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philosophy

Dawkins Part 10: On Evolution and Concluding Thoughts

Dawkins flogs the factual accuracy of evolution throughout this book. He is an evolutionary biologist, so I would expect nothing less. I respect his authority in this area of study and I appreciate the scientific explanations that it provides for the development and ongoing manipulations to life that see around us.

Unfortunately, Dawkins is out of his league when he tries to apply his learning to the religious domain. At best, he misses some key details when he attempts to criticize religious faith and its historical, philosophical and ideological ideals. At worst, he fails at the basics of which he should know better: he uses red herrings to distract from articulating and dealing with the topics at hand, he fails at applying proper logic in many of his arguments and when he questions Christianity, he fails to address the great volume of academic literature in support of Christian source validity. This is disappointing, as Dawkins’ valuable academic accomplishments should better equip him than what we see in this book.

For a moment, let’s take a look at “science as God-killer”:

The scientific method is not perfect. Early research into new areas of study can look like a child dipping a toe into a pool of water to check the temperature. If scientific method was bang on, there would be no wasted research or hypotheses that fail to obtain a tangible result. I know… I know… all research is valuable as even in failure, it can discount potential theories so that they can be discounted for further study. That is valuable, yes. But if science has all the answers, then why wouldn’t the hypotheses be right the first time?

As an example of science-gone-wrong, consider the recent problems highlighted in recent reports about Dr. Charles Smith, a high profile coroner who specialized in the field of forensic child pathology. His scientific conclusions significantly contributed to several convictions in suspected child abuse cases. The problem is that under closer examination, Smith’s findings were found to be problematic. Science definitely failed the ruined lives of those that were potentially falsely accused.

Or, closer to this discussion of evolution, let’s look at a recent finding by Maeve Leakey and his colleagues in Africa: Paleontologists continue to question the factual accuracy of evolution. Consider this article in The Washington Post as just one example off the ongoing debate:
Fossil shakes evolutionary tree

Nature, the “International Weekly Journal of Science” published these findings as well, so this is peer-reviewed work.

While I don’t dispute the basic claims made by Dawkins about evolutionary theory, I do question the logic that says that evolution completely replaces the idea of a creator God. Who’s to say that God didn’t use evolution as his tool to generate life.

My point here isn’t that evolution is wrong or that Leakey has disproved evolution. My point here is just that evolution has yet to be fully explained or understood. I would argue that we may never fully understand evolution. And similarly, God is not fully understood, nor do I think God ever will be. This doesn’t disprove God though.

And for those that are still claiming that there is no evidence for God, well… just because you refuse to examine the evidence and consider it in support of God doesn’t mean that the evidence doesn’t exist.

I’ve got two more “scientific conundrums” for you:

LOVE: Science has tried to explain love for years but with little success. For those materialistic atheists out there, I’d love to understand how you can explain love if you strictly look to the material world and empirical evidence to support your claims. Why do we love? Does love not exist because we can’t scientifically explain it?

FREE WILL: Does the scientific worldview support free will? Science can’t seem to answer either way, as it will end up contradicting itself either way:

  • If yes, then doesn’t free will run contradictory to the idea that everything can be predicted based on the conditions and circumstances that lead up to each action? If science can ultimately answer everything, then it must subscribe to a worldview based on predestination.
  • If no, then are we really capable of making any decisions for ourselves, including whether or not we follow a religion? In this case, does Dawkins feel powerless to make a difference on his own, or is he simply following the predestined path that has been set out for him?
  • No – part 2 And further, if no, what caused this “causal chain”? And then where did that first un-moved mover come from? The 18th century Enlightenment philosophers questioned the validity of the causal chain, saying that we don’t necessarily live within the boundaries of a causal chain. So, if Dawkins’ scientific worldview does not support free will, then how does the idea of cause and effect balance out based on this paradox? Don’t we need cause and effect in order for evolution to work?

So, just as we don’t have all the answers about religion, there are plenty of problems there with the scientific worldview as well. I’m no expert in this area, but if my simple mind can understand these scientific problems, then I can just imagine the more complex problems that exist and that have no answer. So Dawkins, my question to you is, “Why are you so arrogant?” You don’t have all of the answers. You’re hardly in the right place to be talking down to other people with such an authoritative tone.

Ultimately, I think the answer becomes one of cohabitation. I feel the presence of God in my life every day. And, I appreciate God’s presence, just as I appreciate the scientific progress in understanding the world that God has provided for us. I am thankful for the scientific research that allows us to lead fuller, richer lives. But I am conscious of the limitations that surround practical scientific research. While science provides us with tools for survival, science lacks the moral compass required to be wise with it. for that, I look to God.

