More stupid criticism of Dawkins’s “fumble”

The Religion section of HuffPo is still carping on Dawkins for not quite remembering the exact title of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In a dire piece called “Religious self-definition a major issue in Dawkins’s poor debate performance“, Christopher Lane, an English professor at Northwestern University here in Chicago, calls out Dawkins not just for forgetfulness, but for arrogance.

Not that many people off-the-cuff would likely recall the full title of Darwin’s book, including its contentious subtitle: “or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” But it is surprising that Dawkins, of all people, would forget the part of the title that captures Darwin’s key argument, his emphasis on “natural selection.”. . .

. . . Even Dawkins’s supporters winced online over the awkward, unforgettable moment on digital radio, especially when he invoked “God” in struggling to remember the title to Darwin’s book. Granted not in a devout way, but it’s not quite the word you expect to hear from the man who gave us “The God Delusion” or who regularly calls believers “faith-heads.”

Oh for crying out loud; it’s as if he thinks Dawkins doesn’t understand natural selection (which was, by the way, the subject of most of his famous books).  And is there anyone in the English-speaking world, atheist or not, who doesn’t use the word “god” in vain? Have you no sense of decency, Dr. Lane, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

You can see how that could quickly become contentious, not least with Dawkins seeming to set himself up as judge and juror over who gets to call themselves devout at all. . .

Umm. . . I don’t think Richard, Paula Kirby, and the Ipsos MORI polling organization were trying to determine who gets to call themselves devout.  What they showed, indubitably, is that those who call themselves devout, or whom others call devout, don’t share many of the traits we associate with devotion.

Lane goes on:

While Dawkins wrestles with the fall-out from that fumble, he might venture to revisit Darwin’s “Autobiography,” including the famous passages where Darwin writes eloquently, with great humility, about his own blind spots. It’s also the place, we should note, where Darwin talks about the “beauty” of “New Testament morality,” even as he adds that “its perfection,” for him at least, “depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.”

“I cannot presume to throw the least light on such abstruse problems” as the “First Cause,” Darwin writes late in life, including whether the evolution of humanity was “the result of blind chance or necessity…. The mystery of the beginnings of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

It’s all about the “humility” again, isn’t it? Well, if you read the God Delusion you’ll see that Dawkins doesn’t declare that there isn’t any god; he just assertions, correctly, that there is no evidence for one and that he’s a 6.5 on the 7 scale in which 7 corresponds to “I am absolutely certain there is no God.”  That’s the proper amount of humility for a scientist who sees no evidence for sky fairies. And, by the way, “the mystery of the beginnings of all things” is, I think, soluble by us: Darwin had no inkling about The Big Bang or advances in cosmology to come.

Lane simply doesn’t understand how a scientist judges the “God hypothesis,” and yes, it is indeed an empirical hypothesis, so long as you believe in a God who either interacts with the world or did so in the past.  The proper position is to reject that hypothesis as being unsupported by evidence—indeed, negated by counterevidence, like the existence of evil and the fact that the universe is headed for extinction.

Dawkins, of course, is far from content about others adopting such positions — he’s strongly implied that that they’re tantamount to “wishy-washy fence-sitting.” The problem is, he then assumes a position of certainty from which to judge and alas sneer at everyone else further along the continuum. It’s a deeply unattractive position, not least because it’s wholly unconducive to the aims of genuine secularism, for which liberty of belief, including for religious self-definition, is actually — and very properly — considered a key principle.

It is no more “fence-sitting” to have a provisional view of God than to have a provisional view of homeopathy, garden fairies, or astrology.  And yes, secularism does mandate liberty of belief, but, crucially, insists that beliefs be supported by reason, and that no belief is exempt from criticism.

I’m not sure what Lane is on about here, except that he almost wholly neglects the certainty and dogma that afflicts the religious, who have no doubt that there is a God, that they know his nature, and that they will inflict their god-derived morals on the rest of the world.  Why is Lane banging on about Dawkins’s supposed dogmatism when he’s fighting the ultimate dogmatism: the certainty that fairy tales are not only true, but that their lesson must be inflicted on the rest of us?  The reason, of course, is that Lane has belief in belief.

