Richard Dawkins is Coming to My Campus (And I Need Your Help)!

This Friday, October 11th, the great evolutionary biologist and pope of the Atheists Richard Dawkins will be stopping by my campus as part of his An Appetite for Wonder book tour. I first heard of this only a week ago in that Atheism class that I kind of sort of mentioned in that one post. If you’re familiar with what I tend to post on this blog, you know I don’t really gush about popular figures. While I admire plenty of people, I don’t tend to have specific idols. (Oscar Wilde may be the closest to an exception, but I’m not very foppish and don’t believe in the mighty sovereignty of aestheticism). However, I must say that I became inordinately excited that Dawkins was coming to campus (and that the event is freaking FREE for students).

Richard Dawkins - Appetite for Wonder US Book Tour

I need your help. 

I first heard about Dawkins in relation to his ideas on religion, undoubtedly through YouTube. It was shortly afterwards that I looked into his books. I have The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, gifted to me by a good friend of mine and fellow Dawkins admirer of sorts. The only books of his that I have read so far are The Blind Watchmaker (fantastic read to get a better grip on the basics of evolution) and The God Delusion (an entertaining and often insightful look at the arguments against the belief in God). While I don’t agree with every single idea that comes out of his mouth, I do agree with many of his points, his passion for science, and his all-around humor.

What I need your help with is coming up with a question for Dawkins during the Q&A portion of the event. A mic will be given to the audience, so that people can ask him questions. I’d love to ask him a question, but I do not yet know what I want to ask him exactly. I have an idea of what I want to get at, but I don’t know how to phrase it.

This is where your help comes in.

One of my thoughts concerns Dawkins’ continual rejection of the assertion that Dawkins is himself a fundamentalist – just a fundamentalist of science rather than a Christian fundamentalist. I’ve read and heard his replies and I do not want to ask him this question that he has head perhaps hundreds of times.

What I want to get at is whether or not he acknowledges the merits of religion – not a specific religion, but the concept of religion in general. Religion is wildly popular – that’s a gross, gross understatement. It is a worldwide phenomenon and it seems so… natural. Religion appeals to our humanity in a way that science does not quite do. It’s true that science has the capacity to be wondrous, awe-inspiring, and beautiful – poetic, even – but it doesn’t have the emotional oomph that religion seems to have. Humans are magical thinkers. We can not help but to initially attribute phenomena to supernatural forces with workings beyond our human grasp.

Science lacks the spiritual element (figuratively speaking). Sure, scientists hold conferences and schmooze with each other here and there, but it doesn’t provide that connectedness that religion generally seems to have. Of course, unfortunately, pretty much all the major religions are salvationist and guilt-based, teaching people that they are not good enough as they are and that they need to work toward some better transcendental life or some such nonsense. That is no good obviously, but that does not mean that religion in itself is bad, does it?

According to people like Dawkins, science and rationality is enough to amaze us, to keep us enthralled with life, the world, and everything. But where does irrationality fit into all of this? Surely, he isn’t supporting a Vulcan-like existence, where everyone must always be logical at every point of life…

Can you help me formulate a question around this? Or even come up with other questions? What do you want me to ask Dawkins (if I do in fact get a chance to ask him anything)? You have until Friday, October 11th 7PM (PST) to get in on the action, so please, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

9 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins is Coming to My Campus (And I Need Your Help)!

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  4. Thanks for visiting my blog. I think some of your claims are essentially wrong. Religion appeals to *some* people, not all and not when they know that there is little to no evidence that the focus of religions, gods, do not exist. This also applies to your claim that humans are “magical thinkers”. We are not when we know that the gods do not exist. We do not have to think that supernatural forces exist.

    Religion may indeed be a world-wide phenomenon, but that does not mean that gods exist or that religion is worth the cost we have now. Religion may have served a purpose at one time, just as tribalism probably did, by getting humans to work together (and of course hate the “other). Religion has been supplanted by knowledge and human realization that we are very much the same.

    You claim that science doesn’t have a spiritual effect. That is quite true and no one has claimed that it does, *if* you mean that science does not involve the supernatural. However, socializing, having fun, loving each other doesn’t need the supernatural at all. There are plenty of people who never were religious and who have no problem with love, empathy, etc. I’ve been an atheist for quite along time and I don’t need some god to love my husband, enjoy my friends, empathize and care for humans in general. Again, religion has, by and large, only emphasized differences, insisting that only one group is favored by some god. And yes, I do believe that does indicate that religion is bad in and of itself since religion, a worshipping of a deity/deities for benefit, claims to know some “truth” and that truth is part and parcel thinking that you are better than someone else. One problem is that religion is often poorly defined. How do *you* define religion?