A quick thanks to everyone who has been patient and dedicated enough to take this trip through Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” with me. I hope that you’ve found it as valuable as I have found it. I’ll take the next couple of posts to respond to some reader comments. Thanks to everyone that has submitted comments so far. Your questions and comments have been enjoyable. I’m especially grateful to the skeptics out there who I have been constantly aware of when writing my posts. You’ve kept me honest and at the top of my game.

Thanks again and talk soon,

Todd Dow

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philosophy

Dawkins Part 8: Are All Ideologies Bad

So… Dawkins has been going on and on about how religion has been so bad and that it should be abolished in favour of scientism, evolutionism or some other worldview of his liking. He suggests that a religious worldview leads to child abuse and human rights violations.

Dawkins argues:

“As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect for the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need no urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith. This is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called ‘extremist’ faith. The teachings of ‘moderate’ religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” (pg 306)

I find this extremely short sighted and dangerous. Isn’t it this kind of narrow-minded censorship that religious extremists have exhibited in their abusive theocratic rule throughout history? As I have mentioned numerous times during this series, I am in complete opposition to the extremist views that fanatical religious adherents try to push on other people, but I adamently oppose any sort of censorship or blanket persecution of a worldview or ideology just because a few twist that perspective for their means.

In fact, I’d like to suggest that in many instances, it hasn’t been religion that has been persecuting people, but instead, it has been the political ambitions of the religious leaders that has hijacked religion for their own needs. Throughout most of recorded history, the church provided the main religious AND political leadership throughout the developed world. This often led to a conflict of interest when it comes to following Jesus and satisfying the material needs of society. Consider these examples:

  • 313 CE: Augustine & the Political Realm – In the early 4th century, the Roman empire was being attacked from barbarian hordes from lands that surrounded the Roman empire. At this time, the population was becoming more and more Christian which was problematic as Christianity was a religion of peace up until this time. And, since the population was becoming more and more Christian, willing military conscripts were becoming fewer and fewer. This meant that in order for the Roman empire to survive, the military required Christian participants. At this time, Augustine (one of the early church fathers) developed a Christian justification for violence in order to support military participation. It has been suggested that Augustine was under extensive political pressure to develop this treatise.
  • 1095 CE: Pope Urban II & The CrusadesI’ve argued in the past that Pope Urban II abused his authority as Pope to kick off the Christian Crusades, which are one of the greatest blemishes on the face of Christianity, even today.
  • 2001 CE: Modern Day “Crusades” – This one’s kind of a no-brainer, but the US is currently involved in a political and economic war in the Middle East to secure oil rights and to advance economic interests in the area. George W. Bush kicked off this campaign against the “war on terror” with this rousing quote:

    “On Sunday, Bush warned Americans that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.” He and other US officials have said that renegade Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden is the most likely suspect in the attacks.”

    (http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0919/p12s2-woeu.html)

    So far, the US has done a great job of creating their latest victim (who remembers the red menace of communism?): Islam. While vilifying this same enemy that the US used to be so chummy with (who remembers the assistance that the US provided to the Taliban in fighting against Russia in the 80s?), Bush has done a fantastic job of creating a “cover” under which to obtain carte blanche to stir up a hornets nest of resentment in the Middle East that is sure to last for at least the next generation. For more on this topic, check out this article: A Tragic Picture of Death

  • Economic Human Rights Abuses – For more on this topic, I’ll defer you to an internationally respected organization and their extensive catalogue of abuses: Amnesty International – Economic Globalization and Human Rights.

So yeah… if we apply Dawkins’ logic, we may as well disassemble our democratic state and our economic system in its entirety. In fact, I’d argue that religion has in some cases indrectly led to human rights abuses by a few, extremely influential yet extremely misguided individuals. The economic and political ideals that we as a modern society have adopted, on the other hand, provide a system whereby a few are allowed to prosper, while at the same time ignoring the plights of the majority who are underfed and under cared for.

Dawkins seems intent on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Religion has also been responsible for the majority of the world’s charity up until the 20th Century. And, these institutions (hospitals, orphanages, schools, etc.) were set up with the ideal goal of providing universal well being. Today’s capitalist health care system doesn’t seem to reflect those same ideals.

