Richard Dawkins and the Utility Good of Soul

Wait…wut?  Richard Dawkins, the famous “athorist” (intellectual atheist) believes in souls?  Then I saw the “Passionate Rationalist” part– of course he does!  As long as it helps sell books and win converts for “athorism” the “soul” has utility good.

The book isn’t out yet but it drew my attention by being mentioned in the recent Dawkins no-platforming on a Berkeley radio station, KPFA.

I view Dawkins as a defector from Science Tribe.  After all, he understands full well  the biological basis of behavior, and even co-wrote a chapter in John Maynard-Smith’s book Evolution and the Theory of Games.  JMS credits Dawkins with the invention of the term CSS, Culturally Stable Strategy, an extension of the ESS (Evolutionarily Stable Strategy) to cultures.  And humans are born with an inherited tendency to believe in the supernatural (Tomasello 2006)– athorism is the premise that somehow humans can magically overcome biology with “rationalism” and intellect.

So why has Dawkins switched from attacking Christianity to attacking Islam?  I think Dawkins has just switched from the soft target (ethnic xians–where he still can farm converts) to the hard target (where he gets no converts because Islam is a CSS).

Here is an excerpt from Dawkins letter to the KPFA radio station.

If you had consulted me, or if you had done even rudimentary fact-checking, you would have concluded that I have never used abusive speech against Islam. I have called IslamISM “vile” but surely you, of all people, understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam. I have criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists (“the sun sets in a marsh” etc), and the opposition of Islamic “ scholars” to evolution and other scientific truths. I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief. Far from attacking Muslims, I understand – as perhaps you do not – that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women.

?? What is islamism other than belief in Islam, theory and practice?  This is a riddickulous argument.  Dawkins IS attacking Islam.  All the practices Dawkins bemoans are set out in the theory of the Quran and transformed into islamic law via tafsir and isnad.  No, Dawkins is attacking Islam just as surely as Hirsi Ali is attacking Islam.  Dawkins and Ali are isomorphic– scaremongering.

However, while there is likely some whack rationalist argument why Islamism != Islam, the empirical fact is Islamism = belief in Islam.  Therefore deductively attacking Islamism = attacking Islam.

I’m sure my ex-commentariat at SSC can throw up an induction word salad to prove this only might be true, but watever.   I think social physics is going to be the stake in the heart of the rationalists, passionate or not.  And I can’t wait.

42 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins and the Utility Good of Soul

  1. I think CSS is really only a “memetic” analogy to ESS.
    As far as ESS is concerned, it is important to understand the idealized nature of the concept in population genetics or game theory. In its purest form it is a static solution. It assumes an unchanging environment.

    If you have a changing environment there may well be no evolutionary stable strategies. In fact if you model a dynamic environment, only a dynamic adaptive state could track the changing environment so as to stay as adapted to it as possible; with a tracking error causing it to lag behind the static solution – that in the ideal case – takes an infinite amount of time to fully equilibriate.

    If a species exhausts the range of genetic variations available to it at any given time it would simply stop tracking the environment at that point. If its fitness then drops below the point of population sustainability, as the environment keeps changing, then the species rapidly becomes extinct.

    I think it’s true to say that in the real world all species do become extinct sooner or later. So there are no truly stable strategies in Nature. Just as there are no truly stable environments. Sooner or later something big enough to kill you will. And IRL species always survive until they don’t.

    Many years ago when I was young and had too much time on my hands, buying my first computer gave me the means to do lots of experiments with genetic algorithms. I was interested in using them to model adaptive market behavior. In the end I found it too tricky with 1980s computers. But I learned a bit about evolving systems.


  2. I’ve often heard the line that children are the only natural scientists. Play is a form of deliberate experimentation, and to the extent that children learn by doing, they are acting as pure empiricists.

    If you accept this interpretation then scientists are by definition, children who never grew up.

    Of course sooner or later the “adults” take over a child’s education, and teach it to respect authority. Some poor children are so scarred by this experience that they never rediscover the freedom they once had as a child playing with Mother Nature. They continue to pine for the “parental” authority of purely autocratic and tyrannical teachers, who they believe will tell them what to do; what to believe.

