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Dr. Richard Dawkins On Education, 'Innocence of Muslims,' and Rep. Paul Broun 862

Posted by Roblimo
from the choosing-between-science-and-some-hairy-guy-in-the-sky dept.
In this video interview (with transcript), Dr. Richard Dawkins discusses religious exceptionalism with regard to the teaching of evolution, and the chilling effect of fundamentalism on the production of scientists and engineers. He says, "I can think of no other reason why, of all the scientific facts that people might disagree with or disbelieve, [evolution] is the one they pick on. Physics gets through OK. Chemistry gets through Ok. But not biology/geology, and I think it's got to be because of religion." He also addresses the recent comments from Rep. Paul Broun, who denounced evolution and the Big Bang theory as "lies straight from the pit of hell," and the recent Innocence of Muslims video that led to unrest in various parts of the world. "Freedom of speech is something that Islamic theocracies simply do not understand. They don't get it. They're so used to living in a theocracy, that they presume that if a film is released in the United States, the United States Government must be behind it! How could it be otherwise? So, they need to be educated that, actually, some countries do have freedom of speech and government is not responsible for what any idiot may do in the way of making a video." He also has some very insightful comments about religion as one of the most arbitrary labels by which people divide themselves when involved in conflict. Hit the link below for the video.

Slashdot: In a recent Gallup poll, it's been shown that the American population has shown no change over the past thirty years in their acceptance of evolution as truth. Why do you think that is?

Dr. Richard Dawkins: Well, I'm aware of that. It's a disturbing fact. This is Gallup poll results. It's slightly unfortunate in a way, that the way that they phrased the question in that particular Gallup poll is to say, on the one hand, mankind was created more or less in its present form some time during the last 10,000 years. Or.. the right answer.. evolution. Or, God had nothing to do with it. And, that "God had nothing to do with it" kind of puts people off. Nevertheless, that's the way Gallup phrased it. And, you're right that the poll hasn't changed. It's somewhere between 40%, 45% consistently.

I think religion is to blame. I mean, I can think of no other reason why, of all the scientific facts that people might disagree with or disbelieve, this is the one they pick on. Physics gets through OK. Chemistry gets through OK. But, not biology/geology and I think it's got to be because of religion.

Slashdot: Is that something you think can be easily remedied through education?

Dawkins: It should be. Education is the answer to the problem. I think that scientists are somewhat to blame for not getting out more and bringing their subject to people. So, I think we're not entirely blameless of that. The evidence is absolutely clear, isn't it? No doubt about it. It's not the sort of thing that one can be at all doubtful about, once you've seen the evidence. And, clearly, most people haven't seen the evidence. You've only got to talk to people who call themselves creationists to realize they haven't the faintest idea what the evidence is, or indeed, what evolution is.

Slashdot: Do you think there's a better way that people could be shown what the evidence is?

Dawkins: Well, there are books. There are plenty of television documentaries. There are plenty of websites that you can go look up Q & A and things. There's quite a lot of stuff out there. I'm not quite sure what that better way would look like, but I'd be grateful for any suggestions.

Slashdot: Earlier this year, the Tennessee State Legislature passed a law [allowing] public schools to teach the controversy with regard to evolution, global warming and a few other scientific theories. Much more recently, Representative Paul Broun, a Republican in Georgia, said that evolution, embryology, the big bang theory--are "lies straight from the pit of Hell." How does that tie in with the educational aspect? It seems to me, you're working at two problems. You have students who are not educated, with respect to evolution, the big bang theory, and similar things. And, those students grow up to be voters and legislators, who are now contributing the the problem.

Dawkins: It's very evident that Representative Paul Broun is uneducated, ignorant, probably stupid, too, which is very sad. It's very sad that somebody as ill-qualified to hold high office as that has been elected. There was a rather amusing tweet I saw on Twitter, which went something like this. "Doctor, you say that brushing teeth is a good way to keep them healthy. I say smearing them with chocolate is. Let's teach the controversy!" And the fact is, there is no controversy about evolution. It's a fact, demonstrated beyond all possible doubt by scientific evidence. Every qualified person who looked at the evidence agrees that it's an absolutely secure fact. There is no controversy to teach.

Slashdot: What is the effect, do you think, of this unwillingness to commit to science, on the production of scientists and engineers. In other words, if you suddenly could wave a magic wand and solve all these issues, do you think we would see more engineers and scientists come out of this country?

