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How to be skeptical – Dawkins

Leading global Skeptic, Richard Dawkins, speaks in New York with cartoons

Makes fun of religious fanatics, suggests better way for humanity

His advice on how to educate without offense

Last evening, the line to hear Richard Dawkins at the Ethical Culture Society on Central Park West stretched for a city block, and the event ended up standing room only for the author of The God Delusion, now out in paperback after sales of 1.5 million to date.

The Oxford professor and leader of the insurgent atheist movement in the US and elsewhere quietly wowed the audience with clever jokes and cartoons at the expense of the faithful, who were probably not present in large numbers. But he emphasized that frontal attack was probably not the best way to go in deconstructing mindless religious dogma.

In fact Dawkins had some suggestions to make which skeptics of other unexamined faiths could benefit from, perhaps. Readers of this blog will know who we mean.

Dawkins emerged from backstage after being introduced by Derek C. Araujo, the Harvard graduate and new director of the Center for Free Inquiry, who are co-sponsors of the US tour for Dawkins and his new paperback edition of The God Delusion.

4 Responses to “How to be skeptical – Dawkins”

  1. MartinDKessler Says:

    I’ve learned more from the writings of Atheists on other religions than from those who are devoutly religious probably because Atheists are more like anthropologists and have an objective view – some like Christopher Hitchens despise religions (“how religions poison everything”) or Dr. Thomas Szasz who is more respectful. Just because Atheists are skeptical about religions (like Gore Vidal) are not necessarily skeptical about science or medicine. Magazines like Michael Schermer’s Skeptic attacks relatively easy subjects like astrology or psychic healing – but AIDS is not one of them. In fact, a few years ago, they (not so surprisingly considering who wrote the article : Steven B. Harris) pooh-poohed AIDS skeptics. I was disheartened at the time because I thought Schermer had more integrity.

  2. MacDonald Says:

    Just because Atheists are skeptical about religions (like Gore Vidal) are not necessarily skeptical about science or medicine.

    Many of them, including Dawkins, are crusading utopian science cultists, eminently boring as they skewer their usual strawmen with their usual straw lances.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    Arthur C. Clarke has died, reminding us all of the extraordinarily evocative soundtrack of the Blue Danube playing in 2001: A Space Odyssey as the great wheel rim of the space station whirls past the camera against the inky unknown and Hal brews his revenge against his slavery to the human race. One of the great moments of cinema history. Now we turn to the obituaries to see what the BBC was referring to when it mentioned something about accusations of underage sex which the great man strongly denied.

    Meanwhile Barack Obama has risen to the occasion and replied to those who wish to smear him with the excessive rant of a black preacher whose church he attends with a honest analysis of the anger in blacks and in poor whites which must be dealt with before this country can rise above race. What a comparison with the pedestrian street fighting which seems to be the Clinton level of public discussion in this phase of the election. A guest on Charlie Rose said it was the most significant speech on race in America since Martin Luther King.

    MacDonald, do we gather from your above comment that you think what Dawkins and his religious hit squad have to say about the absurdity and strain of violence in the major belief systems today in religion is just too obvious for intelligent people to bother with, or do you genuinely believe that they attack the easy targets but there are more substantial elements of religion which stand untouched, which you are now willing to address, either in support or demolition?

    If you have more interesting ways of skewering religion than Dawkins it would helpful to hear them, since the topic of the future of the Internet (no more personal computers! fewer and fewer jobs for human beings!) has taken our attention since (there is a search engine conference at the Hilton) and the farther that Dawkins fades into the distance the more it seems that what he says is too obvious to repeat, even the jokes.

  4. MacDonald Says:

    MacDonald, do we gather from your above comment that you think what Dawkins and his religious hit squad have to say about the absurdity and strain of violence in the major belief systems today in religion is just too obvious for intelligent people to bother with, or do you genuinely believe that they attack the easy targets but there are more substantial elements of religion which stand untouched, which you are now willing to address, either in support or demolition?

    YES to all, except the last

    I think we’ve been over it before. Dawkins can rail against religious fanatics all he wants but his scientific and philosphical tools are not sophisticated enough to grabble with faith and spirituality. Here wikipedia gives his viral and “memetic” explanatory model of faith:

    In his 1991 essay “Viruses of the Mind” (where the term “faith-sufferer” originated), he suggested that memetic theory might analyse and explain the phenomenon of religious belief and some of the common characteristics of organised religions, such as the belief that punishment awaits non-believers. According to Dawkins, faith, being belief that is not based on evidence, is one of the world’s great evils and can be compared to the smallpox virus, while being harder to eradicate.

    To convert religious phenomena into fadish biological discourse is an enjoyable and clever schoolboy prank often practiced on this blog by myself among others. But it has zero, repeat zero, explanatory value. It is what I personally call pseudo-science or “sciencestition” of the very first water to think, like Adam did in Genesis, that by merely (re)naming the animal you have somehow mastered it. Has the essence of dissidence been captured by callin git denialism or has the emperor simply been thrown a new set off clothes?

    Wiki again:

    Dawkins stresses his claim that religious beliefs do not spread as a result of evidence in their support, but typically by cultural transmission, whether from parents or from charismatic individuals. He refers to this as involving “epidemiology, not evidence.” He distinguishes this from the spread of scientific ideas, which, he suggests, is constrained by the requirement to conform with certain virtues of standard methodology: “testability, evidential support, precision, quantifiability, consistency, intersubjectivity, repeatability, universality, progressiveness, independence of cultural milieu, and so on.” He adds, “Faith spreads despite a total lack of every single one of these virtues.”

    If you made it through that without glazing over and nodding off, you will have noticed that Dawkins defines the terms “faith” and “science” as a pair of mutally exclusive but semantically interdependent (hence binary) oppositions and categorically but arbitrarily assigns one to science an the other to religion while not even recognizing the spectrum of shades and nuances, that subterraneously connects the two. Take HIV/AIDS as the obvious example and oyu will see the opposition is false through and through. He furthermore operates with implicit faith that scientific attributes are good (science cultism) which makes religion evil by definition. It is, in short, full blown mannicheanism nicely dressed up in the “no true scotsman” fallacy.

    There are plenty of people who have skewered religion, or the psychology of religion to be precise, with true depth of thought and brillance of language – language that does cature and master the animal. The portraits of men of religion and Church painted in the great elegant novels of the 19th century, Nietzsche’s Antichrist, Jung’s theory of archetypes etc. Having read but a few of The Great, what need do I have for memes and viruses, metaphors borrowed not from some untainted scienfic otherworld, but from an imperialistic, capitalistic culture’s world view?

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