The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'richard dawkins'
Melbourne is set to host the biggest ever atheist convention next March, which will feature speakers including Richard Dawkins (referred to, somewhat facetiously, as the "High-priest of atheism" in the article's headline), Peter Singer and A.C. Grayling, as well as Australian commentators (mostly from the media) such as Robyn Williams and Phillip Adams.
Today was the launch of the Atheist Bus Campaign, a project to put advertisements on buses in London telling people that there is probably no god and no reason to worry. (The project was inspired by Christian groups' ads on public transport, which inform the reader that they are doomed to eternal torment unless they submit to the advertiser's particular beliefs, an altogether less friendly message.)
The campaign opened this morning, with a goal of attracting £5,500; half the amount required to run such an ad on 30 buses over four weeks. (Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins had offered to provide the other half.) It reached its goal just after 10am, and kept snowballing like Craig Shergold's postcards; shortly before 11:30pm, it had passed the £45,000 mark, and was still rising. That's a lot of non-faith.
Looking at the donations and their comments is interesting; a lot of people have an issue with the phrasing containing the qualifying "probably" (which was there to keep from falling foul of truth-in-advertising regulations), finding it insufficiently strident, or likely to lead people into the fallacy of Pascal's Wager. More donors, buoyed by the success of the drive, have called for the ads to be run elsewhere in the UK (Manchester, for some reason, has a lot of demand). There are also a lot of calls for similar ads to be run in the United States; I wonder whether anyone will start such a campaign over there, or whether anyone would agree to run the ads.
The response from Christian groups (who seem to be the only theists interviewed; couldn't they get a rabbi or imam to weigh in?) has been mixed; one pressure group named Christian Voice has equated atheism and bendy buses as "dangers to the public" and predicted that they would be attacked with graffiti, whilst the Methodist Church has taken the view that publicity is good and thanked Professor Dawkins for encouraging a "continued interest in God".
It's not clear what will be done with the surplus £41,000 or so; putting ads inside the buses was one suggestion.
BBC News has some excerpts from Richard Dawkins' new book, "The God Delusion":
When I interviewed for television the Reverend Michael Bray, a prominent American anti-abortion activist, I asked him why evangelical Christians were so obsessed with private sexual inclinations such as homosexuality, which didn't interfere with anybody else's life. His reply invoked something like self-defence. Innocent citizens are at risk of becoming collateral damage when God chooses to strike a town with a natural disaster because it houses sinners. In 2005, the fine city of New Orleans was catastrophically flooded in the aftermath of a hurricane, Katrina. The Reverend Pat Robertson, one of America's best-known televangelists and a former presidential candidate, was reported as blaming the hurricane on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans.* You'd think an omnipotent God would adopt a slightly more targeted approach to zapping sinners: a judicious heart attack, perhaps, rather than the wholesale destruction of an entire city just because it happened to be the domicile of one lesbian comedian.
Oh dear; a Richard Dawkins-inspired prog-rock concept album. I suppose it's a counterpoint to all the Christian Fundamentalist songs like "Hey Hey We're Not Monkeys", or something. (ta, Owen)
Atheists have received a bit of a bad rap over the years. In the U.S., where the word is still tainted by McCarthy-era associations with Soviet Communism, the people who openly call themselves atheists tend to be those with massive chips on their shoulders about religion, whereas everybody else who doesn't believe in a deity is an "agnostic" or "unitarian universalist" or some other equally euphemistic term. Godlessness is widely seen as a moral failing, to the point where belief in the right brand of supernatural mumbo-jumbo is an essential qualification for any sort of public office.
Richard Dawkins, Atheist headkicker extraordinaire, wants to remedy this by taking a leaf from the gay pride movement's book, appropriating a more cheerful and positive word for the atheist/agnostic/skeptic community. Just as homosexuals became gays, atheists can now call themselves Brights. Which strikes me as a bit silly, though maybe it'll catch on. (Though wasn't the word "gay" used as a term of abuse for people deviating from sexual norms before the gay-pride movement reappropriated it? Perhaps a catchy meme would require setting up a puppet anti-atheist vilification movement to plant an easily invertible term of abuse in the ideosphere.) (via FmH)
Dr. Michael Persinger of Laurentian University, Canada, has developed a magnetic helmet which stimulates religious and mystical experiences in the wearer. A BBC science series decided to put this to the test, choosing the ultimate test subject: militant atheist Richard Dawkins. The score: Dawkins:1, the God Helmet: 0.
