Stewart Meets Dawkins – A Disappointment

I must start this post by saying, I love Jon Stewart; I think he is the funniest and one of the most influential people alive today. Also, he is a most often right about things. So, when I heard that Richard Dawkins was going to be on the daily show last night I was thrilled! Two of my favorite thinkers engaging in humorous discourse – what more could I ask for?  As it turns out, I could ask for a lot more.

The first question they tackled was whether the end of civilization will be brought about by religion strife or scientific advancement. First, I have issues with this question – and Dawkins addresses this – religion often uses scientific advances to bring down society. Scientists and engineers made bombs, but it is the religious fundamentalists who feel the need to use them. Stewart goes on to say that this ‘lets science off the hook’ and they may ultimately create something that results in worldwide disaster. I personally think that the goal of scientific research has never been to hurt or destroy but rather to create and understand. The creation of awful weapons has most often been asked of rather than offered up by scientists.

Stewart then goes on to paint a picture of irresponsible scientists and their creations destroying the world. As a side note: he fails to acknowledge the difference between scientists and engineers.  Stewart evidently isn’t aware of all the regulatory, ethics and permitting committees that do such a great job of maintaining the hoops that many of us have to jump through to get things done. There may have been a time for irresponsible science, but it isn’t now; if anything, the community learns from previous mistakes and becomes more responsible every year. Finally, it isn’t the questions that do harm but the use of the answers. You shouldn’t attempt to curb the curiosity, but you should regulate the applications.

Dawkins on The Daily Show (9/24/2013)

In the second part of the interview the conversation moves away from the fear of scientific advancement and back to religion. Stewart attempts to place religion with positive cultural products such as poetry and music. The biggest problem with this idea is that religion requires blind faith in ideas that are highly improbably and poetry does not. Truth to a religious person is what they make it or what they are told rather than fact. This is inherently dangerous. At this point Stewart veers dangerously close to the ‘since the scientists don’t know exactly what happens therefore religion’ argument used most famously by Ray Comfort. Believe me, it hurts me to compare the two. Stewart asks Dawkins whether he knows what happens to us after we die and then jumps on him when he doesn’t know for sure. He proceeds to use the there is a possibility that something happens to our consciousness after death bait. No scientist can resist this bait, simply because we will admit that anything is possible, however improbable. Just because something is possible, that doesn’t mean it is true.

At the end of the second segment, the conversation circles back to the idea the religion is a human construct and therefore our brains are flawed. I do support the idea that our brains are flawed, but Stewart goes on to say since science comes from our brains it must be flawed too. I agree with this as well, science makes mistakes. However, the trend of science is to improve and surpass what has come before us. We used to believe the universe was constant, the earth was flat, and species were unchanging: those were all mistakes. When the scientific communities realized these were mistakes they were rectified and ideas changed.  To address the threat of scientific advancement idea: science and engineering advancements led to flux of fossil fuels into the atmosphere resulting in global warming. Scientists discovered that this was an issue and have united in challenging our dirty energy lifestyles and have investigated and developed alternatives. In all the cases mentioned above it has been the religious who have remained staunch in their beliefs and refused to yield to new evidence. This is what separates religion from science, despite their shared usage of the human brain. I thought Jon Stewart knew that.

You can watch the interview here and be disappointed for yourself>>> Extended interview

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One thought on “Stewart Meets Dawkins – A Disappointment

  1. I was disappointed with this interview as well!! Admittedly, we can’t really expect Jon Stewart to criticize religion as a whole– not without alienating much of the Daily Show’s demographic. He’s not Bill Maher. But his remarks do remind me of how most people (including Maher) probably see the “religion vs science debate”. Stewart views it not as a battle between ideas, but rather, between different cultures. And that makes a huge difference, I think. As social creatures, most of us care more about people, than the truth of their abstract ideas (despite our best attempts to do otherwise). Most of us want to sound nice, reasonable, fair and socially acceptable, even at the expense of logic and evidence. After all, in most social circles, a person reaps social rewards for congeniality, not pure rationality. Dawkins’ concern is about *what* is true, whereas for Stewart (and maybe most people) the debate is about *who* is best, and to many people Dawkins apparently sounds like he’s saying something like “Team Science is always right. Team Religion is always wrong”. Framed like that, even my underdog reflex kicks up. Of course, that’s not what Dawkins is saying, but it doesn’t matter. People’s overwhelming tendency is, I think, to focus on who is right (like Stewart), rather than what is right (like Dawkins). In my opinion, we would all be better off if there were more people like Dawkins in the world. Because if reason itself can’t bring people’s views into agreement, nothing else should. Thanks for posting.

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