Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dawkins warns against brain falling out

Watched Dawkins The Enemies of Reason, on astrology, water dousing and alternative medicine.  “We should be open minded but not so open minded that our brain falls out.” 
Dawkins is alarmed at a widespread turning away from science and evidence to mumbo jumbo.
An earlier episode examined religion, and he quoted Steven Weinberg : “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”  Too right! That’s told them!  But hold on.  Religion might be a sufficient motive for good people doing bad things, but is it actually a necessary one? Could not the same thing could be said of politics? Look at the French and Russian Revolutions.  We seem to have a propensity to believe so passionately that something is for the good (and sometimes it really is for the good, for example creating socialism), that any means to achieve it is OK, even the revolution eating its own children. 


  1. Hey Peter, I haven't read Dawkins, but it seems to me that everyone has a religion, whether it be christianity, atheism, sports or money - we all worship something, whether good or bad. And on that subject, if one doesn't believe in God, where does the concept of right and wrong come from? Why would humans be any different from animals in assessing their actions? What makes the difference in your opinion? As a Christian I say it comes from God, but wonder about your view on this. Your Canuck Cous.

  2. Well, a few thoughts on this one. Firstly. Animals, especially those we usually term the higher ones, do have a primitive sense of fairness, and of right and wrong. Experiments have shown monkeys and dogs rejecting a reward when they think they are being treated unfairly; and animal societies have ways of punishing freeloaders who break the rules. Those animal societies that have these rules would be unable to function without them. Evolutionary biologists believe that human ideas of fairness and right and wrong, have developed from such beginnings.

    Next we need to enquire whether (a) good is good because God mandates it. Or (b) God mandates the good because he is good. Suppose God mandated human sacrifice, would that make human sacrifice good? No, I hear you cry, of course not! Anyway it’s a ludicrous suggestion! God would never support such a thing!

    Uhuh. Why not? Because he is good.

    From this reply, “because he is good”, it appears that we already know what is good without asking God. Moreover we expect God to conform to our idea of good. Were he to fail to conform (say he allowed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac) he would be unworthy of being called God.

    I don’t doubt many religious people are good, and say to themselves “I must do good because it is God’s will”. But what is really going on here, i.m.h.o., is that they already have their own idea of good, and afterwards tell themselves, “this is God’s will”. After all, if we take the Christian bible (the holy book I am most familiar with) you can justify slavery and all sorts of evil out of its pages. And many churches have done. So how do you know which bits you should obey and which bits you should disregard? You know because you apply society’s evolving ideas of what's right. Where do those ideas come from? Disparate sources, which include politicians, media commentators, trade union debates, conversations with friends, and, yes, church leaders.

  3. All very interesting stuff. I thought that Steven Weinberg quote was very clever and spot on, then I read your response to it, and thought this too was very wise.

    Then I read Patricia's comment. At first I thought "well, I'm not a religious person, but I know the difference between right and wrong". But then I thought, well how do I know this? I've been brought up in a secular society that has a Christian history, so maybe what I've been taught about right and wrong is all indrectly sourced from the bible.

    Finally, I read your reply to Patricia which I thought was very well explained - I sometimes feel you've forgotten more than I will ever know!