Monday, July 02, 2007

Dawkins night review (Part I)

The New Atheism
A few thoughts from Thursday's discussion forum: The Dawkins Delusion?

Dr Greg Clarke (amongst other things, the newly appointed director of MSCI) gave a lengthy presentation followed by questions and discussion. I had hoped to be able to begin the night by showing some clips from The Root of All Evil? to set the mood, but this fell through.

Dr Clarke opened by asking 'why is religion back on the agenda?'. It was not long ago that religion in general and Christianity in particular were rarely mentioned in mainstream news media. However, even a casual glance today will turn up many examples (does anyone know of any research on this? i.e. the frequency of 'religious' issues in news media over the last few decades). Greg suggested three possible reasons: (a) post September 11 fascination with religious extremism. This is focussed upon, but not limited to, Islam. (b) The results of contemporary research indicating the positive benefits of religion. For example, one meta-study summarising hundreds of studies on the effects of relgion found that 79% of studies indicate a positive correlation between religious affiliation and life/health benefits (longevity, marital stability, mental health, etc.), 13% found no relationship, 7% gave confused results and only 1% discovered a negative correlation. It seems 'religion' is good for you. The imprecision of this term is a weakness of the studies, but since we're talking about public perception, this is a tangent. And (c) it is now possible to begin to look back on the twentieth century with a little distance and many commentators call it 'the century in which we lost God'. It was also, from one perspective, the century that demonstrated the failures of atheism as a social agenda.

The last few years have seen the rise of 'the new atheism', represented most prominently by Dawkins (but also by Hitchens - God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Harris - The End of Faith/Letter to a Christian Nation, Dennett - Breaking the Spell and Onfray - Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). Dr Clarke claimed that this movement represents the increasingly shrill declarations of those fighting a losing battle. He suggested that of all the responses to this publishing phenomenon - Christian anger, atheist delight, agnostic puzzlement - the least appropriate is that of the 'apatheist': I don't know and I don't care. Life is more precious than that. (More to come)
Twelve points for the best explanation of the relevance of this picture to this post.


Matthew Moffitt said...

Lets have a go at this:

a. It is th emajor university in Sydney where Greg Clarke HASN'T worker.

b. It was out of that tower that Australian evangelicalism started to combat hostile atheism and secularism in a big way.

byron smith said...

A good start! - I'll see what others come up with before awarding any points.

Anonymous said...

I think the picture is illustrating the 'academic facade' that covers up the flaws Dawkins polemic;-)

I reckon there are a few reasons why religion is so hot right now. Bush's election in 2000 and the rise of the 'religious right.' The way that Islamism has replaced communism as the big ideological foe for the west - 9/11 in the US but also the London bombings (no longer the IRA), the riots in France, and Bali and Sheik Hilaly here in Australia.
It certainly seems to be really hot now but is this really a new phenomenon - how long was religion off the agenda - i.e. has this happened before?


Andrew Paterson said...

On the other side of this facade is the quadrangle - a boxed-in grass area.

So perhaps those such as Dawkins and our media need to think 'outside the box', look at the evidence objectively and 'fess up to the truth claims of Christianity!

Anthony Douglas said...

It represents an example of the 'I wanna be like Oxford so I can think I'm smart' appeal of Dawkins?

Actually, I would have gone with Justin's second answer, but he got in first. So I had to be creative.

Anonymous said...

i think the picture is a significant portrait of where Christian thought has come and gone, and is to some degree returning - the west's major (think stone) universities were founded during a time where there was an distinct association between knowledge, academic pursuit, and God. however over the 20th century academic institutions have moved further and further away from their point of origination and now in the 21st have become for many intents and purposes a fortress for the atheist academic elite. this can be seen quite clearly at the pictured university in its historic association of many colleges, faculties and schools with the various churches of sydney, which now seek to distance themselves politically and ideologically from Christ. religion however is coming back onto the agenda and as it does so, academia is beginning to explore its roots from an estranged distance in which it both acknowledges and denies its history...

this answer was brought to you by my thirsty thirsty desire for points.

Andrew said...

Alrighty, I think that there are a number of explanations for the relevance of the picture to the post, some of which have been touched on, and at least one of which might suffice:

1) The building in the picture is made out of a number of smaller sandstone blocks ... and Richard Dawkins is a blockhead ...

2) The building in the picture has weathered well with the passage of time ... Dawkin's arguments will not.

3) The building presents an impressive edifice to the passing public, but is in effect inhabited by a variety of increasingly desperate and underfunded academics. This is analogous to the position of modern secularism...

4) The building in the picture was designed by the architect Edmund Blackett who also designed St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney's CBD. So that means that ... um ... the picture demonstrates that modern western thought is actually inseparable from Christianity?

5) The snapshot of that building is unrepresentative of the variety and vigor of the institution it is attached to and therefore is largely unrepresentative of the University of Sydney. Similarly, the snapshots of religion that Dawkins attacks are also unrepresentative of the whole.

6) The photo is in focus and the photographer evidently wasn't shaking with rage while he took it. This contrasts with Dawkins' pictures of God.

7) The relevance of the picture to the post actually lies in the author's desire to rack up a number of comments which he feels will be easier done by inviting responses from the variety of desperadoes who are panting after points (esp. those Jamesons) ...

byron smith said...

OK - time for another points bonanza here...

Moffitt - I'm going to give you the twelve points for the earliest and most interesting two suggestions.

JRS - six points.

Andrew Paterson - five points

Anthony - two points

Zeekstar (nic) - great effort and I would have given you the top points, but unfortunately, while it is true that in Europe and the US the west's major (think stone) universities were founded during a time where there was an distinct association between knowledge, academic pursuit, and God, in Australia, the opposite is true. Sydney University (of which this photo represents an iconic image, the clocktower) in particular was founded at the height of secularism in the mid-19thC. It was meant to be a deliberate copy of Oxbridge, just without any theology department. It was this that inspired me to use this picture. Nonetheless, I'll give you seven points for a great effort.

Andrew - nine points. You might have won, but #7 was a little too close to the bone and deserves to be punished.

nico said...

byron - thanks for the points byron! i don't mind having the flaws in my argument pointed out seeing as how know absolutely nothing about what i said... but it sounded pretty good hey.

andrew - you can blame pete for my 'panting after points'... he won't share any of his with me.