Sunday, January 29, 2006
A nice and assiduous e-correspondent wants help refuting a libertarian atheist who objects to Genesis 3 on the grounds that then Adam and Eve would have had the same DNA! I suppose 'refuting' wilful misunderstandings of Christianity may be some fun - I have posted the reply as a comment on his blog and on the JCP Q&A page. Interesting that the Hebrew word for 'rib' is the same as 'side' - to say woman is another side of man is more to modern tastes.
Earthly Powers continues to fascinate. I had no idea that the separation of Church and State in France dates from 1905! Nor of the key role that the London City Mission played, before the Salvation Army.
Friday, January 27, 2006
The wonderful Earthly Powers discussing the decline of religious attendance in 18thC Germany: "Beginning with the demi-education that went with the layabout life of students, religious indifferentism spread to the urban bourgeoisie... Never ranked as the ultimate art form by either Kant or Hegel, music came to be regarded as the purest expression of the sublime. Music consoled and music transcended, claimed the artists, and as the public increasingly expected once they had been disciplined into thinking that a concert hall was not primiarily a venure for business deals or marriage market, but a church"
Also read EMD's harrowing play "the Glass Wall" about a girl who ruins her life by becoming a nun out of love for the mother superior. Clearly semi-autobiographical.
On Weds daughter's birthday in Cambridge, so we all went up there & ate at a Vietnamese restautant which allows you to bring your own wine - vg Pink Champagne. Thurs was to go to brilliant Polly Paulusma's concert but it meant another trek to beyond the Barbican, and having done that on Tues eve and again on Thurs lunch (for work to meet a v nice and interesting new client) I just couldn't manage it, so practiced the Brahms and had an evening in instead.
Meanwhile the Lib Dem situation is beyond parody. Simon Hughes's apology for "inadvertantly misleading" when unequivocally denying he was gay (he suggests that this was not a lie becasue he was bisexual) particularly sickening. The truth is that everyone in Westminster had known that Kennedy had a serious drink problem and that Hughes was gay, but becasue the Lib Dems were the nice party and the Tories the nasty party these issues were covered up. As soon as this changed, the truth is told. Reminiscent of the way the media following the Kerry campagn covered up its shambolic incompetence. The blogosphere makes this kind of cover-up much harder. Will Hughes's outing harm, or help, his standing amongst Lib Dem activisits, to whom anti-homophobia is presumably an article of faith?
Mercifully the lack of UK fatailies in Iraq continues, there is now a 98% chance that there has been a real reduction. And it's just over a year since I started this blog...
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Interesting discussions over dinner incl why so many creative geniuses of the 19th & 20thC seem to have been atheist/agnostic (Maxwell, Messien, Mahler, Taverner notable exceptions) Probably it was just about possible until 1945, or even maybe 1989 to believe that Atheism was a progressive and enobling creed. But not now. Atheisms come and go - who now takes Freud or Marx seriously - but true faith remains.
I see that a BBC Poll in Nov 05 also shows about 70% of the UK as Christian. And 75% more agree that the UK should retain Christian values. Only 20% said no religion.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
In UK politics the Liberal Democrats and 'New Labour' both seem to be disintegrating. The BBC News announcer at 8am said the Lib Dems were wondering how to recover from "the latest truck to hit their party". Meanwhile people like Frank Dobson (proverbially the stupidest person ever to hold cabinet office), Estelle Morris (who resigned as Education Secretary because on her own admission she was not up the job) and Niel Kinnock (who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as labour leader and then famously reacted to claims by the Chief Accountant of the European Commission that there was massive fraud by ... firing the Chief Accountant) are publicly rubbishing the Government's Education Reforms and given a respectful hearing. And the BBC quotes a senior Blair adviser (?Adonis) as saying "if we don't enact these reforms then the next Conservative government will have to"). Amazingly the spread betting sites are still making Labour favourite to have the largest number of seats at the next General Election (4/7 vs 5/4 for Tories) and puttling Lab 275-295 vs Tories 272-280, Lib Dem 48-56. Let's see how this changes. If i were a betting man...
