Friday, January 26, 2007

The God Delusion

I finished the subject book by Richard Dawkins this week, it is currently #4 on the NY Times Bestseller list, and has been as high as #2 on the Amazon best seller list. This book talks quite frequently about how the US is very close to a "theocracy", and the "Christian Right" is "the American Taliban".

Yes, the US is so close to all of this that Dawkins can be a best selling author in this awful country with a book that is hostile to religion beyond belief. Lest you think I jest; Page 317: "horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place". Page 318: "I am persuaded that the phrase 'child abuse' is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell."

Make no mistake, Dawkins finds Christianity (and all religion) to be a form of child abuse, and while he doesn't DIRECTLY called for children to be taken from their parents if the parents are going to "indoctrinate" them, he does everything but. Page 339: "Our society, including the non-religious sector, has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents". Like most liberals, he doesn't say what to DO about this "horror", but it doesn't take much imagination. In the "liberal" world, freedom is never for anyone but those that agree with your point of view.

What Dawkins and Sam Harris have in common is that they see 9-11 as an opportunity to "do in religion". One simply needs to declare all religions the "same" (irrational, delusional, unsupportable, etc) and DANGEROUS. The fault is RELIGION, all religion, and what we need to get rid of is FAITH, and then people will be "rational".

Right off, I'd argue that Dawkins and everyone else has an awful lot of "irrational faith". We have faith we will draw our next breath, clearly a belief that is obviously going to be very wrong in an extremely short period of time on any sort of even a moderate historical scale. We tend to think that the model of the universe running around in our head is "accurate", even though we know it is delayed by an eternity in computer time (what we "see" took at least 13 milliseconds to register in our brain)  and incomplete in the extreme. To the extent that we are "scientists", we have faith that this universe is ordered enough so that measurements and experiments done yesterday or tomorrow can be compared with each other by known principals.

For the believer in random creation, that is a HUGE leap of faith, since all that order "just happened" ... without meaning or purpose. A pure random event.

While on that subject, apparently Dawkins can't even CONCEIVE of anything being "beyond material" or "eternal". God can't be postulated, because he would HAVE to have been formed by something even more complex than the universe we see. Really? It seems very hard to see any basis for that "rule". Why again should there be "something" rather than "nothing"? Since we seem to be agreed that there is "something", then is postulating that there is "something beyond" REALLY that big a leap? Both cosmology with the "inflation theory" and evolution with "punctuated equilibrium" have their "creation spurts", the difference is that they want to be clear that from their POV it "just happens".

1st Corinthians 13:13 "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.". Page 185, Dawkins "Could irrational religion be a by-product of the irrationality mechanisms that were originally built into the brain by selection for falling in love?". This section of the book makes it clear that Dawkins doesn't find love to to be a good thing either ... a bad piece of evolution that apparently makes us susceptible to religion. How about hope? Well, of course not, that would be "infantile". page 354, ...Jefferson more than once wrote to friends that he faced the approaching end without either hope or fear. This was as much as to say, in the most unmistakable terms, that he was not a Christian.". Yes, Dawkins believes that a better world is a world without faith, hope, or love.

It IS however a world with as much "pleasure" as one can get. The only part of the Catholic church he has sympathy for is the pedophiles. Naturally homosexuality, abortion on demand, and euthanasia are all to be encouraged. He quotes Dr puppy-love Peter Singer of Princeton a couple of times, but doesn't explicitly mention some of Peter's more moral stances (eating meat is immoral, sex with animals is moral, infanticide is moral, killing "unfit elderly" is moral). He views Hitler as more moral than bad guys in history, "Hitler seems especially evil only by the more benign standards of our time". Why even the horror of Donald Rumsfeld is only in comparison to the "enlightened" standards of today; "Donald Rumsfeld, who sounds so callous and odious today, would have sounded like a bleeding-heart liberal if he had said the same things during the Second World War." (p268)

I'm sure that some will ask "why do I put myself though this"? Dawkins sits in a tenured chair at Cambridge. This book is high on the best seller lists and is getting RAVE reviews in the popular culture. The same culture that bleats every day or so about the "American theocracy" that happens to have an openly gay congressman as the chair of the house ways and means committee. Try that in a REAL theocracy (like Iran or Saudi Arabia).

Dawkins won't say it COMPLETELY directly, but it is clear that he is in favor of removal of religious freedom, and the creation of a country without faith, love, or hope as rapidly as he possibly can. Christians need to be aware that the forces that seek to use them as lion food are still afoot.

However, that country WILL have faith -- faith that a "reasonable government" that persecutes Christians (because you have to in order to stamp them out) is "good" ... like the USSR, Communist China, Nazi Germany ... the godless demand that you and your children worship the totalitarian state.


