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Some Thoughts on Dawkin’s Enemies of Reason (Part I) Saturday, August 25, 2007

Posted by henry000 in astrology, Carl Sagan, Channel 4, Dawkins, documentary, dowsing, Enemies of Reason, medium, new-age, paranormal, pseduo-science, psychics, rationality, reason, Richard Dawkins, skeptics, spirituality, video.
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I finally got around to watch the much anticipated TV documentary, Enemies of Reason (part one), created by you-know-who – Richard Dawkins. For those who don’t know, it is a skeptical examination on the irrational, the superstitious, the disillusioned, and the unreasonable. The first part of the series includes a look at astrology, dowsing, psychics, medium (talking to the dead) and certain forms of new-age spirituality (which I will bucket them all with the term “the irrational” from now on).

Here is the link to the video you can watch online or download:

My gut feeling is that something is wanting in the documentary, something is missing. I think it lacks in stressing the dangers of the irrational present to the general public. It is not harsh and devastating enough. Dawkins approach is mainly that of a scientific one, as one might expect – he looks at why people tend to believe in the irrational (Skinner’s Pigeons), carries out controlled tests on dowsing and astrology readings, mentions repeatedly how science has advanced our species and way of life, and is genuinely interested in what the psychics have to say about their practices.

There is nothing wrong with all of the above and I agree with them all. However, the documentary needs to examine critically at the practical implication of the irrationals. From memory, there is only one instance of this, where in the case of communicating with the dead Dawkins is concerned with the mental states of those who have lost their loving ones. I would have liked to see Dawkins apply his usual scholarly excoriation to expose and bulldoze his way through all forms of irrationality, as well as mentioning some stories too. Astrology is not merely harmless as one might think, people do act based on the readings, and I think the quackery of communicating with the dead equates to a form of emotional abuse with these so-called mediums praying upon the fragile and needy mental states of people.

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Darwinism and Its Discontents – Book Review Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, Behe, biology, book review, Charles Darwin, Christianity, consilience, creationism, Darwin, Darwinism, Dawkins, evolution, genetics, geology, God, Gould, Haeckel, human evolution, philosophy, Piltdown Man, punctuated equilibrium, rationality, reason, religion, science, scientific theory.
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I have been thinking about the ideas in this book for about four decades and have decided that the time has come to put them all together.

This is the opening sentence of Professor Michael Ruse’s latest book Darwinism and Its Discontents. Ruse is a well-known evolutionary philosopher and has been a great defender on Darwinism for a number of years. And with an opening statement like that, naturally I was thrilled to read what the discontents are all about, and if they matter at all.

The book is a defender of Darwinism and the fact of evolution from all sides of attacks, and is understandably light on refuting creationism of various flavours, so read this book to cement your understanding of Darwinism and evolution – I certainly learned a good deal from it.

Darwinism is defined as a particular theory in which evolution works. Its heart lies in the concept of natural selection, the chief causal process behind all organisms, and is the widely accepted evolutionary mechanism by the scientific community. However, it has always been under attack from various disciplines in social science, philosophy, religion, and even within science itself, and Ruse writes how these attacks are categorically mistaken.

Darwinism and Its Discontents Cover

The first chapter goes through the historical background of Darwinism. Ruse includes a number of notable historical figures ranging from people who did not have direct contribution to Darwinism such as Lyells and Malthus, to modern day scientists such as Fisher, Haldine and Wright. The conclusion of the chapter is right on spot – why was Darwin important? Because it was after him that a revolution happened – that life is a naturalistic, not a supernatural or God-inspired one.

The next few chapters are, I think, the highlights of the book as they outline what the fact of evolution is, its path, its cause and its limitations. Ruse presented the concept of consilience argument – that is, direct evidence supporting evolution from a myriad of fields of studies: palaeontology, biogeographical distribution, classification, morphology, embryology and so on. These chapters are essential in understanding the science of Darwinian theory of evolution – population genetics, adaptation, physical constraints on the phenotype, drift, and of course, natural selection, as well as a dash of Gould’s famous punctuated equilibrium theory.

The second half of the book then takes a different turn. It examines humans, the mistakes and dishonesty made in the history of evolutionary science (such as the Piltdown Man and Haeckel’s drawings) – and finally, Ruse looks at Darwinism from philosophical and religious point of views.

Overall I thought this book is very well balanced and not too technical for the layman; however it is definitely not an introductory level kind of book. If you are looking for the whole creationism vs. evolution debate then this is not an ideal book; conversely if you are looking for a book that covers a wide areas of Darwinian evolution – from past to present and across various disciplines, then this book is it.

