Friday, March 17, 2006

Saving Richard Dawkins

My favourite spot for a walk is alongside a steep ravine above the Congo River, whose frothy rapids writhe and hiss hundreds of feet below. As I strolled beside this stunning prospect, one bright and blue-skied morning, I heard a pitiful human voice crying for help:

“Help me! O God in heaven help me please!”

Peering over the precipice, I saw a man hanging from a sagging branch about two feet below the edge. Clasping my hands on some sturdy roots, I allowed my feet to drop down beside him and take a firm grip of his safari jacket. Whimpering with fear, he plucked up the courage to let go of the branch and take hold of my ankles. With a robust heave, I pulled up my knees and hauled him to safety.

For a while he did nothing but lie on the ground sobbing with head in hands. Presently he uncovered his face, and I instantly recognised him as no less a man than Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary theorist. He must have wandered from his guide during a safari trek and stumbled over the edge of the gorge. The bewildering beauty of the African wilderness has been known to lure prominent humans into ill-advised adventures. After he had settled down a little, I tried to reassure him:

“There’s a good fellow, we’ll soon have you back at the base camp.”

He looked at me with the face of an awestruck child beholding a storybook hero.

“Were you sent by God?” he said, his voice faltering with emotion.

This question, which must rank as the most unexpected utterance ever to have come from the lips of Professor Dawkins, left me momentarily dumbfounded. I glanced up above my forehead to see whether a halo was visible, but saw only air. After gaping like a crocodile waiting for a snack, I eventually found my voice:

“Good heavens, no! Whatever gave you that idea? God and I haven’t been on speaking terms since the remake of Planet of the Apes. I wanted Him to strike the director with lightning, but He stubbornly refused to answer my prayers. My name is Gorilla Bananas. It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Professor Dawkins – how do you do?”

I extended my hand, which the eminent ethologist accepted rather gingerly. “You know who I am?” he asked in apparent incredulity.

“Of course I do,” I replied stoutly. “We may be hundreds of miles from what you call ‘civilisation’, but there’s a satellite dish at the safari encampment. And don’t forget the BBC World Service, which I’ve tuned to on many occasions to hear you speak. There can’t be many discerning individuals on the face of the Earth who have not heard of Richard Dawkins: biologist, rationalist, humanist……….and atheist.”

This last allusion of mine caused him to blush and bite his lip. He then began to address me, slowly and uncomfortably:

“Mr Bananas. I will forever be in you debt for the service you have done me today…”

“That’s quite all right, old boy…..” I muttered, holding up my hand.

“No, let me finish please,” continued Dawkins. “I don’t want to impose on your goodwill, but I have a further favour to ask of you. In my heightened emotional state, you may have noticed me refer to a certain supernatural entity.”

“To God, you mean?” I interjected.

“Yes,” said Dawkins, unwilling to speak the word. “In times of abnormal stress, we humans often say and do things that are quite irrational; things which do not reflect our deepest convictions. As one who is familiar with my career, you must know that I frequently engage in debates in which I argue from a rationalist perspective. If what I have said in your presence were to become public knowledge – sentiments which in no way mirror my considered judgements – my credibility would be forever destroyed as a commentator on matters of genuine social importance. Do you follow what I am saying, Mr Bananas?”

I scratched my head. “It rather sounds as if you want me to keep my mouth shut to avoid causing you embarrassment,” I replied.

“Well, I wouldn’t quite put it like that…” stammered Dawkins reddening.

“Of course, I have no desire to see you embarrassed,” I interrupted hastily. “Much of the work you have done makes you a natural ally of the hairy apes. Let me think about your request, Dawkins. We’ll meet at the safari camp before you leave and I’ll tell you what I’ve decided.”

So Dawkins and I met up a few days later, he with his suitcases packed, I with my fur neatly groomed. After finding a quiet place to discuss the ramifications of our recent tryst, I spoke first:

“Dawkins,” I declared. “I am ready to do as you ask, on one condition.”

“And what might that be?” he inquired.