Curiously, Lane touts a Guardian piece by Julian Baggini on the supposed dangers of creeping secularism in British life.  It’s a pretty reasonable piece except for Baggini’s ending, which Lane cites:

But as Julian Baggini correctly pointed out in The Guardian, after Dawkins’s disastrous interview, “allowing the free expression and discussion of religion is as much a non-negotiable tenet of secularism as maintaining the neutrality of the core institutions of civil society. It may be unfair to criticise secularists for being ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive,’ but we are often ham-fisted and heavy-handed. If secularism has come to be seen as the enemy of the religious when it should be its best friend, then we secularists must share at least some of the blame.”

No, I don’t think we are often ham-fisted. Dawkins is firm but not ham-fisted (unless you see his inability to produce the full title of Darwin’s book as “ham-fisted!”).  Most of the New Atheist leaders are not only eloquent, but effective.  And yes, some of us may be “heavy-handed”, but what else should we be if we are trying to excise the cancer of faith from society?  If there’s anything we should have learned by now, being deferential to the faithful has no effect on eliminating religion.

And why on earth should secularism be the best friend of religion?  It is, and should be, its worst enemy.  Religion and secularism can’t be friends any more than can rationalism and superstition, for that’s the difference between the “magisteria”.   I’m wondering if Baggini misspoke here.

By all means let religion be freely discussed in the public sphere, but by no means should it be free from the kind of strong criticism it deserves.  It is not only unfounded superstition, but superstition that has, in the main, bad consequences.

87 Comments

  1. Peter Beattie
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Wow, schoolyard taunts. ‘You said “god”—haha!’ This clown must be one hell of an intellectual not to be embarrassed by that.

    • NMcC
      Posted February 18, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

      Considering the fact that Richard Dawkins has been almost word perfect in hundreds of interviews going back years, it really is pathetic picking up on this one incident.

  2. Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Anybody who thinks Richard was invoking any sort of deity in an attempt to rely upon divine assistance in recalling the full title of a sacred text is…an unprintable idiot.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      … hence publication of his article in the Huffington Post.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 18, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

        Ba-da-bing!

    • MosesZD
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Something forgotten…

      The title of the book was changed in with the 6th printing in 1872. The common title is now:

      The Origin of Species

      But for rare reprints, nobody uses the archaic title anymore.

      So if you try to buy it and go to Google books or Amazon or Booksamillion or Powells… Almost all you’re going to find is “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. Even if they throw-out the archaic title, the cover is still virtually always “The Origin of Species.”

      Now compare Dawkin’s trivial error in not remembering an out-of-use, archaic subtitle to majority of Christians don’t even know the first book of the New Testament.

      • Dermot C
        Posted February 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        Yep, MosesZD, it’s all a parlour game of one-upmanship, bordering on the puerile.

        Any physicists know the full title of Newton’s ‘Principia’?
        Any literary types know the full title of ‘The Pickwick Papers’?

        Me, neither, until I looked them up; and I’ve read the latter!

      • Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        “[A] majority of Christians don’t even know the first book of the New Testament.”
        … when they had only four to choose from!

        They named
        Matthew 35%
        Genesis 19%
        Acts of the Apostles 3%
        Psalms 3%
        Don’t know 39%
        Prefer not to say 1% (“Maybe if I don’t say they’ll think I do know….”)

        Dawkins’ ignorance is more like not being able to name “THE HOLY BIBLE, Containing the Old Testament, AND THE NEW: Newly Translated out of the Original tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties special Commandment”

        • Kharamatha
          Posted February 18, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

          Lulz.

      • Filippo
        Posted February 18, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        Considering how the vast majority of contemporary best-seller non-fiction books have elongated titles, the bar is apparently raised regarding book title remembrance.

  3. David Leech
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of the article though I think Baggini is right about secular and religion should/can be friends except for the dominant religion which has much to lose.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      I think secularism can definitely be a friend to religion in that secular governments, being neutral toward religion, allow diversity of belief to flourish. This is precisely the case in the US and in Australia, both constitutionally secular nations. So I guess I disagree with Jerry here.

