Sunday, March 23, 2008

The God Delusion

So, after my readings of some apologetic writing, I decided to crack the other side and started The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Immediately, I was rather impressed by his writing style. The apologetics writings all came across as mafia style reasoning.

"It'd be a shame if you had to burn in hell for not following our line of thinking."

Dawkins' work had a refreshing air to it, namely the lack of some covert agenda breaking in on the point the book was arguing.

Theistic writing seems to work like this:

1. Prove why the "Science" explanation is unlikely/wrong.
2. Prove why the God explanation is "right".
3. Prove why X is the true way.
4. Prove why a given denomination or sect is the correct form of X.

Thankfully, some apologetics is open about its agenda. But in the day of "Intelligent Design", it seems for whatever reason religionists have become intent on hiding their real point.

I should note that I do not agree with Richard Dawkins views on religion. I have yet to find my faith if any, and I may still turn out to be a materialist in the end. That places me squarely in the "target" category for this book. As I see it, his book makes several points:

1. "God" should be treated as a testable hypothesis, which is answerable.
2. A believable model of the universe can be constructed without need for a God to exist.
3. Religion is not a prerequisite for morality, and common morals exist outside of religion.
4. Religion causes harm.
5. The "god shaped gap" in our brains can be filled by other things.

Contrary to the religionists claims, I was rather amazed by the large portions of the book that presented an alternative view of the Universe. Discussing this book with a few people, I've heard the sentiment that spending a whole book trying to disprove something just gives it credence. On a rhetorical level, that may be true. However, it was refreshing to look at the possibility of evolution and basic science and theory without having to dismiss it for my belief in God.

All that said, in my eyes, this book only hit the monotheistic religions. And of those, it really only dealt with the major Abrahamic faiths. To be fair to Dawkins' - the book is called "The God Delusion" and not "The Supernatural Delusion". And as such, I didn't really expect much response tho things such as Buddhism or Neo-paganism or any of the other off-by-one faiths out there. Which raises my major disagreement with this book - the stance on belief. Dawkins' speaks out clearly against "belief in belief". Now, I could be reading a bit more into his words than he intended, but he seems to imply more to belief than is reasonable.

It is a pseudo-worshiped principle, "the Scientific method". Granted from "reason". We have evidence, we use that evidence to create a theory, we test that theory, it fits the test or is disproven. Some theories have worked long and well enough that they are accepted as true, at least until evidence comes around to remove them.

The problem exists when we have a question with no or little evidence (yet!). How do we move, for example, from a thought experiment to the atomic bomb? And that, my friends, is when belief is necessary. Under this model, the hypothesis can be seen as a statement of belief. And the believer is willing to put this belief to the test.

That willingness is what removes a healthy belief form an unhealthy one. Belief in its most raw, basic form leads to great debates in science. Dawkins' thus appears to not be addressing "belief in belief" but belief in dogma. Belief in itself is healthy, but the whole "thou shalt not put your God to the test" business creates some dicey situations.

Overall, as someone still figuring out the world and leaving an abusive faith (a very well thought out point in Dawkins' work), I found the overall points Dawkins' presented well done.

As someone sitting on the sidelines for now though, I think it is important that we draw the distinction between belief, dogma, and fundamentalism. Drawing attention to provably false statements is a good thing. Calling people out for moral hubris based on belief systems should NOT be a taboo. But at the same time, non-dogmatic belief can lead to great discoveries.

Dawkins' limiting of belief to only dogmatic fundamentalism leaves a great many questions in my mind as how we as a society should handle belief systems that develop and already exist. In other words, how can society have "healthy faith" and "beliefs" instead of none-at-all?

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