Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Dawkins vs The Times

For some reason The Times seems to have it in for Richard Dawkins and his current series about Darwin. Libby Purves had a pop, Dawkins replied, so she had another pop. And today AA Gill has a go.

As it happens, though I share his views I actually think Dawkins has a hectoring approach when he is discussing religion that often doesn't do his arguments justice (I have to say this quietly as Mrs Tom is a major Dawkins fan). However I think his latest series has provided a really good overview of evolution, and based on what has appeared in The Times I find myself wondering if I am watching the same programme. There are certainly some digs at religion in there but a) these are few and far between, most of it is just the science and b) he gives believers the opportunity to say their bit.

I thought the latest programme was good as it saw him try and reconcile his own left-of-centre beliefs with the brutal nature of survival of the fittest. And again, even though I'm basically on the same side, I thought he came up short. But at least he acknowledged that there is a real contradiction between his beliefs and what he knows about evolution.

The twonks at The Times on the other hand seem to want to pretend that there isn't an implicit and fundamental challenge to religion in Darwin's ideas. Hence they have a pop at the tone of the programme, and celebrate superstition:

In the end, the wisest and most memorable observation came from the mouth of a schoolboy. After a day on the Jurassic coast, discovering ammonites, he said that yes, he believed in evolution, then paused and, with a faint smile, added: “But I’ll still say my prayers.”

What is 'wise' about continuing with a superstitious ritual in the face of contrary evidence?


cojadate said...

For me saying that it's difficult to reconcile one's moral beliefs with the brutal nature of the survival of the fittest is like saying it's difficult to reconcile one's moral beliefs with the violent nature of storms. I don't understand why we would look to a physical process as a guide for ethics.

Regarding the religion issue, evolution disproves any claim that sacred texts provide a reliable description of the emergence of human life. Obviously that undermines the credibility of the holy texts in general and hence religion in general. However I'm not sure that that undermining amounts to a 'fundamental' challenge.

Tom P said...

Hi cojadate

the point he explored in the programme was whether survival of the fittest does or should serve as a way of organizing society. also there was a bit of a discussion of the evolutionary reasons for altruism and reciprocity.

not sure I get your point about religion? if evolution calls into question ideas on which religions are built that strikes me as a pretty serious challenge. I think Dawkins at one point said that evolution was what turned him into an atheist.