Delighful family lunch party of C and her sisters, spouse and neices - nephews all away.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Still greatly enjoying Michael Burliegh's magisterial Earthly Powers. There is a gem or two on every page, eg; "Many 19thC thinkers believed that society was progressing from backward epochs where religion was pervasive to future times where religion would be regarded as an outmoded illusion...This continues to be reflected in the views of prominent Marxist historians, who, convinced that the residual vitality of religion is 'archaic' or 'recessive', are enviably certain about when, where and why secularisation occurred, though this confidence eludes those who have spent a lifetime acquiring detailed knowledge of these questions"
On Thurs was a guest of the Master at the Epiphany Court Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks, which dates back to at least the 14thC and possibly the 11th. Service in the Tower of London - an amazingly beautiful building. Members address each other ceremonically by their parishes, drinking toasts to each other at the end .. "St James Garlickhythe! .. St Michael's Cornhill!" The excellent Ram Gidoomal was the speaker. When all the froth of evil delusions of the 19th and 20th Centuries has gone, Christ and His church will remain.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Interesting religious discussions as well: one of the guests described himself as a 'Catholic Atheist' (likes the ritual, doesn't believe in God) and one, a young man, explained how he had lost his Christian faith as his partner died in his arms - so is now a philosophical theist.
There are also of course serious moral issues in IT projects. Have been thinking a lot about the "National Programme for IT" (NPfIT) in the UK NHS. How does one balance the potential cost of this against the healthcare benefits, when the NHS is running out of money (due mainly, it must be said, to the economic illiteracy of ministers who poured billions into the system without effective reform, and embarked on a PFI-funded hospital building programme without considering where the money to run these hospitals would come from).
Sunday, January 15, 2006
The wonderful Polish Fr Stan has gone - and the priest this morning made the "interesting" suggestion that the disciples (esp Andrew & Peter) would have known Jesus from boyhood. But there is no suggestion of this in the Bible, and Nazareth is 18 miles from the nearest point of the Sea of Gallilee (Tiberias) and even further from Capernaum which is probably where Peter lived (certainly where is mother-in-law lived). Ah well!
Discovered counterbalance.org - an interesting and useful site, with an interview with Dawkins that retracts some of his nonsense, so I have slightly updated my why Dawkins is wrong page.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
On a similar note I was talking today to a teacher in a CofE Inner London secondary school, who claims that screening studies of teenagers showed that c40% of teenage girls in the area had Clamydia (and other STDs). He blames poor information on sex education - he did a class and several 14-15yo boys pulled out the condoms they were carrying - on which he congratulated them for their 'adult' attitude.
But the fact is that Christian teaching on eg sex is not a load of arbitrary 'thou shalt nots' - God tells us these things because He wants the best for us, not to be a 'kill-joy'. We can see some of the really good scientific reasons why this is so. And one major factor behind the demographic suicide of secularists is that sexual promsicuity leads to infertility and a reluctance to commit and raise children.
PS in researching this I found the ISI Highly Cited Researchers database. Dawkins doesn't make the grade.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Meanwhile, what does it tell us about a religion that pilgrims regularly trample hundreds of their fellow-pilgrims to death?
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The style of these profiles is deliberately non-antagonistic; rather they aim to give space to allow the academic's work to speak for itself - or not. Even so I don't think Dawkins was given that easy a ride. He was asked many of the difficult questions and if you found his answers wanting you can draw your own conclusions.
With regard to the specific issues you raise.
1. I'm not sure that I agree with you on any of this. He does make many assertions about religion - most of which are, in my opinion, quite valid. I am not familiar with Prof McGrath's book, but the fact that it exists is no evidence either that Dawkins is wrong.
2. I think you are being extremely ungenerous here. At the time it was published, the selfish Gene had a huge impact - both on serious scientists and a previously ignorant lay public and it did change the way people thought about evolution. At the time many scientists were still scratching their head at why some animals appeared to act against their own individual interests - Dawkins provided the conceptual way forward. It may not have been altogether original - he never claimed it was - but he did synthesise material in a fresh way that at the time - if not now - felt groundbreaking. Would you have a go at Stephen hawking for changing his mind about his theory of black holes some 25 years after he first conceived it and dismiss as worthless all the many years of research it stimulated?
3. I'm not sure Dawkins is out on a Stalinist drive to eradicate religion, tho he certainly thinks we would be better off without it. Rather he is baffled that society allows it so much reverence at a time when there is so little - and ,what there is, highly disputed - evidence as a basis for belief. I find that position hard to argue against. He certainly acknowledges that religion does have some positive benefits in terms of well-being for those that believe - a kind of placebo effect - but that in itself is no argument to say that there is evidence of God. People make remarkable claims for homeopathy and crystals and vvery few people take them seriously - let alone send them for instruction into their practices. And whatever good religion may do the individual - you can't ignore the fact that the greatest wrongs that are done by man to man are done in the name of organised religion
Thank you. I think you'd find McGrath's book stimulating - you might want to interview him, which would give you and your readers a lot to think about. He did not depend on a donation from an atheist American millionaire to get his professorship at Oxford, and not only has a PhD in molecular biophysics (Dawkins's was on the behaviour of chicks!) but really understands theology and philosophy of science.