“Let me start by saying that I esteem you greatly as a biologist,” I said. “In this field, your voice carries weight and you are rightly listened to with respect. But you have also acquired a peculiar habit of getting into arguments about religion. Such debates belong to the discipline of social anthropology, a calling outside your area of expertise. What do you hope to achieve by perpetually nagging away on this topic?”

“I want people to give up their superstitions and see the world as a scientist does,” answered Dawkins emphatically. “I want them to abandon religion and look for truth in reason and empirical investigation.”

“In short, you want them to be like you,” I concluded. “The problem, Dawkins, is that most humans aren’t like that. Do you really suppose that people will turn to science just because they stop worshipping God? It’s far more likely that they’ll start worshipping an even bigger arse. Look what happened in Russia: the state practically declared war on God and what good did it do them? Everyone started venerating a lot of vicious buggers with beards and moustaches and the entire nation went to the dogs. Frankly, Dawkins, your reasoning on this matter is unsound.”

The eminent professor clenched his teeth and looked me in the eye: “So what is your condition for holding your peace about the details of our encounter then?”

“I should have thought it’s clear enough. You must stop all this fruitless chatter about God and religion. Stick to biology and evolution, which are your strong suits. And lay off the Catholics as well. They’ve got enough to worry about with all the frock-wearing and pederasty in the priesthood.”

The distinguished man of science took a deep sigh and allowed himself a thin smile. “Since you have the power to discredit me entirely, I have no choice other than to accept your condition. Good Day, Mr Bananas, and thank you once again for saving my life.”

So Professor Richard Dawkins returned to Oxford, and for a while he kept to the bargain we had struck. In the immediate aftermath of his brush with doom, he avoided religious controversies and maintained an informal truce with God. But I regret that he has recently returned to his old tricks in a
documentary screened on British TV. Perhaps he thinks I am no longer keeping tabs on his activities. In the circumstances, he has left me no alternative but to publish a full account of what transpired on that fateful afternoon above the ever-flowing waters of the Congo.

Astute points, GB. I'm both an atheist and a huge fan of Dawkins, but the way he puts his anti-religion ideas across sticks in my craw. Plus, he targets Christianity almost exclusively, which is a bit cowardly.

I look forward to reading of your encounters with his arch-enemy, Stephen Jay Gould.
Wise, funny and educational - I take my hat off to you, GB.
First it was that Leakey fellow and now you're giving old Dawkins some fatherly advice. It's a good thing just me and 7 others read this blog, GB, otherwise you might be getting a few e-mails from solicitors. As far as Dawkins is concerned, you were right on the money when you called him a nag. I stopped listening to him ages ago. If I want to be nagged, I'll take my wife shopping.
Well Gould is dead, Foot Eater, and I generally avoid kicking a man when he's down.

Thank you Miss Beauty. Nice to see you round here.

Being nagged by your wife is good for the soul, Tarzan. You should take her shopping more often.
The sad fact is that atheism is his religion, which is why he finds it so hard to leave alone. Did the Catholics diddle him, then? Perhaps we can take him to an Irish pub on this special day, and reconcile him to the universally plastered Catholic clergy...

Happy St Pat's all! It's not 8am yet, and I'm off to the bar...
Top notch fodder Mr Gorilla Bananas.
Dawkins is my hero and I hate to see him dissed, however if forced to choose, it would have to be the Japing Ape for me.
You're right! I bet he knows sweet Fanny Adams about gas turbines or other important stuff.

I wonder who "the other seven" are.
No atheists in foxholes . . . or hanging from cliffs, eh GB?
Genius, sheer genius Mr. Bananas. I am pretty much on the side of the Professor concerning matters religious and find few, if any, flaws in his discourse. But you've driven home a few very good points in your wonderful piece. If I had a forelock to tug, it would be tugged reverentially in your general direction Sir.
Thanks very much, Scurf, although I'm a little surprised how seriously everyone is taking this. My starting thought for the piece was "wouldn't it be funny if Dawkins said 'Oh God' by mistake".

