Men are logical, women are emotional.

Men are more logical, women are more emotional.

Have you heard this expression? Does it ring true? or false?

Men and women might refer to their broad experiences of hormones and behaviour eg. testosterone leads to goal-oriented decision making, while oestrogen enhances the coding of emotion and recognition accuracy for facial expressions.

However both men and women are often confronted by the illogic of ego, emotion, communication and decision making across the sexes. Ultimately our hormones and our humanity make us emotionally motivated thinkers and doers.

Communications and the exchange of value pivots around human desires to be happier, wealthier, healthier, more connected, more loved and admired, more powerful and to achieve deep purpose.

If your communication and message does not connect with the deep desires, dream, fears and worries of the people you serve, then you are missing out on the deep relationship and connection based on a shared feeling of being understood.

Good communication = good relationships and good relationships start with an understanding and connecting with people’s feelings and desires.

Thing are not what they used to be!

Things just are not what they used to be!

Do you ever find yourself feeling that the world was better, simpler, purer and somehow less messed up in the past than it is now?

That could be your childhood or your grandparents time or even further in the past. Does it ever occur to you that every generation throughout history has felt this way?

Any earnest reading of history will see that pretty much any era of the near or distant past was as chaotic, messy, imperfect, unjust and wicked – just often in slightly different ways.

Since every generation feels the future is both exciting [utopia] or daunting [dystopia], that the present is messy and wicked and that the past was somehow balanced, integrated and had a harmony or wisdom that made it better – perhaps it is because memory and emotion form a doppler effect?

This doppler effect causes the future, the present and the past to each take a different impression, a hue, a note. Just as a racing car will sound shrill upon approach and more resonant as it passes, so our emotions about the future and present and past will bend experience and memory as time passes.

The truth is there is ALWAYS a chaotic present, an uncertain but exciting future and the past becomes a story. The ONLY real time is the present! Make it great

Why Nations Fail

As a follow on to the Bear Skin blog post several weeks ago titled ‘What would Machiavelli Do?‘ comes this short comment on the book “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

While Niccolo Machiavelli gave a very well thought out treatise on what Princes, or individuals of power, should do to maintain a stable state, Acemoglu and Robinson give a very well thought out treatise on how complex political and economic systems contribute to the prosperity [or failure] of a state.

In brief, their book puts emphasis on the need for centralised power in much the same way Machiavelli does. Their argument is that prosperity is generated by investment and innovation. Without centralised power, there is disorder, which is anathema to investment.

However, for investment and innovation to flourish, entrepreneurs and inventors must have good reasons to think that, if successful, they will not be plundered by the powerful. If the institutions of power enable the elite to serve its own interest – a structure they term “extractive institutions” – these interests ultimately undermine the very innovation and investment necessary for prosperity.

Numerous case studies are listed of both ‘inclusive’ and ‘extractive’ systems of government creating both ‘virtuous circle’ and ‘viscous circle’ of national prosperity or decline. Botswana is lauded as a contemporary example of a nation which has prospered under good leadership. At the critical juncture of independence from colonial rule, wise Botswanan leaders such as its first president, Seretse Khama, [see A United Kingdom] and his Botswana Democratic Party chose democracy over dictatorship and the public interest over private greed. Botswana holds regular elections, has not since had a civil war and enforces property rights. When diamonds were discovered, a far-sighted law ensured that the newfound riches were shared for the national good, not elite gain.

What is of most startling interest when contrasting the two works of political theory and philosophy, is that Machiavelli eschewed ‘morality’ and what ‘should’ be done, in favour of what is most politically expedient while Acemoglu and Robinson seem to be pointing us back to ancient wisdom. Acemoglu and Robinson argue for leadership that cedes short term power and gain for long term national good and which promotes public interest over private greed. Yet they argue for this from economic rather than morally grounded reasons.

This begs the question, do ancient moral codes derive their wisdom from systems thinking? And are they less divinely illuminated and more beholden to insight taken from the consequences of decisions across generations rather than within the lifespan of any individual?

Once could counter Machiavelli on his point:

He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation.

… with the counter wisdom that, one [a ruler] who neglects what ought to be done, sooner effects the ruin of future generations. This alone should give any leader pause to consider their decisions lest their short term success indeed bring about ruin for those who follow.

