Thursday, December 14, 2006

Why the world is so dotty on Dawkins

So far all of my blogs have really been about pictures...words about pictures. I feel that words themselves have been slightly under represented, so here's some thoughts pieced together about what words do, mostly spurred on by a keynote I just attended given by the very charismatic Steve Fuller at a research conference in Brighton. Apologies for the intellectual divergence from my usual postings!

This year Richard Dawkins was voted the UK's top public intellectual in a poll by Prospect Magazine. But what is it that makes him the most intellectual human being in Britain...other than that selfish gene of course? What fascinates me about Richard Dawkins is not so much the ideas and theories he so adamently, and (self professingly) arrogantly, puts forth, but rather the power of his words and and medium that he conveys them in. This guy is a genius, when he talks he is not tied to his power point presentation, he does not need his science lab to protect him, he just uses words. He can convey his point using any medium he wants - the public lecture, the 50 line newspaper column, the TV documentary, the science book, an academic paper, a high brow debate. And what's more he can argue and defend his ideas without batting an eyelid. He has autonomy, he can think for himself, and speak for himself, he is the perfect example of what the university dreams of producing, intellectual enlightenment.

Powerful words combined with a large dose of charisma have powerful effects. As a result Dawkins now has his own congregation. I do find it slighly amusing that he reminds me of preachers I saw in Africa: "If you dont belive me, if you question me, you are an idiot - it's common sense" - the tone used by both camps. Now, I am not generally a sit on the fence person, if you have two equally as strong opposing views, it does not mean that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It may quite simply be the case that one view is just plain wrong. But often it is the interchange of words, the ability to have understanding of multiple viewpoints to form your own ideas where the real value lies.

My views on Prof Dawkins...I generally agree with what the professor professes, but that does not mean I do not question some of what he says, take what he puts forwards as gospel. I do think that religion and intelligent design have a place in science studies classes. We need this power struggle of ideas to create autonomous intellectuals. Personally, I do not think that Dawkins understands enough about the history of secular humanism to give it a fair run for its money. I have sympathy for religious beliefs and can see that religion has, in the case of science, been a positive influence, leading to scientific breakthroughs that people accept today even if they don't believe in God (Monotheism, Newton, Mendel...). Dawkins says religion is the root of all evil. Well, even if that were true, it's also the root of all science...I don't believe the two are disaggregated. When Darwin killed God, he also in a sense killed man. Reduced to animals we often ignor that there are things that make us human, a spirituality, it's so easy to shift the blame for our actions onto biology. An easy exit.

Dawkins, he deserves to be at the no. 1 spot, his intellect comes from places other than just his ideas: the words he constantly rewrites so his knowledge can be a public good, his ability to defend this knowledge very bloody well. However, a critical foil should always be applied to any intellectual idea so new words can be formed.

Will return to my pictures next time :-)


Mentalese said...

But what do you mean by spirituality. Dawkins promotes a spirituality that stems from his wonder at nature. His argument is that he does not need to believe in miracles like virgin births etc. Nature is wonderful enough. I actually think Dawkins is elevating religion to a position it does not deserve, religion and science have nothing to do with each other (I really don't understand why you say "all science stems from religion". Religion is more like politics, its just a form of crowd control where a range of techniques are used to control different levels of intellect: pray 5 times a day for the lower than average, and bogus arguments about the necessary belief in god because we don't know certain things about the universe for slightly more informed individuals. If we want a partner for science it is art, that's a possible source for scientific ideas - creative thought forming hypothesis for testing. Religion is the root of all evil because the heads of religions are holding back millions of people telling them to believe nonsense instead of trying to dig themselves out of their troubles with rational thought. Religious leaders are also shrouding true spirituality (wonder at our natural world) with their conservative, arrogant, disingenuous, mind numbing nonsense. I admit that I have not studied religious texts but whenever I have come into contact with religion (midnight mass, sunday school, school assemblies, religious studies) then I have to say I am horrified.

Dawkins is being elevated in intellectual circles because he is doing what many other people should have done before idiots like Bush and Blair got into power. He is speaking out for reason above the psychopaths that religions create. Dawkins is a culture-bearer, he is something we have been yearning for, an eloquence our minds have been trying to communicate in the face of fundamentalism.

Anonymous said...

I like thins quote, I think that it applies to both sides of the argument.

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it." -Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha), 563-483 B.C.