Saturday, August 26, 2006

While Late Night Zapping

(Warning: bit long this post!)

Sitting slumped in the armchair with the remote loosely grasped in my hand I zapped around the TV channels the other night. A shock of recognition woke me somewhat when I saw Professor Richard Dawkins on some sort of chat/interview/everyone-talk-at-the-same-time-and-nobody-listens programme.

“What the…?”

It was called something like “My Life” and it featured the aforementioned RD surrounded somewhat threateningly I felt by a group of mainly young people of various religious faiths.

“Oh here we go…evolution v. bible/Koran/Tibetan Book of the Dead or whatever…”

The presenter, whose name I made a mental note of remembering but have subsequently forgotten anyway, was good, objective and not afraid of cutting through the mindless unconsidered drivel some of his participants came out with – a feature which I have never before experienced on TV and which made the programme even more worth watching.

It turned out not to be the endless evolution “debate” – Dawkins quashed that quite early on by saying that any intelligent person, whether a member of a religion or not, accepts the overwhelming proof for the process of evolution, “the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, high-ranking Buddhists, Jews…”

One of the main things I noticed was the complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Dawkins’ views.

“Why,” asked a Hindu, “are you trying to dictate what we all should believe? Religion is a powerful comfort for many people – why do you want to take that away?”

“I am doing nothing of the sort!” Dawkins replied. “You can believe what you want. I am here because this is a discussion about truth and I think to get to the truth you need to examine evidence and that is what science tries to do. There are no militant atheists trying to force people to believe something and then kill them if they don’t. That seems rather to have been the prerogative of some of the more popular religions over the years!”

Collective drawing in of breath!

A Muslim woman pointed out, “the Koran has not changed for over 1300 years, surely this shows that it must be true?”

“Well, for example, it says in the Koran that an adulteress should be stoned to death…”

A young bloke said, “There is a section written in the Koran for unbelievers. It says, “We, the believers, believe what we believe and you, the unbelievers, believe what you believe. We will never believe what you believe and you will never believe what we believe.”

The presenter commented, “Well, that was certainly worth writing down!”

An Anglican vicar picked up on Dawkins’ atheism.

“You have no proof that god does not exist so shouldn’t you really call yourself an agnostic and not an atheist?”

At this point I wanted to reply myself not about the hair-splitting atheist or agnostic point but the proof of existence bit but I couldn’t of course being still slumped, at least not quite so corpse-like as before, in front on the TV and not in the studio. However, having my own blog means that here I can, albeit belatedly, butt in!

When I was a teenager, as my doubts about religions and my awareness of their mutual inconsistencies began to grow, I started to think about the difference between proving that something does exist and proving that something doesn’t exist.

It is not just the same thing the other way around or whatever.

If someone claims there is a kind of butterfly with “eat my shorts” written on its wings then no matter how sceptical you are to begin with it would only need one such butterfly to be caught – or maybe a family of them – for you to be convinced that they exist. However proving that such a butterfly does not exist…well, where do you begin? Even after you have combed every square inch of the world and not found one it could still be that on some remote planet there is indeed a creature which we would classify as a butterfly and which has shapes on its wings which very much resemble the words “eat my shorts”.

Proving that this thing does not exist becomes an infinite task.

So, if it is vastly easier to prove that something does exist, wouldn’t it be fairer to put the onus on those who actually claim that this particular thing does exist?

Perhaps that’s worth writing down too.

Anyway, the TV programming bosses, in their infinite wisdom about how much serious thought we can handle in one evening, had imagined that 30 minutes should be enough to deal with this topic, so prof. Dawkins, the presenter and the assembled religious representatives ran out of time of course and finished having scratched the merest nano-millimetre of the surface.

I went back to zapping between “Celebrity Love Cess-Pit” and “Australian Snail Sucking Championships” and started wondering why so much TV is total junk and why the little jewels now and then are more then than now.


Anji said...

I did enjoy reading that. we've recently had a program about why the Catholic church lied about the carbon dating of the Turin shroud. I'm waiting for jesus clones to turn up all over the place.

Neutron said...

Hi Anji...glad you enjoyed it. I thought I might be on for a stoning or a flash of lightning but so far so good!