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Dawkins, Professor Richard

Category: Scientist

I am absolutely certain that most of my spiritually minded friends will think I have gone mad including Richard on this site, but despite the fact that Richard superficially appears to be almost the opposite of a spiritually minded person, not all is as it seems.  God works in a mysterious way his wonders to perform!

First a little about Richard.  He was born in Nairobi in 1941 and was educated at Oxford University.  After graduation he remained there to work with the Nobel Prize winning ethologist Niko Tinbergen.  From 1967 to 1969 he was an Assistant Professor of Zoology at the University of California at Berkeley.  In 1970 he became a lecturer in Zoology at Oxford University and a Fellow of New College.  In 1995, he became the first Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

His books include The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, the Ancestor’s Tale, Unweaving the Rainbow [from which I will be extensively quoting],  The God Delusion, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, and An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.

He is a tireless campaigner against the dumbing down of science in particular, but of any subject, arguing that it is far better to set the target high, than keep on lowering the bar. 

He is also a supporter of women.  For example this quote covers the two together:
maybe elitism is not such a terrible thing….there is a great difference between an exclusive snobbery and an embracing flattering elitism that strives to help people to raise their game and join the elite.  A calculated dumbing down is the worst; condescending and patronising.  When I gave these views in a recent lecture in America, a questioner at the end, no doubt with a glow of political self congratulation in his white male heart, had the insulting impertinence to suggest that dumbing down might be necessary to bring ‘minorities and women’ to science’.

As a former Research Director of some quite large [science based] companies [and female] I can verify that discrimination is not dead and it wears you out - you have to be twice as good as your male counterparts to get anywhere.  Given that discrimination hampers 50% of the population at least, we are doing ourselves no favours in continuing this idiocy.  And this idiocy in science and mathematics has only very recently started to be attacked by people like Richard, for example:

Florence Nightingale – Mystic, Visionary, Healer – Barbara Montgomery Dossey
Florence was lucky that her family, by dint of its Unitarian heritage, was more disposed to the education of women than society at large was at that time. Of the few women who were able to break the mold early, many came from Unitarian or other dissenter families. Underlying the reluctance to educate women was Victorian society's belief that women were too fragile for difficult mental activity. As late as 1873, Edward C Clark argued in Sex and Education that an overindulgence in matters of the mind would shrivel women's reproductive organs. Such fields of study as mathematics and science were viewed as masculine activities, and the few women who did manage to achieve prominence in these fields had to overcome much bias.  Women of great ability who learned largely on their own or were lucky enough to obtain instruction often used male names or initials when corresponding with established mathematicians.
The Royal Society didn't admit its first woman member until 1945.

He is also a tireless campaigner in his attempts to get people to start observing again, seeing the wonder of their everyday existence, to bring back the ethos prevalent in the early days of science of observation, observation, observation.

I may be misquoting him, but he also appears to be a supporter of natural plants and remedies in the treatment of illness:
“Manmade drugs are the products of comparatively crude trial and error testing by chemists in the laboratory.  Natural selection has had thousands of generations in which to fine tune its drug technology”.

I have no doubt that if it was explained to him, he would also be a supporter of cause as opposed to symptom based medicine, as he strongly advocates cause based research.

He is a lover of poetry and art.  He is not a poet or an artist, but clearly has a love of the great poets and an almost insatiable longing to understand and be in that world, which cannot be satisfied because he is a ‘left brained’ intellectual.  Here is what he says about John KeatsOde to a Nightingale
‘Read the words aloud and the images tumble into your brain as if you really were drugged by a nightingale’s song in a leafy summer beechwood’.

And then he remembers he is meant to be a scientist and follows this with ‘at one level it is all done by a pattern of air pressure waves, a pattern of sine waves in the ear and then rewoven again in the brain to reconstruct images and emotions’.  I laughed when I read this, it was such an incongruous statement, and he went no further, all these ‘images and emotions’ – so unnecessary, so dare we say it – spiritual! He goes on to say that ‘all these numbers retain the power, if transduced back into pressure waves to move a listener to tears’.  So Richard has been moved to tears by music and poetry, he has a heart.

 It is also worth mentioning that Richard even tried the so called Koren ‘God helmet’, a device used experimentally and extensively by Dr Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Persinger published a number of papers about the effects on the human brain of the "complex" magnetic fields generated by this and other similar devices. Many of his subjects reported "mystical experiences and altered states" while wearing this helmet. But all poor Richard experienced was a headache.  And I, for one, felt profoundly sorry for him when I read this, because no person undertakes this form of experimentation on his brain, experimentation that is not without its dangers, unless there is a real desire to know and understand.  And he didn’t get to know and understand.

