Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dawkins and Benn

Watching Richard Dawkins with Tony Benn on TV this morning was a bit depressing. Dawkin's made the reasonable point that people like Benn "cherry pick" the Bible looking for the "good bits" (e.g. the Golden Rule) while disregarding the "bad" bits (e.g. stoning people to death for adultery or for gathering sticks on Sunday). The point he was trying to make was that, in "cherry picking" in this way, a criterion of selection is used (a moral code, perhaps) and that, therefore the Bible was not giving moral guidance, rather the "moral code" instructed the "reading" of the Bible. Benn does not, Dawkins argued, get his moral compass from the Bible instead he imposes it upon the Bible. If the "moral code" in question is a "good" one then why not go "directly for it" by-passing religion? Benn - and Andrew Rawnsley - seemed not to comprehend what Dawkin's was saying much less have any sort of rational response. Later some fruit-cake called (I think) Ann Atkins attacked Dawkins as "aggressive" although he seemed courteous and restrained to me (it is his views she doesn't like). Benn's loquacious self-indulgence is grating (the "I met Gandhi mother taught me..." etc routine). Dawkins put up with it rather well, and managed to get Benn to more or less admit that he does not believe in God (he is, he says, a "Christian agnostic"). So far as I can see the only reason why Dawkin's is constantly accused of being "aggressive" is that these religious believers can't stand their dogma being criticised and have no adequate - reasoned - response.


Blogger Liam Murray said...

Didn't see the show and certainly wouldn't go into bat for Ann Atkins but....

My issue with Dawkins, certainly of late, is that he's built his career on demolishing the notion of religious belief but he constantly misrepresents belief and refuses to recognise how varied a concept it is.

In the programme he did for C4 during the summer he demolished a series of religious nuts & fundamentalists just to show how smart he was but I've never once seen him go head-to-head with a serious & learned theologian. Trying to demolish Christian belief by taking on a far-right, born-again American is akin to trying to undermine astronomy by laying into a UFO nut.

You're right that he's always personable and polite as an individual but his apparent obsession with other people's belief systems belies a fundamentalism and irrationality almost as extreme as those religious people he seeks to criticise.

5:06 am  
Blogger politaholic said...

It's quite unfair to say Dawkins has "built his career" on attacking religion (even with the "certainly of late" qualification). You might be aware that he is a distinguished evolutionary biologist. As for the accusation of "irrationality", that strikes me as outrageous; Dawkin's standard of argument is exemplary in its thoroughness and respect for both evidence and logic. Isn't it "irrational" to believe - on the basis of "faith" - in something for which there is no evidence, and for which there are simply no respectable arguments at all?

10:29 am  
Blogger SPL said...

Politaholic, this looks interesting, which show was it on?

Benn seems to me a humanist - he does not beleieve in Christianity's divinity, but, as you say, takes his moral code from a selective reading of the Bible.

1:37 pm  
Blogger politaholic said...

SPL: It was on The Sunday Edition on ITV with Andrew Rawnsley and Andrea Catherwood. It starts, I think, at 11 a.m.

Vis-a-vis Benn, yes, that's what it sounded like.

3:56 pm  
Blogger dreadnought said...

Didn't see the show unfortunately, but I note that there is a huge mountain range on Titan. Is this God's work?

4:33 pm  
Blogger SPL said...

Never heard of The Sunday Edition: ITV and Sunday mornings is a combination I tend to steer clear of. But it certainly sounds like it was an excellent programme; shame it's not on the net anywhere, as far as I can tell.

11:01 pm  

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