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Mind drizzle
I think I'll preorder this..
This is the first book-length response to Richard Dawkins, author of some of the most popular scientific works, such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins has become perhaps the world's best-known atheist, noted for his hostile and controversial views on religion. This wonderfully argued book explains and examines Dawkins' scientific ideas and their religious implications. Head-to-head, it takes on some of Dawkins' central assumptions, like the conflict between science and religion, the "selfish gene" theory of evolution, the role of science in explaining the world, and brilliantly exposes their unsustainability. Moreover, this controversial debate is carried on in a style which can be enjoyed by anyone without a scientific or religious background. Alister E. McGrath is uniquely qualified to write this book. He is a world-renowned theologian who also has a doctorate in molecular biophysics. He is acclaimed as a highly lucid writer, vastly experienced in explaining difficult ideas to lay audiences.
What a dreadful error.. the notion that somebody with a doctorate in one specific field of applied biochemistry might be in a position to effectively challenge the theories put forward by a population geneticist...

I mean obviously it's my own snobbery, as a population geneticist, but really - what sort of response can one really expect to muster? My experience of Dawkins' work is that it's a great theory, brings up some highly valid points, and must be considered true to a point if we are to agree that natural selection occurs where sufficient variation exists within some unit of selection. All Dawkins really claims is that individual genes are the correct unit of selection to consider. Granted, he goes out on something of a limb when he discusses the strength of selection at different levels, and his dismissal of group selection might do with a little more thought... but generally, he puts forth a theory, which can be backed up logically. And the only way to refute that is to provide quantitative evidence to the contrary (in this case, not available), or come up with a better theory. I doubt that this book will do either.

Having said that, I'd be interested to hear the theological point of view, at least from a detached monotheistic perspective (i.e. Christianity). Personally, as far as I'm concerned the words "God" and "Nature" are interchangeable, though my opinion as to which is the better perspective changes.. Certainly a few years ago, I saw the world in more of a God way than a Nature way, but I think it rather depends on your view of nature. At the time, I think I drew a distinction (however small) between nature and humanity, as if the two were in some way independent. I've since adopted a more.. flexible view of the nature/human dynamic. I have a lot of faith in our ability to destroy the world, but I believe that when we do, it can be considered natural.

On that subject, BBC News reported the following figures for species on the endangered list:
- one bird in eight
- 13% of the world's flowering plants
Perhaps somebody should tell them that, in actual fact, those two figures are roughly equivalent. But yes, the BBC are getting in on the whole "everything is going extinct!" craze, because it's more interesting than the war on terror or the US elections (even if all three are connected). To be honest, I say bring it on - things change, that's the nature of the universe, until they reach a stable state. I can think of two such states - one that remains roughly the same, and one that repeats. Since human expansion is unlikely to reach the former state, it can be assumed that the final pattern of life on this planet will be to undergo periodic cataclysms, slashing biodiversity and population sizes, only for the whole thing to start again, until a long term stable state is reached.

If the human species has one flaw, one way in which its seemingly high fitness can be brought down, it's how comfortable we've become. In the west, we're not considered independent individuals capable of self reliance until we're 16, 18, 21 years old. Globally, it is approximately true that humans spend one quarter of their life expectancy being reliant on others for survival. A quarter of their life. Reptiles, on the other hand, become self sufficient within about a quarter of an hour of birth. A crocodile is born with the required physical makeup and instinctual drives to support itself almost immediately. When 'the end' comes, it won't wipe out everything - just enough that we'll all start on a level playing field. Our ability to learn comes at the cost of our hard-coded instincts, and that's ultimately a huge weakness.

Back to what I was saying before, about belief.. I don't honestly think my beliefs have changed as such, but they have evolved.. No belief exists now that is in stark contrast to anything I believed seven years ago, but many of the things I believed then are now fairly irrelevant. It's a big like those huge chunks of the bible that nobody cares about - it's part of the belief system, but you wouldn't want to actually spend any time thinking about it. One of the biggest advantages to not subscribing to an organised religion is the ability to alter and update your beliefs, based on your experiences and new understanding of the universe. It may be that in time I come to regard things I've believed in the past as inconsistent with my current beliefs, but it will be a gradual process, and just because they're not correct now doesn't mean they weren't then..

Anyway, just some thoughts, wanted to get them out of my head so I can concentrate on other things...

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ooh where did you find out about the book? i think it would make a good present for a friend. I did look on amazon but i am a loser in the ways of finding useful things...

It's called "Dawkins' God", by Alister E. McGrath

Can I be controversial and say that I don't think there are huge chunks of the Bible that *nobody* cares about? I believe that *all* of the Bible ultimately points to Jesus, and I heard an awesome 90-minute sermon on one of the long genealogies in Genesis 5.

And I know that you don't care that I care. I just can't let a comment like that go uncommented on :-)

Regarding Jesus, I think you'll find that a lot of Jews will contradict you on that one...

"Nobody" wasn't meant to be taken literally - however, a significant amount of what's written in there is shite, and most people would disregard those parts :o)

Well Jesus didn't think so, and I'd rather trust him than you any day. Not that I don't trust you, but you know what I mean ;-) I've yet to see much evidence that your opinion is worth basing my life upon, no offence intended.

Well Jesus didn't think so,

When I think of the general public, I don't tend to include Jesus in that particular demographic group ;o)

and I'd rather trust him than you any day

Good, you'd make a pretty shite Christian if you trusted me over your savior. Unless I am your savior. Think about it.....

I've yet to see much evidence that your opinion is worth basing my life upon, no offence intended.