    I’ve always felt myself to be fortunate to have recognized my real Mother at an early age. I glimpsed her true beauty and deep wisdom in Einstein’s GR equations one morning. Never looked back.


  3. As for RD being a defector from the science tribe. A Royal Society commissioned poll just voted one of Richard’s other books, The Selfish Gene as the most inspiring popular science book of all time – Beating out Origin of Species!!!

    So I doubt the wider science community agrees with you.

    Of course community-funded local radio stations are not generally thought of as arbiters of scientific orthodoxy. They are welcome to disapprove of RD on whatever grounds they choose. FWIW I think RD granted them a considerable honor agreeing to be interviewed. If you ask me, his fame vastly exceeds theirs, even at 59kW on the FM dial.


    • So?
      I think Blind Watchmaker is also one of the greatest books ever written, it was very inspirational for me. But you are making my point– Dawkins doesnt believe in ensoulment– but Soul and Science in the title will sell books. Soul is a utility good, a concept much admired by “rationalists” who can “rationalize” Assad, kill-terrorist-families, massive civilian deaths, etc.
      Dawkins is a passionate rationalist lol.
      Dawkins has become a huckster for ethno-centric western civ. His old stuff is great, before cognitive decline set in and he became a barking mad islamophobe.
      I think rationalism is especially popular for conservatives, because it allows them intellectual space to defend fitness challenged conservative ideology.
      But as society becomes increasingly empirical and frequentist, the rationalists will become extinct.


  4. Don’t know what RD means by “soul” in the title. Guess you’d have to refer to the intro or preface to the book to see. I assume he doesn’t mean the supernatural soul of the Dark Ages cults. The word is used in other ways, eg. Soul music, soul food. Don’t know.

    Rationalism in the traditional philosophical sense means a belief in the “innate” knowledge of logic/mathematics apart from the purely empirical kind of knowledge of observation and facts.

    Of course modern science is a dialectic between rational models and empirical evidence. It often progresses by means of experiments which are constrained physical systems set up specifically as tests of particular rational theories.

    Not all sciences are explicitly experimental. Astronomy and historical sciences, and even some life sciences, find they have to reason from opportunistically observed natural systems that are simply not directly accessible to experiment – which means they are more dependent on complicated models to validate rational theories. The whole reasoning process is thus more indirect and perhaps weaker.

    Nevertheless even there, the scientific method is still set up as a dialectic; with rational models confronting empirical evidence no matter how it is obtained. The goal being to arrive at rational models that come ever-closer to a perfect representation of Nature’s empirical truth.


  5. Regarding Islam/Islamism. I have a suspicion you may be right in that there is no real difference.

    It is one of the things that makes me think that the West should abandon the Islamic world as soon as we can detach from the oil economy.

    I am very dubious that it is possible to create a consistent scientific culture without at the very least, a high degree of tolerance for secularism. The only two successful models of innovative scientific cultures in the world, ie. the West and E.Asia, are both secular. My data shows the West is increasingly secular even at the popular level, not just tolerance at the elite level.

    I really believe in the future, the US would be much better advised to focus on modernizing Latin America which is a Western culture, and so I expect it to be easier to transition it to our own kind of model.

    I am happy to let China or India attempt to “reform” the Muslim world if they want to try it. But I believe we should give it up.


  6. I see two possible residuals, which might remain as ties for the US in particular – Israel and perhaps Kurdistan, which is very secular and even a variety of communist.

    The growing Islamizing tendency in Turkey, not just from Erdogan, but from the population generally, combined with the demographic growth of the Kurds relative to the Turks, Suggests to me that at some point a Kurdish state may be unavoidable. It would probably quickly vacuum up the other Kurdish provinces in Iran, Syria and Iraq.

    So as NATO feels increasingly alienated from Islamist Turkey; The Kurds are the obvious post-divorce partners.

    If you think I’m exaggerating look at this:

    I mean the AKP’s stated goal was to make Turkey a modern scientific state; but in the end you just cannot square this circle. You either believe in Nature’s truth or Ancient Authority.