Ray Dalio – Principles

Ray Dalio, is an American billionaire, hedge fund manager, philanthropist and founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates. He is listed in Bloomberg in 2018 as one of the world’s 100 wealthiest people alive.

His 2011, he self-published a book, Principles, a New York Times best seller which outlines his logic and personal philosophy for investments and corporate management and is based on a lifetime of observation, analysis and practical application.

In Principles, Dalio speaks of why he feels it is important to pass on the accumulated knowledge of his life by alluding to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

hero journey

Dalio points out that in Campbells analysis, heroes do not begin as heroes, they became them.  The hero undertakes trials, battles, temptations, successes and failures; they are assisted by allies and mentors and learn how to fight their enemies. They overcome their fear of fighting by the determination they have to achieve what they want and they achieve their special powers from battles they endures and from gifts received such as advice from others.

Heroes always experience one very big failure – an abyss or a belly of the whale experience – that tests their resilience to come back and fight smarter. They undergo a metamorphosis, and through this, they lose their fear. The heroes biggest reward however is the boon – the special knowledge of how to succeed, which upon returning home they are able to pass on to others.

 

In Ray’s analogy, everyone is a hero. Everyone who endures the battle and is willing to learn the lessons of the journey and the battle and to bring home, as he does so well, the boon of experience to pass on to others.

Empire Talks

I have recently moved to London and blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to job hunting, finding new friends and routines, new weather and more.

London is an amazing city, the seat of the British Empire. The city is layered with every era of art, architecture, literature, philosophy and political upheaval usually only accessed through school books.

Just living here is an education.

Victoria

Museums are plentiful, free and lined with rare treasures, antiquities and artefacts. Brightly lit theatres boast among their cast members Hollywood actors and world class talent. Some shows run for years on end. Libraries, churches, houses of parliament, consulates, hotels, each are heartrendingly beautiful and well preserved.

As an Aussie in London, I’m struck with the power of “empirical” imagery in a the city streets, free to view from pavements for both rich and poor. There are statues of Victoria, Wellington, Nelson and Bodicea, an Obelisk taken from Egypt, dragon markers to outline the borders of the City of London, sphinxes on park benches, a Unicorn on the coat of arms, Griffins, a winged bull , Peter Pan in Hyde Park and the list goes on.

City_Dragon

As a child of the “new-colonies” as we antipodeans are historically referred to, such regal imagery in public places is somewhat curious and wonderful. The importance of such imagery does not go unobserved.

Herodotus was noted as “father of history” for his inquiry ‘historia’ into the events surrounding the Greco-Persian wars of the 5th century BC.  He collected his materials systematically and critically, and then arranged them into a historiographic narrative thus breaking with the Homeric tradition to poetically allude to mythic origins.

However, even Herodotus could not help tracing the genealogies of human kings to the divine nor recount the significance of the oracles on the behaviours of men.

Sphinx london

As James Romm wrote,

Herodotus worked under a common ancient Greek cultural assumption that the way events are remembered and retold (e.g. in myths or legends) produces a valid kind of understanding, even when this retelling is not entirely factual. For Herodotus, then, it takes both myth and history to produce truthful understanding.

London tells a story on its streets, its squares, its cornices and its parks. Not only are there everywhere images of leaders, monarchs, notable men and women of history but these leaders are co-conspirators with creatures of myth and legend as though standing in a line of history which reaches back into the realm of dreams and myths itself.

british-royal-coat-of-arms-on-somerset-house-london-s010xb

Such mythic imagery, gives the Empire gravitas. A propaganda of sorts. And yet, perhaps like Herodotus we learn that it takes both myth and history to produce a truthful understanding of ourselves.

Muriel Rukeyser writes:

The world is not made of atoms, it’s made of stories.

Indeed. An Empire is certainly made of more than guns and steel. It’s made of the narratives that weave the hearts of its people together.

Le Mort de Socrate

On the eve of the French Revolution, Jacques-Louis David painted the Death of Socrates [Le Mort de Socrate]. The oil on canvas work completed in 1887, focuses on the scene from Plato’s work Phaedo in which the philosopher, convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens, was sentenced to die by drinking poison hemlock.

