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Samson Corwell

What does Richard Dawkins know about Objectivism

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Has Richard Dawkins, famed atheist/agnostic, said anything about Objectivism or Ayn Rand? Has he been introduced to them? I wonder because one the other 'Four Horsemen' of New Atheism, Christopher Hitchens, mingled with The Atlas Society. All I can see coming from Richard Dawkins is about atheism and evolution, so I am interested in what he has to say about other things.

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I briefly scanned a Hitch book yesterday and found one reference to Rand as "one of the two kooks" (with some other woman). :smile:

I'll post the exact quote later.

He and Dawkins fought the good fight against religious dogma, and I believe should certainly be appreciated for that.

RD, for a layman like me, wrote brilliantly, specially on evolution: but when it came to a secular ethics - why be good, without God? - apparently could only fall back on natural law, "reciprocal altruism" and consequentialism as man's moral guide. "Apparently", because he really just puts forward moralists' viewpoints without making much of a stand. Quite wishy-washy, in fact.

He doesn't refer much to volition, and is snooty about "moral absolutism." Figures..

I don't think he ever referred to Rand in any book.

A pity for me that such original minds should be conformist where it counts most.

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Richard Dawkins, in addition to his books on atheism and evolution, has been a lifelong socialist and a prominent member of the British Left. Dawkins has made some very brief - and very disparaging - comments about Rand. In response to a questioner, who thought that, since he had wriiten a book titled The Selfish Gene, he might have some sympathy with Ayn Rand's views. Dawkins essentially exploded and denied any similarity between his views and those of Ayn Rand or anyone else advocating what he termed "social darwinism." From his very brief comment, it was not clear what, if anything, he had read by Ayn Rand.

Hitchen's comment on Ayn Rand is in his book of quotes (I forget the exact name - i think it's "The Quotable Hitchens,"), in which in answer to a questioner from the audience at one of his frequent appearances at college campuses, several years' ago, he replied the he thought Atlas Shrugged was "silly" (not surprising from his lifelong allegiance to some form of socialism). However, he then added that he did find a lot of value in her book, The Virtue of Selfishness.This is a paraphrase, see the book for the exact wording.

Similar comments from Hitchens are quoted in the "in memorium article" about Christopher Hitchens, by Ed Hudgins of THe Atlas Society, available on their website.

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Am I a bad person if I find Dawkins dreadfully boring?

And, not to suck up too much to Ghs, I don't think he can hold George's jock strap.

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Am I a bad person if I find Dawkins dreadfully boring?

And, not to suck up too much to Ghs, I don't think he can hold George's jock strap.

Dave,

Agreed on both parts. Let me add "insufferably snooty" to "dreadfully boring."

The only thing Dawkins has been good for is to formalize the concept of idea virus and call it a meme. These words are now part of our culture, but they are no longer used or even studied (except by a few Dawkins supporters) in the form he laid out.

I won't say too much good stuff about George, though, as it might go to his head. :)

Michael

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Am I a bad person if I find Dawkins dreadfully boring?

And, not to suck up too much to Ghs, I don't think he can hold George's jock strap.

Read his latest book: The Greatest Show on Earth and you might change your mind.

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I briefly scanned a Hitch book yesterday and found one reference to Rand as "one of the two kooks" (with some other woman). :smile:

I'll post the exact quote later.

He and Dawkins fought the good fight against religious dogma, and I believe should certainly be appreciated for that.

RD, for a layman like me, wrote brilliantly, specially on evolution: but when it came to a secular ethics - why be good, without God? - apparently could only fall back on natural law, "reciprocal altruism" and consequentialism as man's moral guide. "Apparently", because he really just puts forward moralists' viewpoints without making much of a stand. Quite wishy-washy, in fact.

He doesn't refer much to volition, and is snooty about "moral absolutism." Figures..

I don't think he ever referred to Rand in any book.

A pity for me that such original minds should be conformist where it counts most.

Natural law as in what? Laws of physics or rights? Reciprocal altruism, when using a commoner's (i.e., Joe Schmoe) conception of it, is easy to be drawn to. This isn't to say it is right, I am just making an observation. I'm convinced that the attractiveness of the Golden Rule, reciprocal altruism's ethical cousin, arises out of just living life and not wanting to be on bad terms with people. Still, when I read how one atheist (I forget who) cited the GR as their ethical maxim, I thought it was nice and all that, but you can turn it upside down by asking "What if someone wants to be provoked?".

