Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Dawkins on religion, again (briefly)

I was going to do a follow-up to this after watching Richard Dawkins' thingy on religion on channel four last night because it attracted some interesting comment - but decided it would be too boring. I'll limit it to this wee point to try and illustrate what I was getting at.

I mean, it's not as if I don't agree with Dawkins about the irrationality of religion and the evangelist guy he was talking to with the excess molars was indeed very scary. It's just that all "irrationalities" are not equal, so to speak.

For instance in this piece where he praises Richard Dawkins, Johann Hari uses the term 'superstitions' to describe religious belief. The idea, I suppose, is that there is no more evidence for the existence of god than there is for the idea that walking under ladders brings you bad luck or whatever:
"Dawkins' critics say that he too is a peddler of faith, an Ayatollah of atheism offering certainties as glib as the Pastors and Mullahs he attacks. At first, this might sound logical: isn't Dawkins' insistence that God does not exist also a matter of faith? How can we know? But this is flawed, for reasons the great philosopher Bertrand Russell outlined. He asked his readers to take it from him that there is an immense tea-pot orbiting Mars, and then asked, are you agnostic about its existence? Of course not. You do not believe it is there. If you do not believe in something because there is absolutely no evidence for it, you are not acting on faith. You are acting on reason - its polar opposite. As Dawkins says, 'We who are atheists are also a-fairyists, a-teapotists and a-unicornists, but we don't have to bother saying so'."
Why the hell Bertrand Russell felt the need to make up a superstition, I can't imagine - there's enough real ones. But the point about these real ones is that they are, I would have thought, most unlike religious belief. They're both irrational but there the similarity ends. Superstitions don't sustain people through persecution, they aren't the repositories of moral and legal traditions, they don't motivate people to do benevolent work and, yes, they don't motivate people to blow themselves up or deny Africans condoms either.

Thing is, I'm highly sympathetic to the cause of Dawkins et al particularly where it touches apon education. But keep it real people - you aren't going to get anywhere with crap analogies about people believing in flying tea-pots. That's just being silly.

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