Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Richard Dawkins On Religion

It's here.

He's too snide about it even for my taste...and...whew...that's sayin' something...

More importantly, he doesn't really understand what he's talking about. I've griped about this in the past, but God knows where... Thomas Nagel has a good response in my shiny new New Republic, but I can't link it b/c they seem to think my subscription's expired.

Anyway, a philosopher Dawkins ain't. I know everybody thinks that she or he can do philosophy [note deft use of usually awkward 'she or he' to clearly indicate that I mean something like 'one' rather than 'Dawkins'], but, well, it turns out to not be true.

Heck if I know what I get paid for, what with everybody else--scientists, LitCritters, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, preachers...and my students--already being so good at it and all...

True story:
Colleague of mine gets a phone call from a friend of a friend who's putting together a government committee of some kind to think about something or other about bioethics. She asks him to be on it. He, though a philosopher, doesn't specialize in it, and tells her that nobody in our department really does, either, but also gives names of some dept. members whose specialities are more in line with the task. For some reason she goes through one of the university Vice Presidents to get one of these people...and this VP...who, mind you, knows absolutely freaking nothing about bioethics...takes the job himself. The guy's a psychologist. Colleague #1 who was first contacted would have done the job 2000% better...but he knew enough to know that he shouldn't be doing it. Buy, ya' know...everybody can do philosophy...



Blogger Mike Russo said...

Not really apropos of the substance of the post, but have you seen the squabble on the Valve kicked off by a review of Dawkins? The lead post is OK, but the comments are a gold mine.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Incidentally, I take it that one thing Dawkins is on about is this:

We shouldn't always have to handle religion (read: Christianity) with kid gloves. If it's going to be a player in the marketplace of ideas, it's got to get used to the rough-and-tumble. And that means that I get to deride it if I find it derision-worthy. Just like, say, moral relativism or alethic coherentism.

I agree with this point, as I suppose I've made clear in the past.

Not that it matters what I think, but just for the record, mind.

On the off hand: one might argue that offense should be avoided if possible...so I shouldn't insult your religion gratuitously, any more than I should insult your mother so.

On the other other hand, if your mother is a psycopathic fascistic misologist, then I have a right to say that she's a psychopathic fascistic misologist.

Good manners only go so far.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Aa said...

"Heck if I know what I get paid for, what with everybody else--scientists, LitCritters, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, preachers...and my students--already being so good at it and all..."

And yet, I seem to recall you having an impromptu poll on whether supernatural claims could be tested experimetnally (had to do with our discussion of whether ID is science or not where I clearly laid out my arguments why it isn't since supernatural claims can't techically be tested via natural methods), and since most of the answers seemed to coincide with your view you took that as the "gospel truth" even though no qustion was asked as to the EXPERTISE of the individuals in the areas of science - or your own expertise.

What's wrong with this picture? And what the heck to I get paid for?

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I quite like Dawkins (recently read The Ancestor's Tale, and it's a great book). Sure, he's a biologist, not a philosopher; but philosophy, in general, is a realm where the man in the street can't tell good workmanship from slapdash; hence, Intelligent Design, and a hundred other irrational notions.

I very much agree that (many) religions demands respect they don't deserve, and often pull my hair out to see this undeserved respect thoughtlessly given. One of the most remarkable cautionary tales I have ever read is the late Peter McWilliams' "What to Do When Your Guru Sues You", a funny/horrifying memoir of his ten years of servitude to a New Age 'holy man' called John-Roger; John-Roger, like many another charlatan, used his church as a tax fortress behind which he could amass ill-gotten wealth, among other things. The epilogue is sickening: McWilliams, a gay man who also wrote the wonderful "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," a treatise 'on the absurdity of consensual crimes in a free society,' died of AIDS/cancer after the government saw to it that he couldn't use medical marijuana to survive his chemo; then John-Roger ended up suing his estate and owning "What To Do..." which is why you'll have a hard time finding this book now.

50 years before Jesus, the Roman philosopher Lucretius said religion did more harm than good because it kept people superstitious. Still applies.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Russo:

Thanks for the link to the Valve -- some great stuff in those comments.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Good manners go very far, WS. Aristotle, Rhetoric.

If you have no command of yourself, it would be folly to yield you command of anything.

Word up.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I have no idea what you're talking about, Aa.

Few people responded at last check, and I forgot about the post.

I'm not sure *what* the answer is, but I guessed that most would answer 'yes.' But a 'yes' answer would cast some doubt on the claims by Darwin's defenders that creationism isn't science...since, that is, it seems that they think that at least *some* supernatural claims are testable.

Anyway, I in no way took it as gospel. I was just wondering what people thought.

Not sure where you got those ideas.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Aa said...

sorry it took me so long to get back...it's been a long couple of days.

Also, I apologize for the tone...I was a bit irate on that day and it showed.

The point I was trying to make is that you didn't seem to have a problem weighing in on scientific issues even though you have little to no formal scientific training (e.g., the supernatural argument or, for example, that the judge in Dover made the right decision fo the wrong reason (even though the majority of scientists agree that it was the right decision for the right reason)

However, when a non-philospher such as Dawkins wades in you make a comment such as "What the Heck do I get paid for"?

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have no command of yourself, it would be folly to yield you command of anything.

TVD, is this a quote from Aristotle? I ask because there's my family retells a mythic (but true) story for which a paraphrase of this is the moral.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back on topic (and hopefully without extra words such as there's), most scientists think they know more about the boundaries of knowledge and its justification than philosophers do. History suggests they are right.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heck if I know what I get paid for, what with everybody else--scientists, LitCritters, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, preachers...and my students--already being so good at it and all...

Most other mammals use their natural supply of urea to mark off territorial boundaries. We humans aren't that different I'd say. We just up the ante a little. After all, we use the severed sexual organs of plants as a ritualized pre (or sometimes post) mating gift. We're not that special.

I like Dawkins. I see nothing in your post, other than whining and gate keeping, that would convince me otherwise. Any actual arguments seem pretty far away.

Maybe you suck too?

10:15 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Been trying to respond to you for several days, but the system keeps eating my comment. Fed up with it, I'll just post an actual post about this to clear the matter up--or at least to make my points clear.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Aa said...

No rush, it's that time of the semester.


6:08 PM  

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