Richard Dawkins v. Rowan Williams

On 23 Feb there’s going to be a webcast of a debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Dialogue with Archbishop Rowan Williams and Professor Richard Dawkins

Philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny will chair a dialogue between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Professor Richard Dawkins on the subject of “The nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin.” The event will be held in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford University, and will be hosted by the Sofia Europa Group of the Theology Faculty.

A webcast of the discussion will be screened live on the homepage of this website http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org on Thursday 23rd February 16:00-17:30, and will also be available after the event.

Sounds a bit like Sonny Liston v. Cassius Clay. I’ll have to get some popcorn.

I suppose that my views on evolution go roughly like this: I completely accept the idea of evolution, and have done so ever since I first heard of it at age 10 (I was born 64 years ago exactly today). It seemed blindingly obvious. However, Darwinism (which I regard as slightly different from the theory of evolution) seems to me to be Darwin’s particular version of the theory, and it’s a rather bloody and brutal version – a veritable “war of nature”, with everything against everything else -. I think this was maybe just Darwin’s dramatisation of the process of evolution, but it seems to have been his lasting legacy, and I personally find it slightly nasty. It’s from Darwin’s “war of nature” that we get the idea of dinosaurs attacking on sight (as in Jurassic Park). Yet Darwinists always venerate Darwin almost as a secular saint or prophet, and regard him as a genius on a par with Newton or Einstein. They won’t hear a word of criticism of him. And Richard Dawkins is a Darwinist of just this sort.

And for Richard Dawkins Darwinism does indeed seem to have become a religion. And this is why he goes round attacking all other religions, and this is what I find slightly nasty about him. For I tend to see religions as being the source of morality and codes of conduct. And I don’t find any moral code at all in Darwinism, apart from a sort of brutal competition. Nor do I know of any set of moral precepts that Richard Dawkins has developed from his Darwinism.

Not everyone agrees with me about this. A lot of people seem to think that morality doesn’t need to be taught, and that “everyone knows” what’s right and what’s wrong, and it’s all perfectly obvious. I wish I could agree, but I can’t. For example, throughout antiquity slavery was accepted as normal, yet nowadays it’s regarded as utterly abhorrent. Somehow or other, what “everybody knows” now isn’t the same as what everybody knew a couple of thousand years ago. The same applies to the status of women, animals, and so on. There are lots of things that were once wrong which have become right. And vice versa.

For example, the smoking ban has always seemed to me to be profoundly morally repugnant (and also unforgivable) for a whole raft of reasons. But other people clearly disagree, and have no qualms at all about, say, evicting 97-year-old smokers from their homes. This is another example of what “everybody knows” varying from one person to another, and from one time to the next.

Some people might say that we don’t need “religion” as such for moral education. But what other sources are there? It’s true that there have been a variety of moral teachings arising from secular sources – e.g. Utilitarianism -, but none of them seem to have achieved the universality of Christian ethical teachings. It’s not that I don’t think that a rational ethical code cannot be constructed: it’s just that I don’t think we’ve got one yet.

Richard Dawkins was raised as an Anglican, and was no doubt imbued with the Anglican variant of Christian morality (as was Darwin before him), and probably retains that set of values to this day. But when fewer and fewer people are raised in such a Christian tradition in our increasingly post-Christian world, who is to know what their ideas of right and wrong will be, or whether they will agree with anybody else’s?

It’s for this reason that I’ll be supporting the Archbishop on Thursday, and hoping he lands a knockout punch in round one. But I suspect it’s more likely to go the other way, and Richard Dawkins will continue the gradual demolition of Christian civilisation, while having absolutely nothing to replace it with. Which strikes me as sheer vandalism, and rather like demolishing Canterbury Cathedral and building a multi-storey car park over it – except far worse.

Christianity provided a shared culture and set of values. When it’s gone, we will no longer have a shared culture or a shared set of values. Because we have nothing to put in its place. All we have are a variety of rival cults – Environmentalism is just one example, Healthism another – being advanced by ferocious zealots. I often think that rising Muslim fundamentalism simply mirrors growing zealotry in the Western world, and our zealots breed their zealots.

I hope that in their debate they’ll raise one or two of the issues I’ve just raised, but I don’t expect they will.

Postscript: Richard Dawkins was on his best behaviour, and there were no fireworks. They just gently kicked around a few ideas about consciousness and stuff.

