Archive for the 'Chapter reviews' Category

TGD – Chapter 10

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Dawkins wraps up “The God Delusion” with a wide ranging chapter titled “A Much Needed Gap?” He starts off the chapter with a discussion of childhood imaginary friends and tying them to the belief in God. At first he goes with the paedomorphosis suggestion, that what children do that adults should not do but some don’t grow out of. There’s no need to even rebut this idea as it clearly comes from his biased position. Then he spends some toying with the opposite, that imaginary friends are the evolutionary left-overs of the instinct to believe in God, which assumably we no longer need. But you can tell Dawkins himself doesn’t much buy into this theory, at a minimum, it has the problem of suggesting it was valuable at some time.

The next section is titled “Consolation” and it’s Dawkins attempt to rebut the idea that even if God doesn’t exist, he’s worth believing in because he gives comfort to others. He addresses two aspects of it, both suggesting that just because something feels good, doesn’t mean we should endorse the idea irrelevant of its truth (I wholeheartedly agree with him on that) and that there’s little evidence that belief in God is of any comfort.

On that I entirely disagree as a former atheist. The thing the atheist has to come to terms with is that this life will be all there is. Dawkins touches on this idea, suggesting that it’s a thrilling challenge that makes life more enjoyable. There’s some truth to that, but there’s also the opposite, that mistakes are far more unforgivable. If you make a mistake that prematurely costs you your life, that’s it. So the atheist is left with the very difficult challenge of living life to its fullness but doing it in a way that is as mistake free as possible. It’s a very difficult balance. Should I go sky-diving and get the thrill of that or should I avoid it because it could prematurely end my life? I personally found it very uncomforting and am far more at peace since discovering God’s existence. Am I perfectly at peace? No. I still question things and worry and do all the things that my faith tell me I shouldn’t be concerned with. But I recognize that as part of my human nature and try to turn away from it. Overall, I’m still at far more peace than I used to be.

There’s not much notable in this section of the book outside of that, but there was an odd diversion to talking of purgatory that I feel obligated to rebut. The first point is the justification for purgatory. Dawkins rightly points out that the high level justification is that without it there would be no purpose in praying for the dead, as a soul would be either in eternal paradise or damnation from the moment of their death without a place in the middle. But then he dismisses it saying that all it shows is that prayer for the dead is meaningless. There’s a whole thread of building blocks that would need to be laid to justify the following statement, and I lack the time to lay all that out, but the key statement is that we’ve been given by God assurance that prayer for the dead is efficacious. Of course, Dawkins would reject that evidence, but the point is that within our boundaries, it makes perfect sense. What Dawkins is attempting to do is use this example to further disprove the worldview because it seems so ridiculous to him, but in fact, he’s using circular logic, since from within our worldview it makes complete logical sense.

He also spends a fair amount of time picking on the Church for “selling” indulgences, a topic of which there is much confusion and perversion of what happened in the past. The perspective of the Church is that by doing good, one can shorten the amount of purification that one needs in purgatory. It’s a pretty obvious concept. If we get our act in gear on earth, there will be less need to do so in purgatory. And if one thinks about it, generosity is one of the key tenants of Christianity. So telling someone that by giving of their wealth to a good cause they are reducing their time in purgatory is similarly uncontroversial once one thinks about it. What stepped over the line was the over specific nature of the indulgences given based on very specific sums of money. There’s no doubt that this cheapened what is fundamentally a sound idea and turned a spiritual truth into the “selling” of something that the Church has always taught can not be sold (and even did so at the time despite engaging in a practice that implicitly undermined the idea). But this is wholly different than what the Church is accused of in general and Dawkins plays right into that stereotypical misunderstanding.

Dawkings wraps up the chapter and the book with an oddly “spiritual” section titled “Inspiration”. His main point is that the world is an amazing place. He talked about the frequencies of light we can’t see being far more abundant than those we can. He talks about how the space between atoms is so huge that what seems solid is effectively empty space. He talks about the wonders of quantum mechanics. He talks about all of things things in a “wow, they’re all so amazing. It’s amazing how little we know and understand about the universe!” kinda way. It honestly had me scratching my head. All of these things are so complex and far beyond our comprehension yet he’s so absolutely confident that there’s no “god” lurking amongst these unknowns? He’s had so much confidence and so much clarity that science has all but shown that God doesn’t exist, but when he wraps things up, it’s an amazing world that we know so little about.

It left me thinking that Dawkins and his ilk are the close minded ones. They’ve decided what science has to say on the matter, heck, they’ve gone so far as to try to define science in such a way that basically excludes the possibility of a deity, but yet they freely admit how little they know. Sure there are other ways that many religious are close minded, but when I look at God, I’m left with the same sense of wonder and awe and the confidence that I know so little.

Finally, it all comes back to his early assertion that in his mind there can be no “NOMA” (Non-Overlapping Magisterium). I find everything he talks about as amazing in the universe just as amazing and wonderful as he does. I’m excited to see where the science takes us as we learn more and more about these things. His assumption that faith and science are incompatible is complete hogwash and he’s done nothing to prove otherwise in his book. So while Dawkins looks at the universe and is marveled by it, I too am similarly marveled by it. I too want to learn more about it. In addition I’m marveled by that which extends beyond the physical universe to the meta-physical and am similarly as marveled by it as I am by the physical universe and I’m eager to learn more and take the evidence where it leads me in both realms.

In the end, I don’t think I’m the close minded one.

TGD – Chapter 9

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Chapter 9 is titled “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape From Religion”. It’s a chapter I’ve somewhat been looking forward to both because Dawkins has referenced it a number of times in previous chapters and because having 3 children myself, I’m keenly aware of the importance of bringing one’s children up well and very protective of my right, and I do believe it is one of the most fundamental rights that exists, to raise my children as I see fit.

Dawkins starts off the chapter with the story of Edgardo Mortara. As Dawkins tells it, and I have no knowledge of these events but considering Dawkins track record of distorting events regarding religious people I wouldn’t be the least surprised if there’s more to the story than Dawkins suggests, Edgardo was a Jewish boy who was taken from parents when he was 6 by the government of the papal states (what is now Italy). The reason he was taken, according to Dawkins, was that he had been secretly baptized at some earlier point in his life. As Dawkins rightly points out, baptism is the defining sacrament of Christianity, and according to him the reason he was taken was that so now as a Christian he could receive a proper Christian education.

The story alone wouldn’t be too troubling to anyone if it were truly an isolated case, but according to Dawkins this was both a common practice at the time and in his words, “the attitudes of mind that it betrays are lamentably current, even though the practical details are not.” Dawkins uses this slight of hand all the time and it’s worth pointing out again that slight. He doesn’t suggest what “attitudes” he’s speaking of… is it just religious attitudes? Or is there some large scale Christian desire to kidnap children and educate them in the faith? Dawkins doesn’t say and I think it’s entirely intentional. He wants to let the mind think the latter without saying it explicitly or having to defend an outlandish claim like that.

Similarly, he suggests it was quite common at the time, but then points to the international uproar over this specific event, things that are nearly mutually exclusive. As with the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, we don’t talk much about specific cases because the issue is one of the magnitude of it. The same would have been true here if it were so common as Dawkins suggests. In fact, later in the chapter, long after he’s made the emotional point he’s after, concedes that “it is surprising that cases like Edgardo Mortara’s were not more common than they were.”

