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Darwin, Dawkins and Dictatorship

Darwin, Dawkins and Dictatorship

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Text of Maundy Thursday lecture, St Mary's Henham, 2008, Revd John P Richardson
Text of Maundy Thursday lecture, St Mary's Henham, 2008, Revd John P Richardson

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Published by: api-3803870 on Oct 17, 2008
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03/18/2014

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maundy thursday lecture 2008
darwin, dawkins and dictatorship
(slide 1) where are we going?

let me welcome you here tonight, and let me begin by
telling you what i\u2019mnot going to do, and what iam
going to do.

what i\u2019mnot going to do tonight is attack the theory of
evolution. that may surprise or disappoint some of
you, but i\u2019m not. neither am i going to defend six-day
creationism, nor the concept of intelligent design. that
again may be a surprise or a disappointment, but at
least you\u2019ll know not to listen out for it.

and i\u2019m not going to prove god exists, or even try to
do that.

what iam going to try to do is to look at the impact of
an idea. and i\u2019m going to suggest that if this has a
generally negative effect on human life and humane
living, then there is something wrong, either with the
idea or with its application..

it\u2019s an approach which is actually used by writers like richard dawkins and the australian philosopher, peter singer (to whom i will also be referring), and others, so i think in the context it is fair to do this.

and then i will conclude by putting forward what i
think is a better way of looking at things.
(slide 2) let me start, though, with a quote from
augustine of hippo, writing at the beginning of the
fifth centuryAD, from his book the literal meaning of
genesis.usually, even a non-christian knows something

about the earth, the heavens, and the other
elements of this world, about the motion and
orbit of the stars and even their size and
relative positions, // (slide 3) about the

predicable eclipses of the sun and moon, the
cycles of the years and the seasons, about the
kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth,
// (slide 4) and this knowledge he holds to as
being certain from reason and experience. //

(slide 5) now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous

thing for an infidel to hear a christian,
presumably giving the meaning of holy
scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; //

(slide 6) and we should take all means to

prevent such an embarrassing situation, in
which people show up vast ignorance in a
christian and laugh it to scorn. (augustine,the

literal meaning of genesis,AD 408)

as regards the relationship between scientific
discovery and scripture, this is a very sound approach.
but remember, a lot of the science augustine was
referring to was in fact wrong. i wouldn\u2019t go as far as
scott adams, author of the dilbert cartoons (slide 7):

the theory of evolution will be scientifically
debunked in your lifetime. (scott adams,the
dilbert future)
but i would certainly agree with richard dawkins at
this point (slide 8):

darwin may be triumphant at the end of the
twentieth century, but we must acknowledge
the possibility that new facts may come to light
// (slide 9) which will force our successors of
the twenty-first century to abandon darwinism
or modify it beyond recognition. (froma

devil\u2019s chaplain p 81, quoted in a mcgrath,
dawkins\u2019s god, 106)
2

scientific enquiry has no place for intellectual
arrogance. however, i\u2019m going to proceed on the
assumption that darwinism willnot be refuted, and one
of the reasons for that is the compelling simplicity of
darwin\u2019s original idea.

(slide 10) darwin\u2019s big idea

charles darwin\u2019s origin of species, published in 1859,
is over 480 pages long in the penguin paperback
edition. however, its important conclusions can be
summed up in a couple of paragraphs.

darwin had been struggling with this issue for several
years. amongst the things he noticed were that the
forms of plants and animals are adapted to their
specific needs and yet that some species had died out.

he also noted the uneven geographical distribution of
species \u2014 how some appeared in one location, but not
others. and, very importantly, he noted how many
creatures possess rudimentary structures with no
apparent usefulness, such as male nipples, and so on.

in addition, he was well aware that variations in plants
and animals could be produced deliberately, by
breeding. putting all this, together, the argument he put
forward was as follows (slide 11):

if ... organic beings vary at all ... and i think
this cannot be disputed; if there be ... at some
age, season, or year, a severe struggle for life,
and this certainly cannot be disputed; //(sl ide

12) then ... i think it would be a most
extraordinary fact if no variation ever had
occurred useful to each being\u2019s own welfare //
(slide 13)... individuals thus characterised3

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