Richard Dawkins: Yeah, Not a Good Idea

I just read on Cosmic Variance that Richard Dawkins is wondering aloud if ridicule as a way to deal with people who believe in God is enough.  “I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.”

Ridicule and humiliation generate one thing (mostly):  anger. And that anger will either be directed inward or outward.  Neither is a good thing. After spending a few years studying unsolved murder in New York, I can also add that for some the only way to restore their self-esteem is to kill someone. (Murder is often about shame, it turns out.) For the bulk of humanity however, shame will result in some smaller, quieter form of destruction, and rarely constructive change.  “Nobody likes to be laughed at,” Dawkins points out. And you think the result might be a quick switch to the position of the tormenter?  I suppose for a sad few it might, but that isn’t a true change of thinking or understanding is it?

Actually, the choice to follow such a course of action makes me wonder about those who made it. Who shamed them?

For the record, I am mostly an atheist.  There’s just part of me that can’t get past the arrogance of atheism, and how it feels the same as religious fundamentalism, so I go with agnosticism. This could be as much to do with being a middle child as anything else.  I know a lot of atheists think this is a cop out, but I can live with that.

My point is, I’m all for trying to increase everyone’s understanding of how the universe works.  I want to know more.  So to Richard Dawkins who was wondering aloud:  hell no.  (Little joke there.)

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

7 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins: Yeah, Not a Good Idea

  1. Fully agree with your thoughts on ridicule/anger.

    I’m also an agnostic, and always liked what Carl Sagan said about being agnostic: “It’s keeping an open mind…” Or words to that effect.

  2. Stacy, whether you believe in God or not, you have a good heart.

    I believe in God roughly and unevenly in a similar way to Joseph Campbell. This has been expanded quite a bit due to implications from reading about the near death experience, survival, and an appreciation of a variety of esoteric points of view. Not to mention the daily practice of meditation for over 35 years.

    And I must say that I not only regard Richard Dawkins as arrogant, but extremely naive.

    Whether one does or does not believe in God initially requires this word “God” to be defined. Jesus? Jehovah? Krishna? Nirvana? Allah? the God of the Sikhs? Lord Mahavara of the Jains? the transcendental field of Emerson and Thoreau?

    Frankly, I find these arguments between whether or not God exists to be 19th century constructions that I would expect coming from the era of Jules Verne.

    Additionally, very few of the people who want to diminish the idea of God have any idea of the level of philosophical intelligence that goes on in major theological seminaries, Christian, Rabbinical, Buddhist, or what have you.

    “Orthodoxy to the orthodox,
    Heresy to the heretic,
    But the dust of rose leaf
    Belongs to the perfume seller.”

  3. I once read an interesting little collection of essays, one of which had to do with atheism. The problem with atheism, the author said, is this: without a god, there is no absolute judge. There is no good and bad – it’s only a matter of cultural norm. Someone rapes a small child? There’s no ultimate court saying THIS YOU MUST NOT DO.

    Worth thinking about.

  4. See, I don’t need a god or a judge to tell me that raping a child is wrong. No one has to tell me not to do that. I will not do that all on my own. For the members of our society who can’t tell right from wrong on their own we have police and courts.

    As far as cultural norms, all our gods are subject to our cultural norms, too.

  5. Thanks, Stacy. I think it’s an old Sufi proverb. It expresses my feelings pretty well.

    Let me fill in a few gaps in respect to my uneasiness about the arguments between science and religion.

    First, a lot of these debates are carried on between fundamentalists of their respective fields. (I appreciate you acknowledging the way Atheists can be fundamentalists.) The fact is that after you have eliminated fundamentalism there is a huge and brilliant theology composed of non-fundamentalist points of view. (My own favorite Christian theologian, Paul Tillich, would be one of many.)

    As a consequence, the arguments never go beyond literalism and therefore exclude the most intelligent voices on these subjects.

    Second, if you’re, say, a scientist, and you plan to deal with religion today, you have to deal with what used to be called ‘Religionswissenschaft’. Today this is called ‘the history of religions’. And Mircea Eliade has probably done as much as anyone to help establish accepted methodology for this new humanistic field.

    It considers religion as a whole. It’s similar to comparative religions, but actually looks at the sacred and the profane from the point of view of the idea that all these religions are telling us something unique that cannot be derived from some other source. And what composes the Sacred is something that can be found all around the world.

    Science that wishes to engage debate with religion has to also engage the wisdom that has come from the study of the history of religions. And this is an entirely different cup of tea. You know, Joseph Campbell did mythology, and Hudson Smith did religions. And they both acknowledged each other as operating in their respective fields. And of course the number of saints from different religions who have achieved higher states of consciousness cannot be dismissed by science.

    Third, the arguments from people like Dawkins are mainly concerned with the idea of divinity as a creator, simply because a metaphysical agent as a creator gets in the way of their attempt to have the dominant voice about how the material universe comes into fruition.

    However, divinity from the point of view of metaphysical and ontological consideration has many important attributes besides the role of a “creator”. For example, if one insisted that there was a god and that this god’s only attribute was omniscience, scientists would probably laugh, but not regard it as important enough to argue about.

    But their toes get stepped on when people consider the idea that there is some divine nature to the creative process, and so they feel that if they disarm this point of view they have disarmed the idea of a “god”.

    Finally, I will say that scientists have a lot of trouble contemplating the idea of universals. Ultimately the reason that the East uses so much of the language of ‘via negativa’ (as different from ‘via positiva’) is simply that this pure ground of absolute reality or divine nature is not seen to have any qualifiable particulars to address.

    The universal field of pure beingness or intelligence or energy can only be discussed from the point of view of negatives. (Fire can’t burn it, water can’t wet it, air can’t blow on it, etc.) For example, if one moves from the thought of pure being without attributes to, say, a tachyon, one is already in the field of particulars and out of a consideration of the universal. Some people say that Buddhism is an atheistic religion because of the necessity to disavow attributes.

    This is not to say that something is non-existent; it is simply to acknowledge that this beingness is without designatable properties that can be formed in language.

    Anyway, scientists that I’ve heard constantly bring up some particle or theory, and they seem to have a very tough time considering the possiblities of universals without cognizable attributes.

    I apologize that this is so long-winded. Some things are hard to talk about in bumper stickers.

  6. That is very close, I think, to how Robert Jahn, who ran the PEAR Lab, came to think about these things. He said we need to have a field theory for information and I think what he calls information might be your field on beingness and intelligence.

    By the way, there are times when my writing and my research so go well I feel more like a conduit than the creator or whatever it is I’m doing.

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