He was given the choice of exile or death, and he boldly chose death.

Socrates actions taught his pupils that a true philosopher neither fears nor flees death, but rather faces it with the same calm he applies to life. The scene, while capturing a moment of tragic end, in fact also depicts the moment of the birth of western philosophy.  Socrates death signalled the end of the reign of superstition and dogma in Greece, and the birth of rationalism and individualism.

Is it not ironic that the very men who accused Socrates of “introducing new gods” and “corrupting the youth of Athens”, by executing him, essentially killed their own traditions and saw the birth of what they feared, a radical new ideology that would transform their nation and the world.

What power is there in one man’s death to bring down his enemy’s legacy and give ascendancy to his own?

It is as though “ideas” are one’s true power, [the pen, rather than the sword?], and one’s true immortality?

Atelier_de_Nicolas_de_Largillière,_portrait_de_Voltaire,_détail_(musée_Carnavalet)_-002

Aslo on the eve of the French Revolution, Voltaire, aka François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), died at the age of 84. He was an enlightenment writer whose wit and word frequently targeted intolerance, religious dogma, and other French institutions of his day.

He did not die for his beliefs, but rather ten years after his death of old age the French Revolution [1789-1799], broke out, turning France on its head. The blood thirsty rise of the common people in France saw the overthrow of the aristocracy and the institution of a republic, the abolition of slavery in French colonies, and the establishment of the French motto ‘liberty, brotherhood and equality’ [liberte, fraternite, egalite].

Interestingly,  while in Socrates case, the ruling elite secured their own demise by killing the philosopher they opposed, in Voltaire’s case, the ruling elite secured their demise by ignoring the philosopher poet and his disciples, finding instead angry bourgeois with gunpowder, torches and ploughshares at their doors, and guillotines and prisons awaiting them.

The French Revolution

Moreover, while Socrates ideas defeated his enemies ideas costing his life, one life, Voltaire’s ideas defeated his enemies, costing them their lives, thousands of lives.

What is mightier then, the power of the sword, or the pen?!

Well one may ask, what ideas bring life? One must better ask, what ideas bear good fruit, generations after they are germinated in a philosopher or poets teachings ?

Perhaps as in all legacies, time is true decider.

As written about in an earlier Bear Skin post, Jonathan Ralston-Saul’s incisive work “Voltaire’s Bastards” gives a critical analysis of the legacy of Voltaire’s writings.

Voltaire and his contemporaries believed reason was the best defense against the arbitrary power of monarchs and the superstitions of religious dogma. It was the key not only to challenge the powers of kings and aristocracies but also to creating a more just and humane society. This emphasis on reason has become central to modern thought. However, unfortunately, subsequent society bears little resemblance to the visions of the 17th and 18th century humanist thinkers.

Our ruling elites justify themselves in the name of reason, but all too often their power and methodology is based on specialised knowledge and the manipulation of “rational structures” rather than reason. The link between justice and reason has been severed and our decision-makers, bereft of a viable ethical framework have turned rational calculation into something short sighted and self-serving. This can and does lead to a directionless state that rewards the pursuit of power for power’s sake.

Moreover, we live in a society fixated on rational solutions, management, expertise and professionalism in almost all areas, from politics and economics to education and cultural affairs. The rationalism Voltaire advocates, … has led to the rise of individualism with no regard for the role of society has not created greater individual autonomy and self-determination, as was once hoped, but isolation and alienation.

Ralston-Saul called for a pursuit of a humanism in which reason is balanced with other human mental capacities such as common sense, ethics, intuition, creativity, and memory, for the sake of the common good.

The death of Socrates show us so powerfully, that ideas give or take life. Socrates did not fear the loss of his own life, because he knew that there were power and truth in his ideas, ideas which would long outlive him. In contrast, Voltaire’s ideas while enlightened, gave birth to a range of ‘children’, among them bloodshed, individualism and management as proxy for leadership, the pursuit of rational structures and of power pursuits.

 

If all the books disappeared…..

In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, the British comedian Ricky Gervais discussed religion. Colbert, an avowed Catholic asked Gervais provocatively about the existence of God as prime mover:

But why is there something rather than nothing?

