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The Greatest Show on Earth

I’m currently reading Richard Dawkins’ latest book “The Greatest Show on Earth“. The premise of the book is simple. Dawkins presents the case for evolution in the face of those who fervently believe that is it isn’t so. His thesis uses the metaphor of a crime scene to tie together all the clues, and Dawkins comprehensively shows that there is only one suspect in town – evolution.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, with numerous sources such as comparative anatomy, molecular biology, fossil evidence and continental drift, all pointing to evolution through natural selection as the only reasonable explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on Earth. Evolution has even been witnessed in numerous laboratory experiments. Dawkins leaves no stone unturned in presenting the case for evolution. It’s delivered with the enthusiasm of a child, the simplicity of a teacher and the forcefulness of a barrister who knows he has an open-and-shut case on his hands.

I can’t praise Dawkins’ book highly enough. It’s full of fascinating digressions and factoids and it takes the reader on a rollercoaster trip through space and time as it presents the evidence, often in considerable detail. I don’t personally believe it will matter a jot to the beliefs of ardent creationists, but to the interested layman it will help to explain how intellectually bankrupt their beliefs are.

It was with this frame of mind that I read the transcripts of the Richard Dawkins interview on the Late Late Show (a top chat show on Irish television). I was astounded. As most people know, Dawkins authored a best-selling book on religion in 2006 called The God Delusion. It was a full frontal attack on religion, calling out the nonsense within and attempting to put religion under the microscope and into the sphere of public debate. Ryan Tubridy, the Late Late Show host, interviewed Dawkins a few times about it on radio and it always lead to some lively back-and-forth battles between Dawkins and his detractors. That was in 2006 and 2007. Now in 2009, Dawkins has published a new book on an altogether different subject, yet Tubridy could not resist the temptation to bring the discourse back to his atheism, and to inject sensationalism wherever possible – (“So what is the Vatican then? Toy Town?”, “Do you see God as believable as the Easter Bunny?”, etc.). None of these issues are discussed in Dawkins’ latest book, leading me to the conclusion that Ryan Tubridy didn’t even bother to read it.

Personally, I loved Dawkins’ clear, no nonsense answers but I couldn’t help feeling that, on Tubridy’s part, it was an opportunity missed. Is Richard Dawkins so one-dimensional that the only issue worth talking to him about is his atheism? Dawkins has much to say on the subject of evolution and why it is so important that we understand it. He is deeply passionate about science education, about the philosophy of science, about the promotion of science, about legal challenges to science, about critical thinking. In brief, we could have learned something but instead we were treated to a charade, deliberately intended to scandalise the Irish churchgoing public. This is a huge pity. By conflating Dawkins’ views on evolution with his atheism in this way, Ryan Tubridy may have muddied the waters concerning evolution, a topic that is critical to understand as we rehabilitate science and technology within the Irish education system.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” is only controversial if you are a creationist who has been vaccinated from reality. For the rest of us, it’s a rollicking good read on a vitally relevant subject.

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The Irish government over the past 10 years has been a disaster. I hate their arrogance. I hate the fact that we are all going to have to pay through the nose because of their blithe mismanagement of the economy. I wish some of them could see jail time, convicted of the felony of driving a country while hopelessly drunk on power. I hope they are obliterated in the next election. There. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Nevertheless, I will vote Yes in the Lisbon Referendum. One of the many reasons why I will be voting Yes is precisely because our government were so incompetent.

If we have learned anything in the past two years, it is that government arrogance can lead to extraordinarily bad decisions. During the ‘good times’ it was incapable of listening to good advice, of taking the foot off the pedal, of acting in the best interest of its citizens.  It paid lip service to the longer term needs of its people while it cosied up to the property developers and bankers. Cautionary warnings from the EU were treated with disdain. The perceived “deadweight” of the EU resulted in a lack of urgency defending the first Lisbon referendum against its critics. These chickens came home to roost when this referendum was comprehensively defeated in 2008. Perhaps we need to take take the views of our European partners a bit more seriously in future.

There is an assumption that an Ireland, free from EU interference, could make better decisions, but where is the evidence for this? Before the EU came into being, Ireland was a bloody awful place – conservative, illiberal and pandering to the needs of the well-heeled few. When we did eventually join, these same self-interested forces within our own country fought tooth and nail to prevent even the most basic social and environmental reforms to take place. Without European influence, there would be no such thing as a minimum wage. Our environmental record would be disastrous. Homosexuality and condoms might still be on the banned list. If there is one big achievement of Europe, it is that it dragged this country kicking and screaming into the modern world. I am proud of my country but I don’t think I would be quite so proud of the place if the basic reforms that came with EU membership had not happened during my lifetime.

Another reason I am voting Yes is because I don’t see how giving our government a bloody nose will benefit any of us in the long term. It’s one thing to hurt the government if you see a benefit in doing so, but it is quite another thing if the outcome is a vote for economic meltdown. The outcome of Lisbon is long-term and will transcend many governments in the coming decades. If you have a problem with the government, the place to make that dissatisfaction clear is in the polling booth at the next General Election, not in the referendum, where a negative result will have lasting impacts on our economy.

So for those still thinking of voting No just to give the government a kicking, here’s a handy chart..

Lisbon Flowchart

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