Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dawkins vs "God"

Dawkins vs Williams

I was so geeked to listen to this debate! I had this image of Dawkins finishing and ending up with a gold trophy, but, I listened.... yawn? Ya, but....

First, let me say that both parties failed to dazzle me with any “new stuff”. I have never seen Williams speak. To me, he seems like a kind and thoughtful man. Dawkins as well. Let me also say, that like Dawkins, I am also a Bright and a “cultural Anglican”.

It is refreshing to see a civilized discussion, because this was not a debate, in the classical sense. It was an interesting discussion. Dawkins spoke well, but I think his “condensed knowledge” sailed 45 degrees above the head of Kenny, the moderator, and twice as far above Williams. Language. Science. Let the semantics begin!

“In the beginning”, they spoke of communication. Williams suggests humans as unique “language users”; my first “bump” in the debate. I think of humans as unique users of science. Many animals use language for communication just as humans still use body language. Wolves and birds speak, obviously less complex compared to humans, but still it is communication. Humans use spoken language an order of complexity larger than most critters and we have the dictionaries to prove it. But, a male dog can tell when a female is “interested” while she is no where to be seen: natures own Blackberry? For the record, I hypothesize that language evolved from one of these three things: “danger/help”, “I want to make sexy time”, or “We need food”.

The moderator and self-declared “ignoramus”, Kenny, chopped the debate into four parts: the nature of human beings, the origin of human beings, the origin of life on earth, and the origin of the universe. 88 minutes, no problem!

The nature of humans beings

Williams notes that science has “failed” to provide a “theory of conscious”, while providing no proof to support his assertion that consciousness is not a physical entity. Dawkins says that the origin of consciousness started in animal brains. Last year, I wrote a fun blog about this.

Origin of the human species

Both men agree the theory of evolution defines the origin of humans. Williams asserts that God gave conscious knowledge of God to homo sapiens. Dawkins asserts that there was no “Poof” moment: that human conscious was a gradual evolution. Williams also supports that there was no “first human”. No Adam? It is refreshing to listen to an intelligent religious person. Dawkins asserts self awareness did not start with humans.

Origin of life on earth

Kenny threw this topic at Dawkins since we all know the religious assertion. Dawkins discusses improbability of life starting on earth versus life starting elsewhere ( or the building blocks thereof ) and continues to explain pre-genetic replication. Williams provides little input to the discussion. Seems that Craig Venter would have been a good “pinch-speaker” since his company CVI has created synthetic life many times in the past few years.

Origin of the universe

Dawkins asks why theologians are not captivated by the ability of science to describe and define our universe and why “they revert to a messy god” to explain it. William goes on to compliment Dawkins on his captivating writing skill. Dawkins reflects upon the scientific “confidence” gained by Darwin and how that should focus theologians on 21st century science, not ancient and incomplete scripture.

The debate ended with the Oxford Chancellor thanking the three men and of course some shameless touting of Oxford University.

After listening to both sides I would have to give it to Richard Dawkins. I did feel that some of his responses were very complex, and perhaps lost on some, but provided a unique perspective on the topics. Williams, an intelligent man, seemed to miss some opportunities to provide a more definitive answer to provide clarity of reason with regards to the science provided by Dawkins.

With “thousands of years of experience”, both science and religion has been used to answer some big questions and shared knowledge. Since the recent advent of complex math and natural systems analysis science keeps adding to its knowledge base and wisdom. Its growth rate is exponential and provides theory. The body of knowledge of science is staggeringly huge and reliable.

Religion seems to be dying in society today. I guess I should qualify that, “religion as fact” is dying. But one must also accept that religion is part of our evolutionary story in our relentless passion to describe our world. Religion represents the tool of "why", to me. Humanities first steps into a unique place in our universe: understanding what the universe is and not simply existing in it.

If you have the time check it out, and when you have, I have a question for you: If science can be discovered naturally, can religion?


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