Tuesday, July 19, 2016
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
After reading a bunch of books that were responding to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I decided that I should read the book for myself. I wanted to see if it was being represented correctly. It lived right up to my expectations as a shallow, easily defeated treatise written by an arrogant, fanatical religious believer... in Natural Selection.
He starts off clearly irritated that religion holds a special place in most cultures and seems quite perplexed as to why believers would work so hard to defend it. This already has more than a whiff of disingenuousness. My response: Really?
Then he moves into defining his terms. The God Delusions follows from The God Hypothesis which he states as, “There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us.” OK with me except for the “superhuman” part. God is not just a really cool human. He is other. I think this actually trips up Dawkins again and again, because he has a hard time seeing God as anything other than human.
He goes onto note that America, in contrast to Britain, is a very religious nation. He seems unsure why that is, but suspects it is because Britain, unlike America, made Christianity a state-sponsored religion. Yep, I agree with him, and I really do think that’s it. He also goes to great pains to disabuse us of any notion that the Founders were Christians. Ugh. I know enough history to know this isn’t true. But... whatever.
Lest anyone should say that the question of God’s existence falls outside the purview of science, Dawkins is quick to disagree. “Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question...” Um, yeah, except the whole “Scientific Method” thing Dawkins praises so highly doesn’t work with what is outside the material world. Like his belief that God is some kind of superhuman, his belief in a god rooted in the material world is a stumbling block to his methodology. He goes on, “If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour.” Kind of like when He came to earth as a man, testified about himself for three years, died, and rose again? Kind of like that? According to Dawkins, none of that Gospel drivel counts as evidence. He easily dismisses all Scripture (except the parts he chooses to mock) as nothing more than a game of “telephone.”
He spends some time comparing God to a teeny, tiny, almost invisible teapot orbiting the earth. He says the onus is on the one proposing the idea to prove it exists. One would never say, “Take my word for it.” Right. A teapot is a material object. It’s nothing like God or religion. It’s a weird comparison and reveals how hung up he is on God as Material Object.
Then he introduces his most unanswerable question by reviewing the arguments put forth over time for God’s existence. He correctly answers that they all, (like the Unmovable Mover, The Uncaused Cause, or the regression theory) end up making the case for an eternal God. But, he would say smugly with an arrogant assumption that the question cannot be answered, "Who made God?"
I posed this question to my believing friends. I got blank looks and an “Are you stupid?” vibe. Here’s the answer, Richard Dawkins. No one. He’s God. That’s kind of the definition. If He had a maker, that would be God. Or that thing’s maker would be God. There is none so blind as he who would not see. In fact, the more complicated the universe has been shown to be, the more finely-tuned and improbable, the more Dawkins believes his question is unanswerable. What kind of a marvelous thing or process could even create a God capable of designing such an amazing world? It’s mind-blowing. It’s like regression in reverse. That kind of a radically complex being is simply an impossibility in the eyes of Dawkins.
He goes onto admit that although this world sure does look designed, that just goes to show how amazing the god of Richard Dawkins is: Natural Selection. The awe and reverence he gives to Natural Selection is a rare and beautiful thing. (Not Chance, which he says is of course impossible. He admits that chance is too random and astronomically improbable.) Natural Selection is omnipotent, omniscient, perfect in every way, all wise and wondrous to behold. It is ruthless, cutting out any and all that do not live up to it’s perfect standard. It is unforgiving. One maladroit DNA strand and it’s hellfire and brimstone for you. It is stunning in its beauty and simulation of design. It is able to take impossible tasks, chop them up into manageable pieces, and in the process produce nothing short of a miracle. It is so subtle and invisible, you’d almost swear the world WAS designed. But you’d be wrong. And it has one enormous benefit over the real God. Natural Selection has no moral code. One can have guilt-free sex with anyone, at anytime, anywhere. Your offspring may not be able to reproduce, but that’s the price you pay when you throw in with Natural Selection.
He makes short work of any real scientist who may be counted as a believer in a real God. He repeatedly posits that they are either acting on the societal mores or they are loons, and he feel sorry for them. That’s pretty persuasive stuff right there!
He also dismisses any personal testimony of interactions people may have had with God. Either they were delusional, under a form of mass hypnosis, falling prey to the societal norms (like the believing scientists), the victims of illusions, or just liars. Well that takes care of that. Billions of people have had “religious experiences” that Dawkins is quite sure are not real. Next.
