McGrath on Memes

Listened to the Blackmore / McGrath debate on Belief in God as a Dangerous Delusion. (Mentioned earlier.)

Some observations. He talks about things being “unprovable” and of course that’s true of so many things, not just matters of religious faith, something science is very poor at recognising in its arguments in the space beyond repeatable experiments and clear logic. That is effectively my agenda here. But he uses this as a straw man argument against memes, not proving anything and no more explanatory of religious faith as it is of theism. Of course the memes shorthand can be used to explain any kinds of ideas and beliefs, including atheism. In Sue’s opening speech, she made this clear already, the significance of meme’s in this debate is the evolutionary process, competition AND co-evolution. Religion, rather than no-religion, is a predictable outcome. But meme’s are just short-hand for all the complex communications, selection and replication processes – the world doesn’t “reduce” to memes, in anybody’s arguments.  Alister says “web of ideas” and “interlocking beliefs”, Sue says “memeplex” – they agree, already. Jeez. All language is just short-hand (Sue even says it !). [Meme in action towards the end about the “72 virgins” reward … much bandied, but where did it originate ?]

He also referred to the Dawkins “Root of All Evil” programme and the “selective” parade of extremist nutters broght on to represent the “evil” and contrasted with more normal moderate faithful, and parallel this with the atheist evil arguments – eg Stalin, etc. Oh, well. Both sides use these straw-men too; Both equally guilty. This is my agenda. Will both side please stop trying to “beat” the other, and look for truth, the point (sense-making, the meaning of life, if you like), and the bases of believing it.

Intetesting that both speakers in this debate are “converts”. Alister from science to theology, Sue from parapsychology to sceptic, and Alister also refers to CS Lewis et al. That theme keeps coming up.

Sorry Alister, Harris does NOT say we must only believe things that can be positively proven to be true. His philosophy of belief is much more sophisticated than that.

Oh well. Poor debate – well typical debate – each side using rhetorical tricks to make the other appear wrong. THAT is the problem meme, as if argument is somehow not “rigorous” if it isn’t in this dialectical style of showing I’m right whilst you’re wrong.

Hooray – one synthetic audience comment / question – about the “both 95% right” position, this is not an either/or question. Though the question, was framed with a “real but less personal” god in both sides – so it fell on largely deaf ears – 20/80 in the audience. The point here is not God but faith – bases of belief and value. Most people still want an either / or answer … that damn meme again.

Anyway, they eventually get to the point – what is evidential ? what is real ? what bases do you believe these things, science as well as theistic. The either / or notion closes off the “open” position. As Sue (the most open-minded person I know, apart from me, obviously) says in response to this suggestion – the polarisation is part of the fun and process of “debate” – BUT DO NOT APPLY THIS THINKING TO REAL LIFE.

Actually Sue’s behaviour in the debate, shows well that this is not simple objective logical dialectic. She several times points out it’s easier to have the debate when she can “see” who she is responding to. This is about human interaction.

Sounds like Alister McGrath’s writing might be worth reading. (I’ve already read all of Sue’s).

5 thoughts on “McGrath on Memes”

  1. Don’t go too much for McGrath. You’d be much better off with someone like Nicholas Lash. He’s written a review of Dawkins’ God Delusion which is well worth reading, and a good place to start exploring his perspective. I can send you the .pdf if you’d like (it’s on the web somewhere).

  2. Hi Sam, as you can probably tell McGrath didn’t impress me too much in this debate, but his converted scientist perspective looked interesting. Could you indicate what your issues are with him ?

    And yes, that PDF would be useful (and any background I need to know about Lash)
    Many thanks.

  3. Briefly – McGrath still shares a bit too much of the Modernist perspective. He’s pretty good as evangelicals go though 😉

    I’ll send the pdf by e-mail.

  4. Hi Sam,
    I guess I’m therefore going to need to ask what you mean by “Modernist perspective”.
    (Looking forward to the PDF. I started to address memes in the other comment thread ….)

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