Gervais, an agnostic-atheist, countered that the question “why” was irrelevant. Rather, HOW was a much more relevant question.

Colbert, a monotheist would deny the 2999 gods of other religions, but maintains one ….the Judeo-Christian God.

Gervais simply denies one more God than Colbert.

Ricky adhers to the scientific process, exploring the eternal laws of the universe, without needing a recourse to theism to accept existence or manufacture morality.

But science is constantly proved all the time. If we take any fiction, or any holy book, and destroyed it, okay, in 1,000 years time that wouldn’t come back just as it was. But if you took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in 1,000 years they’d all be back — because all the same tests would be the same results.

What is interesting about this exchange is the elision of several hundred years of western philosophy.

Friedrich Nietzsche stated at the end of the 19th century, ‘God is dead’. This was not a triumphant declaration on behalf a race who had finally overcome millennia of slavery to the dreams and fairy-tales of their ancestors.

It was a melancholy observation of his times and a gloomy foreboding of the consequence of this for subsequent generations.

Nietzsche

Without an understanding of a realm of absolutes, it was not morality that is corroded….. but meaning and identity.

The 20th century found itself contending with existentialism, subjectivism, post-modernism and individualism.  We live in a culture of “alternative facts” in which even the foundations of empirical rationalism can be declared “subjective.”

If all the books disappeared from the world, along with all memory of what they contain, humans would return to campfire story telling dreamers. We would return to pre-scientific intuitive learners, oral historians, mythmakers and poets. 

We would become religious again.

storytelling2

Knowing this, Carl Jung, following from Nietzsche, sought to re-understand religion and myth, plumbing the depth of our dreams to understand ancient narratives and legends and apply them to human psychology and culture building.

Should all the books of the world disappear, we would have to rediscover the scientific process.

This would require a relearning of an ability to know, to form meaning and have identity.

This would, as it did with the Greeks, the Hindus, the Chinese, the Hebrews, our scientific forbears (and all highly spiritual people), be forged within a framework of absolutes; a transcendental realm in which ideas and knowledge are – within the mind of God.

What is so great about Snapchat?

The story teller in me finds this review of Snapchat, and its power to threaten ubiquitous social media platforms such as Facebook, very interesting.

As a neophyte Snapchat user what I can ascertain the key appeals to be, are:

  1. It’s ephemeral nature. Disappearing snaps and stories create a compulsion to share and view immediately.
  2. Stories. Adding a series of snaps to a story, shared for 24 hrs, invites followers into a narrative account of an experience.

Tell your friends a mini story about your day?! Awesome.

How to Unpack a Bad Argument

Powerful speakers use confidence and self assurance, a quick flow of words and a cutting and acerbic manner to establish themselves as experts and leaders. Too often, their views are internally inconsistent and their arguments flawed.

In my life, I’ve been frustrated in too many bad arguments. As I’ve grown older, I have learned to pick apart the ideas of others and throw back some ideas of my own but it has been a slow process.

One of the most helpful resources I have found of late, are tools of logic and rhetoric which date back to classical times. These tools have been lost from mainstream curriculum but in my view they should every school child should learn to argue clearly and with integrity.

classics

Here are a few types of bad arguments as identified by classical rhetoricians and logicians:

  • Argumentum ad antiquitatem or the “argument to antiquity or tradition”. Best known as, “it’s always been done that way,” this argument is favoured by the establishment. While tradition should be honoured, it does not immediately make it the best course of action.
  • Argumentum ad hominem or “argument directed at the person”. This means attacking the character or motives of a person who has stated an idea, rather than the idea itself.  For example,”We all know Nixon was a liar and a cheat, so why should we believe anything he says?” The relevant question is not who makes the argument, but whether the argument is valid.
  • Argumentum ad ignorantiam or “argument to ignorance”. This means assuming something is true simply because it hasn’t been proven false. For example, someone might argue that global warming is certainly occurring because nobody has demonstrated conclusively that it is not. But failing to prove the global warming theory false is not the same as proving it true. This  depends crucially upon the burden of proof.
  • Argumentum ad logicam or “argument to logic”. This means assuming that something is false simply because a proof or argument that someone has offered for it is invalid; this reasoning is wrong because there may be another proofs or arguments that successfully supports the proposition.
  • Argumentum ad misericordiam or “argument or appeal to pity”. For example: “Think of all the poor, starving Ethiopian children! How could we be so cruel as not to help them?” It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to point out the severity of a problem as  justification for  a proposed solution. The problem comes in when other aspects of the proposed solution -such as whether it is possible, how much it costs, who else might be harmed by adopting the policy- are ignored or responded to only with more impassioned pleas.
  • Argumentum ad nauseam or “argument to the point of disgust”; i.e., by repetition. This means trying to prove something by saying it again and again. Of course, it is not a fallacy to state the truth again and again; what is fallacious is to expect the repetition alone to substitute for real arguments.
  • Argumentum ad numerum or “argument or appeal to numbers”. This neans proving something by showing how many people think that it’s true. For example: “At least 70% of all Americans support restrictions on access to abortions.” Well, maybe 70% of Americans are wrong!
  • Argumentum ad populum or “argument or appeal to the public”. Like the appeal to numbers, this entails trying to prove something by showing that the public agrees with you.
  • Argumentum ad verecundiam or “argument or appeal to authority”. This occurs when someone tries to demonstrate the truth of a proposition by citing some person who agrees, even though that person may have no expertise in the given area. For instance, some people like to quote Einstein’s opinions about politics (he tended to have fairly left-wing views), as though Einstein were a political philosopher rather than a physicist.

cicero2

  • Circulus in demonstrando or “circular argument”. Circular argumentation occurs when someone uses what they are trying to prove as part of the proof of that thing. For example,  “Marijuana is illegal in every state in the nation. And we all know that you shouldn’t violate the law. Since smoking pot is illegal, you shouldn’t smoke pot. And since you shouldn’t smoke pot, it is the duty of the government to stop people from smoking it, which is why marijuana is illegal!”
  • Complex question. A complex question is a question that implicitly assumes something to be true by its construction, such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” A question like this is fallacious only if the thing presumed true (in this case, that you beat your wife) has not been established.
  • Cum hoc ergo propter hoc or “with this, therefore because of this”. This is the familiar thinking that because two things occur simultaneously, one must be a cause of the other.  For example, “President Clinton has great economic policies; just look at how well the economy is doing while he’s in office!” These two things may happen at the same time merely by coincidence.
  • Dicto simpliciter or “spoken simply”, i.e., sweeping generalization. This means making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case — in other words, stereotyping. Example: “Women are on average not as strong as men and less able to carry a gun. Therefore women can’t pull their weight in a military unit.” The problem is that the sweeping statement may be true (on average, women are indeed weaker than men), but it is not necessarily true for every member of the group in question (there are some women who are much stronger than the average).
  • Nature, appeal to. This entails the assumption that whatever is “natural” or consistent with “nature” (somehow defined) is good, or that whatever conflicts with nature is bad. For example, “Homosexuality is unnatural; it is not the evolutionary function of sexual intercourse. Therefore it is wrong.” After all, wearing clothes, tilling the soil, and using fire might be considered unnatural since no other animals do so, but humans do these things all the time and to great benefit.