  1. Anonymous6:35 PM

    You say "Right off, I'd argue that Dawkins and everyone else has an awful lot of "irrational faith". We have faith we will draw our next breath,..."
    This seems like quite a stretch, equating "faith" in my next breath with "faith" in the fact that I will go to a place called hell if I act "impoperly". I do have the experience of having just taken several breaths in a row, but I have no experience with a place called "hell" and no way of knowing the tyes of actions whcih will get me to "hell".

  2. Anonymous6:39 PM

    You say "To the extent that we are "scientists", we have faith that this universe is ordered enough so that measurements and experiments done yesterday or tomorrow can be compared with each other by known principals. For the believer in random creation, that is a HUGE leap of faith,...."
    Scientists believe that good experiments are "good" because they can be reproduced by me, and more importantly, by others. If this is not true (persistently) the results are rejected. In the case of religious faith there is no equivalent of the "reproduceable experiment".

  3. Anonymous6:48 PM

    You say "Since we seem to be agreed that there is "something", then is postulating that there is "something beyond" REALLY that big a leap? "

    If you say "I think there is something beyond what we see" that is one thing. If you start saying "not only that, but here is what is beyond ...." I would wonder how you determine what is beyod.

  4. I'd say that you also KNOW that one of your next breaths will NOT happen, so in the big picture, the faith in the continuation of the series is known to be flawed.

    We can leave "hell" out of it for a bit at least. The faith that there is nothing beyond the material is in exactly the same class as the faith that there IS something beyond the material. Both are simple articles of faith, neither can be tested.

    Faith is "living as if". We live "as if" the next breath will be there. Dawkins lives "as if" there is nothing beyond that last breath. I accept the gift of faith and attempt to live as if there IS something beyond that last breath.

  5. I'm not sure I like the "threading" on Blogger, but maybe I just don't have enough experience to get it right.

    The comment on "reproduceable experiment" is a very good one. Our time is severely limited in terms of history, and the material universe provides us no way to see beyond our lives as yet (either to a non-material universe, or through time in this one).

    It is "possible" that at some time in the future one could "freeze their brain" with the prospects that future scientific knowledge MIGHT answer (or change the answer) to some question that would impact on existence of absence of faith for a currently living person. (eg. it starts to look like the cosmological constant happened to end up where it did with a 1 out of 10 to minus 120 shot, OR there really are 10 to the 500 universes, so the ramdom folks could feel better.

    However, for here and now, knowing that either of our next breath series could run out at any point, we pretty much have to go with "existing theories, models and experiments in a very short human lifespan". We have to add to that the point that science never claims to have "eternal knowledge", only "best available current theory", which will be tested in the future and "by definition", can be changed.

    That is indeed a strength of science, but since even in the extremely short run in terms of history, we will be dead and not able to make use of such potential good scientific information, we need to decide TODAY (well, hopefully longer, but that would be "hope", something that at least a Dawkins atheist seeks to avoid).

    Given that "human lifespan shaped box", we need to deal with the tools that we have inside the instance of the box that is the shape of our life. Dawkins decides to denegrate and throw away religion as a way to deal with that problem. His "faith" is that no future information or experiment will cast any doubt on his hypothesis that there isn't any God.

    It is "huge" because the timescale of his (and all of our) life is so short. It is very likely that people in 100 years will look back and say "the fools" to the peak of knowledge today. Many models and experiments that are "taken for granted" today will be simply wrong at some scale or some dimension in the future.

    What direction will that knowledge go? I doubt many would have predicted quantum mechanics or an expanding universe in 1907. Certainly the cosmological constant issue is a recent surprise. The future is known only through faith in our life-shaped box. We just decide what faith to resist.

    BTW, and I OUGHT to write on this in the Blog, Dawkins DOES recognize that religious faith is "universal and natural" and goes into a long and fairly tortuous discussion trying to justify it under natural selection. Other than most any other sort of "natural behavior" though, religious faith is "bad" and to be avoided. For a man that can think of so few things that are worthy of a value judgment, that distinction alone is interesting, although it appears to be pretty much the standard "he doesn't like authority". (Which BTW I think is ALSO pretty "natural", but apparently that one falls on the other side of his philosophical ledger).

    So yes, many things can be reproduced to the best of our knowledge today as "good experiments", but if there is more to life than the material, then "today" is an infinitely shorter sample relative to eternity than a 1Msec sample is to the current best guess of the age of the universe.

  6. On the "what is beyond". Living in western culture and looking back at world religions, it seems pretty easy to see the interesting one. Only Christianity offers God entering history to assist fallen humanity, the idea that assistance would involve death on a cross is beyond at least my imagination.

    Add to that a series of people that would have known that Christ never rose from the dead were it a lie being willing to go to their deaths rather than recant, and the "unbelieveable" is within reach of even the likes of CS Lewis, Malome Muggerige and Donald Knuth.