Tuesday, August 19, 2008

return of the ichneumon delusion

Tonight I eventually managed to view the last of Richard Dawkin's documentary trilogy, The Genius of Charles Darwin. I'd originally missed it, but a kind sympathiser who had video'd it gave me a copy.

To place the documentary in context, Dawkins stated in Part 1 that 4 out of 10 people believe in God as the Creator of all. In spite of the fact that this indicates that more people are for his views than against, he took a class of 15-16 year olds, and appeared to have failed to convert them to unbelief.

In the second part he attacked - possibly fairly - those who had interpreted The Selfish Gene as meaning that, in the words of Gordon Gekko of Wall Street , "Greed is, for lack of a better word, good".

Part 3 of The Genius of Charles Darwin starts with a preview of a conversation between Dawkins and a secondary-school science teacher who says, "we can't get into the business of knocking down kids' religions"; Dawkins replies "Why not?", without being troubled by doubt about his own philosophy. Indeed, he complains later that "relativism...is rife today"; Indeed: Pope John Paul II often made the same point.

Dawkins states that "religious fundamentalists are eager to attack the legacy of Charles Darwin which they just don't understand". This may or may not be a fair point, except that in his zeal to present himself as Darwin's interpreter he does not stop to consider that he might not understand the legacy of the Bible which he never ceases to attack.

Wendy Wright, of Concerned Women of America, spoke with Dawkins, which I suppWendy Wrightose was brave of both of them. However, I didn't feel that RD appreciated the subtleties of Wright's argument, which was that, if evolution is seen to be controversial, then children should be taught both sides of that controversy. She then stated that she'd rather believe in God than fallible scientists. Dawkins retorted that he was all in favour of teaching children to think for themselves, but that there were limits to this. Which led me to think: what are the limits, and who puts them there? Since these questions were not only unasked but unanswered I felt like shouting "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? at the show, but paused the video and made a cuppa instead.

DawkinDr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterburys later spoke to Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said he believed that God "shapes the whole process" of creation, including evolution, as Creator; when Dawkins asked if God intervened in nature, the Archbishop replied that this would imply some imperfection in God's setting up of nature. As is his wont, Dawkins came round to he Virgin Birth; whereas he rated it as a "cheap conjuring trick", Williams stated that it was "Creation opening up to its own depths". It was a short interview, possibly commensurate with Dawkins' opinion on Williams, or perhaps with the philosopher of science's fear that the prelate's greater intellectual agility might come to the fore given a longer segment.

You didn't need to have a crystal ball to see that Dawkins would return to the Ichneumon wasp, laying its eggs within a caterpillar then paralysing the caterpillar's motor nerves so that junior would have a store of fresh meat. Atheist evolutionists spend so much effort reminding us of the Ichneumonidae reproduction cycle that the creature would charge royalties if it were sentient. Yet the reason it caused such a crisis of faith in God for Victorian society, while its poverty, workhouses and factories failed to provoke a crisis of much of that society's faith in itself, was the popularity of "natural theology", stating that the existence of God could be discerned through nature as well as by revelation. Perhaps one needs to look at more of creation than the lives and deaths of a small group of arthropods in order to get an idea that "the skies proclaim the work of [God's] hands" (Psalm 19:1). I had a friend who could believe in God when up a mountain, but became an atheist when back in the city.

But in his world, where objectively our travails are not worth more than those of an insect, all that matters to Dawkins is that he is at the top of the tree he has played no small part in cultivating, bonsai-style, from the seeds sown by Darwin, Mendel and many others. He has named one of his books after Darwin's anguished cry: "What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of nature!"

In the last Chapter of The God Delusion, he speaks of William of Wykeham founding Oxford'sstained-glass image of William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, at New Hall, Oxford New College in 1379 "as a great chantry to make intercession for the repose of his soul". Dawkins sees no need to look upwards for salvation. While Bishop William formed a forum so he might be remembered to God, Dawkins' has ensured he will be remembered to humankind, or at least that portion which is interested and/or incensed by his works. His official website is called RichardDawkins.net, and he has developed The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the website from which you can buy two volumes of Conversations with Richard Dawkins. The Genius of Charles Darwin was not about Charles: it was about the ascent of Richard to the post of Vicar of Evolution, infallible and impeccable.

Personally, I trust in God. You may have another position, which indeed you have every right to hold: but can you justify it outside the realm of strangling those voices with whom you disagree?

related posts ?
The Genius of Charles Darwin Part 1: the ichneumon delusion

The Genius of Charles Darwin Part 2: the altruism delusion

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Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.