Saturday, December 08, 2007

Brand vs Dawkins

In so many ways this clip from Russell Brand's Radio 2 show last Saturday night is so much more than a comedian talking to a scientist, it illustrates the great paradigm shift of our times - from modernism to postmodernism. I'd love to know what you think of it - leave me a comment.

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headphonaught said...

Evidence vs Feelings... Is faith a feeling? Hmm? Can we provide the kind of evidence necessary to "prove" that which we have faith in? Should we even try? More hmm?

Never thought Russell Brand would get me thinking like this...

I find it deliciously ironic to think that God loves Richard Dawkins. Now that's postmodern.

rotoscoper said...

The clip is like standing next to a couple of kids in a junior school playground arguing about, say, quantum mechanics. It's great fun, but they are both speaking from a position of depressing ignorance. Have a laugh and move on.

If you want to engage with Dawkins thoughts - more pernicious, if less populist than Brand's - read McGrath or John Lennox. Sloppy rhetoric is easy to dismantle with logic. Christians! Use your minds!

Matt Wilson said...

OK, but (big) question for you rotoscoper (JL I assume?) - Do you not feel that postmodernism affords us the opportunity to rediscover the use of our minds in greater harmony with the rest of our physical and spiritual being, instead of annexing them into the lonely land of Cartesian logic where Dawkins et al have built their rhetorical houses?

Feel free not to answer!

Anonymous said...

"Why can't feelings be as good as thoughts?" What an interesting question - there is definitely a phd dissertation or several in that. Very Greek way of thinking, to distinguish the two. Dawkin's blind spot is that quantum mechanics hasn't caught up with him. He hasn't really engaged with the huge scientific issue (schroedingers cat) that the involvement of the observer actually changes the outcome of the experiment. Just as much post-modernism has radically redefined science as much as it has redined the arts (through lyotard etc.) and it goes back to Nils Bohr. If Dawkins feels or is convinced that that there is no God, then his feelings/convictions will distort his interpretation of the "evidence", and enable him to make sweeping statements like "if we just appeal to the facts then we will clearly see there is no God." Just once i would like him to admit and be transparent about the discourses that he is working within, and admit that the influences he has allowed his mind to submit to just might control the output (his theories) that come out the other end. He never admits the weaknesses of his own position, unlike Bertrand Russel, who was at least honest about his atheism and its intellectual short-comings.

I really recommend the thought of Michael Polanyi on this, especially Drusilla Scott's biography. He critiqued the way that science can be used by totalitarian regimes to enforce an atheist world-view, was a friend of Einstein and lived and worked in Manchester. He appeals for scientists to self-declare their own fallibility so as not to succumb to the temptation to use a modernist-rationalist belief in non-relational objective truth to support destructive ethical world-views. His work is highly regarded in academic circles...he talks about the concept of Tacit Knowledge which is his description of the way that everyone has assumptions derived from their training and worldview that influences the outcome of their supposedly objective experiements. interestingly, Ann Morosy uses his thought in her work on Urban Mission called Beyond the Good Samaritan. Polanyi wasn't a Christian but he argued that science can't squeeze out the spiritual dimensions of human knowledge without catastrophic consequences. I wish dawkins would actually engage with thought like his, and even read some of the great theologians, before setting up his straw-man God (which we christians are supposed to believe in) only to knock him down. The reality is that that is all dawkins has ever achieved - he's demolished his own construction of who God is, rather than Yahweh himself.

rotoscoper said...

I choose to answer!

Well Matt, in this context post-modern relativism validates everyone's views on the basis that their experience alone is of value. Weirdly, it allows dogmatic rationalism (Dawkins) to co-exist with populist existentialism (Brand), seemingly for our entertainment.

Where are Christians in this? Our minds and hearts work together to apprehend the truth about God. Wonderfully our emotions (but not emotionalism) are used to engage our minds, and vice versa. We are complete human creations, and we need to use all that God has provided - that pre-dates post-modernism by some margin (Matt 22:37).

The idea of absolute truth is becoming more and more alien to our culture. Provoke Brand/Dawkins by injecting the concept of truth into the dialogue, and they will attack you. So will almost anyone. Christians need to understand that our culture is literally unable to cope with truth.

In my view, the key is love - and perhaps it always was. Unconditional love whose wellspring is God cannot be explained away by the worldview of either Dawkins or Brand. That perhaps offers a way to introduce the absolute that is our Lord - who will jealously guard the honour that is his whether our world accepts it or not.

Bish said...

Great Clip Matt,

I am big fan of Brand and this is about as articulate & sober as I've heard him.

It was facinating because Brand appears to express no particular faith (although some of his humour is carefully worded in this regard) but he is arguing down the 'Anti Godist' It reminds me that God is at work in the world, outside the walls of the church. Yesterday 150-200 people from our community stood out in the cold singing worship to Jesus at an event that wasn't organised by the church. Most of them were not Christians but every tongue confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord - O come let us adore him, etc. He will not be contained.