Unfortunately, during the experiment, while Prof Dawkins had some strange experiences and tinglings, none of them prompted him to take up any new faith. "It was a great disappointment," he said. "Though I joked about the possibility, I of course never expected to end up believing in anything supernatural. But I did hope to share some of the feelings experienced by religious mystics when contemplating the mysteries of life and the cosmos."
This suggests that openness to religious experience is controlled by temporal lobe sensitivity (something Dawkins scored low on in a prior test), and that this may be genetic. Which suggests that susceptibility to religious belief could be partly genetic. (Though, obviously, not wholly; the environment would have to play a major role.) (via New World Disorder)
I was deliberately avoiding blogging about the war (you can find all manner of kibbitzing, pontification, play-by-play commentary and ill-informed speculation in too many other places, or just bypass the armchair pundits and tune into the BBC or someone), but this piece is too good to pass up: Richard Dawkins on Bush and the system that elected him.
Osama bin Laden, in his wildest dreams, could hardly have hoped for this...
Bush seems sincerely to see the world as a battleground between Good and Evil, St Michael's angels against the forces of Lucifer. We're gonna smoke out the Amalekites, send a posse after the Midianites, smite them all and let God deal with their souls. Minds doped up on this kind of cod theology have a hard time distinguishing between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Some of Bush's faithful supporters even welcome war as the necessary prelude to the final showdown between Good and Evil: Armageddon followed by the Rapture. We must presume, or at least hope, that Bush himself is not quite of that bonkers persuasion. But he really does seem to believe he is wrestling, on God's behalf, against some sort of spirit of Evil.
From his recent book of essays A Devil's Chaplain, Richard Dawkins on genetic engineering, and why (some) public opposition is more based on superstition than fact:
What, then, of the widespread gut hostility, amounting to revulsion, against all such "transgenic" imports? This is based on the misconception that it is somehow "unnatural" to splice a fish gene, which was only ever "meant" to work in a fish, into the alien environment of a tomato cell. Surely an antifreeze gene from a fish must come with a fishy "flavour". Surely some of its fishiness must rub off. Yet nobody thinks that a square-root subroutine carries a "financial flavour" with it when you paste it into a rocket guidance system.
Which suggests that people intuitively understand biology in terms of Aristotelian essences; i.e., a fish is a fish because it has the quality of fishness, and there's a strong gut feeling that natural organisms aren't merely the sum of their DNA, but are natural because they carry Mother Gaia's blessing in their essence or something like that, and You Can't Tamper With Nature. Which is interesting as a study in psychology (much as "naïve physics" is), but when it comes to policy-making, it comes down to legislation-by-disgust, which is never a good thing.
(An insight: the difference between "natural" and "artificial" is whether someone knows or once knew how it was made.)
Dawkins, of course, doesn't dismiss all concern about genetic engineering; any sane scientist would agree that there needs to be sufficient testing for unintended effects. However, that's a far cry from the burn-down-the-laboratories attitude of some of the more ludditic doomsayers; which, Dawkins argues, given the popularity of such views in the Green movement, could hurt the Greens' credibility on other issues.
And as heated as opposition to genetic engineering is, it could be a storm in a teacup compared to the upcoming row over nanotechnology.
A quite lucid, if somewhat old, interview with Richard Dawkins. (via bOING bOING)
Richard Dawkins looks at the WTC attack, and puts the blame on religious delusion:
If a significant number of people convince themselves, or are convinced by their priests, that a martyr's death is equivalent to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous place. Especially if they also believe that that other universe is a paradisical escape from the tribulations of the real world. Top it off with sincerely believed, if ludicrous and degrading to women, sexual promises, and is it any wonder that naive and frustrated young men are clamouring to be selected for suicide missions?
To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.
Richard Dawkins' tribute to Douglas Adams. (via Graham)