...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Day 2106: Professor Richard Dawkins and the Militant Atheist Baby Elephant

I have decided to found the League of Elephant Militant Babies In favour of Truth (Őr Proper Information and Knowledge). I wonder if the ACRONYM is taken?

This is because my Daddy Richard and our friend Mr Alan have taken me to see a talk by Romana, along with her husband, my favourite professor of evolutionary biology, Mr Professor Richard Dawkins.

Earlier this year I told you about Daddy Richard listening to CDs of Professor Richard and Romana's adventures in their TIME MACHINE.

Well, tonight they were doing something very similar, reading passages from Professor Richard's new book THE GOD DELUSION.

At the start of this year, Professor Richard presented a television programme on Channel Four called "Root of All Evil?".

Apparently, "Root of All Evil" was Channel Four's idea for the title, and Professor Richard did not like this because he does not believe that ANYTHING is the root of ALL evil and certainly not that religion is the root of all evil. He just thinks that religion is the root of quite a lot of evil, but that is not really as catchy a title.

Anyway, Channel Four were willing to compromise and allowed him to add a "?" to the "Root of All Evil".

Still, it is not as though he minds being up front and honest even if some people might be offended, as the title "THE GOD DELUSION" proves.

(Though, that probably makes it more difficult for Daddy Richard to slip a copy of Professor Richard's book into people's Christmas stockings!)

The core of the argument, Professor Richard told us, lies in chapter four. That is the part that would change people's minds, if we were to read it to you. Unfortunately, it's a bit much to summarise. So we won't.

Instead, we were read some of the chapters about the god of the Old Testament. Or "one of the least pleasant characters in fiction" as Professor Richard called him. These stories were funny in a horrible sort of way, full of all the terrible SMITING and CURSING and STONING TO DEATH of unfortunate passing strangers that occurs in the early biblical stories. Cuddly Cthulhu would have loved it!

But Professor Richard's point was not to just have a good laugh at how misogynist and arbitrary was the power of god, but to show that we cannot possibly draw our modern morality from these tales.

Even if we DO see some of the stories as illustrating a GOOD moral point, how is it that we are able to CHOOSE those stories and gloss over all the handing over of daughters to murderers, sacrificing of firstborns, or exciting genocides? We must have some criteria of MORAL JUDGEMENT that is SEPARATE from the "good book" or else how can we pick the bits that are "good".

As an illustration of how MUDDLE HEADED religion can make people, Professor Richard told us about a psychological experiment with a group of Israeli school children. They were told about General Xim who marched his people into an ancient Chinese kingdom, three thousand years ago, and set about destroying the cities and killing all the people there and in particular burning down their temples. Then the children were asked a simple moral question: was General Xim right or wrong. And ninety percent of the children said that he was WRONG.

Well you would wouldn't you?

Except, of course, this version of the story has been slightly DOCTORED. With a different group of children, the ORIGINAL story had been told the way it is told in the Bible – Joshua leading the army of the Israelites into the Promised Land of Canaan and, on god's instructions, wiping out the people who already lived there with special instructions to bring down the temples of the "false" (i.e. rival) gods that they worshipped.

Of the group who had been told that story, sixty-six percent of the children had said that Joshua was completely right and another eight percent said he was at least partly right; only a quarter said that it was wrong to commit genocide in Canaan.

What can explain this DISPARITY, this total DISCONNECTION in moral opinion?

Perhaps Professor Richard's greatest scorn was reserved for the chapter about the CRYING SHAME that is occurring in some of Lord Blairimort's City McAcademies (and with his KNOWING APPROVAL – he even opened one of the newer schools!): the teaching of CREATIONISM as if it were somehow (I shudder even to type it) true.

In answer to questions afterwards, Professor Richard made it clear that he is not against children being taught ABOUT religions: this is what Muslims believe, this is what Buddhists believe, this is what humanists believe, and so on. He also added that he believes that much of our LITERATURE – the works of SHAKESPEARE no less – include many allusions to the King James Bible, and also to the gods and goddesses of Greece, and that for the reason of better understanding, these stories, biblical and heathen, should be studied as literature.

But he is very much against taking children and telling them: you are a [insert religion of parent/guardian/headmaster's choice] THIS is what you believe.

The final chapter is called "THE MOTHER OF ALL BURQAS" which is pretty RISQUÉ in the current climate following the remarks of Mr Man O' Straw about lady Muslims and their veils.

Professor Richard, however, was using this as a METAPHOR: the narrow eye slit covered with gauze, represents how very, very TINY and distorted is our perspective on the universe, limited as it is by the very small part of the spectrum of light that we are able to see (which is obviously called VISIBLE LIGHT) and by the very small range of scales: of size or speed, with which we are familiar and able to imagine.

How much wider, and deeper and broader is the true scope of the universe that SCIENCE reveals to our minds' eyes, asks Professor Richard. From the microscopic world of the electron up to the billions of bacteria at one end and from the scale of planets and stars to the truly cosmic span of the universe at the other.

Do not be restricted by the narrow vision that the enfolding "burqa" imposes: feel free to shed the confining cloth and step into a whole new universe of sensation and exploration, of discovery and wonder!


Will said...

Isn't to some extent the New Testament supposed to supercede the Old? Doesn't Jesus come along and say "You know all that stoning and Commandments, etc.? Don't do that - be nice to each other."

I am possibly simplifying matters.

Millennium Dome said...

Ahh, but the POINT, Mr Will, is HOW DO YOU DECIDE whether or how much one bit of the book overrides another bit of the book.

The fact that we can even think about choosing bits that are "righter" or "wronger" demonstrates that we posses some power of MORAL JUDGEMENT that is external to the pages of that book: i.e. our morality is NOT based on "the word" – we are just matching the bits of "the word" that we HAVE ALREADY DECIDED are moral or not.

Mind you, why should we need a (nearly) 2000 year old book to tell us that some bits of a 4000 year old book are a bit HORRID?

Joe Otten said...

Yes, an excellent book, calm, tolerant and rational, and a thousand miles away from the frothing maniac some people seem to want to paint Dawkins as.

Dawkins doesn't say that religion should be banned or that religious people are all wicked, so where does this impression come from?

Why do people say Dawkins is the atheist version of the Taliban or the Dominionist? It is mystifying.

Surely Dawkins opponents couldn't be LYING could they?