antony

  • Naturalistic fallacy. This is trying to derive conclusions about what is right or good (that is, about values) from statements of fact alone. For example, someone might argue that the premise, “This medicine will prevent you from dying” immediately leads to the conclusion, “You should take this medicine.” But this reasoning is invalid, because the former statement is a statement of fact, while the latter is a statement of value. To reach the conclusion that you ought to take the medicine, you would need at least one more premise: “You ought to try to preserve your life whenever possible.”
  • Non Sequitur or “It does not follow”. This is simply stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises. For example, “Racism is wrong. Therefore, we need affirmative action.” Obviously, there is at least one missing step in this argument, because the wrongness of racism does not imply a need for affirmative action without some additional support (such as, “Racism is common,” “Affirmative action would reduce racism,” “There are no superior alternatives to affirmative action,” etc.).
  • Petitio principii or “begging the question”. This entails making the assumption when trying to prove something, what it is that you are trying prove. If somebody said, “The fact that we believe pornography should be legal means that it is a valid form of free expression. And since it’s free expression, it shouldn’t be banned,” that would be begging the question. This is also a circular argument.
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc or “after this, therefore because of this”. This entails the assumption that A caused B simply because A happened prior to B. A favorite example: “Most rapists read pornography when they were teenagers; obviously, pornography causes violence toward women.” The conclusion is invalid, because there can be a correlation between two phenomena without one causing the other.
  • Red herring. This entails  irrelevant facts or arguments to distract from the question at hand. For example, “The opposition claims that welfare dependency leads to higher crime rates — but how are poor people supposed to keep a roof over their heads without our help?” It is perfectly valid to ask this question as part of the broader debate, but to pose it as a response to the argument about welfare leading to crime is fallacious.
  • Slippery slope. A slippery slope is an argument that says adopting one policy or taking one action will lead to a series of other policies or actions also being taken, without showing a causal connection between the advocated policy and the consequent policies. A popular example of the slippery slope fallacy is, “If we legalize marijuana, the next thing you know we’ll legalize heroin, LSD, and crack cocaine.” This is a form of non sequitur if no reason has been provided for why legalization of one thing leads to legalization of another.
  • Straw man. This is the mistake to argue against a caricatured or extreme version of somebody’s argument, rather than the actual argument they’ve made. Often this fallacy involves putting words into somebody’s mouth by saying they’ve made arguments they haven’t actually made. For example, if Pauline Hanson expresses a desire to keep Australian values by limiting immigration, an opponent may argue that Pauline Hanson supports a white-Australia policy and is xenophobic.
  • Tu quoque or “you too”. This entails defending an error in one’s reasoning by pointing out that one’s opponent has made the same error. For example, “They accuse us of making unjustified assertions. But they asserted a lot of things, too!”

school of athens

These points were summarised from a resource of Glen Whitman, Associate Professor of Economics at California State University.

rhetoric

The Dawkins Dilemma

Damien Shalley is someone who randomly came across Bear Skin, several pages deep in google search listings and subsequently submitted feedback.  Considering we gain hits from all around the globe, and a following which interestingly comes largely from North America, it was a surprise to find out he lived in the same city as me in a corner of the anitipodes. Since then he has submitted various guest posts to Bear Skin on various themes of interest – art, music and even creative originals. His latest piece is a reflection on everyone’s friend, Richard Dawkins.

The Dawkins Dilemma

by

Damien Shalley

 

And there he is again, right on schedule, evolutionary biologist and social commentator Richard Dawkins. Perhaps best known for his “evangelical atheism” and his very public position that any form of religious belief is patently absurd, Dawkins loves to express his point of view during traditional Christian religious holidays such as Christmas. One seemingly cannot turn on a television during the festive season without being subjected to his anti-deist opinions. His annual analysis of why belief in God is foolhardy turned up as pre-Christmas viewing on both the BBC and the ABC in 2015, and his previous four-part analysis of why religious faith is antithetical to scientific endeavour also got a repeat airing. (He saves his strongest criticism for the Catholics in the final instalment, in case you hadn’t already guessed). Strangely enough he also resorted to spreading his views via Al Jazeera television last year. (Al Jazeera is funded by the Islamic government of Qatar). Make of this what you will.

Professionally, Dawkins is an esteemed evolutionary biologist with a knack for clearly and accurately explaining biological and evolutionary processes.   For this, he has my admiration. He may well be peerless in his capacity to disseminate this knowledge in an understandable way. I have often marvelled at how well he describes processes such as natural selection, the driver of evolution, and felt awed by his dedication to the advancement of human knowledge.

But Dawkins insists that anyone who adheres to a religious faith or spiritual beliefs of any kind – his most famous target being Christianity – is deluded and foolish. In his publicly-stated view, religious belief is not worthy of serious consideration. His primary argument against it is simple – it is unscientific.   God cannot be observed directly and “belief” cannot be quantified or measured. As such, religious belief systems defy the kind of objective analysis that a scientist like Dawkins requires and must be rejected outright. Yet one only has to scratch the surface of Dawkins’ primary argument to reveal a universe of questions for which he has no answer.