In either case, the key point is that Dawkins would have a hard time suggesting that there’s any significant movement anywhere in the Christian world to kidnap children from people who are going to raise their children in some other faith (including atheism).

Dawkins finishes up the section with an odd aside, suggesting that the parents of Edgardo were just as stupid because they didn’t “[accept] the priests’ entreaties and agreed to be baptised themselves.” He suggests that “a splash of water and a dozen meaningless words” were all that stood between them and their child and they were foolish to not do it “with their fingers crossed”. Seriously? Could you IMAGINE the uproar Dawkins would have if he were expected to be baptized to get some benefit? There is NO WAY this man would submit to “a splash of water and a dozen meaningless words” and he would starkly describe why he wouldn’t do it as a matter of principle.

The next section is titled “Physical and Mental Abuse” and it is mostly about Dawkins suggesting that raising one’s child in a specific faith is worse than a priest sexually molesting children. I wish I were making this up, but to quote him specifically so there’s no confusion on the matter: “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.” He even defends the Catholic Church who is being attacked by a bunch of vigilantes whereas any sane person, even us Catholics, know we deserve 95% of the criticism we’re getting and it’s extremely important that we stop it (which, at least here in the US, we have (annual cases of abuse in 1975: approx. 800. 2009: 6)).

He spends the rest of the section sharing excerpts of letters of people who were traumatized by their religious upbringing, specifically about hell and associated nightmares. Of course there’s no mention of the fact that tons of children have nightmares about all sorts of things, from finding out meat comes from animals to that when Uncle Bob dies that’s the end of his existence and he will be no more. (I personally know of a few cases of people who came to faith because of near panic over that realization of the atheist viewpoint). It matters not if it can be terrifying to a child, what matters is whether it is true.

The next two sections are titled “In Defense of Children” and “An Educational Scandal” and are the closest Dawkins comes to saying what he would suggest as an alternative to the religious and parental freedom to raise our children in the faith of our choosing. He starts out by attacking freedom of speech in this regard. Quoting Dr. Nicholas Humphrey, Dawkins suggests “In short, children have the right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it.” It’s at this point Dawkins attempts to address the obvious objection to any of this. Who determines what is nonsense? His lone defense is that this is about “how” to think not “what”. If you’ve been reading the rest of these reviews, you’ll know how ridiculous of a claim that is. I’m quite confident that Dawkins wouldn’t limit himself to just teaching kids how to think and his very strong opinions would be front and center if he were setting the world wide curriculum of schools.

But beyond thinking that public schools shouldn’t be able to teach any religious principles, something he focuses on an example of in Britain in the “Scandal” section, Dawkins doesn’t suggest what kind of policy he’s actually after. Even though he makes it clear that children should be free of religious education “especially the education a child receives at home”, there’s no mention of what exactly the policy should be. Should the state be able to kidnap (term chosen based on the Edgardo story from earlier in the chapter) children from religious families to be brought up by the state? He doesn’t say. Or perhaps jailing those parents in the better solution? Fines? One can’t have a law without a punishment and I think Dawkins refuses to address the matter because he knows how crazy any suggestion would sound.

Overall, I think that Dawkins completely misunderstands the nature of freedom. I believe he thinks of it in terms of betterment of society because it allows people to challenge outmoded ideas that were prevalent to date. Beyond that, I think he sees it as a detriment. To some extent he’s right. Freedom, whether it be to raise a child as you wish or in some entirely different respect, has it’s problems. Everything from having the freedom to yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater to the freedom to have specifically disingenuous television ads, has certain negative affects on society. At the same time, a lack of freedom has tremendous downsides as well. It is the reality of these downsides, how quickly what seems like reasonable limitations on what one can say, do or think, can transform into a highly restrictive dictatorship, that has made western society so resistant to any significant restrictions, particularly on freedom of speech.

One need only look at Soviet Russia to see how this happens. What started as a way to free them from the supposedly repressive religious state quickly turned into a state where religion was effectively outlawed. And the way they did it was eerily similar to what Dawkins seems to be suggesting: compulsory state education free (really antagonistic to) of religion and making it illegal to share the faith with children until they’ve reached the age of reason. The result was that they became a totalitarian state that controlled far more than just religion, but matters across the board.

Are there people who abuse the freedom to raise their children in their ridiculous beliefs? Yes, there are, and Dawkins points to a few of them. However the cure to that disease is far worse than the illness. This is something that is a lesson the whole world has learned over the last 1000 years, even the Catholic Church who’s supposedly been the stick in the mud on the subject, but apparently something that Dawkins is at least somewhat oblivious to.

Dawkins wraps up the chapter with a section titled “Consciousness-raising Again” where he repeats his oft-stated mantra that kids should not be called “religious” but “children of religious” and then a section on his lone concession, that biblical literacy should be taught because of how important it is to understanding literature in the final section titled “Religious Education As A Part of Literary Culture”.

Overall, the chapter is a disappointment both because Dawkins effectively refuses to state what his solution to the “problem” is and that he’s mostly ranting against the most extreme example and not taking a more nuanced view of the realities of the situation.

TGD – Chapter 8

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Chapter 8 was both every bit as bad as I feared and entirely more reasonable in certain sections that I hoped. It’s titled “What’s Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?” Perhaps merely because the chapter title was sufficiently long it didn’t included the deserved extension “A case study in strawmen”.

After a quick introduction suggesting he’s not a confrontational person by nature (a laughable idea if there ever was one), he continues to his first section titled “Fundamentalism and the subversion of science”. Of all of the sections in the chapter this is the one I found most credible, particularly with an appropriately narrow definition of fundamentalist (one that I suspect Dawkins doesn’t subscribe to, but nevertheless an overly broad assertion is better than pure fallacy).

His point is that there are religious out there that are so steadfast in their beliefs that no amount of evidence can sway them from any part of it. He specifically references the creationists who believe the world to be on the order of 6,000 years old (Dawkins uses the over-used term “creationists”, which really means something more broad). I’m friends with people who hold these beliefs and I do occasionally challenge them on it. It does surprise me how steadfastly they hold to an idea that there’s no need for them as a Christian to hold on to and is so overwhelmingly disproven by science. While there are most definitely aspects of certain scientific conclusions that are worth questioning, that the earth is on the order of millions of years old instead of a few thousand, is beyond the pale. Dawkins is right to criticize them.

Here’s the thing: Many religious are not fundamentalist, myself included. Dawkins pretends to make the concession that not all religious are fundamentalists, but based on the reasoning he uses as the chapter continues, it’s clear that he views all religious as fundamentalists. If he’s going to hang his hat on the strawman of all religious think like the people who think the world is only 6,000 years old, he’s relying on something that is observably false. Many of us are open to evidence and do adjust our thoughts accordingly. What Dawkins is blind to is that his evidence/proofs of a lack of a God, as I’ve shown in my reviews to date, are not nearly as convincing as he thinks they are. That our conclusions based on the evidence are different from his does not indicate that our conclusions are not evidence based.

He shifts gears to a new group of extremists who he’s going to type-cast all religious into in his next section titled “The dark side of absolutism”. He speaks of the Muslim extremists who have committed numerous atrocities in the last 20 years, from 9-11 to the London bombings and beyond. No one will doubt how their extremist absolutism is trouble. But where he stretches too far, and he caries this idea into future sections, is that this is representative of all religions and Christianity in particular. He references the term “American Taliban” one of the most ridiculous ideas advanced by people like Dawkins. For the “American Taliban” all Dawkins can dig up is some over the top quotes from a few whack jobs who in no way properly reflect Christianity as a whole. More to the point, even these extremists are in practice non-violent. There is no example of a 9-11 that can be attributed to the “American Taliban”.

