Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss: Intelligent Idiot Atheists
Richard Dawkins is a well known English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. Lawrence Krauss is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist who is Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and director of its Origins Project. Both are celebrated atheists who are more vocal than most about their atheism. 'The Unbelievers' is a documentary that follows them as they tour together through America and Europe doing interviews, debates, and public appearances.
Despite what the title of this piece may suggest, I respect Dawkins and Krauss. They're obviously very intelligent men. For example, as showcased in his book, "The Selfish Gene", Dawkins shows to have a capability that many lack. He's able to imagine natural processes playing out over the course of millions and billions of years, over numerous generations, and he's able to formulate possible mechanistic reasoning for why things are the way they are. He is able to then explain and flesh out these ideas in a clear, concise way, bringing the reader around to his way of looking at things. Reading 'The Selfish Gene' I found to be revolutionary and incredibly insightful.
The above mentioned book is one of his more notable contributions to modern science and modern thought. Where I run into issues with both Dawkins and Krauss is in their insistence to waste their incredible intellect in the interest of debunking God and religion. From the standpoint of Dawkins book "The God Delusion" it makes some sense considering his point of interest. He's looking to understand how the modern human mind so bent on religious beliefs and philosophies came to be. And that in itself can be insightful and enlightening in one's effort to better understand the modern human psyche.
But I think in their haste to dismiss religion as being the detriment they see it as being, a point I don't totally disagree with, they've managed to toss out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I do agree that to properly understand humanity, you must include the whole religious aspect. It's played a major role throughout our history. But I think it often times gets oversimplified and dismissed as delusion dreamt up by less informed minds of our past.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a pro-science, pro-evolution Christian. Though I am a Christian, I am not a church-goer and do not associate myself with any particular denomination.
My Thoughts on "The Unbelievers"...
Description on Netflix ... "Scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss travel the globe promoting a scienific worldview and the rational questioning of religious belief."
To begin, I am a huge proponent of logical thought and discussion. So watching this documentary about these two men being celebrated as logical/intelligent thinkers, when I see so many blatant logical violations in their thoughts and statements, is literally hard to stomach.
Let's start with what should be the most obvious of logical flaws. Why are these two intelligent men making the obvious mistake of speaking about 'super-natural' themes in the context of 'natural science'? As if the 'natural sciences' could have anything to say on the topic? It's like watching someone you know to be incredibly intelligent pushing on a door that clearly says "Pull". Or like watching someone you respect intellectually struggling to remove a bolt with a screwdriver.
Now, it's understandable considering how religious types tend to reject science and scientific thought as if it's somehow a threat. So, it's natural to want to promote scientific thought, and to sometimes think that means chopping away at religion. The mistake is in interconnecting the two at all, no matter which side of the conversation you're on.
The documentary starts off with various "famous people" praising Dawkins and Krauss for their bravery. Which there is some bravery on display here. Religious people can and often do have strong feelings on these subjects and can react strongly. I agree that this is a conversation that needs to be had. And it can be a dangerous place to tread.
To illustrate my issues, I'm going to share a few comments of theirs that I typed up, then write out my response.
The Opening ....
In the opening scene we see Dawkins and Krauss having a discussion in what appears to be the dining car of a train they're travelling on. And right off the bat we run into some issues.
Lawrence Krauss - "What's more important in some sense, if you had a choice, which is to explain science or destroy religion?"
Richard Dawkins - "Oh, I think they go together, because, 'Destroy religion' makes it sound negative. To me it's a positive thing. Science is wonderful. Science is beautiful. And religion is not wonderful, it's not beautiful. It gets in the way. There are all sorts of other things wrong with it, but I mostly care about truth, the beauty of truth, the poetry of reality which is science. And the fact that religion as a scientific explanation, which it is a competing scientific explanation, it's so dull, it's so boring, it's so petty...."
Lawrence Krauss - ".. and it's wrong too."
Richard Dawkins - ".. and it's also wrong."
Lawrence Krauss - "As an aside, ultimately, is this other incompatibility between science and religion, that when imperical evidence tells you something, you have to accept it. When you give up that by saying I can believe this myth and fairy tale, then it opens you up to lots of other things. So it's not innocuous. Inevitably, when you have to deal with the real world, you inevitably make bad decisions."
Richard Dawkins - "If we can get people to believe that, then it's easier to convince, or it should be easier to convince people, that evolution is true because the evidence is so strong. Once you tell them what the evidence for evolution is, there's "oh, right, well, so much for God."
This is where their thought process loses me. What about determining a natural causal explanation leads one to the conclusion that God has been ruled out in any way? Is it the assumption that if a God were involved then miracles, or magic, would be too? Why? Where do they get that? Why can't evolution simply be the 'how' answer to the question? What does evolution being true have to say at all about the existence of a God?
