Rabbitless Rocks

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In the next chapter, Dawkins seeks to answer the question, “Why are you so hostile?” So believers in God are delusional. So what? Why get that datum wound tight around your axle?

He also has to explain why, given his adversarial stance toward Christianity and creationism, he never takes “part in debates with creationists.” With regard to this, he records the deliciously snarky response from a scientific colleague who replies to creationist invitations to debate with this: “That would look great on your CV; not so good on mine” (p. 281). More on this shortly.

Dawkins tries to answer the charge that he is an atheistic fundamentalist because of his obvious belligerence. He is part of a new “militant atheism” that has a clear take no prisoners approach. Is this not a fundamentalist mindset? Dawkins says no.

“I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it” (p. 282).

This comment is strange on two counts. First, on the question of hemispheres, consider an illustration in favor of “consciousness raising” that Dawkins used earlier in the book.

“That is where consciousness raising comes in. It is for a deeper reason than gimmicky fun that, in Australia and New Zealand, you can buy maps of the world with the South Pole on top. What splendid consciousness-raisers those maps would be, pinned to the walls of our northern hemisphere classrooms. Day after day, the children would be reminded that ‘north’ is an arbitrary polarity which has no monopoly on ‘up.’ The map would intrigue them as well as raise their consciousness” (p. 115).

Arbitrary polarity. Exactly so. And this applies to more than north and south. This is what all the T’s and F’s in a truth tree are, given atheism — arbitrary polarities. Dawkins keeps trying to raise his consciousness, but he keeps bumping his head on the ceiling. He wants objective truth when it suits him, and he wants consciousness-raising relativism when it suits him. If this seems like a contradiction, that’s okay. He’s raising his consciousness.

This brings us to the second point. Dawkins says that evolution would be abandoned overnight if “evidence” were brought forward that disproved it. But how can we know if the evidence is any good? You know, like solid evidence? Well, anything that would bring about the rejection of evolution is, you know, bogus on the face of it. How can we be “truth at all costs” scientists and hedge our bets at the same time?

“When challenged by a zealous Popperian to say how evolution could ever be falsified, J.B.S. Haldane famously growled: ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.’ No such anachronistic fossils have ever been authentically found . . .” (p. 128).

One word in there cracks me up, and gives the whole game away. Authentically found. This is a great challenge and sounds very bold — until you realize that Precambrian rock is defined as being rabbitless. No such evidence has ever been authentically found. What my net don’t catch ain’t fish. “That can’t be a Precambrian rock. Got a rabbit in it, for Pete’s sake.”

This goes back to the refusal to debate creationists mentioned earlier. Exctly how open to hearing alternative evidence might Dawkins be? As it turns out, not at all. He won’t debate creationists, even though in this chapter he mentions one creationist scientist (Kurt Wise), whose scientific craft competence is undisputed. But he is mentioned as a pathetic casulty of religion because he continues to believe the Bible, despite having been trained under Stephen Jay Gould. “I am hostile to religion because of what it did to Kurt Wise” (p. 286). Why not debate Kurt Wise? The snarky comment CVs wouldn’t apply here, now would it?

Another reason that Dawkins is on the warpath is because of the nutcases in the Muslim world and in “the incipient American theocracy” (p. 286).

“In the United States of recent years the phrase ‘American Taliban’ was begging to be coined, and a swift Google search nets more than a dozen websites that have done so” (p. 288).

“The ambition to achieve what can only be called a Christian fascist state is entirely typical of the American Taliban” (p. 292).

The farther the reader goes in this book, the more one suspects that Dawkins has been relying on Google way more than a scholar should. It really doesn’t take much to google up the hyperventilations of hysterical liberals, and a outside Brit like Dawkins might easily come to believe that men like Randall Terry and Paul Hill are representative leaders of conservative Christians in America. And that in fact is what he does (pp. 292-296). This is great for whipping up the moonbats, but it has little to do with what is actually occurring here.

Another reason for Dawkins’ stridency is the fact that conservative believers have been fighting for a respect for human life, born and unborn. But Dawkins complains that pro-lifers frequently support the death penalty.

“Human embryos are examples of human life. Therefore, by absolutist religious lights, abortion is simply wrong: full-fledged murder. I am not sure what to make of my admittedly anecdotal observation that many of those who most ardently oppose the taking of embryonic life also seem to be more than usually enthusiastic about taking adult life” (p. 291).

Take me, for instance. I support the death penalty for convicted murderers, and I oppose the death penalty for unborn children. “Ha! Caught you! Wiggle out of that one!” If someone has forfeited their right to life through an outrageous crime on another, and that person is given a fair and complete trial, then executing them is an act of justice. If someone has not done such an act, and they are given no trial or hearing whatever, then executing them is an act of injustice. This is a real puzzler for Dawkins. Trial? Justice? Innocence? Guilt? Injustice? These are strange concepts. I must hear more about this religion of yours.

Dawkins is not opposed to abortion because a small cluster of human cells, however human they might be, do not have a nervous system. “An early embryo has the sentience, as well as the semblance, of a tadpole” (p. 297). And for some arbitrary reason, the ability to suffer pain is the ethical measuring rod Dawkins has decided to use. In an attempt to be consistent, he calls for more humane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, who can suffer more pain than an early embryo does. But if this is how we run the calculus, then can we not achieve consistency in the other direction as well? What would Dawkins say about the murder of a heroin addict with no family, one who would never be missed, provided that murder were conducted painlessly? The future pain that the addict would no doubt experience is all avoided, and no pain is experienced in the experience of death itself. If the do-gooder sneaks up on him while asleep, he doesn’t even have the pain of fearful anticipation. The action would certainly cause an overall reduction of pain in one nervous system, and no additional pain in any others. And that’s what counts, right? All about nervous systems, right?

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