Ethics Hero: Richard Dawkins

The headlines shout out: “World’s Most Famous Atheist Admits: I Can’t Be Sure God Doesn’t Exist!”

Wow, what a confession. Stop the presses.

Can anyone be 100% sure this doesn't belong in the Sistine Chapel?

To his great credit, and knowing how the 50% (that is, those of below median intelligence, a sad number of whom reside in the profession of journalism) would react, Prof. Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist who is point man for the atheist assault on religion, told a student audience at Oxford during a “discussion” ( translation: informal debate) with the Archbishop of Canterbury that he thinks “the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low,” but he can’t be 100% certain.

Well, of course not. While this will be taken as a sign of weakness by the faithful who, of course, are 100% certain of the Supreme Being’s existence, no honest, intelligent, fair individual suffering from less than clinical levels of egomania and omniscience could possibly claim to know with certainly where the universe came from. Bravo to Dawkins for his honesty and integrity.

34 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Richard Dawkins

  1. Aren’t you giving him a little too much credit, Jack? Can even the most bloated human ego look out over the wonders of Creation and afterward tell an audience he’s dead certain that there’s no Creator? If he could, then he’s wasting his time in philosophy. He should be in Democrat politics.

  2. Well, Dawkins MUST accept this position to be consistent as any sort of proponent for the use of logic. It is well-known amongst those that study it that while there are many ways to prove something to be false, it is impossible to prove that something does not exist.

    This is an area where SMP and TGT should be in 100% agreement.

    –Dwayne

  3. Honesty? Integrity? How about simple logic. Anyone who read David Hume would realize you can’t attain logical certainty about metaphysical issues.

    It’s a logical confusion to call Dawkins’ statement “ethical.” You mightdplehn4@aol.com as well call him honest for saying the sun rises in the East.
    He’s not honest–he’s just not ignorant..

    • I agree with that, Charles, except that in the world of debate on contentious public issues, such logic is not only rare, but virtually unheard of. His “admission” of the obvious had immediate consequences—it has been treated in the conservative press as a “confession.” Nobody is arguing that the sun rises in the West.

      I’m hoping that Dawkins’ candor, though it states the obvious, could become a standard in other debates. Will abortion advocates admit that they can’t be certain that a fetus isn’t a human life? Will all climate scientists concede that their projections could be wrong? Will Obamacare supporters admit that it might not save money, but actually become an expanding budget burden like every other entitlement? Will conservatives admit that they might be wrong about the market system adequately regulating itself?

      There are a million of these. Dawkins is just a symbol, as far as I’m concerned of how much more civil and productive our public debates and discourse could be if the combatants were similarly “logical”—which is to say, not so damn certain they are 100% right.

      • The problem with candour during debates on public issues is that it tends to be a losing tactic. If I don’t want to act in a way that is consistent with something being true, I can easily say that there is not enough evidence to accept that thing as being true. If my opponent is intellectually honest and admits that he is not entirely certain, I can easily use that as justification for my assertion of a lack of evidence. Kind of sad, but that is how public debate works today.

        As to your abortion point, I don’t see why asking whether certainty as to whether a fetus is “a human life” or not is a useful question. The real question is whether a fetus is worthy of some protection, and this is a question for philosophy and ethics, not of fact. While facts can influence one’s position, they do not determine the issue. It is obvious that a fetus is “human life” in that it is made up of human cells, but then so is an appendix, and we wouldn’t call someone a murderer who had his or her appendix removed. We could argue over whether a fetus “a human life” in the sense that it is distinct from other human lives and is therefore more worthy of protection than an appendix, but this is not a question that science can answer.

            • With advances in cloning, you never know. Dolly the sheep was cloned from a mammary gland cell. You gave up some cells, so there may be another Steven Mark Pilling out there somewhere.

              • Does that thought scare you as much as it does me?! Fortunately, both operations occurred roughly half a century ago in my boyhood. Of course, the hospital might have pickled my nearly ruptured appendix for their Chamber of Horrors display. Disgusting thought!

                • From what I’ve seen, you’re a nice guy, so I wouldn’t be worried. Then again, one of everybody is probably enough (twins and multiples excepted).

          • The “might be president test” isn’t really scientific, but rather a moral/ethical position used to distinguish a fetus from other human cells. This is what I’m trying to say, that the real question is whether a fetus is deserving of protection, and science can’t answer. Likewise, science can’t answer whether the presumption of life should win the toss.