    The Role of Turkish Kurdistan (Bakur) could be very analogous to the role of Piedmont in the reunification of Italy; or Prussia in the reunification of Germany. We have yet to see what will happen here.


  7. Remember post oil ME could be much more fragile than it is today. The West will mostly withdraw. China at the moment is leaning towards the Shia crescent; as is Russia. But IMO Russia will go down like all the other petrostates.

    Kurdistan’s best chance for the freedom. The Kurds have been dreaming of a state for centuries.


  8. I didn’t say Rojava. I said Bakur.

    Socialist Bakur are the only post-Enlightenment culture in the ME other than Israel. When the end of oil comes it must count for something. That’s why I’m not willing to dismiss it. As Turkey abandons the Ataturk secular enlightenment. Who other then Israel and the Kurds still represents progress?


  9. And China will easily be the biggest player in the ME in the 2020s. They are already the #1 oil importing nation. By the early 20’s I am expecting them to pass the entire European continent to become the #1 oil importing region.

    They are heavily invested in Iran, Iraq and they’ll probably be the biggest player in the rebuilding of postwar Syria. The Shia crescent gives China a direct access route to the Mediterranean for its Silk Road network.

    China has large and growing business interests in the region. Unlike the West.

    And they are rivals of Turkey.


    • Stop repeating yourself. Everyone knows that China is the coming empire.
      But it doesnt mean the Kurds get a state. Israel is a constant financial and military drain on the US. Its demographically unsustainable– 8.8 million jews in a sea of hundreds of millions of Sunnis. Its a flashpoint.
      who gives the territory? Abadi won’t, Assad won’t, Turkey hella sure won’t.
      The Kurds will be the first to go under the bus when US has to pull back.
      No, China is too smart to make a Kurdistan.

      “For the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness. After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2030 the U.S. dollar eventually loses its special status as the world’s dominant reserve currency.

      Suddenly, there are punitive price increases for American imports ranging from clothing to computers. And the costs for all overseas activity surges as well, making travel for both tourists and troops prohibitive. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, its forces begin to pull back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. Such a desperate move, however, comes too late.

      Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying its bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace.”

      The Sauds are already converting their currency to be able to peg on the yuan/renminbi when the petro dollar peg goes away.
      What happens to Israel when US pulls back to a continental perimeter?
      And meanwhile, the Cambrian Explosion in Robotics frags the jobs of red-staters and leads to a permanent underclass on UBI welfare.
      Maybe there will be a domestic civil war.


      • I’m not repeating myself. I focus on different aspects of the rise of China (and India) as the dominant powers in the Eastern Hemisphere.

        But it doesnt mean the Kurds get a state.

        I am focused here on China’s strategic thrust to the Mediterranean (One belt one road) with growing influence in Iran, Iraq and eventually, i expect, postwar reconstruction Syria.
        Also China’s pronounced rivalry with Turkey even in its own heartland of XinJiang.

        Israel is a constant financial and military drain on the US. Its demographically unsustainable

        Don’t see either. PostOil ME is potentially chaotic except for cultures like Israel that are well placed to benefit from the transition to the Solar+Information paradigm.

        That entire quotation is just silly to me. The transition to robotic labor and solar power will eliminate most merchandise imports and create Autarkic scientific economies. The only trade will be intellectual property as companies invest in branches overseas to bring local robotic manufacture using local renewable energy to other high income markets.

        I think US should retreat from the world as far as military spending is concerned; but mostly because the Autarkic economies of the 21st century have little need of empires. They don’t need energy. They don’t need cheap labor. What do they need the developing world for?

        China and India look like they will be great powers, but Russia and Iran are petrostates and will become economic colonies of the 2 Asian Gigapowers in the Solar age if you ask me. If they think it worthwhile.

        The Sauds are already converting their currency to be able to peg on the yuan/renminbi when the petro dollar peg goes away.

        Who apart from the Sauds themselves will want Saudi oil in solar world?


