Are We Like Sheep

By way of addendum to my Note & Comment of yesterday, here is the essay ‘Dolly and the Cloth-heads’ that Richard Dawkins and others discussed on ‘Start the Week’. The subject is one that has interested and annoyed me for a long time. For instance when I read Stephen Jay Gould’s strange little book Rocks of Ages in which he, very oddly it seemed to me, simply took it for granted that the way to carve up the world between science and religion is that science should tell us the facts about the world and religion should tell us about morals. What a very peculiar assumption. Also a very common one, to be sure, but not well-founded; I don’t expect unexamined conventional wisdom from people like Gould. Why should religious people have a monopoly on moral issues? Indeed, why should they have any claim to expertise at all? Why are they not on the contrary disqualified, because they rely not on actually thinking about moral issues, but on authority. What good is that? Especially if you take a look at the authority in question. The Bible, for example: not entirely a paragon of ethical wisdom.

So Dawkins is not convinced of the utility of the ‘representatives’ of the various religious ‘traditions’ and the ‘voices’ from each ‘community,’ which all have to be heard lest any one feel slighted.

This has the incidental effect of multiplying the sheer number of people in the studio, with consequent consumption, if not waste, of time. It also, I believe, often has the effect of lowering the level of expertise and intelligence. This is only to be expected, given that these spokesmen are chosen not because of their own qualifications in the field, or as thinkers, but simply because they represent a particular section of the community.

He then goes on to suggest, daringly, that a certain minimum qualification in the brains department ought to be expected along with being a spokesman for a particular ‘tradition’ or ‘community’. It’s the kind of thing that ought to be blindingly obvious but of course is also the kind of thing that drives people into frenzies of irritation. Not us though.

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