Before I discuss Dawkins or his presentation, let me start by saying that, going into this, I was in no way a fan of Dawkins. I staunchly agreed with Ken Miller that science is silent in the areas of religion and that trying to twist science to comment on religion was an abuse of the powers and limitations of science. I absolutely still hold this position and in no way think that science disproves God. Thus, I was inclined to disagree with many of Dawkins’ underlying principles as I understood them.
So for those intending to read this assuming I am predisposed to support Dawkins as some sort of idol, I will say forthwith that you are sadly mistaken. However, I doubt that this warning will stop those predisposed to making such claims from doing so. After all, Judge Jones’ records and political affiliations have never stopped them from branding him an activist judge. But I have no interest in the opinions of such people as make their opinions in spite of the facts.
As has become usual, I intend to break this summary of Dawkins’ time at KU into several parts. The first, I expect, shall be the summary of his presentation with as little commentary as possible, followed when I have the time, by my summary of the Q&A session from the evening. Next should be a summary of his morning Q&A session, and lastly, my opinions on both.
Dawkins’ talk began with a reference to one of creationists favourite analogies that attempts to disprove evolution. This is, of course, Fred Hoyle’s famous quote about the likelihood of evolving humans randomly is like a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747.
But, he pointed out, this analogy is only used by those who have no clue how evolution really works. In reality, God is the ultimate 747 in that the likelihood of God existing is amazingly improbable.
This tactic of asking loaded questions with pithy catch phrases, he says, is the standard for Creationists. Evolutionists are frequently told to explain “information” or hounded with phrases like “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yet, despite uninformed critiques, evolution through random mutations and natural selection is the only known theory that actually works.
God, meanwhile, is the ultimate free lunch.
Yet it’s held that God is somehow the natural alternative to chance. But natural selection is better. Claiming that the imagined failures of evolution supports creationism is the illogic of default. To illustrate this, Dawkins gave the basic formula that those in support of ID and creationism follow in this regard:
1. We have theories A and B
2. Theory A is supported by lots of evidence
3. Theory B has no evidence
4. Theory A can’t explain X.
5. Thus B is correct (regardless of whether or not it explains X)
This is the inherent problem with ID/Creationism. Both ignore the vast successes of Evolution to harp on imagined shortcomings, such as the origin of life, yet beg the same questions themselves: i.e., who designed the designer?
Meanwhile, evolution through natural selection is the only working solution.
This is because natural selection takes something that would otherwise be amazingly improbable (on the order of 1076 that John Calvert loves to cite), and breaks it into a series of manageable chunks. This power of chunking is conveniently ignored by creationists of all sorts.
Instead of relying on rational arguments, they focus on appeals to the public with slogans like “Teach the controversy.”
“What controversy?” Dawkins responds prompting a massive amount of applause.
This rhetorical device, while sounding nice is ultimately ridiculous. To illustrate this point, Dawkins showed a few slides:
It is this sort of thing, he argued, that teachers are forced to defend against. He said he empathized with teachers who are “in the front line trenches against the forces of darkness” and encouraged them to “fight the good fight.”
He declared that Creationism and Intelligent Design are “skyhooks” meaning that they fly in an explanation out of nowhere and don’t really explain anything except in terms of something larger, which is itself unexplained.
Meanwhile, evolution, was a “crane”, which is supported from the ground up by things that are well explained.
Dawkins then discussed other creationist tactics such as quote mining. In “Origin of Species,” Darwin noted that some systems, such as the eye, seem to cause difficulty for his theory. Creationists frequently cite this, but refuse to acknowledge that Darwin then addressed those difficulties in the next breath.
Dawkins also shared an experience in which he was quote mined saying that the Cambrian explosion presented an apparent problem with evolution. But, as we’d expect, the Creationists never quote the rest of the chapter, in which this apparent problem is resolved. But, as has been astutely pointed out, each missing link that is found, creates two new ones in the eyes of Creationists.
Instead, they bemoan the lack of fossils, which, Dawkins says, is ridiculous to expect. It would be like expecting someone to produce a full color video recording with no missing frames of a murder before being able to convict someone. This is ludicrous, and even without a comprehensive fossil record, there is still more than enough evidence from other methods to be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that evolution did indeed occur.
Another fallacy of Creationism and Intelligent Design is the God of the Gaps argument. Science, ultimately, thrives in gaps. Without them, there would be nothing to research. Creationism, by default, can only thrive in the supposed gaps left by science. However, unlike science, which attempts to fill the mystery with understanding, mystics like creationists want the mysterious to stay a mystery, lest they have no thing to exploit.
This is evidenced by the fondness of gaps such as the ones already mentioned in the fossil records. Yet, for all the supposed shortcomings in this area, not a single fossil has ever been found out of its chronological expectation; the “fossil rabbit in the Precambrian.”
Another favourite argument of Creationism is that of personal incredulity. If someone doesn’t personally understand something, that must somehow mean that no one does, and thus, God did it.
Dawkins has one word for this:
He summarized this Creationist vantage as saying “You don’t understand how the nerve impulse works? Gooood… Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. We need those precious gaps as the last refuge of God.”
From there, Dawkins began discussing the events that are deemed highly unlikely in the origin of mankind.
Having already addressed how the supposedly impossibly improbable “chance” that evolution worked he first discussed the origin of life, saying that such a thing would indeed be a highly improbable event. However, unlike evolution, it only had to occur once.
This means that, given the sheer number of planets thought to exist in our galaxy, and even ignoring those that aren’t in the “goldilocks zone”, multiplied by all the galaxies in the known universe, even a conservative estimate would provide a highly likely chance that life would emerge somewhere.
On an even larger scale, it’s frequently stated that we’re somehow in a privileged universe with properties “just right” for life. Thus, by the same reasoning, and the anthropic principle, it’s reasonable to invoke the possibility of multiple universes to account for that apparent improbability.
Not wishing to spend much time defending this position claim (which is something many seem to be complaining about on other blogs) Dawkins instead said he discussed this point more in his book.
From there, he turned his attention towards religion itself as opposed to the pseudo-science it creates.
His first note was that almost all children tend to be the same religion as their parents and, very conveniently, it just happens to be the “right one.” Why is this? Indoctrination of course.
He argued that there was no such thing as a truly Christian child; Only children of religious parents. Forcing a child to adopt a religious label takes away the natural curiosity of children and, according to Dawkins, is a form of metal child abuse. While I fully expected this claim to be met with loud disapproval, it was instead met by a large amount of applause.
To support his claim of how ridiculous it was to label children, he showed an image that labeled three children as being of various religions. He then replaced the religions with political affiliations, and remarked that no one would argue that kids actually understood the labels that would be attached. Similarly, one cannot truly affix religious labels to children.
He then asked what would happen if science accepted the same poor standards as religion did. To illustrate his point, he presented an imaginary table of contents of the Quarterly Review of Biology.
Ultimately, he pointed out, we are all atheists to a large number of gods and would say that anyone believing in others is deluded. But why make an exception for the last one?
From there, Dawkins took a number of questions from the audience which I’ll address in my next post.