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October 22, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Richard Dawkins, the English biologist and public intellectual well known for his passionate defense of a gene-centered view of biological (organic) evolution, and the introduction and development of the meme-concept and a meme-centered view of social-cultural evolution, to say nothing of his strong stance as an atheist has put out a new book on evolution
posted by JL Sadstone (147 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very good article, but one hell of an annoying ad on the second page... fucker won't CLOSE.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:03 AM on October 22, 2009


The more press for Dawkins, the better. ..And is it just me or is Morrissey looking extra hot lately?
posted by applemeat at 10:05 AM on October 22, 2009


Final link has paywall.

Now, I've been a bit snarky about Dawkins in the past, but if he's doing proper work and writing about it rather stunty crap then good on him, because that's far more useful and he;s actually good at that kind of thing.
posted by Artw at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


swoon. my atheist idol.
posted by the aloha at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2009


Why am I only finding out now that lemurs dance?!?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've been waiting for this book with baited breath. I was super pissed that I had to miss his lecture and signing to do some other stuff. Oh well.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2009


I saw him speak about this book (yay signed copy!) a couple weeks ago. I'm looking forward to reading it, but based on his talk, I'm not expecting anything that's any more respectful of religious people than his previous books.

If you want to convince a person of something, it's sometimes convenient to stop calling them a moron, at least during the convincing.

I love Dawkins, and I wouldn't want to see him change. I just wish we had a second Dawkins that knew how to approach people who didn't already agree with him.
posted by gurple at 10:20 AM on October 22, 2009




I just wish we had a second Dawkins that knew how to approach people who didn't already agree with him.

Previously
posted by shii at 10:26 AM on October 22, 2009


I just wish we had a second Dawkins that knew how to approach people who didn't already agree with him.

Previously
posted by ormondsacker at 10:33 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Opening line of the NY Times article:

"The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology."

That's just silly writing. The theory has incredible descriptive and explanatory power, no doubt, and promises to continue to help biologists unlock all kinds of mysteries. But, come on; not "everything" in biology has been explained yet, so you can hardly claim evolution explains it all.

(I enjoyed the article overall, but that sentence sticks in my craw.)
posted by ericost at 10:35 AM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


I saw Dawkins speak at IU last Monday. It was a pretty great event- there were hundreds of people waiting in line even an hour before the doors opened, and I talked to people who'd come in from Chicago, Champaign-Urbana, and even Pittsburgh. The lecture itself was a bit dull- he pretty much just read from his book- but the question and answer section was lively. Someone asked him if he thought ID or creationism have any legitimacy, and he walked back to the lectern, took a nice long sip of water, leaned in to the mic, and said, "No."

Someone else asked him what he thought about being called a fascist by Bill O'Reilly; he replied that there was nobody he'd rather be called a fascist by.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:35 AM on October 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


ormondsacker, that's not really legitimate. Non-overlapping magisteria is incredibly flawed (specifically, religion does not now and never has restrained itself to questions of meaning) and is mostly liked by creationists and "moderates" (whatever that means when the two sides are sanity and insanity) because it punts rather than addressing the issue. It's not reasonable, it's functional capitulation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:38 AM on October 22, 2009 [13 favorites]


ericost - "Everything that has been explained within the field of biology is consistent with evolution and there is no reason to suppose that anything than has not been explained isn't"?
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Previously (ormondsacker's version)

No, I get that, I do. And I don't buy into NOMA any more than Dawkins does.

But I think it's silly for Dawkins even to pretend to write a book that's actually intended to convince religious people about the facts of evolution, which is what claims he's trying to do here.

I don't think it's silly for anyone to do that, I think it's silly for Dawkins. Actually, I'd love to see someone attempt it who had Dawkins' charisma and knowledge, but who could stop lobbing insults for 20 minutes.

On the other hand, I suspect that he's not really trying to convince anybody. I suspect he's writing another lovely book of songs for the choir, and he knows it.
posted by gurple at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Grrrr...from the Wade review: "To refute the creationists, who like to dismiss evolution as “just a theory,” he keeps insisting that evolution is an undeniable fact. A moment’s reflection reveals the problem: We don’t speak of Darwin’s fact of evolution. So is evolution a fact or a theory?"
Darwin's theory explains evolution through natural selection. Evolution is the (indirect) observation, not the theory. Evolution BY natural selection is the theory. Why can't people keep this straight?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


Because it's kind of like the theory of the-earth-goes-around-the-sun?
posted by Artw at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now, I've been a bit snarky about Dawkins in the past, but if he's doing proper work and writing about it rather stunty crap then good on him, because that's far more useful and he;s actually good at that kind of thing.

Define "proper work" -- the man just retired from a chair at Oxford University, has written many extremely influential books, produces documentaries, and relentlessly tours the world giving talks and appearing in all forms of media (including virtual ones). As a sixty-eight year old retiree what "proper work" should he be engaged in that he isn't already? And what "stunts" are you referring to?

This book, while heavily recommended, isn't anything new or revolutionary. Like Jerry Coyne's recent book and countless others before it, it amasses the mountains of evidence compiled in the past 150+ years from many disciplines in the science all of which converge on the fact that evolution happened and is still happening. Dawkins is just doing what he always does, explaining ideas that we all should understand already (and would if our public education wasn't so terrible) so that, for example, we don't keep putting stickers on school books advertising our ignorance to the rest of the world.
posted by inoculatedcities at 10:44 AM on October 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm with Pope Guilty on this one. When I first read of NOMA, I thought, "What a craven, purely political, unworkable compromise position." Atheism, evolution, and all of that have spent quite a long time tiptoeing about the religious and the creationist types, hoping not to offend. It hasn't worked. Remember that poll about "What kind of President would you accept?" More people were in favor of a homosexual President versus an atheist President — here, in a country where there's an ongoing struggle to "affirm" that marriage is only allowed when the genitalia aren't a matched set.

I liked Sagan, quite a bit, and miss him often, but let's not kid ourselves that a soft sell is going to suddenly turn things around. It hasn't, for many decades now, and I am reminded of that definition of insanity that goes "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time." So, rock on, Dawkins.
posted by adipocere at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pope Guilty: "Someone else asked him what he thought about being called a fascist by Bill O'Reilly; he replied that there was nobody he'd rather be called a fascist by."

heh... Reminds me of when Sam Donaldson was denounced from the floor of the Senate by the notoriously corrupt Al D'Amato for Donaldson's cynical use of a tax loophole. "If I had to be denounced by anybody..."
posted by Joe Beese at 10:49 AM on October 22, 2009


I liked Sagan, quite a bit, and miss him often, but let's not kid ourselves that a soft sell is going to suddenly turn things around. It hasn't, for many decades now, and I am reminded of that definition of insanity that goes "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time."

I disagree quite strongly, I grew up (when I was little) in a woo-woo world of angels and UFOs, and it was The Demon-Haunted World that convinced me to take a different look. It was at once incredibly respectful and eye-opening, and invited me to use my own head rather than being told what to think. If I had been given Dawkins' hack philosophy or one of Michael Shermer's condescending screeds instead I wouldn't be writing this now.
posted by shii at 10:53 AM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


NOMA is a bit absurd. But the idea that 'hard sell' atheism is going to do anything much but harden resolve in believers requires a peculiarly powerful denial of evidence to the contrary.
posted by lodurr at 10:59 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


... Dawkins accepts criticism ...

only he really doesn't. what he does do is turn around and give an oblique counter-example of someone who's 'worse.'
posted by lodurr at 11:02 AM on October 22, 2009


As a very religious person who accepts evolution and natural selection as fact, I look forward enthusiastically to reading Dawkins' new book. When Dawkins' work is distilled, as he puts it, to "science is interesting," it's pretty hard to disagree with him unless you're an idiot or just being contrary. Even if he mostly preaches to the choir, it's nice that his new book is apparently preaching to the science-is-interesting choir instead of just the religion-is-for-delusional-idiots choir.
posted by The World Famous at 11:05 AM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


I just wish we had a second Dawkins that knew how to approach people who didn't already agree with him.

IME, most of these people are not approachable unless you already genuflect and pay obeisance to their central notion of Blind Faith In Very Old Ideas Is What Makes Us Human And You Must Respect That.
posted by DU at 11:13 AM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dawkins' grasp of evolutionary theory is only matched by his gift of metaphor.
posted by clarknova at 11:14 AM on October 22, 2009


I always forget how this isn't a commonly understood information.

Then again the only places I've lived for longer than a year are Seattle and Madison.

I'm an Anthro major though. Denying evolution is like arguing Dinosaurs didn't exist.

But w/e I'm sure the Invisible Sky Magician will strike me down for being blasphemous.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:16 AM on October 22, 2009


I grew up (when I was little) in a woo-woo world of angels and UFOs, and it was The Demon-Haunted World that convinced me to take a different look.