                  • That’s not a valid comparison.

                    Science says the world is heating up and strongly suggests it is based on fossil fuel use and deforestation. The people who know the science say we should do something about it. The people who pretend the science doesn’t exist, say we shouldn’t do anything.

                    Climatologists are doing just what the populace in general should be doing… listening to the science and making a judgment call that this is bad, and we should try to mitigate it.

                    • I think THAT’s misinformed. “Science” isn’t saying anything. Many scientists are, and are also falsely claiming certainty that doesn’t exist and cannot exist with complex long-range predictions of things as subject to multiple influences as climate. Becuase they know that the public won’t respond to anything but scaremongering and false certainty, they are hyping contingent results to press policy measures that are half-baked and speculative. OK “this is bad”. How bad? Not sure. “We should try to mitigate it.” At what cost? Mitigate what, exactly? I have never in my life seen such intellectually dishonest debate. Essentially the stance is: every scientist who hypes the data is right, and ever scientist who urges caution, notes weaknesses, and encourages continued inquiry is a crackpot. It would help both the discussion and the credibility of climatologists if they would say, “Well, obviously we can’t be 100% certain what the results of the current global warming trends will be, or even if they will continue. We can’t be 100% sure, but the evidence is persuasive. Then people like me would begin to trust them. Instead, they call anyone not marching in lock-step “deniers.” Well, the Holocaust was in the past—we can be 100% sure about it. Predictions decades and centuries ahead based on models that have already failed in many ways are not 100% sure.

                    • “Science” isn’t saying anything. Many scientists are.

                      Scientists are saying what the data is. We often shorthand that to “Science says”. What you’re doing is trying to cast aspersions on the scientists, so therefore the data cannot be trusted.

                      Many scientists are, and are also falsely claiming certainty that doesn’t exist and cannot exist with complex long-range predictions of things as subject to multiple influences as climate.

                      In general, no they’re not. What you read in the Times isn’t science, it’s science journalism which is, more often than not, crap.

                      Becuase they know that the public won’t respond to anything but scaremongering and false certainty, they are hyping contingent results to press policy measures that are half-baked and speculative.

                      You’re clearly not talking about scientists anymore.

                      It would help both the discussion and the credibility of climatologists if they would say, “Well, obviously we can’t be 100% certain what the results of the current global warming trends will be, or even if they will continue. We can’t be 100% sure, but the evidence is persuasive.[“] Then people like me would begin to trust them.

                      That is what the scientists who are looking at the data say. Sheesh.

                      Instead, they call anyone not marching in lock-step “deniers.” Well, the Holocaust was in the past—we can be 100% sure about it. Predictions decades and centuries ahead based on models that have already failed in many ways are not 100% sure.

                      No. The scientists that call people who ignore the evidence deniers. It’s political hacks that call the other people deniers.

                      Your attacks on scientists and science here are unfounded.

                    • My attack on Gleick is unfounded? The colleagues who are defending him? How much more founded does it have to be?
                      You are also ignoring the climate scientists who have criticized exactly the certitude that you seem to say doesn’t exist. I think the profession has thoroughly disgraced itself by politicizing the debate. It isn’t just the media.”The scientists call people who ignore the evidence deniers.” “Ignore the evidence” always means “disagree with MY interpretion of it.” Blakeart says I’m ignoring the evidence of a 9-11 conspriracy.

                    • I messed up the second to last paragraph:

                      The scientists are accurately calling people who deny the evidence deniers. The lockstep issue only applies to political hacks (on both sides) who aren’t paying attention.

                    • I didn’t say your attack on Gleick that you posted elsewhere was unfounded. I said your attack here was unfounded. Gleick didn’t lie about the data or misrepresent the data in any way. Your comments on him are irrelevant to the topic of what scientists have said.

                      The rest of your last comment is even worse than that attempted chicanery. The scientists have not politicized the debate. There is some debate on what the evidence says, but it’s extremely minor. The scientists didn’t politicize the debate on what to do, political animals politicized the science. Instead of letting the evidence determine what is, political ideas are overriding what the evidence suggests.

