Russell Brand and Richard Dawkins Being Sensible

Russell BrandI came upon this video today, Russell Brand interviews Richard Dawkins. It doesn’t have a date, but Dawkins mentions that it is one year after the release of The God Delusion, so that would put it at late 2007 or early 2008. And what’s remarkable about it is just how reasonable it all it. I think that both men left that discussion thinking that they actually had a lot of shared ground. Obviously, Brand is being silly — especially about ancient aliens.

The truth is that I know a lot of people like Russell Brand. They are some of my favorite people. So when Russell Brand talks about ancient aliens, he is being serious in the sense of this: it is a wonderfully fun and interesting concept. People like Brand are the living embodiment of my philosophy that the greatest sin in the normal world (apart from real crime and political power) is to be boring. Brand is interesting when he’s being serious and when he’s being silly.

But the discussion is not about ancient aliens. Brand brings that up just to get a reaction out of Dawkins. And Dawkins is well aware of this. Richard Dawkins is also an interesting guy who at least understands silly, even if he isn’t a practitioner of it. They really do get into some interesting issues. Brand says that he thinks that “salvation through love” has replaced “salvation through God.” Dawkins says that he finds that an attractive idea. And they go back and forth about that.

And then Brand says, “But do you not think that then that God is just a signifier really for oneness and truth and eternity — that exist beyond our plane of understanding.” And then they are off to the races in a theological discussion. Dawkins points out (quite rightly) that if that’s the case, there is no point of praying to it. So Brand notes that Richard Dawkins’ real problem is the personification of God and Dawkins agrees with that.

Then they get into talking about eastern religions and that’s where Brand and Dawkins seem to have a disagreement. Russell Brand thinks there is something that we might be able to tunnel into and Richard Dawkins thinks that it is just a reflection of our extremely complex brains. What I love about this is that this is a sensible debate to be having. This isn’t some kind of straw man argument where the silliness of a Bible passage proves that there is no God.

Now on this issue, I’m with Richard Dawkins. It seems pretty simple. If you look at the universe the way I do, our universe is a subset of the signifier God. All our axioms are based on this universe. There is no trick to getting outside that system to the larger system. In fact, Brand is making the same mistake that a lot of atheists make when they claim that using some (presently unknown) trick we will be able to learn all the secrets of existence. This isn’t going to happen. There is no one weird trick to unlocking the mystery of existence — through mysticism or science.

Richard DawkinsBut these are the kind of conversations that atheists should be having — not just with theists (and I don’t really think that Brand is a theist) but with themselves. Because what comes out of way too much New Atheist talk is just how hollow it is as a belief system. It does atheism no good at all to arguing with Pat Robertson. Clearly, we as a people need to argue with Pat Robertson. But that isn’t the business of atheists, because most religious people should (And do!) find him repulsive. He isn’t awful because he’s religious. If he had been alive in the Soviet Union under Stalin, he would have been a high party official — a true believer in the party and a denier of God.

I don’t know if Brand and Dawkins could have the same conversation today. I tend to think they could, because when he’s outside the insular world of the New Atheists, he often says sensible things. But as with most issues, the problem isn’t so much that you can be sensible on occasion. Sam Harris tends to be reason when talking about some forms of Buddhism. But both Dawkins and Harris spend most of their time talking about ridiculous things like Islam causing people to be violent.

We could use more conversations between atheists and non-theistic religious people. Then we might gain some understanding of what religion actually is to people. We might all end up more enlightened.

15 thoughts on “Russell Brand and Richard Dawkins Being Sensible

  1. So what if it is a series of tricks? What if it is like National Treasure and there is a series of things that have to be done?!

    I actually don’t think that but it would make me laugh if it was true that the best way to get out of our universe was to do things like “go to the fortieth planet from the center of MACS0647-JD Galaxy, drill fifty feet until you find a rock that looks like a donkey and then use it 13.8 million light years from the Nebula Cluster while standing on a gas giant in the Gamma Quadrant to see the next star to visit.”
    Yes I made all of that up but it has been a while since I watched National Treasure so I don’t remember what they exactly did.

    Then when we leave it turns out that this is just some old dude in a chair eating the equivalent of bon bons watching it on his TV.

    The main thing though is that being racist gets Dawkins TV time and TV time sells books so it is merely greed that drives the people like Dawkins to be so terrible.

    • I realized today why America needs Bernie Sanders elected. Not his policies, which are fine. But because I can do a wicked Bernie impression. My impressions are very hit-and-miss. I can’t do most famous people. Oh, my lord, can I do Bernie. Wave your hands, go policy wonk, cue up a mix of Brooklyn/Boston accents, and you’ve got it.

      (I have no clue what a Vermont accent is. Or where it comes from and why it sounds like it does. But you mashup Brooklyn and Boston, with a little bit of nasal inflection . . . that’s Bernie.)

