Thomas's Rant

Story, myth, writings

Richard Dawkins & the Theists

with 4 comments

I watched (or tried to watch) Richard Dawkins in his Q&A episode and found it really very irritating. It was just atheists versus theists and it seems to me that both sides make the same blunders – so much so that it is pretty painful to watch (much like watching two people fighting over lack of water when you know there is a well full of fresh clear water right next to them that they both fail to notice).

There is something very one-sided about both “belief” in a religion and “trust” in rationality. I think these two groups – the religiously devout and the rational atheist – belong together, as in they are both interpreting life in the same way, but each has a different eye open. It is hard to say which is more important: religious feeling (including Love, Meaning and God) or rational thinking (including Logic, Science and Reason). And I am frustrated because I believe choosing between these two is a stupid argument. Without meaning or reason, life would be near impossible. The debate over which is more important is explosive because each is equally important.

What makes this difficult for people to see? Only the social and historical brandings of races, religions, sciences, and other socio-political divisions that separate individuals into opposing groups. Here are a few sentences from a short book called “The God Allusion” I wrote a couple of years ago (but which I’ve been rather lazy in getting around to sending to publishers):

Science (including rationality) is concerned with understanding.
The theory must be consistent and comprehensible, not personal or emotional.

Mythology (including religion) is concerned with experience rather than understanding.
(Myth is too subtle for science.)

These are the only areas in which science and myth have respective authority.

So: It is ridiculous to apply reason to a religious rite – a religious rite does not set out to define the physical universe.

And: It is ridiculous to invoke myth to argue for, say, a geocentric universe – whether we say the Earth orbits the sun or the sun orbits the Earth has no bearing on an individual’s experience of life (the experience of either configuration is subjectively identical).

Myth over-interpreted as literal fact is destructive because deep down we know we are wrong. We suppress our doubts and our beliefs then become violently compulsive.

‘Idolatry of the real (facts, sciences etc.)’ involves making judgements based on literal fact rather than emotional worth. We’ve mistaken the truth of the story for the experience of the story.

Science is true and myth is true.
Conflict arises from mixing up the definition of the word ‘true’ –
1. literally true, a fact
2. emotionally alive, a true experience.

What is factually true and what is meaningful are often completely at odds.
Literal truth is not necessary in myth because it isn’t necessary for something to exist for us to be moved by it. E.g. the movie monster that we know is not real, but we can still be scared.

“This mythic image (e.g. God) is highly meaningful for me, makes me feel emotionally alive. This experience is true (definition 2). Therefore, the image itself must be true (definition 1).”
However, this is not always so and it is not necessary for this to be so.

I think this is a very big issue for our age. Listening to Dawkins again on ‘Sunday Night Safran’ on Triple J, the squabble continues. There is John Safran who loves the inter-group scandals, the politically-dicey controversies and the rationally ludicrous dramas stirred up by the religious/racial groupings (and I suppose he does a good job at dissipating some of their deceptive solidity). Yet John cannot admit that his rationality and wit is only good for exposing (and therefore destroying); and exposing facts or hypocrisy only aids in understanding (forming judgments) on that very social-political level – this does not touch the ‘religious truth’ at all. He talks to Father Bob, who as a Catholic priest comes from within one of these dividing groups. He can only “blather on” in sometimes surprisingly insightful ways but he cannot find the terms to say something concretely meaningful because he cannot admit that his “religious feeling” (that he knows so well is somehow significant yet diametrically opposed to Dawkins’ rationality) applies only to individual experience; in short, he would find the very terms he needs in his own religion if he could acknowledge Jesus, Mary, God, the Cross – the whole mythology – as a metaphor rather than oddly inexplicable and nonsensical facts (with a pleasant social agenda).

Anyway, that’s my waffle on. (Father Bob gets so close to – and yet so far from – hitting the nail on the head in the Dawkins interview that it is, once again, an annoying near-breakthrough.)

Written by tomtomrant

20 March 2010 at 12:59 pm

4 Responses

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  1. >Yes, you rightly confine "mythology (including religion" to the sphere of "experience", which at times, as you will be aware, has many strongly irrational and subjective aspects, to say the least. There is no disputing experience. I myself have had more than my share of religious and spiritual experiences, not to mention "visions". I cannot discount my own experience, any more than I can discount the equally strong experiences of those who are utterly convinced they have seen and been abducted by aliens. I regard all these experiences psychologically as having the extremely vivid and hallucinatory quality of hypnagogic states (vivid BECAUSE they mix aspects of the physical world very convincingly with the subjective, hallucinatory content), not to mention drug trips, dreams and psychotic delusions. Which are all perfectly fascinating areas for psychological, neurological and cognitive-scientific research in the future, imho, and not nearly enough has been done on them so far! ;-))


    4 April 2010 at 9:27 am

  2. >Ha ha! You sound just like this guy: the way, why didn't you tell me you had a blog? You need to advertise!

    Felix Dance

    7 August 2010 at 7:27 pm

  3. >Oh, you commented on this, Felix?! When was that? Why don't you advertise.(And ha ha. Feeling there is something not quite right about a stance does not simply equate to feeling superior to it either… but yes, ha ha. How very Safran-y.)

    Thomas Firth

    21 December 2010 at 8:40 am

  4. This is very nice. I just found your blog. Look forward very much to catching up on all your interesting posts. Best wishes, Don.


    23 February 2015 at 1:09 am

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