Girl, Interrupting

September 9, 2010

On Cable, Dawkins and the Papal Visit

Filed under: papal visit,richard dawkins,Vince Cable — sylviamclain @ 5:36 pm
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The uproar(s) seems to be largely a matter of tone…

Vince Cable, his remarks are condescending in general, speaking as if scientists are just a bunch of naughty school children who want more cake off the tax-payers dime. The tone is annoying, yes, but the results of that attitude will be even worse, more cuts (in case you forgot funding was also cut last year). Scientists are angry, nobody likes being talked to by their government as if they were just a bunch of lazy slackers sitting around drinking tea all day. If you really are trying to get scientists to do more with less, it might be better to be a little more understanding and re-invoke that Blitz spirit or even the Obama spirit of Yes We Can. You catch more flies with honey.

William CullerneBown has written a nice post on Exquisite Life about Cable and science reaction here.

And the arguments against Cable are largely a matter of TONE. His tone, and his attitude towards academic scientists.

There is another tone problem this week, Richard Dawkins, or rather another tone problem which is being discussed, I don’t think Prof. Dawkins tone has changed in the last 10 years. There have been several posts in the blog-o-sphere starting with Jonathon Jones, followed by a post today Alom Shaha about tone (both of Dicky D and of Jonathon Jones). And several other posts for instance by a member of the Cambridge Skeptics Andrew Holding. There are various arguments about Dawkins, but the theme of these, in part, is his tone.

But the other thing that comes to mind to me, speaking of Dawkins, is the hoopla about that papal visit.

Ok, so now there is a whole protest about the Pope, presumably because he knew all about abuse of children and didn’t do the right things. There are other human rights issues in there too, according to the protestors see the petition to Number 10.

What I am definitely NOT saying is that we shouln’t be appalled by rape, or any human rights abuses. And another thing I am NOT saying here, is I am not making any judgements on whether or not the Holy See is guilty, that is not the point of this post, and in all honesty I don’t know enough about human rights records in one country vs. another to really give a fair comment.

But there a couple of things about this protest that are just weird.

1 – Running a State means you have State visits, and the Papal visit isn’t any more expensive than any other State visit, and not that I know this but I bet a visit by Obama is even more expensive.

2- State visits don’t always entail representatives of States which have practices that you entirely agree with. For instance Prince Andrew is in China right now. China is a communist country, and uh democracies or even in this case a constitutional monarchy, and they don’t exactly see eye to eye about all sorts of issues, including human rights. Guantanamo Bay is a human rights violation, but George Bush still got to visit the UK, while he was president – without a petition to number 10.

Anyone, in the UK, does have the right to protest, and I can see why you would protest against human rights abuses BUT if its really about human rights – there are lots of state visits you could protest, where do you start? Do you stop State visits altogether?

3- I don’t think human rights abuses is solely the issue with this visit. And why do I think this? Because of the TONE. What its about is the fact that the Pope is religious leader and a State leader – and we know Dawkin’s position on Religion being the harbinger of immorality. So really this protest appears to be about about RELIGIOUS people doing bad things and not people just doing bad things.

And this is the part that really bothers me, why is it any WORSE because its the Pope? Human rights violations are human rights violations no matter who the perpertrator, full stop. Why pick the Pope? If you believe there is a leader who doesn’t protect against human rights violations, shouldn’t you be appalled equally, independent of that leader’s metaphysical belief system?

But maybe the real point – as Dawkins is a champion of atheism as an opposing force to religion, and given his tone about that subject – is that really he is appalled because there is a State visit by a religious leader, who hasn’t always done something he agrees with. The Pope does happen to be one of the few, relatively, State leaders who are also the head of a Religion.

But then again, so is the Queen.

May 2, 2010

Just because you are a scientist doesn’t mean you are morally superior.

Filed under: morality,richard dawkins,science — sylviamclain @ 6:49 pm
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Although we sometimes tend to think so – and this isn’t helped by scientists who purport to be morally superior by the fact that they are ‘rational thinkers’

Some scientists like Richard Dawkins appear to think that rational thought (or logical thought and sober discussion) leads to a more moral society – perhaps is does –
is he a Kantian?, does he think there a moral law which only smart people can work out? Do we create our own moral laws? – of course, as do most religions

Even though Dawkins appears to support a fluid morality, unlike Kant, he tends to blame bad things in the world on religion and indeed says to find morality in religion you have to ‘cherry pick’– but this isn’t only true of religion and implies an all or nothing simplistic kind of moral construct…

or more simply put ‘religion is bad’ and ‘science is good’

but great scientists aren’t always ‘good’ themselves

Sometimes, we tend to think that great thinkers are good people and look to them for moral direction…

But some of the greatest scientists might actually be considered ‘immoral’ by many different standards – atheists, religious or otherwise….

Einstein (who Dawkins spends a long time convincing us is an atheist in the God Delusion) was, as we pretty much all might agree a pretty smart guy and he is also often quoted for his ‘moral quips’ :

Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.

The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. The trite subjects of human efforts, possessions, outward success, luxury have always seemed to me contemptible.

A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties….

which make him seem not only knowledgeable but a pretty good guy – but maybe not.

In 1919 Einstein divorced Mileva Maric, because he fell in love with his cousin, which happens; but then proceeded by almost every account – some perhaps apocryphal – to treat his ex rather poorly.

Disregarding social ties he left her to raise their children with virtually no financial support (although allegedly he gave her all his 1921 Nobel Prize money), in a what I would consider an unkind act called her uncommonly ugly and effectively robbed her of her scientific career – according to their son Hans-Albert (G.J. Whitrow (ed.)(1967), Einstein: The man and his achievements, p.19), which might be considered somewhat in opposition to being a ‘man of value’.

Some have even alleged that she helped Einstein with his theory of relativity (though there isn’t alot of good evidence for this) as he referred to his theory and work as ‘our work’ and ‘our theory’ in his love letters to Mileva, but then again as Einstein said himself
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

Isaac Newton was undoubtedly a great man – scientifically at least – but was not such a great guy to be sharing a pint at the pub with, as the Newton Project says (better than I can):

“Even in his maturity, having become rich, famous, laden with honours and internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s foremost thinkers, he remained deeply insecure, given to fits of depression and outbursts of violent temper, and implacable in pursuit of anyone by whom he felt threatened. The most famous example of this is his carefully-orchestrated campaign to destroy the reputation of Gottfried Leibniz, who he believed (quite unfairly) had stolen the discovery of calculus from him.”

Just because people do one thing well, and indeed with genius, means they are pretty smart about some things but maybe not about others…
Not that all scientists and rational thinkers are ‘bad’ or all religious folk are ‘good’; but being moral and being smart aren’t necessarily correlated,
as sometimes scientists like Richard Dawkins would lead us to believe.

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