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Recently I finally got around to watching an interview I’ve been told about many times by people on both ‘sides’ of the argument and neither: Richard Dawkins vs. Deepak Chopra [Click Here to Watch]. Dawkins, as usual, puts on airs of being Mr. Reasonable and Objective and ends up, to me, looking something of a bullying arse. The High Priest of Atheism as ever steps beyond the realm of his expertise (he has actually done good science and should continue with that). Although this is still within science – Chopra is a qualified and experienced medical doctor, a board-certified endocrinologist, experienced in conventional medicine and alternative therapy, Dawkins is a qualified and experienced researcher in evolutionary biology, quite different – Dawkins still acts as though he is the only ‘real’ scientist there (concerned more with statistics and trends than real individual instances, ever the research scientist).

In the full interview Chopra comes over very well, I think, it’s an interesting chat between two people with very different views. To call Chopra an enemy of reason would seem more than a little unfair. In the edit used for TV Dawkins makes Chopra look like a total charlatan. It’s pretty pathetic really. Dawkins shines as an evolutionary biologist, but as a ‘champion of reason’ he seems as smug and underhanded as he does foolish. Anyone who fails to believe what he believes is mad. Sound familiar?

I think the personality cult he has amassed and the attention he receives for his opinions disguised as facts is probably all to engrossing, like many groups and movements those who have bought into it believe they have all the answers and everyone else is crazy. They believe ‘Science’ is the lens through which everything should be viewed and yet, as Dawkins shows in the interview, science is a vast subject with many areas he himself knows nothing about. So when he says ‘Science’ what he likely means is research science, specifically animal behaviour and evolutionary biology. The lens through which everything should be viewed just so happens to be his.

Terry Eagleton has remarked ‘imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read[/hear] Richard Dawkins on theology.’ Or indeed philosophy, psychology, physics and a host of other subjects he seems to have decided can only be understood and found valid or invalid by him, er, I mean ‘Science’.

Dawkins seems to have an ego Neutron stars would envy – appearing small only due to its immense denseness. He could learn a thing or two from Chopra, if he could ever actually see beyond his own point of view. Even if Chopra is a charlatan, his work makes people happy and I’ve yet to hear of anyone threatening the lives of others or belittling them in its name.

As ever the comments on this and anything to do with Dawkins tend to descend into incredibly tedious and ubiquitous ‘religion is true/false’ slap fights in which the main taboo appears to be admitting we know nothing for certain and can only test our theories. This just so happens to be good science as well as good mysticism. I can only assume that dogmatism has more appeal to our basic tribal instincts.

The question of the empirical truth of religion and spirituality seems to me entirely uninteresting and missing the point. “Truth” applies to religion and spirituality as much as it does to art. Have you ever seen anyone arguing that a painting is “True”? Or two similar paintings being killed over because one is believed to be “True” and the other “False”? It would be absurd.

The interesting questions regarding religion and spirituality are why people have them and what purpose they fulfil. To fail to acknowledge and investigate the function of religion and spirituality as evolved and interesting natural phenomenon seems to me as much poor science as it does a failure of imagination on the part of the inquirer. But thankfully there are many thinkers willing to look at these issues, unfortunately none are as famous, infamous or influential as Richard Dawkins, who appears intent on promoting a fundamentalist materialist world view that seems to amount to existential nihilism, which leads inevitably to the Camusian question: ‘Why not kill ourselves?’

I chose to see the Nietzschean light at the end of that particular dark tunnel, that we must create our own meanings, and those meanings can and do have validity, the kind there is little use in poking and prodding about for in a laboratory. I accept the fact I am a limited life form with limited fleshy sensoria that can only tell me so much, I will never comprehend the entirety of this wonderful phenomenon that appears to be occurring, however many instruments I use. I lack the hubris to claim I could know it all but I also lack the fear to let that diminish me. I can know what I can know. I embrace that and am in wonder with it. I am an artist.

Hen Harrier Day

Today is Hen Harrier Day. A day primarily about raising awareness of wildlife crime and the persecution of a protected bird of prey. The Hen Harrier, also known as the Skydancer, should be a common and widespread bird of prey in the UK. But intensive management of upland areas and relentless persecution for the sake of driven grouse shooting has driven these birds to near extinction in England, where just three pairs bred in 2014, while there is habitat for 962-1285 more pairs in Scotland. But they are missing and we know why.

The illegal killing of these beautiful birds must stop. Support Hen Harrier Day!

Hen Harrier Day Overview: http://birdersagainst.org/hen-harrier-day-overview/

Petition to ban driven grouse shooting in the UK: https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627

Red Kite

Red Kites are beautiful and distinctive birds of prey, ones I particularly enjoy watching in action. There’s something about the way they move, so elegant and powerful. It moves me. As the death toll rose in Ross-shire earlier this year in what would amount to a particularly disturbing incidence of persecution, I was appalled. Each individual killed was, to me, as innocent as a child. A wild little brother or sister lost to us all.

I decided to create a piece of artwork to commemorate the sixteen Red Kites (and six Buzzards) that were killed, focussing on the beauty and spirit of these birds. I have had twenty A3 limited edition archive quality prints produced, they are signed and numbered and £85 each (including P&P). I will donate all the profits from the sale of these prints to the RSPB, whose investigation and species protection work may help prevent future incidents and may help bring any who were involved in this or other wildlife persecution to justice, and whose education work teaches current and future generations to view our wildlife with due respect and care.

If you are interested in a copy then contact me by email at janice.duke@hotmail.co.uk or contact the RSPB on 01463 715000

On Saturday 19th of July I spent the day teaching Seashore Wildlife Art at the Seadrift Centre in Dunnet. It was a fun day and a great venue, with plenty of bones, shells, taxidermy and information to use for inspiration, as well as a lovely view of the beach and some real life wildlife (mainly Terns). It was a drop in session with student’s ages ranging from young children to adults, which kept things interesting. Here’s some of what they got up to:

The Seadrift Centre itself is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Whaligoe Steps

Whaligoe Steps is a gem of a place to visit. Descending into a harbour surrounded on three sides by 250ft cliffs that form Whaligoe Haven, the steps take you past the nesting sites of Rock Doves, Fulmars and many other seabirds, with wildflowers flourishing all around. At the bottom I sat amazed and looked across at nesting birds for quite a long while. I’ve never been so close to a Razorbill or Shag and they seemed completely calm about it. One Razorbill even flew over to take a closer look at me. Black Headed, Black Backed and Lesser Black Backed gulls swooped through and above the harbour, along with Kittiwakes and Common Gulls, and Fulmars riding the air currents up and down the cliff sides with easy grace. Guillemots fluttered by. Cormorants and Divers swam out in the bay.

Harbours are scarce along the Caithness coast, and so the story goes that the residents were forced to use Whaligoe as a fishing station, apparently naming it after a dead whale that washed ashore there. The steps themselves are an impressive feat and well maintained. There are supposed to be somewhere between 330-365 of them, but I forgot to count in my excitement. I was escorted down by a local cat that seemed to come from the very conveniently placed cafe at the top and was very friendly company.

I recommend going in good weather, those steps could be very slippery when wet!

Saint John’s Pool

Whenever I visit the north coast of Scotland I try to visit Saint John’s Pool, particularly in the bird breeding season. If you are interested in birds or wildlife at all I highly recommend it. Sitting in hides sketching birds is becoming a bit of an addiction of mine, and Saint John’s Pool is a particularly good spot for this.

Saint John’s Pool and The John Corbett Memorial Hide are situated on the north side of St.John’s Loch between Thurso and John o’ Groats. Access is free and open to the public all year round.

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