Wednesday, 11 November 2009

In Defence of Truth

Jo Hockey, a leading Liberal and a person very likely to be a future Prime Minister in Australia, has boldly published a personal opinion article entitled In Defence of God. Indeed a bold move it is, because someone with aspirations to a top political seat knows very well they should avoid offending people. The article, in which Hockey advocates the “pick and choose” god (that is, picking the nice things from the bible as our model for god) is quite likely to offend those that advocate a literal interpretation of these mythical Bronze Age scriptures.
My own opinion about the article is that it is aimed at the mainstream majority of people who view religion as a nice and comfortable thing to have but don’t really go to church unless someone’s getting married. Logic wise, the article’s arguments are as flawed as hell, but I don’t see much point in addressing those holes here; Richard Dawkins shreds the pick and choose god into little pieces in his The God Delusion.
The point I would like to address with the article is the way in which Richard Dawkins is dismissed by Hockey. Hockey dismisses Dawkins rather too quickly for being a representative of those that claim religion to be the source of all that is bad in the world. Yet this nonchalant dismissal serves only to demonstrate that Hockey never bothered understanding what Dawkins is trying to say, because if he was to read The God Delusion he would have seen that while Dawkins points at religion as a source of evil this is not Dawkins’ main problem with it.
Dawkins’ main problem with religion is that it stands in the way of truth, with truth being represented through science – humanity’s greatest endeavor into finding the truths of our world. In his fight for the truth, Dawkins is not fighting religion alone but also popular post modernist views that advocate for the relativity of truth (and again I will quote a friend’s annoying email signature, “perception is reality”). In the face of this world’s complexity, as perhaps represented through quantum mechanics, there is some appeal to this relativistic look at this world; but again, such a view does not withstand the slightest rational argument. There are some things that are undeniably true: Napoleon is true, and so is the holocaust and Ayers Rock / Uluru. Even the most drugged up spiritual being will not argue that Napoleon is relative.
So why is this fight for the truth so important? I’ll refer to Carl Sagan’s example from his book Demon Haunted World. A few centuries ago, a certain Queen of England (whose name I forgot; could it be Mary?) was dying. She had all of her kingdom’s resources at her disposal and therefore had loads of very important people praying for her sake, but she still died because there was no one there to give her medicinal help to treat a disease that won’t bother us in the least today. And the reason why this disease doesn’t bother us today is science exposing the truth to us despite the barriers put in its way by religion: we know, today, that this particular disease is caused by very real bacteria (as opposed to demons or some unnatural intervention of sorts). We don’t pray of mess about in any other way (although there are plenty of loonies out there who do); we know the truth. If we want to get cured, we just take antibiotics. Today, we are all much more powerful than the strongest person of an ignorant world.
As Dawkins, Sagan and I, for that matter, argue and clearly demonstrate through the “my kingdom for antibiotics” story, the truth is too important for us to create veils between us and it. And Hockey could use some reading to further his education, especially is expects my approval on his way to becoming our Prime Minister.

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