Richard Dawkins, in addition to his books on atheism and evolution, has been a lifelong socialist and a prominent member of the British Left. Dawkins has made some very brief - and very disparaging - comments about Rand. In response to a questioner, who thought that, since he had wriiten a book titled The Selfish Gene, he might have some sympathy with Ayn Rand's views. Dawkins essentially exploded and denied any similarity between his views and those of Ayn Rand or anyone else advocating what he termed "social darwinism." From his very brief comment, it was not clear what, if anything, he had read by Ayn Rand.

It may be that he is too wrapped up in material science to really care much about politics. Not an excuse or what not, but that's maybe the only area his motivatedin. Has he committed any sentiments to paper or the internet?

Hitchen's comment on Ayn Rand is in his book of quotes (I forget the exact name - i think it's "The Quotable Hitchens,"), in which in answer to a questioner from the audience at one of his frequent appearances at college campuses, several years' ago, he replied the he thought Atlas Shrugged was "silly" (not surprising from his lifelong allegiance to some form of socialism). However, he then added that he did find a lot of value in her book, The Virtue of Selfishness.This is a paraphrase, see the book for the exact wording.

Trotskyism. So this is why I found Christopher Hitchens' mingling with TAS to be amusing and interesting.

Similar comments from Hitchens are quoted in the "in memorium article" about Christopher Hitchens, by Ed Hudgins of THe Atlas Society, available on their website.

This is why I asked.

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I like Dawkins, but for a different reason. I use his debate with John Lennox in my logic class. Dawkins can barely get two sentences out of his mouth without committing a laundry list of fallacies or contradicting himself. A great learning tool for my students! Hitchens is/was much more engaging, but neither he nor Dawkins would be amenable to Objectivism.

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I like Dawkins, but for a different reason. I use his debate with John Lennox in my logic class. Dawkins can barely get two sentences out of his mouth without committing a laundry list of fallacies or contradicting himself. A great learning tool for my students! Hitchens is/was much more engaging, but neither he nor Dawkins would be amenable to Objectivism.

Dawkins writes better than he debates. A self respecting scientist should not waste his time debating with religiosos who dispute the age of the earth or the correctness of the theory of evolution. No more than an astronomer should debate with a member of the Flat Earth Society.

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RD, for a layman like me, wrote brilliantly, specially on evolution: but when it came to a secular ethics - why be good, without God? - apparently could only fall back on natural law, "reciprocal altruism" and consequentialism as man's moral guide. "Apparently", because he really just puts forward moralists' viewpoints without making much of a stand. Quite wishy-washy, in fact.

But ideas like "reciprocal altruism" and "consequentalism" are not wishy-washy at all. They're very 'down to earth' actually, and can be illustrated by countless examples from real life.

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Dawkins writes better than he debates.

Ironically, scientists' seriousness in their quest for truth often makes them look 'bad' in debates because they lack the 'slickness' of their ideologist adversaries who have been rhetorically schooled in debate by their organizations.

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I like Dawkins, but for a different reason. I use his debate with John Lennox in my logic class. Dawkins can barely get two sentences out of his mouth without committing a laundry list of fallacies or contradicting himself.

Greatly entertaining debate between Dawkins and Lennox, if I am thinking of that which you reference (at Oxford, not at Birmingham). After three bouts with Lennox, it is said that Dawkins has 'given up' debating creationists ...

Here is the last debate between the two men. Mike Eighty-Two Arp, is this the debate at Oxford the one you use with your students? I would love to see the syllabus!

(here also a debate between Lennox and Hitchens:)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p1mDPQw1Yk

Dawkins and Lennox in Birmingham

-- I have my Logical Fallacies open in tabs, and the Oxford debate open in Audacity. I am set to pounce on the poor Dawkins ... first sentences out of his mouth at 4:34.

-- Dawkins introduces the Oxford debate with a few wry comments here.

Edited by william.scherk
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Dawkins has his moments of wit. In his latest book, -The Greatest Show on Earth- he puts a dozen really good witty remarks into the foot notes. i think he is better with the written word than with oral debate. By the way, debate is a waste of time for scientists. The facts speak for themselves.

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@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

True, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.

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@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

True, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.

And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"

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@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

sn

@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

True, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.

And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"
e, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.
And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"
Yes. Debates can be fairly won or lost only when the debaters agree on the basic premise. This is almost never the case, and all our rhetoric and wit, and knowledge and passion and belief - and the professional prepping that Xray so wisely noted - go for nothing, in convincing the audience.
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@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

sn

@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

True, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.

And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"
e, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.
And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"
Yes. Debates can be fairly won or lost only when the debaters agree on the basic premise. This is almost never the case, and all our rhetoric and wit, and knowledge and passion and belief - and the professional prepping that Xray so wisely noted - go for nothing, in convincing the audience.

A teacher in high school told me I never let the facts get in the way of a good argument in mock trial.

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@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

sn

@William. I use the debate from Birmingham.