      Where the “enemy” part should and does come in is where a secular state’s faith-neutrality clashes with a particular faith’s need to have its tenets or practices legally and politically enshrined with the common effect privileging believers. Many faiths and many believers simply aren’t content to have their faith and practice it in their temples and homes and scripture classes and private religious schools and religious camps or even to have their holidays/traditions observed by the state and the majority of the population (e.g. Easter holidays/Christmas); they want their sect’s rules imposed on everybody else by the state. They want everybody to live by the same arbitrary religious rules they live by; when this is challenged or rejected we hear no end of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

      The extreme end of the scale, theocracy, is always going to be open to overthrow by a rival sect. But secular government ensures all faiths have a right to exist and all believers have a right to practice, the only caveat being that they don’t get to use the apparatus to enforce belief or observance in others. Obviously this simply isn’t good enough for some.

  4. Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    “And why on earth should secularism be the best friend of religion? It is, and should be, its worst enemy.”

    Sorry, Jerry, can’t agree with you there. Secularism means that the state doesn’t take sides for or against. That allows free criticism of religion, but it also allows free exercise of religion. Personal religion can and does exist and thrive under such an environment, and there is nothing wrong with that. In that sense religion and secularism are friends.

    • Tom
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Or as Baginni puts it:

      “… secularism is really a very specific principle about the workings of public and political institutions. As long as they operate without granting privilege to any particularly comprehensive world-view, secularism has nothing to say about how religious the rest of society and public discourse should be.”

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        My sense of secularism is closer to the one defined in the Oxford English Dictionary:

        1. The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.

        2. The view that education, or the education provided at the public cost, should be purely secular.

        • Ken Browning
          Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          I agree that the first order of business is agreeing on clear definitions. Until that is accomplished we will be wasting time talking past each other. For instance, what is actually meant by the metaphor that ‘secularism’ and ‘religion’ can be ‘friends’? Are we talking about individuals or systematized ideas, etc.?

          • Posted February 17, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            I think it’s clear from the NSS quotations (@ #6) that (with both as systematised ideas) secularism is a friend of religion, but not an uncritical one!

            /@

        • Posted February 19, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

          On the definition of “secularism”, as used in the political context in the UK, here’s an exchange worth reading between Richard Dawkins and Will Hutton, in which Dawkins defines and defends secularism.

      • Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Religion is the enemy of secularism because its business in practice is invariably to try to manipulate governments to force citizens to abide by some dogmatic idea of morality. Secularism is the precise opposite of that: it’s concerned in part with making sure that cannot happen.

        The secular state doesn’t take sides, but religion always does and that’s why they’re enemies.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      My understanding of the most widely used meaning of secularism comports with yours, coelsblog.

      And I tend to think it’s an important distinction. Government is nothing if not compromise…

  5. McWaffle
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    It seems there’s a lot of flailing going on, trying to kick up dust to obscure the fact that they just lost a big chunk of their supposed supporters. The real topic of conversation should be that such a big group of “Christians” are just apatheistic Christmas-Easter types who live 100% secular lives but check “Christian” on the census papers since they think to themselves, “Well, I’m not a Muslim, or anything like that, so I guess I’m a Christian?”

    • Potsmaster
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, McWaffle, for mentioning ‘apatheism’. Many people who self-identify as ‘Christian’ are actually apatheistic in the sense that they live their lives as if any supra-human intentional entities existing outside of space & time were of no concern to them. If pressed, these folks would probably say ‘Of course I believe in God!’, but by their actions, they would be indistinguishable from many who do not.

  6. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Well, if THAT’S what he meant, fine. But in the sense that secularism is based on reason and not faith, then it’s no friend of religion.

    • eric
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      I agree with coelsblog; I tend to think of secularism is being opposed to theocracy, not opposed to belief. A secular government is a government that is worldly, focused on and limited to temporal matters vice spritual ones. And ‘not being concerned with spiritual matters’ doesn’t mean atheist, it means neutral.

      Or better yet, silent on the issue.

      • Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        Though “secular” is commonly used in the sense you describe, my dictionary mentions nothing at all about governments. Rather, it’s simply that which is devoid of religion.

        Yes, governmental noninterference with private religious matters is a vital part of Western democracy, but it’s a consequence of their secular nature, not the cause of it.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

          Dictionaries aside, “secular” occurs most frequently in regard to government, IME.

      • Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Belief isn’t the same thing as religion. Religion is automatically antagonistic to everything that isn’t it.

    • TJR
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’m sure Baggini meant that secularism is a friend to religions in the sense that secularism stops religions trying to ruthlessly suppress each other.