He continues building his case against the “American Taliban” in his next section titled “Faith and homosexuality”, again completely overlooking the difference between condemning an act as immoral and taking the law into ones own hands and rising to violence. He quotes some more fringe characters like Fred Phelps (and again I submit that when someone is referencing people that are uniformly ostracized by Christians as an example of what the religion teaches, it shows how desperate they are to make an unjustified connection).

But all of this is just a lead up to what he clearly sees as the linchpin of his “proof” that extremist Muslims and mainstream Christians come from the same fiber. The next section is titled “Faith and the sanctity of human life”. After a couple pages of trying to create a moral framework for why abortion should be permitted (which basically boils down to as long as a fetus has a less developed nervous system than a cow, it’s OK to kill them), he gets down to the real reason he delves into abortion: abortion clinic bombings.

See, for him, this is the proof that the “American Taliban” is every bit as bad as the Muslim Taliban. It’s his one example (and remember my thoughts earlier about Galileo and only having one example) that proves his point. In fact, when one looks at Christianity as a whole, it proves just the opposite, as I’ll demonstrate.

There were admittedly a string of Christian sourced violence in the late 80’s and early 90’s against abortion clinics and they resulted in a handful of deaths. It’s a tragic episode and one that doesn’t reflect well on Christians. However, here’s the key point: it stopped. The Christian leaders throughout America put the pressure on anti-abortion groups to stop the violence and it worked. Until George Tiller was murdered last year, an event that was again roundly criticized by Christian leaders, there had been a full decade without a single notable event and that was after another half decade where violence was on the decline. Not that the protests had stopped, far from it. But the resorting to violence had been effectively stopped.

So I ask you, what speaks more of us Christians? That there was a short period where over-passionate individuals went beyond their Christian calling and resorted to violence, or that Christians as a whole, despite finding abortion abhorrent, refused to allow the violence to continue? Compare that to what is happening with the complete lack of condemnation found in the Muslim community for the Islamic Extremists. There’s just no comparison. There is no “American Taliban”.

After a short section titled “The Great Beethoven Fallacy” which is about a false Internet rumor about Beethoven’s family and why by today’s standards he would have been aborted (OMG! A false Internet rumor! It must be the only one!), he wraps up the chapter with one final topic regarding absolutism/fundamentalism. The last section is titled “How ‘moderation’ in faith fosters fanaticism”. I had hoped that the section might give some good guidance as to ways more moderate religions unwittingly endorse fanaticism. As someone who’d prefer to not see my religious name pulled down in the mud by fundamentalists it would be valuable for me to know how to prevent that association from happening and additionally prevent myself from encouraging any fundamentalist activities. Instead the section was mostly about Muslim extremists and how fellow Muslims aren’t doing anything to stop it. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t claim to have a defense for Muslims.

Overall the chapter was a failed attempt to show how extremists/fundamentalists are really par for the course in religion. He fails entirely to make his point. As a Catholic, I can say with confidence we are not fundamentalists and we never endorse violence. To give Dawkins some credit, he has occasionally specifically pointed our how some charge he is going to make (for example the inconsistency of the death penalty/abortion) doesn’t apply to Catholics. Nevertheless, despite making these occasional concessions, he never seems to appreciate the consequence of those concessions. It means that not all religious are fundamentalists. If fundamentalists were all he had a problem with, I’d concede the point. But it’s not. He takes his points that come from extremist and fundamentalist examples and applies it to all religions and all religious people.

I will give Dawkins this. While philosophically against Christian fundamentalists, I’ve perhaps not frequently enough condemned their falsehoods. I’m a naturally confrontational person and so a strive to force myself to limit my confrontations. Unlike the Muslim situation where actual violence results from insufficient condemnation, it didn’t seem as necessary to condemn those who take a fundamentalist view of the Bible, particularly in a public setting. However, if Dawkins and others are going to try and put that millstone around my neck, I think it’s important that all Catholics be stronger about distancing themselves from that sort of viewpoint.

On to Chapter 9…

TGD – Chapter 7

Monday, May 31st, 2010

As much as I have disagreed with Dawkins conclusions up until Chapter 7, I’ve found most of it to be a reasonable read. He’s been working through reasonable points, addressing relevant rebuttals, making at least some of the necessary concessions. All in all I’ve been impressed, particularly chapters 3-6.

But in Chapter 7 Dawkins loses all of his built up credibility and goes off the deep end.

For a man who’s clearly as intelligent as he is, he’s remarkably blinded by his rage against religion and how it compromises his intellect and his integrity. While he was discussing topics about advancing atheistic thoughts, as was the majority case for chapters 3-6, he was rational and reasonable. But in Chapter 7 he returns to picking on the religious and frankly falls into a rage filled tirade that is neither rational nor reasonable.

He starts off the chapter with two sections on scripture, one on the old testament and one on the new testament. These two sections are either the results of massive ignorance on his part or a purposeful desire to be deceptive. Frankly, either scenario is a discredit to him. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse when one is writing a book on the subject.

His point is that no one actually follows the moral lessons of the bible because it teaches lessons that everyone from the religious to the atheist finds abhorrent. He then cherry picks passages, both taking them massively out of context and making entirely the opposite conclusion on the lesson to be learned from those passages. At first I had intended to rebut all of them but he chose to use a shotgun approach and the work to rebut all of them is more than I care to invest. Instead I’ll pick on just one: Abraham and Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the value of obedience, even when it seems abhorrent to do so. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his cherished and only son to see how loyal Abraham is to God. When Abraham makes it clear that he’ll follow through on the command, God tells him to stop and tells Abraham it was a test that he passed.

But the key point as far as discrediting Dawkins is that sacrificing a son is fully understood to be an abhorrent thing in the scripture. I would go so far to say that this act was chosen for the story specifically BECAUSE it was abhorrent. So while Dawkins is off claiming the Bible says it’s OK to sacrifice one’s son, that exact story shows how the Bible says nothing of the sort. In fact, it reinforces the opposite.

The whole section is full of these kinds of deceptions that to the scripturally uneducated may sound plausible when they are in fact utter deceptive refuge. From confusing stating what happened with moral approval of the events to purposely misstating the point of the lessons, Dawkins shows himself to be amazingly in error. To show an example from the new testament:

Dawkins suggests that Christianity is anti-family based on the passage that states, “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and siters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Now ask yourself, is Christianity anti-family? Of course not. Just by a casual observation of Christianity it’s clear that it is very pro-family. Instead of Dawkins being willing to admit that this is not the case and asking a Christian what to make of a passage like this (of which the point is that love for God must be above everything, not that we aren’t to love our families), he just continues on a rage infested tirade of deceptiveness.

I plead of all who don’t know scripture well to not take ANYTHING Dawkins says about scripture, particularly in this chapter as representative of what Jews and Christians make of scripture. Instead ask one of us who know. Feel free to leave a question in the comment box if need be, but whatever you do, don’t take his HIGHLY biased view of scripture as at all reflective of what scripture actually says. What he says is just garbage. He’s both completely wrong about what scripture says and then mistakenly assumes that means we don’t follow the bible (since it in his opinion says things it clearly doesn’t).

