Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Root of all Evil pt2

Most of real people I know, as opposed to Internet people, are moderately amused by the fact that I keep a blog. Whenever I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a while at some point they’ll say

‘I read your blog every now and again’

Then comes that little smile.

The same kind of smile you’d expect to see after someone says

‘I saw you wanking the other day’

‘… in public’

They have a point.

And the reason why I do it in public is because the possibility that someone might actually read a post obliges me to attempt to organise my efforts in a semi-accessible way

I think I’ll park the self-abuse analogy at this point.

However, the thought that anyone else might really read a post, particularly the longer ones, rarely enters my mind. But, and bless you, a couple of people do actually read the bloody things.

I mention all of this because a couple of posts back I raised the subject of the legitimacy of a certain country in the Middle East at the end of the post.

This is, as they say, a hot button subject and somebody dropped me an email reminding me of that.


I only mentioned Israel because it the one of those hot button issues presented in the media as being religious in origin and I don't believe that for one minute. No more than I believe the Troubles in Northern Ireland have been about theological differences between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Prior to all the War on Terror nonsense, the Northern Ireland conflict was the classic example used to support the ‘religion is cause of all wars’ argument; the religious origins of WW1 and WW2 being a little harder to advocate.

Given that the Troubles were a lot more to do with the legacy of 400 years of British Colonialism and biff all to do with debates over the Eucharist, citing the Northern Ireland as an example of religious conflict always got me banging my head against the nearest wall. And that was even when I believed, as I once did, that religion was the cause of most wars.

There is something quite sad about someone arguing about religious ignorance from a position of political and historical ignorance…

But when it comes to arguing for secular fundamentalism, facts and objectivity often go out of the window as readily as when religious fundamentalists are plying their wares. In last week’s programme ‘The Root of All Evil’, which started this train of posts, Richard Dawkins even played the now well-worn ‘The Pope is responsible for the spread of AIDS because he prohibits the use of condoms’ card.

Now there may be some grain of truth there, maybe, but as a scientifically minded person I’d like to see the data that demonstrates a correlation between strict Catholicism with AIDS. Generally speaking, devout Catholics are not the most promiscuous of types and my money would be on the correlation being a negative one, even with the occasional erstwhile partner playing away from home.

All of the above is not to say I’d argue in favour in support of religious lunatics. The kind of sickos who will say such and such a disaster was ‘God’s judgement’ every time a few thousand innocents get washed out to sea. Nope, they are nutters, no doubt and they get plenty of airtime. But what about the other side of story? How about a follow-up show to Dawkins’ series?

Why science is the root of all evil

...advocating the premise that progressive religion belief is the only thing that stands between humanity and a New Age of Fear, Exploitation and Perpetual War.

How so?

Easy so.

Belief in the Theory of Evolution is a cornerstone of contemporary atheistic thinking...

and evolution is supposedly driven by natural selection of better-adapted individuals within a species. In some species individuals gather into groups to undertake activities they could not complete as individuals. Natural selection then takes place at a group as well as an individual level, particularly when resources are scarce. The better-adapted groups will out-compete the less-adapted groups to the ultimate benefit of the species as a whole.

It is therefore natural, logical and beneficial for some individuals and groups to triumph over others.

It would be nice to think that I made this line of reasoning up just now. I didn’t. Nazis, eugenicists, capitalists and all sorts of secular, rational people have applied just that line of thinking to justify all sorts of nastiness from pretty much the moment the Theory of Evolution was conceived.

It’s all about lebensraum baby

Racism and a belief in human inequality are the Evolution's dirty little secret. Nietzsche, hardly the greatest fan of organised religion, pointed out that nobody would have ever come up with the irrational notion that all men are born equal without the influence of religion.

He had a point.

And that’s why the likes of Richard Dawkins skirt round issues such as race and equality whenever they can or mumble some old toss about how human evolution is now somehow based on the natural selection of individual ideas rather than individuals.

Yes of course Richard, nudge nudge, wink wink

You old Nazi.

So, what’s it going to be then? A world run by people who believe in God-given concepts of Good and Evil and strive to be Good, however imperfectly, or one run by the white coated, spiritual descendants of the men who ran the death camps in Germany and Russia. The kind of guys who create Hydrogen bombs and nerve gas and drop acid into lab rabbits’ eyes for a giggle?

A tad harsh? A tad one-sided?

Of course it is.

Science is not the root of all evil, any more than religion is. Arseholes are.


While typing this post a hypothetical question came to mind...

Four close friends are standing on the deck of a sinking ship in the middle of a terrible storm. There is one lifeboat. Being expert sailors they know that they have two escape options:

  1. If just three of them get into the lifeboat they will have a 100% chance of escape. The person left behind will drown. i.e. 75% of the group would survive.
  2. If all four get into the lifeboat there is only a 70% chance they will escape. There is a 30% chance all four will drown

People with religious faith or religiously derived morality would presumably go for option B.

But what would a group of Dawkins-esque, scientific rationalists decide to do? And why?

(Star Trek fans will notice some similarities with themes touched on in the Wrath of Khan, including Spock's act of self sacrifice and Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru scenario. I say, verily, there is much wisdom to be found in Trek)


Apprentice said...

They'd go with b), wouldn't they? Unless they're aresholes.

I always read the long ones. :)

BornSlacker said...

