Richard Dawkins is interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur for News24′s HARDtalk.
Recently I watched a debate on YouTube titled “Does the Universe have a Purpose?” This debate, which was held in Puebla Mexico, pitted three prominent atheists against three prominent theists, and to accentuate the contentiousness of the topic each individual was invited in to the middle of a boxing ring to argue their positions, where they could land verbal punches against their opponents.
Over the last several years, in the wake of 9/11, debates between religion and science — faith and reason — have become very popular and very combative. But these kinds of debates are by no means a new phenomenon. CommonSenseAtheism.com lists 564 such debates dating back to 1948, although these debates date from well before then. 2,400 years ago Plato wrote, “Atheism is a disease of the soul before it becomes an error of understanding,” and 300 years later the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger proclaimed, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”
And the debate continues unresolved. One need only look at a series of blogs here on the Huffington Post, along with the many strongly worded comments, to see that we are no closer to coming to a conclusion than were Plato and Seneca.
The two main topics of these debates are the nature of religion and the existence of God. It is crucial, though, that these two topics be examined separately. It is possible to constructively debate the merits or problems with religion. We can all concede that people have acted wickedly in the name of religion, that dogmatic, fundamentalist religion has caused much suffering, and that the refusal to accept the findings of science which are in conflict with one’s doctrine is a foolish and small-minded position. To simply dismiss all religion, however, is not a rational or informed position, because we can also concede that religion has brought much good to the world, that most believers are not literalists, that religion itself is a very diverse and complex institution, and that insecurity, ideology and greed for power, not religion, have been the causes of most wars (and that to call Communism, Fascism, Nationalism and Nazism “religions” is to so distort the definition as to make it useless and unintelligible).
When the debate moves on to question of the existence of God, though, the dialogue hits a brick wall. The atheist side typically presents the position that belief in God is an immature science and that God is a provable or disprovable hypothesis for why things are the way they are, which, they argue, can be easily disproved: Evolution eliminates the need for a creator, double blind tests prove that prayer doesn’t work, psychology has demonstrated that human beings often mistake random pattern for meaningful purpose, observation shows that we are an insignificant spot in the midst of a vast chaotic universe, and the death of a single innocent child makes the belief in a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God absurd, or even offensive.
The theist side then responds with arguments to rebut these points: The universe is too fine-tuned to be an accident, without a loving God there are no objective standards or source of values, and the very fact that we can comprehend the workings of physicality with our minds demonstrates the existence of a purposeful creator. Atheists then counter that there is absolutely no objective, quantifiable proof that God exists, that religion is ignorant of, uninterested in or dismissive of modern science, and that to believe in something without proof is inherently dangerous, especially when one thinks that he is acting on divine authority. The theist responds, and so on.
The debate about the existence of God hits a brick wall because there is an essential misunderstanding about the nature of God: None of the proofs that atheists are looking for, or any counter argument from the theists, would be adequate proof. In the Peubla debate, Michael Shermer said that he’d find convincing proof, “if you could have God grow new limbs on amputees from the Iraq war, Christian soldiers, praying for them to be healed. This has not happened even once. Apparently God can not do even what amphibians can do.” But even if this did happen, it would not prove the existence of God but would instead prove that there is some kind of regenerative force or energy that responds to the right kind of conscious thought. Likewise, a glowing presence and booming voice appearing on the White House lawn proclaiming “I am the Lord your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage” as the waters of the Potomac part, would prove that there is an entity with powerful technology, and would be no more a proof of God than an airplane to a cave man. And irrefutable proof that Moses really did write the first five books of the Bible, that Jesus died and was resurrected, or that an unearthly being appeared to Muhammad and Joseph Smith to dictate new texts, would support some of the claims of religions but does not prove that there is a purposeful, loving Creator and Sustainer.
The truth is that nothing — no thing — can prove the existence of God.