Don’t take his bait. Ask someone who knows.

Moving on, the third section of the chapter is titled “Love Thy Neighbor” and it starts off with a few more ridiculous scriptural examples that I think shows that Dawkins just couldn’t stop when he wrapped up his sections on the topic. But then he calms down a bit and gets to some more interesting points.

He starts off talking about religion being a divisive force but then makes a few concessions about a fair number of religious conflicts really not being about religion but about politics. He sites the example of the long lasting conflicts in Ireland. It’s an important concession, although based on future statements in the chapter I don’t think he fully absorbs the point himself.

What he goes on to say is that religion allows us to label one another and that’s one significant problem with it. He talks about how religious schools do that in particular and points to this. He admits that labeling would probably happen anyway, but still sees it as problematic. Then he goes on to talk about pressure to marry within the religion and how this furthers it.

There is some truth to his point about labels, but as he said, we’d just find different labels (and in fact we do as one can see how the “red state vs. blue state” thing works out in the US). Nevertheless, I wanted to spend a second and suggest why it is still a wise thing for people to marry within their faith. Marriage requires two people who are on the same page about so many things. Interfaith marriages, and to be clear, I mean truly interfaith, where both people believe and live by different religious convictions and not just too people who are more secular than religious but happen to come from different religious backgrounds, are without a doubt some of the most stressed marriages. I would always suggest to someone of faith that they marry within their faith, not because I’m trying to win some identity and loyalty war, but because I want people to enter into marriages where neither of them are put in a position where they must violate either their religious tenets or the vows of their marriage, which is what a true interfaith marriage will almost always require.

Having built up this crumbling foundation of “the religious don’t even follow the bible”, he continues on to his next section, titled “The Moral Zeitgeist”. His point is that morality, since based on the foundation he laid he can safely show it doesn’t come from religion, comes from society’s general consensus of the era. His proof of this is two-fold: First, that atheists share a common set of beliefs about what is moral (basically a re-statement of what he said in the previous chapter (and my rebuttal)). Second how morality has changed over time.

He talks about how things have changed. How we’ve gone from a world with slavery to a world where women can vote and are treated as equals. He spends a fair amount of time showing examples of this, but since we all agree that things have changed, I feel no need to elaborate on those examples. He is of course right that there have been many changes, but his conclusions are wrong. Despite his futile claims in the chapter that voices of the religious like Martin Luther King were no more important than “non-religious” voices like Jackie Robinson, he’s entirely wrong. Both the slavery freedom movement and the black equality movement in the 50’s and 60’s were faith driven movements and history bears this out. The woman’s right movement is a bit more nebulous, but their appeals to equality derive entirely from the Christian ideal of equality of everyone “slave or free, jew or gentile, man or woman.”

He wraps up the chapter with a section titled “What About Hitler and Stalin? Weren’t they Atheists?” and it’s a defense of the charges I made in my Chapter 6 review of the evils done by atheists, particularly in the 20th century.

His defense is that one has to not only determine whether they were atheists but also whether they were motivated by their atheism, which is true enough (in fact I wish were more willing to make the same analysis/conclusion in regards to supposedly religious evils). But oddly, he then goes on to admit that Stalin was both an atheist and also motivated by his hatred for religion, so I’m not quite sure why the above premise helps his cause.

He spends far more time on Hitler and toys with the idea that Hitler was really Catholic and pulls out some collaborating quotes. Then he backs away from it, knowing the absurdity of it. He’s used this technique a number of times now, where he suggests an idea, puts out some quotes to justify it and then backs away from it saying something like “nobody knows for sure” or “I’m not saying this was necessarily the case” and it’s as tiring as it is wasteful of his reader’s time. How about not advancing a point you’re freely going to admit can’t be justified later?

But I think it points to a bigger issue, Dawkins ability to use quotes to be deceptive. When he can drag out quotes that seem to support an idea that even he won’t support, that sound as convincing as they do, shouldn’t that make you question all the rest of his quotes?

The key point to make however is that Hitler was most definitely motivated by a popular scientific motive of the era: Eugenics. No matter how much Dawkins can try and wiggle around it and toy with the idea that Hitler was Catholic, the fact is that his largest horror was motivated by the idea of racial purity, an entirely scientific ideal of the early 20th century that was a corrupt out-growth of Darwinistic thought, that entities like the Catholic Church condemned from the get-go. I encourage anyone who wants to know more about Hitler, eugenics, WWII and the Catholic Church read “Hitler, the War, and the Pope” by Ronald J. Rychlak. It’s meticulously footnoted, backing up all of his footnotes (quite unlike TGD, by the way) and very informative. After reading it you’ll have a much better understanding of the relationship of Hilter and the Catholic Church and you’ll realize how much Dawkins is “toying” with an utterly absurd idea.

I fear for what Chapter 8 will be like as it is titled “What’s So Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?” There’s no doubt he is hostile. I just hope his explanation isn’t as ignorant and deceptive as Chapter 7.

TGD – Chapter 6

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Chapter 5 is titled “The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?” and is about whether or not morality is affected by a belief in God.

He starts out with a long tirade with quotes of all the Christians who’ve sent him and other atheists hate mail. He does this in a feeble attempt to show we’re all hypocrites, but again, it falls under the same category of problem so much of his writing has: finding a few idiots does not mean we’re all that way. I’ve seen just, if not more, viscous language in atheists attacks on Christians on various websites, particularly in the comment sections of Christian blogs (BTW, I’m thankful no one has resorted to that here, although perhaps the size of my readership (hi mom!) has something to do with that). Surely Dawkins wouldn’t suggest those idiots represent him?

After that off topic ramble, he settles down and gets to the point of how morality could be a result of natural selection. He makes some compelling points how certain aspects of morality can result in higher reproduction and survival rates and therefore can be easily explained by natural selection. He spends a fair amount of time on symbiotic species and how they both benefit from each other and applies that theory to humans.

From there he continues on to case studies about morality where simple scenarios are posed to people and they’re asked what is the more moral choice. The simple one is that we have a train roaring down the track and it’s going to kill 5 people who are stuck on it, but a person can change the switch so the train goes to a different track and only kill one person. The question, obviously, is universally answered that it’s OK if not imperative that the switch is made. But complications are added to the question where pushing someone in front of the train could save the five, and again the answer is uniformly the same that it’s not OK to do that. He then adds in a few other variants with the same conclusion. He never really closes the door on the point, but he appears to be saying that the fact that the answer is universally the same suggests natural selection.

But is that necessarily true? Maybe it’s true because God has placed that sense of right or wrong in us and he does no matter whether we believe in Him or not. Going further, Dawkins never explains from a Darwinist perspective it makes sense that we all universally agree that it’s not appropriate to throw one person in front of the train to save five. Surely that will work out better for our survival as a species, yes?

From there he goes on to discuss why people would be good if there was no God. I completely agree with him that atheists can and want to be good people although his method for proving this seem odd to me. He talks about a police strike where mayhem broke loose and that there was no indication that atheists did worse than religions. He additionally makes the stressed conclusion that because Republican states tend to be Christian and they show no better signs of lower crime rates (amongst other things ignoring the difference between morals and crime). It appears he says all this to back up his earlier conclusions that morality comes from natural selection.

