The Dawkins Delusion – Guest Post by ‘G’

By skepticlawyer

[SL: G is a lurker and occasional commenter on this blog who describes himself as an ‘amateur theologian’. I’m not sure what he means by that, because he seems pretty knowledgeable to me. His home blog is here.

In this piece, he turns his mind to Richard Dawkins’s popular piece of God-bashing, The God Delusion. For those who found Terry Eagleton’s review of this book a mite bitchy (there’s interesting discussion at LP here and at Troppo here on this issue), G makes some of the points that Eagleton made, but without the pomposity and arrogance, and from a genuine believer’s perspective, not from the perspective of a Marxist moonlighting as a believer.

When I finally got around to reading Dawkins’ book, I do remember being shocked at his assertion that there have never been mass killings in the name of atheism. Of course, the argument that Hitler was an atheist has always been silly, but Stalin clearly was, and much of the persecution visited upon the churches and their adherents in the old Soviet Union was given real animus by atheism. I’m an atheist and skeptic, but I really don’t like the thought of atheists sweeping their ugly bits under the rug.

G’s focus isn’t empirical, though, but philosophical. Enjoy].

The book aims to put the ‘scientific’ boot into ‘religion’. In this respect, its author knows he is doing nothing new. Since the 1800s, popular works have been written which have described how ‘science’ should render ‘religious’ beliefs and practices obsolete. Dawkins is in some ways a sophisticated contributor to this discourse – though this can be explained for the most part in terms of the competence of his rhetorical sleights of hand, whether intentional or not – and in a number of ways disappointing.

For a start, his thesis is not that science ‘disproves’ religion. That would be – according to his own criteria of judgement – something he could only show by publishing in a peer-reviewed scientific journal evidence to that effect. And Dawkins does not claim to possess such evidence. So, the author is careful throughout to avoid using scientific jargon to describe the project he’s engaged in. Herein lies the book’s rhetorical sophistication. It presents itself as the argument of a scientistic rationalist. But it does not attempt to root its assertions concerning the non-existence of God (it is 99.99% that he does not exist, we are told) in scientific proofs.

That leads to an interesting fact about the book. You’re not reading science; you’re reading philosophy (and, dare I say it, theology). Dawkins knows these aren’t his fields. He’s curiously damning about one of them (‘theology’) and doesn’t really mention the other (‘philosophy’). This is an important fact I’ve discussed elsewhere. Interestingly, all of the God Delusion’s ‘philosophers’ are atheists or agnostics, whereas all of its ‘theologians’ are theists. This rhetorical tactic of separating people into ‘philosophers’ and ‘non-philosophers’ on the basis of their belief in God is hardly charitable. Especially when you consider how many of the greatest ‘philosophers’ the world’s ever seen have been theists: Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel and, amongst modern day philosophers, e.g. Plantinga. The failure to explore the relationship between philosophy and theism in the book is baffling.

Now it’s true that there are lots of atheistic philosophers too. Everyone knows about Bertrand Russell and David Hume. But the God question didn’t just disappear when their arguments appeared – at least, not in the minds of very many of the world’s best philosophers. Is this important fact considered by Dawkins?

No, not really … he’s more interested in pursuing the unsophisticated arguments of unsophisticated theists (his highly questionable claim to have refuted the cosmological and ontological arguments for the existence of God apart). And that, for most people (including perhaps himself) will be satisfactory. Fundamentalist believers make easy targets for many people, and it hardly takes an Oxford professor to take a swipe at them for most people to believe they’re pretty nuts. What you might expect from an Oxford professor, though, is a little more respect for and awareness of the nature and history of philosophical argumentation, especially if that’s what he’s engaging in.

Many very eminent scientists are theists – contrary to what Dawkins implies in his book – and he doesn’t confront in the God Delusion the kinds of ideas they might seek to offer in opposition to his. Check out John Barrow, John Polkinghorne, Freeman Dyson or Arthur Peacocke. And as for the philosophers, you’ll hardly hear a peep from Dawkins about Plato, Hume, Aquinas or Kant. And that seems rather a shame, because these are the guys many of the philosophical academy would turn to if they want to get serious about the history of theism and philosophical arguments for or against it.

Philosophy, however, can’t and doesn’t work like science. Atheism and ‘Reason’ won’t be true bedfellows until it can. And it’s worth emphasising that very many philosophers – including very many atheists – see no reason to believe the harmonisation of ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ will ever happen. But why?