1. To give just one example, Dawkins defines faith as "blind trust in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence" However Dawkins gives no evidence that this is what religious thinkers mean by faith, and McGrath does not know of a single significant theologian who holds, or has held, that definition. (Nor do I! It is equivalent to, say, defining 'science' as "an attempt to manipulate nature for selfish ends with complete disregard for the ethical and human consequences") When Dawkins attacks religion he offers rhetoric and anecdote, but nothing resembling a rigorous argument. I'd be interested if you could give a single counter-example to this.
2. The idea that altuism was driven at least in part by a desire to spread genes in other individuals was introduced, rigorously, by Hamilton in 1964. Dawkins popularised the idea in 1976 but cannot be credited with inventing it and I don't think there was anything new in it for evolutionary biologists - except that these ideas were now available to a much wider audience. It is now seen to be grossly simplistic, though an interesting starting point. (there is quite a good summary at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/ but this leaves out work on 'iterated prisoners dilemma' type games which show that the arguments for the necessary spread of cheats are somewhat fallacious) However his assertion that organisms are "merely machines to replicate their genes" (italics added) was and is complete bunk, and an idea that has seriously contributed to the hostility to genetic science.
3. The fact that most forms of religion (esp Christianity) are objectively beneficial for their believers does cause a number of rather serious problems for Dawkins's worldview:
a. He claims, without proof, that religion is 'virus' that is 'bad for you'. But if in fact it improves your health and wellbeing, as most studies show (a review in 2001 of 100 published evidence-based studies showed that 79% reported at least one positive association, only 1% a negative) then far from being a virus it is more like (say) mitochondria.
b. There is also strong evidence that religous people have more children, and more surviving children, than non-religious people (c/f the demographic collapse of secular Europe and the growth of the US, mainly in the religious red states) Anything which significantly increases the survival of your genes, even if it were to be harmful to individuals, is strongly selected for from a genetic (and "mimetic") point of view. So from a selfish gene viewpoint, religious belief is very good for you.
c. Dawkins claims that he has a mental faculty which enables him to disbelieve propositions which are untrue but which it would confer selective advantage to believe (such as Christianity). Clearly, such a mental faculty cannot give a selective advantage. But according to Dawkins the only way in which mental faculties emerge is in response to evolutionary pressures, because they give a selective advantage. An interesting contradiction (essentially Plantinga's famous EAAN)
4. The idea that "the greatest wrongs done to Man by Man are done in the name of organised religion" is so often repeated and so obviously untrue that it really needs an answer. Let's try to make a 'top 10', in terms of human-inflicted deaths and suffering, something like:
- Mao & Co
- Stalin & Co
- Hitler & Co
- The Japanese rampage in Korea & China
- The French Revolutionaries (esp. in the Vendee)
- Pol Pot & Co
- the Rwandan massacres
- former Yugoslavia
Do you agree, or have I missed something? I hope you find this as interesting, and fruitful, as I do.
(I have slightly amended point 4)
Very good of you to reply and I will certainly look into McGrath's book.To which
I am really up against it in terms of deadlines at the moment so I really don't have time to give you the in depth reply your email deserves. In any case, I suspect you would be better off levelling some of your queries to Dawkins himself and his website does invite questions.
I suspect we aren't going to agree on much, but I have enjoyed the disagreement. I also still think you are a little ungenerous in your assessment of dawkins' contribution to science. Either that, or he has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of many of the world's leading scientists. Like him or not, Dawkins is a world figure in science and given that he's been around for more than 30 years it can't all be down to PR.
Dawkins is a world figure in, and Prof of, public understanding of science, and is an icon in the 'culture wars' where he is one of the very few scientists willing to take an extreme 'fundamentalist' position. It really is an up-market form of PR!
I think what this exchange shows is that, even with journalists who seem to have closed minds, it's worth discussing the matter logically with them.
