

Will any bible literalist hear and take heed? We’d like to hear his/her response.

We just ran a poll by a foundation in Britain in which we took those people who ticked a Christian box in the census … We just took the people who ticked the Christian box and we asked them “Why did you tick the Christian box?” And the most popular answer to that question was “Oh, well, I like to think of myself as a good person.” But we all like to think of ourselves as good people. Atheists do, Jews do, Muslims do. So when you meet somebody who claims to be Christian, ask her, ask him “What do you *really* believe?” And I’ll think you’ll find that in many cases, they give you an answer which is no more convincing than that “I like to be a good person.”

Also if he substituted “Leftist” for “Christian”, he’d be right on the nail. 

He questions the sincerity of the religious:

So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe – for example, if they say they are Catholic – do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!

Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

Yes. Religion and collectivism should be constantly ridiculed with contempt.

  • Frank

    I have a few major problems with this article. Let’s start with the title “Atheists of the left hold a Feel-Good Rally.” Some how the author was able to determine that every last person at that rally was a liberal. Talk about painting with a broad brush.
    From Dawkins Speech: “What a magnificent, inspiring sight! I was expecting great things even in fine weather. In the rain – look at this: This is the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing.”
    The Author’s Comment: “What? A few thousand wet lefties the most incredible sight Dawkins can remember ever seeing? A man who has looked deeply into the workings of evolution?”
    Actually the official attendance estimate was 20,000 – 25,000. I am sure it was an inspiring site. So why make a snide comment about Dawkins use of some hyperbole?
    From Dawkins Speech: “We need intelligent design. We need to intelligently design our morals, our ethics, our politics, our society.”
    The Author’s Comment: “Design society!  There speaks the collectivist, the socialist. Dawkins, the brilliant exponent of evolution, there abandons reason. Politically he  is on the side of the emotions, has the Left’s moral vanity, its conviction that it knows what’s best for all of us and will force its design on us whether we like it or not.”
    The author apparently misunderstood the entire statement. This is not the first time Dawkins has made this statement. What he was referring to and what he has clarified several times in the past is using reason and science to shape our societies to be optimal for personal growth and freedom. Sam Harris talks about this process in his latest book “The Moral Landscape.“ Some examples from the past of that sort of thinking are the abolition of slavery and women’s equal rights. There is not even a hint of the imagined evils the author attacked.
    From Dawkins Speech: “Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”
    The Author’s Comment: “Yes. Religion and collectivism should be constantly ridiculed with contempt.”
    I completely agree with Dawkins and the Author on this.

    • Jillian Becker

      You are right, Frank – I do not know that everyone at the rally was a liberal. I was told that there were a lot of liberals there, but I should not have gone by hearsay. Of course there may have been atheists of the conservative right too. 

      What made me assume a general leftward slant was that the keynote speech was given by Richard Dawkins, and I know from reading him and listening to his debates and lectures,  in meeting halls as well as on video, that he favors socialism. And he does say in his speech that we should “design society” – an abhorrent idea. It is more than “a hint” of his leftism. And I do think his gush about the most incredible sight he’d ever seen was silly. 

      Also the Humanist Association, one of the organizing groups, is closely associated with the feminist movement, which I class as leftist. 

      On the whole it was a probably a good thing that many atheists held a rally. My article suggests otherwise, but your comment has given me second thoughts.  

      I’m glad we agree that both religion and collectivism should be treated with contempt. 

      Thanks for your correcting comment.

    • Liz

      Frank –
      I read “The Moral Landscape” and, frankly, some of the things Harris said in it about the morals of society being shaped by some sort of ethics “intelligentsia” was scary to me.  It reminded me of the recent article posted here about the “bioethicists” who were attempting to define humanity by poundage, and cost per pound. 
      Dawkins seems to be hinting at the same thing here in his statement.  Of course we should all be free to design our own destiny, but I’m not so sure thats what Dawkins and Harris have in mind.  I think as scientists, they tend to fall in to the trap of thinking that scientists are so much smarter than the rest of us that they need to be left in charge of the “designing”. 

      • Jillian Becker

        Thank you for this insightful comment, Liz, so very well expressed. 

        You’ve gone to the heart of the matter, and made the point better than we did.   

