Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins

The renowned biologist talks about intelligent design, dishonest Christians, and why God is no better than an imaginary friend.

Interview by Laura Sheahen (http://beliefnet.com/)

"You're concerned about the state of education, especially science education. If you were able to teach every person, what would you want people to believe?

I would want them to believe whatever evidence leads them to; I would want them to look at the evidence, judge it on its merits, not accept things because of internal revelation or faith, but purely on the basis of evidence."

The full interview Here.

( I confess that I have posted this story in the knowledge that it could annoy at least one of our contributors. I am sorry, really.)

9 comments:

michael said...

I'll start by pointing out an obviouse: that he has no evidence that there is not an afterlife, only that he has no evidence for it either. this is not conclusive.
Having said that I think it brings up a good point on the nature of education. That it should teach not what is true and what is not, but what people think is true and why, and methods of examination of these truths and other ideas. In short it should teach not what to think but haw to think.

MH said...

So, individuals should not be educated in what is false?

Samuel Douglas said...

Yes, but they should also be told why it is (or why we think it is) false.

Pete said...

Where to start with Dawkins?
I guess the first thing to say is that I can understand and that I even agree with what it is that he is trying to do. That is not to say that I agree with his theories though. Must confess that I've never bothered reading Dawkins since the selfish gene idea seems like a pile of crap that isn't worth the time and effort. But I do like his advocating atheism and his comments about education...

However I think he is coming out of his corner a little too hard. Firstly in this interview he doesn't seem to recognise that there are beliefs underlying science and even atheism. And secondly because I feel that his account of human behaviour as only being worthwhile if it serves the selfish gene to be a far too narrow view of what we do. I'm sure that if we questioned Dawkins at length about human behaviour it would be a matter of time before he would be forced to admit that there is an overwhelming amout of what we do that seems to be entirely nonsensical from a selfish gene point of view. Where then does that leave our pursuits?

As for education though the point made is an interesting one. The idea that we should only teach people to think critically, to evaluate things for themselves and that we should omit from the syllabus anything that could be called a belief, worldview, paradigm, cosmology, etc. does, at first blush, seem to have some merit. However I think there are two immediate problems with this, first is that which I already touched on above, that even science is based on underlying beliefs. This idea could no doubt be developed to suggest that no matter what we do or think, we are bound to have some sort of belief about how the world works upon which any form of knowledge we develop will rest. (Even Dawkins' suggestion that believing whatever the evidence supports is best is itself a belief.) Hence the problem would be that given these conditions, exactly how do we go about designing an education system that does not install some such suggestion in its students. I'm looking for practical suggestions here people...

The second problem can be seen as being related to the first. And that is, what justification do we give for suggesting that we would need to develop such an education system? or, why could we not develop an education system that teaches people a set of values and beliefs that, although false, benefits not only the people themselves but also society as a whole? So far the most profound expression of this dilemma that I have come across can be found in Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'. Here the dilemma has its climax in the argument that takes place between the World Controller Mustapha Mond and the savage in chapter 17. Once again I'd be glad to hear any answers to this little pickle...

michael said...

Martin: we are not amused.

Pete: I quite agree, he slips, and is not careful when leaving the corner, but that, too, seems very close to quibbling terms. As for practical suggestions I think the education system should teach the accumulated wisdom as nothing more than accumulated wisdom, as a continuing struggle. This is not to say that nothing is certain. Maths is built on axioms. Within the realms of maths those axioms must be accepted a certain: otherwise it just doesn't work. But that is not to say that within Maths the axioms are unquestionable, rather that like question developing answer, and then it in turn developing the question, advances in mathematics may well have ramifications for the axioms. but there is a relationship that is necessary for the discipline to be coherent. I don't think I have said anything new here.

As for your suggestion of teaching stuff that is false but beneficial, well how do we know that it is going to work better that anything else? Surely the purpose of education is to make society work better, but why falsity would make it work better than truth I do not know. Let’s start with truth is my sentiment; let's learn to crawl before we try to run. Though of course first we need to figure out what that is.

Pete said...

Ok Ming I guess a point of clarification would be beneficial. I wasn't suggesting that a false worldview would actually be better for us. I just wanted people to consider the question of 'what if there were a false worldview that was used by a well functioning society?' much like the 'Brave New World' scenario. Thus I wasn't advocating the idea that we should create such a fiction in an attempt to establish a stable and happy society, merely asking how it is that we would justify what Dawkins is puting forward as the truth in the face of such a possibility...

michael said...

Sorry Pete, yes, I should have picked up on that. Fair enough; without some kind of justification that truth works better than falshood there is no basis to an objetion to your point. And I lack the former.

Pete said...

Yah so that leaves us and Dawkins with a bit of a pickle then doesn't it Ming. Since we can't really provide a justification for teaching one bunch of beliefs, paradigm, worldview, etc. over another then we can't really advocate Dawkins' suggestion for education.

I think this is a pickle since my immediate knee-jerk reaction to what Dawkins is saying regarding this issue is to agree with him. I at least have a tendency to say that we should be teaching people to think critically rather than to believe a load of what we know is rubbish about creationism or whatever. So it appears that I have one of two options here, the first being to find a justification for teaching what Dawkins is suggesting or to just accept that this is one of those things (much like meaning in the hands of Kripke) that philosophy is going to lead me to abandon...

michael said...

Obviousely, since nothing can be emraced, we should embrace paradoxes. It surely is the only way to fly.