Philosophical ideas constitute ‘evidence’ (one of Dawkins’ favourite words) of a very peculiar kind. It’s not easy to twist them into irrefutable proofs about the external world, as centuries of logicians have found out (often to their dismay). Words and ideas are very tricky customers. It’s very difficult to know what they can and can’t tell us about what’s true, what’s real. How good a job can they do? To take a simple example: if there were a God (and how would we know for sure that he was there?), how much could words and arguments do to describe ‘him’ and how much would it be beyond their power to describe? Any answer to such a question relies on the individual insights of the person who answers. If a person makes the decision beforehand that ‘God’ cannot possibly be describable in language, then it’s no surprise if the person doesn’t end up believing in a God knowable only through words and arguments. If, on the other hand, one begins with the premise that a certain combination of words and arguments could ‘prove’ God’s existence or character, then investigation into the presence of such a God could proceed. But the ground rules have to be established. That’s what Dawkins (writing in his new role as a philosopher) fails to understand and it’s one reason why his academic reviewers have been so unimpressed by his book.

Consider the following: someone decides that ‘God’ must be the character described with complete accuracy in the pages of the Bible OR just a big fantasy. You choose either one or the other, if those are the only options, don’t you…But should these be the only two options? For centuries, Christians (and Jews) have opposed simple minded interpretations of the Bible and have fully admitted that it’s riddled with problematic statements and self contradictory claims. It doesn’t stop them believing in God. God is more than the Bible. The Bible is first and foremost an important historical record. Only once it is interpreted as history can it be used for the purposes of philosophy or theology. But these sensible, considered positions aren’t addressed by modern anti-religion polemicists such as Dawkins. And the failure to address them makes the God Delusion inadequate as a work of philosophy. And since it is not ‘science’ either, what is it?

Well, it’s certainly a crowd pleaser. Witness the statements of applause in the dustjacket of the book. But is ‘truth’ being conveyed to the crowd in a ‘reasonable’ way which handles the ‘evidence’ fairly? Hardly. If it were, the book would be in a top scientific journal. Whole areas of philosophy would have become no-go areas. The great religious institutions (all of which pay attention to the findings of science, at least in their modern incarnations, despite Dawkins’ suspicions) would have closed down. And yet none of this has happened.

The best conclusion to draw is that the God Delusion fails in its most basic ambitions – to show that all ideas of ‘God’ should be considered as species of ‘delusion’ – but nevertheless succeeds as an entertaining but extended rant, whose chief value is in undermining naive kinds of theism (the kinds, the author insists, which persist amongst almost all ‘religious’ people). For those who continue to seek God, however, the ‘God Delusion’ will not offer an insurmountable barrier. Dawkins himself sees the attractions of Jesus. ‘Atheists for Jesus’, he advocates. Well, if Jesus was God or the son of God (whatever we take these words to mean), he’s clearly not far away from ‘getting God’ after all. His real truck is with unthinking, dishonest fundamentalism. This is something he has in common with many of the world’s most religious people. The real ‘delusion’ is that of the insufficiently thoughtful.

38 Comments

  1. Posey
    Posted February 24, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Sunshine, yeah. What a god-awful misnomer and rather reminiscent of the north Wolllongong suburb of Fairy Meadow. Choke.

  2. Posted February 24, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    G: It may be more convenient to comment on my individuals posts at my “home” (see the linkback) and point to that comment from here. I can see us having a long conversation.

    [email protected] said

    I have never met a religious person who can explain to me, using an explanation not based upon racial, social and geographical factors, why English and American people tend to be Christian, Indians tend to be Hindu, Iranians tend to be Muslim, and so on.

    I was chatting with someone sharia-trained who thought I may have followed Islam because I obviously knew something about it. I put the following to him, which he thought was valid.

    “You should only follow a religion if you can think of good reasons why you would convert if brought up in a different religion. This should be easy to figure out if you are Abrahamic and imagine swapping from another Abrahamic faith”.

    The same logic would also apply to which sect inside Christianity you hold to.

    He was obviously well trained, because he started reeling off good reasons for becoming a Moslem from Christianity… the ugliness of Trinitarianism among them. From Judaism, the key was the need to make large chunks of the “Old Testament” obsolete because it had so many nasty racist bits in it.

