Saturday, September 01, 2007

Damnable Dawkins

A friend of mine lent me his copy of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I'm about ninety pages in; I'm contemplating doing a full review for the school paper, but I felt the need to take some time to flush out some of my thoughts thus far.

Vox Day has already written a book, due out in February, which should expose Dawkins for the intellectual fraud that he is. Yes, he is a renowned evolutionary biologist, and perhaps he is deserving of such fame given his knowledge of his particular field. But it is very obvious that he understands nothing about religion. It's not just the lack of respect, or the seething smugness which emanates from every sentence; most intolerable is his failure to address any substantial claims made by those of us who are religious.

The book can be adumbrated thus: Dawkins notes that stupid and ignorant religious people believe such and such. Whereupon Dawkins notes how stupid and ignorant they are. Or, to put it to the tune of a modern pop travesty:

This is why I'm smart,
This is why I'm smart,
This is why, this is why,
This is why I'm smart.

I'm smart cause I'm a bright,
You ain't cause you not.
This is why, this is why,
This is why I'm smart.

Certain facets of religion may deserve dismissal and derision, but to brush over, say, proofs from Aquinas with a handful of trite phrases is intellectually embarrassing. Dawkins is handicapped by lacking the ability to comprehend the religious mind. He is literally unable to comprehend how anyone could believe in God, despite the fact that, throughout human history, such belief has been near ubiquitous. Yes, there was doubt, too. There always is. But Dawkins isn't even able to comprehend doubt because he can't understand faith.

Earlier in the book, Dawkins discusses the supposed divide between religion and science. As I've written before, there is no conflict between the two disciplines. Science is valuable to the religious person, though not essential; yet science is inadequate to answer life's probing questions. Dawkins, poor fellow, seems not to understand this. He asks: "What are these ultimate questions in whose presence religion is an honored guest and science must respectfully slink away?"

One calls to mind Chesterton's quip: "No sceptical(sic) philosopher can ask any questions that may not equally be asked by a tired child on a hot afternoon." For the existentially autistic, such questions would be those that relate to the afterlife. Science is wholly unable, for instance, to determine if ultimate justice is meted out in the hereafter. Religion may not be able to answer such questions; but if they are to be answered, it will be theologians and philosophers, and not scientists, who will do so.

Later on, Dawkins addresses the miracle of the sun at Fatima. When tens of thousands of people confirm a miracle, even those who were initially very skeptical about the possibility of one, prudence, demands, one would think, at least a tepid agnosticism about the affair. Dawkins even admits: "It's not easy to explain how seventy thousand people could share the same hallucination." He nonetheless concludes, "But any of those apparent improbabilities [mass hallucination] is more probable than the alternative: that the Earth was yanked sideways in its orbit, and the solar system destroyed, with nobody outside Fatima noticing."

In other words, the miracle didn't happen because miracles don't. One is torn between admiration of such sincere faith and disgust at such blatant disregard for one's fellow man, and his, often religious, experience.

I hope the book gets better, but it's not hard to see why Vox placed him in the unholy trinity of irrational atheists after reading the first 90 pages. Surely atheists can do better than Richard Dawkins.


troutsky said...

I admire your intellectual curiosity but don't try Sam Harris.Faith is not shaken by a book and the nuetrality needed for a close reading not possible in this area.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

I might read one of Daniel Dennet's books. He seems less smug and less ignorant than both Harris and Dawkins.

It shouldn't be that unreasonable to hope for decent atheist apologetics--my term. I mean, you can disagree with Chesterton and Lewis without thinking that they are huge pricks. I'm not sure the same can be said for Dawkins.