If anything, the realization that there is coded information embedded into each cell that stores and passes on information, which of course makes evolution the accumulative and progressive process it is, makes a pretty strong case for intelligent design.
Intercut Scenes between Dawkins' Debate and Krauss' Lecture
From there we then go to a series of scenes intercut between a debate that Dawkins has with an Arch Bishop and a lecture that Krauss is giving at a college.
Arch Bishop of Canterbury - "It's part of being human to ask why we exist."
Richard Dawkins - "The question 'why' is not necessarily a question that deserves to be answered. There are all sorts of questions that people can ask, like "what is the color of jealousy?" That's a silly question. 'Why' is a silly question. You can ask 'What are the factors that led to something coming into existence?', that's a sensible question. But 'what is the purpose of the universe?' is a silly question. It has no meaning.
(then, literally 26 seconds later...)
Lawrence Krauss - "Because that's the liberation that science provides. The realization to assume the truth, to assume the answer before you ask the questions, leads you nowhere."
I totally agree with Krauss' statement. But do you see the contradiction here? These two statements directly contradict one another. Granted the two men were in two different rooms participating in two different conversations, but obviously whoever edited this piece together did so with no awareness of the distinct contradiction they all but highlighted here between what the two men are saying. In Dawkins statement, he's assuming a truth, assuming an answer without asking the question, by saying the universe has no meaning. Based on what exactly does he reach this conclusion? Anything more than his belief?
This is the kind of thinking that drives me up the wall about these guys.
Richard Dawkins - "We do have a scientific understanding for why we are here. And we therefore have to make up our own meaning to life. We have to stand up, look the world in the face, face up to the fact that we are not going to last forever, we have to make the most of the short time that we have on this planet, we have to make this planet as good as we possibly can, and try to leave it a better place than we found it."
What? Based on what? Who says? He just said there's no meaning to life or our existing, so who says we have to do anything? What does it matter in that mindset? There's such a contradiction between statements he makes as far as us just being biological machines and statements like this one. Those we're shaping the world for are only here a short time too. What does it really matter what kind of world we leave? The world is doomed to die eventually. We're doomed to extinction, inevitably. So by what standard can he now make the statement that we 'have' to do anything? For what? To try to make the short lives of future generations a little easier before they disappear into oblivion? How can Dawkins say that coming from his mindset? How does that even make sense? That we, basically just being biological machines who have proven successful at surviving, have some sort of obligation to leave the world a better place? I mean, it's a nice sentiment and all, but it doesn't exactly make sense in the mindset he's constantly trying to tout as the "right" one.
Dawkins - "It's such a privilege to be alive in the 21st century, and to look out at the stars, to look down a microscope, to look down an electron microscope, to look into a single cell and see the predigious stupifying complexity of a single cell and then realize that there are trillions of those cells in your body all conspiring together to produce a working machine which can walk and run and eat and have sex, and think. What a priveledge it is for each one of us to have in our heads an organ which is capable of constructing a model of the universe. It is sad that that model will die when our brain dies, but my goodness what a privilege it is before we do die."
I agree whole-heartedly, except for the part at the end that it dies when our brain dies. This is another assumed answer. Understandable as it is to think this to be true, it is in fact not "known". Therefore, it's another assumed answer that gets in the way of asking the right questions. This is how progress dies. Not that I'm proposing this idea as being close to any real truth, just more of an exercise to encourage further thought and to discourage this premature answering of questions. Call it playing devil's advocate.
We know that as we live life our life experiences, as perceived by our senses, gets etched into the physical matter of our brains. And stored there in some way we don't quite yet understand. We just know that we can later recall these sights and sounds and smells and such willingly, and we know through our understanding of the plasticity of the brain that physical changes are being made to our brains as this information is taken in and processed. So, who's to say that's where it ends? Information is in some way etched into the physical material of our brains. Physical matter which is then introduced back into the world. Who's to say that just dies when the brain dies? We don't even know how exactly that information is stored, yet we're sure that as soon as the brain stops functioning, that information 'dies'?
Lawrence Krauss appearance on The Colbert Report ...
Colbert - "Why does what you're saying have to be an attack on my God?"
Krauss - "It doesn't have to be an attack!"
Colbert - "But that's all you've done. You've attacked my God for the last six minutes."
Krauss - "No, no, you have. All I've said is that you don't need him."
Colbert - "That's an attack"
Krauss - "We've changed our minds about the universe. We've learned that the universe is more remarkable than anything we ever thought before. And in fact, changing your mind, and in fact being wrong is wonderful, you should try it sometime."
