Richard Dawkins

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Richard Dawkins

#1  Postby Actuality » May 26, 2013 6:51 pm

I would like to have a discussion on Professor Richard Dawkins. I assume that the vast majority of the members on this forum are atheists, and I would like to ascertain whether or not Richard Dawkins has had an influence on you in terms of shaping your perceptions about science, evolution and rationalism.

I used to be a very strong "new atheist", and I admit that I was a strong "disciple" of people such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. I firmly believed, without question, that the scientific method and rationalism could practically account for everything. My view was as follows: if science and reason could not answer a particular question, it was a question not worth asking. My view radically changed when I became extremely interested in philosophy (including epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics and moral philosophy) and the history of science.

Because of this, my perception of Dawkins has changed completely. It has become abundantly clear to me that Dawkins cannot not think outside of the philosophical framework of rationalism, nor does he appear to have any knowledge about epistemology or the scope of the scientific method. I believe that he comes to a lot of extremely hasty conclusions, primarily by what appears to be inductive reasoning without having the empirical evidence to substantiate his assertions. One example I have noticed is as follows:

• All human beings are conscious. (Premise)
• All human beings have a brain. (Premise)
• Consciousness appears to emerge inside a human brain, and the human brain is a product of evolution by natural selection. (Inference)
• Therefore, consciousness cannot possibly exist outside the human brain. (Conclusion)

Although the premises are valid, the conclusion might not be true. I have noticed that he comes to a lot of hasty conclusions like this.

Also, I have noticed that he grossly overestimates the scope of the scientific method. As I am sure many of you are aware, the scientific method is ultimately concerned with endeavouring to disprove a theory or hypothesis. For example, certain biologists have endeavoured to disprove the theory of evolution hundreds of times, and each attempt has failed, in which case the theory has become stronger over time. In terms of Dawkins' perception of "evidence", I am not entirely convinced that he understands that any instance of peer reviewed scientific literature is open to multiple interpretation. For instance, this is one of the main reasons why quantum mechanics has over 25 different interpretations (including the "Copenhagen" interpretation and the "Many Worlds" interpretation). Because of the extremely counter intuitive nature of the phenomenology (empirical observations) and, indeed, the complex nature of the mathematical formalisms in quantum theory, I am extremely skeptical that there will ever be a single unified interpretation on which all physicists will agree, primarily because there are postulations that are ultimately untestable.

I would also like some justification from him as to why he believes Ockham's Razor should have universal application. The simplest explanation clearly is not always the one that works the best. On a side note, it is interesting that William of Ockham was a theologian (among many other things).

I would be interested to read your opinions on Richard Dawkins. Thanks for reading.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#2  Postby lobawad » May 26, 2013 7:20 pm

Actuality wrote:I would like to have a discussion on Professor Richard Dawkins. I assume that the vast majority of the members on this forum are atheists, and I would like to ascertain whether or not Richard Dawkins has had an influence on you in terms of shaping your perceptions about science, evolution and rationalism.

I used to be a very strong "new atheist", and I admit that I was a strong "disciple" of people such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. I firmly believed, without question, that the scientific method and rationalism could practically account for everything. My view was as follows: if science and reason could not answer a particular question, it was a question not worth asking. My view radically changed when I became extremely interested in philosophy (including epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics and moral philosophy) and the history of science.

Because of this, my perception of Dawkins has changed completely. It has become abundantly clear to me that Dawkins cannot not think outside of the philosophical framework of rationalism, nor does he appear to have any knowledge about epistemology or the scope of the scientific method. I believe that he comes to a lot of extremely hasty conclusions, primarily by what appears to be inductive reasoning without having the empirical evidence to substantiate his assertions. One example I have noticed is as follows:

• All human beings are conscious. (Premise)
• All human beings have a brain. (Premise)
• Consciousness appears to emerge inside a human brain, and the human brain is a product of evolution by natural selection. (Inference)
• Therefore, consciousness cannot possibly exist outside the human brain. (Conclusion)

Although the premises are valid, the conclusion might not be true. I have noticed that he comes to a lot of hasty conclusions like this.