The facts speak for themselves.

True, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.

And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"
e, but the topic does not involve "facts" nor "proof", but in fact, only "beliefs" as Lennox points out in his opening remarks.
And that's when both sides lose the debate--trust me, I'm an expert at it. "When in doubt, shout it out!"
Yes. Debates can be fairly won or lost only when the debaters agree on the basic premise. This is almost never the case, and all our rhetoric and wit, and knowledge and passion and belief - and the professional prepping that Xray so wisely noted - go for nothing, in convincing the audience.
A teacher in high school told me I never let the facts get in the way of a good argument in mock trial.
A teacher in high school told me I'd never get away with fudging the facts in a real trial.
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Hitchen's comment on Ayn Rand is in his book of quotes (I forget the exact name - i think it's "The Quotable Hitchens,"), in which in answer to a questioner from the audience at one of his frequent appearances at college campuses, several years' ago, he replied the he thought Atlas Shrugged was "silly" (not surprising from his lifelong allegiance to some form of socialism). However, he then added that he did find a lot of value in her book, The Virtue of Selfishness.This is a paraphrase, see the book for the exact wording.

Similar comments from Hitchens are quoted in the "in memorium article" about Christopher Hitchens, by Ed Hudgins of THe Atlas Society, available on their website.

Here is a link to Hitchens' assessment of Atlas Shrugged:

"Atlas snubbed":

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Damn! I miss that man. He is one of the wittiest humans who ever breathed air.

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Think of Austin Heller in The Fountainhead. Hitchens would have been (would be) far less interesting if he were "one of us."

Christopher Hitchens was one of the very few liberals not seduced by Bill Clinton.

I admire the way Hitchens debated while drinking. (Was that vodka or gin?).

To expect that one minor issue of philosophy such as anti-clerical atheism would make Christoper Hitchens "one of us" is not just unrealistic: it is shallow.

I have an associate who is a traditionalist conservative: pro-life; anti-immigration. She said that when Hitchens died, it was the only time in her life when she felt that the universe cheated her.

Christoper Hitchens was complicated. It goes along with thinking deeply.

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Damn! I miss that man. He is one of the wittiest humans who ever breathed air.

Miss him, yes. As if one knew him personally. Only going by some articles, but I believe he comes from that British School which makes a virtue of erudite fortitude (he reminds me of some journalists I've known. Booze, cynicism and all.)

His courage through his disease til his subsequent death, reminds me too of Martin Amis writing of his father (the novelist also, Kingsley) in his final days: "He's showing me how you do it. You turn away, on your side, and do the dying".

"One of us", he wasn't. That's what comes with a radical, young philosophy - you have over-laps and brief intersections with other schools of thought and thinkers, but ultimately O'ists are out on a limb.

The Hitch seemed very individualistic, but conflictingly, by his comments, anti-egoist, and nominally altruistic. One would not expect him to have the least 'connection' with Rand, and he confirmed that.

Oil and water, Objectivist and arch-skeptic.

What is perplexing is that he said he had some respect for the VoS essays - but proceeded to show that HE HAD NOT THE FIRST UNDERSTANDING of what he read, of rational selfishness.

"Some things require no further reinforcement." He states.

Rand gilding the lily, in effect. Or, men already have enough 'selfishness'.

HUH? Agree, disagree, with Rand all one wants, but at least first make an

effort to comprehend her central point, and assess that. Many a young student

grasps it immediately, but a probable genius like Hitch wouldn't or couldn't.

(His honesty, I don't doubt.)

This area fascinates me: Does it relate, and can it be true that many people - irrespective of their IQ - think only on a 'one-level consciousness'? With no faculty of hierarchicalism? (Rand and her "anti-conceptual mentality" hypothesis bears it out, but it's hard to imagine with anyone, especially intellectuals.)

Anyway, Christopher was a brilliant and provocative old-style journalist - a man of letters - unafraid to speak out for what he believed true, but it's mistaken to see him as philosopher.

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Anyway, Christopher was a brilliant and provocative old-style journalist - a man of letters - unafraid to speak out for what he believed true, but it's mistaken to see him as philosopher.

I never saw him that way. He was my hero gadfly.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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All I can come up with this week is sheer fantasy, and sure enough, a 'spirit' of Hitchens moved me to part of it.

Here, I push back against the fantasy and try to give a plain, even stern report on my struggle or research or history of how to have heroes -- in re that debatable value, Richard Dawkins, whom I think could never be a hero to an Objectivist -- at least not up in the Pantheon with the troika and a few others.

Dawkins alongside Hitchens is a hero to me for his reach, though, as well as his pith and his bitchiness about the torments religion has brought to humankind. I hope after his death, that he be a kind of spirit of the 20th century, a hard eagle eye of reason peering at biology over aeons, as a master geologist maps geology over those same aeons.

