Sunday, 11 October 2009

Dawkins on Darwin

I have been catching this programme, in so far as I catch any programme, for I hardly ever know what is on, but I have read Dawkins and Dennett too. And that is fine. Darwin's the man.

Just the following points:

1.) It might be worth looking more sympathetically at human emotion;

2.) It might be worth considering the nature of language a little more closely and particularly in its poetic aspect, a substantial poem being, by definition, neither a fudge nor a prettiness cast over language to divert people from the truth. When, say, Christina Rossetti exclaims: My heart is like a singing bird, we don't necessarily ask in how many precise respects it is so. Does it have feathers? Does it have a beak? How does it survive inside your physical body? Does it in fact sing? No? In other words it is not very like a singing bird at all. Case dismissed. Is only that which is demonstrably logical of value? Isn't this Gradgrindism? Is there no value in exclaiming, as the writer of Job does: Canst thou pluck out Leviathan with an hook? Is there no value in the feeling George Herbert addresses in 'I struck the board and cried no more?" In other words can we take some questions on the literalism of the questions as well as on the literalism of the answer? Our hearts are sometimes very like singing birds for no literal reason. (This is as much point 1 as point 2, of course.)

3.) It might also be worth considering why Dawkins, in railing at fundamentalism and multi-culturalism, only addresses Christians. He accuses some science teachers of running scared. But is he not running scared of other religions, which are never to be mentioned?

I do not doubt the science. It is the language and the humanity I quibble about. And the tin ear.


panther said...

Couldn't agree more.

If I hear one more time Dawkins say "But there's no EVIDENCE for it", I think I might begin to go ever so slightly mad.

Graham Mummery said...

Agree with your blog. It's as Dawkins is a repair man saying a television is only a collection of electrical components, and that the broadcasts are a delusion.

You might be intersted to look at the Dawkins website (the "Clear Thinking Oasis") in addition to what you have said. Intrigues me that Dawkins claims to be a rationalist. Yet his oponents are labled "fleas" and insulted in other ways. I'm not quite sure how this is science and reason.

To me it proves Freud and Jung(both of whom he dislikes) right about repression. In over stressing the rational, the irrational creeps in through the back door.

It's a pity, because Dawkins is a beautiful writer on the science. And this other side undermines him, for me at least.

George S said...

And it is quite a big back door. Dennett with his 'brights' as opposed to his 'dims'. Those fleas.

It is not that I think he is wrong but maybe the world we actually live in, the way we live in it, is not quite as binary as they would have it.

Graham Mummery said...

Again, totaly agree.

And there's also an irony in it. I suspect without those dimensions outside Dawkins and Dennett binary flatland (e.g. feeling, meaning), we wouldn't be able to come up with concepts like evolution and science which they use to attack religion. It's that extra dimension which enables us to make imaginitive leaps.

panther said...

I take great exception to the "brights"/"dims" juxtaposition. And it's ironic,isn't it ? because Dawkins, Dennett etc. for all their academic accolades and university posts do come over as rather dim in this respect.

Lots of things cannot be demonstrated within a laboratory. Friendship, love, courage, to name three. Do they exist ? Absolutely. And I celebrate that fact every day of my life.

James Hamilton said...

Tin ear? I've got a tin ear alright, but have you read any of his books? His is a fine prose, (which I envy ferociously)and he's rightly famous for it.

He does discuss Islam in the God book, and at some length, if that's what you're getting at, and displays, for what it's worth, in other books, a real love for and feel for British literature, a love including, as most anti-Dawkins commentators seem to ignore, British hymnody and religious music.

He's also on record as saying that if all religion was like the - what one might call "North Oxford" Richard Harries kind, (and Harries is his good friend) he'd not be so worried about it. But it's people from that particular kind of background who seem to be the most up in arms.Yet his real and declared target is exactly the kind of thing - like young-earth Creationism, or the maltreatment of women and children, or Pat Buchanan politics - that e.g. the intellectual Anglicans who've taken such offence would run a mile from.

A confession: "Unweaving the Rainbow" is my bedside book at the moment. It's not my first reading, and I consider it a thing of beauty. I don't like living through a period when declaring that has to be couched as confession, but then Dawkins is being treated now like Norm Geras was in 2003, and with no more justification.

I can't find the link right now, but this week he was on record as saying that the diversity of people was a thing (in my words) to be cherished and valued - I don't recognise the anti-multiculturism you accuse him of.I just don't agree that declared atheism amounts to that. You haven't said so, but many of his critics have, out loud or by implication. If declared atheism amounts to that, I too am against people from outside my culture. And I know how I'd answer that.

I really, really, really dislike disagreeing 100% with people whose opinion I value and respect, but on this occasion, I do: funny old world that it should be on this subject. (I've almost never minded disagreeing with people about football - but this, for some reason, matters enough for me to be editing the hell out of this comment). ****** it, anyway. And all best.

George S said...

A tin ear, not to prose, James, which I have read, but to the voices of people unlike him: to the poor, to those in spiritual distress, to those with an understanding that the Bible is not literal truth but a mixture of conditions. But the literal is the only kind of question he asks. Do you really believe, he asks a Creatiuonist Christian science teacher, that the world is less the 6,000 years old? The man says he does. Case closed. Then he talks to the Archbishop of Canterbury, accuses him of hedging, and finally asks him if he believes in the virgin birth and in the resurrection, and when Williams says, yes, having spent a little time talking about metaphor and poetry, Dawkins closes the book on him with a triumphant, End of story.

That to me is proof of a certain kind of tin ear. A kind of inhumanity in the name of humanity.

And the strange thing is I don't actually disagree with him on evolution or indeed on the human position in the cosmos. I do not hold sunnier opinions. But I do understand the necessity for belief in metaphor, which is never fully literal nor ever fully fancy, metaphor being the human way of saying, in whatever language at one's disposal, that consciousness feels and experiences in a certain way. That consciousness is capable of creating not only blind ignorance but the most astonishing works of the imagination, that sustain us as Gods might: in effect they call out for a core of some sort that they may address in terms of hope or despair; that the Gods people worship are concentrations of qualities they find, fear and aspire to.

Does he acknowledge that? When Dennett's friends come to him at his sickbed and say they pray for him and he asks them in turn whether they have also sacrificed a goat for him, can't he see that this is not intelligence but a kind of higher, superior sanctimoniousness?

I think that Dawkins is a fine writer in his field, and what is more I don't for a moment suppose he is a stupid or inhuman person, but in this respect he seems to me deeply arrogant and weirdly stupid. If he stopped asking stupid questions that get and deserve only a stupid answer I might warm to him more.

And frankly he gets masses of approval from the quarters where approval matters. So he takes on the Christian Creationists, eh? Such a big risk to be running in liberal Britain! It was he who used the word 'multiculturalism' in his programme then shied away from it while accusing the four embarrassed science teachers of shying away from confrontation with the (unnamed) literalists of other faiths.