                      Your attack on the phrase “ignore the evidence” is yet another prong of this politicization. It’s a perfectly reasonable phrase when the evidence is actually being ignored. Like by creationists, and climate change deniers. I don’t know about your, but I haven’t ignored truthers’ evidence. I looked into and found it wanting. The climate change deniers haven’t looked into the evidence and found it problematic, they have simply attacked the branch of science as politicized and disregarded the evidence because it is contrary to their opinions and hopes. (Much like much of the pro-climate change nonscientists have not looked into the evidence and have distorted it).

                      If you were talking about the media or politicians, I’d be with you, but not the scientists.

                    • Scientists are saying what the data is. We often shorthand that to “Science says”. What you’re doing is trying to cast aspersions on the scientists, so therefore the data cannot be trusted.

                      Here is what we know.

                      The science absolutely says that given enough explosion, the dust injected to the upper atmosphere as a result with cause temperatures to drop. It is an undeniable fact that from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, during the era of above-ground nuclear testing, global temperatures dropped. Five scientists, including Carl Sagan, noticed this and in 1983 published the TTAPS study, the most important scientific paper since Einstein’s On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. While the TTAPS calculations has since been refined, the basic premise rests on the soundest of sciences, just like general relativity rests on the soundest of sciences.

                      Funny how a solution implied by the soundest of sciences is not being proposed as a solution to catastrophic global warming

  4. Being surprised by Dawkins’ statement means that you don’t have accurate knowledge of Dawkins. In The God Delusion and in his talks in general, he is up front about not being able to completely rule out god. He puts himself at a 6.9 on a 7 point belief scale.

    The only thing different about his speech this time is that mainstream christians in media are actually listening to him, and writing about it. It’s people who hadn’t read his books, who hadn’t listened to his speeches, who just know him as a caricature of a strident atheist. This attack follows up ridiculous attacks on his character because 5 generations back, someone in his family owned slaves. Like that says anything about Dawkins.

    Why are these hit jobs coming out now? Does it have anything to do with the poll his foundation commisioned that found out that ‘Christian’ brits tend to hold many less christian views than had been previously thought? If you can’t discredit the information, discredit the source. If there’s no way to discredit the source, make stupid stuff up.

    As for the sane position on belief. It’s proper to say their could be a God, but it’s not proper to say that christianity could be right. There’s too much conflicting information. That ship has sailed.

  5. I’m presuming you didn’t mean to suggest that I said I was surprised by Dawkins’s statement—I didn’t. I was surprised that such an obvious and sensible statement would be treated as if it was a concession. Then I realized that Dawkins had to know that would happen, and yet he was straightforward anyway. I know is shouldn’t be remarkable to do this, but it is. Maybe I was overly impressed as a hangover from listening to a supposed legitimate contender for the GOP nomination openly promote a theocracy, or something close to it.

    • That was more directed at the field, but it could go towards you, as you thought it was special that he made such a statement.

      It also points out how weird our politics has gone. Being irrational and misconstruing reality is to be expected.

      • I think that public candor by someone who frequently engages in public advocacy is special. One of my political heroes is Gene McCarthy, because, among other things, I once heard him answer a policy question on “Meet the Press” by saying, “I have no idea what to do about that problem. I’ve thought about it, but I’m really not enough of an authority at this point to pretend that I know what to do.”

        But I wasn’t surprised, knowing Dawkins.
        In Darrow’s famous “impeachment” of Williams Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial, all he really did was force Bryan to be honest about the fact that the Bible’s 7 days of Creation could have been millions of years. Darrow knew Bryan, and knew that he was no idiot, and that he would never allow himself to be broadcast over the radio taking a rigid Fundamentalist stand, which Darrow knew he didn’t believe. Bryan wasn’t tricked.He just wouldn’t lie when everyone expected him to.

  6. The following sentence is False.

    The previous sentence is True.

    This is the wonder of the Infinite, the Omniverse® of which we are all separate, but we are all a part of in any way it is dissected. No One can’t explain Consciousness, where it originates or where it goes when we pass on to the next thing. This is the Divine within all things. Having Mr. Dawkins start to admit that he’s not certain 100% about how things are just shows he’s human like all of us, and I’m glad you are recognizing him… I think he’s pretty brilliant myself.

    • Dawkins would ask for your evidence for those truth claims. Other than your opinion at the end, I see nothing that is better than vacuously true.

  7. I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be. ~ Isaac Asimov

  8. Line of dialogue from “Man of La Mancha”:

    “Facts are the enemy of truth.”

    Line from Friedrich Nietzsche:

    “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than are lies.”

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