Yes, I agree. You should try it sometime, Krauss. Let's look at this statement, all in the same breath, along the same train of thought. In one statement Krauss says we don't need God. Then he goes on about how remarkable the universe is. Yes, it is remarkable. Why a more remarkable universe means we don't need a God confounds me. How do you connect one to the other? A more remarkable universe, it would seem, would increase the need for a God as an explanation, not reduce it. Was it not just discussed the importance of keeping your mind open to the possibility of being wrong? Must that only swing one way?
The Arrogance of an Atheist
Dawkins - "Well, there are what, 535 members of the US congress, and 1 has said he does not believe in a supreme being. That's statistically not possible. I mean, a fair number of those members of congress, presumably, have had some sort of education. There have got to be a very substantial number of atheistic members of the United States congress, probably more than a couple of hundred would be my guess. And yet they cannot admit it. So, in order to get elected, you've got to lie about your beliefs."
Here Dawkins makes another very common mistake. He equates belief in a God with being uneducated. I find this a very common thing, especially when reading about ancient human history. The way most explain away the mythological stories of the ancient Sumerians and Greeks and Romans is by dismissing them as being the delusional beliefs formed by simple-minded people of those ancient times in their attempts to understand the natural world around them. This assumption permeates nearly everything I read about these times, even though these are the same people and same cultures who first gave us astronomy and mathematics and the written language. We assume they were simple-minded morons because we've never in our lifetime witnessed anything that could suggest there be any truth to these stories, so we assume the stories bunk, and the authors simple-minded.
Genesis makes a pretty remarkable claim that to most of us sounds pretty far fetched. It says that Adam and Eve, and those born of Adam and Eve, being created separate from the naturally evolved life around them, lived lives that spanned centuries. That's impossible, right? How do we know it's impossible? Because nobody in this age has lived that long? Does that mean that it never happened? What's interesting is that every culture that existed in that age in that part of the world make similar claims. The Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Indus Valley Culture, and many others, they all claim that god-like beings lived among them. Across the board. Well, if beings at one time existed as Genesis describes, then they'd seem god-like to a mortal human. Is it really impossible? According to Genesis they were created directly by God, formed from the Earth. How can we be so certain that it's impossible? Because we've never witnessed anything like it in our lifetime? We've never witnessed dinosaurs either, but we know they existed at one time.
Let's suppose for a moment ... What if you or I witnessed with our own eyes, something truly remarkable? An event otherwise not known to even be possible, something we educated and science-minded people recognize as being truly remarkable, happened right in front of us. Being science-minded as we are we recognize this event as needing to be in some way documented. It's important. So we might feel compelled to write about our experience. Yet it would seem that future generations that read what we took the time to write down, would immediately dismiss us as not actually understanding what we saw, dismissing us as simple-minded, and dismissing what we wrote as nonsense. Does that seem right? Should we maybe keep our minds open and not be so quick to dismiss others as uneducated dopes because we don't agree? Can we not be open enough to actually consider that we ourselves could be wrong? Is that not what these guys are preaching? The willingness to be wrong? How arrogant is that for these guys to assume it's only others that are wrong?
To truly move forward, do these otherwise seemingly intelligent guys really think progress can be made by dismissing the other side as unintelligent or uneducated? To dismiss their beliefs as ignorant or delusional? Do they really see this as a productive way of thinking? Should you not instead try to understand and appreciate, really appreciate, the mindset of those others. Should you not practice what you preach and keep your mind open to maybe being wrong?
Krauss' Statement on Plausability
Krauss - "Do we know how the first forms of life started? Absolutely not. But it's certainly plausible that given everything we know about genetics, biochemistry, that chemistry by natural processes can turn into biology. Do we know that? No. But it's plausible, and that's worth celebrating, that you don't need miracles."
There it is... God's involvement or existence is dependent on "magic" or "miracles".
"If this is the case, and our universe just popped into existence, and space and time were created in our universe in the moment it came into existence, along with the laws of physics we measure, then there's an object if you want to call it that, that is greater than our universe. We call it in physics now the 'multiverse', in which case there are many possible universes.... the point I want to point out is the 'multiverse' now serves the role of a prime mover, from a philosophical perspective, it can be eternal. It can be eternal and certainly beyond our universe.... The 'multiverse' was proposed because the laws of physics are driving us to it. I don't even like the 'multiverse', but if nature tells me that's the case, and that the laws of nature are incidental, I gotta live with it.
Ugh!! How is a multiverse plausible, but a conscious intelligent creator isn't? The more likely answer, it would seem, if the laws of the universe did just come into being as is in that they create the natural world we now experience because of the values that they are, that they were deliberately created that way. And this is plausible because intelligence and deliberate intent do in fact exist. Intelligence and deliberate intent are in fact natural products of this natural world. It occurs. Is biological the only form of intelligence that exists? Don't know. But it's plausible, especially considering all we now know, that other forms of intelligence could indeed exist.