Dawkins: Yes. I mean, it's an odd fact that the United States is, beyond any doubt, the preeminent scientific power in the world. No doubt about it. Measure it with Nobel Prizes, with numbers of scientific papers published, and so on. It is the world leader. Yet, at the same time, it's being dragged backwards by nearly 50% of the population, who are anti- intellectual, anti-education, despise people who have education, and it's a big problem. Fortunately, the 50% who are doing the right thing are so good that they are still pulling the country in the right direction.

Slashdot: Is it important to focus on the United States and similar countries in this matter? Or, for example, South Korea recently had a win, actually, in which they kept the teaching of creationism out of their school textbooks. Is it more important to focus on the larger, more established educational systems, or to get into the smaller ones before that?

Dawkins: Yeah. I wouldn't say more important, but it sort of hits one in the gut, rather, that a country like the United States, which is so ahead of the field in half the country should be so way backward in the other half. It does rather stand out like a sore thumb in world statistics, but it's still important to teach in other parts of the world. Particularly, the Islamic part of the world, which is shrouded in darkness, really, educationally speaking, in this field.

Slashdot: Speaking of which: the recent controversy over the "Innocence of Muslims" video. Could you talk a little about that, and what you think the repercussions it's had throughout the world?

Dawkins: I've only seen the trailer for that video. It's quite astonishingly badly done, as everybody agrees. So, the fact that the Islamic propagandists decided to pick on that one is extremely unfortunate. They should simply have ignored it. Everybody else would have ignored if they had. So, that's a deplorable incident. On the other hand, freedom of speech is very important. Freedom of speech is something that Islamic theocracies simply do not understand. They don't get it. They're so used to living in a theocracy, that they presume that if a film is released in the United States, the United States Government must be behind it! How could it be otherwise? So, they need to be educated that, actually, some countries do have freedom of speech and government is not responsible for what any idiot may do in the way of making a video.

Slashdot: I want to read a quote from an article you wrote earlier this year. You said, "My point is not that religion itself is the motivation for wars, murders and terrorist attacks, but that religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a "they" as opposed to a "we" can be identified at all." Now, nations can be conquered and nationalities can be merged. Racism is slowly getting eroded by education. Do you feel that religion can be educated in a similar way?

Dawkins: The context of the quote which you just read out was probably Northern Ireland, where I had been upbraided for suggesting that the Northern Ireland Conflict is about religion. People said, "no, no, it's about politics. It's about economics. It's about centuries of oppression." Which it is. But, when one group is said to be oppressing another, there has to be some label by which the groups can identify themselves. Now, in countries where there are racial differences, like South Africa, it's easy to see which group you belong to. In countries like Belgium, where there's a linguistic friction between those who speak French and those who speak Dutch, once again, language is the barrier, is the label by which people can identify the "them" or "us." But, in Northern Ireland — and I think probably in the Indian subcontinent — the predominant label, by far, is religion. So, that's how people identify the "them" and "us."

If you think about it, it's not surprising, because psychologists have shown that if you take, for example, children, and give them arbitrary labels — you arbitrarily divide the children into two halve — and give these ones orange t-shirts and those ones green t-shirts, and give them various other labels, they will develop loyalties to those of their own labeled group. And that happens very quickly. Now, if you imagine that you set up a rule, such that oranges only marry oranges, and greens only marry greens, and children of orange couples only ever go to orange schools, and children of green couples only go to green schools, and you carry that on for 300 years, what have you got? I mean, you've got a deep, deep division in society. And if it's possible for one of those two groups to oppress the other economically, they will. And then you'll get all sorts of vendettas and feuds developing.

Part 2 of this video will be coming soon.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Dr. Richard Dawkins On Education, 'Innocence of Muslims,' and Rep. Paul Broun

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  • Theocracies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thedonger (1317951) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @11:29AM (#41765315)

    The problem I see with Islamic theocracies - compared to the US constitution saying that we are endowed with unalienable rights by our creator - is that they get their laws from their god, not their rights. The are therefore free to trample on the rights of the individual in the name of their god. In the US, we are free to act like fools in the name of our god.

    Rep. Broun needs to learn than belief in god and even Christianity does not mean the big bang or evolution are wrong. One cannot snap their fingers and make a cake; the ingredients must be mixed together and have heat applied. Why should god be able to circumvent the rules just because his cake is the universe?

  • by concealment (2447304) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @11:33AM (#41765383) Homepage Journal

    religion as one of the most arbitrary labels by which people divide themselves when involved in conflict

    He's got it backward here -- it's one of the least arbitrary labels, since it reveals what underlying philosophy and values we stand for. It's similar to wars breaking out between existentialists and determinists, but we've found more interesting ways to encapsulate those philosophies in mythological symbolism.

