Archive for Sunday, November 5, 2006

Caution: ‘God Delusion’ might turn you atheist

November 5, 2006


Few religious-minded individuals will likely read a book titled "The God Delusion." But perhaps they should. When he isn't screeching about the evils of religion in tones that resemble the giddy zeal of a tent revivalist, Richard Dawkins' quick prose reveals a reverence for the natural world that echoes Albert Einstein's description of himself as "a deeply religious nonbeliever."

Dawkins calls himself a "de facto" atheist, one who lacks the evidence to disprove God's existence but places the probability of a divine being at "less than zero."

He takes on philosophical arguments for God's existence, beginning with proofs by Thomas Aquinas - arguments he calls "fatuous" - then moving on to Pascal's famous wager that those who doubt God's existence might as well hedge their bets on the side of the Almighty. "Pascal was probably joking," Dawkins quips.

Many, perhaps rightly, have charged Dawkins with intolerance. He dismisses religion in general as "nonsense," describes the Old Testament God as a jealous psychopath and blames organized religion for wars, genocide and homophobia. In one of his hyperbolic fits, he likens religious education to child abuse.

In such moments, Dawkins oversteps, distorting evidence in a way that resembles the methods of the religious fundamentalists he criticizes. He attacks leaders of the religious right for claiming the founding fathers conceived of the United States as a Christian nation (the most radical wing of the movement, Christian Reconstructionism, seeks to "restore" biblical law, including the death sentence for adulterers).

Dawkins could simply challenge this claim, but he takes the argument further and paints Thomas Jefferson, a well-known Deist, as a likely atheist. Later on, he attacks clergy who invoke hellfire to draw converts, but resorts to a similarly cheap blow in claiming atheists face death with greater dignity than those who fear the wrath of a divine judge.

Dawkins' explanation of religiosity in its various forms - from the "cargo cults" among South Pacific islanders who attach divine significance to the content of cargo ships to evangelical Christians awaiting the Rapture - is far more interesting than his diatribes.

A staunch Darwinian, Dawkins compares belief in the supernatural to a vestigial organ that has outlived its evolutionary purpose. Religion, Dawkins argues, probably once gave tribes and ethnic groups competitive advantage in the struggle for survival by offering useful folklore about the natural world and providing a collective identity. For Dawkins, religion has outlasted its evolutionary function: We now have science to explain why fire burns and snake venom kills.

Dawkins' arguments make scattered sense, and "The God Delusion" (Houghton Mifflin, $27) will grab readers who can forgive his tone. But a bit more humility would become him. If Dawkins wants to convince religious people of his views, he ought to begin the conversation by at least taking their beliefs seriously.


SpeedRacer 11 years, 2 months ago

Thank goodness Cartman was in the future while Dawkins was being lampooned on SP.

I have to say, the LJW sure publishes alot of weird stuff.

gccs14r 11 years, 2 months ago

"If Dawkins wants to convince religious people of his views, he ought to begin the conversation by at least taking their beliefs seriously."

Religion is childhood make-believe run amok and shouldn't be tolerated in civil society. Dawkins has seen the effectiveness of placating the ignorant and chooses not to. Religion isn't to be taken seriously, not by children and certainly not by adults. Calls to do so are an insult to thinking beings everywhere.

aveteran 11 years, 2 months ago

A bit more humility? Take their beliefs seriously? Does Alexandra Alter have the slightest clue what the televangelists (and Christians in general) say about non-believers and non-Christians on a daily basis? Doubtful. If Dawkins had emulated even half of their hatred and venom-spewing, he'd likely have a torch-and-pitchfork toting toothless mob at his door calling for a lynching. In fact, secular activists, who pursue civilized redress of grievances through the courts, often receive threats against their lives or of physical harm, from "good" believers. So, exactly who is overstepping? Ms. Alter's comments are simply rude and biased. She needs to exercise some humility of her own, and take our LACK of god-belief seriously.

hmvalois 11 years, 2 months ago

"Belief" = wishful thinking. Belief is unnecessary, and potentially dangerous.

Stick with hypotheses and evidence; belief is the casting aside of science in favor of dogma, and faith, self-fulfilling prophecy and delusion....

The problem with religious education, faith and belief, is that it makes a person unfit to exercise the franchise of citizenship. It's more than "a crutch" or an "opiate of the masses"; it's an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one's choices -- to make a holy book or church group or pastor or god into a justification.

No, taking beliefs seriously is feeding the trolls; who needs to think that highly of themselves?

veggiedude 11 years, 2 months ago

Am I suppose to take al qaeda seriously when they speak of paradise with 17 virgins? I don't think so.

KWCoyote 11 years, 2 months ago

Religion is social control. Religion is an ancient method of dispensing public health rules in a way that people were likely to obey. Religion is a PRE-scientific way of explaining things. A cave kid might ask, "Daddy, who put the stars in the sky?" and Daddy might say, "A great spirit put them there, now shut up and go to sleep." Why do people have to work? Work is hard. "Son, many years ago people didn't have to work. They lived in a beautiful garden with lots of good food. But then they were naughty and had to leave. You're starting to be naughty, go to sleep and let me sleep too."

It appears to me that the founders of biblical religion, Abraham and his kin, had only two things in mind, the seeking of wealth and political power. That is evident in the "holy" writ describing those events. Abe must have been jealous of the power and wealth of Egypt. Most likely, the clan moved to Egypt to research how the Egyptians did it before moving back to Palestine and trying to start their own country. The plagues of the Exodus, incidentally, have been linked convincingly to the Mediterranean volcanic eruption that destroyed the Minoan civilization, and that dates the Exodus at about 1500 BCE if I recall right.

Moses was a practical administrator, presuming he existed, but followers of the tradition became increasingly kooky. By the time of Jesus some of them were loony tunes. Jesus was half kooky and half reformer, it appears. It also appears from careful reading of garbled and often falsely attributed text that Jesus was not a Zionist, not a Hebrew tribalist, and not an advocate of seeking political power or even nationhood for the Jews. Statements supporting those views appear to have been put into his mouth by dishonest followers. It also appears that Jesus didn't buy into the keeping of OT rules, and seems not to have been aware of the original public health purposes of them. What he condemned most strongly was the tendency to condemn those who broke biblical rules, passed harsh judgment on others, and snubbed sinners and the different. He would damn to hell today's advocates of restoring Old Testament rules.

So what we've gotten from churches for centuries is such a screwed-up version of what was originally said by that Jewish reformer that it's very hard to find a church worth belonging to or a preacher worth listening to. As to whether there's a god or not, I haven't seen any evidence of such a being or any evidence that it's worthwhile to believe in one. The only good I've seen done is good that one person does for another. Where's a preacher with the guts to say that?

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