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Crawley - Dawkins

William Crawley meets Richard Dawkins - BBC Interview February 20, 2007




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I love Richard Dawkins, but I feel his position is eroded quite a bit by his insistence on the child abuse claim. He seems to be fond of hammering away that point these days.

His position eroded? I disagree. I think he's arguing one of the most important reasons why religion needs to be scrutinized. In our sound bite culture, it's easy to yell "athiest thinks religion is child abuse" as this interviewer tries to do, but that's a pretty dishonest arguement.

And, now that i've watched the thing in it's entirety, that might have been the best RD interview i've seen. He was right on target and didn't let the interviewer corner him on semantics. He made that poor man look like a fundie flat-earther.

Though I agree with you about that being one of the best RD interviews, I have to disagree about your perception of the interviewer. I thought he had great questions and kept up with Dawkins very well. I do find it rather disheartening to find out that the meaning of life is to be what ever man made construct we choose. A great book writer or great video maker. Please, is that the answer for the meaning of life? Then really there is no meaning since those things don't have an eternal quality to them. They are just rubbish. Dawkins lies, he says Darwinist life is "beautiful and elegant." This is not true; it is bleak, cruel and void of meaning. Please understand before you flame me, that I have no problem with his views. I just wish that he would be honest enough with the interviewer to admit that life is absurd and holds no real meaning. But to sit there and say that the Darwinist explanation is "beautiful" is an outright lie.

It's in the eye of the beholder.

Sorry you see life as being bleak, cruel and void of meaning but it really is up to you how you want to see it. Don't look to others to point out the meaning or beauty in life, you have to find it for yourself.

Then really there is no meaning since those things don't have an eternal quality to them. They are just rubbish. Dawkins lies, he says Darwinist life is "beautiful and elegant." This is not true; it is bleak, cruel and void of meaning.

That’s just the problem isn’t it? You, along with other theists, seem to believe that beauty and value lies only if a purpose is behind it. One does not have to be able to utilize a Mona Lisa in order to appreciate its radiance and magnificence. To say Dawkins lies is a rather blinkered and gratuitous statement by shooting down a personal opinion with your own as if yours has any more validation. Having no meaning of life shouldn’t really stop anyone from being able to appreciate your everyday, moment to moment experience with the world around you. We have families, friends, pets, children, nature, individual and collective aspirations, and simply the sheer broad sense of existence is anymore value that can be extracted from simply having the opportunity to be able to engage in such things. Animals do not have to believe in a deity to enjoy themselves no matter how dull their life may be to us.

To have this necessity of a belief in an afterlife depreciates life. A religion which promotes eternal life tends to create a valueless life. Value relates to limits of time and amount. Just as if diamonds became abundant, their value would decrease, eternal lives would also lose their value. A valued life must have limits. Observe people who come close to death or experience a tragedy. Their lives become more precious as a result of learning of their own fragility and mortality. A life believed to go on forever loses its meaning in a sea of infinity. If your version of a meaningful life means to have been created for the purpose of worshipping your creator, and after death you will honor it throughout eternity, then that is a pretty pathetic and horrid divinely bestowed significance. How could anyone find value in being a cosmic cheering squad for a deity so vain and insecure that it needs constant reassurance that it's supreme?

Even if we were talking about a non-institutionalized, highly ambiguous notion of God, how does owning the belief in having been created provide any more to life than the simple and magnificent interactions we have in our lifetime? Do we seriously have to believe that there are fairies in the bottom of a garden to think it’s beautiful? Giving yourself meaning to your own life seems suffice. Adding any more “significance” without any shred of evidence puts you in a rather ridiculous position. As Sam Harris put it in a old exchange, “[t]here is no world view more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: The Creator of the Universe takes an active interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell…An average believer has achieved a level of arrogance that is simply unimaginable in scientific discourse—and there have been some extraordinary arrogant scientists.” To end this reply, I will leave you with what to me is one of the most poetically charged passages I have ever come across in a book discussing life and our privilege to be a part of it:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
-Richard Dawkins in, Unweaving the Rainbow

May you too will be able to find beauty and worthiness in an existence un-ordained by a man in the sky.

i agree wholeheartedly with erick.