      “Equivalent of bon bons watching it on his TV.” This made me LOL.

      I’m not sure why Brand gets so much hate. Clearly, he’s gorgeous and young and, compared to many people with fewer advantages, he’s got it easy. He’s not evil, though. Maybe not someone who’s been through the struggle like Hillary or Bernie. But he’s not evil. If you ain’t gonna put youth and handsomeness to good use, what the fuck else are ya gonna do with ’em?

      • That is almost a good reason to vote for Sanders but…since he will not be out of the senate if he loses the primary, you still can do the impression!

        I didn’t know Brand got more hate then the average pundit.

    • Oh, 2001: a Space Odyssey?

      It wouldn’t matter. All answers raise far more questions. That’s why Brand’s idea of just getting in tune with the universe is about the best you can hope for. Suppose you got out of the universe and into the multiverse? Would the ultimate question change? No. It’s like you are going from a specialized equation to a more general one. But there is no equation completely general, except no equation. And that may be the answer: there is nothing. I certainly do think that time is a construct of consciousness. From there, it isn’t far to the loony bin.

      • Now that is a question I am curious about-why is thinking something like time is a consciousness construct something that would drive a person loony?

        • There is no answer. You dig down into the rabbit hole but there is no destination — just flashes of elusive insight.

          • But I thought it was all about the journey maaaaaaaaaaaaan…Okay I don’t know. I rarely think about this because I am of the type that accepts that it is. I have more important things to do with my time, like try to figure out why I don’t understand English grammar.

            • Yeah, that’s Andrea’s take. She think’s it’s bizarre that I think about this stuff. There must be a reason for the universe because no matter where you go there you are. I respect this position. But I remember at 5-years-old, wanting to know how water came out of the faucet. Now I had good parents who encouraged such questions. But there are bad parents who discourage it and say, “It just does!” So I don’t mind people who are fine with the ontological “It just does!” But I am very much against those who claim that I should be in that camp. It doesn’t bother me that I will never get an answer. In fact, that makes it rather more fun.

              • I don’t understand people who complain about someone else spending their time doing something pointless. We all do pointless things. It is our nature as humans.

                Then again, we humans tend to think we are the center of everything (instead of just knowing it like I do. ;-) ) so when someone else does something we don’t get, it annoys us.

                • There’s got to be a term for that: giving permission to do something while being clear that it is not worth doing. It’s kind of like, “Oh sure! Go ahead and study theater at college. Your father saved all those years so you could become a doctor. But if you want to be an actor, who am I to complain?”

                  • I swear to God I think there is a Yiddish word for it but I cannot think of it.
                    Off to the urban dictionary!

      • Out of the universe? Like that string thingy in Interstellar (which I have yet to see)? And now that I have crow barred space exploration into the conversation, I’m waiting for you to do a post on the new ninth planet that is supposed to be out there.

        • Yeah, that’s exciting and I have been meaning to write about it. But is it a planet? It’s orbit is so strange! We really need to develop a new vocabulary to talk about this stuff. But it is amazing. This Neptune like “planet” circling the sun every 20,000 years! But it does go along with my general description of the universe: a total mess. It’s just a bunch of junk flying around. God is a hoarder!

  2. This Brand guy, I would not tolerate his presence. No, he strikes me as being a boring self-important jerk. No, I don’t think he has a point worth my attention.

    This kind of conversation? No thanks. This kind of person is just too fucking annoying.

    What is a belief system? Atheism in any form is not reasonably called a belief ‘system’. No, I think this is not serious.

    I continue to not understand your objections to New Atheism.

    • Well, the Brand guy is a comedian, so perhaps you should give him a pass. Eventually, I will write my article explaining why atheism is a religion, and you can just completely discount me. But consider: one can be religious without being a theist. Millions of Buddhists will back me up on that. My objections to New Atheism is that most New Atheists don’t understand much about religion, make straw man arguments based upon the most ridiculous theism, and say stupid things like, “I only believe in things I have evidence for” (which is patently false). I am an old atheist. I’m sure a lot of people in the New Atheist movement are actually old atheists. But the movement itself: very annoying. Hitchens died, which was helpful (although he’s been turned into a kind of atheist saint, which would be ironic unless you know the New Atheist movement). If we could just get Sam Harris to go away and study meditation in India for the next couple of decades, New Atheism might appeal to me again.

      But what you said is what I’ve been saying: as a belief system, atheism is a thin reed to hold onto. Humanism is far better. Sadly, my experience is that too many New Atheists are not humanists. I know New Atheists who disagree with me about everything other than a lack of the existence of God. It’s on the basis of that that we are all going to gather for a conference?

      But don’t take it personal. I’m just an old guy and I am expected to be a curmudgeon.

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