Also, I have noticed that he grossly overestimates the scope of the scientific method. As I am sure many of you are aware, the scientific method is ultimately concerned with endeavouring to disprove a theory. For example, evolutionary biologists have endeavoured to disprove the theory of evolution hundreds of times, and each attempt has failed, in which case the theory has become stronger over time. In terms of Dawkins' perception of "evidence", I am not entirely convinced that understands that any instance of peer reviewed scientific literature is open to multiple interpretation. For instance, this is one of the main reasons why quantum mechanics has over 25 different interpretations (such as the "Copenhagen" interpretation and the "Many Worlds" interpretation). Because of the extremely counter intuitive nature of the phenomenology (empirical observations) and, indeed, the complex nature of the mathematical formalisms in quantum theory, I am extremely skeptical that there will ever be a single unified interpretation on which all physicists will agree, primarily because there are postulations that are ultimately untestable.

I would also like some justification from him as to why he believes Ockham's Razor should have universal application. The simplest explanation clearly is not always the one that works the best. On a side note, it is interesting that William of Ockham was a theologian (among many other things).

I would be interested to read your opinions on Richard Dawkins. Thanks for reading.


If you would like to have a discussion on Richard Dawkins, you could start by not putting words into his mouth. Any literate person who has read him, watched the interviews and so on, will immediately see that that is what you are doing.

If you have arguments to argue, argue them. Fighting "in the name of" is for religious wars, not for rational discussion.

I have no opinion on Richard Dawkins. Never even met the guy. I do have an opinion on whomever you've been learning philosophy from: they owe you your money back.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#3  Postby natselrox » May 26, 2013 7:29 pm

Yeah, it'd be nice if you could quote him directly instead of giving your impression of his stance.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#4  Postby Actuality » May 26, 2013 7:30 pm

lobawad wrote:
If you would like to have a discussion on Richard Dawkins, you could start by not putting words into his mouth. Any literate person who has read him, watched the interviews and so on, will immediately see that that is what you are doing.


I vehemently disagree with you that I have "put words into his mouth"; I am simply expressing my opinion about Richard Dawkins and, indeed, the way in which he comes across to me.

lobawad wrote:
Fighting "in the name of" is for religious wars, not for rational discussion.


I have no idea what you're talking about here.

lobawad wrote:
I have no opinion on Richard Dawkins. Never even met the guy. I do have an opinion on whomever you've been learning philosophy from: they owe you your money back.


Well, I see that you have already resorted to argumentum ad hominem. Perhaps you could make the effort to engage in the discussion instead of resorting to vacuous and disparaging remarks.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#5  Postby BlackBart » May 26, 2013 7:33 pm

Actuality wrote:
I would also like some justification from him as to why he believes Ockham's Razor should have universal application. The simplest explanation clearly is not always the one that works the best.


Occam's Razor does not state that the simplest explanation is always the one that works best. It states that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity". In other words, don't try and explain things with things you don't have evidence for.


On a side note, it is interesting that William of Ockham was a theologian (among many other things).


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Re: Richard Dawkins

#6  Postby Actuality » May 26, 2013 7:38 pm

BlackBart wrote:
Occam's Razor does not state that the simplest explanation is always the one that works best. It states that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity". In other words, don't try and explain things with things you don't have evidence for.


I think you're being unnecessarily pedantic here. Simplest explanation, fewest assumptions, however you wish to phrase it; the point remains.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#7  Postby BlackBart » May 26, 2013 8:12 pm

Except your point is a strawman.


The simplest explanation clearly is not always the one that works the best.


Who actually claimed that the simplest explanation is always the one that works best? Dawkins? Where?
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#8  Postby pensioner » May 26, 2013 8:24 pm

I think Dawkins is an elitist tosser, but his science is spot on.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#9  Postby lobawad » May 26, 2013 8:25 pm

• All human beings are conscious. (Premise)
• All human beings have a brain. (Premise)
• Consciousness appears to emerge inside a human brain, and the human brain is a product of evolution by natural selection. (Inference)
• Therefore, consciousness cannot possibly exist outside the human brain. (Conclusion)


Please show us where Richard Dawkins claims this- or even just where he claims that particular conclusion.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#10  Postby virphen » May 26, 2013 8:27 pm

Someone start the conversion countdown clock.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#11  Postby Mazille » May 26, 2013 8:28 pm

Why not ask him yourself?
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#12  Postby Scarlett » May 26, 2013 8:29 pm

virphen wrote:Someone start the conversion countdown clock.