    • still no kurdistan happening.
      China is gunna own syria and iran– no point in making kurdistan– not cost viable.
      Turkey is already shifting towards russia — doesnt trust US after the Gulenist coup, and sees the coming decline of US hegemony.
      Wonder what China will do with Israel– any thoughts? don’t imagine they will fund them at ~400 billion per year.
      i think US gets a shadow government coup by what McCoy calls the fourth branch or a civil war.


      • Again. Russia is a petrostate. I don’t worry about Russia post fossil fuels.

        Kurdistan is about rivalry with Turkey.

        Turkish Kurdistan is the most populated part of Kurdistan. At current demographic trends, Turks may want an independent state in a Kurdish Majority Turkey.


      • Thats why Turkey wont be a democracy lol– and most kurds are sunni muslims, not secular communists.
        Erdogan has gone autocrat.
        ok, im bored. ur just another israeli lover.


      • Yes, most Kurds are Sunni Muslims just like most Americans are Christians still. They are both Dark Ages superstitions.

        But the socialist revolution of the Kurds, like the bourgeois revolution in America protects elite secularism. And it’s tolerance for at least elite secularism that you need if you want a scientific revolution. Otherwise you just create a brain drain when you educate people in natural sciences.

        eg. That’s why so many of the best Iranian scientists are in America. Not to mention elite women mathematicians. (RIP)


  10. in the end its all about the Maths…socialphysics and BigDATA, unsupervised learning and VLS…complexity and chaos…
    in the end its just the bare Second Law…raw and perfect, emergent and fully formed…
    like Cupid in the elder times…
    “A monster whom neither gods nor men can resist.”


    • China has a Manhattan Project on AI too.
      from the article.

      AM: Sure. How do I see it happening? There are the geopolitical shifts that I just described. The other thing of the long term trends, the issues of economic waning, U.S. economic strength. China is slowly, is steadily surpassing the United States as the number one economic power. That’s one long term trend. And China will therefore have the resources to invest in military technology.

      The second thing is, we speak of crumbling U.S. infrastructure, one thing that nobody talks about very seriously in a sustained way is the intellectual infrastructure of the country. The OECD, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the rich countries club, conducts these tests every couple years, the PISA tests, and they test fifteen year-olds. In the latest rounds of tests, Shanghai students have come number one in math, science, and literacy.

      U.S. students have been somewhere, in math and science, somewhere between twenty and thirty. And so you might say, “Who cares about a bunch of fifteen year-olds with braces, backpacks, and attitudes?” Well, by 2030, those fifteen year-olds are going to be in their 20s and 30s. They’re going to be the super smart scientists and engineers that are coming up with the cutting edge technology. Technology, for example, like photon communications. China is evidently going to lead in this, that means that China can communicate with its satellites and its entire cyber and space and military apparatus without fear of being compromised. We have not developed the same level of photon communications as China. We’re much more subject to being hijacked and manipulated.

      The two things Bush did– NCLB and OIF– kicked off the coming collapse. Trump is just accelerating it.


      • That stuff about photon communications with satellites is confused. The point of entangled photon communication is to secure communication of cryptographic keys between ground stations. It doesn’t secure the satellites. Satellites are vulnerable because they can be hit with projectile warheads fired from the ground or from high performance jet fighters or high power lasers.


  11. If you ask me there’s no secure international comms in war time against peer civilizations like China. Satellites can be taken down. Fiber optic cables across the oceans can be cut. US is experimenting with long-duration drones creating ad-hoc peer to peer networks. Drone-sats? Solar powered drones could stay airborne for months. A chain of them could link across the Atlantic in 1000 km hops.


  12. Another thought about Saudi repricing oil in RMB. The truth is that US is jostling with Japan now, for who is going to be #3 oil importer; and China could quite soon be passing the whole of Europe to become the most oil-import dependent region on the planet. So switching to RMB for oil pricing, in the last decades of the oil era, makes a lot of sense. Also the ME generally is a heavy importer of Chinese manufactures. So I really can’t see a negative in it. Basically the US doesn’t need to care about ME oil. What little oil they’ll be buying by the ’20s, they can buy in the Western Hemisphere.