"the universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile"

i have never understood how god gives a meaning or purpose to the religious person's life. im genuinely confused. how can it possibly?

existence stands by itself and it is enough. living for someone else does nothing but reduce it, even living for a god. it is much more meaningful if you can generate your own meaning.

and also, cure4pain, i believe you misinterpretted dawkins. i think the "beautiful and elegant" thing is not "darwinist life" (whatever that is--godless, ungrateful, unrestrained hedonism?) but instead the theory of evolution. its not immediately intuitive, but it explains how things came to be in a very elegant way. that particular statement was not particularly about the meaning of life though, just an explantion of life.

An excellent interview. Crawley did very well, and asked some sophisticated and nuanced questions. The best ones, I thought, were first, the one where he wondered whether Dawkins might be ruling out a priori the possibility that any evidence could exist in favor of god, and second, the one where he pointed out that the scientific method itself relies on certain assumptions about what constitutes good evidence and argument. I wasn't entirely satisfied with Dawkins's answer to the first question; the second one I think he dealt with pretty well.

Maybe the best interview of Dawkins I've seen, though I certainly disagree with Willey that the Crawley came off as a "flat-earther" or a "poor man".

Erick, cure4pain never suggested that s/he was a theist. Perhaps you know from outside this thread, but be careful before you say things like "you, along with other theists"... It's perfectly possible for an atheist not to be satisfied with the sorts of "meanings of life" that are defined for oneself. Personally, I find a certain amount of meaning in love, work, family, philosophy, etc., though life is ultimately pretty meaningless... xtfyn.b makes a good point though that if the meaning of life is to satisfy a deity, that doesn't seem any more satisfying than living for your children or some such thing. Can some theist who thinks that it is explain why?

the one where he wondered whether Dawkins might be ruling out a priori the possibility that any evidence could exist in favor of god...

Dawkins took forever to get around to the Anthropic Principle. For a minute I thought he was going to move on to the next question without even mentioning it! When he finally did mention it he had already lost a lot of his gravitas by talking about physical constants like they were buttons and knobs. They are not. The Universe is way more complicated than a TV set.

Colin, I have, as a matter of fact, discussed with cure4pain before and from what I know is a theist who claims that our "moral law" comes from God to give a detailed example. I think you might have missed the point of my reply though. Yes, perhaps there are quite a bit of non-theists out there who aren't satisfied with not having a meaning of life though unsatisfaction does not lend any support to actually having evidence for there being a meaning. I was attacking unjustified beliefs. You say: "personally, I find a certain amount of meaning in love, work, family, philosophy, etc." which was almost a regurgiation of what I aforesaid in my previous post.

This is indeed a great interview. The host certainly did an excellent job, too. He asked questions I imagine most people would ask, and I think Dawkins did rather well in explaining himself. The problem here, I suppose, is what Willey was talking about in terms of "sound bite culture". Saying one thing that sounds off could have you demonized because no one is interested in hearing the ideas behind it. It could make perfect sense, but thanks to semantics and short attention spans it doesn't have to. People will make up their minds about other people based on one tiny quote.

That said, Dawkins chooses decidedly aggressive wording in his arguments, and I've always wondered why. But when you think about it, his apparent militant stance against religion is exactly what has made him "the most popular atheist in the world." I dare say the man's taking a metaphorical bullet for the rest of us by providing the world with this shock value. Thanks to Dawkins, atheism is more understood than ever. I really don't think I'm overexagerating by making that claim either.

If nothing else, Dawkins asks you serious questions that I think a great many people should ponder sometime in their lives. Why exactly do you believe what you believe? Is it a good reason? Should you value blind faith or evidence? They're all perfectly applicable questions for any society. If only every society would bother asking them.

I have, as a matter of fact, discussed with cure4pain before and from what I know is a theist

Okay, I stand corrected. Well, not exactly corrected, but, in any case. And I don't disagree with what you said; your post was quite eloquent and well thought out. It just sounded like you were assuming that cure4pain was a theist, and I, like you, was attempting to caution against unwarranted assumptions. But I wasn't aware of your prior interactions. In any event, that was the only part of my post that I was addressing to you directly. Naturally I don't think that dissatisfaction or existential crises, etc. are any reason to believe in a god.