So where’s the problem here? Is it religion, or the abuses that its members have commited? In my opinion, we need to focus on oversight to ensure that the needs of everyone are met and that abuses don’t occur. And when abuses do occur, we should be proactive in removing the abuser(s) and correcting the situation. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

Next up: “Childhood abuse and brainwashing

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philosophy

Dawkins Part 7: The Slippery Slope of Abortion

In chapter 8, Dawkins talks about abortion. He makes a couple of startling claims. First, he argues that religion is bad because a select few fundamentalists kill abortion doctors, and then he goes on to argue support for abortion because fetuses aren’t really human anyways.

Dawkins’ logic is seriously flawed in this chapter. There are two problems here.

First, he uses the red herring of religious fundamentalists that have killed abortion doctors as a protest against abortion. I touched on this in my last post when I talked about fundamentalism. Even though a select few choose to kill in the name of their cause, that doesn’t necessarily make the cause a bad one. Thus, Dawkins yet again shows a flawed sense of logic in his arguments. Another strike against Dawkins and his writing in this book. I talked quite a bit on this topic of religious fundamentalism in my last post and I’ll be talking about it again in my next post. So, I’m going to put this aside for now.

The second problem is this: Dawkins tries to dehumanize abortion in an attempt to justify it in some way.

My views on this topic have gone from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. I think of myself as fairly liberal in a lot of respects. I lean towards rehabilitation for criminals, I’m against capital punishment and I think that social assistance is an important safety net for all of us, including the least among us. Those aren’t typical conservative views. To stick with the stereotype, many liberals support free choice, while most conservatives are pro life. Yes, this is a generalization, but I think it’s a fairly accurate and it does seem to represent the “typical liberal or conservative” agenda.

But, that’s not what I’m here to talk about today…

Like I said, I used to be extremely pro choice. I always thought that abortion should be the individual’s choice. My views on this were strongest in my teens and early twenties, which is the age at which most of us may feel the need to deal with this issue on a personal level. And, I remember at the time feeling that this would be “the best choice for me as I wasn’t ready to have a kid yet.” Fear, uncertainty and unreadiness are the thoughts that came to my mind when I considered the options available to people in my age group when it came to having children. If I wasn’t ready, well… the medical system had the easy out, the so-called “get out of jail free” card.

It wasn’t until I had matured more that I revisited my thoughts on abortion. And, I didn’t revisit these views until I started to think I was stable enough to have a family of my own. At that point, my views started to take a turn in a different direction. All of a sudden, abortion represented the death of a child. As any expectant parent understands, that week 12 visit to the doctor is extremely symbolic. At week 12, most parents hear the heartbeat of their new little baby for the first time. I remember the first time I heard Noah’s heartbeat. I was instantly connected to the baby. And the connection was more vivid for Julie as she started to experience Noah kicking and punching inside of her as he grew in her belly.

It’s interesting how perspectives change depending on the circumstances, eh?

Dawkins tries to bring in a third view, which takes us in a totally different direction. He tries to debate whether or not fetuses are fully human, or if they are just a “bundle of cells”. The distinction is a strange one to me because a scientist could look at any living person and make the same distinction. By dehumanizing the new life growing inside of a woman is to grossly misrepresent that life. The standard argument is that a fetus is not a human for numerous reasons, including that the fetus has no nervous system, thus it will not suffer or the fetus is unable to survive outside of the womb, thus it is not a viable life. There are many other justifications to support abortion as well.

My primary response to these types of justifications is this: would you take a human life if the person was in this kind of position? Non-responsive nervous systems or inability to survive outside of the womb… well… any baby I’ve ever seen is unable to survive for long outside of the womb without assistance from a parent or guardian. Should we be allowed to kill babies at our leisure and pass it off with a dismissal shrug of the shoulders? I think not. Strange how Dawkins can so trivialize the act of abortion by turning it into a scientific procedure with no mention of the human life that is being affected. Would we accept his argument if he were talking about newborns? I think not. So why is it okay for him to talk about it in such stark terms with an unborn child?

But… I guess this is where it all goes back to perspective: as parents, we eagerly grasp that first inkling that we’re fostering new life. That first glimpse of life, no matter how small, is such an exciting time. Is Dawkins really being serious when he suggests that it is just a bundle of cells?

Don’t get me wrong… abortion is a tragic situation no matter what the circumstances. I am sure that in many cases, the options are quite limiting and abortion seems like the easiest way out. I feel for people in those situations as it can’t be an easy decision to make. And the last thing I want to do is judge people. It is tragic any time the decision to take a life occurs. What can we do to save more lives?