The attempt to prove the existence of God through the scientific method of hypothesis, controlled experimentation, observation and documentable repeatable results is somewhat akin to trying to discover the cause of a person’s response to a deeply moving work of art. We can examine the painting, analyze the composition of the canvas and pigment, study the arrangement of shapes and colors, discover the historical context of the work and the biography of the artists, or even conduct psychological experiments and CT scans, but none of this will do anything to explain, understand and share in the person’s aesthetic experience. This person may try to explain her experience, but she will ultimately fail to convince someone who only sees pigment on canvas, and who may conclude that her experience is delusional, and that the study of aesthetics is a waste of time. To the person who was so deeply impacted by the painting, though, such an assertion completely misses the point, and does nothing to convince her that her experience is not real, and that she was not touched and expanded by her encounter.
In this way, arguments and experiments can not prove the existence of God because God is not an hypothesis. For human beings, God is the experience of a transformative relationship with creation itself, in which we know that the Universe is inherently meaningful, that we were created for a staggering purpose that will unfold over eons, that love and gratitude are the essential actual materials of our lives and that we are holy beings.
The experience of a relationship with God is not one of religious doctrine, does not come from statistics, experiments or argument, and is certainly not in conflict with science and reason in any way. It is also not about righteous certainty or judgment. The experience of God expands the possibilities for our lives and increases the feeling of mystery and intellectual curiosity about the world. Reason and observation are crucial elements in faith. Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive and are no more in conflict than civil engineering and poetry.
As a rabbi and person of faith, I have no interest in proving the existence of God and certainly do not want to convert anyone to my religion or way of thinking. What I am passionate about, though, is helping bring others to an experience and relationship with God because I know that such a relationship can create powerful positive personal and communal transformation. One brings another to the experience of God not through philosophical or material proof, but through living the example of gratitude, purpose, compassion and love.
No doubt the debates about the existence of God will continue, and we can enjoy the spectacle, but I suspect that no amount of clever verbal exchange will do anything to convince anyone either way.
Five Minutes on Mondays is a gold mine of enrichment!It is an easy read with a deep and profound impact. Martin Rutte, Chair of the Board, The Centre for Spirituality and the Workplace, Saint Mary s University, co-author of New York Times business best-seller, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work Lurie s wise and wonderful book should grace every karmic capitalist s bookshelf. He reminds us that finding a sense of meaning and purpose in what we do may align us with unimagined success and a profound awakening to who we are.
Chip Conley, CEO, Joie de Vivre Hotels Read Lurie s suggestions to elevate your spirit then bring that spirit to your work. The promise is; both you and your client will be more fulfilled, more satisfied, and more engaged in your business relationship. John King, Senior Partner, CultureSync, and coauthor of Tribal Leadership Five Minutes on Mondays is a book of savvy and surprises. Lurie offers a tasting menu of wisdom, counsel, insight, psychology, and wonderful stories. But be warned, these little servings will last on your palate far longer than the five minutes it takes to consume them. Peter Pitzele, Ph.D., author of Our Fathers Wells: A Personal Encounter with the Myths of Genesis and Scripture Windows: Toward a Practice of Bibliodrama Lurie s book is a gem a must-read for anyone who works at their faith and believes in their work. Business professionals of all kinds and from all religious traditions will find Lurie s light touch and real-world applications helpful as they strive to succeed without selling their soul.
David W. Miller, Ph.D., Director, Princeton University Faith and Work Initiative, and President, The Avodah Institute Imagine the leaders of one of New York City s top real-estate firms coming together every Monday morning to hear!the moral and spiritual thoughts of a Rabbi. Imagine them returning, week after week!coming to eagerly anticipate those five minutes as a moment of uncommon peace in the world s most brutally competitive environment. Wouldn t you like to be a fly on the wall? To hear the paths Alan Lurie traced for his listeners, how he helped them bring together their spiritual and business lives, the sacred and the profane? Five Minutes on Mondays compiles these talks for the first time, sharing Lurie s deep and profound inspiration on the challenges we all face at work, and in life.