  13. I could almost say that if the US was really smart, they would pay the Chinese to take the ME off their hands.

    Trump should say: We’ll sell you responsibility for the entire ME for 5 bucks and a cup of coffee.
    On second thoughts, don’t worry about the coffee.


  14. Israel mostly looks after itself. Especially now that it has major gas finds in the Mediterranean to support its economy for the next decades. US aid mainly subsidizes US arms exports.

    IYAM Biggest help Israel gets from US is support in UN – and Obama even weakened that towards the end. So US support for Israel maybe wouldn’t have to cost so much if US didn’t feel domestic political pressure from Christian Fundamentalists, etc.


  15. I don’t agree with McCoy. US will be super solvent by 2030 because no more oil imports, no more outsourcing of cheap labor.


  16. I have listened now to that full interview with McCoy and I have to say that there’s a huge amount that I agree with him. And you should recall that I’ve been saying very similar things for a long time.

    But there’s also important differences. First of all I don’t see the rise of the Asian gigapowers (and there are two of them) as necessarily a bad thing. Western power derived from the Enlightenment – The Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. And we should not be surprised that other powers are now starting to catch up with these super-revolutionary ideas. Actually in many ways its a wonderful thing, because it means the Human adventure is advancing to the next level.

    US is only 4% of the world’s population. The Nth Atlantic West in its entirety, amounts to ~10% of the world’s population. By the time China and India become fully developed powers, say mid century for China, late century for India, we will be at least a third of the world’s population. Possibly a half if we include Latin America which is my hope. All these are very positive developments for our species. It promises wonderful things for the advancement of science; and for the beginnings of the colonization of the Solar System.

    Also I don’t think it is in any way inevitable that the rise of Asia means that the US or the West must necessarily decline, except of course relatively. I think it is quite likely that US will still be the leading power of the West by mid century – but it will probably only be the #3 power in the World by then.

    I’ve argued before to you that the role of the West in the future depends on how successful we are in expanding Western power to include Latin America.

    The Western Hemisphere passed the Eastern Hemisphere as the heartland of Western population around 1990. By ~2040 Latin America, on its own, will exceed the population of Old Europe. So that after that time Latin America will be the largest location of Western populations. Old Europe will be the second largest part for the rest of the century. And North America will the smallest part. But it may eventually pass Europe too, depending on immigration.

    If the West remains a North Atlantic civilization, then the West will decline to #3 position by mid – late century. If we successfully incorporate Latin America, the West could remain #1 till the end of the century. So what happens to Latin America is the key to the future of the West. Just like Latin American immigration is the key to the future of the US.

    So I am nowhere as gloomy as him. But I do have a different sense of the direction we are going in. I’m also much more conscious of the role of revolutionary technology in protecting the status of established scientific civilizations. We are definitely NOT standing still. That’s why I talk so much about the emerging autarky made possible by solar energy and robotics.


  17. I want to add a few comments about China’s demonstration of Q entanglement photon communication to a satellite.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a neat trick. And it might even have it uses for distributing cryptographic keys.

    But the real threat looming over peacetime use of public-key cryptography is not the distribution of private keys. The looming threat is the development of quantum computers. A factorization algorithm that could be used to crack public key encryption, which is known as Shor’s algorithm, is believed to be super-efficient when run on a sufficiently high performance quantum computer.

    That means unless we change the technology of encryption; to something other than prime-number factorization, the current methods of encryption will become obsolete once we have a sufficiently powerful Q computer.

    Now it is possible we could invent other asymmetrical encryption algorithms using – other technology – that could perhaps be robust to Q computation. But as far as I am aware, none has been revealed publicly yet.

    Of course there is a form of encryption which is guaranteed to be secure against any cracking attempt whatsoever and that is the one-time random pad. And all military grade secure comms should be using one time pads if you ask me. Satellites could in principle, be used to distribute these random-number filled pages of data. Although I’m not sure why it’s so much better than a trusted courier with a large flash-card memory stick. You can store millions of pages of random numbers on a multi-gigabyte flash memory.


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