The clip also reminded me of Ricky Gervais talking about creation which is just inspirational. I think we, the church, could take lesson in how to engage in rich dialogue with a sense of humour and a huge measure of grace. My favourite part is when Brand says 'Go on - give us a cuddle', perhaps in our mission we should try to express this sentiment to the world with a chuckle - it might just go down better than the old finger wagging routine.


Matt Wilson said...

Guys, thanks for all your comments - I had a hunch that this clip would be popular!

Paul, yes, I've just come across Polyani via Newbigin, didn't know of the Manchester connection though - cool!

JL - we do indeed find ourselves in interesting times with reference to the concept of truth. I'm reminded of Pilate's dialogue with Jesus (in John) "What is truth?" My take would be that an individual possessing a postmodern worldview would be more willing to engage with embodied, relational truth than propositional, abstract truth, which is good news whenever love is in the equation.

Bish, yep, Russell Brand really does a cracking job of handling Dawkins. I deliberately left the extra bit of 'tomfoolery' after the interview to show the downside of postmodernism which is that it all too easily slides into ridicule and mockery, which leads me to Ricky Gervais who I think combines the entrenched mindset of a modernist with the cynicism of a postmodern. Terrible combination!

little said...

I can't really think of any useful contributions to the discussion right now, but that was brilliant!

I found it interesting, though, that Dawkins' usual patronising tone that he adopts when taking on people of faith was clearly not evident in the clip. He was quite happy to listen to Brand and make comments rather than pursuing his own agenda.

Makes me wonder whether if Dawkins took on Jesus, or even a Christian who was as counter-and-yet-within-culture as Jesus, they'd actually have a decent conversation...It seems as soon as Dawkins can label someone as something he doesn't agree with, he's on the attack.

In that respect, if the church lives as an entity that evades classification or being labelled in any way, maybe it could enter into more meaningful debate?

And I don't mean not having any values, just not being so rigidly stuck to some aspects of doctrine that people see us as narrow-minded and unwilling to think.

Considering I started this post stating that I didn't have anything to add to the discussion, I must conclude that I am far more postmodern than I first thought.

little said...

I've just listened to it again.

My favourite part is when Dawkins is explaining that his book's "sold more than a million and a half copies now" and Brand cuts in with "It's not sold as much as the Bible though mate! The Bible's still out there, we're knockin' out Bibles!"

I bet you use this in a future Genetik session. ;-)

Matt Wilson said...

Little, you bet matey, the Genetik 'Worldviews' session suddenly got a lot more entertaining!
You're right to notice that Dawkins seemed unusually chilled on this occasion. I even wonder if he might've broken out into a smile once or twice, but he's a shrewd old stoat, it was a radio interview so we'll never know!

PS - see you at Incarnate in January?

spurious said...

This was an interesting clip. Dawkins was as relaxed as I've ever heard him, and Brand was coherant too - the two are probably only able to converse at those personality extremes. Dawkins was right to rally against the notion that something is regarded as true because of a feeling. In reference to an earlier absurd response to this, society isn't unable to handle truth, it's unable to handle somebody dogmatically preaching what they've mistakenly decided is truth based on nothing more then a desire to believe and the affect of mutual affirmation every Sunday morning to delude the brain into becoming convinced about something for which there is zero evidence.

Its a popular myth perpetuated in religious circles that life outside religion is cold, amoral and empty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life is at once more complex, awe-inspiring and beautiful. Dawkins isn't always the best representation of this, I grant you.

little said...

Spurious, you make some interesting points - albeit with a slightly Dawkins-esque tone.

I can only comment from my own experience of growing up in a Christian church congregation that was loving yet uninspiring, then helping to grow a new church from scratch that was outward-looking yet hard work, working in a Christian environment that was restrictive yet passionate, and becoming frustrated with dogmatic, 'market-minded' Christianity. That's my context, so I hope you will forgive me if I unintentionally make generalisations based on my experiences.

On the one hand, I agree that - at least within Christian circles I've been in - there is often perpetuated a myth that life outside of Christianity at least is cold, amoral and empty. I'd say, however, that any Christian who is grounded in reality will admit that we can often see massive signs of life and morality etc. outside the church.

I think problems like these are partly perpetuated by faulty theology but also by a competitive attitude to belief.

Theologically, the view comes from one verse - John 10:10 - which says the Good Shepherd came to bring life in all its fullness. I'm not an expert on the verse but on the one hand it doesn't say that the church has a monopoly on this, only that Jesus gives life - and as Jesus was found among the poor, weak, sick, leprous, immoral, non-religious people of his day then it figures that (if he's alive as christians believe) that he's still out there now.

