Tag Archives: Life

Dennett and Darwinism

I have been reading Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. The dangerous idea being of course that evolution could occur, in all its complexity, from simple and mechanistic beginnings.

Dennett’s survey of the discipline had been rational and well described until page 154 where objectivity and rationality fly out of the window. Within a paragraph the text dissolves into a rant against religion or faith (Dennett doesn’t seem to be sure which) based on the presumption that Christians are either unable or unwilling to engage in rational discussion about their faith. The words he puts into the Christian mouth are certainly not recognisable as claims that would be made by any Christians I know. The tenor of the text is patronising to say the least. Two weaknesses in Dennett’s approach seem apparent to me:

Firstly, when dismissing God as an alternative to mindless algorithmic processes as posited by Darwinian science, Dennett appears to have conducted little or no research into the religion or faith that he disregards so easily. Moreover, had he done so he would understand the difference between the two.

Secondly, in seeking to deny God as creator, Dennett seems to satisfy himself by attempting to show that Darwinism might be able to explain how life today developed from a primordial cell. It strikes me that this is a particularly unscientific approach: in the absence of evidence, let’s assume that there might be evidence.

Dennett claims to be trying to break down a prejudice. It seems as if the only prejudice is his own. I will continue with the book to see how objectively he is able to discuss the alternatives. Watch this space.

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Back to the future

An article in the FT caught my eye this morning (Banker fury over tax witch-hunt). For the first time in weeks I have had the luxury of catching up on the papers and not having to fit it into a never long enough gap between getting up and getting out.

The article highlighted the backlash in the US banking industry to a punitive tax on bonus payments paid to bankers whose employers have received state bail-outs. It seems there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth along with warnings that the best and brightest will leave the industry and we will all go back to the stone age.

I have to admit to being somewhat underwhelmed. There are two issues here, and on both, the direction we seem to be moving in appears more attractive than a year ago.

The first complaint of the bankers is that the brightest minds will be attracted away from the banking industry by other offers. Good. Other industries have suffered from a drain of talent attracted by the prospect of unimaginable wealth. Engineering and science are two areas in particular which would benefit from the best thinkers.

Secondly, after twenty years of the market-driven, profit-orientated, short-term profiteering that has become the foundation of many people’s lives, a return to the stone age sounds like a very attractive idea. Of course the wails of the bankers are hyperbole. We won’t go back to the stone age but perhaps we might go back to a place where values are based on something other than money.

I dream of a future where we do things, not because there is profit or even personal gain to be had, but because those acts are worth doing for their own sake. Our lives should be driven by a value system that is based on something other than money and profit. When we choose a career, be it banking, engineering or science, we should do so because it provides a benefit to others. Profit will never benefit society. It will only ever benefit the owners of whatever is being traded.The most valuable things we have, from the air we breath to friends and love cannot be bought with any amount of money.

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A sad comparison

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to the angst of Jade Goody as she tragically plays out the end of her life in the same self-made publicity as she has courted until now. Goody it was, who in 2007 infamously left the Big Brother house amidst allegations of racism against a fellow contestant.

Even so, it does occur to me that the anger and self-pity stands in stark contrast to another cancer sufferer, Jane Tomlinson, who in a similar position became a supreme example of courage, grace and love. Tomlinson died in 2007 and her name has appeared among the recent headlines because her charity has now raised over £2 million. The difference between the two women could not be more stark.

I wondered if Tomlinson was a Christian. There is no mention in her obitiary, but as a demonstration of selfless giving for others there are many Christians who could do worse than follow her example. It is certainly not apparent that Goody is a Christian despite her desperation to be married in church, and for her sons to be baptised.

I hope Goody has indeed found Christ in her last days. If she has, it will be doubly tragic that she will be remembered less for her faith than for her notoriety as one of a generation for whom self-promotion and fame became the only reasons for their existence.

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