Frenetic, the anthropic principle is extremely important to keep in mind when thinking about "how lucky we are", and it does refute the specific argument that the values of physical constants being so "finely tuned" suggests the universe is "meant for life". I think the more nuanced point though, which wasn't addressed at all, was whether there could in principle be any evidence that would support the idea of God. Dawkins has said, as have I, possibly in some thread on this blog, that, should some evidence come around, he'd be prepared to change his mind and start believing in a god, but I'm not sure I've ever heard him discuss what, in principle, such evidence would look like. Come to think of it I don't know what would be reasonable evidence either.

If we were to decide that there isn't any possible evidence, even in principle, that would support the existence of a god, what should we do with that? On the one hand we might say that, well, then how can we really subject the notion of god to scientific inquiry in the first place? If there's no possible potential evidence for the idea, it can't be subjected to rational inquiry. This might make God different from the Easter Bunny, who, if it existed, could at least potentially be sighted. On this view, I suppose the logical conclusion is really just to be agnostic. We certainly can't choose among the various religions, but can we really assert with any basis for it that there is no god? Parsimony still applies, I suppose, though there'd be no way to assess the space of possible sets of evidence productively.

I'm not really sure I'm convinced that there couldn't be evidence that would support the idea of god, nor am I convinced that if there weren't the above would be the natural train of thought to follow... I'd like to enter into some discussion on the matter though... Can anyone propose some sort of evidence that we would take as favoring the existence of a god?

I think RD performed well, and Crawley did as well as anyone who has taken RD to task. However, there is one question to which I think RD could have given is much simpler and more convincing answer than the one he gave.

When Crawley asks, "...which means actually, that philosophically you could never accept any evidence that points to the existence of God."

RD:"Well, I think that is an interesting argument..."

Crawley: "But beyond that argument, you are ruling out, in principle, the existence of God."

Had I been in Richard's seat, I would have been tempted to say, 'Nonsense! Should it happen that Jesus Christ were to materialize right here in your studio or perform spectacular miracles with cameras rolling and trained debunkers gasping – and were JC to do so for 5 consecutive interviews I will have in the next few months, I'd say the evidence for God's existence would be quite powerful. But of course, God seems to limit his miracles these days to much less spectacular demonstrations than in the good old days described in the holy books.'

Of course, that kind of reply doesn't rule out a God who doesn't perform "personal" miracles - but I can't really understand why anyone would bother to cling to religious belief if their conception of God is as someone (something?) who (which?) has no personal involvement with humans as individuals but only with humanity via some indirect twiddling of physical constants. What kind of satisfaction or "meaning" does a God like that offer anyway?

A good point, Tim... Some sort of miracle that violated what we know of the laws of physics might be evidence for some "supernatural" force... It certainly seems like a strong nonbelief in the sort of God that actually intervenes is more than justified. I suppose it really is the impersonal kind of God that might pose philosophical problems like those I raised in my previous comment. But then, it's not usually that sort of god that is the topic of discussion in these sorts of debates. Whether or not such a god exists isn't really an emotional question so much as an abstract theoretical one for most people.

Tim:

Had I been in Richard's seat, I would have been tempted to say, 'Nonsense! Should it happen that Jesus Christ were to materialize right here in your studio or perform spectacular miracles with cameras rolling and trained debunkers gasping – and were JC to do so for 5 consecutive interviews I will have in the next few months, I'd say the evidence for God's existence would be quite powerful.

This "Nothing will change your mind, therefore you're as bad as a fundamentalist" argument seems to be a popular one recently. Andrew Sullivan tried that with Sam Harris during their ongoing exchange, but Sam gave an answer along your lines:

I am a very doubting Thomas, but there is no question that my mind could be fundamentally changed, even in this email exchange. If, for instance, your "Imaginary Friend" gave you some highly specific information that you could not have obtained by any other means, I would take this as powerful evidence in favor of your point of view. To increase my vulnerability to this line of attack, I have just written a 30-digit number on a scrap of paper and hidden it in my office. If God tells you (or any of our readers) what this number is, I will be appropriately astounded and will publicize the results of this experiment to the limit of my abilities.

Of course our minds could be changed. Bring it on, God! I agree that other than that one answer, Dawkins did very well.

I respect Richard Dawkins' passion for his beliefs and of course his ability to deliver to the mass public the concept of darwinism and provoke inspiring discussions. But his oposition to religion is to too emotional and vague and based too much on anegdotal evidence to be taken seriously.