    While I’m very godless, I’m certain that comparative religion should be compulsory in all schools getting government funding: kids should have the ability to make an informed choice, and understand what the others are on about. (For example, how many Christians realize that Jesus is extremely important in Islam, and there is even a “Christmas Story” in the Koran – the Book of Mary – with the “Sermon from the Bunny-Rug”, and Mary having really bad labor pains?)

    Oh, and most of the Iranians I know are Zoroastrian – not Abrahamic, but well-respected by Moslems.

  3. Posted February 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    You should only follow a religion if you can think of good reasons why you would convert if brought up in a different religion.

    1. This religion won;t kill me if I convert? 🙂

  4. Posted February 24, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Anyway this is obviously the One True Faith.

  5. pedro
    Posted February 25, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    “However if spirit, as experienced on an individual level, is necessarily a transcending of ego and a consciouness of something greater and larger than self to which it is connected, then it must be potentially an essential element of emancipatory politics, a politics based on a sense of unity with the world, a desire to alleviate suffering in others, social solidarity, justice, non-violence, love. Spirit cannot be subsumed into any existing system of domination, rather it seeks to transcend dominance.”

    This is just a long-winded way of saying if you are a nice and caring person you are spiritual. Sounds like a new justification for leftist twaddle to me.

  6. Posted February 25, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    This is just a long-winded way of saying if you are a nice and caring person you are spiritual. Sounds like a new justification for leftist twaddle to me.

    It can be something else. Many people, including those without religious convictions, undergo experiences which radically change their philosophy of life. In Mayahana and Zen Buddhism in particular and mysticism in general, the experience of self dissolution can have profound effects on a person’s behavior.

    What is closer to Truth? The abstractions I employ to guide me through the world or my direct personal experience of the world? Is there a set of yardsticks to address this problem? It is at times like this I need people like Dover Beach to comment.

  7. Posted February 25, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a new justification for leftist twaddle to me
    .
    It’s leftist twaddle to give a shit about other people?

  8. Posted February 25, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s leftist twaddle to give a shit about other people?

    Of course it is you doofus. It is just so obvious: leave everyone to persue their selfish interests and life will be beautiful. I mean come on, what would those anthropologists know when their concept of emergent intelligence arising from “social chess theory”. ie. That it was the increasing need for helpless individual hominids to find ways to work co-operatively that enabled us to conquer the world. A single human being is amongst the most helpless of creatures. Even at the the most basic cellular level, the emergence of an entirely new life form, co-operation played a fundamental role. I am referring to mitochondria. Look up Lynn Marquilis. From a neurobiological perspective it is just a pure co-incidence that some of key areas that underwent significant encephalisation are those believed to play very important roles in modulating our impulsive behavior and facilitating greater understanding of those around us.

    But all this is leftist scientific twaddle. Just be selfish and everything will work out just dandy.

  9. Posey
    Posted February 25, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s a wonderful question, John (yr 2nd para).

    It’s curious, too, the relationship between our individual private lives, which co-exist with an unfolding “history” we can see objectively, but which we often don’t really experience in any definable or lasting way. How much thought or care do most people give to the historical times in which they live, the great public affairs taking place, when we are enmeshed, for most of the time, in subjective, private, physiological experiences that lie outside (if parallel to) history and which are not even communicable to others? This is particularly so in infancy, childhood, extreme old age, when sick, when asleep, i.e., for most of our lives. Even if we’re interested, what goes on outside this private world doesn’t engage us nearly as much, does it? It doesn’t take up as much mental space because for the most part we live intensely private lives fixated on relatively limited individual concerns.

    And if we don’t feel the historical world subjectively most of the time, even if aware of it intellectually and objectively, then to what extent do historically and socially framed and determined abstract concepts influence our beings?

    Aldous Huxley described us as “multiple amphibians, living in many double worlds and leading many double lives”; and the Elizabethan poet, Lord Brooke Fulke Greville ruminated thusly in Mustapha

    Oh wearisome Condition of Humanity!
    Borne under one Law, to another bound:
    Vainely begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
    Created sick, commanded to be sound:
    What meaneth Nature by these diverse Lawes?
    Passion and Reason, selfe division cause.

