all means let's be open-minded, but not
so open-minded that our brains drop out."
am against religion because it teaches us to
be satisfied with not understanding the world."
Dawkins, author The God Delusion and currently
UK's most infamous/respected (delete applicable)
A few weeks ago, a class of ten year olds was asked how
the world was created. The primary school in question is
not a 'faith' school (forgive the closed apostrophed shudder).
All save one of the ten year olds said god, Eden, Adam and
Eve while the rebel of the group suggested the big bang
theory and natural selection. It's 2007. If that last but
one sentence doesn't send a shiver dancing up and down your
spine... We are still teaching children myth as truth, metaphor
as fact. The ravings of a group of men in the desert all
scared of dying – so in their profound ignorance, they created
their own life after death fantasies – is still being pushed
as an authentic account of a provable scientific event.
We are still peddling ineffable bullshit to our children
and forging a future of polarised belief. Warfare ensues.
My imaginary friend is better than your imaginary friend.
And where has that got us? The body bags' business is booming.
Boom, boom. And it's not funny.
is never a good way to start any kind of review but hell,
who're you going to sue? Tabula Rasa. Blank slate, clean
start, empty vessel. Beginning as blank slates, we become
who we are by way of what we are told and from those accounts,
we choose to believe 'A' over 'B'. As a parent, one becomes
uniquely positioned to fill that blank slate with useful,
life enhancing information; "Gravity is not your friend..."
"Fire is pretty, yes, but...!" and "Eating
stuff you pretend to hate just because you haven't tried
it yet will make you live longer..." This is all solid,
good advice in this, a world in which those assertions have
proved to be true in actuality, free from belief systems
to confuse and obfuscate. Jump off a building and the truth
of gravity will make soup of your internal organs. Put your
hand in the fire and you will know searing pain. As a parent
one is also uniquely positioned to fill that blank slate
with fabrication, lies and falsehoods given the presence
of faith-based 'truth' through two aspects of its existence:
antiquity and ubiquity. If it's old and all over the place
there must be some truth in it. It's like a enormous club
and it seems from the very weight of it, unsporting not
to join. Clubs also hurt if you're hit over the head with
one. After all if Jim tells you you're drunk, you can argue
or ignore him. If fifty people tell you you're drunk it's
time to lie down. Speaking of beds (and not in tongues),
I am writing this in a hotel room with two Bibles. Jesus.
What if I sleep in the middle of the bed? Will I rot in
hell's eternal torment? A mid-pillow purgatory?
we indoctrinate our children (who know no better) and pass
off some of the best and most intriguing questions in life
to an old book that seems to be proof positive that men
invented religion and not some all-powerful magical being
giving celestial dictation. God explains nothing except
our profound need for consolation that 'our end' in not
'the end'. If you're reading this, you've begun. It's reasonable,
scientifically, to believe that you will not restart after
your death so it's time to really live!
do we turn the tide from the falsity and uselessness of
organised faith to the truth of genuine scientific enquiry?
We have to teach our kids to think for themselves. Here's
a thing. Life came about because of a deity clicking his/its/her
fingers over six days (magic!) or gradual natural selection.
Children are hard-wired to believe stuff their parents tell
them. (Dawkins touches on this in the final lecture and
I promise all this was written before I had seen it). It's
in their genes and works as a basic survival mechanism.
Surely those people who brought them into the world wouldn't
make stuff up. Hello. I ask only this. Could those who imprint
religious belief on to the young be wrong? If so, then do
I have a DVD set for you. And it will be the best £12.99
you will ever spend.
anti-religious fervour was not born in a negative, arrogant
womb. It's simply the distress I feel in knowing that out
there, lies are sown as undeniable fact and it's primarily
children at risk from this contamination. The facts are
that the truth of provable science is simply wondrous (Google
Hubble and be in awe at the universe's images), so why should
those facts be denied to those who are force-fed cripplingly
closed minded middle ages folklore?
the DVD's lectures were recorded in 1991 and their scientific
examples and practical demonstrations could be open to some
serious updating. Yes, the five hours require a certain
rigorous attention. Yes, Richard Dawkins has, of late, come
across as a strident and unapologetic almost-atheist (I,
for one, am not sorry about that and the 'coming across
as' is more media provocation. The man seems quietly reasonable,
like Sam Harris in his dialogues with the faithful and in
his books, The End of Faith and Letter To A
Christian Nation). This is the DVD that does what the
Bible must have done for so many, so many centuries ago.