Lurie draws on millennia of philosophy, theology, and science to help us answer our deepest questions, comfort our deepest yearnings, and become better people more connected to each other, and to the Greater Purpose. / Prosper while keeping your integrity / Balance faith, honor, and ambition / Use your workplace as your moral and spiritual gymnasium / Find deeper meaning and purpose in your work / Face your fears and failures, and keep going / Gain real respect and give it / Live one authentic life at work, and everywhere else
About the Author
Rabbi Alan Lurie has a unique background. He is currently a Managing Director at Grubb and Ellis, a national real estate service firm, following a 25-year career as a licensed architect. He is also a non-denominational ordained Rabbi, teaching, leading prayer services, and writing on issues of faith and religion. This combination of meeting the demands of the business world while attending to the needs of the spirit gives Alan both insight into and access to a diverse community. His wife, Shirona, is a Jewish Cantor, singer, and accomplished songwriter. They live in Rye, New York.
Deepak Chopra expands on the meaning of the great Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti, about being God.
This is a clip from the Seduction of Spirit course given at the Chopra center.
Richard Dawkins is interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur for News24′s HARDtalk.
Richard Dawkins is interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur for News24′s HARDtalk.
Richard Dawkins – BBC HARDtalk Part 3
Richard Dawkins is interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur for News24′s HARDtalk.
Sir David Attenborough, 84, is a naturalist and broadcaster. He studied geology and zoology at Cambridge before joining the BBC in 1952 and presenting landmark series including Life On Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984) and, recently, Life.
Richard Dawkins, 69, was educated at Oxford, later lectured there and became its first professor of the public understanding of science. An evolutionary biologist, he is the author of 10 books, including The Selfish Gene (1976), The God Delusion (2006) and The Greatest Show On Earth (2009). He is now working on a children’s book, The Magic Of Reality.
What is the one bit of science from your field that you think everyone should know?
David Attenborough: The unity of life.
Richard Dawkins: The unity of life that comes about through evolution, since we’re all descended from a single common ancestor. It’s almost too good to be true, that on one planet this extraordinary complexity of life should have come about by what is pretty much an intelligible process. And we’re the only species capable of understanding it.
Where and when do you do your best thinking?
DA: I’ve no idea. All I know is if I’m stuck with something and go to bed, I wake up with the answer.
RD: That’s a fascinating phenomenon, isn’t it?
DA: That’s if I find the answer at all.
RD: Very few people say, “I think I’ll have an hour’s thinking now.”
DA: Mathematicians do. I had an uncle who was a mathematician, and one of his students said, “How long can you think for?” He said, “I sometimes manage two or three minutes.” And this young man said, “I’ve never managed more than 90 seconds.” Of course, that’s abstract thinking, and by and large I’m not an abstract thinker.
What distracts you?
RD: The internet.
DA: I used to work to music, but I can’t now. Music is too important not to give it my full attention.
What problem do you hope scientists will have solved by the end of the century?
DA: The production of energy without any deleterious effects. The problem is then we’d be so powerful, there’d be no restraint and we’d continue wrecking everything. Solar energy would be preferable to nuclear. If you could harness it to produce desalination, you could make the Sahara bloom.
RD: I was thinking more academically: the problem of human consciousness.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a scientist?
RD: I only became fired up in my second year of a science degree. Unlike you, I was never a boy naturalist, to my regret. It was more the intellectual, philosophical questions that interested me.
DA: I am a naturalist rather than a scientist. Simply looking at a flower or a frog has always seemed to me to be just about the most interesting thing there is. Others say human beings are pretty interesting, which they are, but as a child you’re not interested in Auntie Flo’s psychology; you’re interested in how a dragonfly larva turns into a dragonfly.
RD: Yes, it’s carrying inside it two entirely separate blueprints, two different programmes.
DA: I couldn’t believe it! I remember asking an adult, “What goes on inside a cocoon?” and he said, “The caterpillar is totally broken down into a kind of soup. And then it starts again.” And I remember saying, “That can’t be right.” As a procedure, you can’t imagine how it evolved.
What is the most common misconception about your work?
RD: I know you’re working on a programme about Cambrian and pre-Cambrian fossils, David. A lot of people might think, “These are very old animals, at the beginning of evolution; they weren’t very good at what they did.” I suspect that isn’t the case?
DA: They were just as good, but as generalists, most were ousted from the competition.