It also doesn't specify what life means. Our 21st century mindsets tend to assume it means life how we want it. But Jesus's life was marked with suffering and death, and he promised his disciples that too. So maybe Christians are wrong to assume that we know what it means from a cursory reading of this one verse.

Jesus also talked heavily (in the Bible) about the Kingdom of God, and an in-depth examination of his parables in Matthew 13 imply that - in contrast to much teaching in the Christian church - God's kingdom is NOT analagous to the church. Therefore, from a Christian's point of view at least, one could never say that everything good and godly is inside the church.

The competitive attitude to belief is actually demonstrated quite well by yourself in your post. You obviously endeavour to word your posts quite tactfully, but don't you think your words betray an underlying, equally black-and-white perspective by making statements with an air of factual authority like "Its a popular myth perpetuated..." Or "life is MORE complex, awe-inspiring and beautiful"?

I'd imagine that these statements must be in response to some fairly extreme, dogmatic, arrogant statements you have perhaps heard from members or leaders of Christian churches, but I would question whether making statements like that is the way to combat this, particularly when you are cloaking subjective opinion with objective language - something Dawkins seems to do quite well whenever he comes up against Christians. It seems he has a trigger that is released as soon as he hears the words 'Christian'or 'religion'. It makes me want to hear Dawkins's own context, and your own. Where are you coming from? What outrageous comments have you heard Christians say - maybe directly to you - and seen or heard other Christians nod their head to or say Amen?

I am categorically not saying that Dawkins has nothing useful to say. I think a lot of what he wrote in the God Delusion is quite true - and that the church needs to read his books and listen to what he is saying. Religion can be used as a deplorable excuse for immoral actions. The Christian religion does really believe some nonsense. But as I see it, Dawkins is just as dogmatic and narrow-minded at times as his worst adversaries!

So, my fellow truth-seeker Spurious, do you not think it unfair, or even inaccurate, to say "there is zero evidence"? - I'm assuming you mean evidence for a Jesus who died and rose again.

First, at least in a legal sense, evidence is something which is presented to a jury or judge, who make a verdict based on their thorough analysis of that evidence. Some evidence is thrown out as erroneous, some is given more weight. None of the evidence is proof itself, but must be interpreted to reach the verdict.

In many Christian contexts, it's fair to say that many people haven't really considered the evidence - they've just taken on trust what others have told them. As our whole lives depend on doing this, I'm not willing to totally disregard this as a valid route to understanding.

But equally, I hear equally ridiculous, fanatical statements by atheists. I went on Dawkins's website recently and read a post referring to a newspaper article in which Archbishop Rowan Williams had made a few comments on the Christmas story - none of which were quoted in full or seemed particularly controversial. All the comments were from atheists who basically went on to say how stupid he was, or be excited that he was 'coming into the light' No one considered the 'evidence' unreliable - because the article affirmed their own beliefs. Nowhere was quoted the full transcript of what Rowan Williams had actually said. I get quite frustrated that atheists talk about how illogical and subjective Christian belief is and yet are exactly the same.

To imply that there is no evidence at all for Christianity is just incorrect. What you mean is that YOU believe (or Richard Dawkins believes and you trust him?) that the evidence is inconclusive. To say that the evidence (or lack of sufficient evidence) concludes that it's all a load of bullcrap is just unscientific.

There is plenty of evidence - and yes, most of it is in the Bible. Which leads me to the question - has Richard Dawkins considered the evidence of the Bible in sufficient depth, or has he done what plenty of Christians (frustratingly)have done and just assumed he knows what it's talking about, or approached the text without considering its historical or literary contexts? Has he read a breadth of material and theological viewpoints? Has he ploughed through tomes like N.T.Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God?

Because if he hasn't, then he can't be considered an authority on interpreting scripture.

I guess I may have come across as a huge defender of conservative evangelical Christian belief. Well, I'm not. I'm far from it. I won't subscribe to any extremes in belief - I'm a thinking, feeling, experiential, scientific, vague, genuine searcher for what is true. And my verdict on the evidence of Jesus is that I believe he holds truth.

Matt Wilson said...

Good to see you're still stopping by every now and again Spurious - maybe you'll join us in the 21st century sometime soon! (unlike Dawkins who shows he is destined to die in the 20th, or the 19th to be more precise.)

Happy X-mas ;-)

abi vedder said...

i randomly just found my way to your blog! i love this clip - i always listen to russell's show & when i heard this when it was first broadcast i thought it was brilliant. I love how later on he comes to his own conclusion that richard dawkins is ridiculous suggesting outright that there is no God & how he goes on about how he doesn't feel he needs evidence, more like faith. i think russell brand's crazy ramblings about spirituality actually enable others to question too, even if sometimes he does go a bit over the top!!! lol!

Deckasef said...

Matt, I'd rather die in the 20th century than die in the 5th.

Also, where exactly is it in the Bible that postmodernism appears in all its subjective glory?