Saturday, 5 April 2008

I'm sorry, but I just can't not look

I have to admit that, as far as my attention is concerned, Richard Dawkins is in the same league as a massive train crash... you don't want to watch, because you know it's going to be a horrible mangled mess and you'll think of nothing else for days, but on the other hand you really do want to watch, out of sheer bloody-minded curiosity, and to see whether it's going to be as bad as you imagined, or actually somehow worse.

So I like to keep an eye (on behalf of us all) on what's going on over at the disturbingly absorbing, and this week it has thrown several treats in our direction.

We begin with a quote from Prof. Bright himself, featured on the front page:
"Leon Lederman, the physicist and Nobel laureate, once half-jokingly remarked that the real goal of physics was to come up with an equation that could explain the universe but still be small enough to fit on a T-shirt. In that spirit, Dawkins offered up his own T-shirt slogan for the ongoing evolution revolution:
Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators."

Aside from the way he curiously refers to himself in the third person, you have to say that the first thing that comes to mind is that Dawkins hasn't quite got a handle on how t-shirt slogans work, nor indeed of the requirements of the initial challenge.

Firstly, it says that the equation should be "small enough to fit on a t-shirt", and our freethinking friend has taken this a bit too literally. Yes, "Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators" fits on a t-shirt, but only in the sense that anything will fit if you write it small enough. You could squeeze the entire works of Shakespeare on, without going into the armpits, if you had a big enough t-shirt, small enough writing, and weren't too fussed about being able to read it at the end. But t-shirt slogans are supposed to be snappy and witty (my favourite: There are 10 types of people in the world - those who understand binary, and those who don't), and this is neither, and should therefore be disqualified.

Secondly, it was supposed to be an equation. Any half-decent GCSE student will tell you that an equation has one essential component: the equals sign. Without this, it is simply not an equation. So, for example, "x=y+z" is an equation, but "octopus" is not. So, and I don't want to put too much of a dampener on things, Dawkins' suggestion again does not qualify.

Finally, it doesn't exactly "explain the universe". If I'm going to buy a t-shirt that explains the universe, I want to be able to see at a glance where antimatter comes into it, dammit. Call me nit-picking if you will, but I have questions and I want them answered.

Anyway, perhaps Dawkins' foray into the world of fashion has been disrupted by another little delight upon which my attention landed: this (bear with it, it takes a couple of minutes to get going). A brief explanation for those who can't access YouTube or who can't be bothered sitting through it: the clip shows Dawkins and Friends (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennet, a lady called Eugenie whose surname I've forgotten, Charles Darwin, and sundry others) performing a particularly splendid rap in honour of Dawkins, the King of the Atheists himself. The chorus is especially good:

Yeah he's the Dick to the Dawk to the PhD
He's smarter than you, he's got a science degree.
Dick to the Dawk to the PhD
He's smarter than you, he studies biology.

and has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it. There is an accompanying dance, but you'll have to watch it if you want that.

Now this little marvel has been brought to the attention of the good people on Dawkins' website, and they have been rather exercised in mind over it: is it by 'us' or 'them'? Is it for us or against us? Are we allowed to laugh or not? Does it advocate atheism, or is it secret creationist propaganda? Are creationists even clever enough to do something like this, and if so, should we be worried? Do the people who made it realise that Dawkins doesn't actually have a PhD? (and so onto a tangent - why does no one know the difference between a PhD and a DPhil these days, don't these people go to Oxford? - or are they letting any old riff-raff onto the web now?) And what does Dawkins himself think?

To this final question, we get an answer, for the Bright One descends to the site and leaves his thoughts behind him:

If anyone can understand a single word of this, don't bother to translate, just tell me whose side it's on. I get the feeling (same with South Park) that there are people out there who assume that something that is obviously MEANT to be funny therefore must BE funny, and they immediately shower it with accolades such as "Wow", "Hilarious", "Awesome" and, most side-splitting of all, "LOL".