I grew up the same way, but all the reason and logic didn't get me out of it. I had to, more or less, be shocked out of it and into actually accepting reason and logic as valid tools of inquiry before I could start actually listening to them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:18 AM on October 22, 2009


Atheism, evolution, and all of that have spent quite a long time tiptoeing about the religious and the creationist types, hoping not to offend. It hasn't worked.

How would you define "worked" though? In the US at least, I can be an atheist and live without facing much prejudice at all. I can't really think of a minority group that deals with less discrimination.

Atheists have different views on religion than people who belong to any given religion, just like religious people have different views amongst themselves about religion. The best way to deal with that, in my opinion, is to try to encourage tolerance and respect for everyone involved. If atheism takes a more hardline and divisive stance, it's not going to do any more good for society as a whole than the fundamentalist stances in various religions have had.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:19 AM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


But, come on; not "everything" in biology has been explained yet, so you can hardly claim evolution explains it all.

You can if you believe in it. Evolution, that is.
posted by philip-random at 11:20 AM on October 22, 2009


Heh. I hope this thread doesn't turn into the usual Dawkins thread. That said -

I had the opportunity to interview Dawkins (in his hotel room!) a week ago about this book (interview was for a local radio station). I had a really great conversation with him, and I thought it might be interesting if I shared a few highlights (this is not a direct transcript). Honestly, it was pretty scary. In person, he is nothing like the man of his lectures. He is shy, reserved, and makes no small talk. When asked about the lecture he was giving at PSU the next day, he said, "Oh, I have no idea about that. I haven't looked at my time table whatsoever." He doesn't smile. In his hotel room, he had a copy of his own new book displayed on the night stand (this was not for my benefit, as we weren't planning on doing the interview in his room but were forced to as everywhere else in the hotel was too noisy). His itunes was playing what sounded like Neko Case or something similar. He wore very well-fitting, very hip-British jeans. He had a distinct understated glamour that is really rather, er, um intimidating. I was a bit of a blabbering, star-struck dweeb (and I don't even like Dawkins all that much). I wanted to ask him to meme me, but alas, I couldn't muster the confidence. Sorry, I'm sure most don't care about my conversation with him, but here's a few good bits anyway (full disclosure - I am the 'friend' in this ask.me, and I owe much thanks to all the great me-fites who helped me think of great questions - if you'd like a podcast, memail me):

- We talked a bit about how this book fits in with his oeuvre. All of his previous work, he says, assumed that evolution was true. This book aims to sort of go back and show proof for evolution (and like inoculatedcities said, this is nothing new - but there are some new arguments and studies in the book that are rather noteworthy).

- I asked about the things he learned while writing the book. He could not speak enough about this study by Lenski. The 20-year long study tracks evolutionary changes in bacteria. The gravity of this study is that it's such a powerful response to the skeptics common argument, "if evolution is true, why can't we see it?" Previously, Dawkins has likened evolution to a crime scene - we didn't see the crime, but we can reconstruct what happened based upon the evidence. This definitive study, says Dawkins, show us evolution in the flesh, so to speak.

- I asked what he would say to a skeptic who read this book and, after reading, still refused to accept evolution as truth. He responded by saying that he had never heard of such a case, that he thought it impossible for such a thing to happen, and that, in his experience, people who were staunch believers in creation and theology didn't read books other than their holy books.

- I asked him what he thought were the most significant issues yet to be solved by science. I loved his answer: "What is consciousness? Why is it? How can it be explained?" And, "How did it all really start? This [and here he implored a bit of Augustine] is the major argument for theism - the first cause argument - but that's terribly unsatisfying, for we are 'still left wondering where the tuna came from!'"

- Because this book is being published on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, I asked him if he thought, in light of all the scientific progress we've made in the past two centuries regarding evolution, we had made any significant social progress regarding its acceptance as scientific truth. "Unfortunately," he said (and was this a surprise?), "No, we haven't." Why does he think that is, I asked. "Because we are afraid to take a stand, to make ourselves heard."

- We talked about the state of the teaching of evolution in American schools, and how, even in states where evolution is in the state-mandated curriculum, some teachers still refuse to teach it. "A scandal," he said, "that such ignorant and incompetent people should be allowed to teach our children such nonsense." We discussed that while the situation is arguably better in Britain, it's getting worse, largely, according to Dawkins, because of the growing Islamic population in Britain.

- I asked him the great question of, "If it were all to happen again, from the beginning, would it turn out the same?" A question he loves. He doesn't know, obviously, but he guesses that, yes, at the early stages at least it would be very similar, and we'd probably get something close to vertebrates, but not all the way to humans.

- I asked him what he thought about Ardi - the *new* homonoid. Wonderful discovery, of course he says, but not any game changer surely.

- I told him the story of a 16 month old child I know, being raised in a fundamental Christian home, who is already saying "Pray to Jesus." Of course he thinks this sort of indoctrination is a violation of human rights. Who are we to claim that a young child is of this or that religion? Forcing them to identify with the religion of their parents. When I told him this particular story, he was taken aback and said, "That's horribly creepy. That's creepier than that movie...what was it called...Jesus Camp? Yes, Jesus Camp. So creepy."

- Finally I asked him what he was up to - and he's writing a children's book on evolution. Which I thought was great.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:25 AM on October 22, 2009 [41 favorites]


To clarify (because I didn't make the connection): NOMA does not refer here to a Christmas light company, a disease or a restaurant; but rather to Stephen Jay Gould's notion of Non-overlapping magisteria ...

"science and religion do not glower at each other...[but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity."[1] He suggests, with examples, that "NOMA enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism" and that it is "a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria."

But I still think Jesus walked on water. That is, being originally from California, he surfed ... but as no one in the vicinity had any experience with surfing, it got chalked up as a miracle.

But seriously ...
posted by philip-random at 11:32 AM on October 22, 2009


Reading the book now, btw, I think it's fantastic.

Though I still wish he would dial the condescension down a notch from time to time.
posted by empath at 11:37 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the US at least, I can be an atheist and live without facing much prejudice at all.

How often do you mention being an atheist when in public? Seems like anytime I mention it to someone I just met (and yes, such things come up in conversation)1, someone has a problem. Before I say anything, I'm a normal human being. After I mention my atheism, I must be mentally ill.

No, we're not being dragged from our homes into the streets and I'm certainly not going to delve into a "Poor Me" bout, but, to be sure, there is a lot more anti-atheism bias in America than you might realize.





1. For example, when people ask what church I go to. Which, in the deep south, can be a normal introductory conversational question.
posted by grubi at 11:37 AM on October 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


I've always wondered if I had been able to mature normally if I would have lost the religious beliefs I had ingrained into me as a child.

My parents weren't religious as far as I could tell, but I still went to sunday services and sunday school every week by myself. They owned a small business that operated during services, so I was never sure.

I stopped going around the end of elementary school, but I still prayed before going to sleep. My grandmother is very religious though she never talks about her faith. Or politics. This was something my parents followed too.

Anyways long story short I had the shock of watching my mother get diagnosed with a brain tumor with 6 months to live and who was able to outlive that diagnoses for another 6 months.

As a child that killed religion for me.

If that never happened to me I'm not sure what kind of person I'd be now. I don't respond well to ridicule or condensation though. I feel that this is the approach of most atheist intellectuals. Maybe the soft approach won't change the hearts and minds of men and women who identify themselves by their religion. But I feel that its the only reasonable approach. But as stated previously, I've lived in somewhat of a bubble so my perspective is skewed.
posted by Allan Gordon at 11:37 AM on October 22, 2009


At least from the review, I'm glad that it seems that Dawkins is sticking to his strengths as an advocate for evolutionary theory, compared to his forays into social science which are considerably weaker.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:41 AM on October 22, 2009


Fine on paper, terrible on tv. He got beasted by almost every participant in The Root of All Evil. Even Ted Haggard came away from it looking better than him.
posted by fire&wings at 11:47 AM on October 22, 2009


I don't respond well to ... condensation though.

Bring a towel.
posted by grubi at 11:52 AM on October 22, 2009 [9 favorites]


. I feel that this is the approach of most atheist intellectuals. Maybe the soft approach won't change the hearts and minds of men and women who identify themselves by their religion.

Most atheists don't give a shit about changing hearts and minds. Your beliefs are really none of my business unless you make it my business.
posted by empath at 11:58 AM on October 22, 2009 [7 favorites]


Fine on paper, terrible on tv. He got beasted by almost every participant in The Root of All Evil. Even Ted Haggard came away from it looking better than him.

I disagree. The subjects in that film are more aggressive and lack civility (especially the absolute lunatic Jew from Brooklyn who converted to fundamentalist Islam); Dawkins just comes across as incredulous and genteel.
posted by inoculatedcities at 12:00 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I liked Sagan, quite a bit, and miss him often, but let's not kid ourselves that a soft sell is going to suddenly turn things around. It hasn't, for many decades now

*sigh* nothing is going to suddenly turn things around. Different messages get through to different people for different reasons. I enjoy and agree with Dawkin's message and think he has done/does great work on evolution theory. I don't like his presentation style IRT atheism, even though I guess I would be considered one. I much prefer the soft sell. For other people the exact opposite is true. And both views are perfectly valid.