Again and again with the “Who made God?” This is a big one for him. In fact, since the universe regresses back into simpler and simpler functions and organisms, the first “cause” must have been the most simplest of things. It could not have been an omnipotent, omniscient, creative, and extraordinarily complex God. That makes sense. So this "God" must either be too extraordinarily complex to exist or too simple to have created anything. Heads I win, tails you lose. that's some good thinkin' right there.
Of course, he is flummoxed as to why his all-powerful god of Natural Selection would have created a being so bewitched by idolatry to another. Namely the real God. After all, his god is a ruthless utilitarian. He goes into a quite long and convoluted discourse about religion being a by-product of some other, beneficial adaptation or maybe it’s the memes we live by, or maybe it’s because children most naturally believe what they are told growing up. I’m not sure and neither, it seems, is he. Moving on. Not much to see or even ponder here. It’s obvious he’s working himself up into a fevered pitch of irrationality to avoid any semblance of doubt in his god.
After lambasting the real God as a sadistic masochist, he goes on to state why his god is actually better at creating a moral universe. “We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral' towards each other. First, there is the special case of genetic kinship. Second, there is reciprocation... Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness. And fourth... there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity a a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.” All this built-into-the-DNA morality despite most of humanity’s existence being routinely described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” I guess those people didn’t get the memo.
In fact, he can prove through various studies that morality seems to be remarkably consistent within all people groups. Except that it isn’t. I mean it is where Western (and Judeo-Christian) values have made great inroads. But studies that look at humanity over time and everywhere have actually found a very short list of consistent moral rules. (See: Haidt - The Righteous Mind) This proves to him that morality is a result of evolution and not some ramblings handed down through a millenniums-long game of telephone. Besides, it’s downright rude to say people wouldn’t behave themselves without a god looking over their shoulder. Except they don’t. Ever see a city where the police go on strike? How’s that “natural morality” thing workin’ out?
He goes on and on for some time mocking the Bible and the standards it sets to show we, in fact, do not get our morality from the Bible. Otherwise we’d all be sacrificing our children (Abraham) or sleeping with them (Lot). He ignores context and thousands of years of scholarship on these issues, but what’s a little commentary when mocking is so much easier and fun? (In fact, he readily admits to not being familiar with what the theologians have written because he does not want to waste any of his precious time learning about something that is clearly false.) Plus isn’t is obvious that human are getting better and better. Women and blacks have the right to vote! And don’t say Hitler or Stalin. That’s not fair. Hitler was most likely a Christian. (Seriously, that’s his response.) And don’t say the prevalence of abortion. That’s not a bad thing, just a matter of perception. Besides, we are actually MORE moral for being able to see the mother’s side unlike those Neanderthals who believe abortion kills actual, innocent, defenseless babies. He goes on a bit of a rant about the inability of people to even determine what actually is human life, because all life is on a evolutionary spectrum. In the next paragraph, he states that he cannot bear to detail Saudi Arabia’s crimes against women because they are too horrible to list. Apparently HE can determine what is human life and that it is valuable (unless it’s in the womb).
He also details how religions like Islam demand absolute adherence, and no ability to question or doubt, and therefore people are willing to die and/or kill for it. If only people were taught absolute adherence to things like questioning your beliefs (Is that belief up for questioning?) and eschewing absolute obedience to God, there wouldn’t be any suicide bombers. Oh yeah, and Christianity. That’s it. That’s another of his arguments against Christianity. Islam.
His next chapter details his belief that raising children to believe in a certain religion is child abuse: a term he uses without any kind of apology. He compares it to actual physical and sexual child abuse, and determines that instilling a belief system in a child is worse. Sigh. Of course he would love to instill HIS belief system in the child instead. That’s not abuse. At the very end he recognizes that something would be lost if we were to abolish all religious teachings. Rather he states, “We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.” Hard to imagine destroying the foundation and the house still stands, but maybe in his belief system, that’s possible. Just don’t tell a child that. It’s abuse.
He finishes up with a chapter detailing why we don’t “need” God. He likens God to an imaginary friend that may have provided some sort of purpose to us as children, but that we have now outgrown. He believes that our lives are as meaningful as we choose to make them. He then goes on to show how his own life is given meaning by science. He goes through wonderful litany of the wonders that science has exposed. I am certainly in awe of all he delineates. However, those awe-inspiring facts simply make me appreciate my God even more. He worships the creation rather than the Creator.
I checked out this book three times. Each time, I couldn’t finish it because I would get so frustrated with his sloppy thinking and non-sequiturs. But I finally finished it! I started it because I had read several books debunking it and felt it only fair to read the real thing. However now, I don’t think all those books are necessary. Simply read this book. It debunks itself.