Although he does touch on it for a short moment, he otherwise seems to miss the bigger point that it is the definition of what is moral that religion has the inside scoop on. Particularly his crime=immoral assumptions show his lack of understanding here. If society has made prostitution legal, does that make it moral? The same for slavery or bigotry or any number of other things that are legal in certain places (or have been). What religion does is give us a higher moral calling than solely the survival and improvement of the species. Natural selection gives us no “why” for morality and thus we’re left blowing in the wind trying to “reverse engineer” it from what is best for the survival and improvement of the species, a task littered with problems.

Which brings me to the final point I wish to address. At a number of points throughout the chapter he returns to his pot-shots of the evils done in the name of religion. There’s no doubt that there are a number of examples for him to pick from, but at this time my point is that the opposite point can be made as well. Eugenics was an ENTIRELY scientist generated evil. I use this one in particular because he admits it to be an evil. But there are others from scientific experimentation on people, which science has promoted in the past, to more modern issues like euthanasia that are currently being promoted despite their clear immorality.

Religion in no way has a monopoly on evil. In fact it’s quite the contrary. The greatest evils of the 19th and 20th century were done by atheists, including the slaughter of millions in numerous atheistic regimes. Most complaints against religious that rise to the level of wholesale slaughter have to go back at least 300 years and in many cases are far more dubious claims than the examples of late.

It bears repeating: Religion in no way has a monopoly on evil. In fact it’s quite to the contrary.

On to Chapter 7…

TGD – Chapter 5

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Chapter 5 is titled “The Roots of Religion”. In all honesty I was expecting it to be a bunch of accusations of ancient liars and why they chose to deceive all of mankind. In fact, that was not at all what it was about.

Instead Dawkins sets out to answer a very important question. He readily admits that the prevalence of religion creates a hurdle that the Darwinian atheist must overcome. Because religion is prevalent, it is incumbent on them to come up with a plausible natural selection reason why religion is so ubiquitous.

He freely admits that the argument that religion can be “selection neutral” won’t suffice because religion takes so much time and effort that for the time alone there must be some offsetting factor.

He starts out with a few half hearted examples of direct advantages of religion. He mentions some study results that suggest religion helps with stress and reduces stress related death. He also mentions the placebo affect, that being told the God may heal you could help from a placebo effect perspective. But in the end you can tell these are half hearted and Dawkins doesn’t want to admit there are any direct advantages to religion. That wouldn’t help his cause.

Instead he focuses on two other theories.

The first is the idea of “group selection” which is a derivative of natural selection. If a group of people can instill characteristics in their people that helps that group survive whereas other groups wither away, those characteristics will survive. He mentions things like loyalty and being willing to die to protect the group, something that doesn’t help the individual but would help the group as being possible examples. But again, he doesn’t put too much weight in this theory either. Even this sort of a concession seems to trouble Dawkins.

Instead he moves on to the theory he puts the most weight in, that genetic characteristics can be tied together. He didn’t use this example, but one would be if red hair and high sperm counts were genetically tied, red hair people would be genetically superior even though there was no specific natural selection advantage to their red hair.

After a long explanation using moths that I thought could have been far more succinct (like my red hair example) he goes on to the hypothesis he backs which is that obedience is tied to religion and that obedience is a good trait for survival. He specifically mentions how obedience to one’s parents is a good thing (why do I suspect that he’ll be coming back to the parental obedience thing since he’s already played out the “we’re slaves to the religion of our parents” meme in earlier chapters?)

But again, he freely admits that he has no evidence of genetic linking of religion to obedience nor any scientific evidence that obedience, particularly to one’s parents, is a natural selection benefit. He also admits that he doesn’t feel compelled to actually know the specific answer of the genetic advantage whether it be direct, group, or associative. Merely the possibility that there is an answer is sufficient.

And I think that’s the thing that I find most strange, despite admiring his honesty. He’s spent a whole bunch of time criticizing what the religious person believes on faith, but then is seemingly oblivious to how many areas he has “faith” that an answer exists out there somewhere and he freely admits that he doesn’t have proof of it or even know what it is yet.

He seems to have this trend of wrapping of the chapter with some sort of an aside, ones I think Dawkins believes elaborates on his point. In this one he brings up the example of “Cargo Cults” which according to Dawkins are a group of small religions groups in the South Pacific who are very recent in time. His point seems threefold. One, that they’re idiots because they took the arrival of westerners as signs of an arriving diety. Two, that these religious groups have morphed their beliefs really quickly and any historicity of their claims of only 50 years ago are dubious. Three, that independently these groups have seemed to come up with similar themes to their religion.

Of course the fact that one religious group has done stupid things is no more proof of the existence or non existence of God nor the wisdom of any other religion than the fact that there have been a plethora of scientists who have advanced theories that have turned out turned out to be incorrect proves that God doesn’t exist. Nevertheless he somehow sees this as a significant data point for some reason beyond my grasp.

On to Chapter 6…

TGD – Chapter 4

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Chapter 4 is the first chapter where Dawkins changes his tactic from attacking religion to defending atheism, although one can’t exactly blame him for that considering the title of the book. It’s pretty obvious what the book is going to focus on.

The chapter is titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, although I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. It would be more properly titled “A Perfectly Reasonable Alternative To God”. I say this because the theory he lays out is not one that excludes the possibility of God but merely shows that it’s possible that we exist without God.

He lays his groundwork in his first two sections of the chapter titled “The Ultimate Boeing 747″ and “Natural Selection as a consciousness-raiser”. The point is to say the atheist must have a solution to the problem of how complexity comes from simplicity without the help of a designer. He goes on to show how Darwin’s work gave us a pathway for that. Natural selection shows us how biological life can transition from simplicity to complexity without a designer. He spends quite a bit of time explaining the significance of this breakthrough.

He’s very much right that it does show us an example of how it’s possible that God doesn’t exist, but natural selection could be aided by a super-natural being, couldn’t it? At a minimum, natural selection requires that random mutations of genes create diversity. Isn’t it at least a possibility that the randomness is not so random as it would seem? This says nothing of God interfering with the process of who is able to continue their lives to the point where they successfully reproduce.

I bring this up because one of the mistakes of the scientist is to assume a natural process is without divine interference without exception. Which is fine as far as defining natural processes go. But finding that natural process that works seemingly without exception does not mean that God could not interfere with it nor that He hasn’t interfered with it in the past. Point being, finding a natural process for how something works does not prove that God could not interfere with it.

The third section is a bit longer. It’s titled “Irreducible complexity” and it’s about refuting specific examples sited by some as examples where natural selection wouldn’t work. (I’m assuming the reader understands the concept of “irreducible complexity” which basically means that there’s no way for natural selection to get from step A to step B.) But he spends most of the section picking on articles in the Watchtower magazine or pamphlets.

Watchtower is put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and is about as credible a source as most campaign literature about the opponent. The fact that Dawkins uses this as a valid point to rebut is laughable and seriously undermines his credibility. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very small minority group, are roundly criticized for their wacky beliefs and shoddy logic by almost all Christian groups (it’s one of those rare things that almost all Protestants from Evangelicals to Episcopals, Catholics and Orthodox call all agree on. Flatly stated, you don’t use them as representative of anything but JW’s beliefs.

