The Watering Hole; Thursday February 19 2015; Dawkins

The other day I ran across a packet of randomly collected “old” quotes by Richard Dawkins, all of which he spoke prior to October, 2006. Upon re-reading them, it struck me — given today’s ever-increasing religious radical and anarchist ideologues both here at home and ‘over there’ — how infinitely more timeless is science when compared to those wild-eyed religious fundamentalists one runs across regularly these days.

Dawkins has a lot to say, and though he says extremely well, he doesn’t take up a whole lot of bandwidth in the process. Still, as John Locke once offered, “It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of truth.” Here’s Dawkins carrying out both those tasks at once.

“There is just no evidence for the existence of God. Evolution by natural selection is a process that works up from simple beginnings, and simple beginnings are easy to explain. The engineer or any other living thing is difficult to explain but it is explicable by evolution by natural selection. So the relevance of evolutionary biology to atheism is that evolutionary biology gives us the only known mechanism whereby the illusion of design, or apparent design, could ever come into the universe anywhere.”

“People brought up to believe in faith and private revelation cannot be persuaded by evidence to change their minds. No wonder religious zealots throughout history have resorted to torture and execution, to crusades and jihads, to holy wars and purges and pogroms, to the Inquisition and the burning of witches.”

“For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can’t statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you’re still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that’s because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.”

“A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the “imaginary friend” and the bogeyman under the bed. Unfortunately, the God delusion possesses adults, and not just a minority of unfortunates in an asylum. The word ‘delusion’ also carries negative connotations, and religion has plenty of those.”

“The beauty of Darwinian evolution is that it explains the very improbable, by gradual degrees. It starts from primeval simplicity (relatively easy to understand), and works up, by plausibly small steps, to complex entities whose genesis, by any non-gradual process, would be too improbable for serious contemplation. Design is a real alternative, but only if the designer is himself the product of an escalatory process such as evolution by natural selection, either on this planet or elsewhere. There may be alien life forms so advanced that we would worship them as gods. But they too must ultimately be explained by gradual escalation. Gods that exist ‘ab initio’ are ruled out by the Argument from Improbability, even more surely than are spontaneously erupting eyes or elbow joints.”

“Most scientists use the term God in the way that Einstein did, as an expression of reverence for the deep mysteries of the universe, a sentiment I share.”

“‘Religious’ physicists usually turn out to be so only in the Einsteinian sense: they are atheists of a poetic disposition. So am I. But, given the widespread yearning for that great misunderstanding, deliberately to confuse Einsteinian pantheism with supernatural religion is an act of intellectual high treason.”

“The first cause cannot have been an intelligence — let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshipped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.”

“Even before Darwin’s time, the illogicality was glaring: how could it ever have been a good idea to postulate, in explanation for the existence of improbable things, a designer who would have to be even more improbable? The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin was born.”

“Natural selection is so stunningly powerful and elegant, it not only explains the whole of life, it raises our consciousness and boosts our confidence in science’s future ability to explain everything else. Natural selection is not just an alternative to chance. It is the only ultimate alternative ever suggested. . . . Natural selection is an anti-chance process, which gradually builds up complexity, step by tiny step.”

“[E]volution is a predictive science. If you pick any hitherto unstudied species and subject it to minute scrutiny, any evolutionist will confidently predict that each individual will be observed to do everything in its power, in the particular way of the species – plant, herbivore, carnivore, nectivore or whatever it is – to survive and propagate the DNA that rides inside it.”

“We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin’s principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.”

Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the author of nine books, including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale, and The God Delusion.

I can’t help but compare Dawkins’ theses with those of various well-known and self-proclaimed ‘religious’ spokesmen such as Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, David Barton, Mike Huckabee, Bill Donahue, Rick Santorum, Jimmy Bakker . . . the list is endless even though the total amount of intelligent thought that emanates from said crowd wouldn’t be enough to dampen the inside of a dry thimble. Dawkins, meanwhile, summarizes the essence of life and its origins in a few paragraphs. The contrast is stunning. I am, however, not at all surprised — and I seriously doubt that John Locke would be surprised either.


55 thoughts on “The Watering Hole; Thursday February 19 2015; Dawkins

    • We’re predicted to have snow and freezing rain starting tomorrow about 4pm. I called work off for myself on Tuesday night by requesting a vacation day for tomorrow. I would have had to leave for work before the precipitation started, and worry about how long to wait before going home early. I hate that, because you can’t really tell how bad conditions are except right where you are. Now I can relax all day knowing I’m ‘pre-approved’ to leave that problem to somebody else. Our company isn’t very good about cancelling a shift in advance, but they ought to do it for tomorrow night. Then we would have used a vacation day or sick day anyway.