The problem isn't really religion, per se, it is intolerance and extremism. Some of the world's greatest butchers where atheists, others where people of faith. Whatever mechanism gets people to treat one another compassionately is copacetic with me.

A year or two back there was a survey that indicated members of the American general population trusted atheists less than any other group of people, which is pretty shitty.

As to myself, I call myself arelgious. It really doesn't matter to me what you believe or don't, it matters to me how you act. And no matter how you act, it can be justified by what you believe.
posted by edgeways at 12:00 PM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sigh. I love Dawkins and all, other than I think he's got an ego the size of a small planet (not that I consider this a bad thing, just a fact about him that makes him difficult to deal with), but every time I see him publish, it makes me miss Stephen Jay Gould all the more.
posted by strixus at 12:00 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Most atheists don't give a shit about changing hearts and minds. Your beliefs are really none of my business unless you make it my business.

Those atheists, I assume, would advocate the non-approach.
posted by The World Famous at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


How's thsi for his next title...?

Dawkins : God of the Atheists!
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:16 PM on October 22, 2009


"The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology."

If this is true, it's true in the somewhat useless sense that "Physics really does explain everything in biology" is true.
posted by straight at 12:16 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


How often do you mention being an atheist when in public? Seems like anytime I mention it to someone I just met (and yes, such things come up in conversation), someone has a problem.

Yeah, I do specifically avoid mentioning it to random people because I think it's a personal thing. I understand it could be difficult to live in areas where the issue comes up often, but even then people being weirded out by your beliefs is not as bad as many of the routine things that other minority groups go through (such as seeing their states pass laws against them getting married).

there is a lot more anti-atheism bias in America than you might realize

Even taking this as a given, my point was that being divisive like Dawkins is not going to make things better. If your minority group is being discriminated against, the answer is not a hard sell to try to get everyone to join your minority group, it's to fight against discrimination and try to force everyone to put their differences aside.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:16 PM on October 22, 2009


in his experience, people who were staunch believers in creation and theology didn't read books other than their holy books

See? The reason he's so successful at getting religious people to reconsider the evidence for evolution is that he really knows his audience.
posted by straight at 12:26 PM on October 22, 2009


there is a lot more anti-atheism bias in America than you might realize

I'm not particularly shy about talking about it, but I have definitely had reactions from people as if I told them I ate babies.

Though I have noticed that some Christians develop a weird admiration for your bravery. Like, they are literally AFRAID of saying things like "God doesn't exist." and are a little bit in awe of the fact that you can say things like that and not get struck down by lightning.
posted by empath at 12:27 PM on October 22, 2009


Yeah, I do specifically avoid mentioning it to random people because I think it's a personal thing.

Why avoid it? It's not as personal as one's sexual practices or whether they watch tv nude. I have no problem saying "I don't believe in any gods" because it's true. What do you say when/if someone asks you what church you go to? "I don't go to church, for reasons I cannot go into at this moment, as they are too... personal."

being divisive like Dawkins is not going to make things better... the answer is ... to fight against discrimination

Fight discrimination! But don't be divisive! Which is a matter of context!

*sigh*

No. I will not be divisive in my intent. But when someone wants to use the government or any other public institution to shut me out or to impose their belief structure on me and mine or to perpetuate some awful myth about those who think the way i do, I'm going to say something... that may be distasteful to those bastards. If that divides me from them, SO BE IT.
posted by grubi at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2009


empath, I have seen that, too. The bravery thing, I mean. I harbor a suspicion (it's my own; not a whit of science involved here) that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.

I just want them to take it one step further. :-)
posted by grubi at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


in his experience, people who were staunch believers in creation and theology didn't read books other than their holy books

See? The reason he's so successful at getting religious people to reconsider the evidence for evolution is that he really knows his audience.


The key words here are "in his experience" and "his audience." There are plenty of staunch believers in creation (both young Earth creationism and creation in other senses) and in theology who read lots of books other than their holy books. Dawkins is well aware of this (because he's not an idiot). But those people are not his audience, and they probably don't engage in discourse with him on the topic of religion or evolution very often, unless they don't know who he is.
posted by The World Famous at 12:33 PM on October 22, 2009


Dawkins : God of the Atheists!

How clever! And original!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:41 PM on October 22, 2009


I harbor a suspicion (it's my own; not a whit of science involved here) that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.

i used to believe this. but after i finally accepted that i don't actually have an idea of what belief would feel like, i decided i was probably just grasping for an explanation i could understand.
posted by lodurr at 12:51 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, but I do know what that belief felt like. I was one of those devout.

Although, I still had the sense to know evolution is real.
posted by grubi at 1:06 PM on October 22, 2009


Oh, but I do know what that belief felt like. I was one of those devout.

It might not be a great idea to assume that everyone's belief is just like yours was. Or, at least, it's not a particularly scientific way of reaching a conclusion.
posted by The World Famous at 1:09 PM on October 22, 2009


Why avoid it? It's not as personal as one's sexual practices or whether they watch tv nude. I have no problem saying "I don't believe in any gods" because it's true.

Something being true is not enough for me to want to talk about it. I don't tell random people who mention that they are really into crystals or astrology or whatever that I think that's all BS either, because doing so is not going to lead anywhere good. I'd rather change the subject.

What do you say when/if someone asks you what church you go to? "I don't go to church, for reasons I cannot go into at this moment, as they are too... personal."

I say "I don't go to church" and try to change the subject. It's generally pretty easy to shut down that entire line of conversation in my experience, but as you said things might be different in different areas of the country.

when someone wants to use the government or any other public institution to shut me out or to impose their belief structure on me and mine or to perpetuate some awful myth about those who think the way i do, I'm going to say something... that may be distasteful to those bastards

That's fine, but I wasn't arguing against that at all. Saying this government/institution/individual is oppressing me is different than saying this religion is wrong about how things work and I'm right, and I think Dawkins does a lot more of the latter than the former.

I harbor a suspicion (it's my own; not a whit of science involved here) that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.

I just want them to take it one step further. :-)


To me, this sounds a lot like the evangelicals that claim that all atheists just haven't found Jesus yet, and all they need is one more person testifying to them to help them see the light.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:13 PM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


"The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology."

This is most likely referring to the famous Dobzhansky quote: "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". Whether you believe it or not, you are guaranteed to hear it in any course on general biology or evolutionary biology and it is an appropriate way to start the article.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's not a particularly scientific way of reaching a conclusion.

Ah, but I bring you this quote from me: "not a whit of science involved here".

Ahem.

To me, this sounds a lot like the evangelicals that claim that all atheists just haven't found Jesus yet, and all they need is one more person testifying to them to help them see the light.

Yep. Which I why I said "I want them to" instead of "I try to make them". I'm not proselytizing atheism. I'm defending it.
posted by grubi at 1:38 PM on October 22, 2009


it's not a particularly scientific way of reaching a conclusion.

Ah, but I bring you this quote from me: "not a whit of science involved here".

Ahem.


Noted. Nevertheless . . .
posted by The World Famous at 1:41 PM on October 22, 2009


I harbor a suspicion (it's my own; not a whit of science involved here) that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.

That's not really it at all.

If you grow up in Christian culture--which generally means if you grow up an evangelical Christian--there's a whole lot of talk about the meaninglessness, futility, and misery of life without God. This is intended to serve the purpose of underscoring the sense of meaning, purpose, and joy that individuals often feel upon converting to Christianity. As a side effect (depending upon which critique of the narrative you wish to adopt), this results in a solidified notion that life without God can and must be meaningless, futile, and miserable.

So when you say you're an atheist and a Christian crinkles her nose at you, it may very well be that she really is looking at you like you have two heads. You're an impossible creature: someone who doesn't believe in God yet is not so crippled by meaninglessness, futility, and misery of life as to be trapped in the corner of your closet in the dark.

As an aside, I don't believe in God and am so crippled by meaninglessness, futility, and misery of life that I am trapped in the corner of my closet in the dark. True story.
posted by jefficator at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't you point your nevertheless at me, mister!
posted by grubi at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2009


You're an impossible creature: someone who doesn't believe in God yet is not so crippled by meaninglessness, futility, and misery of life as to be trapped in the corner of your closet in the dark.

Indeed! Which, of course, I find ironic. I was more miserable as a believer than I have been as an atheist. I don't feel a need to please God, nor do I ever feel like God hates me, etc. etc. YMMV
posted by grubi at 1:45 PM on October 22, 2009


So when you say you're an atheist and a Christian crinkles her nose at you, it may very well be that she really is looking at you like you have two heads.

Or it may be that she's nervous that you might be silently judging her to be a throughless idiot who has never read anything other than her holy books.

Don't you point your nevertheless at me, mister!

