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The dualism delusion

30th April 2007 (12:34)

Professor Lord Mr. Dr. Robert Winston has attacked Richard Dawkins's “"patronising" and "insulting" attitude to religious faith,” according to the Guardian.

I've only read Dawkins's first three books,1, 2, 3 although I've seen his recent TV programs (I don't think it was really fair of him to open his discussion with Pastor Ted “I am a deceiver and a liar” Haggard by comparing his service to the Nuremberg Rally). I understand how his tone can be considered a bit too confrontational but I have the feeling that ever since he wrote, in The Selfish Gene, that evolution was the first explanation of the existence of man (see the “save your stamp” endnote) which made any sense whatsoever he's been getting mail from christians and he's fed up of it. I don't really know any of Daniel C. Dennett's work either but I've read all of Steven Pinker's stuff and his attitude appears to be “if it makes you feel better I don't really mind you being religious”. If any of them appear to adopt an arrogant anti-religious tone I think it's an unfortunate reaction against the arrogant pro-religious “you're going to hell, unlike me” tone they sometimes get confronted with. Look at the comments here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/debate/letters/article1368831.ece.

However, where Lord Winston says “there is a body of scientific opinion from my scientific colleagues who seem to believe that science is the absolute truth and that religious and spiritual values are to be discounted,” I think he's missing the point: religious and spiritual values are something created by the human mind within the framework of evolutionary psychology. As such they are valid (in the sense that they need to be taken seriously) because they are part of what makes us human. (It's too hard to study the whole mind from a reductionist physics point of view though.) Religious types would have us believe that these things are valid because they “come from God” in some unspecified way. He's a bit close to the “atheists don't have morality” line of argument, as if morality was invented by God rather than the other way around.

It doesn't look so good for the morality of religion anyway: Church accused of abuse cover-up; Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches; Deuteronomy 21:18-21. So give it a rest with your atheists are evil (clip of Dawkins on the Bill O'Reilly show) argument, please.

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