“A New Breed of Atheist” Friday, August 3, 2007

Posted by henry000 in atheism, Christianity, Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins, humanism, rationality, reason, religion, Richard Dawkins, secularism.
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A writer at ChristianPost has joined a chorus of concerned religious lots in attacking the current atheism movement spearheaded by Dawkins and Hitchens and all. He identifies this new breed atheism, or anti-theism, as something that is:

There’s no substance, just anger and a lot of hot air.

The lack-of-substance argument has been widely used as a main criticism to these hot-selling anti-theism books such as The God Delusion; some even calls them naive and simplistic. I have stressed it previously that when criticising religion or any other ideology systems you need not to be a complete scholar in the subject – there is a difference between being completely ignorant and being knowledgeable enough.

Further, the writer notes:

They don’t argue; they yell. They’ve decided that, simply because they dislike religion, there is no reason to respect it. In their minds, it’s stupid, dangerous, and that’s all that needs to be said.

He also addresses the current atheism trend from the more concerned atheists (emphasis mine):

The old-guard secular humanists are questioning this new trend, and rightly so. Most traditional atheists simply had their own belief system, and if we wanted our belief system that was okay. The new breed reflects the death of truth. They’re like the communists who feared religion more than anything else because it was a competing truth claim.

How many wrongful claims can you find in this single paragraph along?

Incredibly atheism has been equated once again to a belief system. No it isn’t! If so, what is it and what is its faiths and beliefs?

We don’t fear religion. We are incredibly concerned about the dangers religion has shown over and over again, and these dangers are based on irrationality and blind faith. The dangers range from discrimination against non-believers, to religious-based practices such as honour-killing, genital-mutilation, creationism to name just a few, and to global-wide conflicts that I need not to mention here.

This is why the new atheism is being blunt and in-four-face, bringing the religion down from its pedestal.

Further, in a sweeping generalisation the new atheism movement is being labelled as a system that competes with religion to claim truth. Again this is wrong. Atheism keeps an open mind as to what the so-called truth is – it never claims truth. Religions do. And they do that based not on rational approaches but on dogmatic beliefs and ancient writings. Each religion claims it is the truth religion, let alone the plethora of cults and denominations.

The new atheism may be too loud and blunt – get used to it and get over it.

Echoing Dawkins – Don’t Call Us Fundamentalists Thursday, July 26, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-fundamentalism, atheism, Bible, Chinese, Christianity, Dawkins, faith, fundamentalism, God, Islam, Judaism, Koran, rationality, reason, religion, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.
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Richard Dawkins has lately written an article titled “How dare you call me a fundamentalist” as a response to some of the main criticisms he received for his controversial bestseller The God Delusion. Here I will add my own arguments to what Dawkins has already said, because when rational people criticise god and putting religion in perspective, they get unfairly judged, and this we must address.

The criticisms made on Dawkins are in bold.

I’m an atheist, but I wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.

How you feel about the tone and language of the book is entirely up to you. Some might find it clear and concise. I find it to be passionate and blunt, and I think blunt is a much better and objective description of the tone and language of the book.

Take the first chapter for example. The one line where I can find people might find it offending is this line:

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.

Now seriously, how shrill and intolerant is this? Try replacing the words “a personal God” with something else say “United Nations” or “the Live Aid concert”. Does it make a difference?

I offer this advice to people who feel the book is arrogant and condescending: read it again (or at least some of it), and you might come to feel differently about it as the first time might come as a shock.

You can’t criticise religion without detailed study of learned books on theology.

The book is not ignorant on theology and various aspects of religion – see Dawkins’ own explanation – this alone should settle this particular criticism. I would add that you need not to be a scholar to highlight the obvious problems of religion, such as the blind faiths people have in ancient scriptures that drive them to happily hurt and kill others for no other reason than religion. There is a difference between criticising something while being completely ignorant (such as simple-minded creationists), and being knowledgeable enough.

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Dollo’s Law Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, biology, Dawkins, Dollo's Law, evolution, genetics, Richard Dawkins, science, sea snails, Stephen Gould.
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Dollo’s law is one interesting hypothesis in the theory of evolution. In its original form, it states that evolution is irreversible – that is, once an organism has lost or discarded a structural feature during the course of evolution, then it cannot regain that feature.

This law was proposed firstly in 1890 by a biologist named Louis Dollo. In its modern form, this law should be understood as one that hypothesises that evolution is highly unlikely reversible – that is, it is highly improbable that an organism would regain a lost feature.

This law kind of makes sense under the first impression – life evolves from simple to complex, and it seems that there is no known case of organisms regrowing a previously discarded feature. However, on a second thought, one must pause and examine the issue further. None of the evolution mechanisms – natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, genetic mutation, genetic recombination, symbiogenesis and so on – dictates that organisms cannot completely regain lost features. In fact, scientists have argued that at least theoretically there is no block to evolutionary reversion.

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