Quickies

Quickies: Street harassment map, women pioneers of programming, and the Womansplainer

  • 2.5 blocks of street harassment – A map of all of the street harassment that a woman received during 4 days of walking her 2.5 block commute on crutches.
  • The closed mind of Richard Dawkins – “Among these traits, it is Dawkins’s identification with Darwin that is most incongruous. No two minds could be less alike than those of the great nineteenth-century scientist and the latter-day evangelist for atheism.”
  • The forgotten programmers who created modern tech – “Decades ago, it was women who pioneered computer programming — but too often, that’s a part of history that even the smartest people don’t know.”
  • The Womansplainer – Reasonable rates for all your feminist education needs!

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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7 Comments

  1. Whether Dawkins is an ass or not (I lean towards is) does not, and never could, make atheism a religion. I’m not a big fan of Dawkins but that article was less a critique of Dawkins’ book than a smear piece at its author with sneering swipes at atheism for good measure.

    As the Brits would say, it is rubbish.

    1. Agreed. It started off pretty strong; Dawkins certainly isn’t a thinker in the same class as Darwin, though perhaps he likes to imagine he is. But it went downhill pretty quickly from there. This line in particular was where my eyes nearly rolled out of my head: “The idea of free will, after all, comes from religion and not from science.” I just recently finished listening to all the current episodes of the History of Philosophy Podcast (which I highly recommend once you’ve run out of Skeptic’s Guide episodes) while packing my house for a move. After learning a little about pre-Socratic thought, Classical & Hellenistic philosophy, and subsequent developments in early Christian, Islamic, and Jewish philosophy, this is obviously ahistorical nonsense, something an academic should be ashamed to have written. The idea of trying to reconcile “free will” (or something like it) with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient divine principle has been at least as much a problem for religious philosophers over the centuries as it is for modern science. (If indeed it is at all a problem — I’m not so sure “free will” is even a coherent concept, but I’m not a philosopher.) And, of course, it’s a problem that puzzled the pre-Socratics as well, long before religious philosophers tackled it.

      Incidentally, one other point of difference between Darwin and Dawkins is in their respect for philosophy, and the long history of philosophical ideas. I seem to recall Dawkins making a number of disparaging remarks about philosophers. (Apparently an occupational hazard for modern scientists, unfortunately — even Neil DeGrasse Tyson doesn’t seem to think philosophy has much to offer, which is too bad for him, and obnoxious that he lends his authority to such a narrow-minded position.) I think Darwin was much more aware of himself working in an intellectual tradition that stretched back over millennia, and found Classical thinking still relevant. I recently read a paper that described a letter to Darwin from a colleague noting that natural selection seemed to provide a new way of understanding Aristotelian teleology, and Darwin wrote back very pleased that this colleague was the first person to notice this very important point. (For my own part, since learning a little more about Aristotelian philosophy, and particularly Aristotle’s “four causes,” I’m realizing just how useful these ideas can be in my own scientific work. Also, it’s just fun learning about Epicurean atomism with the perspective of modern scientific knowledge; the amount they got right, or nearly right, simply by guessing and thinking carefully over 2000 years ago is kind of mind-blowing.)

      So, while Gray’s article seems to be mostly a weird sort of apologetics for a vague notion of religion (skirting the issue of any actual religious claims), I think he’s right at least that a key difference between Darwin and Dawkins is in their breadth of thought and openenness to disparate ideas. Darwin certainly wasn’t perfect; the casual sexism and racism of his culture are apparent in a number of his works. But I think he did a better job than most of his contemporaries of questioning these cultural assumptions even if he didn’t overcome them completely, and if Darwin were alive today I think he probably wouldn’t be embarassing himself daily on Twitter.

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