  10. Posey
    Posted February 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Hah! I knew it. Sly devil. She hardwired us. Trees and rocks too, I bet. They are the prototype Stoics, and they revere, yessum.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126941.700-born-believers-how-your-brain-creates-god.html?full=true

  11. pedro
    Posted February 25, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    “It’s leftist twaddle to give a shit about other people?”

    So you think that’s what I mean? Or do you not want to seriously discuss the point?

    Perhaps this bit of the quote:
    “then it must be potentially an essential element of emancipatory politics, a politics based on a sense of unity with the world, a desire to alleviate suffering in others, social solidarity, justice, non-violence, love”
    will help you see my point.

    Caring about others can occur outside of politics. I think that you cannot create a moral state by compelling others to do good.

  12. Posted February 25, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Pedro – You could’ve been a little more specific and said: Well I think we have an obligation to give a shit about other people but politics isn’t the way to do it.

  13. Posted February 25, 2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Caring about others can occur outside of politics. I think that you cannot create a moral state by compelling others to do good.

    I agree.

  14. Posted February 25, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I should add that I don’t think you can create a moral state at all. You can be moral.

  15. Posted February 26, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    It’s curious, too, the relationship between our individual private lives, which co-exist with an unfolding “history” we can see objectively, but which we often don’t really experience in any definable or lasting way. How much thought or care do most people give to the historical times in which they live, the great public affairs taking place, when we are enmeshed, for most of the time, in subjective, private, physiological experiences that lie outside (if parallel to) history and which are not even communicable to others?

    This is an interesting point. For many people this holds true, but then for some generations, history sticks a gigantic spanner in the works and forces a society-wide acknowledgment that something big is happening – e.g. WWI, WWII, moments of the Cold War and possibly in the not too distant future global warming and widespread ecological breakdown.

  16. G
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I repost here a comment (sorry, it’s again rather long) I have made in response to Dave Bath over at his blog in case anyone who has been following this discussion is interested in reading it:

    Hi Dave and thanks for taking the time to comment on my scribblings…I’m flattered by what you write and I’m glad I got away without seeming like a ‘theological nincompoop’! I’ve had a good time having a quick look round your blog – and thanks for directing to me to some of your previous thoughts on the issues I mentioned in my review. I’ll try to offer an idea of where I think we’d part company concerning the first issue you’ve mentioned here…the most I can hope to suggest, I think, is that alternative points of view might have something valuable to offer…and maybe that will lead somewhere interesting.

    Let me take first your claim that Dawkins would ‘drive home his case against religion’ most effectively by saying that ‘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’ and that ‘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’.

    I’ll try to encapsulate here some of the things I tried not very eloquently to say in responding to some of the comments on my post with skepticlawyer. In the first instance, I agree with the unstated premise that it’s bad when people are left vulnerable through naivety or ignorance to pernicious and false claims (whether ‘religious’ or not). This, I’d go on to say, is our human situation and we ought all to recognise that the task of combatting it is really rather a difficult one. Now, regarding the issue of ‘the ideas of [religious] extremists’, here again I think we’d both agree that these can often be a Very Bad Thing indeed. I need to qualify myself here just a little because I think that a lot of people I truly admire might qualify as extremists of some sort (or might have done in their time): but let’s narrow our focus to a group like young earth creationists, whom I think we could both agree do and say things we’d rather they didn’t. When people such as these are permitted ’stature’ in society, yes, it’s a problem – a problem, I would add, which is very difficult to address. How best to do it? Do we need to root out or devalue ‘religion’ or grow out of ‘unthinking faith’ so that a ‘better world’ in which leisurely discussions about ‘elegant solution[s!] that need simply Nature’ (your capital N here alarms me)?