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Re: Richard Dawkins

#13  Postby Paul » May 26, 2013 8:32 pm

Actuality wrote:I used to be a very strong "new atheist", and I admit that I was a strong "disciple" of people such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss.



What is a 'strong new atheist'? What is a 'weak new atheist'?
How do you think being a 'new atheist' is different from being an atheist?
Was it just that you considered yourself a disciple of men who have been labelled 'new atheist' ?
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#14  Postby iamthereforeithink » May 26, 2013 8:32 pm

I'll give you that Dawkins is a bad philosopher, but he is a pretty good scientist.

Actuality wrote:
• All human beings are conscious. (Premise)
• All human beings have a brain. (Premise)
• Consciousness appears to emerge inside a human brain, and the human brain is a product of evolution by natural selection. (Inference)
• Therefore, consciousness cannot possibly exist outside the human brain. (Conclusion)


This would most certainly be poor argument, that is, if Dawkins had made it. I've read a few of his books, and I don't recall seeing that argument. Could it be that you're talking about Daniel Dennett rather than Dawkins?
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#15  Postby Actuality » May 26, 2013 8:36 pm

BlackBart wrote:
Who actually claimed that the simplest explanation is always the one that works best? Dawkins? Where?


I disagree that I am misrepresenting Dawkins' position here. Dawkins has never specifically stated "the simplest explanation is always the one that works best". However, after perusing his books and viewing his videos on YouTube, it certainly appears as though he firmly believes that Ockham's Razor should have universal application in science and epistemology. Peter Atkins, for example, shares the same view.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#16  Postby Regina » May 26, 2013 8:48 pm

Actuality wrote:
...I am not entirely convinced that he understands that any instance of peer reviewed scientific literature is open to multiple interpretation.

I guess you should write Professor Dawkins a nice letter and explain it to him what you think he does not understand.
I've met him. I'm sure he'll be thrilled.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#17  Postby Actuality » May 26, 2013 8:52 pm

lobawad and iamthereforeithink: He has not made that specific argument in a conversation. However, I viewed an interview (on RT I believe), in which he asserted that "consciousness emerges from brains". I have simply written an example of the inductive reasoning that he might have used to come to this unfounded, hasty conclusion.

Paul: I distinguish "new atheist" from "atheist" in the following manner. A new atheist, in my opinion, is a person who is extremely aggressive and arrogant towards anybody who disagrees with the atheistic rationalist philosophy. A conventional atheist is much more respectful in his or her approach. By "strong", I meant that I was extremely arrogant, hostile and opinionated towards, for example, theists.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#18  Postby Cito di Pense » May 26, 2013 8:53 pm

Actuality wrote:The simplest explanation clearly is not always the one that works the best.


Oboy. Another one going on about 'explanation'. Of consciousnessness, yet.

The one that 'works the best'? Compared to what? All I know about it is whether it performs to specifications.

I guess the specification would be something about bending some spoons.
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#19  Postby Regina » May 26, 2013 8:58 pm

Actuality wrote:lobawad and iamthereforeithink: He has not made that specific argument in a conversation. However, I viewed an interview (on RT I believe), in which he asserted that "consciousness emerges from brains". I have simply written an example of the inductive reasoning that he might have used to come to this unfounded, hasty conclusion.

Paul: I distinguish "new atheist" from "atheist" in the following manner. A new atheist, in my opinion, is a person who is extremely aggressive and arrogant towards anybody who disagrees with the atheistic rationalist philosophy. A conventional atheist is much more respectful in his or her approach. By "strong", I meant that I was extremely arrogant, hostile and opinionated towards, for example, theists.

You mean, atheists should respect religion and believers the way believers and religions respect atheists?
edit: spelling
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Re: Richard Dawkins

#20  Postby Actuality » May 26, 2013 9:02 pm

Regina wrote:
I guess you should write Professor Dawkins a nice letter and explain it to him what you think he does not understand.
I've met him. I'm sure he'll be thrilled.


:grin: I detect an element of sarcasm here.

I am not a condescending person, and I am aware that Dawkins is an excellent biologist; of that there is no doubt. I am simply stating my opinion that Dawkins has very little knowledge about epistomology; he cannot see past rationalism and the scientific method.
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