That's okay, I told Jesus the same thing. He didn't take offence either :o)

You sure he didn't take offence?

Just for the record: "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11)

Sorry to butt in ...

but ...

every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue

it's intersting that 2,000 years on Jesus is still only a minority deity. It would be interesting to know how many Christians there are compared to Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews and of course agnostics and aetheists.

BTW if Jesus did take offence I am sure that he would have turned the other cheek and forgiven Jamie.

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

That every knee *should* bow doesn't mean that they all do it willingly in this life. And the reason that people are supposed to turn the other cheek is in order to leave judgement to Jesus.

Gosh, it's terribly hard not to sound so incredibly boring when all I'm inevitably going to get in response are witty remarks. But I am constrained to tell the truth because you won't thank for me for keeping silent in the end ;-)

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

I dunno, Jesus doesn't strike me so much as the judgemental type.. I mean, what sort of messiah is exempt from his own rules anyway? Judge not, lest ye be judged, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, etc. etc..

As far as I interpret it the message of Jesus, in contrast with much of the old testament, is far more laid back.

Personally, I'm very glad that the religion I subscribe to doesn't require me to tell the truth, and allows for witty comments :o)

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

"Judge not, lest ye be judged" is exactly the point though, isn't it? He's not saying there is no judgement, he's saying YOU aren't the person to do the judging. And if you don't think he's the judgemental type, then why did he say this?

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats... Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels... Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life"

Of eleven occurences of the word translated 'Hell' in the New Testament, nine are on the lips of Jesus. If you listen to what he has to say, Jesus' message is in no way contrasted with the old testament. Rather, Jesus' death provides the means by which the terrible judgement we deserve (as laid out in the O.T.) may be averted -- he doesn't say we don't deserve it, rather he says trust him and we can be forgiven.

And I'd rather avoid hell any day than have scope for witty comments ;-) Besides, if I were wittier, I'd probably be able to tell the trust and make witty comments.

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

And I'd rather avoid hell any day than have scope for witty comments

We are clearly very different in that respect. If heaven is devoid of wit, it's not a place I care to visit.

I find it impossible to reconcile the notion of a loving God with the idea that God requires everybody to acknowledge and worship Jesus. I'm sure we've had this conversation before a while ago..

On the one hand, if I recall, you believe that unless you specifically accept Jesus as your personal savior, and have a relationship with him, you cannot enter heaven.

On the other hand, I think I made the point that acceptance into heaven is reliant on the deeds you perform and the motivation for doing them, rather than your specific regard for Christ.

Let's take Islam as an example - I find it very difficult to believe that a compassionate deity could possibly condemn to Hell people who have been brought up to believe a certain thing, whose view of Christianity is tainted by the wars carried out by the west in its name, and who have never actually had the chance to consider it in its true form.

Now I'm aware that this is what missionaries are supposed to be for.

But I cannot believe in the existence of a God who would allow such a large number of good people, who have lived their lives righteously in accordance with their own beliefs, who have probably not sinned against others, to go to Hell.

If such a God exists, I would not want to spend the afterlife in his company, for he would be a second rate God, not worthy of worship.

It seems far more reasonable and plausible to assume that God is not so egocentric as to demand our unwavering attention, and instead would be content for us to each follow our own paths, provided we lead good lives. The assertion that acceptance into the afterlife relies on a relationship with Jesus effectively writes off every single non-Christian in the world, irrespective of the positive impact they may have had on others, and that's not a belief system worth believing in.

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

If such a God existed, I would not want to spend the afterlife in his company either, for I would agree that he would be a second rate God, not worthy of worship. The question is though, *are* those large numbers of people really GOOD? Have they lived their lives righteously in accordance with even their own beliefs, yet alone those that really count? Have they sinned against others?

My personal experience is that nobody (barring Jesus) do manage to live flawlessly, never upsetting others or failing to keep their own standards. And even if they had done all that, if they have failed to seek God in this life, as revealed through Jesus, then it's fair enough that they shouldn't get to spend eternity in God's presence.

And as for the lack of wit, I don't think that's in any way a characteristic of heaven, that's just me :-) I find it hard to joke when people's eternities are at stake, but at the end of the day I'm just not funny enough.

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

if they have failed to seek God in this life, as revealed through Jesus, then it's fair enough that they shouldn't get to spend eternity in God's presence

So what you're saying is that Muslims can't go to heaven, because they haven't sought God as revealed through Jesus? And we're back to a system whereby entire faiths are sent to Hell, regardless of personal actions.

I find it hard to joke when people's eternities are at stake

But that's the best time - what's the use of using jokes in situations that are already lighthearted?

Re: Sorry to butt in ...

I don't doubt that a witty comment wouldn't be useful, I'm just say I find it hard - I'm no good at it! So if it's a choice between making an attempt to address your point, or to laugh it off and be funny, out of kindness to you and those listening, I would prefer to try and address your point (though I no I'm never going to convince you, but that's not the point)

And about entire faiths being sent to Hell, regardless of personal actions, I'm not sure I entirely agree. The first a foremost point I would like to make is that the Bible teaches there is nothing 'special' about Christians - they don't deserve heaven either, they deserve to be shut out of God's presence every bit as much as the next person. I know I do. But purely out of his kindness, God has forgiven me and called me into relationship with him -- certainly not because I've earnt it. Hence:

Amazing Grace,
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost,
But now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

It's my personal actions that mean I deserve to be sent to Hell, and Muslims would be perfectly free to go to heaven if they were to seek forgiveness through Jesus (because there's no-one else in whom forgiveness can be found, not because God is narrow minded).

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