Reader Michael called my attention to Richard Dawkins’s Darwin Day Lecture to Humanists UK (HUK). Richard is introduced by Humanists UK President and evolutionary biologist Alice Roberts, who was the moderator when I gave this lecture a few years ago. Richard’s lecture was just posted today, and as I write there are only 194 views. I’ll watch it as I write, and give any thoughts I have.
I was glad to see that Richard limned evolution and religion in an antagonistic light, which is what I did when I talked. After all, this is a talk to humanists, so it’s not hubris to do that, much as accommodationists like to argue that people can have their Darwin and Jesus too.
Ten minutes in, I was surprised at how hard Richard went after theology and religion, and especially after Islam and its obsession with “religious control-freakery” such as breast feeding. The audience likes it, of course, as they’re all a bunch of nonbelievers, but I don’t yet see any connection between the criticisms of Islam and Darwin.
The connection came at about 14:15, when Richard contrasts the certainty of theology with the doubt that’s endemic to science. “We don’t know” is his mantra here, and we should use it more often. At 17:30, he suggests a humorous Gendankenexperiment of the kind he’s famous for: he imagines what science would look like if scientists acted like theologians, operating from faith and revelation instead of evidence. (Note the mention of “SJW State University.”)
“It isn’t that theologians deliberately tell untruths: it’s as though they just don’t care about truth, aren’t interested in truth, and demote truth to negligible status compared with other considerations such as metaphorical, symbolic, and mythic significance—or simply what feels good.”
Later on, he explains why he’s proud to be a product of evolution—a product with a flexible brain that has vouchsafed to us our ability, unique among animals, to understand our origins—and many other things.
Richard also argues that “the atheistic world view has an unsung virtue of intellectual courage.” To explain that, he introduces the “deep problems” that science might not answer, but that theology can’t, either: these include the “deep problem of consciousness” and the question of “why are the laws of physics as they are?” This leads to his conclusion (40:28) that science (and atheism) help kick ourselves out of the emotional reaction that the “big questions” defy naturalistic explanation—that they defy the scientific assumption that the whole universe arose and evolved through mindless naturalistic processes. As he says,
“However improbable a naturalistic answer to the riddle of existence, a theistic alternative is even more so. But it needs a courageous leap of reason to accept the conclusion.”
He then returns to Darwin as a good fount of courage to seek naturalistic answers to the Big Problems. After all, it was Darwin who, abjuring supernatural explanations, tackled the long-standing problem of life using purely naturalistic methods—and solved it!
In the end, Richard’s lecture is his version of “Faith Versus Fact,” and though it’s independent of my own ideas, I was pleased to see that he’s banging the same drum about the intellectual vacuity of theology as contrasted to the productive wielding of “the empirical attitude” that underlies science.
This lecture is also paean to the virtues of atheism, which won’t please religionists, theologians, and faitheists. Yes, New Atheism makes a brief comeback in this lecture.
If you’re a nonbeliever, you’ll find the last three minutes heartening, bracing, and eloquent. In the last 13 words, he connects atheism with social justice, though that won’t placate the SJWs who are always throwing shade on Dawkins.
At the end, Alice presents Richard with a “Darwin Day medal.”