I haven’t seen any of the other “Elders” programs with Andrew Denton on the ABC, but I am sure glad I pressed the “record” button on the DVD recorder on Sunday night and caught Denton’s interview with Richard Dawkins (who, at 68, could pass for an “elder”). Cathy and I watched the interview last night, and I found it very interesting from what it revealed about Prof. Dawkins as a person. Denton is a very skilled interviewer, and although he could have varied the way he phrased his questions so as to get a bit more out of the good professor (eg. Denton’s way of phrasing questions by asking “How do you define…” obviously got Dawkins’ back up, and he should have found a different way of asking future questions along this line), the questions were good ones and for the main part penetrating.
You can read a full transcript of the interview here, and see an edited video (about 10 minutes deleted – including the really good bits where Dawkins is uncomfortable with the questions – especially the last question, which, in terms of Dawkins’ reaction was just priceless). There is a good discussion of the interview online here.
I think it is interesting to read this interview in the light of the previous Dawkins interview on which I blogged here.
One thing that this interview reveals, I think, is that Prof. Dawkins has not sufficiently reflected on the different bases for “knowledge”, especially in intangible matters such as love, art, beauty etc. I found this comment really revealing, in terms of Dawkins rather shallow theories of epistomology:
ANDREW DENTON: You wrote a letter which has been published to your daughter, Juliet, when she was ten. Can you tell me about that?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, it is an attempt to encourage her to ask questions and think for herself. It begins by saying, how do we know the things that we know? And so it’s a kind of hymn to evidence, it’s kind of trying to encourage this ten year child to always look for the evidence for anything that you’re asked to believe. And it specifically singles out for scepticism, things like tradition, authority, and revelation, which are not ways of knowing anything. Evidence is the way you know anything that you know, and I tried to put into language that a ten year old might understand- how we get evidence, and how we evaluate it.
Leaving aside the rather sad fact that at the time he wrote this “letter” he was actually estranged from his second wife (the girl’s mother) and hence also from his daughter, and that he should chose to write on such topics which avoid the whole question of his personal relationship with his daughter (and also his point that since writing this piece, he has not taken the opportunity to discuss the matter with his daughter personally), what about the actual claim. Is it true that Dawkins believes that “tradition, authority, and revelation, which are not ways of knowing anything”?
I don’t know about “revelation”, but surely Dawkins cannot seriously claim that all his knowledge is based directly upon his own empirical investigations, that is, that he has gained nothing which he counts a “true knowledge” from sources that could be described as “tradition” or “authority”?
For instance in the very same interview he speaks about his reliance in matters of physics upon the “authority” of physicisits, rather than his own studies. Now, okay, he would reply that the knowledge provided by these physicists is verifiable, but he has nevertheless relied upon the fact that these physicists are “authorities” whom he can trust without doing the verification himself.
And surely in his own education as a biologist, he has received a lot of knowledge (including his knowledge of the scientific method) from what could truly be termed a “tradition of science”?
A bit more thinking is required here, in my opinion.