It is all too easy to confuse fundamentalism with passion

“Maybe scientists are fundamentalists when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by ‘truth’. But so is everybody else. I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true that when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that.

I have previously told the story of a respected elder statesman of the Zoology Department at Oxford when I was an undergraduate. For years he had passionately believed, and taught, that the Golgi Apparatus (a microscopic feature of the interior of cells) was not real: an artifact, an illusion. Every Monday afternoon it was the custom for the whole department to listen to a research talk by a visiting lecturer. One Monday, the visitor was an American cell biologist who presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi Apparatus was real. At the end of the lecture, the old man strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand and said –with passion– ‘My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.’ We clapped our hands red.”

Last week I finished reading The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, but I hadn’t time to blog it yet. Now, to be honest, I don’t understand all the attacks it has received. They say it isn’t respectful; it’s as disrespectful as saying New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere.

I think the book is lucid and exhaustive. It’s carefully explained and reasoned; I’m sure that sometimes you’ll find yourself arguing with the author. It’s plenty of references to personal stories and works supporting or attacking his points. This makes the whole book closer and stronger. You don’t get the feeling it’s just plain philosophical lucubration.

If I have something to criticize it’s that sometimes his passion drives Dawkins to weaken his arguments. When you want to proof something is wrong (let’s say, that it rains upwards), you just need one correct argument (proof, experiment) demonstrating it. Maybe it’s difficult to find, but once you get it, it’s all you need (for example, a picture of the water falling downwards). And it’s done. In this sense the book does a good work. However, you may later add that you have more pictures, or that you have found an old text describing the opposite, or even a funny video recorded by an artist living in Argentina. I think in the end this will play against your argument, as it’ll create a messy cloud making it harder to visualize. Sometimes Dawkins lacks conciseness.

It was particularly useful to learn how evolution is a central concept in the way we think nowadays. I knew it was relevant, but I hadn’t realized the importance it has in understanding what’s life (as far as we know). Before evolution we had no clue, now we have one.

All in all I’d say the best word for describing the book is refreshing. Like the word used by Bertrand Russell in his famous essay. Which essay? Ah, ah, if you want to know it you have to read the book :-)

4 thoughts on “It is all too easy to confuse fundamentalism with passion

  1. Small comment regarding the English, feel free to delete.

    “If I have something to criticize (it) is that his passion drives Dawkins to weakness weaken his own arguments.”

  2. Pingback: Pages tagged "lucid"

  3. A mi sin embargo me parece “perfecto” tu inglés y cuasi perfecto tu comentario. ¿Conoces esto: http://www.edge.org/ ?
    Aunque si “dios” es una metaidea que representa las mejores virtudes humanas (teología catafática) la cosa se nos complica. Pero estamos en ello.
    PD: Lástima que no se pueda leer en el Planeta Eirene.

  4. @Lapuce: Many thanks, alrerady corrected.

    @Paco: Gracias, la amista nubla tu objetividad. No conocía edge.org, lo miraré más tranquilamente. ¿No te animas a leer el libro? Estoy seguro de que te aportará savia nueva a las cosas que ya sabes. Dios es, por ejemplo, un fallo colateral de nuestra evolución.

    Estamos en ello con Eirene, como ya sabes.

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