      Similarly if you read “we are often ham-fisted and heavy-handed” as meaning “we often speak in ways which theocrats are able to depict as being ham-fisted and heavy-handed” then its more reasonable.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      While secularism certainly does mandate liberty of belief, but holds that no belief is exempt from criticism, I do not think that insists that beliefs be supported by reason — in fact, isn’t that contrary to liberty of belief?

      Essentially, it’s: You can believe anything you like, no matter how bizarre, as long as you keep out of everyone else’s hair.

      More formally, the NSS, for example, says:

      Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism ensures that the right of individuals to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion.

      /@

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      More from the NSS:

      … secularism itself does not seek to challenge the tenets of any particular religion or belief, neither does it seek to impose atheism on anyone.

      &

      Religious beliefs, ideas and organisations must not enjoy privileged protection from the right to freedom of expression. In a democracy, all ideas and beliefs must be open to discussion. Individuals have rights, ideas do not.

      /@

      • Tim Harris
        Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Excellent definitions from the NSS. Thank you Ant. Secularism became more and more important as a political principle after the Thirty Years War largely to prevent the religious from slaughtering one another. Given the numbers of the religious today, as well as the problems raised by Islam and many of its adherents, it is of the utmost importance to insist on this principle in government, and not to make of secularism just another sect, which is what it seems to me that Jerry’s approach has the danger of doing.

      • Filippo
        Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        “Individuals have rights, ideas do not.”

        Nor do “corporations.”

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:05 am | Permalink

          Unless you’re in the US.

          From the latest “Harper’s Index:”

          Percentage of political ad spending during 2010 elections that would have been prohibited before Citizens United: 72

          • Filippo
            Posted February 18, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

            Yes. In the U.S., corporations have “personhood,” whereas human beings, once called (if not in reality ever viewed by corporations as) “personnel,” are considered human “capital” and “resources.”

            Perhaps we should do away with the term “students,” and instead use “nascent or incipient human resources or capital.” No doubt, there would be faux offense taken.

            (Check out “Corporations or People? – Restoring the Common Good,” in the Jan/Feb 2012 The Humanist.)

  7. eric
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Lane simply doesn’t understand how a scientist judges the “God hypothesis,”

    Speaking with my scientist hat on, I tend to think of it the following way:

    1. For every hypothesis, every theory, every law that science comes up with, we can add a term representing God’s impact. God’s influence on the world.
    2. Represent this mathematically as “+kG,” k being the constant of proportionality.
    3. Empirical observation leads us to conclude that k = 0.

    • TJR
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Ah, but what if god’s effect is nonlinear?

      • Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Imaginary, is more like it….

        b&

        • TJR
          Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

          Well, that’s a complex question….

          • Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

            e^iπ + 1 = 0 ∴ God exists. QED

            /@

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

              I tried working that out on a scientific calculator once, but just got an error message.

              So obviously by that logic God does not exist. :)

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Ah — so we get some handy definitions.

      • G > 0, k > 0 = theism

      • G > 0, k = 0 = deism

      • G = 0, k = 0 = atheism

      /@

  8. Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    <ahem/> It’s Ipsos MORI, not IPSIS.

    /@

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Indeed. I’ve fixed it; thanks. That’s the problem with operating from memory . . .

  9. Matt G
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    The “contentious” title? Is he referring to the word “races”? Does this moron realize that races means species, not human “races”?

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      That’s what I was going to ask – why is the subtitle of Darwin’s book “contentious”?

      And by the way, I’m sure JAC will correct me if I’m mistaken, but I don’t think Darwin used “races” to mean species. I think he was talking about sub-species – that some variations within a species will be favored and survive to pass on their genes for those variations.

  10. Manfredi La Manna
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I for one am proud that secularists do not have “authorities” or high priests. Yes, Dawkins gave a lucklustre performance, not so much by not recalling the precise title of On the Origins of the Species, but by missing the main point of the poll commissioned by his own Foundation, namely, that most Christians (in the UK) are essentially secular, in so far as they regard their beliefs as a personal matter. So wasting air time disecting the percentages of people describing themselves as Christians as opposed to being Christians was totally beside the point.

    We should rejoice in the fact that we secularists do not have an established hierarchy, where the value of what you say depends on how high you rank, but we value opinions (whose ever they are) on their merits, without reference to any revealed truth.