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About Frank Davis

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33 Responses to Richard Dawkins v. Rowan Williams

  1. jaxthefirst says:

    Happy birthday, Frank! Raise a glass and enjoy a big, fat cigar to celebrate!

  2. Tim Paton says:

    Happy Birthday Frank, I was 61 seven days ago. Oldies like me are fed daily by oldies like you, let me explain. Your blog is one of a handful, less than ten, which I visit regularly for intellectual tuition, sardonic humour, and the occasional rant. As long as there is an internet, there must be a Frank Davis, to provide sustenance, even if only to me, who remembers a Britain in the 1950’s, which was still in B&W, and the 1960’s, when it went into colour.

  3. Tim Paton says:

    …by the way Frank, this is timbone

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Happy Birthday Frank,Im shipping you an all expensed paid vacation to a smoking indoor facility!

    Your home………

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Frank heres a bit better birthday present I caught ASH putting their foot in their own mouth again!

        However Martin Dockrell, of the anti-smoking campaign group Ash, says the idea of an outdoor ban would only be worth investigating if evidence emerges that it can help occasional smokers.

        Really there MARTIN, It couldnt be you already had that junk study ready down in new zealand and somebody released it before you were ready for it. Its kinda like all of ASH junk science and propaganda. Looks like I caught this one as your foot went in your mouth, JERK!

        Study backs ban on smoking outside bars

        New Zealand researchers believe fewer people would take up smoking socially if smoke-free rules extended to areas outside bars.

        The researchers from Otago and Massey universities carried out 13 in-depth interviews with people aged between 19 and 25 in Auckland and Dunedin early in 2011.

        Their results have been published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

        Most of those interviewed considered themselves to be non-smokers, and even thought they were better than smokers, but smoked to retain membership of a social network, the study said.

        They frequently expressed disgust and remorse at how they felt after binge smoking and drinking, and nearly all saw smoking and drinking as activities that went together.

        http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/6454141/Study-backs-ban-on-smoking-outside-bars

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-video/9094350/Smoking-debate-would-ban-outside-bars-help-people-quit.html

  5. Reinhold says:

    Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Frank!

    (Oh dear! Google translates “Alles Gute zum” simply to “Happy”. Actually it means “All good things/thoughts for”.)

  6. Junican says:

    Birthdays? Erm…right. But, best wishes, anyway!

    Similar events have occurred in the past and the atheist has always been found wanting for the simple reason that the cannot offer an acceptable reason for the existence of anything at all. Nor can they give any reason for the existence of ideas or intelligence. And if intelligence and the realm of ideas and thoughts can exist in a silly little human being in the vastness of the universe, why should it not exist outside of the material universe? Why should there not exist a universe which is not material? Here is a serious problem that physicists have not even began to explain: What exactly is SPACE? It cannot be ‘nothing’ since it exists. If it is ‘something’, what is it?

  7. Frank Davis says:

    Whatever, Mr Watson. I’ve left a comment on your blog which sums up what I think.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Frank Im right there with you,FIGHT its what we have left!

      Frank if I had the bucks Id fly you here to kentucky and take you to eat in smoking restaraunts and bars that we have left. You deserve that.

      • Frank Davis says:

        That’s a very kind thought, harley.

      • smokervoter says:

        Frank, if I had the bucks I’d fly you here to California and take you to eat and drink in smoking bars that we have left. It’s illegal by writ, but in practice the smoking lamp is on in my Non-LA, Non-SF town. And I’d show you first hand that lots and lots of Californianos would buy front row seats to watch Glantz and his miserable band of Grouchy Hippie Nannies drawn and quartered.

        Happy Birthday and seriously I’ve got a nice very smoker-friendly guest room at mi casa and you’re always welcome.

  8. Lou says:

    Frank,

    Congratulations on getting to 64!
    Done good.
    Next year they’ll be paying you a pension – ace.
    Another Pisces (yup c’est moi)
    Good bits:
    Imaginative and sensitive
    Compassionate and kind
    Selfless and unworldly
    Intuitive and sympathetic
    “Bad” bits:
    Escapist and idealistic
    Secretive and vague
    Oh, they overlooked a few:
    Tenacious, determined – and a first class writer.
    Here’s to many, many more.

  9. GAinNY says:

    This would be the same Rowan Williams who favors legitimizing sharia law in Britain (http://www.longrider.co.uk/blog/2008/02/07/rowan-williams-fuckwit-extraordinaire/)? Who wants religion protected from free speech (http://www.longrider.co.uk/blog/2008/01/31/rowan-williams-apologist-for-evil/; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1576991/Archbishop-says-law-must-protect-religions.html)? Who refuses to confront Muslim leaders about the persecution of Christians? I would not rely on him for a defense of Western values.