RD: So it probably is true there’s a progressive element to evolution in the short term but not in the long term – that when a lineage branches out, it gets better for about five million years but not 500 million years. You wouldn’t see progressive improvement over that kind of time scale.
DA: No, things get more and more specialised. Not necessarily better.
RD: The “camera” eyes of any modern animal would be better than what had come before.
DA: Certainly… but they don’t elaborate beyond function. When I listen to a soprano sing a Handel aria with an astonishing coloratura from that particular larynx, I say to myself, there has to be a biological reason that was useful at some stage. The larynx of a human being did not evolve without having some function. And the only function I can see is sexual attraction.
RD: Sexual selection is important and probably underrated.
DA: What I like to think is that if I think the male bird of paradise is beautiful, my appreciation of it is precisely the same as a female bird of paradise.
Which living scientist do you most admire, and why?
RD: David Attenborough.
DA: I don’t know. People say Richard Feynman had one of these extraordinary minds that could grapple with ideas of which I have no concept. And you hear all the ancillary bits – like he was a good bongo player – that make him human. So I admire this man who could not only deal with string theory but also play the bongos. But he is beyond me. I have no idea what he was talking of.
RD: There does seem to be a sense in which physics has gone beyond what human intuition can understand. We shouldn’t be too surprised about that because we’re evolved to understand things that move at a medium pace at a medium scale. We can’t cope with the very tiny scale of quantum physics or the very large scale of relativity.
DA: A physicist will tell me that this armchair is made of vibrations and that it’s not really here at all. But when Samuel Johnson was asked to prove the material existence of reality, he just went up to a big stone and kicked it. I’m with him.
RD: It’s intriguing that the chair is mostly empty space and the thing that stops you going through it is vibrations or energy fields. But it’s also fascinating that, because we’re animals that evolved to survive, what solidity is to most of us is something you can’t walk through. Also, the science of the future may be vastly different from the science of today, and you have to have the humility to admit when you don’t know. But instead of filling that vacuum with goblins or spirits, I think you should say, “Science is working on it.”
DA: Yes, there was a letter in the paper [about Stephen Hawking's comments on the nonexistence of God] saying, “It’s absolutely clear that the function of the world is to declare the glory of God.” I thought, what does that sentence mean?!
What keeps you awake at night?
DA: Worrying about things I worked at too late in the evening.
RD: I have the same problem.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career?
DA: One would be when I first dived on a coral reef and I was able to move among a world of unrevealed complexity.
RD: Something to do with a puzzle being solved – things fall into place and you see a different way of looking at things which suddenly makes sense.
DA: We are living in the most exciting intellectual time in history. In my lifetime we have discovered such profundities, such huge principles. When I was an undergraduate, I went to the professor of geology and said, “Would you talk to us about the way that continents are drifting?” And he said, “The moment we can demonstrate that continents are moving by a millimetre, I will consider it, but until then it’s sheer moonshine, dear boy.” And within five years of me leaving Cambridge, it was confirmed, and all the problems disappeared – why Australian animals were different – that one thing changed our understanding and made sense of everything. When I made Life On Earth, we had to start with really complex organisms because the ecology of the very first oceans was not known. But you’re doing a child’s book? Tell me about it.
RD: It’s about science more generally. Each chapter begins with the myths, so in the sun chapter, for instance, we have an Aztec myth, an ancient Egyptian myth, an Aboriginal myth. It is called The Magic Of Reality and one of the problems I’m facing is the distinction between the use of the word magic, as in a magic trick, and the magic of the universe, life on Earth, which one uses in a poetic way.
DA: No, I think there’s a distinction between magic and wonder. Magic, in my view, should be restricted to things that are actually not so. Rabbits don’t really live in hats. It’s magic.
RD: OK, but what if you took a top hat and all you can see inside is some little boring brown things, and then one splits and out emerges a butterfly?
DA: Yes, that’s wonderful. But it’s not magic.
RD: OK. Well, you’re rather dissing my title…
DA: The wonder of reality? But that’s rather corny.
RD: Yes, it’s a bit like “awesome”.
Who is your favourite fictional scientist?
