Conversation on Dawkins et al.


<Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious.>

Dawkins is too intelligent not to understand the thesis of the soft-talkers. So it is not surprising that he concedes, albeit probabilistically, that  they are right.

What he probably does not understand is the goal of a good number of enlightened thinkers is not so much to blast religions, religious beliefs, or religious people, but to persuade them to scientific and enlightened perspectives on natural phenomena, and to make them recognize that one can derive much spiritual and intellectual fulfillment from a scientific worldview when it comes to interpreting the phenomenal world.

<But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable.>

I imagine by <we>  he is referring to the army of self-appointed crusaders (the New Atheists) who imagine themselves to be the only legitimate spokespeople for Science. While they may have a growing number of faithful flock to their evangelical crusade, I suspect not all of them are scientists, and not all scientists are as yet ready to join their band wagon.  That , I suspect, is why his sales-pitch is getting louder by the day.

But he is, I think, quite right that he himself and even milder versions of him, may not be able to drastically shake and destroy the faith of the deeply and truly religious: i.e. achieve their avowed goal any more than that Al Qaeda, through its tactics, can establish the Sharia in all Muslim lands.

<I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully.  And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.>

This is the blatant language of the proselytizers: Islamic, Christians, Communists, all who are so sure they alone hold the key to the Kingdom and also that  others are wallowing in a mire of ignorance. Friedrich Max Müller is said to have once believed that revealing to Hindus how stupid and superstitious they are, and by showing a naked display of contempt for their religion, they will all become Christians en masse. In retrospect that was such arrogant and shallow thinking.

< I think there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it.>

That’s precisely what folks on the other side are thinking  too.

<We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets.>

Fair comparison. Dawkins and his likes are to fanatical rationality what All Coulter is to the opposite side. Both have their respective adulators.

<We can’t lose!>

Thanks to Dawkins (a brilliant scientist whom most of us admire and respect, and a clear thinker for the most part) the party of enlightened scientific outlook is having difficulty advancing, and is in fact losing in some instances.

As long as there is free speech, there will be  bulldogs on both sides that bark and bite, but the less violence-prone are more likely to eventually win the cause of truth and compassion, of reason and enlightened ethics which are more important goals for culture and civilization than treating one’s opponents with contempt and making them laughable.

October 5, 2009

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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