    What do you mean by “Darwinism”? In the U.S., it’s a pejorative used by Creationists. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwinism,
    “In the United Kingdom the term retains its positive sense as a reference to natural selection, and for example Richard Dawkins wrote in his collection of essays A Devil’s Chaplain, published in 2003, that as a scientist he is a Darwinist.” Do you dispute natural selection?

    Darwin did not invent the “war of nature.” See Stephen Jay Gould’s “Nonmoral Nature” (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_nonmoral.html) for some history of how, before Darwin, theologians dealt with “the most pressing problem of natural theology: if God is benevolent and the creation displays his ‘power, wisdom and goodness,’ then why are we surrounded with pain, suffering, and apparently senseless cruelty in the animal world?” . . . “The greatest challenge to their concept of a benevolent deity was not simple predation — but slow death by parasitic ingestion. The classic case, treated at length by all great naturalists, invoked the so-called ichneumon fly.” This group of wasps lays its eggs in other insects, whose fate is to be eaten alive from the inside out. Darwin didn’t invent this. Sorry if you find this “war of nature” “slightly nasty.” I do too—very nasty—but I blame God.

    Get this straight: Natural selection is not a religion. Dawkins is not a religious believer. Religion is not an inherent source of morality (who’s up for some Islam here?). Neither is science. Yes, let’s keep working on a rational ethical code. Personally, I believe that inflicting fear and chaos does not improve the way people treat one another.

    You haven’t researched this properly and thought it through. It’s not Dawkins’s job to pay lip service to mumbo jumbo until such time as he can come up with a replacement for Christianity. It is not Dawkins but our political and moneyed rulers, abetted by the big-hearted (to give them the benefit of the doubt) and soft-headed left, that are destroying Christian values by flooding Western countries with foreigners determined to replace our values with theirs.

    Happy birthday. I’m a year younger than you. The older I get, the more misanthropic. We seem driven by food, sex, and the incessant jostling for power. And we’re stupid.

    —GAinNY

    • Frank Davis says:

      This would be the same Rowan Williams who favors legitimizing sharia law in Britain

      Does he? It’s worse than I thought!

      What do you mean by “Darwinism”? In the U.S., it’s a pejorative used by Creationists. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwinism,
      “In the United Kingdom the term retains its positive sense as a reference to natural selection, and for example Richard Dawkins wrote in his collection of essays A Devil’s Chaplain, published in 2003, that as a scientist he is a Darwinist.” Do you dispute natural selection?

      No, I don’t dispute natural selection. And I’m not a creationist either. But I can’t stand Darwin.

      You haven’t researched this properly and thought it through.

      On the contrary, I have thought a great deal about evolution, and have written quite a lot about it too. Idle Theory has a slightly different account of natural selection, in which living things simply have to work harder to survive, and some are unable to do so. But Darwin describes natural selection as a “war of nature”, one creature with another. I do not think that nature is engaged in war. That’s something that humans do. Just like humans write books and make movies and paint pictures. Nature doesn’t do those things either. It’s Darwin’s projection of human warfare onto nature that I detest. I’d probably feel the same if he’d described the natural world as a dance or a festival. In fact, one might say that creationism is itself the projection of a strictly human design propensity onto the natural world. We humans are always designing things and planning things, and so creationists (or “Intelligent designers”) suppose that the natural world is also designed. But while creationists project human design onto nature, Darwin projects human war onto nature. In this sense, Darwin was no different from any creationist. But he projects the very worst aspects of humanity onto nature, while the creationists project the very best.

      The best I can say of Darwin is that, once the creationists had painted the natural world with one brush, Darwin felt obliged to apply a very different one. Once they’d described how beautiful it was, he set out to describe how ugly it was. And perhaps that was a necessary correction. But it was no more truthful than creationism.

      It’s not Dawkins’s job to pay lip service to mumbo jumbo until such time as he can come up with a replacement for Christianity.

      I see no merit in throwing away an old pot, particularly when I don’t have another one to replace it with.

      I’m sure we could argue all day. And thank you for your birthday wishes.

  10. GAinNY says:

    This is hysterical: http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2008/02/heere-bigynneth.html

    So satisfying. I must have a cigarette.

  11. Rose says:

    Happy Birthday, Frank!