    This, I think, is the key question you raise and so I’d like to ask you to elaborate a little. I note that for you ‘faith’ (in God?) is ‘unthinking’ (always?) and seems not to leave room for ‘elegant solutions’. You’ll need to clear this up for me…what sort of ‘faith’ are we talking about here and what are we supposing its link with other key concepts (e.g. ‘God’/’science’/’understanding’/’proof’/’evidence’/’love’/reason’ etc.) to be? Perhaps here you’ll follow Dawkins and say something along the lines of faith is ‘belief in the absence of evidence’ or some other such thing? The trouble is a) that’s not how someone like me – and, I’m afraid, the ardent fundies, see their ‘faith’…b) you’ll need a pretty impressive definition of ‘evidence’ here to make this definition work. To pursue this latter point just a little, what appears to be the Dawkinsian conception of ‘evidence’ may work ok for a lot of scientists (though here it must be emphasised that he’s been very strongly and roundly criticised by a host of top physicists for *not getting* the sorts of developments which have occurred in C20 physics and philosophy of science which have rendered his views pretty unsustainable in those contexts). And it works particularly badly, for example, in the context of some attempts to interpret/evaluate beliefs about past events. Imagine an American scientist who wakes up in the morning and brushes his teeth. No one else witnesses this event – and there exists only the merest traces of evidence to the effect that he did, definitely, brush his teeth that morning. He remembers doing so very vividly, let us say, and says he is 99% sure that it happened. Now imagine that a friend of his asks him this: are you more certain in your *belief* that you brushed your teeth this morning (for which, let us remember, we have only the ‘mere’ evidence of his memory of the event) or in your *belief* in the proposition that the emperor Nero began his reign in the year 54?

    Let us stand back from this question for just a moment. Many, many people and lots and lots of evidence would confirm to us – and, if they looked for it, to the scientist and his friend – that the emperor Nero had indeed become sovereign of Rome in the year 54. Meanwhile, by contrast a vanishingly small amount of testimony and strength of opinion – by contrast – would attest to the scientist’s claim that he did indeed brush his teeth. And yet, I’d wager that the scientist would in all likelihood be prepared to be more confident in his 99% certainty that he’d brushed his teeth rather than in his (let us say) 75% certainty that Nero had acceded to the emperorship in 54 (he *thinks* he remembers from his pub quiz the week before but isn’t certain). From one point of view, this sort of example shouldn’t surprise us at all. It is the stuff of our everyday experience. But what the example brings to light is the sort of profound problem that surrounds how we think about ‘evidence’ and the way we formulate our beliefs in the context of our lives, rather than in our scientific laboratories where controlled conditions can give us a chance to make more clinical judgements. The problem is that we don’t live our lives in science laboratories, nor do we evaluate the evidence we have concerning questions which pose themselves of us in the way most scientists do. This doesn’t necessarily come down to a lack of will-power to ‘be scientific’ on our part: most of us like to *think* we’re being as ‘rational’ as possible and making as good sense of ‘the available evidence’ which presents itself in the world around us as we can. It so often comes down instead to a failure adequately to identify, evaluate and resolve problematic questions which present themselves…but it also faulters because of the deeply problematic nature of the ‘evidence’ we encounter in our lives when it comes to making decisions – if we are even prepared to think particularly reflectively here – on what we should think about certain things.

    Let me finish by drawing your attention to the difficulties which our lawcourts have in settling difficult questions concerning individual persons and the criminal acts they are claimed to have performed. Evidence certainly matters here, as does a very thinking ‘faith’ in the system being used to sought things out and in the capacities of the people assessing the claims made to make correct decisions. Sure, some people might a) not think very hard about the system or b) have big reservations about the way the system works. But there is nonetheless here very clearly the need for ‘thinking’ faculties and for ‘faith’ in the system’s ability to perform a useful and necessary function, however badly. This is sort of how I feel about the Christian church, in all its imperfections. The lawcourts were there before the church came to be, and it may well be that they will outlive the church. They’ve made all kinds of mistakes, but still exist and perform an extremely important role in our society today – a society which they’ve helped to shape. The same is true too of the church, in my opinion. And I guess it just is the case that in my life, through the ‘evidence’ I’ve been exposed to, I’ve seen enough in the Christian church to tell me that there is a God, that he lives in the hearts of people, and that the church conveys something of his character to us here in our world. If I have to place at the centre of my life any word with a capital letter, and here I believe that in spite of the best postmodern attempts to convince people that they don’t have to I believe I do, then that word – or, rather words, will be Jesus Christ – my Saviour, Martyr, Lord, Messiah. I fully accept that that all comes with a lot of conceptual unpacking of its own but I hope it at least gives you an idea of my position and at least some background to why I am certainly not a Dawkinsian.

  17. pedro
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Adrien, I don’t think you have an obligation to give a shit about others, but I do think it is sensible and I kinda can’t help the fact that I generally do anyway. Still there are some people I don’t give a shit about and others I actively wish harm on.