The idea that seems most revolting to such atheists in subscribing to a religion seem to be self-sacrifice (suicide bombers..) and the absolute submission to authority (Bible, preachers..). But these are the base priciples of ex. the institution of the army. Any army. You can decline to listen to orders, but you will be sentenced in martial courts (..).

I heard an anegdote that the expression "o.k." was coined as the abbreviation for "zero killed" used by the american troops returning from a mission. Taking into account modern technology, that makes sence. But back when weapons a more direct engagement in battle it was normal to assume 75% or 50% loses or even suicide missions to divert the attention of the enemy on a given front. And patriotism was most often defined as readiness to sacrifice your life for your country. Such is the reality of war, occupation. Religions are only one factor in wars and deffinately not clearly negative.

I can easily imagine people killing in the name of darwinism, cosmos etc. where these ideas would be entagled in some political discourse. For example claiming that they were more enlightened and thus have the right to dominate over others. This has not yet happened, because people also appreciate traditions as something mildly evolving and ex. darwinism has not yet settled down and been mythologised enough for that use (...). He doesn't seem to appreciate the need of people for concepts diving the world into "us" and "them" and their imaginative capacity in doing so. People search for their identity in wonderful and revolting ways and among others USE religion as well as other things in the process. But this is not what respectable religions are all about anyways (...). People need "them" and much psychological, philosophical and sociological research has been done on that topic.

Only recently had I the chance to see last year's conference mentioned before on this site on "Science, religion, reason and survival"(beyondbelief2006.org) and the only person who directly addressed Dawkins' ignorace of the essence of religion was Scott Atran (end of second day). Worth seeing.

We live in a complex world where religion as well as science are executed in bad and great ways. I might as well compare Dalai Lama with my really poor science teacher. (Respactable scholars never read the Scripture the way Dawkins does and the amount and quality of disscussion WITH the Scripture in ex. the Judaic tradition is quite impressive). But maybe it's good that Dawkins is intemeperate the way he is for the sake of mass media and I will temperate my urge to perfect him. Sorry for the lengthy comment.

Si, I'm not sure on what basis you state that Dawkins's opposition to religion is "too emotional". There does seem to be that notion floating around in popular culture, but from what I've seen of him he's quite measured and calm. He does occasionally choose provocative words like "child abuse" and "delusional", but as he says in the interview here, he doesn't mean to equate the things he's referring to and other things people call delusional and abusive, just to point out some parallels.

I'm not sure why Dawkins is so frequently called things like "intemperate" when it seems to me he is much more measured than many political figures. Okay, well I know why it is -- it's because he's discussing religion, something which for some bizarre reason has a kind of bubble around it, shielding it from frank criticism most of the time.

I have a really hard time imagining people going on a violent crusade in the name of evolutionary theory... that's just a bizarre notion.

You're right that religion is not the only instance of "us vs. them", and that there are deep-seated evolutionary psychological reasons for that sort of mindset, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get past that divisive stance. Dawkins realizes that religion is not unique that way, as he discusses in this interview. He also wouldn't claim that if there were no religion there would be no separation into factions over something or other. It's hard to deny though that without the pervasive labeling that comes with religion, it would be a little bit easier for people to stop hating each other for no reason other than their membership in some arbitrary group.

I truly thought this was a terrific issue. I was especially interested in the "underpinnings of science are based on faith too" point. Someone's been reading their Hume...

Anyway, I don't know what the obsession is about the "meaning" of life in the first place. What's so important about meaning? If "meaning of life" wasn't such a cliche, I don't think it'd would have ever occurred to me that there was some proscribed "meaning" to existence. The thought that such a thing could exist is very depressing. In fact, I think that should someone find a gold tablet on the moon written in the hand of god that says "the meaning of life is such and such..." well, that's just one deity's opinion.

W

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roughly the first three quarters of this discussion consisted of questions posed and answers given that i've seen before, mostly here on this blog. the last quarter was absolutely fabulous. i thought both dawkins and the interviewer were absolutely terrific and at times it really felt like a discussion, as opposed to an interview, between two extremely intelligent and well-spoken men, which is SUCH a rarity, especially with the MSM. i am completely fascinated by the whole issue, but my fascination is leading me to a position where i've already seen, and more or less "digested" most of the main and most interesting and creative points. therefore (i've said it before and i'll say it again) i really, truly appreciate having you out there, norm, bird-doggin' this very important issue of our times for us, finding the interesting stuff and posting it. your eyes and ears, and generosity are highly valued by this american ex-pat. thanks for the great blog.