See also Roger Scruton on yet more reasons why Dawkins is so up the creek.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Interesting profile of Richard Dawkins. But why did you give him such an easy ride:
a. He makes assertions about religion for which he has no evidence and in many cases are palpably false. This is well documented in Prof. McGrath's book Dawkins' God.
b. The idea that The Selfish Gene made any contribution to science is laughable. The idea that organisms are 'merely machines for replicating genes' is one which no serious biologist holds - the best that can be said is that a gene's-eye view of evolution gives you some interesting insights into how evolution works, and that is certainly not original to Dawkins but goes right back to Fisher or even Medel. And the 'meme' concept (also not orginal, he just gave a more catchy name) turns out to be pretty sterile with lots of pseudoscience (even a proponent like Laland admits that "mimetics ... has spawned little empirical work") and gene/culture co-evolution seems to be a more fertile approach.
c. His advocacy of a determined programme to eliminate religious belief on the ground that it would make the world a better place is in the direct tradition of tyrants like Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot. Such programmes have invariably been humanitarian disasters. Whether or not religions such as Christianity are true or false - and no serious scientist believes that science can settle this question definitively - there is no doubt from many many studies that most mainstream religions (esp probably Christianity) are beneficial to health, longevity, and happiness so attempts to surpress them are not empirically supported.
Good journalism challenges lazy assumptions.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Today R and I went to St Paul's Hammersmith - she's v enthused by the youth group - great. The sermon emphasised how important it is that we try to realise how much we are loved by God. The small lunch, tidy, 12 mi run and delicious light supper. Evening spent updating the Polkinghorne Q&A site - lots of questions that I have answered but not put on web. Also put more up about London Child Guidance Clinic - an almost forgotten pioneering effort in child psychiatry.
UK Politics continues to be very interesting and dramatic - there are indications that the Lib Dems won't necessarily elect Campbell. V sad about US Helicopter Crash (they are listing it as non-hostile at present, I fear this might change), and Sharon, but at least - small mercies - no more UK deaths. I bought Canon Andrew White's book and hope to read it.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Spent pm at Wellcome Library and was delighted to find that my great-great-aunt Posthuma was not killed when her Harley Street address was bombed in 1942, but continued practicing as a child psychiatrist until the 1960s. Historical research, like many others, full of blind alleys: I thought she'd be bound to be a member of the Medical Women's Federation and summoned some of their archive material but it seems she resigned after 2 years.
Finished Dawkins God - excellent and more than 1/2 way through Inspiration and Incarnation. Responded to a difficult question for JCP on Purgatory, have another one on Evolution to deal with.
Dinner on Weds with leading Tory - will be seeing him again tonight. Democracy is becoming really interesting in the UK! Work starts in earnest next week, but some v encouraging telecons in the last couple of days make me cautiously optimistic that it will be a good year.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I've really enjoyed researching my forebears, put up a big page on Edmond Slade and I'm now convinced that EM Delafield's 'Emma Hay' is Cicely Hamilton. An interesting change from Management Conslting, but I suppose I am an Author now :-).
Mark Steyn has a long a gloomy piece (It's the demography stupid) about how 'liberal social democrats' just don't get it - "the progressive agenda--lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism--is collectively the real suicide bomb." I think he's right up to a point - I do suspect that the UK will 'get it' in time - roll on 2009 and a Cameron Government. So far situation in Iraq seems to be improving (no more UK deaths, fewer US) and I really look forward to the recantation of at least some of the dishonest anti-Bush liberal commentators. But not holding my breath.
Reading brilliant Earthy Powers by Michael Burleigh, Dawkins's God by Alastair McGrath, Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns and Shostakovich, A life. Heady mixture!
Monday, January 02, 2006
Yesterday v few evening services so we went to All Souls where John Stott (newly CBE) was preaching to a packed Church (even the Galleries were full 2 of us had to sit on the gallery steps). Really odd sermon (Jn 1 esp 1:18) in which he seemed to suggest that Jesus was the incarnation of God's glory, and not God himself. Of course it's true that in the OT all visions of God are of his glory (shekenah) or visions (that of Ezekiel, Stott suggested, was of Christ) but the way to resolve the apparent contradicion of 'no-one has ever seen God' with 'if you have seen me, you have seen the Father' is by recognising that God is Trinity (and no-one can see all 3 persons!) rather than by appearing to say that Jesus isn't quite God!
Also the NIV bizzairely 'translates' monogenos as 'one and only' whereas in the Johnannine corpus it clearly means only begotten (contra Fitzmyer in EDNT who follows Plato relies on a rather pedantic view of Heb 11:17 which in any case isn't Johannine! but nevertheless supplies some of the abundant evidence against this view). Newer translations (like REB and Wright) revert to 'only begotten'
Still no more UK Troops killed in Iraq thank God, and with 22 US Hostile deaths in the 17 days since the elections the US situation seems to be improving a bit as well. I hope 2006 will be an excellent year in many respects, I pray that it will be so in Iraq.