Point taken. However . . .
posted by The World Famous at 1:45 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


"thoughtless." Wow. I can't believe that typo. Sorry.
posted by The World Famous at 1:46 PM on October 22, 2009


Don't you point your finger at me, daddio; I cut it off!
posted by grubi at 1:49 PM on October 22, 2009


(shit; I did it wrong: "Don't point at me daddio; i cut off your finger!" is the line. Shit shit shit)
posted by grubi at 1:54 PM on October 22, 2009


Yeah, I do specifically avoid mentioning it to random people because I think it's a personal thing.

I usually avoid the question of theism/atheism/non-theism because my answer would be too involved for casual conversation. (Feel free to move on).

I think the principle of Type I and Type II error explains it best.

Type I error: Saying that something exists, when in fact it does not.
Type II error: Saying that something does not exist when it does.

Theists are in danger of Type I error, atheists are in danger of Type II error. Our justice system (in the US) delivers a verdict of 'guilty' or 'not-guilty' to avoid Type II error (saying that a person is 'innocent' requires a much greater deal of evidence that merely proving that they are 'not guilty'.)

Kant differenciated between 'noumena' (that which constitutes reality) and 'phenomena' (how reality appears to us). A deity would be a 'noumenon' whose existence, if it really does exist, cannot be proved.

I am not a-religious, but I don't think the existence of a deity is important or resolvable. And I don't think it matters when, as edgeways points out, what really matters is how we act, not what we believe.
posted by stinker at 1:57 PM on October 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


stinker, that is an amazingly clear way of explaining that! I love it! Can I steal?
posted by strixus at 2:02 PM on October 22, 2009


If this is true, it's true in the somewhat useless sense that "Physics really does explain everything in biology" is true.

Useless? I don't know 'bout that. How do you measure whether or not you understand something? Is it merely prediction, or do you need some concordance between known frameworks? If I can give a mathematical explanation of a physical phenomenon that concurs with the physical explanation, is that deeper understanding? I would think we don't understand biology until we understand the physics and the evolutionary principles behind it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:03 PM on October 22, 2009


The difference between God being nonexistent and God existing but never interfering is
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:03 PM on October 22, 2009


Stop saying "a-religious". The word is "irreligious."

I mean, Jee-ZUS.
posted by grubi at 2:06 PM on October 22, 2009


Then there's the Scottish verdict of not proven, aka the bastard verdict.
posted by acro at 2:24 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The difference between God being nonexistent and God existing but never interfering is

. . . that the former is something that people actually believe, while the latter is a construct created solely for the purpose of making dumb arguments against people who believe the former. (Did I get that right?)
posted by The World Famous at 2:24 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hugh Hewitt: And what preceded the big bang?

Richard Dawkins: Well, physicists won’t answer that question. They will say that time itself began in the big bang, and so the question what preceded it is illegitimate.

HH: What do you think?

RD: I’m not enough of a physicist to understand what I’m saying, but I have to say that that’s what physicists say.

HH: So when you consider before the big bang, what does Richard Dawkins think was there?

RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.


As an atheist and Dawkins-liker, I found this exchange disappointing. I think it would have been more intellectually honest to say something like:

We don't know. There may be no way of finding out. But based on the long history of mysterious phenomena attributed to a Creator and subsequently explained by science, the burden of proof is now on your side.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:26 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


A deity would be a 'noumenon' whose existence, if it really does exist, cannot be proved.

This, as an aside, is the source of two theological names you may have heard brandied about without much explanation.

Friedrich Schleiermacher was a German theologian who argued that God was indeed noumenal and could not be discussed intelligently. Because Christianity presumes God exists, however, God must have some demonstrable effect on the world. To define God, then, you simply measure the effect of God on the world--as demonstrated in Christian congregations--and retroject an identity for Him.

Karl Barth responded that this was hogwash. Largely because Schleiermacher had defined the Holy Spirit as the force capable of binding individuals of disparate will to a unified purpose, [almost all of the] German ministers of the WWI era had preached that Germany needed to conquer Europe because Germans all believed this together, so only the Holy Spirit could have sent the idea. Barth decided to chuck all of the response to Kant into the bin and start with the presupposition that God is accessible and knowable only to whom God chooses, and the rest of the world is just out of luck.

Also: everyone should learn the theory of evolution because its actually a pretty handy rubric for explanation everything. period.
posted by jefficator at 2:27 PM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Lutoslawski - Because this book is being published on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, I asked him if he thought, in light of all the scientific progress we've made in the past two centuries regarding evolution, we had made any significant social progress regarding its acceptance as scientific truth. "Unfortunately," he said (and was this a surprise?), "No, we haven't." Why does he think that is, I asked. "Because we are afraid to take a stand, to make ourselves heard."

This is an extremely odd assertion to make. Since Darwin, "acceptance of evolution" has only increased, to the point where it's universally "accepted" by non-crank biologists, the overwhelming majority of non-biologist scientists, a reasonably large proportion of the public who are well-educated enough to be able to explain it (it's taught in schools!), and a not-insignificant proportion of the poorly-educated public who can't explain it but are vaguely familiar with the idea at least to the extent that we and monkeys are related more closely than we and cats, and they more closely than we and bananas. As more time goes by and more evidence accumulates and more actual uses are found and enacted for evolution, this should only increase.

I'm not sure "acceptance" is even a meaningful concept for a scientific theory anyway. One might as well ask whether people "accept" heliocentricity; either the Sun revolves about the Earth, or the Earth about the Sun (which is what all of the evidence indicates), or perhaps there is some more complex arrangement, but in any case what does it matter what you or I "accept" or "believe"? The idea that a scientific theory is, except in the most superficial way, open to "acceptance" strikes me as a ludicrous and self-aggrandizing assertion. Scientific theories are proved and disproved, evidence for and against them is gathered, they make predictions which can be tested and shown true or false (or uncertain). "Acceptance", at its most meaningful, is an expression of a social survey of the consensus of the field about the standard of proof, evidence, and results of prediction.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:34 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology."

That's just silly writing. The theory has incredible descriptive and explanatory power, no doubt, and promises to continue to help biologists unlock all kinds of mysteries. But, come on; not "everything" in biology has been explained yet, so you can hardly claim evolution explains


Around here I'd point out the difference between explaining and describing. If we come across something that evolution cannot explain, (the infamous rabbits in the pre-cambrian, for example) then we have a problem. We have yet to come across such a thing, so I think the quote holds true. To describe every last detail is the kind of spuriousness ID advocates demand before they will (they say) accept proof - say, a list of every genetic mutation involved in developing a new trait. You can know how planets form without visiting every solar system and seeing every variation on that theme, and you can tell that it's raining without being able to pinpoint every raindrop.
posted by Sparx at 2:37 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology.

I wouldn't say that evolution really does explain everything. But on the other hand, pretty much everything is entirely compatible with our current understanding of evolution.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:47 PM on October 22, 2009


Lutoslawski - Because this book is being published on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, I asked him if he thought, in light of all the scientific progress we've made in the past two centuries regarding evolution, we had made any significant social progress regarding its acceptance as scientific truth. "Unfortunately," he said (and was this a surprise?), "No, we haven't." Why does he think that is, I asked. "Because we are afraid to take a stand, to make ourselves heard."

This is an extremely odd assertion to make.


Oh yeah, I tend to agree with you. You know, until religion is completely gone and everyone wants to have sex with evolution, Dawkins probably won't be happy. On the other hand, however, Dawkins would certainly agree with you that 'acceptance' doesn't really matter...the the truth of a theory is not dependent on a democratic majority. Of course this is true. Acceptance doesn't matter to the theory. But it DOES matter practically in many, many peoples lives. The debates that rage at public schools, the way these ideas are presented to our children... I mean, if Principal JesusFreak refuses to have evolution taught in his school, evolution doesn't care, but certainly it matters to those kids, and to the health of our society.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:53 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joe Besse: RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.

As an atheist and Dawkins-liker, I found this exchange disappointing. I think it would have been more intellectually honest to say something like:

We don't know. There may be no way of finding out. But based on the long history of mysterious phenomena attributed to a Creator and subsequently explained by science, the burden of proof is now on your side.


I dunno, I have to say I sort of like Dawkins answer. "We don't know" is a much different sort of answer than "I don't consider the question," and I would argue that the latter is more correct. I mean, sure, he sort of gave the Tractatus 7 answer of silence and what we can't speak of, but I have a lot of respect for that answer - because it is silly to place the burden of proof regarding this issue on either side.

What I'm trying to say is, if a question does not have an answer, isn't it better to not consider it, than to say "I don't know?" You do know - there is no answer!
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:59 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think one of the big problems is that evolution gets called out for special treatment while many other theories of similar vintage are accepted without much controversy. How many people politically attack Maxwell's synthesis of electromagnetism, or the periodic table? Evolution is one of multiple theories that are incompatible with young-earth creationism, but where are the challenges to plate tectonics, general relativity, or the theory of galaxies?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:03 PM on October 22, 2009


TheWorldFamous:
The difference between God being nonexistent and God existing but never interfering is

. . . that the former is something that people actually believe, while the latter is a construct created solely for the purpose of making dumb arguments against people who believe the former. (Did I get that right?
Since there have been lots of people throughout history who have believed the latter*: no, you did not.