I refer to Dawkins' attitude as emotional precisely because of the vocabulary he uses and the radicality which it conveys which is not a symptom of cool objective (and scientific) attitude. Sometimes scientific metaphors can be very radical without losing their precision, but Dawkins has to back out of his or at least add an extensive commentary which again is not an example of the most efficient way to getting his point across (even not refering to it being true, diplomatic etc.), there are a LOT of worse speakers. I nevertheless enjoy his speaches and learn much listening to them. Religion - in my most general understanding - is the way in which people deal with the spiritual dimension of their existance. And spirituality is something which even most atheists more or less acknowledge (awe when seeing the cosmos, universal meaning of love, care etc.). And I know there's a long way from this to the importance of the Blessed Virgin or the way to deal with your neighbor and many argue that there is no way you can make that connection reasonable but then again its a matter of basic assumptions (which are taken on faith also in science of course), the definition of rationality itself (Foucault had a lot of ideas there), etc. Both eastern and western traditions have had some absolutely brilliant thinkers (and many more poor and terrible ones) involved in the process of developing these immense ethical systems (ways of peceiving the world). But assuming that at some point these projects of humanity dealing with its own spirituality will (or should) go away is for me quite absurd. Religion is a poor reason to hate somebody, but I don't see how this discredits religion.

Cure4pain, in response to your first post [4th from the top], there is a beauty in life that comes from a diveristy of different life-forms, each with its own purpose. The Darwinist view of the world is lot more gounded in reality than Christianity but it still pales in response to the richness of thoughts in world literature and philosophy. A lot of ideas that was credited to science was first posited by philosophers and writers, far more so than people of faith, whose views were later verified by science. < <

I love this line from Cure4pain. “I do find it rather disheartening to find out that the meaning of life is to be what ever man made construct we choose.”

So why subscribe to either Christianity and Darwism? Both are imperfect and come with their share of flaws. Look to other avenues like other schools of thought or do what I do at times. Spend some time in natural surroundings be it a forest, pasture or a desert and see the beauty that is life. A beauty that has a purpose all its own. It does not matter if you can't understand this purpose but partake simply in its beauty and submerge yourself or empathise with the life all around you. < <

Life is never bleak to those who can see beyond the meaningless divisions caused by Western science, thinking or religions.

Btw Wiley, no offense intended, Crawley, the interviewer, is not a fundie flat-earther. He promotes Dawkins heavily, even coming to conflict with fundamentalist groups for naming the Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins as his blog’s Person of the Year. As usual, Norm has again provided convenient and useful links to the background of the people or topics that are dealt in the thread. < <

But Wiley I understand where you are coming from. That close crop to Dawkins’ eyes at the beginning of the clip is certainly meant to make him look devilish.

I was rather impressed with this interview. Perhaps it is American media, but so often he seems to be a yelling, radical evangelical atheist.

Here he was rational and searching for Truth. In this goal, I feel religious individuals will be able to understand him. So often religion is searching for Eternal Truth. As everyone is aware, this is often bent and used as an excuse to persecute... but at the core, they are all searching for the same thing. It's strange that we fight each other.

i really, truly appreciate having you out there, norm, bird-doggin' this very important issue of our times for us, finding the interesting stuff and posting it. your eyes and ears, and generosity are highly valued by this american ex-pat. thanks for the great blog.

I have to second this bit of text from Jon Becker. No matter which side of the fence you happen to fall - the point is that the discussion is happening, and it is happening here. So thank you, Norm, for your efforts. I greatly appreciate it.

its funny how the "fine tuning" arguement where the universe seems perfectly constructed for human life, fails at it base because more then 90% of the universe is compleatly lethal to humans.

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The design augument can be disproved in the way that people say there was a "one in a billion chance" that human life came about, thus god exists. But there are billions of universes, billions of stars, and billions of planets orbiting those stars...not such a small chance after all? The only reason we think we're special in some way and so believe in god is because every person is different and we see our life from a "first person" point of view. Richard Dawkins = Amasing!

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