Dawkins himself is a polite and erudite man in his mid-seventies. He is impeccably well-qualified and any attempts to question the scientific basis of his arguments are quickly and skilfully shut down during debates. His primary weakness, it seems, is his intolerance of alternative points of view. In his opinion, God is a delusion, Christians are fools and forms of belief that he does not understand are equally foolish.

The Archbishop of Cantebury Rowan Williams (R) and atheist scholar Richard Dawkins pose for a photograph outside Clarendon House at Oxford University, before their debate in the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford, central England, February 23, 2012. The name of the debate is ?The Nature of Human Beings and the Question of their Ultimate Origin?. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (BRITAIN - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY EDUCATION) - RTR2YBDF

Dawkins is an adherent of rationalism and empirical analysis. He espouses a well-known and scientifically well-accepted view that our universe came into existence after a massive cosmic detonation. This explosion spread atoms from an infinitely dense ball of matter approximately the size of a melon to the farthest reaches of space. Elements created in this “big bang” formed the building blocks of organic life. Carbon-based life forms were created on earth when water, amino acids (proteins) and electricity combined to kick-start primordial existence. Human life subsequently came into being after billions of years of evolution.

This is fine as far as it goes. It is a scientifically sound premise and there is a significant amount of evidence to support aspects of this theory. We live in an expanding universe (consistent with an explosive genesis), we are carbon-based life forms, we can observe primitive aerobic organisms living in hot springs in parts of the world today that might well be our primitive precursors, and we can see evidence of evolution in the form of prehistoric fossils and observe natural selection processes in wild environments. The Dawkins position looks pretty strong. And yet, it isn’t.

Can matter originate from nothing? Can nothingness ever be the originator of “somethingness” (for want of a better word?) If our universe began when a massive accumulation of cosmic energy caused a concentrated ball of matter to explode, what was this cosmic energy and where did this ball of matter come from? Cosmologists have recently posited that in space, matter might accumulate in concentrated forms due to inversions wherein space folds in on itself in a cyclical manner. (This has been described as similar to the way in which warm air and low pressure systems create cyclones). This is another scientifically sound theory. But what is this matter which is accumulating? What is this “essence” of the universe – this foundation of creation, so to speak – and where did it come from? And why is the vociferous Richard Dawkins so strangely silent about this topic? Put simply, why can’t Richard Dawkins explain this in the same way that he so easily explains the known and understandable aspects of biology?

Because he can’t, that’s why. (Also, he doesn’t want to).

Dawkins has been at pains in the past to inform us that scientists cannot seek to explain phenomena starting from a “supernatural” standpoint. A premise such as the creation of matter by God bears no “internal consistency” to a scientist seeking a rational explanation. He cannot countenance this theological option, and within the boundaries of his scientific analysis, he doesn’t have to. But that still leaves a major hole in his analysis, as well as his conclusions about those who choose to seek additional answers elsewhere.

The fact that television programmers choose to allow Dawkins to stick his head above the parapet during the holiday season is probably more a function of their search for an audience than anything else. (He regularly attracts both supporters and critics and they all watch his shows – including me). In his latest outing, Dawkins interviews cloistered monks, an American Catholic priest and comedian Ricky Gervais, as well as looking to astronomy and classic English literature to help explain his position. He concludes after 50 minutes that there is no God and that belief in a deity is facile, that we are an accident of the cosmos, that people should live as though death will render everything in their lives utterly redundant and that Christian celebratory holidays are cultural norms of the delusional. (Incidentally, it hardly seems unusual to me that a society with a Christian history has public holidays linked to this heritage. But hey, show some respect, Richard Dawkins is speaking).

I’m not convinced of Dawkins’ argument and never have been, although I’m no opponent of science (or of free thought either). I believe that science is an invaluable tool for the betterment of the human race, and I believe that it has delivered the foundational understanding for our modern lives. Medicine, engineering, communications, education: these and virtually every other aspect of human existence have been improved by scientific advances. But I also believe that science does not, indeed cannot, answer any and all questions about human existence. And if people wish to seek answers in religious belief and social structures based on religious principles, it is not Richard Dawkins’ place to tell them that they shouldn’t.

___

If you would like to submit a guest post to Bear Skin, please feel free to email me at jennifer@bishop.id.au