--
*in fact, that condition -- god exsts, but does not interfere -- was arguably the most widely-held view, prior to the CE. the generic term for this is "deism". though to be fair i've seldom heard the thousands of tribal religions that are based in that belief descrbed as 'deist.'

posted by lodurr at 3:16 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski: "if a question does not have an answer, isn't it better to not consider it, than to say "I don't know?""

I suppose it comes down to whether "Why is there something instead of nothing?" - or what Martin Gardner taught me to call "the superultimate question" - is unanswered or unanswerable.

I suspect it's the latter - in which case I would agree with you. But scientific inquiry has surprised us before and it's certain to do so again. So I like to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Actually, in one of Dawkins' books, he handles the whole thing rather better. He writes that to explain the existence of the universe by claiming the existence of God only begs the question of how God came to be. And if you say God has existed forever, you might as well just say that the universe has existed forever.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:16 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think one of the big problems is that evolution gets called out for special treatment while many other theories of similar vintage are accepted without much controversy.

In my experience, creationists often conflate evolution with a variety of other subjects, from abiogenesis to the Big Bang. When we say "evolution," we're talking about a specific theory regarding how life forms change over time. When creationists say "evolution," they're talking about everything in science that contradicts a literal reading of Genesis.
posted by brundlefly at 3:18 PM on October 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


You do know - there is no answer!

alternately: You do know - there is no question!
posted by lodurr at 3:19 PM on October 22, 2009


In the US at least, I can be an atheist and live without facing much prejudice at all.

...unless you want to run for public office, of course.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:24 PM on October 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Since there have been lots of people throughout history who have believed the latter*: no, you did not.

Curses. I was hoping to win the Internet today.
posted by The World Famous at 3:24 PM on October 22, 2009


I suppose it comes down to whether "Why is there something instead of nothing?" - or what Martin Gardner taught me to call "the superultimate question" - is unanswered or unanswerable.

I suspect it's the latter - in which case I would agree with you. But scientific inquiry has surprised us before and it's certain to do so again. So I like to give it the benefit of the doubt.


Excellent point. And I love that Quine's little question is referred to by Gardner as "the superultimate question." That's just fucking great.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:25 PM on October 22, 2009


Dawkins has a nice sense of irony, deployed without mercy on the opponents of evolution. If the creationists think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, rather than 4.6 billion, he asks, shouldn’t they assume, by the same measure, that North America is less than 10 yards wide?
That's just dumb.
posted by Flunkie at 3:27 PM on October 22, 2009


if that's what he actually said, it would be really patronizing and condescending -- "hey, i got this here bridge, see, and i need to unload it..." dumb, too, if he believed it. which he couldn't possibly, since it's just so freaking dumb.
posted by lodurr at 3:51 PM on October 22, 2009


@strixus: steal away!
posted by stinker at 3:54 PM on October 22, 2009


I'm not sure it's accurate to say that physics cannot answer the question of what came before the Big Bang. M theory (popularly known as superstring theory, or string theory) does have an answer to this question. The problem is that it cannot yet be experimentally verified and it's unlikely that this particular aspect of the theory can be directly verified in the near term, perhaps not even within our lifetimes.

This is kind of a distraction from the actual topic at hand but I think it points out one of the aspects of this discussion that make it so intractable, which is the notion that supposition and proof are so distinct that, in a scientific world-view, one can be contemplated in the absence of the other. This is definitely learned behavior and seems counter intuitive to a lot of people who don't have scientific backgrounds. The notion of belief or faith, in my mind, conflates the two to the point that they are indivisible. Proof by common sense, in other words.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:02 PM on October 22, 2009


Dawkins has a nice sense of irony, deployed without mercy on the opponents of evolution. If the creationists think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, rather than 4.6 billion, he asks, shouldn’t they assume, by the same measure, that North America is less than 10 yards wide?
That's just dumb.

Really? If Young Earth Creationists apply the same metric, hereby called the Fundamentalist Figure Fluffing Factor (FFFF), to distance as they do to time I think it's really quite apposite:

FFFF == 460,000    (4,600,000,000 years / 10,000 years)

Distance from Los Angeles to New York* = 4,333,120 yards

4,333,120 yards / 460,000 = 9.4 yards




* For a furriner like me, this is how you measure the width of the USA
posted by JustAsItSounds at 4:03 PM on October 22, 2009


Firstly, I don't believe in God. Secondly, Dawkins is a scientist, so when he comments on religion he's a big fakity-fake-fakey-pants faker.

But hey, smart people know everything, or something.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 4:19 PM on October 22, 2009


"The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology."

That's just silly writing. The theory has incredible descriptive and explanatory power, no doubt, and promises to continue to help biologists unlock all kinds of mysteries. But, come on; not "everything" in biology has been explained yet, so you can hardly claim evolution explains

Around here I'd point out the difference between explaining and describing. If we come across something that evolution cannot explain, (the infamous rabbits in the pre-cambrian, for example) then we have a problem. We have yet to come across such a thing, so I think the quote holds true. To describe every last detail is the kind of spuriousness ID advocates demand before they will (they say) accept proof - say, a list of every genetic mutation involved in developing a new trait. You can know how planets form without visiting every solar system and seeing every variation on that theme, and you can tell that it's raining without being able to pinpoint every raindrop.


Personally, out of context, I found the statement to be horribly simplistic and simple-minded. Out of context being the operative term, however, it IS the opening sentence, so that means IT gives context to everything else. Is it really desirable to start-out scientific journalism by smoothing over some very deep, chasmic wrinkles just so it can fit in with the 9th-grade reading level that NYT aspires to?
posted by tybeet at 4:25 PM on October 22, 2009


Really? If Young Earth Creationists apply the same metric, hereby called the Fundamentalist Figure Fluffing Factor (FFFF), to distance as they do to time

here's why it's dumb: no one has done that. dawkins doesn't even make that connection. i absolutely get that that's the joke, but with that delivery it comes off as either snide or stupid.
posted by lodurr at 4:31 PM on October 22, 2009


tybeet: Well, Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist rather than a biochemist concerned with energy exchange in enzyme-catalyzed redox reactions, or an ecologist concerned with the flow of energy and matter through systems that include biological organisms. On the other hand, both the ecologist and the biochemist would generally say that enzymes and biomes have been shaped by Darwinian evolution.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:37 PM on October 22, 2009


Well, Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist rather than a biochemist concerned with energy exchange in enzyme-catalyzed redox reactions, or an ecologist concerned with the flow of energy and matter through systems that include biological organisms. On the other hand, both the ecologist and the biochemist would generally say that enzymes and biomes have been shaped by Darwinian evolution.

I understand that, but still, to boil everything down to evolution is to pretend that whatever someone seeks to understand, they shall find wisdom in evolution. Whatever someone seeks to explain, all that is necessary is some hand-waving and an utterance of the word "evolution".

Yes, I'm being dramatic, but language and the context that the media gives to things like this shape the way people think in large ways.

Anyway, the book sounds like a fun read.
posted by tybeet at 4:49 PM on October 22, 2009


JustAsItSounds, yes, really, it really is just dumb.

I assure you that I fully understand the idea - "width of North America : 10 yards :: age of earth : 10,000 years" - and that's not what's dumb about it.

What's dumb about it is Dawkin's claim (or at least, what the article implied was Dawkin's claim) that creationists "should" believe North America is ten yards wide, as if it were hypocritical of them not to.

As if the proper reasoning for someone laboring under the false impression that the earth is only 10,000 years old would be: "The earth is billions of years old, but I think it's only 10,000 years, and North America is 3,000 miles wide, so I therefore think it's ten yards wide".

That's not the proper reasoning for such a person, because the premise of that reason directly contradicts their base assumption.

To repeat: Yes, really, it really is just dumb.
posted by Flunkie at 5:00 PM on October 22, 2009


Well, Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist rather than a biochemist concerned with energy exchange in enzyme-catalyzed redox reactions, or an ecologist concerned with the flow of energy and matter through systems that include biological organisms. On the other hand, both the ecologist and the biochemist would generally say that enzymes and biomes have been shaped by Darwinian evolution.

I think it's probably more fair to say that a science of life which doesn't include natural selection and evolution makes no sense. There's obviously more to it than that, but without it, none of it works.

Saying that natural selection and evolution exists is like observing that planets revolve around the sun. There's a lot more details to be worked out once the observation is made, though.
posted by empath at 5:23 PM on October 22, 2009


I asked him what he thought were the most significant issues yet to be solved by science. I loved his answer: "What is consciousness? Why is it? How can it be explained?" And, "How did it all really start? This [and here he implored a bit of Augustine] is the major argument for theism - the first cause argument - but that's terribly unsatisfying, for we are 'still left wondering where the tuna came from!'"

This a million times over. Evolution and religion are not in conflict. Evolution does not explain how life began, but how it changed over time. Evolution does not explain how come we have a sense of self and mind. Religion offers ideas regarding those topics; evolution does not.