  11. Andrew Hughes
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    As for Lane, I guess it takes a small person to inflate something so trivial. Slow news day Huffpo?

    • Linda Jean
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      not trivial when dawkins says god, why not say ; rats, sheets, schucks, holy molly or whatever brits say when in a senior moment…?

      • Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        The language hasn’t diverged that much. It’s been ages since I’ve heard anybody actually say any of your alternative suggestions, but “Oh, god, “Jesus Christ!” “Holy shit! “God damn,” and the like are all quite common.

        And, as I wrote at the top, if you think he was actually attempting to bend a deity to his will…

        Cheers,

        b&

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        Because, unlike Billy Connolly, Richard Dawkins is never going to say ‘Oh fuck’ on air…

  12. GBJames
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    sub

  13. Sigmund
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I take “secularism” to mean something similar to the US constitutional position – namely that government should not seek to support or repress an individual religion in respect to any others.
    In that sense secularism is not a direct enemy of religion – although it is definitely no friend of theocratic religions.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      I concur. See my replies @ #6.

      /@

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted February 18, 2012 at 4:43 am | Permalink

        Ditto.

    • Andy Dufresne
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      The constitution’s position is precisely that, indeed, which is why it sucks that my nation’s actual government is not secular but merely secularish. True secularism leaves religions to do and believe as they please so long as they obey the society’s laws that apply to all (and so long as believers understand that they are members of a society and not the society). But the U.S. legislative and judicial history gives religion a privileged status, which effectively promotes theistic/Abrahamic religion. A truly secular society would never make the assumption that religion is always a jolly jack splendid idea and should be promoted by the state. Churches would pay taxes, and our legislative bodies would not begin with prayers from chaplains, who themselves would not be cashing government paychecks.

  14. Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Let me guess. This is some meaningless, out-of-context trivia we’ll still be hearing about years from now, like Obama’s “57 states” slip.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Especially after someone has put it up on YouTube with a completely different question edited on.

  15. Posted February 17, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Most of the New Atheist leaders are not only eloquent, but effective.

    We have leaders? In the sense of torchbearers, maybe, but the word smacks too much of an authoritarian hierarchy.

    But it is true to say that Dawkins, for example, is a New Atheist primate… 

    /@

  16. Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Holy Cow!!!

    Damn, now I’m a Hindhu!

    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      What goes around, comes around.

      Damn! Now I’m a Buddhist!

      • Posted February 18, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

        By Jove!
        Damn! Now I’m an ancient Roman!

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted February 18, 2012 at 4:49 am | Permalink

          Holy shit!

          Damn! let’s not go there.

  17. John Edwards
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I regularly listen to BBC Today programme and know how lively the discussions and aggressive the presenters can be. It is fun sometimes hearing our politicians dig holes for themselves sometimes because they are not fully awake! Even the presenters have been known to drop a bollock and have to apologise. I heard Richard Dawkins speak, and thought nothing of his little slip – he got it right in the end. With so brief a discussion sadly the importance of what that survey revealed got a bit lost,and deflected by the clegyman’s stance. Likewise on BBC Newsnight Dawkins talked about the findings of the survey with a bishop and a religious correspondent. But the bishop hadn’t done his homework, demonstrating that he had mis-understood the findings. I would have respected the bishop more if he had expressed concern about the findings. The lack of understanding of the basic tenets of Christian faith among those who ‘self confess’ as Christian is astonishing.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      That’s just like the Bishop of Southwark’s criticisms of The Life of Brian!

      /@

      • Filippo
        Posted February 18, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

        Any little cognitive miss-firing might be referred to as “The Life of Brain.”

  18. Greg Peterson
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Something I’ve not seen addressed regarding this tempest in a teapot is the relative view atheists and “devout” (read, fundamentalist) Christians and other believers have towards books. We see them as sources of information, not veneration. We see all books, no matter the source, as probably flawed, certainly provisional. I was a fundamentalist and I have fundamentalist friends. The fundamentalist view of holy books is very different from that one, and seldom is anything less than a sort of bibliolatry. It is one thing for a person who accepts that Darwin wrote down some remarkable insights about the nature of reality to get some factoid about the book itself wrong. Is it not something altogether different for someone who views a book as the inerrant Word of God, the sole source of truth in the world, about the world, to get simple facts about that book wrong? Consider how the fundamentalist Jews treat the Torah, using special instruments to avoid touching it; or of Muslims who memorize vast passages of text in a language they don’t even know. Or the way evangelists wave around the Bible and claim for it a divine, heaven-sent quality. How does that compare in vitality to the reasonable person who merely finds a book interesting and informative?

