Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Rally for Reason?

Yesterday, noted atheist and evolution proponent Richard Dawkins published a piece in the Washington Post supporting an apparent Rally for Reason being held in D.C. on the 24th.  It seems like a pretty hard thing to argue against; perhaps that is why I'm inclined to do so.  

Dawkins' piece is largely a glorification of mankind's intellectual triumphs.  What we have learned to do is indeed impressive, especially when compared to whatever may be the closest competitors we have on the planet.  Reason, as a scientific method that promotes inquiry and demands natural rather than supernatural explanations, is indeed a blessing to our society.  However, we do not "base our lives in reason" alone.  Reason tells us how to do things, how things can physically be accomplished, but it fails to explain why we would want to do or not do something.  The goals in our lives are the product of passion, not reason.  The desire to have more happiness, as subjectively defined by us as individuals, is a ubiquitous feature of human nature, perhaps even more so than reason. 

In many ways, those proclaiming their own infallible wisdom are the greatest threats to reason.  Look at Dawkins' list.  In particular, he claims to know where we came from (evolution).  Now, I see no small amount of evidence to support the theory.  Walking in the field behind my house, I routinely stumble upon fossils of small aquatic beings with nifty little shells, and I live in upstate New York, far from any ocean.  And yet, the theory of evolution, that life has spawned without a guiding hand, is not beyond challenge.  No scientific theory is beyond challenge!   That spirit of skepticism is what makes science...well, science! 

Let me explore that example to show why allowing skepticism without ridicule is important.  Evolution, in particular that version that sees all of life as a byproduct of chance, has some pretty big holes.  For starters, how life came into being is still a mystery.  Literally everything else in the theory of evolution hinges on there being life in the first place, but science lacks an answer as to how this came about.  I'm not claiming science will not do so, but only pointing out that it hasn't.  This is a huge problem, because if we cannot recreate life with all of our vaunted reason, how in the world did chance do it?  Go get a quick refresher on what proteins are and how exact they have to be, both in their order of amino acids and in their folding patterns.  It is insanely complex, and a single living cell requires thousands of these things to work in unison.  

Think of it this way: you are looking at a blog post on a web page.  You understand what I'm saying, even if you disagree.  What are the odds that this was all typed by a cat?  Well, the odds of a living cell organizing itself is even more remote.  This post is fairly simple in its complexity, especially in comparison to what life is.  

Which, by the way, is another thing reason has not answered.  What is perception?  What is sentience?  Yes, I know that electrons and nerves are involved, but how do their reactions to stimuli become perceived?  

The actual argument over evolution isn't one that interests me much anymore.  When I was a teenager, I found it important, largely because the origin of life to be important in establishing an "objective" morality.  The idea that morality can exist outside of a great lawgiver did not seem convincing at the time, though it does now.  I've moved on, though I still have questions to pester the average atheist.  But in general, I don't raise them unless an atheist gets all righteous on me.  

And that is what Dawkins has done.  I don't trust educated intellectuals, either, when they forget Socrates' definition of wisdom.  That definition, by the way, is knowing that you don't know something.  Even the most educated intellectuals in the world put together know so little about the entirety of things to be known, in particular when it comes to people and their subjective lives.  The revolt against intellectuals is caused by the overreach of intellectuals.  

These intellectuals have begun worshiping their own tools, forgetting that they are means to an end rather than an end in itself.   Dawkins' second criticism is of those that would rather have their kids know the Bible rather than "modern science."  Quantum physics and an oil tanker are both tools and both would be equal wastes of time and effort for me to obtain.  The theory pointed out by Dawkins, evolution, is particularly worthless from my point of view.  I cannot think of a single aspect of my life that is improved by a thorough understanding of that theory.  Yet rules that allow us to work together in peace and harmony are essential.  Like it or not, the Bible has been a huge source of those rules.  Again, I'm agnostic, not a Christian, and there are parts of the Bible I dislike, but a great many of its precepts are both accepted and practiced by people in America today with peaceful results.  If given the choice, I too would say it would be more important for children to learn some morals rather than where birds came from.  

Perhaps the most amusing thing is that the guy who spent the entire article cranking on other people for happily living their lives with a Savior ends it by pretending to be their savior.  A hundred years from now, people will still be the same, driven by their passions and seeking to satisfy them by reason.  But the nature of those passions will still be beyond reason.  The joy, beauty, and mystery of being human will never be reduced to a mathematical equation. 

I will rally for reason by being skeptical of those claiming to know, by pointing out holes in their theories any time they get cocky about them, and generally ignoring the theory of evolution as the fairly useless piece of information that it is. 

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