Like most things in life, in Science vs Religion there can be no clear winner as it's not a black and white subject (certainly not as clear cut as Dawkins would like to make it).

In my own mind I have no doubt that we'd be far far better off without all the bullshit and rightieous spouting that some posture in the name of their chosen diety.

However without any sort of religion or example of greater good, would our society turn into a sterile uncaring state - wait.. we've already got that! ;)

I like the quote from the Kevin Smith film Dogma which goes something along the lines of 'mankind got it all wrong by taking a good idea and building a belief structure on it. I just think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it.'

Stef said...

hmmm Dogma ...

I like that film.

Any piece of work that features Selma Hayek and El Escremento, the Shit Demon is alright in my book

Frank O'Dwyer said...

"A tad harsh? A tad one-sided?"

No, just complete nonsense because from the outset it is based on the strawman argument and false premise that fitter means better. If it does, then the likes of insects and germs are the true aryan master race. (As we all know, in the event of nuclear war the only ones left standing will be cockroaches and Keith Richards)

Also, the problem with the notion that morality requires mainstream religion, or that everyone is equal (in the fitness sense), is that pretty much everything about both notions is demonstrably false.

Morality doesn't require religion, people aren't equal (cf. "the blank slate"), and mainstream religion itself appears to be utter BS at best, and a scam at worst.

It is not a smart or useful idea to encourage people to believe that 'love thy neighbour' etc depends on things which they can easily find out for themselves simply aren't true.

Stef said...


I think I implied that the argument was invalid in my post.

And when it comes to Straw Men Dawkins is the master - which was one of the points I was trying to make

Essentially all I was doing was inverting Dawkin's own argument - selecting evidence that only supported my thesis and mumbling some subjective twaddle about fitness.

I personally have never bought into the notion of fitness anyway and would never use it in a serious argument. In Darwinian terms the definition of the fittest boils down to 'that which survives' which is pretty circular in my book

It is matter of record that societies that have abandoned religion have been amongst the most appalling stains on humanity over the last couple of centuries and Dawkins made no reference to them and their mistakes. Not a squeak. That is dishonest, not objective and unscientific

It is not smart of useful to pretend, as Dawkins does, that religion is the cause of the world's ills and that jacking it in would make the world a better place.

Is that to say that organised religion is anyway perfect? Absolutely not

All this anticipates another post that's brewing but a more straightforward response would be somehting like

'Just because organised religion is full of shit doesn't mean that Dawkins isn't full of shit as well. The two are not mutually exclusive

Stef said...

PS I for one would never suggest that morality is impossible without religious belief

What I would suggest is that it would be possibly be very different indeed to what passes for mainstream morality today

PPS The insect and germs argument doesn't really apply as natural selection is all about selection within species not between them. Here's a Dawkins quote on the subject

'Milton misunderstands the first thing about natural selection. He thinks the phrase refers to selection among species. In fact, modern Darwinians agree with Darwin himself that natural selection chooses among individuals within species. Such a fundamental misunderstanding would be bound to have far-reaching consequences; and they duly make nonsense of several sections of the book.'

Stef said...

... Listen, sonny Jim. Sleeping like this will add ten years to your life. I learned it from Keith Richards when I toured with the Stones. This may be the reason why Keith cannot be killed by conventional weapons.

Frank O'Dwyer said...


I mostly agree with the gist of your comments - i.e. religion is not the root of all evil, and Dawkins has a tendency to bigotry against religion.

In fairness to Dawkins though, the worst I've heard him propose is that religion does not deserve respect, and should be a conversation-stopper (I haven't seen the channel 4 programme though - very annoyed I missed it). I also believe his arguments are directed at faith generally more so than religion. Although you are right, and he goes beyond the data often, I can see where he's coming from. Myself, I believe the real common factor is not faith or religion, but absolutism - i.e. the complete conviction that one knows best. This is the lethal ingredient.

I don't think Dawkins falls in that category, though he's not far off it - he certainly believes he is right, but as far as I know he's not proposing to force anything down anyone's necks. He's not proposing to kill or jail anyone who disagrees. Whereas organised religion really does have such exhortations - burn witches, kill your children right after baptism and they will go to heaven - and from time to time they get acted on. But when was the last time you heard of a bunch of agnostics holed up somewhere and threatening to shoot their way out or burn the place down?

Interesting point re Catholics and condoms, though. I agree that the conclusion is hasty but I wouldn't bet on the negative correlation you go for. Like most right-wing morality, Catholic morality is mainly intended for others to follow and is not a matter of choice. In other words, the tendency where possible is to deny condoms to everyone and not just themselves (if even themselves).

Got to respond to those ID points you brought up too - I feel a post coming on... :-)

Stef said...

So do I ;)

I've got a bee up my arse about this subject because there is a sustained campaign in the media that's brainwashing people into thinking that the War on Terror (and all that flows from it) is all about religion when it patently is not

It's about money and power and hegemony and until we face up to that our societies will be committed to perpetual war.

Re. ID - if you fancy a laught check out this story from the Vatican Newspaper


The official Vatican newspaper published an article this week labeling as "correct" the recent decision by a judge in Pennsylvania that intelligent design should not be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution.

"If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another," Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, wrote in the Jan. 16-17 edition of the paper, L'Osservatore Romano.

Stef said...

This might be worth wading through...