In Thomas Carlyle’s book Sartor Resartus, he describes his own evolution from the "Everlasting No" of refusal,  to the "Centre of Indifference", and eventually  the "Everlasting Yea". The Everlasting No is Carlyle's name for disbelief in a spiritual world, which is for ever denying the existence of the spiritual realm - the software in us as opposed to the hardware, and has ‘a malicious pleasure in scoffing at everything high and noble as hollow and void’.  Richard does not scoff at things high and noble, but he is still at the stage of the Everlasting No.

So why is he on the site?

The spiritual world [as I have had occasion to experience] works in some very odd ways at times.  And Richard appears to me to have played and continues to play a rather important role in the evolution of humanity and the spiritual.  He is an unwitting, but key player in the Great Work, and I can say this quite safely knowing he will never read this.

The world as it has stood for several hundred years has been a masculine world.  It has been a world of aggression, politics, brutality, extraordinary cruelty – of ‘isms’ - various political systems aimed at greater and greater aggregates of humans.  In effect, aggregation of humans under various systems has been the principle activity and objective, and it has been achieved through masculine domination and masculine methods.  We have achieved a lot under quite barbaric conditions, the dark satanic mills and the deep and dangerous pits, it has generally been an era of considerable achievement materialistically, but producing abject misery for millions.

But we have reached a sort of optimal level of aggregation and ‘isms’ are no longer needed or helpful. Nor is the continual removal and waste of the planet’s resources. To move on we have to become more ‘feminine’ in our approach and recognise the existence of spirit – spirit meaning system – and a great deal more attuned to living with nature, rather than the combatant mode employed now.

Richard is no ecowarrior, but he is, like Lyall Watson and David Attenborough, a great promoter of the beauty of nature.  If you incessantly and relentlessly point out the wonders and glory of the natural world, you have a ready supply of supporters wanting the world to be preserved and, dare I say it, nurtured more.

There is also another area in which Richard is serving the spiritual world to great effect.  One of the last great ‘isms’ are the religions.  Institutionalised religion has never been any friend of the spiritual or the mystic.  Mystics and mystical movements have been brutally treated by the major religions for centuries.  Religious institutions are undemocratic, they are dominated by males, they are political and have been for many centuries, and they are alternative power bases in many countries, wielding totally disproportionate power in the name of a ‘God’ they have never known.  They are also reactionary.  I will quote a nephew of mine [not one of my favourites], now a vicar, who told me that the only reason that women were allowed to become vicars in the Church of England was because the church was running out of money and ‘women are stupid enough to believe all this charitable stuff and will vicar for free’ .  This same nephew is very heavily involved in politics.

It took two world wars and an influenza outbreak to get some sort of moderate equal opportunity for women.  It is going to take people like Richard to break the final dominance of the institutionalised religions and the male dominated societies of the west.  He was perfectly suited to the job – tough, clever, not averse to bending the truth a bit when it served his purpose – and this is no criticism, because the fanatically religious do this all the time.  To fight fire, one needs fire.

There are genuinely spiritual people in some religions [often the women], and these people are the ones that are our hope.  But the fanatical, the power mad, the political need curbing or eradicating.

And it needs the toughness, the tirelessness and sheer hard headed dogmatism of one who actually is probably being manipulated the whole time by the spiritual world, but who would never know, to pull us along to the next great stage.

Richard is also right in much of what he says about the edifices of the religions.  The various Gods of religions do not exist; creation was not some one-off process completed in seven days, creation is an ongoing process, as is destruction, all mystics have long recognised the existence of an evolutionary cycle, the difference being that they believe it to be software and not hardware driven.  And all mystics know that Genesis, like Keats’s poetry, is symbolic, that the Bible is symbolic and that the world was not literally created in seven days, that the seven is a symbol of the stages in spiralling power.

Mystics know, Plato knew, Socrates knew.  But the ‘isms’ don’t, because the purpose of the ‘isms’ is power through conveniently invented dogma, and not wisdom.

We need more Richards not fewer.   The Middle Eastern countries need Richards more than anywhere, but the USA also has the need, as does South America.  We are not home yet, not by a long way.

The observations I have chosen for him show the masterly way he makes the wonder of creation and the created come alive and cover some of the other ways in which he has unwittingly [may the spirits bless him] served the Great Work.

W B Yeats – Collected Poems
Though logic choppers rule the town
And every man and maid and boy
Has marked a distant object down,
An aimless joy is a pure joy
Or so did all the sages say
That saw the surges running by
And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey

Just a thought.  But of course you'll need to know the symbolism to understand it.  Like Keats's poems.

And finally a question in one of Richard's books has finally been answered...

Professor Richard Dawkins – Unweaving the Rainbow
What will happen when the male, scientific, hierarchical, control oriented western culture that has dominated western thought integrates with the emerging female, spiritual, holistic, relationship oriented eastern way of seeing things?

This site!

Observations

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