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Towel Day

In celebration of Towel Day -- the official unofficial celebration of Douglas Adams's existence (since he was neither born nor died, or did anything particularly interesting, on this day) -- I give you this: Is there an Artificial God?

Like his friend, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Adams was a proud atheist. Unlike him, however, he wasn't completely adversarial towards people who believed in divinity, and largely stuck to criticizing what he saw as the unreasonable aspects of religion.

Earlier this year, Dawkins gave this speech (Flash video) at the TED Conference (Technology Entertainment Design). Amongst numerous true geniuses discussing the future of technology and design, how genetic research can help us cure disease and develop new technology, and how people all over the world are working to save the planet, he gave a speech implying that only stupid people believe in God and that all religion should be abolished and replaced with what he calls "militant atheism." In this speech, he quoted from a part of the above linked speech from Adams:
Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not?- because you're not!'
Dawkins used this to support his argument that atheists should instead make it a point to be insulting towards those who hold any sort of religious beliefs as part of a campaign to abolish all religion. He neglected, however, the primary philosophy of this speech:
My argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there. I suspect that as we move further and further into the field of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work and live together. Therefore, I would argue that though there isn't an actual god there is an artificial god and we should probably bear that in mind. That is my debating point and you are now free to start hurling the chairs around!
I'm not an atheist and don't particularly care what people believe, provided it has a healthy role in their lives; I'm not religious and wouldn't bother arguing about that sort of thing, but I think there's an important distinction in these approaches. One man has taken it upon himself to spread hatred towards anyone whose philosophy does not agree with his own; another actually proposed that there can value in a thing whether or not you consider it real in a literal sense.

It would be nice if you were still here, Mr. Adams, but at least I know where my towel is.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
Somehow I don't think having an enlightened outlook should be used as an excuse to be a rude prick. It's like I was saying the other day: if you can afford to be nice to a few people some of the time, why is it harder to be nice to a great many people all the time?

I'm taking a POV that is fairly egalitarian: Your right to believe nonsense only extends as far as I am likely to be injured by it. For all I know Dawkins believes the same thing -- it's just that his conceit about what the *reach* of such ideas is is far broader than mine. He sees himself as a citizen of the whole world, and so these ideas are not simply a matter of some nutters in the neighborhood dressing funny. He sees Islamic jihad as the furthest possible extension of such a thing -- but in my mind that's like assuming someone who reads "Mein Kampf" is at risk of having dead Jews buried in his basement.
May. 26th, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)
ya.. there are points to which I agree with him on certain things, but he takes it to an extreme. I don't have any love of organized religion personally; it's not for me, and I don't ignore the fact that there are a number of religious organizations that are very harmful. But I still say that if you're to attack anyone, it should be the ones who are actually doing the harm.

Using the same logic he applies, you could argue that the entire human species should be eradicated. I don't think fundamentalist atheism or fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam or any other such thing is a path that anyone should see as reasonable.
May. 28th, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
> if you can afford to be nice to a few people some of the time, why is it harder
> to be nice to a great many people all the time?

Wellp, because a great many people are mean, selfish people who are difficult to be nice to.

I have no problem with being nice to my friends who agree with me on the basic things close to my heart. For example, such an agreement might include, "killing in the name of a belief system is not only a Bad Thing, it shows the perpetrators to be limited morons". People who don't believe that are really, really hard for me to be nice to. I can pretend to be nice to them (mostly to avoid being killed), but that's not the same thing and it leaves me feeling icky.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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