  • by slim (1652) <`ten.puntrah' `ta' `nhoj'> on Thursday October 25, 2012 @11:46AM (#41765589) Homepage

    You don't need to believe in abiogenesis in order to believe in evolution. When people say that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, they're not talking about abiogenesis. They're talking about the evidence for there having been periods billions of years ago when there were only single-celled organisms, and the evolution of those organisms into the complex life we have today.

    If you like, you can imagine that a deity put life into those primitive origins.

    Nonetheless abiogenesis seems plausible to me, and there have been experiments that demonstrate the processes that may have set things off. Look for the Miller-Urey Experiment, for a classic. Bear in mind that to go from primordial soup to single-cells, we're talking about a handful of freak occurrences, each one some 40 million years apart.

  • by Psyborgue (699890) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @11:48AM (#41765627) Homepage Journal
    There were protests in almost every single Muslim majority country [wikipedia.org] without few exceptions (such as Singapore, which had it blocked), as well as some western ones, such as France, where violence also broke out. Was it because of the video? I'm not so sure. A week after the video was released the french satirical paper Charlie Hebdo released cartoons that were by far more vulgar than Innocence of Muslims (for example, depicting Muhammad naked). There was almost no response at all to that. Either they're becoming desensitized to cartoons or as many have commented, this was just yet another excuse to blame the foreign devil yell "death to America", "itbach al yahud" and run rampage burning stuff down.
  • by Bob-taro (996889) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:01PM (#41765841)

    He should stick to something he KNOWS about - like biology.

    His other claims are largely bias - uninformed by fact or context.

    There were protests about the film in Libya. How does his "theocracy" argument even apply to a country that was a secular state - more like Cuba? Iran, with a religious institution at the head of government, saw no such unrest.

    Dawkins is a bigot. He unfortunately uses his impressive scientific and academic credentials to bolster the audience for his bigotry, and conflate the domains of his expertise to support his prejudice.

    I don't know if I'd go as far as saying he's a bigot, but I think you make some valid points. Dawkins has made a name for himself by attacking religion, so he isn't likely to stop. I tend to agree with you, though. Anything "bad" done by religious people is presented as evidence of religion being bad in general - whether or not non-religious people do the same thing (e.g. rioting). But of course anything "good" done by religious people doesn't count in favor of religion unless NO secular person would have done the same thing.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:18PM (#41766217) Homepage Journal

    Is a man who wants to stamp out homosexuality a bigot? I would say he is. How is that any different than wanting to stamp out religion?

    Just because many religious folks are bigots doesn't excuse Dawkins' bigotry.

    Mr. Dawkins doesn't go around beheading people for having different beliefs.

    You don't have to go around beheading gays to be a bigot, either.

  • by Empiric (675968) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:28PM (#41766419)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_Soviet_Union [wikipedia.org]

    No revisionism here at all. After starting with the very first sentence in the above link (and the provided references), I'd check the label on your Kool-Aid, actually.

  • by tbannist (230135) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:45PM (#41766739)

    I think the point is that Stalinist Russia is more commonly know for some other -ism that isn't atheism. The implication is, of course, that the other -ism is the real reason for the persecution of religion in Stalinist Russia.

    I'm sure if you spend some more time studying the subject you will figure it out. While it's true that USSR was officially atheist, the question you need to answer is why it was atheist and why they persecuted religion.

  • Re:Theocracies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BakaHoushi (786009) <Goss DOT Sean AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:02PM (#41767029) Homepage

    I had a boss who became a born-again Christian (this is in the U.S., for reference) and afterwards he would always spout on and on about how every single word in the Bible was true and there were no contradictions. I suspect a lot of what he said and what he believed was sort of passed-on to him. He would always talk about Bible groups and people who showed him movies, and it was they, for instance, who taught him that the ACLU is trying to legalize child pornography.

    It's also kind of funny. Before he was "saved," he once told me that as long as people let him do his own thing, it didn't matter what they believed or did. I later expressed that view to him and he told me that was Satan's viewpoint.

  • by the_B0fh (208483) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:09PM (#41767193) Homepage

    So, you are saying stamping out ignorance is bigotry?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:20PM (#41767385)

    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

    Lucius Annaeus Seneca

    As quoted in What Great Men Think About Religion (1945) by Ira D. Cardiff, p. 342; No original source for this has been found in the works of Seneca, or published translations. It is likely that the quote originates with Edward Gibbon who wrote:

    The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. --- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

    Elbert Hubbard would claim in 1904 (Little Journeys: To the homes of great philosophers: Seneca) that Gibbon was "making a free translation from Seneca".

