More Blackmore on The God Delusion

Checking out Sue’s web site, I see this contribution passed me by.
Article on Comment is Free (UK Guardian)
Podcast of debate with Alister McGrath, author of ‘The Dawkins Delusion’. (Bristol Uni &

I have to say the text of the piece posted before the debate seems to have it pretty well right, so I’m going to have to read / listen to the whole debate and comment threads. Sounds like Blackmore and Dawkins have been listening to their critics and their “atheism” is ever more sophisticated. (Here is the last substantial thing I wrote on this.)

[Post Note – Having fully read the article – I do find I agree with the gist of it, in the same way I was positive about Sam Harris, in the earlier post referenced. As with all these debates the danger is one of over-simplification – what Rayner would call simplistication.

She says “In a society that strives for honesty and openness, that values scientific and historical truth, and that encourages the search for knowledge, [religious faith] is outrageous …” I’d say that the striving for honesty and openess is not actually that unequivocal – she herself mentions the game theory angle, but reality of the lives of individuals and groups is more complicated than that. I’d also say that “values” in scientific and historical truth are not simple matters of science and history. And I’d say that there is more to it than the “search for knowledge” – there are quests for wisdom and value too, to name but two. She even mentions the value-deficit in the costs of the religious meme. Anyway, I’m pretty sure given an environment where “wiggle-room” is not seen as a sign of weakness in argumentation, Sue would further acknowledge these complicating aspects of the debate, as indeed Harris does.

Even more positively Sue ends with what is really a Quine, which is a great Hofstadterian place to build evolutionary uderstanding of the full picture. “Mostly Harmless” Meta-Logic.

She says ” … belief in God is not just a harmless choice; it is a dangerous delusion.”

I would say that the idea that {the idea of belief in God is either a harmless choice or a dangerous illusion} is not just an (entirely) harmless choice; its a (partly) dangerous delusion.

Dichotomy kills.]

5 thoughts on “More Blackmore on The God Delusion”

  1. This is one of those things – even ignoring the religious question – that we’re not going to end up agreeing on, ie any form of analysis that uses ‘memes’ in the Dawkins sense I find intellectually vacuous!!
    As for the quote from the article – “In a society that strives for honesty and openness, that values scientific and historical truth, and that encourages the search for knowledge, [religious faith] is outrageous …” she is working on the assumption that faith doesn’t value “honesty and openness… scientific and historical truth, and … the search for knowledge”. Which is historically myopic and – in my ever so humble opinion – intellectually incoherent as well.

    Boo rah!

  2. Hi Sam.

    Memes, you need to detach from Dawkins.
    They are just short-hand and therefore pragmatically useful.
    Blackmore uses them correctly, and recognises that they are more that just “ideas” but the whole symbolic communications and interactions around them.
    Like any short-hand we mustn’t fall into the trap of “simplistication” – reductionism – which Sue eventually does in this short piece – that’s short-hand for you.

    I too commented on that quote about “valuing honesty and openness”. I think you’re being hard on Sue to suggest whe is operating under that assumption – but my main comment – she ends up reducing it to a dichotomy science good – faith bad …. which is clearly dumb intellectually – but this is the real problem. Debate seems to require this dumbness if it’s aim is winners and losers. This is the real issue.

    Blackmore and Dawkins are still looking to win an argument, and so it seems are you 😉
    But I’m not. I’m trying to “add” value …. literally.

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  4. Very happy to detach memes from Dawkins. Is there anywhere that you have set out in positive fashion what you believe memes to be/ how they operate??

  5. OK, I’ll try …
    Let’s start with a small beginning.

    You OK with using the word “idea” as “useful” in any discourse ?
    You OK if “meme” is just another word for “idea” – but chosen to focus less on its content and more on the processes by which it “replicates” – is copied, communicated and mutated.
    You accept that those things can and do happen to “ideas” ?

    I suspect the sticking point is the – objectification, the atomistic implication that a meme is well bounded as a kind of building block ? And all the reductionist pitfalls that might ensue from that ? (This is where I’d expect your MoQish view of patterns arising in levels would save us, distinct from any “objective” view, so I’m kinda baffled why you still have such a negative reaction … but anyway.)

    Am I right ? How’m I doin’ ?

    If you’re OK so far. Then my simplest answer is that from this point onwards, is that individual memes are about as well defined at their boundaries as individual genes are – which is not very well at all; nothing like as much as received wisdom would suggest – the names gene and meme are just handles. ie memes “are as good as” genes as a metaphor for evolution, and “no worse a metaphor” when it comes to their (metaphorical) self-interest.

    OK so far as that goes ?
    So what specifically do I need to explain / elaborate / justify in more detail … to make progress ? I’ll dig out something from Dennett if I know what I’m looking for. I’m guessing you might dismiss Dawkins, and Blackmore by association ? It takes all sorts.

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