Richard Dawkins: mostly right but rambling 3

Richard Dawkins was unable to attend the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 2016.

Here’s the speech he would have given:

There are those who fear reason as cold, bleak, cheerless, unpoetic. That’s not just untrue; it’s the very opposite of true. Science is the poetry of reality.

The fact that you exist should brim you over with astonishment. You and I and every other living creature are machines of ineffable complexity. This complexity and its powerful illusion of design is why so many people succumb to the God temptation. The temptation to evade, by invoking a designer, the responsibility to explain. The God temptation is an evasion of responsibility because it invokes the very kind of thing it’s supposed to be explaining.

I’m a biologist, so I speak first of the biological version of the God temptation, the false argument destroyed by Darwin. There’s also a cosmological version. The fundamental constants of physics are said to be “fine-tuned” so that, in the fullness of time, eyes and peacocks, humans and brains will come into existence. The God temptation here is to invoke a divine knob-twiddler to adjust the dials of the physical constants so that they have the exquisitely precise values required to bring evolution, and eventually us, into being.

“God did it” can never be an explanation for anything. It is sheer intellectual cowardice. If you’ll stoop to magicking into existence an unexplained peacock designer, you might as well magic an unexplained peacock and cut out the middleman.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for such cowardice. The complexity of a living body, every one of its trillion cells, is so mind-shattering to anyone who truly grasps it, the temptation is overwhelming. It’s like when you see a really brilliant conjuring trick. You have to smack yourself and say, “No!” However largely my senses and my instincts are screaming “miracle”, it really isn’t. There is a rational explanation. In the case of the conjuring trick, we know it’s not a miracle. And honest conjurers like Jamy Ian Swiss, James Randi, and Penn & Teller tell us so.

In the case of nature’s apparent miracles, Charles Darwin plays the role of honest conjurer.

But conjurers only tell us that it’s a trick. Darwin tells us exactly how nature’s trick is done: cumulative natural selection. Darwin’s brilliant explanation has withstood 150 years of sustained attack and emerged without a scratch.

Physicists are well on their way to disposing of the cosmic God temptation, too.

My book The God Delusion, celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2016, provoked a score of what came to be called “fleas”: religious books with plagiaristic jacket designs and parasitic titles like The Dawkins Delusion or Deluded By Dawkins. The flea name came from a line of W. B. Yeats: “But was there ever dog that praised his fleas?”

Some of our best theologians, if indeed theology is a subject that can be good at all, if indeed theology is a subject at all, some of our best theologians pathetically tried to argue that, far from being complex, God is simple. There is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which the simple God’s infinite power is put. Is science having a little difficulty explaining X? No problem! Don’t give X another glance! God’s infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X. Along with everything else. And it’s always a simple explanation, because, after all, there’s only one God. What could be simpler than that?

The effrontery of it is beyond astounding. This supposedly simple God had to know how to set the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity. He had to calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half a dozen critical numbers — the fundamental constants of physics.

Do you, with your prodigiously complex brain, understand quantum mechanics? I don’t! Yet God, that paragon of ultimate pure simplicity, not only understands it but invented it! Plus special and general relatively. Plus the Higgs Boson. And dark matter.

Finally, the icing on the cake: On top of being the ultimate mathematics and physics genius, this “simple” God has enough bandwidth to listen to the prayers of billions of people simultaneously, in all the world’s languages. He hears their confessed sins and decides which would be forgiven. He weighs up which cancer patients shall recover, which earthquake victims shall be spared, even who shall win a tennis match. Or a parking space.

God may be almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, but the one thing He cannot be, if He’s even minimally to meet His job description, is “all-simple”. The statistical argument against the divine designer remains intact and inescapably devastating.

God also presents a temptation to laziness that may define our allegiances.

I am Christian! Well, of course I don’t believe in any of that supernatural stuff, but I was baptized, we go to church at Christmas, and I’m certainly not Jewish or Muslim, so I guess that makes me Christian!

By 2050, the population of Mauritania will be predominantly Muslim. It’s simple demography. Just compare the birthrates of the different communities in Mauritania.That makes the lazy assumption that a child of Muslim parents is defined as a Muslim.

Would you define a child of logical positivist parents as a logical positivist?

Would you define a child as a Keynesian on the basis of her parents’ economic school of thought?

One of the reasons I formed the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in the United States is to combat America’s legendary religiosity, a form of obstinate backwardness that has serious implications for the rest of the world.

What church do you go to? The question is presumptuous to the point of rudeness, yet informant after informant tells me how often it’s thrown at newcomers to certain neighborhoods in America, as casually and automatically as a comment on the weather. That the newcomer might not attend the place of worship at all simply doesn’t cross the friendly neighborhood mind. It doesn’t cross the mind of a typical American politician, either, which is why they drag God into every speech, why they bend over backwards to appease religious lobbies when taking important decisions on abortion, stem cell research, and the teaching of evolution.

The Reason Rally is the antidote to all this. Today, in Washington, we celebrate science and urge the retreat of superstition. It is people like you, people who have traveled far to be here, who support secular organizations with your time and money, who are courageous enough to make their atheism known, that are the hope for the future.

I’m sorry doctor’s orders stop me from being in Washington today, except by this minor miracle of science, but I hope to see you at the next Reason Rally!

Although we agree with him by and large (of course), we don’t think it’s a very good speech. It is not sufficiently coherent.

The population of Mauritania is right now 100% Muslim. The children of Muslims are defined as Muslim by Muslim tradition and law. If Dawkins wants to say that the child of Muslims does not have to remain a believer in Islam, he should say so, but he doesn’t make the point. In fact from then on his speech rambles.

We like best the part we have emphasized in bold.

Dawkins was apparently kept from making the speech in person by “a small stroke”. We hope the stroke has not permanently impaired his fine brain. While we have always opposed him on political issues, we have read his books on evolution with much pleasure and learnt a lot from them.

Posted under Atheism by Jillian Becker on Friday, June 10, 2016

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An argument of atheists 3

For a collection of collective nouns:

A Rally of Reasoners

An Argument of Atheists

Our reader and commenter Frank sent us the link to this video. He thinks we did not do justice to the Reason Rally of atheists in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2012. (See our post Atheists in a Feel-Good Rally, March 30, 2012.)

If any of our readers were at the rally, comment from them on what they thought of it, what in particular they liked, disliked, learnt, and what they hope will come of it, would be welcome.

Posted under Atheism, Videos by Jillian Becker on Saturday, March 31, 2012

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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.