RD: The one I can think of is Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger, but he was a very irascible character and not a good role model.
DA: I don’t read fiction.
What is the most difficult ethical dilemma facing science today?
DA: How far do you go to preserve individual human life?
RD: That’s a good one, yes.
DA: I mean, what are we to do with the NHS? How can you put a value in pounds, shillings and pence on an individual’s life? There was a case with a bowel cancer drug – if you gave that drug, which costs several thousand pounds, it continued life for six weeks on. How can you make that decision?
This is the full speech by Richard Dawkins at the “Protest The Pope” rally, 18th September 2010. (unedited)
Richard Dawkins Protest The Pope Speech – Part 2
Meet the evolutionary biologist, best-selling author and staunch athiest.
Riz Khan, the host of One on One on Al Jazeera English, interviewed world-renowned biologist Richard Dawkins about his life and his work for his programme on 9 January 2010. The video of this programme can now be seen on YouTube.
When Richard Dawkins appears in the media, it is usually to talk about science, religion or his books on these subjects. This is a different interview as Riz Khan asks more questions about Richard Dawkins, his life and his experiences, than about science and religion per se, and as such, it is quite refreshing, because it shows a side of him which we don’t often get to see. A few highlights:
Riz Khan asks Richard Dawkins what he is trying to achieve when he is speaking out so publicly about the subject of atheism. Says Dawkins:
Truth, really, I feel passionately about what’s true, partly because it is so exciting. [...] The truth of existence, of what the world is like, of what the universe is like, what life is like, how life comes into being, all that is so utterly intriguing that I really want to infect other people with my own enthusiasm for it.
They then go on about how Richard Dawkins sometimes describes himself as a cultural Christian and taking village cricket matches and pubs as an example, he says that he is fond of the sort of mild Church-of-England Christianity where nobody really believes it or takes it very seriously, a bit like many of his Jewish friends who call themselves cultural Jews but who are actually atheists.
When Riz Khan asks him if people with strong religious views bother him, Dawkins replies that they frustrate him when they interfere with scientific truth, when they try to miseducate people and try to persuade children that the world is less than ten thousand years old.
To the question if he is worried about offending people, Richard Dawkins replies that he doesn’t want to offend people but that he also thinks that people don’t have a right to be immune to being offended, just because they are religious.
Dawkins also talks about what he learned from Nikolaas Tinbergen, the Nobel prize winning biologist with whom he worked for a number of years. He quotes the phrase “machinery for survival,” a phrase which illustrates how Tinbergen thought of animals as machines, machines of which he wanted to know how they worked. The second thing he names is that Tinbergen understood that certain behavioural patterns can be selected by Darwinian selection in very much the same way that organs such as bones can be selected.
Richard Dawkins says that he is disturbed about the fact that children are sometimes prevented from learning about evolution, and he insists that he doesn’t want to indoctrinate them, but rather that he wants to encourage them to think for themselves, to look at the evidence and to evaluate it critically.
The conversation between Riz Khan and Richard Dawkins also touches subjects such as his childhood, his daughter Juliet, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the website richarddawkins.net and more.
Review by the The American Physical Society
Over the past few years there has been a spate of publication on the relation between science and religion. Much of the work is by perceptive writers, and many of them are scientists. Over most of the twentieth century scientists, religious or not, felt little need to write on the subject. Perhaps the change is a reaction to the damage done to the body politic by the rise of the religious right. However that may be, dozens of books have received substantial public attention.
These books range over a spectrum that one can roughly characterize as follows, with a parenthetic example for each category:
-2: The purpose of science is to verify and expand upon the cosmological assertions made in a sacred text. (Members of the Institute For Creation Research, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth.)
-1: The disposition of the universe, as elucidated by scientific investigation, points definitively to the existence of a supernatural being, often one already characterized in an existing sacred text. (Frank Tipler, The Physics of Christianity).
0: Science and religion have little or nothing to do with each other. (Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages).
1: The disposition of the universe can be elucidated by purely natural scientific means but inspires awe of a supernatural being who, moreover, is the ultimate source of such important nonscientific domains as morality. (Francis S. Collins, The Language of God).
