Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thou shalt not misrepresent thy opponent's position

Having the name James Brown has made me a master in the art of the "never heard that one before", "good one", "it is, really?" response, complete with polite chuckle. But I really felt for Richard Dawkins this weekend, my having the privilege of seeing him speak (albeit via satelite video link) at the New Zealand Readers' and Writers' Festival.

"Richard Dawkins, one of the world's most out-spoken atheists, some might say, the High Priest of Atheism!"

"hmm, ha ha, good one... never heard that one before."

This was how our bumbling host introduced Dawkins, then going on to pronounce that he was the was "Oxford Professor for the Understanding of Science"... a position Dawkins relinquished 6 months ago. How embarrassing.

The "High Priest of Atheism" meme was perpetuated further by former Bishop (now agnostic) Richard Holloway, who was also speaking at the festival, this time in the flesh. As a volunteer, I had the job of escorting him to the signing table. I bit my tongue all the way in order to restrain myself from rebuffing his misrepresentation of Dawkins.

Holloway had gone on to talk about how he had "got Dawkins to say that he was, to some extent, agnostic". Dawkins explains the extent to which he is agnostic in the God Delusion, but as with most of Dawkins' opponents we shouldn't expect that Holloway has read past the front cover, and so with veiled conceit Holloway laid claim to this admission.

He seemed to, however, forget this immediately when it came to putting Dawkins firmly in the dogmatist camp in his following comments.

Holloway then said that Dawkins had expressed to him that he found it difficult to find an evolutionary source for pity. This, to me, smacked of the type of quote-mining undertaken by creationists who never grow tired of quoting Darwin's professed difficulty in understanding how the eye could have evolved, a quote that is followed by an extensive explanation of exactly how it could. No doubt Dawkins' comment regarding pity was also a preface to an explanation of how empathy arises through evolution, an area of much interest to himself, and many others in the field of evolutionary psychology at present.

He also leveled that Dawkin's "hates" Freud, which did sound as much a silly emotive appeal as it does here and that he "doesn't understand metaphor". This is, no doubt, because Holloway sees the bible as allegorical - but that's because Holloway is an agnostic! Richard Dawkins did not write "The Agnostic Delusion", so I fail to see his point here. Again Dawkins' numerous concessions to the beauty of biblical imagery, music, to the majesty of the natural world, to his appreciation for metaphor, art and the numinous, do require his opponents to read his books, or listen to what he actually says before they respond.

But never have I heard people so certain as those that say we cannot know, but I won't go so far as to call Richard Holloway the "High Priest of Agnosticism"

The festival in general was very stimulating. Dawkins, was as usual, on his game managing to make the sterile medium of the video-link very entertaining and at times quite funny. Other highlights were "The Wisdom of Crowds" author James Surowiecki, and futurist George Friedman.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

1973 Design for the Catholic Church's Archdiocesan's Youth Commission

Catholic priests were apparently a lot more open about their indiscretions in the 70s.

Thanks to Goat Boy for this little gem.