“This Will Always Be So” (Or Not)

Some readers may recall a post from a little while back featuring Richard Dawkins appearing on MSNBC’s weekend “Up” program where he floated the provocative idea of taking politicians to task for some of their kooky religious beliefs… Well, guess what? It seems that someone did precisely that the other day at one of Mitt Romney’s “town hall” events…

Asked if it’s a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black woman, needless to say, being the gutless douchebag he is, Romney reacted to the question as if he’d just been tossed a red hot BBQ charcoal. “No” was his emphatic response before quickly turning to the other side of the crowd for a more scripted inquiry.

But wait, how can that be?
Evidently, the God-inspired, yet indisputably racist proclamations of the Mormon religion’s “second prophet” (you know, following the grifter with the magic top hat) are currently null and void. That whole thing Brigham Young declared about “the penalty, under the law of God” as regards to whites conjugating with blacks being “death on the spot”… Well, not so much now, I guess.

I think we may well have a better insight into why Mitt Romney is, as one of his former rivals memorably said, such a “well-lubricated weathervane.” Seems Dawkins may have been onto something here after all when it comes to better understanding a political candidate’s mindset via their religious beliefs.

Religious Beliefs in the Public Square

Richard Dawkins provocatively suggests that the superstitious religious beliefs of politicians should be more openly challenged. “You challenge a candidate about his beliefs about taxation, about military policy, and so on; why don’t you challenge his beliefs about what he thinks about the universe and the world?”

“As a voter, if I know that the person I’m contemplating voting for, however good his beliefs on taxation and so on may be… If I know that he privately believes that a 19th century man called Joseph Smith dug up some golden tablets, read them with the aid of a stone in a top hat and translated them out of some ancient language into not 19th century English, but 16th century English – that man was a fraud and a charlatan – and any modern politician who nails his colours to the mast of that particular religion is someone that I’m suspicious of voting for. I know those beliefs are private, but they’re crazy beliefs. And why should I vote for a man, however sensible his public beliefs may be, if his private beliefs are ridiculous and mad?”

It does seem a rather odd contradiction that most Americans feel the private, doctrinal religious beliefs of their political representatives are somehow sacrosanct and beyond skeptical analysis while at the same time demanding that they not only openly demonstrate and profess their religious convictions, but also translate selective aspects of their beliefs into public policy.

So Long, Hitch

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. His voice will be missed tremendously, maybe even grudgingly by some of those with whom he disagreed so vehemently about many things, not least of which, of course, the non-greatness of God.

Just last week, Hitchens spoke at the Freethought Convention in Houston, TX, therefore making it his last public appearance. Perhaps realizing how imminently close at hand death was, the superbly eloquent introduction by Richard Dawkins prior to giving Hitchens the “Freethinker of the Year” award (a Nautiloid cephalopod from the Devonian era, funnily enough) also serves as a most fitting memoriam to a marvelously erudite writer, engaging raconteur, and brilliant polemicist.

Previews of his final interview with Richard Dawkins in the New Statesman can be found here and here. Fora TV has compiled a video tribute to Hitchens from its archives.

The Magic of Reality

Richard Dawkins talks to Thom Hartmann about his new book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.

The first part of the interview can be viewed here (it deals primarily with genetic matters that will be familiar to most).

Creationists = Holocaust Deniers?

I love how Dawkins pushes the bounds of polite discourse.

The argument isn’t altogether misplaced or as specious as it may first seem because the supposed “logic” in both cases follows a similar train of thought down a path of willfully dispelling established facts and incontrovertible evidence; preferring instead a pleasing narrative supporting ideological conjecture. (Complete video here.)

The Purpose of Purpose

From Dawkins’ American lecture tour this spring:

“We humans are obsessed with purpose. The question, “What is it for?” comes naturally to a species surrounded by tools, utensils and machines. For such artifacts it is appropriate, but then we go too far. We apply the “What is it for?” question to rocks, mountains, stars or the universe, where it has no place.

How about living things? Unlike rocks and mountains, animals and plants, wings and eyes, webbed feet and leaves, all present a powerful illusion of design. Since Darwin, we have understood that this, too, is an illusion. Nevertheless, it is such a powerful illusion that the language of purpose is almost irresistible. Huge numbers of people are seriously misled by it, and biologists in practice use it as a shorthand.I shall develop two meanings of “purpose”. Archi-purpose is the ancient illusion of purpose, a pseudo-purpose fashioned by natural selection over billions of years. Neo-purpose is true, deliberate, intentional purpose, which is a product of brains. My thesis is that neo-purpose, or the capacity to set up deliberate purposes or goals, is itself a Darwinian adaptation with an archi-purpose.

Neo-purpose really comes into its own in the human brain, but brains capable of neo-purposes have been evolving for a long time. Rudiments of neo-purpose can even be seen in insects. In humans, the capacity to set up neo-purposes has evolved to such an extent that the original archi-purpose can be eclipsed and even reversed. The subversion of purpose can be a curse, but there is some reason to hope that it might become a blessing.”

The following is a compilation of his keynote address dealing with the perennial “Why” question.

See more about Richard Dawkins’ upcoming book “The Greatest Show on Earth” here.

h/t: Dave in the comments several days ago.