Regardless of the outcome, this is where, in religion, love and support must shine through. Times of struggle are the times when people most look towards God for help. But with abortion, many people are afraid to look to God. Not only has the individual dismissed an innocent life, but in many cases, the individual has also convinced themselves that it wasn’t a life at all. Turning to God after denying him is next to impossible. Thus, it is important to reach out to people in times of struggle like this type of situation.

This issue is one that polarizes us as a society. It’s not an easy topic to agree upon. There are compelling arguments on either side. But, I think that if we consider the unborn life inside of the mother and if we approach this unborn life with the same rights as any other person, then how can we not think of abortion as murder? I know that my own personal views from my teens and early twenties still haunt me sometimes. I think to myself from time to time, “what was I thinking? Was I really supportive of the ending of another human life? Would my own happiness be worth the cost of taking a human life?” If only we could give people the understanding and experience of planned parenthood before they have to embark on a decision such as abortion… I’m sure if that happened, the outcome would be much different in plenty of situations.

In fact, some states in the US are now requiring that women have an ultrasound before they have an abortion. This is an interesting new approach, as it counters the dehumanizing process that has been propped up by pro choice arguments and scientific approaches such as those by Richard Dawkins. And interesting enough, it is science that is having the greatest impact on these vulnerable decision makers. By attending an ultrasound, the mothers-to-be get to experience first-hand the new life that is inside of themselves. While statistics are difficult to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests that the scientific tool of ultrasound is making a difference in reinforcing the new life and saving it at the same time.

I wonder if Dawkins would consider that to be an example of evolution and survival of the fittest at its finest.

Next up: “Why not rid ourselves of religion, politics and economics all at the same time?

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philosophy

Dawkins Part 6: The Problem With Fundamentalism

We’re all fundamentalists in some way. I find it quite contradictory that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the like criticize others for being fundamentalists when they themselves are so adament about their atheistic worldviews.

Dawkins spends a fair amount of time criticizing the extremist views of some religious people. He talks about Christians that kill abortion doctors. He talks about Muslims that kill people that have converted from Islam to Christianity (or other religions). And we’re all aware of the many “fundamentalist preachers” in the US and throughout the world that discriminate against homosexuality, women and other differences that they claim somehow make people unequal.

This is one area where I’ve gotta agree with Dawkins. I agree that fundamentalist views are problematic. They divide us. They split us into factions. These divisions work against all of us. There is no community spirit in division. That being said, we’re not all going to agree on everything. Human nature doesn’t make this possible. We all ahve different opinions. We all like different things. We don’t all like the same movies, the same food, the same music or the same books.

So, why does that mean that we all have to like the same worldview?

It doesn’t.

But, does that mean that we should impose our opinions on other people? I’d argue no, but then I’m bound to be called a fundamentalist by someone that disagrees with me. And there’s the rub… we’re all fundamentalists in some way, shape or form. Does this make us wrong? No. What is right and wrong when you’re debating ideas that have competing evidence? There’s a whole lot of grey in those discussions.

For a lot of years, I loved to live in the black and white of right and wrong. I didn’t function well with shades of grey. Structure and rules provide comfort and stability. But I eventually realized that each of us look at things through different sets of eyes. I see things as a middle aged white male living in a middle class neighbourhood after growing up in a blue collar family. There are plenty of other perspectives though. Factors that influence our perspectives include gender, cultural background, colour, age, education level, geographical location, etc. All of these things will impact our views, our values, our opinions and our prejudices (whether real or perceived).

Trying to view things as others see them is a worthwhile exercise, as it allows us to understand each other better. Give it a try. Juggle some of the factors that I mentioned above. Imagine how you’d perceive the following sitatuations:

  • Money if you are rich versus poor
  • Food if you are hungry versus well fed
  • Sex if you are loved versus abused
  • etc. – the list could go on and on

So my question here is: What makes religion any different? Why can’t we all have differing worldviews? What’s wrong with understanding and connecting with God in different ways?

The problem here, as Dawkins has so articulately put it, is that some people don’t allow for freedom of religion or of expression. Some people believe that it is their duty to convince others of their perspective, even to the point of persecuting them if they don’t agree. Thus, we are faced with the problems of extreme responses that I mentioned above.

My religion tells me:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

But surely, Jesus, saying these words, didn’t mean to forcefully convert people, did he? That would be contradictory to his earlier teachings on peace. Remember, Jesus also said:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)

These two quotes are two of the “biggies” in Christianity. The first quote, Matt 28:19-20, is known as The Great Commission. The second, Matt 22:37-39, is known as The Greatest Commandment. Thus, these are primary verses for Christians to understand.