2a: The universe can be elucidated in a purely natural way without the need to assume supernatural intervention at any level. Belief in such a supernatural entity, moreover, is a “pernicious delusion.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion).
2b: If a suitably defined supernatural being (God) existed, there would be evidence detectable by scientific means. But in fact, the universe presents evidence precisely to the contrary, firmly establishing that such a God does not exist. (Stenger, the work reviewed here.)
Stenger’s expertise as a physicist is clearly evident in this work. He begins by defining the God he is talking about, as distinguished from the unlimited possibilities of all the gods the human mind has cooked up (or might.) Specifically, God is the entity described in the sacred works of Jews, Christians, and Moslems, and expanded upon by various schools of believers. This still leaves plenty of scope, but the definition does impose limits on the possibilities and thus makes specific discussion possible.
Stenger then sets forth his program:
* Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.
* Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.
* Look for such evidence with an open mind.
* If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist.
* If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist. (p. 43)
In subsequent chapters the author applies this program. First he demolishes the argument from design. He uses examples drawn largely from the recent fuss made by the intelligent-design creationists. These are the people who argue that living things are so complicated they must have been created by an “intelligent designer”–their code word for the evangelical Christian God. Stenger’s description of self-organizing systems is particularly lucid. But he also points out (as others have as well) that the intelligent designer must be far more complex than his creation and thus merely compounds the problem. Next, he shows the inadequacy of a wide variety of claims for the existence of a soul distinct from the brain, of a life force (élan vital or qi), of material effects produced by prayer, and so forth.
The chapters Cosmic Evidence and The Uncongenial Universe are the strongest parts of the book. Stenger’s considerable expertise shows in his clear discussion of cosmological issues. He show that purely naturalistic arguments can be sufficient to account for the origin of matter, “beginnings,” the source of the laws of physics, and the indisputable fact that the universe indeed exists. While no firm or definitive answer yet exists to questions such as “What happened before the Big Bang?” he shows clearly that it is either possible to formulate scientific, naturalistic answers to such questions or to rephrase them so that such answers are possible. He demonstrates, moreover, that no logical benefit arises from hypothesizing divine intervention as a substitute for natural processes. He deftly deconstructs various forms of the anthropic principle and pointedly concludes, “Indeed, the universe looks very much like it was produced with no attention whatsoever paid to humanity.”
In the following three chapters, Stenger turns to familiar arguments of a theological or quasi-theological nature. Few of his arguments are original, though they are well organized. He discounts revelations, prophecies, profound religious experiences, and scriptural dicta arguing that they possess no properties that distinguish them from unfounded imaginings. He then turns to the familiar assertion that human values and morals require a divine origin. His argument to the contrary is far more convincing than the one Collins makes as the main foundation of his personal religious faith. He shows, moreover, that eschewing divine origins for morality opens an entire field to inquiry.
Stenger then addresses the intractable problem of theodicy: How can evil exist in a world governed by God? (I emphasize again that he is talking about God with a capital G.) It is perhaps unfair “piling on” to attack this problem, considering that hundreds of theologians over many centuries have made no apparent progress, but continue to chew endlessly over the same issues.
Does Stenger achieve his purpose, proving that God does not exist? In one sense, he does. He shows that the natural universe can be understood in increasing depth as scientific knowledge progresses, without recourse to supernatural explanations which, he argues, are really no explanations at all. But all this may be beside the point. For those who wish to believe in God, scientific explanation is after the fact. This is certainly clear for the arguments in the –2 category. But faith is by definition belief in something for which no evidence exists. Such faith poses a dilemma, so far as doing science is concerned. Either the answer to a scientific question is “God did it,” which closes further inquiry, or one ignores God for enough hours of the day to do science.
Whether the reader chooses to apply scientific reasoning to the existence of God or not, God: The Failed Hypothesis ought to be stimulating reading.