    (Source [wikiquote.org])

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:21PM (#41767393) Journal

    Or put another way:

    The difference between an atheist and a believer is only in how many gods they don't believe in.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:42PM (#41767801)

    The reason appropriate relative association between the actions and the worldview is that mass-killing is -directly contrary- to the principles of Christianity, and therefore, by definition, -not Christianity-.

    If that were true, Christians would be deluded. I got death threats from Christians for being an atheist. Where are those "peaceful Christians" that you're talking about, and more to the point, where have they been hiding in the previous two millennia? Where are all the "true Scotsmen" you're talking about?

    By contrast, mass-killing is -directly compatible- with Darwinian Naturalism, by reference to what it -is-

    You have no idea what the word "Darwinian" means.

  • by tbannist (230135) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:21PM (#41768411)

    In my mind, Russia's athiesm was an instrument used to promote communism. Religion was explicitly seen as an impediment to proper communism, so it was opposed not because it was thought to be false, but because it was thought to be a tool of oppression used by the elite against the common man. In that case, it was not a root cause. I'm not even sure it was used as an excuse, it seems atheism was enforced because it was supposed to benefit communism.

    If that's the case, then that's not at all the same situation as using religion as a cover for other issues. If religion adds legitimacy to illegitimate conflicts, is that not bad? Is that not a harmful effect of religion? A key difference here is that I find it hard to believe that you could ever rally thousands of atheists to riot under the pretense that the god they don't believe in has been insulted (or not sufficiently insulted). Atheism can be used a policy to harm theists, but I can't say I've run into anyone who could be motivated to do anything more than prattle on about how smart they are by their atheism.

    Additionally, as others have pointed out previously, both communism and libertarianism (and probably many other -isms) are pretty much godless religions. They have sets of beliefs that their adherents must believe, and they even have their own "holy" books. They may belong to a superset that includes them and religion that is occasionally the problem.

  • by bledri (1283728) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:32PM (#41768577)

    Thank you for saying this. I am a Christian. ... However, what makes me remain a Christian is ... the moral code that Jesus taught. It's an ideal to strive towards. ... "Turn the other cheek." If more people lived life to that moral code, the world would be a better place. ...

    Anyway, that's my belief. I try not to force it on anyone, but Atheists who attempt to force their beliefs on the world irritate me.

    I'm an Atheist and I agree with you almost 100%, though I get pretty strident at times.

    The reason is that some Christians are being very successful in the US at forcing their beliefs on others through the legal system. Abstinence only sex-ed, restricting access to birth control, denying gay marriage, trying to redefine the US as a Christian nation, removing Thomas Jefferson from text books, putting disclaimer labels on text books or even adding "Intelligent Design" as an alternative theory (that has never made a single verifiable claim, nor led to a single discovery.) As an Atheist, the influence that fundamentalists have over people's day to day lives is appalling.

    Right now, in parts of Africa that are suffering an AIDS epidemic, Christians and Catholics from around the world are promoting abstinence only "education" and spreading lies and misinformation about condom usage. Again, that is appalling and will result in much more spreading of AIDS, and much more suffering. I know that it is not representative of all Christians, but in the US the moderates all seem to be giving the fundamentalist a pass.

    So what your left with is a bunch of pissed off Atheist because apparently no one religious wants to question the effectiveness our morality of other sects of their religion.

  • by rmstar (114746) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:44PM (#41768775)

    Calling all religious believers "delusional" by definition, meets your criteria fully.

    How should atheists call religious believers, then? People with special beliefs?

    There is no way of saying that god does not exist without saying that all people who believe in god are delusional. But this is normal: anyone who claims that his god is the true god says that all the others are wrong and their believers are also delusional. If you want is us to keep completely mum about the issue? Of course we are not going to do that.

    Most of these projections against religion, are, simply, an "Argument from the Never-existed" fallacy that doesn't even propose to offer hard metrics, such as statistics, for -relative- comparison on what is a -relative- normative question. Understandably so, since the atheist worldview would lose immediately and overwhelmingly if we introduced actual hard data, simply by reference to the 20'th Century alone.

    I am always puzzled by arguments things like this. Are you saying that god exists because of all the advantages religion brings? That's quite a fallacy there.

  • by monsterinlaw (1560935) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:53PM (#41768917)
    I'm an Iranian and let me tell you...99.9% of the Iranian population doesn't give a damn to the movie or its content. Hey...Youtube is even filtered in Iran. What CNN showed was just a show organized by the Iranian regime to make _you_ (yes you) believe people care. I mean, does the fact that the foreign media was allowed to make reports from this "protest", not seem fishy to you? How come during all the protest in the Iranian green movement CNN and other media were not allowed to make reports !?

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