    • GBJames
      Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Good points.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      The image of Fitzroy, stalking the aisles at the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, holding up a bible and shouting “The Book! The Book!”* comes to mind.

      * Though Brian Switek suggests here that it is apocryphal, which seems fitting.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 18, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Has any one had the experience (as I did with a relative) of recommending a book (with a title relating to words/phrases like “science,” “philosophy,” “rational,” “thinking,” etc.) to an unctuous religioso, and receiving the bloody knee-jerk, pre-programmed, canned and contrived reponse, “That book has nothing to say to me”?

  19. Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    “And yes, secularism does mandate liberty of belief, but, crucially, insists that beliefs be supported by reason, and that no belief is exempt from criticism.”

    “Insists” is a bit strong. “Requires, before anyone else need pay any attention to them”, perhaps.

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      And “be supported by reason” or “be supported by reason and/or evidence”?

  20. Posted February 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    No one, least of all Dawkins, is trying to revoke “liberty of belief.”

    The point is that if you’re trying to effect policy based on xian doctrine, and you try to legitimize this project based on the claim that the nation is not only populated mostly by xians, but that it is itself a xian nation, then at the very least that premise had better be true.

    For the eleventy-trillionth time: a request to keep your religion strictly private is not persecution!!!

  21. MadScientist
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    “All animals, including humans, evolved” = arrogance

    “Goddidit” = humility (well, if humility is synonymous with stupidity)

  22. Kevin
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Sigh…again, terming the title of Darwin’s book “contentious” is nothing more than a theist trap.

    It’s about the word “races”. Which had a different meaning back then. Just like the word “gay” had a different meaning back then.

    And does not negate either the findings within the book, nor the 150 years of scientific progress since.

    Oh, and anyone trying to make the case that Origins is somehow a “racist” tome — it being “contentious” and all — should be asked to quote the sentences where statements about racial superiority of humans are in evidence. Hint: there aren’t any.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      I suspect in botany that “race” still maintains its original meaning. A perfectly good scientific term lost through social misuse…

      (Though of course, putative scientists have corrupted it themselves, over the years, when it comes to humans.)

  23. Dermot C
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an apposite copy of an exchange over at RD’s website. I suggest that the British follow RD’s recommendation, as it really is the nub of the matter.

    Comment 24 by Slippy : (re: the survey)

    Bl**dy blinkin brilliant news. How does this information now get absorbed by the people who should be paying attention?

    Richard (Dawkins), in reply:

    Suppose everybody who reads this were to send it (don’t forget Press Release 1 as well as 2 – available at RD’s website) to their MP.

  24. Posted February 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    See “NPR throws mud at Dawkins” at Butterflies and Wheels:

    http://tinyurl.com/739olxs

  25. Kenneth Hinson
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see the big deal, it just shows that Dawkins doesn’t worship the book of Darwin. Believers are called to know their scriptures and the least of which should be to know the names of the books themselves. This is just desperation on their part.

  26. Filippo
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Lane and his ilk need to address themselves to the wanton and promiscuous use of “OMG,” “Oh My God!” uttered by the fatuously religious.

    It’s a sorry commentary on the state of things that an agnostic (if not atheist) feels embarrassed for those apparent religiosos who so freely ululate this exclamation.

    I hear it all the time from middle and high school students. “Oh My Gawd!” they bloviate, in response to their adolescent sense of entitlement having been allegedly violated.

    I respond: “Call if you must upon a Higher Power, if you think it will help you. Oooouuut Spiiiirriiiiit!”

  27. Dawn Oz
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Its a backhanded compliment – they can’t argue evolution with him, so they are FF fault finding.

  28. Diane G.
    Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    Quick, someone–tell Richard about Natural Selection!!

  29. DocAtheist
    Posted February 18, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Hollywood mentality: Free advertising for Richard Dawkins, and by reflection, for the rest of us. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Let this stir anger in the closeted freethinkers, until they burst forth and stand up straight. No need to cower, when drivel like this is the best faith-headed bullies can come up with.


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