< link rel="DCTERMS.replaces" href="http://trappedcivilservant.blogspot.com" > Aginoth's Retirement Ramblings: Aphorism

Monday, January 09, 2006


Surprised myself by forming a rather good Aphorism today whilst talking to cyberkitten about the new series on Channel four tonight by Professor Richard Dawkins - The Root of all Evil?

The Aphorism is

I'd rather be sure in knowledge than ignorant in belief.

I thought perhaps I had heard it somewhere and was just repeating someone elses words overheard, but I have spent a good hour searching the internet and books this evening and can find no record of anyone saying it. I have to say I'm rather impressed with myself...Smug Mode engaged :o)

anyway back to Professor Dawkin's series. My first contact and knowledge of Professor Dawkins was seeing him give the annual Royal Institution Children's Lecture in 1991; the subject was Evolution. He is a fantastic teacher, author, orator and scientific explorer.

The British Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have been held annually since 1825. They serve as a forum for presenting complex scientific issues to young people in an informative and entertaining manner. In the mid 1820s Michael Faraday, a former Director of the Royal Institution, initiated the first Christmas Lecture series at a time when organised education for young people was scarce. He presented a total of 19 series, establishing an exciting new venture of teaching science to young people that was eventually copied by other institutions internationally.

The Christmas Lectures have continued annually since this time, stopping only during World War 2. Many world famous scientists have given the lectures, including Baroness Susan Greenfield (the current Director of the Royal Institution), naturalist David Attenborough, and Nobel Laureate George Porter.

Here is a precis of the first program's content.... I am watching it as I blog, and I urge anyone interested in the debate on belief in any given religion god or faith, or the evil acts that religion allows people to carry out in it's name to watch it, I hope this get repeated both here in the UK, and across the world. Mrs.Aginoth has posted here about it

Episode 1: The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins is astounded that religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth based on hard evidence. Julia Bard reports

In this two-part Channel 4 series, Professor Richard Dawkins challenges what he describes as 'a process of non-thinking called faith'. Dawkins is well known for bringing to a wide audience the complex scientific concepts that underpin evolution. His first book, The Selfish Gene was an international bestseller.

Truth lies and faith
He describes his astonishment that, at the start of the 21st century, religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth. Science, based on scepticism, investigation and evidence, must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and unshakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science.

In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened and more tolerant.

At the extremes
He explores the state of the three Abrahamic religions in the world today, from the political influence of rich and powerful Christian fundamentalist institutions in America to the deadly clash of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Middle East. He describes the Holy Land as the least enlightened place in the world, a microcosm of the threat to rational values and civilisation posed by religion, whose irrational roots, he says, are nourishing intolerance and murder.

There are plenty of characters to illustrate his thesis. There are fanatics, like the former West Bank settler who has taken the small step of converting from Jewish fundamentalist to Muslim fundamentalist, transferring his hatred from one side of the looking glass to the other. And the frighteningly charismatic leader of America's National Association of Evangelicals, who believes he has been chosen by God to convert Americans through religious gatherings that resemble rock concerts – though to Dawkins they feel more reminiscent of Nuremberg rallies.

Then there are the desperate, like those carrying burdens of disability or disease, who are among the 80,000 people a year who make the pilgrimage to Lourdes. Dawkins does the maths: out of the millions who, over a century, have placed their faith in a miracle restoring them to good health, there have been only 66 authenticated cures. This is hardly a strong record, he says, arguing that it is better for us to embrace truth than false hope.

A sense of belonging
Drawing on such examples, it is not difficult to demolish the claims of religion as fairytales, and dangerous ones at that. But there is more to religion than ancient stories and articles of faith. Dawkins touches on the sense of belonging promised by religious groups but dismisses this as 'seductive group solidarity', which he describes as a 'shared delusion'. In doing so, he glances off the more subtle dilemmas of how religions and religious traditions are woven through people's notions of 'community', 'history' and 'identity'.

Having a sense of one's place in the world is important to everyone but has particular significance for minorities and peoples under political, economic or military pressure. Individuals may even accept Dawkins' atheistic and scientific deconstruction of the myths they have grown up with but still defend and nurture the matrix of institutions, practices and relationships which make them who they are.

So What did I think of it, it was good to finally see the atheist/non-believers standpoint put forward so well on mainstream television.

It makes me proud to live in a country where we have the freedom to be able to watch such a program and make up our own minds. I very much doubt that such a program could ever be shown in the USA due to the vociferous Religious element that seems to be gaining a greater and greater hold on the American culture and thought processes.

I have been involved on many occasions with many people over the Evil that religion causes otherwise good people to perpetrate. I find it impossible to understand how otherwise intelligent people can be swayed to commit atrocities in the name of an imaginary higher being (of whatever denomination) by what amounts to a set of myths passed down over several hundred years (and some stupid ones as well mind you, but that's more easily understood)


Blogger garfer said...

My only complaint about Dawkins is that he comes over as a ranting atheistic dogmatist; almost a mirror image of the religious zealots he attacks.

We have to recognise that although religion has produced much evil, it has allowed many people to live noble, altruistic lives.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 9:13:00 pm  
Blogger CyberKitten said...

Dawkins IS very strident isn't he... Sometimes he's even too much for me - and I like the guy....

Thought he was pulling his punches a bit too much on the show though....

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 10:14:00 pm  
Blogger The Lazy Iguana said...

Noble lives? Maybe for some, but lets face the facts here.

Athiests never started a single holy war.

You are 100% correct, this show will never be seen on American television. The religous right wing, which Bush is a member of, would make a HUGE stink over it. Television networks, fearing the wrath of the followers of the "peaceful teachings of Christ" would never air the show. Ever.