    As far as religion goes, anything written by man and embellished over the centuries with strict rules for living, is bound to be a little dubious.
    Though I can appreciate some concepts in all religions and may choose to believe them.
    On the whole “Do as you would be done by” is quite good enough for me.

    Evolution feels like commonsense, little variations that pop up, that either work or don’t work, adapting to changing conditions.

    Darwinism? With reservations. Looking down at my long second toes, I don’t think the Cro-magnons killed off the Neanderthals.
    Would a lonely Cro-Magnon male really pass up a cute Neanderthal in the wild?

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Not me Rose I was born in a cave!

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        It was only of late that my wife screamed you ”Neanderthal” that I figured out what my step-sister always meant when she screamed your ”common” I always said ok Im a commoner!

        Either way living free and fightin to retain that freedom is the only cause thats worthy of any of us whether we be neanderthals,commoners or royalty. I cant lite my cigarettes with 20 pound notes but I can sure litem with a campfire stick……..

    • garyk30 says:

      The ‘Golden Rule’ is also found in Islam, they seem to have not noticed tho.

      From the hadith, the collected oral and written accounts of Muhammad and his teachings during his lifetime:

      A Bedouin came to the prophet, grabbed the stirrup of his camel and said: O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with it. Prophet said: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them. Now let the stirrup go! [This maxim is enough for you; go and act in accordance with it!]”

      —Kitab al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 146

      “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

      —An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13 (p. 56)[51]

      “Seek for mankind that of which you are desirous for yourself, that you may be a believer.”

      —Sukhanan-i-Muhammad (Teheran, 1938)[52]

      “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.”[52]

      “The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself.”[52]

  12. Rose says:

    Pisces – now I remember.

    Frank

    If memory serves, I seem to remember you making some very rude generalisations about Taureans, merely because the atypical Liam Donaldson is one.
    I did mean to mention it to you at a later date.

  13. Budvar says:

    The flaws I see with “Evolution theory” is this, If we came from monkeys, how come monkeys today don’t give birth to humans (or the missing link between monkeys and humans) and how come humans don’t give birth to monkeys (or the missing link etc), as if monkeys were in our genetic make up, we’d see genetic throw backs of recessive genes.

    • garyk30 says:

      “If we came from monkeys, how come monkeys today don’t give birth to humans (or the missing link between monkeys and humans) and how come humans don’t give birth to monkeys ”

      Simple, monkeys do not have sex with humans and vice versa.

      The genetic throwback possibilities went out with the many proto-human species that went extinct.

      There are many instincts, learned behavior/reactions, that have carried on.
      Modern humans and monkeys, both, have similar feelings/reactions about snakes.

  14. Budvar says:

    Or I might add Humans giving birth to the next “Evolutionary” stage?
    I need facts here, not some “New Age” cobblers about “Indigo Children” etc.

  15. GDF says:

    Happy Birthday Frank!
    I agree with what I think you are saying — that morality cannot be derived from science. It comes from somewhere else — and that’s is why religion and philosophy are important.
    Some of the most beautiful (and moral (and religious?)) words ever written – (IMO)

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Similarly – I simply love the lyrics to Stephen Colbert’s and Elvis Costello’s Christmas duet – Enjoy!

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/211037/november-23-2008/a-colbert-christmas–colbert-costello-duet

  16. garyk30 says:

    Perhaps ‘morality’ started with animals forming groups or packs.

    Within groups or packs, survival depends upon inter-dependance or morality.

    Among groups, morality only occurs if the other group does not have something your group needs or wants.

    Happy Birthday Frank!!!!
    Don’t listen when they tell you, you are over the hill!!!!!!

    • Rick S says:

      I seem to be able to leave a comment only if I click Reply on somebody else’s post – so I’ll do it here.

      Happy birthday Frank and thanks for all the entertainment, food for thought, empathy and moral support that your blog has given me and others like me!

  17. Frank Davis says:

    Everyone’s being really kind, with all these things they’d buy me if they only had enough money. I guess it must be my birthday.

    So I’d just like to say that, if I had enough money, I’d buy every single one of you a gold Cadillac convertible complete with in-car bar, stereo, and swimming pool.

    Unfortunately, right now I don’t have quite the ready cash to do that.

  18. harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank I will settle for the sentiment its really all thats needed anyhow. But if I owned VIRGIN AIRLINES youd be set……..

  19. Pingback: My Top Ten Posts | Frank Davis

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