Atheists Are Humanists?
Dawkins - "We do have a scientific understanding for why we are here. And we therefore have to make up our own meaning to life.”
Krauss - "So, to conclude, I've told you today that the universe can come from nothing, that you're far more insignificant than you ever thought, and that's what I want you to celebrate here today. People say that science takes away spiritual fulfillment and wonder and awe and happiness. You should be happier because you're insignificant and the future is miserable because you're here today and you're endowed by evolution with a consciousness and an intelligence and you can ask these questions, so instead of being depressed and requiring meaning in the universe beyond your own existence you create your own meaning and enjoy your brief moment in the sun."
Krauss - “It's surprising in some sense that we're talked about as being arrogant for somehow saying that we create our own importance, that our knowledge and our understanding and the way we live our lives is what makes our importance. People don't seem to recognize that a universe that's created for us a little more arrogant. And for me that's the most powerful and enlivening thing is the fact that the more unimportant we become the more powerful is the importance of science for pointing out that the universe exists whether we like it or not.”
Dawkins - “It's a sort of cosmic humility, where it's the exact opposite of what we're often accused of, science is responsible for the justified humility of humanity. Which is a new thing.”
This is a fairly common stance amongst atheists. That there is no meaning or purpose to our existence, and that any meaning or purpose that we assign to life is something we have to make up for ourselves. Which is correct in their way of thinking. If it is indeed true that there is no deliberate creator, then there is no meaning to life. And any meaning we, 12 billion years after the fact, assign ourselves is not really meaningful either, other than to maybe appease our own minds.
The whole concept of atheism robs humanity of any sort of purpose or meaning or significance. In their eyes we're simply highly evolved biological machines who are nothing more than the interplay of chemical and biological happenings that come from generations of evolution. Meaning, things like love that we hold in such high regard is nothing more than chemistry. It doesn't actually mean anything to love someone. It's just a chemical happening in your brain because that chemical happening somehow proved beneficial in our evolution.
Dawkins - “Karl Sagan said that when you're in love, you want to tell the world. To say that I'm in love with science, and I have to tell the world.”
So what does love in this case mean? Does that mean you're biologically/chemically predisposed to share science because science stirs within you some kind of chemical event? You can't have it both ways. If I'm to listen and take in what was said initially, then I have to reject this statement as meaningless as well. There's a serious lack of consistency here. You can't have it both ways. You can't dismiss us as biological/chemical machines, then start speaking of love and passion as if they're meaningful in some way. How exactly did love for ideals prove beneficial in evolutionary terms?
"The Reason Rally"
The grand finale shows these two speaking at the “Reason Rally” in Washington, DC. Yet all throughout the documentary up to this point there's example after example of broken reason and logic. This kind of thinking is being bandied about as “logical” and “reasonable”, yet there are so many holes in this line of thinking that it boggles the mind.
I agree this is a conversation that needs to be had. That religion and beliefs in God should be scrutinized just like anything else. But I don't think it's this easy to dismiss. I mean, half the world's population still believes in a higher power of some kind. To dismiss half the world's population as basically not being educated enough in science is to not understand what does and does not constitute as proof, or evidence, of God's existence. Or to even understand the distinction between what is "natural" and what is "super-natural".
Let's say, for example that something did come about through a "magical" or "miracle" event. How would that appear to us in the physical/causal evidence of science? Just a gap, right? A gap in our understanding where we haven't quite figured out how something progressed from this point to that. Kind of like people who claim we have no souls. How exactly do you reach that conclusion? Because you found no 'soul gland' in the body? Because if there is a soul then there should be some kind of detectable/measurable energy that is in no way accounted for in any other way? Does any of that even make sense? Are we really thinking these things through?
For example, at one point during a phone interview Dawkins makes a statement about how the actions of Jesus are directly tied to original sin, which was said to have been carried out by Adam. A being, who he claims, we now know to have never existed. Now, it is true that we now know there was not some "first human" who just showed up one day. However, the story of Adam and Eve makes it pretty apparent that other humans existed. Genesis 4 makes it apparent that there are other humans around that Cain voices concern about when he's being banished. And Genesis 1 directly says God created humans a full chapter before the story of Adam and Eve. It's only assumed that what the story is actually saying is that the humans created in Genesis 1 and the creation of Adam/Eve in Genesis 2 are two depictions of the same event. Now, there's a distinct possibility here that it's not the story that is wrong, merely the way it's been read. In which case it would mean we actually don't know whether or not Adam existed. Yet here's Dawkins running away with that conclusion as if he's properly weighed all the facts and is reaching some "logical" conclusion. When in actuality he's clearly missed some pretty "in your face" pieces of the puzzle that directly contradict his conclusion.