  1. “The year of the sheep”
    There’s a joke there about the Koch brothers, the oil industry, lobbyist’s, a train wreck and a pipeline but, I’m still on my first cup of coffee.

    • “Lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless; tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless.”

      That’s the dictionary definition for Bush — oops, I meant the dictionary definition for Stupid. Some things are hard to keep straight.

    • Ummm Rand, dahling…ARPANET
      initially funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense for use by its projects at universities and research laboratories in the US…from Wikipedia,just a friggen click away unless you’re in Kentucky.


  2. I’ve been emailing Tanya back and forwards this week in Kyev last couple of days. The Minsk 2 “ceasefire” is generally thought to be a trap for Poroshenko. Putin’s lies about not being involved (you should see the pictures of a 3 star Russian general on ‘holiday’ near Debaltseve this week) have allowed him to continue attacking until the key railway junction city was taken (and the airport in the last “ceasefire”). The ‘ceasefire’ is only to be used to provide an excuse to restart the offensive on provocations. She says they are concerned that they will push to Kharkov, I thought that Putin wants to connect to Crimea and he will switch to attack Mariupol a city of 500,000 people. There is no ceasefire while one side thinks the cost to win is acceptable, and only one side seems to have unlimited ‘checkbook’ of death and destruction to meet out.

    Tanya recalled telling me in May that the people in the Maidan by then were not the 500,000 who were there during the Nov-Feb struggle. She said she would never forget the people and the spirit, but notes sadly that it has gone and wonders if it ever can come back.

    “And I want to say that I will never forget the people I met there …. people with a special look …. Now, in everyday life, such can rarely meet.”

    I also found out she wasn’t just taking food and blankets to the Maidan that week, after she took her son to the countryside to be safe, she went back to the square and helped break up paving stones for the protestors.

    Almost a year ago today, on a night where 26 people died at the hands of the riot police, listen to the explosions, fireworks and watch the burning tires of the barricades and above it all the national anthem sung by about 100,000 who would not leave.

  3. A lame duck Governor has arranged for his Lt. Governor to appoint the outgoing Governor to the state’s Supreme Court. Doesn’t that sound absurd? Is this in:
    d.) Kansas

  4. Another day in the NRA’s version of Amurka……


    I really loathe the idea of “Darwin Awards.” In addition to being utterly corny (and scientifically inaccurate), I usually find the idea both smug and unkind. For who among us has not pulled a total boner move that may very well have ended our life, right then and there? This is not to say I’m above laughing at an absurd, untimely death. On the contrary, some people are so awful, they inspire a fuck-youology, and I’ll be damned if I deny myself that pleasure. I can’t think of a more deserving candidate than Christina Bond—biker, Evangelical and Republican Precinct Delegate for Saint Joseph Charter Precinct 1 in Michigan, who fatally shot herself in the eye recently, adjusting the gun in her bra-holster.

    The folks over at Raw Story noted that her Facebook page was heavy on the Bible quotes and Republican boosterism, with some choice words against Obama and the protestors at Ferguson. Her status after winning the election spoke of needing “people involved in taking our country back,” though she failed to mention if “taking our country back” would require firearms.

    An excerpt from her obituary:

      • My now deceased BiL was a Minnesotan, grandson of German immigrants. He was overall a great guy, but not too well-schooled in anything other than dairy farming and heavy equipment operation. Whenever he’d see a someone of east Asian ancestry, he’d say something like “goddamn Japs.” That stuff always rubs me the wrong way, so I engaged him in a conversation. Finally I asked him about Hitler and the German part of WWII and he admitted they were just as bad. Finally I asked him what if American Germans had been rounded up and put in concentration camps. There was a long pause, and he finally said “I never thought about it that way.”

        About that time we were coming up on a farm owned by a friend, a Japanese American who had been confined as a young man in an internment camp. We pulled in and George was in his shop, so we stopped. I introduced him to BiL Roy, and we shot the breeze for at least an hour. After we left and were heading home, Roy confessed that George was the first “Japanese” (not Jap) person he’d ever met. A few minutes later he mentioned that he was wrong about calling them ‘Japs’ — and I never heard him use the word again.

  5. Bill O’Reilly has a Brian Williams problem:

    “American reporters were not on the ground in this distant war zone. “Nobody got to the war zone during the Falklands war,” Susan Zirinsky, a longtime CBS News producer who helped manage the network’s coverage of the war from Buenos Aires, tells Mother Jones. She does not remember what O’Reilly did during his time in Argentina. But she notes that the military junta kept US reporters from reaching the islands: “You weren’t allowed on by the Argentinians.”

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