And just for mentioning the program, Pat Robertson would demand 500 hours on prime time TV as "fair equal time".

Land of the free my white ass.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 4:35:00 am  
Blogger Random said...

"Athiests never started a single holy war."

Garbage. From the very first moment they first achieved significant political power atheists have been killing people in industrial quantities. It started out in the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries rallied to the cause of atheism, "reason" and republicanism and attempted to suppress traditional forms of worship. When the peasants and fishermen of the west of France resisted in the name of the king and the Catholic Church, the atheists went after them with fire and sword. By the time they finished a third of the population of La Vendee (roughly 250,000 people) was dead in what in many respects deserves to be called the first modern genocide. Atheism certainly hit the ground running as a governing philosophy.

We can also add if you wish the holy war conducted by the unapologetically atheist government of the Soviet Union against the Orthodox Church and it's believers. Nobody knows how many died in that one, but the casualty figures *start* in the millions. Throw in anti-religious campaigns in places like China, Cambodia and Cuba and you will probably find that more people have been killed in the name of atheism in the 20th century alone than have been killed in the name of religion in the whole of human history.

Yes believers have killed people, and exulted in the slaughter, and they will answer to the Judge of All Things for that. But to get real megadeaths you need to get atheism involved.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 8:56:00 am  
Blogger Dave said...

Great post. garfer seems to me to have made a very sensible comment though. It is very importatnt that if you are going to take the 'reasoned, scientific' standpoint (call it what you will) you have to be very careful not to appear as those you are attacking.

Random - what you say is probably true apart from the last couple of lines. I'm sure more people have been killed in the name of religion than in the name of anything else. Even if this is not true you can't deny the arguement just by adding in the figures of one aethiest, Stalin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 10:28:00 am  
Blogger Merkin said...

I'm not sure that killings within a country count as a holy war. Surely Stalin and Robespierre (SP?) were waging brutal crackdowns on people they didn't like.

As an aside, I went to a lecture at Chatham House a few years ago which defined the differences between wars, insurrections, conflicts, peacekeeping, police actions etc. And (if memory serves) they said that of the 76 conflicts occurring at that time in the world, 75 of them were Muslims vs someone else (occasionally other Muslims). The 76th was Northern Ireland.

So whatever Random thinks about the past, it seems that these days, religion is the sine qua non of warfare. It's just funny that you never hear of Hindu Suicide Bombers, or Buddhist terrorists, or even Presbyterian hijackers. I'm off to watch Team America - World Police....

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 2:41:00 pm  
Blogger Random said...


Do you have any figures to back up your certainty, or is just an, um, act of faith? As for the precise numbers, even if religion still has a slight edge (which I don't really believe) it doesn't change the fact that atheism has managed to kill almost as many people in *one* century (the French Revolution is an outrider in this respect) as religion will have in the entire course of human history. And no, Stalin does count - he didn't do it on his own after all, he had followers who were only too eager to do his bidding or simply cheer from the sidelines (it is positively shameful how many secular westerners saw the Soviet Union as ushering in a brave new era of history).


Do you really want to argue technicalities in the face of genocide? Large scale killing in support of an ideology remains exactly that whatever pedantic label you choose to put on it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 9:57:00 pm  
Blogger S.I.D. said...

I would rather be sure in ignorance,than have a belief in knowledge.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 10:21:00 pm  
Blogger Dave said...

Random - firstly its a shame that you are uncontactable as Mr A's comments are not really the place for debate, secondly I'm not sure what point you are making, I'm certainly not defending aethiests in the 20th century, such as communist revolutions, by any means.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 10:44:00 pm  
Blogger Juggling Mother said...

It depends on your definition of "religious" wars/deaths.

I'd say WW2 was fairly religious - estimated 55million dead. But lets see, some definite religious wars in the 20th century:

British/Irish conflict
Balkan wars & conflicts
Hutu/Tutsi Genocide (and other African nation wars)
The boxer rebellion
Iraq - it is from their side at least.
Italy's occupation of Libya
Palestine/Israel conflict
Sri Lanka

There were some pretty bloody secular conflicts too - Stalin has been mentioned, Cambodia comes to mind, as does Chile. I'd say WW1 was secular in origins. Viet Nam & Korea were mostly so. The Spanish Civil War... I could go on.

All this shows is that during the 20th century we had wars for other reasons as well as religion. The vast majority of historical wars have been tied up with religion to at least some extent, and religious wars are still happening today. Lets stop arguing about who has caused more deaths & start trying to cause less!

Thursday, January 12, 2006 12:33:00 pm  
Anonymous mar said...

Mr A, I moved my blog... you did this not long ago so you know how it is. Could you pls update my link? thanks, gracias, merci!

Thursday, January 12, 2006 3:44:00 pm  
Blogger Random said...


The point I was making was that, despite assertions to the contrary here and elsewhere, atheists are at least as likely to be ideologically motivated killers as religious people.

Mrs A,

I think I'd give you the Balkans, Palestine and Sri Lanka as wars were religion provided at least part of the justification, but I honestly don't see where it plays a significant role in the others - both sides in Kurdistan are Sunni Muslim, for example. Just because different national groups (as in Britain/Ireland) adhere to different religions it doesn't mean that the conflict is a religious one rather than a nationalistic one, after all. And I'm honestly baffled how WW2 fits into the list at all - the Nazis attacked people because they were racist lunatics, not because of the rather weird Wagnerian paganism that seemed to be the closest they ever came to any genuine religiosity.

I'd be happy to stop arguing by the way, if your side of the debate stopped the habit of attributing unique culpability to mine.

Thursday, January 12, 2006 11:28:00 pm  
Anonymous Kevin said...

If you aren't living for God, you had better hope your idea of no afterlife is correct.

I love Jesus...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 3:37:00 pm  

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