Monday, 10 December 2012

A Debate and Disappointment

I'm a late listener and watcher of the Dawkins, Williams and Kenny (not quite just a chair - he took part) debate at the Sheldonian Oxford. The debate was largely focused on the science and yet added Kenny's and Williams-understood philosophy to this, thus putting Dawkins at a disadvantage. Comments from screeching Christian websites afterwards focused on Dawkins referring to intelligence as late and requiring complexity to produce it - no, said the other two, you can have simplicity in form that can be complex in function.
The websites fail to mention that Kenny turned to Williams and said he thinks there are problems with this applied to God, which was pursued no further. The analogy used was the complex electric razor that does no more than shave, set against the simple cut throat razor that can also cut a throat.

Of course something highly simple in structure can produce highly complex outcomes. We know this already from the beauty of equations that science uses - simple and elegant seems to be the key. Nevertheless, what exists has to be sufficient in structure to produce the complex outcomes, and some of the demands of producing a God are rather large. Omnipresence and omnipotence are rather demanding, never mind creating and sustaining or matters of goodness and justice. None of this tackles the point that intelligence is late, and starting with intelligence gets it the wrong way around.

The evolutionary world is a cruel world: as Dawkins says, it depends on death before reproduction on a comparative basis to produce change. Random evolution leads on to non-random selection in the (local) environment.
The universe being anthropogenic sounds like a lot of hindsight to me. Just because we are an outcome, capable of being sustained (for a while) doesn't mean we are inevitable never mind intended. That point is conceded though in the anthropogenic label. It's interesting that Dawkins questioned whether there was a first Adam or not, and doubted that a homo erectus parents looked down on their homo sapiens baby. It rather happened over perhaps tens of thousands of years, to go from one human species to another that then cannot interbreed (and we now know that we have neanderthal bits in us and they were not our ancestors - so there must have been offspring that led to offspring with these other species).

Dawkins pointed out the absence of information in a book like Genesis and wonders why a Williams wants to look at it, and Williams just demanded the freedom to look at it for certain moral and other insights. Which suggested to me that Judaeo-Christianity is a "story" (word used by Williams once) that is voluntary for its insights. Oh what a world away we are from a more Christian-centred approach to reality.

In a way the debate wasn't focused enough on one thing or the other, so that it could have looked up front at structure and function or looked up front on Christianity being a religion of intervention (after all, what is the claim of incarnation of God in a human being if not intervention?).

All this I'm writing on a Sunday that included a service that disappointed me: we had a second attending Pagan and yet again a new first time attender. There was a rambling and disconnected bible reading of Daniel and comment, as in a 'well-known' reading, and thus a theme of heritage which linked geneaology we might investigate to the Bible having this same mix of history and unreliable insight to make it all the more interesting in its biographies especially the New Testament biography and letters. OK, but edit it down please and realise that some of us just aren't there any more, We want to keep our new folk and not lose them to a sterile debate. The point is that when new people join a Christian Church, the Church expects to change them, whereas in ours when new people join it is the Church that changes. Talking of heritage, now comes the time of Christmas carols making sentiments that few of us believe in. Normally I'd now escape until afterwards but I'm volunteered to do the music. At least after Christmas Day we stop.

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