      • Frank

        Liz –
        I have also read “The Moral Landscape” and no where did he mention the morals of society being shaped by some sort of ethics “intelligentsia.” What he makes the case for is that science can determine what sorts of morals or ethics are conducive to human well-being. He also states that there are probably many different good sets and not just one – like there are many different healthy foods and not just one. Another good point is that with scientific evidence about what is conducive to human well-being we can state unequivocally what sets of morals or ethics are harmful to human well-being. It basically eliminates the false dichotomy of objective morality from a deity or relative morality based on society.

        • Liz

          Yes, I know he didn’t use that specific phrase.  The problem with science determining morals and ethics is that what that boils down to is scientists, who, as we can see from the “global warming” fiasco, can be biased by political agendas.
          I’m not against UNbiased scientists laying out the facts, from which people can choose to educate themselves, but it seems to be used all to often as a tool of those in power.   

  • Anonymous

    Atheists who allow themselves to be seduced by the religion of liberalism are every bit as bad as theological religionists.

  • I can mostly agree with Dawkins on the subject of religion except when it comes to his own. For spending so much time on evolution, his mind has obviously lacked exposure to the mean mud-slinging world of politics to trust that he thinks for himself on the subject.

    And so be it. He will continue to falter on the subject while remaining eloquent, concise, and more importantly accurate on the subjects of evolution and scientific literacy.

    One part of his thinking suggests applying real, actual “intelligent design”. I’ll go against the flow and suggest this is not only a good thing, but ultimately our destiny – not in the sense of robbing individuals of their freedoms as he seems to suggest, though. In fact, we have done this since our very first days on the African savannah. We can technically call our ancestors cyborgs since they meshed brains with rocks and bamboo to create industrial tools. Shamans used jungle plants to treat diseases which pharmaceutical companies now cure with factory-built designer medicines. I am a cyborg now, since I am communicating with you a petroleum-based keyboard over metallic cables instead of moving the flesh of my larynx. The technology is new, but the story’s the same: we meld matter with our conscious thought. We’ll reach a turning point when we stop making peglegs and start altering our birth legs – and our own consciousnesses.

    On the subject (nay, the object) of beauty, I find it evident that certain arrangements and patterns lend themselves better to the adjective of “beautiful”. At some point, there is a quintessential mathematics of beauty. The Golden Ratio, the symmetry of faces, the sounds of brilliant prose, and the complex musical arrangements of our most celebrated composers all “tap our cores” quite literally – we reflect our own architecture in their mathematical harmonies.

    What do I know, though? I’m just a humanist.

  • Liz

    It”s too bad collectivist thinking dominates the political aspect of Dawkins and so many other atheists thinking.  The temptation to think of yourself as so much smarter than everyone else that you must do their thinking for them is just too much for some people, and the temptation to be mentally lazy and LET others do your thinking for you is too much for most of the rest of us.  So we end up with half the population becoming the blind sheep of  their church doctrine via pastors, and the other half the puppets of leftist “intellectuals”.  
    But I agree with him about the “beauty of reality”.   It may not be “technically” accurate, but it really is a beautiful thing to be able to look at the world without having to run it through a religious “filter”, and see it just as it is, with no imaginary beings lurking around in it demanding to be worshipped.  That is, I think, the point he’s making there, and it can’t be emphasized enough.

    • George

      It’s amazing Liz that most atheists in America proclaim to be so rational , reasonable, logical and clear thinking and yet they so staunchly embrace leftist liberal political agendas which violates the very premise of rational thinking.  Then we have conservative Christians who proclaim that we must demand proof and substantiation on everything  (  EXCEPT THEIR RELIGION —–specifically Christianity  of course ). How screwed up is that  ? 

      • Troy

        I agree. I wonder how Ayn Rand would be treated today.  She once made Phil Donahue look like a blithering idiot in a long interview on his show.

        • Liz

          I’ve seen parts of that interview and your right!  I also wonder how that would have gone, say, with Glen Beck.  He promoted her books but I highly doubt if it would have gone any better for him if she’d been there in person.
          As George pointed out, it really is ridiculous how Christians are so quick to demand scientific proof for everything except their own religion.