Lawrence S. Lerner
Department of Physics & Astronomy
California State University, Long Beach
Best known as an outspoken atheist and the author of The End of Faith, writer-turned-neuroscientist Sam Harris has echoed the assertion, normally associated with religious thinkers, that humans need a universal system of morality. At the 2010 TED conference held last month in Long Beach, California, Harris claimed that there are definite right and wrong answers to moral questions. “Values are a certain kind of fact,” he argued.
However, Harris quickly rejected the notion that religion would offer the answers to moral questions. Instead, he argued for a scientific approach to achieving a universal morality, one that conceptualizes human well-being as something that can be quantified and maximized in any number of equally successful ways — much like health and nutrition.
He criticized the tendency to regard moral questions as matters of opinion rather than as questions that have scientifically verifiable right and wrong answers. “How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere there is no such thing as moral expertise, or moral talent, or moral genius, even?” he asked. “How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count?”
“Just admitting that there are right and wrong answers to the question of how humans flourish will change the way we talk about morality,” he said.
Watch the entire talk below:
Stephen Batchelor talks about Confession of a Buddhist Atheist.
According to Batchelor, the outlook of the Buddha was far removed from the religiosity that has come to define much of Buddhism as we know it today. He argues that the Buddha was a man more focused on life in this world than the afterlife.
Confession of a Buddhist Atheist is a personal account of the author’s thirty-eight year engagement with Buddhism. The first part of the book (Monk) follows the author’s journey from his departure from England at the age of 18, his first meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1972, his six years training as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, his disillusion with the Tibetan tradition and departure for a three year Zen training as a monk in South Korea.
The second part (Layman) recounts the author’s return to lay life in Europe and focuses on his quest to find out who was Siddhattha Gotama, the historic Buddha, and discover what is truly distinctive in his teaching. This quest interweaves reflections on early Buddhist doctrine, a journey through modern India to visit the sacred sites of Buddhism, and a detailed reconstruction of the Buddha’s life on the basis of the Pali Canon.
Thank God for agnostics. Over the past decade, our public conversation about religion has all too often degenerated into a food fight between the religious right and the secular left. Now comes journalist Robert Wright with a gentler approach: a materialist account of religion that manages (sort of) to make room for God (of a sort).
“The Evolution of God” is a big book that addresses a simple question: Is religion poison? Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, much ink and many pixels have scrutinized the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington’s prophesy of a coming “clash of civilizations” between the Christian West and the Islamic world. Is Islam a religion of war? What about Judaism and Christianity?
The assumption underlying many answers to these questions — an assumption shared by fundamentalists and “new atheists” alike — is that religions are what their founders and scriptures say they are, rather than what contemporary practitioners make them out to be.
Wright rejects this assumption. No religion is in essence evil or good, he writes. Scriptures are malleable. Founders are betrayed. At least for historians, there is little provocation here. The provocation comes when Wright claims that religious history seems to be going somewhere, as if guided by an invisible hand. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all appear to have a “moral direction,” and that direction is toward the good.
Christians have contended for centuries that Jesus replaced the Jewish God of wrath with the Christian God of love. Wright argues that this evolution from malevolence to benevolence happens in each of the Abrahamic religions. In each case, God starts out with a whip in his hand and a sneer on his lip.
So score one for the new atheists. But the God of vengeance who cares only about his own people gradually evolves into a God of compassion who cares about us all. In the process, the Western monotheisms advance from belligerence to tolerance. Religion’s original sin of violence is redeemed.
To explain how this “salvation” (his word) occurs, Wright draws from his prior books on evolutionary psychology (“The Moral Animal”) and game theory (“Nonzero”).
The key argument is that, ever since hunters and gatherers have been hunting and gathering, the invisible hand guiding human history has been working (largely through advances in technology and communication) to create non-zero-sum situations that force historical actors, often against their own inclinations, into ever-widening circles of moral concern.
Jews, Christians and Muslims are led (gradually and in fits and starts) toward moral universalism not because religions are inherently good but because believers are inherently flexible — flexible enough to see when they and their enemies are in the same boat.
All this happens, it should be emphasized, on entirely naturalistic grounds. Wright, a self-described “materialist,” believes that history is driven not by fiat from on high but by natural selection via “facts on the ground.”