Some have had a difficult time interpreting these two and allowing them to coexist together. To some, the order to “go and make disciples” has been understood as an active, forceful directive in which coersion is to be applied to convert people. One of the greatest recorded abuses of this is by the Spanish and others that arrived in the New World only to massacre hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Native Americans. These massacres were at least partially justified through the directive to “convert or die”. Yet, this directly contradicts Jesus’ pacifist message of love, as highlighted in The Greatest Commandment.

This type of tension is present in numerous different worldviews. Religion isn’t the only place that this is present, but it is worrisome when it leads to extremism.

The media has reported numerous examples of religious extremism coming from the Muslim faith lately. As I look at the facts in the situations of suicide bombers and freedom fighters, I do understand some of the motivations behind their actions. Persecution and lack of options is high on the list of reasons for what pushes people to go to such extremes. But, when these people claim to be doing the work of the Lord by carrying out such acts, that doesn’t really jive with what others within their own faith believe. Further investigation tends to suggest that these extremists follow an extreme interpretation of their texts, in much the same way that Christian extremists distort and disregard the message that is provided in the New Testament of Christianity. Thus, there is some concern with the validity of their claims.

And really… do we really think that killing someone will make our point of view any more right? I argue no. If anything, it will distract anyone from listening to the original argument and will instead focus them on the violent action. If I need violence to defend my opinion, then I’d best re-examine my argument because it can’t be that strong of an argument if I can’t defend it by other means.

The key here is tolerance and confidence that we are following the right path for the right reason. No matter what factors play into our individual worldviews, I do believe (here goes the fundamentalist in me again!) that we are each, individually responsible for having a rational and well thought out worldview. Otherwise, why do we believe what we believe?

So yeah… I’m onside with Dawkins here. I agree that extremist views do exist and that violent coercion to convince others is the wrong way to go. If your argument isn’t convincing enough, then perhaps you need to reconsider your argument. And, if your argument doesn’t make sense, then why do you believe what you believe? And further, if you hold a religious worldview that involves Jesus or the Quran, which both preach love and peace, then why would you follow a violent path to represent that faith? Doesn’t it make you a hypocrite?

That’s my challenge for you today… take some time to examine what you really believe.

Next up: More moral discussion in “The Slippery Slope of Abortion“.

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philosophy

How do we provide unconditional love?

Part five of my five part series entitled “Who Do You Love?”

Is this possible? Are we able to love those that are against us? This is where the challenge comes in. Agape isn’t easy. It isn’t fair weather love. It doesn’t come and go as your feelings change. Agape is unconditional. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t categorize people into lists of cool, smart, popular or funny. Agape is consistent with all people. It provides dignity, respect and compassion to everyone. This is what God asks of us.

I’ll wrap up with a personal story of dignity and respect. When I was living and working in Toronto, I became friends with a guy named Larry. Larry panhandled a block from my workplace, just outside of the subway that I rode to work every day. For months, I would walk by Larry every day, not really acknowledging him. Larry became a familiar sight in the morning and at night when I would come and go from work. One day, I decided to stop and talk to him for a minute. I was curious to see what his story was. If nothing else, he was dedicated to what he was doing. I think he showed up for his work of panhandling on a more regular basis than some of my co-workers.

I was curious to know who Larry was, what made him tick. Over the course of six months or so, we slowly got to know one another. We’d say hi and bye each day, we’d occasionally stand and chat for a few minutes while I was on my way to work or on my way home to my family. Through conversation, he shared some of his life story with me and I shared some with him. I learned that he was making ends meet through panhandling and by working part time as a youth street counselor. He felt the need to dedicate some of his time to preventing kids from making some of the same mistakes that he had made.

I asked him what I could do to make a difference with some of the social problems that he was experiencing himself, or that he was witnessing in those kids that he visited on a regular basis. His answer summed up agape so well for me. He told me that just saying hi to people and making them feel like people was a good start. He said that just recognizing someone as a person and providing them with that level of respect made such a difference. It didn’t cure their problems. But it gave them a sense of dignity and worth.

To me, that’s an example of agape in action. Just recognizing someone and acknowledging them is important. Ensuring that everyone can contribute and that nobody is marginalized is part of God’s plan. It’s about encouraging dignity and respect in the lives of others.

It’s ultimately about community. Loving your neighbour, regardless of who they are, what they do or why they do it.

I’m going to leave you with a question. Write it down and put it on your fridge or your bathroom mirror or somewhere that you’ll see it on a regular basis:

What can you do this week to express God’s divine love?

Thank you and God bless each and every one of you.

Todd Dow