Which leads to Dawkins next section titled “The worship of gaps” where he tries to change the battlefield. He realizes that theists have turned the table on him with irreducible complexity. When it’s just “God vs. Science” (and please don’t forget that I flatly reject that premise; I’m stating it as Dawkins, not my own) Science has a bit of an upper hand because they get to poke 1,000 holes in God and every one blunted by theists does nothing to stop the other pokes. Irreducible complexity creates the opposite scenario where the theist can try to poke 1,000’s of holes and the scientist has to try and stop or plug everyone one of them.

So Dawkins attempts to change the playing field by stating that going for these gaps is a “fundamentally unscientific way to proceed”. He delves deeper into the ideas he brought up in the consciousness-raiser section that what natural selection does is not just show a solution to one example of complexity from simplicity, but also that it shows it’s possible for that to happen and therefore, even thought we may not know the method for other areas today, it is possible that we’ll find an answer for the simplicity to complexity problem sometime later.

While I agree with him that it does raise the possibility, possibility does not equate to proven, which is the leap he seems to make.

This is where I will further agree with him: He brings up examples of people who purposely make themselves ignorant because the “gaps” to allow for room for God. He’s right that there are people who are afraid what science may discover and it’ll close the gaps and squeeze out God. For those people, they purposely want ignorance and they fear science. He’s right that many of those people exist and he’s right that purposeful ignorance is never the right way to live, nor for the scientist to make progress.

But here’s where he’s got it wrong: Those people are not all religious people, they are a subset. There’s TONS of religious people who want to discover. Those people are interested in investigating what’s in the gaps as much as anyone, unlike those who’d like to leave the gaps alone and call that God. As I showed with biological natural selection, it’s both very possible that it’s the way things work and that it’s guided by God.

The chapter finishes out, minus one final section, with a couple sections that go beyond Dawkins area of scientific expertise to talk about what might be options for the equivalent of natural selection outside of biology. I want to give Dawkins a lot of credit for these two sections because he’s very fair in stating that these are just hypotheses and is quite clear in stating that there are no firm answers in these areas. He freely admits scientists don’t yet understand. It takes a noble man to admit the areas he doesn’t have an answer.

His point is that he doesn’t need one, at least not yet. The whole point of the buildup about the gaps and natural selection was that the gaps shouldn’t trouble the atheist, we know that it’s possible and that’s all we need to know. To admit that there are gaps is not to admit that there is a God. Dawkins is right about this. So while he throws out a couple ideas for the “Six Numbers”, something I didn’t know anything about until I read this chapter, he’s quite upfront that they’re just ideas.

But going back to a point I made in my earlier rebukes of whether science will ever answer to whether God exists, the trouble I have with the whole premise is that he’s asking everyone to suspend their belief in God for all eternity while infinite resources and infinite time are spent “filling the gaps”. Just the possibility that the gaps may all be filled some day is enough for him to declare “there is almost certainly no God.” And that’s what I most take exception to. Ignoring all of the evidence provided by miracles and the such, it’s possible that God doesn’t exist and a purely natural explanation will be found for everything. It’s also possible there’s certain areas where no answer can be found for how complexity came from simplicity. Why should his predisposition be given the benefit of the doubt?

Effectively the best answer he can give is that the religious attitude encourages us to worship the gaps and thus encourages ignorance. Ignoring that the number of religious who are inquisitive and desire answers makes his assertion patently and observably not true, it’s also no justification for why we should be predisposed to his viewpoint any more than statistics that show religious people are more charitable are scientific proof that God exists.

The final section is titled “An interlude at Cambridge” which is appropriately titled because one wonders why he puts it here or what point he’s trying to make other than pat himself on the back or defend his appearance at the conference (which he spends fully half the section on) which appears to have been organized by people who were biased towards faith. Since I know nothing of the conference, I didn’t get much from the section.

Overall, this was one of Dawkins most cohesive and rational chapters. He sets out to make a number of points and for the most part makes them, minus some overstating of the conclusions. From reading it I get the feeling that Dawkins would be far more convincing sticking to positive arguments for atheism than his rage-filled rants against believers that has been filled with stereotypes, bigotry and half-truths. Sadly, based on the table of contents we’re back to attacking faith in Chapter 5.

TGD – Chapter 3

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Chapter 3 of The God Delusion is titled “Arguments for God’s Existence” and is theoretically a point-by-point rebuttal of all the arguments for God. I say theoretically because as with much of the book so far, his ability to stick to a point to its conclusion is amazingly weak and it results in not rounding out any particular point. Furthermore he doesn’t address a number of arguments for God although Dawkins should be given some slack for that because making a comprehensive defense of every attack can unnecessarily bog things down. I get the feeling the meat of his point is not to rebut arguments for God but to make arguments against, and that is planned for future chapters.

In the case of this chapter, he starts off by addressing Thomas Aquinas’ proofs. He manages to explain and retort them, at least to his satisfaction, in 3 pages. Anyone who thinks they can sufficiently explain what Aquinas had to say in 3 pages (mind you this book is formatted similar to a novel, not a textbook) without creating a mere shell (or should I say strawman?) of what Aquinas said, is lying to themselves.

As can be expected from that short of a section, he doesn’t provide a good rebuttal. What is surprising is that he doesn’t even provide a good rebuttal to his overly simplistic summary of Aquinas’ work. His argument is basically that the God Aquinas is arguing for, is not necessarily a “personal” God. Dawkins is right about this, Aquinas’ proofs do not attempt to prove that. But what Dawkins seems oblivious to is the concept of laying a foundation. Once you’ve proven there must be SOME SORT of God, that’s a foundation that the rest can be built upon. Once you know he exists, then you can try to find out more about what He’s like.

But after 3 pages of his 30 page chapter he’s done with all a-posteriori arguments having believed he’s dispatched Aquinas. He then goes on to address a-priori arguments. I’m not a philosopher at heart and neither is Dawkins. He spends about 6 pages flying through a number of philosophically minded arguments from Anselm to Diderot and a number in between, but I get the feeling that Dawkins is as interested in them as I am. He’s a scientist at heart, not a philosopher, as am I.

The next argument he tackles is that of beauty which is not much worth commenting on as it’s really an abstraction of the points Dawkins will make further on.

The next three sections are titled “The Argument from Personal ‘Experience'”, “The Argument from Scripture” and “The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists”. Even though the scripture section is in between the other two, I’m going to address it separately because the other two sections are mirror images of each other.

The first section is entirely about discounting religious experiences and his argument is effectively “the mind can play tricks on you”. Which is no doubt the truth in a number of circumstances. What is remarkable to me is that he turns around in the section on scientists and spends a bunch of time asserting that the vast majority of scientists are atheists, assumably because it disproves God (although he doesn’t say so explicitly). There’s no escaping the basic premise that he’s making: Regular people are dumb and scientists are smart.

So far, if there’s on unifying theme to this book, this is it. Regular people are dumb, the scientific method is infallible, and scientists are the only ones smart enough to see that.

Of particular note in this regard is his addressing of the miracle at Fatima. (A quick side note, I write these posts as I read, and don’t read more until I’ve written all the posts I desire for each chapter. So I didn’t know he’d be addressing Fatima when I wrote of it in my last post on TGD.) While Dawkins admits that it’s harder to “write off” 70,000 people and their shared vision, he still dismisses it. His basic argument is it’s impossible “that the Earth was suddenly yanked sideways in its orbit, and the solar system destroyed, with nobody outside Fatima noticing.”

