Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Briefly Reviewed: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Today's first article. I'm trying something a little new with the formatting. As always, feedback is much appreciated.

Perhaps best known for his first book, The Selfish Gene, the eminent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is also the author of eight other books. In his latest book, The God Delusion , we experience Dawkins as an outspoken atheist and fierce opponent of religion in all its forms. The first message of his book is directed at those unbelievers who are still trapped, like R. Kelly's narrator, in the closet: “You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.” But Dawkins is not content with mere emancipation from the shackles of belief; he will not rest on his laurels while religion is merely accorded an equal footing with atheism. Dawkins goes so far as to liken the religious education of children with sexual abuse, and calls for the extirpation of religion; he even finds agnosticism to be a “poverty”. For not only is religion nonsensical but, departing drastically from Voltaire and Seneca, it is a pernicious influence which is holding humanity back from the all-but -inevitable progress (with occasional saw-tooth regressions) of the moral Zeitgeist.

That the 20th century, result of this “progress”, was by far the world's bloodiest escapes his attention, as he optimistically states, without proof—blanket and unfounded assertions are par for the course for Richard Dawkins—that “there seems to be a steady shifting of standard of what is morally acceptable”. In short, all religions are bad because 1) the books upon which they are based are stupid; 2) the followers fail to actually follow the books; 3) and even when they do follow them they shouldn't do so because (see 1) the books are stupid; meanwhile, those who have had their “consciousness raised” by (the prophet) Darwin, the keepers of a completely arbitrary and morally subjective system under the guise of a loosely defined Zeitgeist are more moral. The reason: because Richard Dawkins is oh so smart.

But this is nothing more than what Chesterton, who knew a thing or two about atheists, called refusing to “submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” Dawkins reasons that early Americans were unenlightened because they, like the rest of humanity, kept slaves, while modern Americans are more moral because we no longer do. It is telling, though less than surprising, that Dawkins fails to single out the cause of slavery's demise: Christianity. That we practice infanticide and call it abortion is irrelevant to Dawkins, moral parasite that he is. Though it will surely give future atheists reason to gloat when the barbaric practice is finally banned because of the movement of the Zeitgeist. One envisages a future Dawkins character proving that atheists are more moral because we no longer practice abortion like our benighted ancestors.

Parts of his book are good: his tangents related to evolutionary biology are informative, and his warnings about the dangers of fundamentalism, though cliché, merit heeding. But one gets the feeling that Richard Dawkins knows no more about religion than I do about his master subject. He can't see how anyone could believe any of it to be true, and thus pretends that it is not useful. But there are a great many people who have believed it to be true; in fact, atheism is largely a new trend, and if many of the pagans, like Seneca, doubted that their religion was correct, they didn't sneer at those who did believe, and they certainly didn't pretend that it was without utility.

Throughout, Dawkins' tone is condescending and mean-spirited. And while I couldn't care less about what Dawkins thinks of believers—my faith is not that shallow—mocking those who happen to believe in a non-materialistic world is not the best way to win converts—or friends. Even those who are sympathetic with him will conclude that Dawkins is a jerk, and a tactless spokesman for atheism.

But there is another rather large flaw in The God Delusion. Dawkins believes that science has largely answered humanity's questions, questions whose very ambiguity caused our ancestors to regulate them to the realm of theology. To Dawkins, questions that presently remain unanswered will either be answered by later science or deserve no answer. By virtue of his enormous brain, Dawkins knows that those questions which cannot be answered by science, will also be unanswerable by religion. “Why are we here?” may be more meaningful than “Why are unicorns hollow?”, but both are difficult to answer so—implicitly of course—why bother asking? This fails to account for the possibility of revelation: certain questions are beyond the capacity for human reason to understand, but are attainable since God has, allegedly, deigned to walk among us. But Dawkins knows that this could not have happened because his human reason tells him so. QED.

Now science is not without its uses. Indeed, many religious people practiced science; Albert Magnus—from those poor Middle Ages, which produced Dante and the cathedral of Chartres—springs to mind. Whether we believe the world to be a part of God's creation or simply the result of natural selection applied over a large period of time, or both, science allows us to better understand the natural world around us. But science cannot answer the deep probing questions which have haunted man since the beginning of time. For all of our science, we are no closer to understanding why humans existence than was, say, Gilgamesh. Worse, we seem to forget this, postulating that because Gilgamesh did not have science and technology, we are obviously better off than he was. Maybe. But we still die, and all the science in the world is unable to tell us what it all means.

Contrary to what one might infer from his book, most religious people don't care if Dawkins doesn't share their faith, though many certainly pray for him. The religious individual who reads his book should not be filled with indignation. Instead, the feeling which he will feel first and foremost is that of pity. At worst, religions are, in the words of the irreligious Fred Reed, “gropings toward something people feel but cannot put a finger on, toward something more at the heart of life than the hoped-for raise, trendy restaurants, and the next and grander automobile.” Those who cannot even begin to consider that something suffer worse than mere delusion.


CoMeDy KiD said...

troutsky said...

Good to see you are not "indignant" about the recent writings of this "moral parasite".

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Is he not a moral parasite? If he sided with Aristotle and the natural law, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with his morality, but he rejects Aristotle and his follower Thomas Aquinas because they both believed in God.

Instead, to Dawkins, morality is whatever the Zeitgeist says it is. His morality is entirely drawn from cultural "truths" which he subjectively determines. Hence he is a moral parasite.

Ted said...

Interesting comments. I have just posted my own critique of the book on my own blog, and Sphere led me to yours. It IS interesting that Dawkins manages to insult the intelligence and/or integrity of just about anybody who doesn't share his particular narrow viewpoint. But his arguments really are almost laughable. I've seen several comments by atheists that they are embarrassed by his book. Reading good, well-reasoned atheistic arguments is good for theists; it makes one examine and think clearly about one's own beliefs. But Dawkins is not only vitriolic, he is a piss-poor philosopher.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

But Dawkins is not only vitriolic, he is a piss-poor philosopher.

I completely agree. Reading his book was, unfortunately, little more than a waste of time, though it is telling that he is respected in certain circles.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone take religion seriously. It is an ugly, divisive
idea where humans must beg and grovel to please a sadistic god. Oh please! You may feel that you belong groveling and praying, since your monothesism tells you you are filthy, sinning creatures, but I am sickened by your beliefs. Read, read, read, and then you may understand. Read history and philosophy and science. Read about the great ideas and the humans who explored them. Read all the "holy books" which were writen by folks who know a good scam when they saw one. They also knew how to usurp and control the reasources they wanted, with the permission of their correct"god". Read all the ancient wisdom writings and find the wheat from the chaff yourselves. Dawkins doesn't say anything that can't be researched for your own knowledge. Wake up people and throw off your sad religions. Let's find a better way to go into the future.

Jehova unwitnessed said...

As Dawkins predicted in his book, religion, and those who are slaves to it, will not be able to see a bigger picture even having read the said book. The majority of remarks seem to be vitriolic and patronizing towards Dawkins - just what they were complaining Dawkins was to the reader in his ironic! My question, and I thought I was relatively ambivalent until I read the cliche and truly depressing responses from the religious to Dawkins' book: How many hundreds of thousands more humans will die in the name of your invisible, 'good' God?

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