Friday, January 20, 2006


Turned on the TV the other night to see some dishevelled looking guy babbling incoherently about religion. I thought it was a program about Care In The Community, but no – turns out the guy in question is Richard Dawkins, Professor of Public Understanding of Science. Hey – if this guy wants to spend his time calling people stupid and evil why can’t he get a blog like everyone else ?

More to the point, if the geeks are going to make a serious effort to convince us that they’re not really weird and arrogant, could they choose a less provocative title for their front man than ‘Professor of Public Understanding’. We understand you just fine, we just think your ideas suck.

Anyway, Laban points out an interesting post about the not-so-great man here. Cobb nicely nails what's really wrong with Dawkins' ideas:
This is truly dangerous. It means that we will become dependent on some institutions that correct us, that perfect us. By definition the budget for such an institution would have to be infinite, because the capacity of humans to be wrong, to be immoral, is practically insatiable. I think Dawkins or anyone could be quickly disabused of this notion simply by dropping them into the appropriate Third World asylum for a seven year stint.
Indeed, the vision of a super-state, smoothly correcting each and every human defect can't hardly be anything other than a call for a truly elephantine state. It is entirely characteristic of Dawkins that he fails even to consider that government may sometimes be the problem. More to the point though, this highlights the most obvious omission in Dawkins denunciation of religion.

Religion is in one respect like monarchy: its importance as an institution is not only in the power that it holds, but also that which it denies to others. Consider the Ten Commandments. Here, for the first time in history, was a set of laws that applied equally to everyone - indeed, the Old Testament is full of kings defying God and getting the chop. The point is that religion provides a set of moral values independent of the government of the day. Think about the prosecution’s central point at Nuremburg: an order may be perfectly lawful, yet still wrong. As such, religion puts a roadblock in the way of the very kind of utopian totalitarianism that Dawkins advocates. Here’s Dawkins again on the principles he thinks we should be governed by:
All moral questions, from incest to human cloning, should be resolved using utilitarian criteria, Dawkins argues. “They can and should all be discussed by utilitarian moral philosophers, who’ll ask questions about the balance of suffering and happiness. This is a very different way of doing morality than the absolutist way, which supposes some things are absolutely wrong since we know and feel them to be so. Our morality should be governed by utilitarian claims.”
No room for misquote there. Equally, Dawkins is admirably unequivocal about what it would take to sustain such a society:
It’s probably too strong to say the State should have the right to take children away from their parents”, the professor confides. “But I do think we, as humans in general, have got to look very carefully at the rights of parents – and whether parents really should have the right to indoctrinate their children.
Say what you like about the Church, but do you see anyone arguing that parents who bring their kids up in an atmosphere of militant atheism should have their kids seized by the State ? Then again, these folks probably don’t have the reserves of faith that Dawkins has. Sure, Dawkins may jeeringly point out contradictions in the Bible, but look how he body swerves around the murderous savagery of socialism (both national and international). Wasn’t science supposed to be the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact ? Here are 150 million of them (and counting) but religion is still the root of all evil. Huh ?

For that matter, what evidence does Dawkins have for suggesting that serial killers just need a psychic oil change and a quick spray of mental WD-40 ? Where is the evidence that this kind of behaviour modification is actually possible ? Nowhere, but Dawkins has faith that it could happen, and the Right are pigs for not indulging him in his fantasy.

Dawkins’ maintains that all religions are equally evil – except when Catholicism is the evilest of them all - but how scientific is that ? Surely we can devise some metric of the damage caused by each faith ? Dawkins dare not ask that question. What makes a religion most dangerous is exactly what makes communism and Nazism so dangerous: collectivism – the very thing Dawkins’ ideology calls for. Why else is Dawkins so enraged by religion ? It surely can’t be because he genuinely feels that filthy rich, Oxbridge media stars are oppressed by farmers in Welsh hill villages. Nope – Dawkins doesn’t object to religion because the religious impose their agenda on people like him, but because it hinders people like him imposing their agenda on the religious. Dawkins is a fundamentalist of State power.

Dawkins' opposition is not just to the particulars of any one faith, or even religion itself, no, his vision is of a world stripped not just of faith but of the whole idea of objective morality itself. As he freely admits, Dawkins' World would be governed by an icy utilitarianism, to be decided, no doubt, by the suitably enlightened. Say what you like about him, but Dawkins’ vision of a world governed by philosopher kings ruling without any check or limit to their power sure stands up to what any traditional religions can offer as a vision of Hell.

(H/T to Albert Minimus for the interview link)

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