I’ve met no one nor read any account that’s claimed that’s what happened at Fatima, that the sun and earth left their orbits.

All that is claimed is that it appeared that way. The fact that the sun and the earth actually stayed in their orbit is in fact, a part of the miracle. How did these people come to see this? Science has no answer. They’ve got no theory, much less any proof of a theory, that suggests the incident was a natural occurrence. The best Dawkins can do to refute it is to say the sun and earth remained in its orbit. It’s laughable.

Laugable or not, it’s angering in that he gives people no credit. When he heard a voice whispering to him as a kid, he got up and investigated and determined that it was just an artifact of the wind through his house. Is he so naive to think that when others hear a voice they don’t do the same thing? Apparently. He specifically credits his not being “impressionable” for the reason that whispering voice didn’t fool him.

Does he think those 70,000 people at Fatima wouldn’t consider what possible natural explanations could explain what they saw? Of course they do, but Dawkins just thinks they’re all too “impressionable”, all 70,000 of them, to consider what natural explanations there might be.

Dawkins laughs at the organization in the Vatican who’s job it is to investigate the validity of miracles because he assumes its job is to promote whatever any nutjob tells them is a miracle. What he doesn’t realize is that the fact that the Vatican has such an organization is proof that we DON’T take claims of a miracle lightly. We’ve got a whole organization to make sure the claim is defensible. Many a religious organization has had their hopes crushed when the Vatican has declared this miracle or the other a fake. From the grilled cheese Virgin Mary to at least one of the miracles ascribed to Pope John Paul II, many of the claimed miracles are shot down as being fakes.

But to Dawkins we’re just all dolts who wouldn’t think to question anything while he and his fellow scientists are the noble objective ones who aren’t so “impressionable”.

Moving on, perhaps the tying theme that has Dawkins putting his scripture section in between the personal experience and the scientist section is the “regular people are dumb” argument. In the scripture section he’s back to his bungee jumping in and out of various topics, scoffing all the way along, without spending sufficient time on any to make a point. Between the half truths of a proper understanding of scripture and the misrepresentations of what is actually in scripture, there’s not much in this chapter of note, although I’m sure to the scripturally ignorant it’ll seem convincing. If I have time I’ll make a separate post about these scriptural claims.

I will give Dawkins one thing, in regards to scripture, there are plenty of believers who haven’t read it nor understand how to properly interpret it. I, just like Dawkins, would like them to learn more about scripture so as to not make false assertions about God based on a poor understanding of scripture. He’s right that a lot of people take certain things in scripture as the literal truth when they were never intended as such and any passing understanding of reality makes that interpretation of scripture ludicrous. Nevertheless, that some mishandle the Bible does not prove that the Bible is not valid.

The next to last section of the chapter is about Pascal’s wager, that it’s safer to bet on God than against Him (i.e. if non-believers are right, the religious lose nothing after death, but if believers are right, the non-believers lose everything). Dawkins is right to suggest that it isn’t a proof of anything, and I doubt Pascal would disagree with him. It’s merely a way to encourage people to open their mind to faith. He also spends a fair amount of time suggesting Pascal is asking people to be hypocrites, to pretend to believe, but I think that’s taking too shallow a view of Pascal.

The final section is on some recent attempts to use the same sort of logic in the Drake’s equation to determine whether God exists. Dawkins is right to suggest that the answer that comes out has more to do with the person asking the questions than the questions themselves, but I find it interesting that Dawkins at least appears less critical in the extraterrestrial life case that Drake presents than he seems here. In either case, it’s not an area where either side can put much stock and Dawkins argument is a reasonable one.

Overall the chapter is about what I expected, setting up strawmen and arguing against them. What became most clear to me in this chapter is Dawkins general disgust of regular people as separate from scientists. The mind can play tricks on everyone but the scientists it appears. Whether it be his off hand comments like “admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true.” (as if no scientist have ever mistaken the truth for what they wanted to be true) to his dismissing the testimony of literally billions of people, including people he otherwise admits are smart people, there’s no disguising his disgust.

On to Chapter 4… (perhaps with a detour to rebut his specific scriptural claims before that)

TGD – Chapter 2

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I’ve finished Chapter 2 and I’m glad to report that Dawkins settles down somewhat in the 2nd half of the chapter and sticks to a point for more than a sentence or two.

As mentioned before, the chapter starts with sections on polytheism and monotheism where Dawkins is all over the place. The best summary I can make for these two sections, and apologies to Dawkins if this was not at all his point, but that one religion is as condemnable as the next, they’re all the same. Since he’s most familiar with Christianity, he’ll be using it as the “template” for disproving all religions. If this is the point he’s trying to make, it’s a difficult one to tease out because it’s obscured by his general scoffing at religion and Christianity in particular.

He settles down somewhat in the next section to talk about the Founding Fathers of America and makes an argument for their being more secular than anything else. He means this in the political sense more so than the religious sense, but he also spends some time to show them as perhaps Deists instead of Christians and perhaps some of them as far as atheists. I suspect his point is to try and tear down some of the foundation of Christians and I suspect for some Christians his points would do that. There is no doubt a thread of “America is the New Holy Land” and the Founding Fathers are its prophets, in American Protestantism, which is most specifically evident in the Mormons, but I feel no angst in seeing that torn down.

However, he goes one step further in that section to suggest that the American political system has turned from healthy secularism to a quasi-democratic theocracy over the centuries and the Founding Fathers would be mortified. With this I must object. Anyone who reads the daily headline knows that American politics is becoming more non-religious every year since the 60’s (at a minimum). Instead of looking at the big picture, Dawkins focuses on the near requirement that a presidential candidate be religious. While I think he stretches that point too far, I will concede that it is true that the American electorate does care about the religious beliefs of their politicians. This is still something entirely different that suggesting that America wants those politicians to implement a theocracy. The number of characteristics that the electorate want from their politicians that has nothing to do with what legislation the electorate wants advanced is longer than this blog could catalog.

The next section of the chapter is on agnosticism, which Dawkins divides into two camps: TAP, a form that remains agnostic “temporarily” while the evidence is being compiled and PAP, a form that asserts that one can NEVER know the answer to a question. He uses the example of Carl Sagan in regards to alien life and how he is agnostic to it while research is being done but that Sagan believes that someday we can have the answer to the question.

It’s a reasonable distinction, but this is where Dawkins goes terribly wrong and I fear this false premise will be foundational for the rest of the book. He asserts that TAP is the only reasonable form of religions agnosticism because God’s existence is a scientific question that can be answered. That’s complete hogwash. However, it’s a complex enough point that a full rebuttal is required and you should expect that in a separate post so as to not make the chapter summary overly lengthy.

Nevertheless, this false premise is the foundation for the rest of the chapter. He next addresses the idea of Non Overlapping MAgisterium, or NOMA for short, that science has one set of expertise that does not overlap with the entirely separate expertise that is religion. He rightly asserts that NOMA is a result of the PAP mindset, that science can’t speak to religion. He further asserts that this doesn’t make any sense for two reasons. The first is that theologians have no expertise in anything and therefore there is no magisterium for them to promote. His basic justification for this, although it is stated implicitly, is that science can answer any question and if it can’t nobody else can. The second, and now that I think of it, it’s just a correlary of the first, is that theologians will gladly use the realm of science when it meets their ends. If they can “cross over”, why can’t the scientist? Or at least that’s Dawkins question.

