In lieu of an effortful post on cognitive science while I’m relaxing for the holidays, I thought I’d say a few things about religion and Dawkins again. If you hang around ScienceBlogs, you’ve probably noticed the spat between the two biggest (traffic-wise) SBers, PZ Myers and Ed Brayton. Ed criticized Dawkins for signing a petition that read:
In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.
PZ then says, in essence, that Ed is just being dishonest, because he has it out for Dawkins. It turns out Dawkins hadn’t really read the petition very closely at first, and once he did, he quickly denounced it. On this topic, I’ll just summarize my comment at PZ’s post. Since Dawkins has called religious indoctrination of children “child abuse,” it’s not unreasonable to assume that he would want it to be outlawed. In fact, unless he believes that child abuse should be legal, he should believe that it should be outlawed.
Anyway, I really wrote all that to write this. In order to get a specific Dawkins quote, I went back to the 2006 Beyond Belief talks. Then I got sucked in, and started watching them again. I was watching the discussion between Sam Harris and Scott Atran in Session 8, and became amazed at Harris’ hang-up with the concept of “martyrdom,” which he claims is not just exclusive to religion, but to a particular religion: Islam. Christians, atheists, and other non-Muslims today at least, don’t take to martyrdom so well, Harris implies. I suppose this is yet another case where a little knowledge would go a long way for someone who’s virulently anti-religion. At least, Harris wouldn’t get hung up on the term “martyr,” if he recognized that it’s a pretty common concept that gets labeled all sorts of different things in different context, and in the last century, was pretty damn popular in Christian and Enlightenment nations in the 20th century. I’ll give Harris a start on his path to a little knowledge with seven words: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
UPDATE: Over at Pandagon, Amanda has a very good post expanding on her comment to this post, and further discussing the “religious indoctrination is child abuse” frame. It’s definitely worth a read.
She also comments on the Dawkins haters, of whom I am certainly one (as I think I’ve made pretty clear in past posts). I just wanted to note that my disgust at Dawkins’ breed of atheism is largely a result of the ignorance — of religion, philosophy, history, and even science — that characterizes it. For Dawkins and his ilk, science, and a particular metaphysical and epistemological world-view (I’m so tempted to say metanarrative, but I’m refraining) has become as dogmatic as any religion, and they’re incapable of seeing beyond it. I’m suspicious of any metanarr…. I mean, dogmatic world-view, be it the elevation of science to a position of epistemological supremacy or the belief in the inerrancy of religious writings, if it is treated as gospel.