Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Dawkins v God (1)

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-05-28

On Sunday, ABC’s Compass screened the final episode of Richard Dawkins’ Root of all Evil?, an attack on religion, particularly the Abrahamist faiths.  It was a disappointing series, because Dawkins’ scored a few good points, but missed some wonderful opportunities to advance his argument.

The world lost opportunities to be a better place.

Dawkins’ view is, paraphrased, that we can hold a ruler to the universe in the search for truth, and weigh suffering in the search for morality.  As long as we keep seeking new information, improving our understanding of both truth and morality, we achieve something worthwhile with our human heritage.

This is a qualitative philosophical statement, describing both process and objective.

Dawkins successfully showed the superiority of this philosophy to that of the typical menagerie of those who claim to already know the absolute truth and morality.  But that is shooting sitting ducks.

In some ways Dawkins appeared guilty of the same arrogance as those he was criticizing, and thereby weakened the chance that his program might persuade some viewers to his position.

Dawkins greatest error was that he failed to acknowledge fully that the progressive Anglican bishop had the same qualitative view, apart from a mildy flippant (but true) "I think we can get along" sentiment.

Dawkins should have driven home the message to viewers, by saying something like the following:

"The bishop and I share a qualitative philosophy, but there is a quantitative difference in the rate we are making progress.  We both want to get to the same spot, and we both have cars, but I happen to think that my car is faster than his car, and that my route is more direct than his route.
"I think we can get along with each other."

If Dawkins had made that statement, he could have gone on to ask the bishop something like this:

"Bishop, do you think that our shared belief in evolving ideas is likely to lead to less suffering than if our ideas were not evolving in response to what we learn from observing the world and other people?  Are there any dangers in saying we don’t need to move, because we are already there?"

I think the bishop would have answered in the affirmative, and Dawkins would have scored three goals:

  1. Resistance to Dawkins’ message by progressive Abrahamist viewers would have dropped.  Some of them might even had seen merit in his atheism.
  2. The religious progressives would be forced to acknowledge the gulf between themselves and the regressives.
  3. The bishop might have given Dawkins extra ways to disarm the regressives, the key villians in his programs.

What a waste!

If he had confronted the regressives with the proxy religious authority of the bishop’s words, Dawkins’ true enemies would have appeared more ridiculous, and the gulf between progressives and regressives would be even more apparent.

Then Dawkins could have driven home his case against religion generally, with something like the following:

"The stature of religion in society, its aura of respectability, renders too many people vulnerable to the ideas of extremists, and this inevitably causes much needless suffering.
"If we could rid ourselves of the idea that we might already know the truth, grow out of unthinking faith, we can have a better world, and can discuss at leisure whether our universe is governed by the laws of Nature and an invisible god, or the more elegant solution that needs simply Nature.
"Ultimately, I’ve little doubt that we will all accept the view that, as with everything else, elegance is the best guide to the truth."

See Also/Notes:


3 Responses to “Dawkins v God (1)”

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