    I’d also like to ask you to define what you mean by “irrationality”. This seems to be similar to the Christian claim that love can’t be understood so then God exists.

    • This is excellent!

      It seems we need a lot of defining to do so that we’re speaking the same language. I’ve never formally studied religion and therefore only have a general layman concept of what the word means. I have so far seen it as simply a set of customs and beliefs – however, it seems I’ve been missing the “necessary belief in higher power” component. In this case, no, I don’t think that everyone needs to believe in a supreme being to feel fulfilled. And what I said was not that we need to believe in the supernatural – we cannot help believing in the supernatural (or maybe that is a poor choice of words; replace “supernatural” with “anything that can’t be explained through basic science”). Of course we can train ourselves to see the world more concretely, but our brains are wired to fill in the blanks for us.

      It’s true that people don’t need belief in a higher power in order to love and empathize – and it’s unfortunate the major religions have manipulated people in this way. However, while higher power belief tends to be detrimental, general belief is not. Believing that you have a connection with your dead relatives is not in itself harmful. Arguably, belief in almost anything – no matter how farfetched – is not in itself bad. So what I am wondering is if religion is intrinsically harmful… or is it just a tool that has been grossly abused? Or, even, is it some mixture of both?

      When I talk about the irrationality of humanity, what I refer to is that humans are very emotional animals. While we can learn logic and reason, we are at our core emotion-driven. At the most basic level, we want anything that makes us happy or fulfilled (with “happy” and “fulfilled” defined differently for everyone, I’d imagine). Science is incredible. Life and the universe in and of themselves are incredible. But we lack connectivity. It’s true that people secularly socialize aplenty. And yet we still live in an age where a couple dozen people can sit shoulder to shoulder in a coffee shop and hardly even talk to each other. Perhaps science can learn from the raw emotional appeal that religion has, if nothing else.

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. Definitely helps stimulate the mental juices 🙂

      • I’m glad you liked my post. It does seem that we are evolved to see active agency in everything, which seems to lead to the assumption of gods and the supernatural. I would posit that this tendency will be lost since it serves no purpose anymore, though evolution doesn’t always get rid of useless things. I will also say that it does not seem that children automatically assume the supernatural if they are not introduced to the idea, consider feral children as an example. We may be trainable in either direction, to assume agency or to assume that it does not exist.

        I agree that simple belief may not be harmful unto itself. However, believing that you have a connection with your dead relatives is harmful because you waste time, effort and resources in something that is not true. For instance, you believe that you are connected to your dead relatives so you pray to them for help, you give them food that humans could eat, you pay money to contact them or have them prayed for so they get to the afterlife you think exists. In my opinion, belief is rarely, if ever ,not followed by action related to having the believe, and it is that action that is harmful.

        Thanks for defining what you mean by irrationality. I do think that humans are indeed very emotional animals but I don’t find emotions to necessarily be irrational. I would say that they generally happen for good reasons. This can be screwed up by mental illnesses (my husband is bipolar for example). We do want anything that makes us happy, and that might mean fulfilled, contented, loved, etc. But our intellects can override those base urges. In my observations, religion is thought to fulfill a lot of wants, the want to believe that we have some knowledge of how the universe works, that something big and powerful cares for us and that this being will also do our bidding. Humans love to think that they know everything and that other humans hold them in esteem. But those beliefs are wrong and can be harmful, for instance doing something stupid, like denying medical care to your children because you think your imaginary friend will heal the child. If people are taught that religion and its promises and claims are false, which they are, people will cease to place value in religion when they see it does not fulfill any wants at all. Science doesn’t promise what it doesn’t give, like religion consistently does.

        I see religion preventing connectivity not helping it. It does help us deal with a particular herd/tribe, but it teaches us that the other is bad/evil. The lack of religion isn’t what makes people hang out in a coffee shop and not talk. They are very likely talking but not to each other, but to friends and acquaintances they would have never met without science and its product the internet. I find that there is nothing bad about that. We can now find people that we enjoy spending time with, no matter where they are. We aren’t limited to our direct neighbors whom we may not share one single thing in common with other than location and what we were born into.

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