Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Root of All Evil

Was watching an interesting Channel 4 (UK) documentary entitled "The Root of All Evil," about how science has advanced to the point that religion is no longer necessary, and that anybody who still believes that crap is stupid and dangerous on the current world stage.

Interesting for sure, but Professor Richard Dawkins is, I must say, a bit of an arrogant toss! He complains that religious people are ignorant of the wonders of science, but at the same time he shows total ignorance of what religion actually is to most people - a moral framework within which people are accountable even for private actions, a way of life, a community structure, all things I'd say are overall beneficial for society at least to the extent that the existence or non-existence of a higher being not be factored into any scientific research. And the two can most certainly co-exist within their own spheres - science is really good at the "hows" and the "whens" but absolutely sucks at the "whys." Religion has the "whys" pretty much nailed. "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to do some stuff or other" - that'll do for why we exist, why we bother getting up in the morning, and why we shouldn't covet our respective neighbour's Oxen. Now lets let science figure out exactly how it all happened.

Saying that because of certain Christian beliefs (that are not necessarily central to the faith system). science and religion cannot co-exist is to take one extreme aspect of one particular religion and have that representative of all religion forever and ever amen. You could do the same with science. I've met scientists that laugh and walk out the room the moment you propose something that goes against their scientific beliefs, long before you even have a chance to show them your evidence. By this same logic, surely science is as flawed as religion, but to make such a claim would be deemed extremely biased. Touché!

To take it further, he goes on about how stupid people in general are that we don't all just accept evolution as fact. What he fails to realise is that these so called mountains of evidence and over a century of research are just not within the grasp of regular people. I haven't seen it, and what I've read about evolution is way beyond my comprehension. So all I can do really is to take some scientist's word for it, fully aware that in another 20 years they'll be saying something different.

And why should I believe what some scientist tells me? Because he's a scientist? Maybe there is evidence and research to back up his claim that I could research myself if I wished to, but what do you think my reluctance to bother says about how important the topic is to me? And if it's of so little importance to me personally, then what does it matter what I believe - it's whatever gets me to sleep at night.

I'm not religious, but I do recognise that at some level religion serves a useful social and personal purpose. This is why scientists are never much fun to be around. I make a point of never inviting religious fruits, sumo wrestlers or scientists to my house for exactly that reason (though lawyers are fine, providing they keep their lawyering to themselves and don't force it down my throat). At the end of the day though, it really boils down to whether you belive that the entire history of the universe to the point we currently stand at came about by chance, or whether some kind of superior intelligence had a hand in things to a greater or lesser extent at some point throughout the precedings. Science will never prove either of these, and each is as utterly preposterous as the other. So you're mad to even bother thinking about it.

As an aside, here's one to try if you're bored. Get a copy of the Bible, and read it from the viewpoint that God is the bad guy, and Satan is the good guy. Makes for much more interesting reading, and probably makes more sense too. God comes off as this vicious tyrant who rules with an iron glove, while Satan comes off as the tragic hero who sees what's going on but is powerless to stop it as the people just don't want to listen to him. "You don't have to take this! Think for yourselves!" he shouts, but alas to no avail.

Update: Just finished watching the rest of the documentary, and would note another rather dangerous assumption. Dawson states that young kids cannot scientifically analyse information, so they just absorb it at face value, and thus it's dangerous to teach religious values as it will scar them for life. Surely the same would be true of science though? Teach kids that we evolved from apes (not "it's currently believed that..." - this is too advanced for kids to catch), then in another 20-30 years you'll have a whole generation of non-scientists that believe that as fact, despite never investigating it themselves. Say, then, a scientist discovers and can demonstrate that this did not in fact happen, it's going to fall on deaf ears. The only ones who will update their theories will be the scientists, and everyone else will continue to believe what they've always believed. Then you're back to square one.

And with all the talk about the dangers of world religions, it got me thinking. Look at the following list of people. Note anything they all have in common?

Adolph Hitler
Hideki Tojo
Albert Einstein (the guy that invented the atom bomb - you may have heard of him)
Saddam Hussein
Joseph Stalin
Zedong Mao
Jong-Il Kim
Karl Marx
Pol Pot
Adolph Eichmann
Genghis Khan

S'right, none of them are noted for their religious beliefs, and in fact some of them notably anti-religion, yet they make extremists look like amateurs.


  1. I saw the film awhile ago and memory is beginning to fade. I seem to remember that Dawkins "took on" mainly fundamentalist types. Yet I agree, he was just as closed minded to their POV and just as big a bully.
    Really enjoyed this post., as thought provoking as the film itself.

  2. Thanks, glad to be appreciated. Though it probably didn't come across above, I did find the insight presented by the documentary fascinating and I think Richard Dawkins is a very intelligent guy we could all learn a lot from. Kind of went without saying, so I didn't bother saying it... ;-)

  3. Hey you! I am finding all these blogs today that I never knew existed! Will be cool to read blogs written by people I actually know for a change!

  4. albert einstein didn't invent the atom bomb. his theories helped lead to the science that made atom bombs possible.

  5. Dawkins' latest book, The God Delusion, is a pretty thorough rebuttal of your post, particularly the bit where you try to list evil athiests.

  6. I'm sure he's an awfully clever man and anticipated all sorts of things like this, rebutting them all in advance so he'd come out on top. Good for him! Unfortunately this is typical lazy double-standard scientist behaviour, demanding the most exhaustive of evidence with the one hand while expecting the rest of us to just believe any old crap we're told by men in white coats with the other. If there is rebutting to be done, then rebut, providing evidence where needed! Where'd be the logic in me going out and trying to prove myself wrong by reading a book written by the very author whose conclusions I'm skeptical about.

    Concerning Einstein and the atom bomb, I thought it way more likely I'd get pulled up on the Karl Marx being a scholar that played no direct part in bringing about Communism thing, but it's all a matter of perspective I suppose. Blaming Einstein for Hiroshima or Marx for Stalin Russia are on a pretty level footing with blaming a peaceful religion for any and all violent extremist interpretations made by a subsection of its followers, and if that line of argument is good enough for a true man of science like Mr Dawkins then it's good enough for me by golly!

  7. I drop by sometimes for the Japan stuff, but I think this was a great post on Dawkins. I have also been struck by how inexperienced he seems to be of things outside his field(s) of expertise. His schtick is disturbing to me not only for his opinions but for the fact that Oxford chose him of all people to be their representative to the world on science (per his Charles Simonyi Chair).

    One thing that strikes me is that many of the "bad" elements of religion are tied to secularism in one way or another. In current times, for example, some of the original theorists of Islamic terrorism were versed in western philosophy before becoming fundamentalists. Also, there are institutional connections, like the Waffen-SS commandos that Yasser Arafat brought in to train the PLO.

    All in all, my favoriate quote about Dawkins is from an astronomer: "He's a really fine parish preacher of the fire-and-brimstone school, isn't he?"