    In each case I think I’m acting morally, but then I would think that wouldn’t I?

  18. Posted February 26, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Caring about others is not a moral question it is a practical one. Two people together who don’t give a shit about each other are likely to come to blows. It is that simple, we need to care about others because without such care society is not possible.

  19. Posted February 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Two people together who don’t give a shit about each other are likely to come to blows

    Some might argue the opposite is true.

  20. pedro
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Sure John, I’m constantly getting into fights with strangers.

    Morals exist, by agreement.

  21. Posted February 26, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    It matters not how much anyone likes or dislikes Dawkins’ position and the way he pushes his particular barrow.

    At the end of this post and the comments engendered, there still isn’t a god.

    Hitler was Catholic. Just sayin’.

  22. Posted February 26, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    It matters not how much anyone likes or dislikes Dawkins’ position and the way he pushes his particular barrow.

    Unfortunately Dawkins has a bad habit over stating his. He also fails to appreciate how his language distorts. Thus after The Selfish Gene he stated<

    I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour. However, as we shall see, there are special circumstances in which a gene can achieve its own selfish goals best by fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals… My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live… Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish (Dawkins, 1989, p. 2-3).

    Dawkins, R. (1989). The selfish gene (New ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford Uni-versity Press.

    Sadly, there are enough silly people in the world who think that because selfishness is hard wired we can do nothing about it. Of course these people don’t even realise how problematic the concept “hard wired” is so they are pretty much a lost cause.

  23. Posey
    Posted February 27, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    The British philosopher Jonathan Glover identified three possible bulwarks against human cruelty, violence and atrocity and condensed these into 1) sympathy 2) concern for human dignity and 3) moral identity (the least dependable). External, socially-imposed rules and laws will never suffice in regulating human behaviour and relationships between people that are mediated by rules alone are definitely prone to relapse into a more dehumanising type of brutality in times of conflict, he says.

    It’s true the broader literature on all this shows again and again that the personality deficient in empathy is a danger to others. If one is standardly empathetic towards another person, or groups of people, then one is much less likely to be brutal towards them, or sanction their ill-treatment, exploitation or abuse, or seek revenge upon them.

    Empathy is linked to imagination, too, in a fundamental way. Unfortunately, some people are so damaged by class society they are incapable of housing within their imagination the living reality and beauty of others’ being. And some political ideologies, those of the right in general, explicitly try to erode that imaginative connectivity. We see the tragic repercussions and acting out of this every day in the class divided societies in which we all live.

  24. klaus k
    Posted March 1, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    “Empathy is linked to imagination, too, in a fundamental way. Unfortunately, some people are so damaged by class society they are incapable of housing within their imagination the living reality and beauty of others’ being.”

    With a few substitutions, this is accurate.

  25. pedro
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    “Unfortunately, some people are so damaged by class society they are incapable of housing within their imagination the living reality and beauty of others’ being. And some political ideologies, those of the right in general, explicitly try to erode that imaginative connectivity. ”

    Tosh! Give an example and try not to say nazi. Tell me, what do the stasi, for instance, do for imaginative connectivity? Talk about pap.

  26. Posey
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Klaus & Pedro: I’ve made it a rule that if I have to re-read a couple of sentences more than twice to try and work out what the author means it’s neither worth the effort nor warrants a response.

    Work on your communication skills, both of you, is my advice.

  27. Posted March 2, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Tosh! Give an example and try not to say nazi. Tell me, what do the stasi, for instance, do for imaginative connectivity? Talk about pap.

    Too easy, look at the way the Howard Govt treated those on disabilities. For example, one 16 year old boy in Perth with potentially lethal leukemia was required to find work even though it is well established that stress can seriously impede recovery from such conditions. Or schizophrenics required to look for work when they are drooling, a common side effect of medication. Or Tony Abbot’s demonising of single mothers when he abandoned a child that arose during his time training to be a priest.

    The Howard Govt got ousted because of Workchoices, most of those doofi never had to put up with some of the horrendous working conditions that can be imposed on people. The Howard govt introduced legislation requiring anyone dissatisfied with a HRC ruling to take the matter to the Federal Court. Sure, people with disabilities can afford that.

    Those on the dole: treated like criminals, always having to prove their innocence with endless documentation and checking. Made to engage in useless work for the dole schemes that were soul destroying.