It is well past time that we put religion back in its proper place in this society. If we expect to maintain a good quality of living, we need to continue leading the world in the sciences and technologies. If we expect to avoid destroying this earth, we need to have smart children who are well-educated and seeking solutions to the problems we have created.

Of course, there are those who want the entire system to crash and burn, so that Jeebus can come and save us. Those folks, we need to put on a spaceship along with the telephone sanitizers and RIAA executives, and set the controls for the heart of the sun.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:27 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I watched him give a talk on his new book here at PSU. It was pretty cool. What was really cool was the way he waltzed into the Peter Stott Center without any sort of crew or anything about 3 minutes before he was due to talk, past the line that was still out the front without acknowledging a soul that was staring at him, shocked he's only two feet away. I can't really describe what it was about it, but it was just a really badass entrance.
posted by floam at 5:29 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok fine, I read it as a reductio ad adsurbum analogy, you read it as a logical argument.

I thought he was emphasizing the difference between the scientifically accepted age of the Earth and the Young Earth Creationist age of the Earth: "The factor that they are wrong about the age of the earth is so great that if it were applied to a better known, tangible metric such as the width of the USA, this is the absurd answer".

But maybe I'm being too generous to Dawkins. I for one am glad that not every single utterance of mine is studied minutely for stray nuances of meaning.


oh, wait...
posted by JustAsItSounds at 5:40 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I for one am glad that not every single utterance of mine is studied minutely for stray nuances of meaning.


oh, wait...
posted by JustAsItSounds at 5:40 PM on October 22 [+] [!]


Eponysterical!
posted by The World Famous at 5:46 PM on October 22, 2009


JustAsItSounds, i just think it was a badly-played gag. made him com off as even more of an arrogant blow-hard than he already does.
posted by lodurr at 6:15 PM on October 22, 2009


I harbor a suspicion (it's my own; not a whit of science involved here) that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.

I don't think that's it, so much. I don't doubt that there's a lot of genuine faith out there, but there's a ton of social pressure involved in organized religion. Aside from getting elected to public office I can think of several examples off the top of my head.

An individual needs to join a religion in order to get married a lot of the time. Couples who are expecting a baby and don't attend church are encouraged to return "for the sake of the child". Families attend weekly services "to make grandma happy". Teenagers and young adults are financially and emotionally cut off by their parents unless they maintain a connection with the church. Friends and relatives are roped into being Godparents and swearing to help foster a child's relationship with the church.

All anecdotal, sure, but these are all things I have witnessed first hand.
posted by ODiV at 6:19 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


stinker: Theists are in danger of Type I error, atheists are in danger of Type II error. Our justice system (in the US) delivers a verdict of 'guilty' or 'not-guilty' to avoid Type II error (saying that a person is 'innocent' requires a much greater deal of evidence that merely proving that they are 'not guilty'.)

Do you think that agnosticism more closely approximates the "not-guilty" stance, and thus avoids the Type II error issue?

I definitely like your explanation here, and it kind of explains why I prefer an agnostic stance vs an atheist one.
posted by bilgepump at 6:39 PM on October 22, 2009



(it's my own; not a whit of science involved here) that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.


My father in law never showed the least interest in church or religion (catholicism) until in his late sixties he came down with lung cancer. Two months before entering hospice he wrote a check for a large sum of money. Yep. The catholic church.
posted by notreally at 7:04 PM on October 22, 2009


God loves those who buy their way into heaven, eh?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:11 PM on October 22, 2009


Dawkins : God of the Atheists!

I'm pretty sure you meant:

Dawkins: Officer #823 in Satan's Legion!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:47 PM on October 22, 2009


"The difference between God being nonexistent and God existing but never interfering is"

The difference that makes no difference is no difference.
posted by MrLint at 8:01 PM on October 22, 2009


This a million times over. Evolution and religion are not in conflict. .

Sure, if you have an abstract, accomodationist conception of religion and are happy to constantly cede more and more truth-claim territory to science as we develops theories that explain the universe that religion used to. Indeed, this has been happening since the systematization of the scientific method. The true believers are the fundamentalists and literalists who at least have the courage to stand by their irrational convictions regardless of what evidence they are presented with. This is the definition of a dogma.

Evolution does not explain how life began, but how it changed over time.

Evolution doesn't explain it but scientists are working on the problem. Scientific investigation of the origin of life (abiogenesis) is one of the hottest topics in modern biology and has been since the Urey-Miller experiment in the 1950s. I have little doubt that a satisfying explanation for the origin of life will be achieved by humans.

Evolution does not explain how come we have a sense of self and mind. Religion offers ideas regarding those topics; evolution does not

Same answer as above: evolution by natural selection might not but science is coming up with some pretty good ideas about these matters. The computational theory of mind and systematic investigations into consciousness, heck all of neuroscience even, are extremely recent developments! Religions have had thousands of years to figure it out.

And might I add that religious explanations of such phenomena are all the same (and are deeply unsatisfying). "We can't explain it...so it's God." The same answer religion has for everything.
posted by inoculatedcities at 8:54 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why am I only finding out now that lemurs dance?!?

Ah.

Did you know that magpies hold funerals for their dead?

Dr Bekoff said he studied four magpies alongside a magpie corpse and recorded their behaviour.

"One approached the corpse, gently pecked at it, just as an elephant would nose the carcase of another elephant, and stepped back. Another magpie did the same thing, " he said.

"Next, one of the magpies flew off, brought back some grass and laid it by the corpse. Another magpie did the same. Then all four stood vigil for a few seconds and one by one flew off."

After publishing an account of the funeral he received emails from people who had seen the same ritual in magpies, ravens and crows.

posted by sebastienbailard at 9:35 PM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


just wanted to say that I'm a little wary simply because this is a Dawkins thread that didn't turn into hellstorm97. In fact, there were even parts that were downright civil and even, god help us, interesting (no {/}, really). Dear god?? Am I being sentimental about metafilter? Save me. Quickly.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:06 AM on October 23, 2009


I harbor a suspicion... that most believers don't actually believe, but are hedging their bets out of fear.

Pascal's Wager is a sucker's bet.

I've heard more than a couple 'real' Christians admit to that line of thought before, usually after a couple of drinks... you know, there's no risk in believing just in case God exists, right? It's as if they have made up their own meaning for the word "belief". And let's not even get close to "faith" here.

To me, it seems just a higher peak of illogic. These people pretend to believe in a God who is simultaneously: (a) all-powerful and all-knowing, but also (b) so stupid you can trick Him.

(I run out of words after that, and just lean on my WTF face until closing time.)
posted by rokusan at 12:23 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dawkins is entertaining, and I do read all his books. But I miss Gould so much more than I enjoy Dawkins. For one thing, Gould had a terrific and deep understanding of baseball.
posted by rokusan at 12:24 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


but where are the challenges to plate tectonics, general relativity, or the theory of galaxies?

Well, there are certainly plenty of challenges to basic physics around radioactivity because of the implications of radioactive dating techniques. Plate tectonics doesn't particularly imply anything about the age of the earth, but any kind of science with 'paleo' is a writeoff.

Secondly, Dawkins is a scientist, so when he comments on religion he's a big fakity-fake-fakey-pants faker.

Really? People can't comment on religion unless... what?

Frankly, Dawkins' observations on religion, while remarkably uncharitible, often seem to me a great deal more in touch with religion-as-it-is-often-popularly-practised, while many of his religious academic detractors seem to believe religion is about whatever navel-gazing happens in their particular circle of journals and conferences.

Anyway, the book sounds like a fun read.

He generally is. The Ancestor's Tale was an incredibly cool volume.

For one thing, Gould had a terrific and deep understanding of baseball.

Baseball, like cricket, is one of those things that is almost unimaginably tedious to those not born into a culture embracing it, so I don't miss that bit of Gould's writing at all.
posted by rodgerd at 12:52 AM on October 23, 2009


there is a lot more anti-atheism bias in America than you might realize

Even taking this as a given, my point was that being divisive like Dawkins is not going to make things better. If your minority group is being discriminated against, the answer is not a hard sell to try to get everyone to join your minority group, it's to fight against discrimination and try to force everyone to put their differences aside.


Well, that's one opinion for how a minority group should act. It's certainly not definitive. Maybe it'll work for you House Atheists and Uncle NOMAs.

"As long as you gotta sit-down philosophy, you'll have a sit-down thought pattern, and as long as you think that old sit-down thought you'll be in some kind of sit-down action. They'll have you sitting in everywhere. It's not so good to refer to what you're going to do as a 'sit-in.' That right there castrates you. Right there it brings you down. What -- What goes with it? What -- Think of the image of a someone sitting. An old woman can sit. An old man can sit. A chump can sit. A coward can sit. Anything can sit. Well you and I been sitting long enough, and it's time today for us to start doing some standing, and some fighting to back that up." -Malcolm X

Today it's time to stop singing and start swinging.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:35 AM on October 23, 2009


stinker: Theists are in danger of Type I error, atheists are in danger of Type II error. Our justice system (in the US) delivers a verdict of 'guilty' or 'not-guilty' to avoid Type II error (saying that a person is 'innocent' requires a much greater deal of evidence that merely proving that they are 'not guilty'.)

bilgepump: Do you think that agnosticism more closely approximates the "not-guilty" stance, and thus avoids the Type II error issue?