Growing Up In The Universe is a five-hour
introduction to the wonder that is life on this planet.
Each lecture fills me with awe regarding the blue ball I
call home and not once do we need a supernatural explanation
for any of it. Hell, if ardent religious folk could grasp
what awe is out there, scientifically proven, they'd close
their Bibles and open their minds. No one loses with Darwinism.
has more to tell us about who we are than any religious
text. Trust me. Science will move you to believe in the
unbelievable and god's hold on our imaginations suddenly
seems petty and insular. The five lectures are simply presented
with the quaint technology available at the time. Refreshing
to see such a stalwart of intellectualism using an old Mac
portable (but then the man met his wife at a Douglas Adams
party so we shouldn't be surprised). In fact his book The
God Delusion is dedicated to the large nosed biped
who so entranced me as a teenager and who died clutching
his towel at a gym in Santa Barbara in May 2001. Adams didn't
live to see what religion wrought in the following months
of that significant year. 2001 wasn't so much a space odyssey
as a faith atrocity.
way of review, here are a couple of wonderful snippets and
resulting appreciation offered by the DVDs under the headings
of the five lectures:
1. Waking Up In The Universe
woman can do it with nine months development,
little research and only a little help from a friend..."
human brain is the most sophisticated object in the known
universe and hey, you've got one! Yes, you had to go through
the complex reproductive process to obtain one but the fact
is that if you are reading this, you are the proud possessor
of a human brain. What are the odds? Actually the odds of
you being here reading this are staggeringly small. If you
could grasp just how small, you'd wake up each morning thrilled
to be alive and the prospect of more discoveries about the
wonder that is your life before being shut down for good,
with luck, at extreme old age. If you've passed on your
genes then you've done your job (as far as evolution is
concerned). I am not naïve to think that life is wonderful
for all (there are many things that conspire to make it
hard. I could have done without pain for a start) but as
a child you ask questions. If you have teachers and guardians
that are well informed then the world isn't so much an oyster
as a sumptuous banquet just waiting for you to taste its
tossing pennies rubbishing of psychic events and the cannonball
aimed squarely at Dawkins' own head (faith in scientific
principles) are small but exquisite pleasures in this particular
lecture and I'm happy to report that my ten year old put
his hand up more than once after the audience was asked
a question. That's getting your audience involved.
2. Designed and Designoid Objects
propensity to believe in a celestial design is widespread.
In the 2nd lecture, Richard Dawkins carefully peels apart
the illogic in this irrational thesis and goes on to demonstrate
with lucidity and intellectual rigor the difference between
things that really have been designed and things that have
come about by natural selection. Again my ten year old asked
the right question when he said "But if god made the
world, who made god?" Dawkins takes this further and
uses the same argument to blow its own conclusions out of
3. Climbing Mount Improbable
giddy in my desires than a monkey..."
luck verses the smearing of the luck. Even Darwin had a
problem with the eye. There are certain parts of living
creatures that seem completely unexplainable. If gradual
selection is true, what use is 'half' an eye to any living
creature? Dawkins manages to bring the answer to this conundrum
over to children in a way that completely entranced me (I
add up to four and a half ten year olds). These live lectures
like any live performance are prone to small misadventures
and of course every time Dawkins' comes across a problem
(a recalcitrant stick insect for example) it's amusing in
itself. What's also nice to note is Dawkins' very slight
nervousness. It's gratifying to see that he does not command
an audience as much as impart his scientific wisdom with
the faintest tickle of anxiety. To those Dawkins-bashers,
this proves (at the very least) that he's very human.
the papers last week there was a story about a beetle whose
male and female bodies create ever increasing weapons and
counter-weapons against each other (in effect the conclusion
was the female does not want to mate and therefore does
not satisfy some basic Darwinian assumptions). I read this
story with that slack jawed 'duh' of incomprehension. The
fact that the beetle is still with us (regardless of her
battery of weapons aimed at the male of the species) proves
that Darwinian assumptions are present and correct. "Hello!"
to the science editors of the papers. The beetle is here.