In his account, Judaism gives rise to Christianity and Islam without even a whiff of the supernatural. And the Apostle Paul — “the Bill Gates of his day” — is “just another savvy and ambitious man who happened to be in the religion business.”
Yet all Wright’s talk of “business models” and “algorithms” and “positive network externalities” somehow opens up the conversation about God rather than closing it down. In this oddly old-fashioned book, which recalls Hegel more than anyone else, Wright speaks repeatedly of “design” and “goals” and “purposes” in human history.
In the end, Wright allows himself to wonder whether the evolution of “God,” the concept, might provide evidence for the existence of God, the reality. “If history naturally pushes people toward moral improvement, toward moral truth, and their God, as they conceive their God, grows accordingly, becoming morally richer,” he writes, “then maybe this growth is evidence of some higher purpose, and maybe — conceivably — the source of that purpose is worthy of the name divinity.”
Whether this Gospel of Maybe will make many converts is doubtful. There are bones thrown here and there to atheists and believers alike, but no red meat. So the final judgment may be that the book is too hard on faith to please religious folk and too easy on dogma to please secularists.
Still, it is hard not to envy Wright for his Obamaesque hope. There is reason to hope, he writes, that the Abrahamic religions can get along with one another, with science and with the modern world. But Wright also exhibits an even more radical hope: that human beings might learn to talk about religion in a manner that is both civil and intelligent.
For decades the faithful and the faithless operated in the United States under a gentlemen’s agreement to leave one another alone. Yes, we had our Bryans and our Menckens during the Scopes trial in the 1920s, but after that, belief and disbelief retreated to their respective corners. Then came the religious right and church buses for Reagan, to which Harris and Hitchens and Dawkins and Dennett rightly cried foul.
If God is going to be used to prop up Republican policies, it is perfectly legitimate for people with different politics to try to cut the Republican God down to size. And so we find ourselves in the sort of scuffle between believers and unbelievers that hasn’t been seen since evolution and the Bible went toe to toe in Dayton, Tenn.
In American religion, as in U.S. politics, however, the middle is far bigger than the extremes combined. Most Americans don’t believe God and evolution are at war. And only fools want another crusade against Islam.
So thank God or “God” or whatever matters most to you for this book, not so much for its arguments as for its tone, which offers the sort of hope even unbelievers can believe in: that we can somehow learn to talk about religion without throwing our food.
Stephen Prothero is a religious studies professor at Boston University and the author of “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t.”
Robert Wright discusses his book, “The Evolution of God”
The Root of All Evil? – The God Delusion
The God Delusion is a 2006 bestselling non-fiction book by British biologist Richard Dawkins, professorial fellow of New College, Oxford, and inaugural holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.
In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig’s observation in Lila that “when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.”
As of January 2010, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 2 million copies. It was ranked #2 on the Amazon.com bestsellers’ list in November 2006. In early December 2006, it reached #4 in the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list after nine weeks on the list. It remained on the list for 51 weeks until 30 September 2007. .The German version, entitled Der Gotteswahn, had sold over 260,000 copies as of January 28, 2010.
It has attracted widespread commentary, with many books written in response.
#1 Bestseller in Britain!
#1 Bestseller in Australia!
#1 Bestseller in Ireland!
#1 Bestseller in Canada!
Richard Dawkins gives an introduction to his new book “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.” He explains why this book was necessary, and what readers can expect from this highly-anticipated work.
Charles Darwin’s masterpiece, “On the Origin of Species”, shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later.
Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity. In “The Greatest Show on Earth”, Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of ‘Intelligent Design’ and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection.
Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the ‘time clocks’ of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics.
All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution. “The Greatest Show on Earth” comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is now flourishing as never before, especially in America.
In Britain and elsewhere in the world, teachers witness insidious attempts to undermine the status of science in their classrooms. Richard Dawkins provides unequivocal evidence that boldly and comprehensively rebuts such nonsense.
At the same time he shares with us his palpable love of the natural world and the essential role that science plays in its interpretation. Written with elegance, wit and passion, it is hard-hitting, absorbing and totally convincing.
Richard Dawkins Interviewed on SBS Dateline