I definitely like your explanation here, and it kind of explains why I prefer an agnostic stance vs an atheist one.


Ohh yes. It's not an atheism thread without some self-proclaimed "agnostics" trying to set themselves up as the more reasonable voice of moderation by strawmanning the heck out of contemporary atheistic thought. As time goes on, I'm becoming less and less charitable to the self-proclaimed agnostic position and really wish they would fuck off until they can come up with a critique of atheism that isn't obsolete.

innoculatedcities: Evolution doesn't explain it but scientists are working on the problem. Scientific investigation of the origin of life (abiogenesis) is one of the hottest topics in modern biology and has been since the Urey-Miller experiment in the 1950s. I have little doubt that a satisfying explanation for the origin of life will be achieved by humans.

But that's mostly an organic chemistry problem rather than an evolutionary biology problem. And likewise, my objection to memetics is that just because predictive models of gene frequencies can be built around information theory, we can't really assume that other forms of information with radically different characteristics necessarily exhibit the same characteristics.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:48 AM on October 23, 2009


The difference that makes no difference is no difference.

check your assumptions: whether the difference makes a difference to you is not relevant. what's relevant is whether it makes a difference to the believer. which, by definition, it does.
posted by lodurr at 5:03 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dawkins is a scientist, so when he comments on religion he's a big fakity-fake-fakey-pants faker.

Do you have a degree in political science? No? Then why are you voting, you faker?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:05 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


... you House Atheists and Uncle NOMAs.

heh. yeah. and where was Malcolm at before he died?

really, how can you expect anyone to take you seriously if you use patronizing bullshit language like "House Atheists and Uncle NOMAs"? get real.

and BTW: malcolm, you ain't. and neither is dawkins.
posted by lodurr at 5:08 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heavens, let's not offend anyone.

(Because that's how change has always occurred throughout history. All great social shifts, all of them, were done while making sure people's sensibility's were neither challenged nor offended.)
posted by grubi at 5:53 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm reading the book right now, and am DAMN jealous of those of you who have had a chance to meet the man. I've been close a few times (and I did once hear SJG give a fantastic speech while I was a grad student) but have never heard Dawkins speak in person.

I'm only about halfway through the book, but what did make me immensely deliriously happy was three things so far: First, the phrase "existential rabbit in the sky" is simply fantastic and I fully expect to see it as a user name here eventually (but please, as an actual user, not as a seldom-used once-off sock puppet joke, because it's too delicious to waste like that). Second, the photos of human development - these should be blown up to billboard size and placed directly next to every one of those damn "Embryos are just tiny babies!" pro-life ones. (I have nothing against pro-life people. I have a hell of a lot of condescension towards blatant lies, though. The homunculus argument was discredited so long ago that I can't believe anyone is fooled by this BS. Then again, there's still a need for pro-evolution publicity, so I guess the development FUD should be expected.)

Finally - and this deserves a paragraph of its own - I was really really happy to see such a large part of one chapter devoted to detailed discussion of Rich Lenske's work at Michigan State. Several reasons for this. First and foremost it is indeed an amazing experiment and should absolutely be given the accolades it deserves. Second, and more personally, Rich is a member of the Department of Zoology from which I earned both my undergraduate and PhD degrees, and he personally signed off on my Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior PhD endorsement as head of the EEBB program. It makes me immensely proud to have even a tenuous association with people doing this caliber of research, and that these people felt that I deserved to be a member of the research community. (Just a plug here - if you know any budding zoologists, tell them to give Michigan State a look. Rich is far from the only person there doing quality work.)
posted by caution live frogs at 6:13 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


and while we're at it, let's be absolutely sure we convince everyone that there's no middle ground between confrontationalism and total capitulation to the evil religionists. we wouldn't want people making the same mistake Malcolm did, now, would we?
posted by lodurr at 6:18 AM on October 23, 2009


for the europeans in the audience: House Atheists and Uncle NOMAs
posted by lodurr at 6:20 AM on October 23, 2009


The comparison between atheists' arguments against religion and the civil rights struggle of african-americans is incredibly fucking offensive, and I say that as one of the most shrill atheists on this site.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:22 AM on October 23, 2009


As time goes on, I'm becoming less and less charitable to the self-proclaimed agnostic position and really wish they would fuck off until they can come up with a critique of atheism that isn't obsolete.

How is the critique obsolete, exactly? The Type I versus Type II error explanation appears to hold up pretty well (and thanks so much to stinker for articulating it so well).

I've heard the retorts to the Type II error assertion: "Well, I can't prove there are fairies (or pink elephants or chartreuse giraffes or what have you) at the bottom of the garden, either, but I'm certain they aren't there."

The funny thing to me is the retort itself is a straw man; I doubt any agnostics are arguing for the possible existence of a white-bearded superbeing sitting on a throne in the clouds; that would be pretty silly. However, they simply cannot dismiss out of hand the existence of a consciousness beyond what we currently have the tools to understand or even detect, a consciousness that may or may not qualify as what we would call a god.

I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that no religion has a corner on the Truth market, that the 'god of the gaps' has fewer and fewer clawholds as time goes on. I'm less comfortable with the strident dismissal of everyone who thinks it's more correct to say "I don't know" than to insist knowledge of what simply can't be known at this stage of the game.
posted by Pragmatica at 6:27 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, they simply cannot dismiss out of hand the existence of a consciousness beyond what we currently have the tools to understand or even detect, a consciousness that may or may not qualify as what we would call a god.

This is no more or less likely than invisible, intangible dragons in everyone's garage, but I'd be willing to bet that you're not undecided on those, either.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:48 AM on October 23, 2009


This is no more or less likely than invisible, intangible dragons in everyone's garage, but I'd be willing to bet that you're not undecided on those, either.

I like the invisible, intangible bit- it tends to move the conversation in a certain direction, in much the same way as the fairies and the pink elephants.

You're right; I'm pretty clear on the whole dragons in the garage thing. On the other hand, the possible existence of a dragon (visible or not) in my garage isn't suggested by the rather large blank place in the sentence "Everything came from ____."

I got issues with those who say they know that god (or God) fills the blank, so I definitely qualify as areligious (if that's a word). I also got issues with those who say that whatever fills that blank, it's ain't a god, so I'm not an atheist.

Mind you, I still like Dawkins; I just think he's reduced a grey matter (forgive, please) to black and white when it shouldn't be.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:13 AM on October 23, 2009


On the other hand, the possible existence of a dragon (visible or not) in my garage isn't suggested by the rather large blank place in the sentence "Everything came from ____."

I got issues with those who say they know that god (or God) fills the blank, so I definitely qualify as areligious (if that's a word). I also got issues with those who say that whatever fills that blank, it's ain't a god, so I'm not an atheist.


By equating "It's God" and "You don't have any reason to believe that", you're privileging the theist position.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:16 AM on October 23, 2009


This has been a great thread so far, if a bit harsh. If you just learn to smile and ignore all the "god did it" hand waving from the overtly religious, it's still possible to find many redeeming qualities in Battlestar Galactica life.
posted by rokusan at 7:20 AM on October 23, 2009


By equating "It's God" and "You don't have any reason to believe that", you're privileging the theist position.

That's an interesting viewpoint. If I'm understanding you right, because I'm considering the "blank" in terms of whether what fills the blank is or isn't a god, I'm giving the "there's a god" argument points it shouldn't be getting.

I'll have to give that some more thought. I'm not sure it'll change my mind, but it's an interesting mind toy, in either case.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:34 AM on October 23, 2009


Pragmatica: How is the critique obsolete, exactly? The Type I versus Type II error explanation appears to hold up pretty well (and thanks so much to stinker for articulating it so well).

Because most advocates for atheism since Bertrand Russell point out that although proving the non-existence of God is methodologically challenging, skepticism in the face of extreme claims is still a reasonable default position. It only appears to hold up well if you have a profound ignorance and misunderstanding of what atheists have actually been writing on the subject in living memory.

Huxley's contrarian babble was current about 120 years ago when modern philosophy hadn't yet caught up to the problem that claims to absolute truth are highly problematic. But now that we've had almost a century to deal with the issue, the questions now center on what constitutes a justified belief. You don't know, but we don't know, Dawkins doesn't know, and modern people of faith often admit they don't know either. "Agnostics" are both wrong and insulting when they claim unique provenance to "I don't know."

Type II errors are really only a problem if you go beyond the warrant of your evidence. If the vast bulk of evidence fails to reject the null hypothesis, then it's entirely reasonable to accept the null hypothesis as provisionally true. We can't say with absolute certainty that vaccines never cause autism, or that Mozart never makes babies smarter. We can only say that the evidence has not yet been sufficient to justify belief in those claims. Likewise, atheists hold that the evidence and arguments presented for god are insufficient to justify belief in those claims.