Randall, I hear that the athiest philosopher Daniel Dennett has just published a book which supposedly examines religious belief in a more sympathetic way than Prof Dawkins.
All I can say, is the MY genes aren't selfish. My genes were properly brought up and mannerly at the table. And they always, always shared. That Dawkins fellow doesn't have a Scooby Dooby Doo what he's talking about!
See, my genes don't even say bad words but use cartoon euphemisms which, I feel, drives the point home forcibly enough without having to resort no-say-ums.(although admittedly my tongue, which is not attached to my genes but flaps in its own hell-bound way, does).
I bet there's not a single selfish gene in you, Sam. Scooby Doo was a dope and an Uncle Rover. Shaggy, on the other hand, was a great human. You can find a piece about him linked on the right.
Just read 'Shaggy: Great Human' as suggested. I have to disagree. Someone who just won't do something about that appalling bumfluff, episode after episode, is undeserving of the 'great' moniker. Week in week out he continued to let Fred boss him about, playing 4th banana to Fred's top. And his wispy chin got on my nerves too. I'd say "Shaggy: Human" and have to leave it at that.

Now Scooby, there was a dog's dog! Couldn't abide that wee git Scrappy Doo though, who appeared with the ensemble in later adventures.
My dear GB ~ I am constantly impressed with the way you nonchalantly bring up all manner of topics, regardless of their pyritic nature.
( You know, being a gorilla, I am certain your mother never enforced the ~no politics, no religion~ topic ban at the dinner table. My mother, however, was a staunch supporter of said ban, and would roundly enforce it with whatever means necessary, including a smart boxing of the ears. Humans do have these slight inhibitions amongst company.)
The recent spate of ~divinity issues~ amongst our fellow bloggers however, is interesting. It is possible that those who do not choose to acknowledge deity do not realize how offensive some of their antics are. I presume, when I see such things, that perhaps I am just as offensive to them. I believe this was precisely the reason my mother so heartily enforced the ~no politics, no religion~ ban....
Dawkins' entertaining and turbulent efforts to disprove the existence of God scientifically suggest a deepseated need to believe being expressed as denial. The man doth protest too much. He's not trying to disprove the numinous, he is seeking it within the rationalist faith system of science.

He also, as a result of his mania, hangs out with an awful lot of believers and otherwise spiritual people.

I predict a tectonic shift of a conversion one of these days. And nobody will be surprised at all.
Ms Red, you're right. As a gorilla, I shouldn't be bringing up issues that divide my human cousins. Even Aunty has got distracted from more important issues, like vegetarian cuisine. Let Dawkins and God settle their differences in private.

I should stick to writing about Shaggy, who resembles you only in hair colour. At the end of this post you can play the original Scooby Doo song. It's a great way to start the day.
LOL GB ~ oh no, please don't stick to anything ~ as an ape, you can get away with a great many more things than your hairless friends!! Take advantage of it, by all means! Else how can we properly vent? Besides which, you have such a refreshing view~ I merely meant to point out that you are peerless in your ablility to bring up the touchiest of topics, but with such great aplomb, as always. Heaven forbid, please don't STICK to anything! :-D
Like Dawkins, I'm a strong atheist, but unlike Dawkins I see some value in religion and don't feel it needs to be stamped out.

I tend to describe Dawkins as an 'evangelical' atheist--nonetheless I like him and I think he is brilliant, and perhaps most importantly I don't view him with the same lack of charity that your fictional ape does.

Dawkins hopes to promote reason over delusion, and not because he wants "everyone to be like him" but because he feels that religion is *dangerous*--harmful to humanity. You may not like it when your friends nag you about smoking cigarettes, or eating fatty foods, or bathing in mercury (just making sure you are still paying attention!) But most people tend to recognize when someone's heart is in the right place, even when they are "being a nag."

Richard's heart is in the right place.
Mr Bananas, you truly are an officer and a gentleape.

I too think this brand of 'attack atheism' does Prof Dawkins' cause no good. The truth needs no explanation and if one attacks the notion of God so vociferously it might lead people to wonder, "Perhaps the professor is protesting TOO much? What is he afraid of?" - a charge often levelled at believers.

Reasoned debate, yes. Accusing the religious of being stupid, as Dawkins has done? A really good way to turn people off of listening to you.

Over and out.
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