Dawkins finishes out the chapter with three sections, each of which are examples of this principle in his mind. The first is on the “great prayer experiment” where scientists had people pray for sick individuals to see if it was efficacious. The experiment turns out as he would hope with no benefit at all. That said, he’s less concerned with the results of the experiment than with the idea that you can make a scientific experiment out of a religious proposition. It’s a proof point to him that science can answer these questions. I’ll fully expose the errors of that in the upcoming post.

The second of these final three sections is on what he calls “The Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists” where he picks on scientists who tend to agree with NOMA. This is one of his less coherent sections where the best I can do to summarize it is to say he’s encouraging scientists to deny NOMA because some religious people do from the opposite end. Over stating Dawkins point a bit, this is a war and no Switzerland’s will be permitted.

Finally, to wrap up the chapter he returns to the example of agnosticism regarding life elsewhere in the galaxy in two ways. First he shows how we’re slowly removing the agnosticism of it through SETI’s work and refinement of the Drake equation (although he reasonably admits there’s a long way to go). This is obviously another attempt to further the idea that the same can be said of God’s existence. Secondly he goes to the idea that a vastly superior alien race would seem God-like to us. Amongst other things he suggests this is a big part of the reasons native populations around the world converted to Christianity, because the western Christian’s technology seemed God-like to them. I’ll ignore that stupid canard because it’s just a distraction long-term. But then he poses this question “In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods?” And his answer is profoundly accurate:

In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and gold-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, the didn’t start that way.

He’s absolutely right (although he makes all the wrong conclusions). God is very different from that which seems god-like in the world and it is entirely God’s non-evolution that makes Him so special. Otherwise he’d just be another material creation. However God is far greater than that.

Dawkins seems to think this a compelling point for his side and suggests this will be central to Chapter 4. But Chapter 3 is first and it is about tearing down the proofs for religion.

TGD – Chapter 1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I finished reading Chapter 1 last night.

The title of Chapter 1 is “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”. I had hoped that it might be a chapter on how his atheistic views were a different form of religion, and while he did feel around in the dark touching on the idea in tangential ways, it wasn’t the point.

The Chapter is split in two sections, the first titled “Deserved Respect” and the second titled “Undeserved Respect”.

“Deserved Respect” is mostly about Einstein’s lack of religion as most westerners define it. Dawkins basic point is that many scientists make references to God and when they do, they’re referring to something entirely different than your average person. He makes a fairly compelling point that Einstein was one of them and his point is that this is the norm. What people like Einstein are talking about when they talk of God is the creator, whoever that might be, but most definitely it is not a “personal God”, a God that has defined morals for humanity and is interested in how we each personally respond to that call from God. Einstein’s God is a creator and nothing more. He set the wheels in motion, created the matter, setup the laws of physics and then let her run. That was the end of God’s role.

And I guess as far as it goes, it’s good to differentiate between these two different views of God, and to specify what he is arguing against (the personal God, to use his term) and that which he has no qualms with (the disinterested Creator, my term).

However, it wouldn’t be Dawkins if he didn’t jumble in the middle of reasonable groundwork, a bunchf of errors. His biggest error, was in applying Einstien’s God, which I would suggest Dawkins does well proving that it was what Einstein believed, to all scientists. He suggested that all those scientists who go to church, don’t REALLY believe what those religions say and are just going for either family or cultural reasons.

While I’m sure there are plenty of examples of people that act that way, and they need not be scientists, what in fact he’s doing is projecting what he wants to believe for all scientists who aren’t on his side, based on some anecdotal information, as if because Einstein was that way and Dawkins was that way at one time (he doesn’t go to church at all any more), it must be true of all scientists.

There is a particular example that shows just how blind he is and how much he’s forcing a confirmation bias. He speaks of an unnamed friend’s who is Jewish and his discussions with him. Dawkins admits that when he pressed said friend to admit “the truth” he couldn’t get him to. Instead his friend told him that his Jewish faith helps him have good morals. Dawkins insists this is proof of his point, his friend doesn’t REALLY believe, he’s just doing it for moral reasons. Could he really be so ignorant to see that his friend just doesn’t want to make a scene and instead of getting into a pissing match with Dawkins and is defusing the situation? Dawkins needs to accept his friends refusal to admit that there is no personal God on it’s face and he refuses to.

In any case, the point of this first part of the chapter appears to lay the groundwork that he has nothing against the disinterested creator that some call God and that the rest of the book is about attacking the “personal God” not the disinterested creator.

“Undeserved Respect”, the second half of the chapter, is about how there is far too much deference to religion in society. It tiptoes around the idea that the reason that he’s bringing it up in this groundwork laying chapter, is because he wants to say that he’s not doing this to offend anyone. At the same time, he doesn’t come out and say it because, and this is my inference, he’s honest enough with himself to know that actually fully intends to “offend” in the sense that he’s telling us we’re hugely misled, and how can that not offend?

The overall point though is that he feels that society shuns debate and conversation and he doesn’t think that’s appropriate. I’d agree with him if that was the extent of the point. Religion is a topic that deserves a vigorous debate and there are certain segments of society that don’t think it should be discussed.

But Dawkins sticks to his trend of looking at things through what he thinks is a wide lens but in fact is a very narrow one. He entirely blames this shunning of debate on the religious when in fact there are components on both sides. Sure there are those that are religious who think they’ve got the right to see their faith unquestioned, but at the same time there are those who refuse to allow any religions discussion in the “public square”. “Oh no no!”, they say. “You’ve brought up God and therefore you’re not allowed to be a part of this debate. Arguments that include discussions of God are not allowed, particularly when we’re talking about the general public or more specifically politics!”

Furthering his lack of rigor, he sites two examples as if they’re examples of the same thing, one about Christians fighting for their right to be heard in the public debate and the other about Muslims attempting to shutdown discussion. I wish I was making that up, but that’s exactly what the two examples are, but he suggests they’re both about religious people shutting down discussion.

He first brings up the Christian example. He starts by talking about how bad discrimination is and how society should shut it down (which I think we could all agree with him). Then he goes on to talk about how a Christian fought for the right to wear a T-Shirt at school that said “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder.” He suggests that this is an example of Christian discrimination.

I don’t know why I feel the need to make this obvious, but discrimination is an act, not a statement. You can say whatever you want, and not discriminate. It’s when you refuse to do something based on a bias that you’ve actually discriminated. So, if I had a rental property that I was going to rent and I chose to not rent it to a homosexual, THAT would be discrimination. The fact that I confirm that I think homosexual acts are sinful, that is not discrimination.

But going even further, can he not see how preventing people from wearing that shirt is shutting down debate, not increasing it? Sure, he doesn’t like what the other side of the debate says, but it is in fact debate. It’s another example where Dawkins is like all those people who think debate is only allowed on the topics THEY want to debate. On the rest, “the science is settled” and no debate will be allowed.

Then he goes into the example of the 12 Islamic cartoons that created a bunch of controversy 5+ years ago. Muslims burned down Christian Churches, threatened the life of the cartoonists and did all other sorts of thuggery. He’ll get no debate from me that this was unacceptable and the media’s cowardice was troubling.

But the fact that he equates the two examples as if they have anything to do with one another in their cause or that they’re even examples of the same thing, is what is truly troubling.

On to Chapter 2…