I'm less comfortable with the strident dismissal of everyone who thinks it's more correct to say "I don't know" than to insist knowledge of what simply can't be known at this stage of the game.

I don't dismiss "agnostics" because they say, "I don't know." I dismiss agnostics because they claim a monopoly on "I don't know" and set themselves up as the most reasonable person in the room because of it.

I got issues with those who say they know that god (or God) fills the blank, so I definitely qualify as areligious (if that's a word). I also got issues with those who say that whatever fills that blank, it's ain't a god, so I'm not an atheist.

Here is a suggestion, is it at all possible for you to make a case for your agnosticism that doesn't depend on deep bullshit about theism and atheism?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:42 AM on October 23, 2009


Really? People can't comment on religion unless... what?

Frankly, Dawkins' observations on religion, while remarkably uncharitible, often seem to me a great deal more in touch with religion-as-it-is-often-popularly-practised, while many of his religious academic detractors seem to believe religion is about whatever navel-gazing happens in their particular circle of journals and conferences.


I wouldn't say "can't comment"... a responsible person would acknowledge the limits of their expertise. He doesn't need a boogey-man in order to do his actual job, and promote a popular understanding of biology.

His prejudices about religion aren't "uncharitable", they are ignorant and moronic. I can't listen to him talk about the history of religions or the social origins, or effects, of them without groaning. It's like listening to an undergrad who has just finished a class on Marx decry "the evils of capitalism". Anyone who believes anything different from him or has any other values is insane, dangerous, and evil. I'm with him when he pursues the secular position of defending people's rights to be atheists, or defending the integrity of the science curriculum , but when he starts editorializing it's too embarassing to listen to.
posted by ServSci at 7:51 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


...skepticism in the face of extreme claims is still a reasonable default position.

Of course it is. The idea that an omniscient, omnipotent being exists and is for some reason interested in human beings and whether or not they eat meat on what we arbitrarily call Friday is worth being skeptical about, and I have concluded that the idea is very likely wrong. I could make similar statements about pretty much any religion.

But now that we've had almost a century to deal with the issue, the questions now center on what constitutes a justified belief. You don't know, but we don't know, Dawkins doesn't know, and modern people of faith often admit they don't know either.

So you're saying that atheism, rather than positing that there is no god, simply says there's no justification for believing in one?

Here is a suggestion, is it at all possible for you to make a case for your agnosticism that doesn't depend on deep bullshit about theism and atheism?

Sure - I actually prefer it to the arguments about fairies and whatnot: The God of the various Books we have laying about sounds like utter bullshit to me, and seems to have been constructed largely so one group of people could have control over another group.

On the other hand, every idea about how and why we (where "we" is the observable universe) are regresses to a point and then stops for lack of information- even the ideas we agree have no justification. In spite of the vast bulk of evidence not rejecting the null hypothesis, the evidence we actually have is vanishingly small when compared a) to the amount of evidence available and b) to the size of the unknown beyond the point we can regress. I (personally) can't dismiss the possibility of something we would both call a god hiding behind the singularity.

I'm not holier than thou about it, though. Heh.
posted by Pragmatica at 8:31 AM on October 23, 2009


Pragmatica: So you're saying that atheism, rather than positing that there is no god, simply says there's no justification for believing in one?

I'll say that both positions are well within the boundaries of atheistic thought. And the claim that we don't know that God exists but we should believe in him for moral or aesthetic reasons is well within the boundaries of theistic thought. Neither are monolithic belief systems naive and unaware of the problems posed by modern and post-modern epistemologies, and I object to the tendency of agnostics to stake a contrarian position as of they were.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:43 AM on October 23, 2009


So you're saying that atheism, rather than positing that there is no god, simply says there's no justification for believing in one?

You're trying to nail jello to a wall here. There's no one single definition of atheism, just as their is no one single definition of theism. If someone doesn't believe in your god, he's an atheist.
posted by empath at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2009


Neither are monolithic belief systems naive and unaware of the problems posed by modern and post-modern epistemologies, and I object to the tendency of agnostics to stake a contrarian position as of they were.

Okay, gotcha. Well, if it helps move me out of the annoying agnostic camp at all, I don't look at religious people and atheists as flip sides of the same coin, and I don't think I'm more reasonable than anyone else as a result of not being able to go all the way and say "no such thing."
posted by Pragmatica at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2009


"I don't dismiss "agnostics" because they say, "I don't know." I dismiss agnostics because they claim a monopoly on "I don't know" and set themselves up as the most reasonable person in the room because of it."

Agnosticism is a claim that is non-exclusive with theism or atheism; you can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist. You can also be a hard agnostic in more than one way with regard to the question of God—you can adopt a position comparable to Dawkins' regarding the universe prior to the Big Bang, arguing that the question itself is invalid, or you can dismiss it as (as has been mentioned) a noumenal claim. Agnosticism is predominantly an epistemological position, and your dismissal of it is as stupid and ignorant as you claim agnostics are.
posted by klangklangston at 9:08 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agnosticism is a claim that is non-exclusive with theism or atheism; you can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist.

I can imagine there's nothing more annoying than trying to argue with an agnostic. The f***ers just won't sit still long enough to squash them. My favorite line on agnosticism is something I heard a long, long time ago:

"It's the only sane position to take at cocktail parties."

That is, it keeps you in the conversation without forcing you to either:

1. actually agree with anybody
2. actually clarify what you DO believe in

Also, it's the Truth, maybe the only Truth I'd ever consciously put a capital "T" to. That is, it doesn't matter what you claim to believe (or NOT), a close study of your actions and decisions will always betray you as someone who sometimes acts from faith, sometimes from doubt, sometimes from outright confusion.

Good thread by the way. I'm learning stuff.
posted by philip-random at 9:27 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: Pardon, but I thought my point was abundantly clear from the first two paragraphs in the post you quoted. I'm championing agnosticism as a epistemological position that now plays a central role in modern and post-modern religious apologetics and atheist criticism. I am dismissing a specific claim, made often but here advanced by stinker, bilgepump, and Pragmatica that self-proclaimed agnosticism is more reasonable than theism or atheism because we claim certain knowledge, and therefore are guilty of Type I and Type II errors.

I openly identify myself as an agnostic-atheist myself, along the lines of Isaac Asimov and Bertrand Russell. There are abundant legitimate reasons to take a hard agnostic position, the view that theists and atheists are smugly making claims to Truth with a capital-T isn't one of them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:06 AM on October 23, 2009


But now that I think about it. I'm less inclined to identify myself as agnostic-atheist because those terms are now largely redundant. We don't talk about agnostic literary criticism, agnostic history, agnostic science, or agnostic law because the epistemological revolutions of the last 150 years that cast a shadow of doubt on the potentials for certain knowledge have become mainstream. People who subscribe to modern and post-modern theology fairly legitimately complain when Dawkins fails to account for the ways that religious thought is diverse and has changed. I don't see why the same caveat shouldn't apply to contemporary atheism.

It's the 21st century and all those issues were talked to death in my father's time. I don't feel the need to call attention to a distinction that's largely obsolete and antique. And when I actually bother to read Huxley, the more I'm convinced that he was just involved in a quaint pissing match and being contrary just to be contrary. Huxley's position was necessary and provocative in an age in which people believed they could reverse-engineer everything about God or the Universe from basic principles. Now, we just have to say, "yeah, so, what's your fucking point?"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:28 AM on October 23, 2009


> I don't feel the need to call attention to a distinction that's largely obsolete and antique.

Conversations like these remind me of a room full of people all fervently congratulating themselves and one another on being too smart to believe in the tooth fairy.


> all those issues were talked to death in my father's time.

Rather earlier even than that.

Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey;
Here falling houses thunder on your head,
And here a female atheist talks you dead.
- Samuel Johnson. London: A Poem in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. London, 1738

posted by jfuller at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2009


I can imagine there's nothing more annoying than trying to argue with an agnostic.

There's nothing more annoying than when someone is trying to argue.
posted by The World Famous at 11:48 AM on October 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've found The Greatest Show on Earth to be a very enjoyable read and would highly recommend it.

To state the obvious, the focus of the book takes a very comprehensive approach to explaining not only the 'Theorem of Evolution' itself (Dawkins prefers "theorem" to "theory" to emphasize his point that evolution is demonstrably true) but also relevant topics such as establishing how long life has existed on the planet; understanding the various methods scientists use to date geology, artifacts, fossils, etc.; understanding fossil layers; understanding the evolutionary tree; comparing DNA from one species to another; plus plenty of examples in the natural world and in scientific experiments which reinforce the principles in natural selection, etc.

Although Dawkins does bring up specific Creationist claims to answer or debunk them, these tend to be used simply as brief segues to establish the relevance for explaining a given area of science rather than a focus of the book itself (unlike the God Delusion). So if you're interested in the topic, you should have less cause for concern about Dawkins' sometimes confrontational tone.
posted by Davenhill at 11:52 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]




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