And, of course, he is in that class of heroes who have written across the divide between science and me the dolt, that me who hated it in school (fool me) except for dissection (which I pretended to get faint about).

In that class are really only about a dozen, and Hitchens certainly banged out a book. They all wrote a book, or several or many where at one point their message stopped being limited to the outskirts of their town**. They did not sell only an academic or monographic best-seller, which as Robert Campbell can attest, may only run to the high four figures. Each of my heroes did what everyone of a certain class** tried to do, hit a high and hard one out of the field, write a book in which they knew (deluded or not) that they had written a more than satisfactory thing. Aced it. Crushed it. What have you.

Think of Dr Hawking when eight years later he gorped out the last sentence of his Crusher .

They, all my heroes who wrote books, may have all also felt exhilaration if one of their own 'heroes' grunted approbation or backslapped or rang the bells whathaveyou, and perhaps that may have been all the bells that would ring. Sell ten thousand books on your ratty or wonderful or desperately obscure corner of inquiry, get a grunt or two, backslap, toll the bells -- and I think I would feel I had won hugely.

(here I am thinking also now of Rand, when she put that pen down from that last correction or mad banging in the kitchen on the typewriter, when she knew she was done. Maybe that exhilaration was smaller than that which was to come with the Collective, and maybe she indeed was puzzled, hurt and angry about the (non-word-of-mouth) critical reception of a book later -- but I think still there would have been one or two incomparable moments alone when she knew she had succeeded on her terms, knocked it out of the park, Crushed it, etc)

So, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins each wrote a similar but different kind of 'awesome world, awesome science' book, a book both narrow and wide, a book which in no way compared in splendour to the books of my primary hero Darwin, but which grasped the deep import of Darwin's opening of the door. As to many Objectivish folks Rand knocked on and down many doors ... so too I think we (here at OL) know when somebody appears to have smoked it right out of the park. More hits to come maybe, but nothing like that perfect universal drive of a great book.

Beyond selling truly massive numbers of books on a briliant and illuminating set of topics, in a stroke of genius unifying and universalizing the deep story underlying (which as MSK so aptly reminds us, is Power), Dawkins and Darwin and Sagan and a few more pushed that door as wide and as deep as they could, to their limits. My heroes also amplified their appeal (by translation) to many languages, pushed back the darkness, door upon door.

Another hero is a heroine, Susan Haack, who also helped push back my mental darkness, who will never be famous or sell grotesque numbers of books, except in proportion to academic excellence perhaps. She has, like the gentlemen above and like Rand, been translated widely and is as celebrated (in her teeny niche) in Beijing as she is in Sao Paulo and in the world-beat professoriate of philosophy. And none of these ladies and gentlemen do I consider my philosopher.

I, who will sell likely zero books in my lifetime, may have overemphasized a sense of proportion, weight, reach and depth in my dry prose on heroics here among the writer class. There are smaller heroes too. And a hero or nine here on OL. I think any writer/person could potentially be my kind of hero, if that writer person exhilarates me, exhilarates my mind. Helps make my heart and mind sing the same tune, same beat, and so on.

So, Back Off on Dawkins or I will go back to Fantasia, Hitchens, Mother Teresa that bitch, and gawds and death and approaching destruction. Thank you. I too was seduced by Bill Clinton.

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Came on all triste, melancholy, elegiac thinking of heroes like Hitchens, so I sent a note backstage to one of my O-world online heroes. In case she doesn't open it first:

Apologies were due two years and more ago, but ...

When I finished writing my post today, and then listened back to the text-to-audio to catch errors and so on, I finished up and said to myself, I wonder if Ellen would like this. I think she would.

And then thought, she may skip by your notes, William, so kindly send her a note and link while having a 'thinking of you' moment.

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=13069&page=2#entry178846

Life is too dang short.


Yes, apologies for unwarranted 'personal' attack, even if for a cause, specious cause, for someone's honour, specious honour. What crap that seems by my new angle.

So, since I mentioned Dawkins, and the tolling of the bells, and feeling that I would hate not having said au revoir when later the time came to say goodbyes and went, apologies indeed.

Of course, if one cannot De- or Un- shun, I stil hope you will read my little non-fantasy. Thinking of you.

I loved LUV your memoirish tangent on 'the horses' and the valley, and still hope further episodes will come to light. Quite moving your valley memoir above and under the surface -- would it make a nice sixth or so of a set? I hope you do some more memoirish things before too long. Those were shimmery, artless-seeming, graceful, with only small pains of nostalgia attending. I could feel history rolling on through those people like a flood.

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