Sorry, I seem to be showing my age. Enjoy yourselves LOLling away.


Thank you, Richard, we shall.


QMonkey said...

WNS... this verges on obsession. If you and he were both in primary school I’d swear you fancied him... you certainly care a lot about him. Some might say it’s a little unfair to ridicule someone because of some of his over excited, and cheesy fans... as it is to Blame Jesus for christians.

as a non beliver i don't claim to know more than christians, i claim to know less than they think they know. The arrogance can sometimes be in the mirror.

whynotsmile said...

I know, I think I should get help for this. I am obsessed. I'm thinking of moving on to creationists though, so I might leave Dawkins alone for a while. And you have to admit it's been a while since I mentioned him.

You say "Blame Jesus"... I am interested in why there is a capital B on Blame there... this sounds like it's an organisation, and if it is, I MUST know about it... off to Google...

I don't think you know less than I think I know. I'm not sure that's possible.

QMonkey said...

yeah, ill grant you .. it's been a while.... and that you tube thingy was shiveringly hard to watch. and impossible for WNS to resist :)

whynotsmile said...

I know. I have very little willpower. Perhaps I should set myself tasks, like have a chocolate at the edge of my desk, and every day make myself wait an extra minute than the day before until I eat it. Then I'd be able to resist.

I'm not sure what I'd write about then though. I mean, I don't do anything worth talking about. Although, as I say, I may turn my attention to the creationists for a while - thye've been off my radar for TOO LONG.

Incidentally, Blame Jesus turns out to be a band.

jayber crow said...

The weird thing about the discussion on Dawkins' website is that they assume there are only two options - it was either "us" or "them".

They really don't seem to realise that the Disciples of Dawkins and the Crazy Creationists represent the two extremes ends of opinion. And that in between are a lot of thoughtful Christians and thoughtful agnostics who find the creation-evolution argument tedious and simplistic.

Since the Youtube clip doesn't really work as a piece of propaganda for either extreme, is it not more likely to be from someone in the moderate middle making fun of the arrogant posturing of both positions? Just my guess...

whynotsmile said...

Jayber, you are just too sensible. Stand up and take a bow please, for I believe you are correct.

And well done for coining 'Dawkins' Disciples' and 'Crazy Creationists' as 2 very alliteratively pleasing names for the extremes.

This is what frustrates me about Dawkins and a lot of his disciples - it's all black or white - there's no nuance or shades of meaning. It's like the creationists. It's like arguing with a 3-year-old.

QMonkey said...

I have one more interjection. Dawkins very rarely debates with creationists, all the debates ive seen him in have been with people like McGrath and Collins (to which he is always calm, respectful as well as ardent and forthright – in my view)... so it’s a bit unfair not to recognises that he recognises that there are levels of delusion. And just because you don’t think that YOU are deluded... doesn’t make him a 3 year old for saying that you are.

He would say (I think), as I would.. that creationists just have more faith than you ... for me it’s as ill-advised to believe that Jesus turned water to wine on flimsy evidence as it is to believe that the earth is 6000 yrs old, on flimsy evidence... or to believe that Diana was murdered, on flimsy evidence. All ‘might’ be true... dawkins makes a decision on each of those based on evidence– its up to you to prove that there is a better, more reliable way.

QMonkey said...

WNS.... would you back RD in his open letter re:expelled?,2488,An-Open-Letter-to-David-J,Richard-Dawkins

might be seen as quite magnanimous (spelling?) of you... given the hard time you give him.

I dont hold the opinion that evolution inevitably leads to agnosticism (although it does lead me there somewhat)... but i think that impression is given when people like, say you... let creationist propaganda slide while relentlessly attacking people like Dawkins.

(just giving you food for blog)

whynotsmile said...

I just find creationists so tedious. At least Dawkins has a bit of personality. I'll have to read the letter, but his site won't let me on at the moment. I assume that that's because it's slow, rather than because he's barred me at last.

But once I've read it I'll let you know.