  28. Posted March 2, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    A lot of people are talking a fair bit of bunk on this thread.

    Posey, if you continue to make content-free allegations about an entire system of political philosophy, you’ll be placed on permanent moderation. I’m having to put legal fires out generated entirely by people on your side of the aisle right now; not for a moment would I attribute their behaviour to everyone on the political left. Think about that before you descend to this sort of foolishness:

    Empathy is linked to imagination, too, in a fundamental way. Unfortunately, some people are so damaged by class society they are incapable of housing within their imagination the living reality and beauty of others’ being. And some political ideologies, those of the right in general, explicitly try to erode that imaginative connectivity. We see the tragic repercussions and acting out of this every day in the class divided societies in which we all live.

  29. Posey
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, LE, it was a bit OTT.

    I meant it as more of an ascent, than a descent, seeking clarity, rather than affirming some bottomless philosophical truth.

  30. Posey
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I meant ” SL”.

    It’s been a long day at the coalface – sorry.

  31. Posted March 2, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Caring about others is not a moral question it is a practical one.
    .
    Morality is practical. Or it should be. Trouble is what is a practical moral principle at the time it’s introduced becomes entrenched and is adhered to long after it’s become meaningless.
    .
    Like the Qu’ran on the lower shelf thing. It makes sense if you live in a desert to make a big deal out of where you put the holy book. A dirty book is harder to revere. But when you’ve got a sealed environment that keeps the dirt off then – sheesh.

  32. Posted March 3, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Pedro – Morals exist, by agreement.

    No they don’t. Not really. Morality is two things: herd instinct and reflection on what that herd instinct should be. The reflection part of it engenders some discussion and agreement but there’s also revolution and struggle as well. Check out Constantine or Diocletian. Or the history of the Roman Church. There was agreement on points of morality amongst the theological elite that were then imposed on others.

    Same with Protestantism, staring with illegitimate disagreements and leading to the imposition of its own moral authority. Hell think of child-rearing. We don’t ask l’il Johnny if he agrees that whacking his sister one is immoral do we?

  33. Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    John – sorry for prolonged delay in responding, totally forgot that I had commented on this thread.

    You’re quite right, Dawkins does have a habit of over-reaching, which is a disservice to himself and the rest of us.

    I have an unread copy of the selfish gene on my shelves, I’ll get to it some day.

    Based on the quote you provided, Dawkins is outright wrong. There is an oddle of evidence that humans are NOT first and foremost, nor in an unfettered manner, selfish. Much evidence is to the contrary.

    Only today (or yesterday), there was a piece in the NYTs about the inherent sociability, sharing and trust that goes with human babies. It gave the example of chimps breeding about six years apart, because the parent has to spend its time protecting just one baby, that is, protecting it from its own kind, not just predators. Contrast that with humans, who breed quite rapidly, safe in the knowledge that they can pass babies around to all & sundry, with total trust. Human babies illicit protective and kindly feelings in everyone. Etc, etc.

    There are also very strong selfless human inclinations that support and cohere the group, or the herd, if you like, that inherently engender altruistic behaviors. Etc, etc.

    All the same, there is benefit in people like Dawkins drawing hard and fast cases that don’t necessarily stand up to full scrutiny, it provokes others to think more deeply and thoroughly. I suppose that in itself is a great service.

  34. pedro
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Adrien, I can’t quite see how you’ve refuted my contention that morals exist by agreement. I didn’t say everyone agrees all the time, but whatever society you want to examine you will find that there is a common moral code and that exists because people support it.

    Theft is generally agreed to be wrong. Homosexuality was generally agreed to be wrong 50 years ago. Now it isn’t.

  35. John Greenfield
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Adrien

    When you say ‘morality is/should be practical’ do you mean as in utilitarian or pragmatic, for example? I actually disagree. I have now come around t6o the conclusion that morality can only be sourced from religion.

  36. John Greenfield
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Eagleton is a Marxist, so we should hope his handle on religion is superior to adding machines like Dawkins!

  37. Posted March 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    John – There is increasing scientific evidence to support moral codes as inherent in humans.

    Gosh, even animals have social mores and socially constructed behaviors and boundaries for deviance. Don’t see many animals going to church or reading the bible.

    It’s trite to suggest that morality comes from religion. Organized religion is quite recent in human history.

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