It has evolved. If it is here, it is here by gradual natural
selection. What's the big deal? Men and women have fought
throughout the ages. We're still here.
4. The Ultraviolet Garden
are to make the world pretty and
to help the bees make honey for us..."
said a little girl after being asked what flowers were for.
Christopher Hitchens in the recently released book God
Is Not Great (it is to Islam what The God Delusion
is to Christianity) said that he smelled a rat when his
teacher, a well respected and regarded Christian, told him
that nature was predominantly green because it's the colour
most restful to human eyes. Hitchens was nine years old
and had no knowledge of natural selection but he knew then
that the eyes were adjusted to nature not the other way
around. In this lecture Dawkins goes into how other animals
have very different ways of seeing and sensing the world.
Did you know a bee can't see the colour red or that if all
the bees disappeared, thirty percent of our food plants
would be wiped out? Talk about the interconnected-ness of
all things (the philosophy of one Dirk Gently, created by
the afore mentioned Hitch-Hiker's Guide writer,
Douglas Adams). I mention him again because (a) he shall
not be forgotten and (b) he guest stars in this lecture
in a delightful cameo as he reads his 'Dish of the Day'
extract from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,
the ultimate example of the erroneous belief that nature
is at our beck and call and we have mastery over it. In
5. The Genesis of Purpose
to put the universe inside your skull."
do we interpret reality? In effect, it's a virtual reality
we live in because our brain interprets the sense data from
our five senses and constructs the universe from this information.
This seems pretty straightforward until Dawkins explains
it and then it becomes inspiring. He uses a very crude virtual
reality helmet to illustrate his points and it's so old
fashioned you almost want to say "Aaaah". But
this lecture is the meat and potatoes of his five hour thesis.
Salmon Rushdie had been fatwah'ed and Dawkins mentions this
in same breath as the persecution and incarceration of Gallileo
by the Catholic Church. But it's an important point. Crude
belief systems that ignore and argue against scientific
truth can only chip away at what we have striven to build.
And if Dawkins could have glanced into the future and saw
what further harm – in the 21st Century no less – would
be wrought by fundamentalists on the mental lists, then
I'm sure he would have lobbied harder to get these fascinating
and brilliant lectures out into the world. Well, we have
that chance now and we shouladamsd take it up as voraciously
and as quickly as we can.
don't say this often but this DVD set is important because
a rational future is important and it's the children we
have to look to for that future. Teach your children well.
two disc set is presented in a 4x3 aspect ratio and the
picture quality shows some of its age (it was recorded on
tape with those Dalek-like TV cameras) but stands up well
enough and is nothing to complain about. It's – curiously
– a region free NTSC DVD with no subtitles but the Richard
Dawkins Foundation is deluged with desires for an updated
sub-titled version. The sound is quite adequate (these are
lectures, plain and simple) with a nice introductory 'Evolution'
animation with a theme tune written by a past colleague
of mine Roger Bolton. Hullo, Roger!
but I do treat each lecture as an extra special feature...
is an important DVD set, one to learn from in the best way
possible. It positively screams for an update. You can only
buy this DVD from one source. Buy two. One for you and your
family and one for your school. Trust me, they are superb...
£12.99 for five hours of lucid wisdom and inspiring
your children (and you). Please, I urge you to buy this.
your copies at:
proceeds go to towards spreading the scientific word via
Dawkins' web site.