Archive for the 'Summaries' Category

TGD – Frustrated by Chapter 2

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I was reading Chapter 2 last night and I was very frustrated by it. Ultimately I stopped reading about half way through the chapter because I just wasn’t getting what Dawkins was trying to say.

And let me be perfectly clear… It wasn’t that I disagreed with what he was saying, I didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. The chapter is titled “The God Hypothesis” and it’s broke down into subsections titled “Polytheism”, “Monotheism”, “Secularism, the Founding Fathers and the religion of America”, “The poverty of agnosticism” and that’s as far as I got. So I figured he’d be laying out what the basic hypothesis of polytheism, monotheism, secularism and agnosticism were, so that he could pick them apart.

But he does nothing of the sort.

The polytheism section was mostly about Christianity, trying to show how it was at least in some ways polytheistic. The monotheism section was mostly about the tax exempt status of churches (specific post on this topic coming shortly) and the secularism was mostly a bunch of quotes of selective founding fathers scoffing at religion.

And I feel bad summarizing it that way because he said a number of other things in those sections, but it’s ALL over the map. He doesn’t stick to a single point long enough to drive any meaningful point home. I didn’t much bring it up in the preface and even in Chapter 1 because I wanted to be forgiving of it since it’s common early in a book to lay out a little bit of everything and then get into each point in more detail later.

We’re in the meat of the book now and he’s still unable to stick to a single point for more than a couple sentences and I have to tease out some meta point from amongst the jumping around.

If that weren’t enough to be frustrating, those here today gone tomorrow points are often grossly misleading. I’ll give two examples:

1. In the section on polytheism, he speaks of all the names we Catholics give Mary. Our Lady of Lourdes, our Lady of Fatima, etc. and then suggests that this is an example of the polytheistic nature of Catholicism. But yet their just different names for the same person. They’re ALL MARY!?! That’s not even to get into the reality that Mary isn’t God in Catholic teaching, yet another point that he bungee jumps in and out of without any meaningful defense of his position. One could attempt to make the argument that Catholics treat Mary in a godlike fashion and, although wrong, at least have some credibility to the argument. But the splitting out of the various names given to Mary, and citing it as an example of polytheism, that’s just stupid.

2. He also speaks of the Arian heresy. For those not in the know, Arian was one of a number of heretics who didn’t believe in the Trinity and specifically that Jesus was fully God and fully Human. Again, a reasonable argument could be made against the Trinity (and Dawkins does scoff at the Trinity, but just like other topics, doesn’t make any coherent argument for why it’s wrong other than to scoff) or the dual nature of Christ. But Dawkins doesn’t even attempt to do that. All he does is characterize the Arian heresy about being about disagreements ‘essence’ and ‘substance’. While those words are indeed used in the debates over Arian heresy, it entirely misses the larger point of the theological discussion.

I guess my overall point is that it’s very hard to follow a book that’s all over the place to begin with but it’s even harder when he’s not being intellectually honest about what he’s refuting.

But I shall persevere. I think I re-start from the beginning of Chapter 2. Perhaps my reading of the table of contents had me expecting something else than what he gives and that made it harder for me to follow.

TGD – What I’m expecting

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

(Note: As mentioned in my It’s Alive!?! post I’ll be reading and reviewing The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (TGD). Click on the Catholicism – The God Delusion category to see all of these posts, including this one.)

Here’s a quick overview of what I’m expecting based on what I’ve heard from others, before I’ve ever picked up the book:

I’m expecting a lot on all the evils done by religion and I’m expecting it to be highly Christianity focused, although I’m sure the recent evils of Islamic Jihadism will get some play as well. I thought of reading the book after a discussion online, ironically on a sports blog, where TGD was repeatedly referenced by numerous people for how convincing it was that religion wasn’t just benign but actually makes the world a worse place.

So I’m expecting lots of examples of the bad things done in the name of religion. I’m quite confident there will be no statistical analysis of how this compares to the evils done when no religion was involved (what a scientist would call a “control group”). I’m also quite confident there will be no attempt made to determine whether the evil was truly done as a result of religious conviction or whether it just happened to be done by people who are religious (what a scientist would call “causation”). I also expect that there will be no attempt to discover in cases where it was done “in the name of religion” if what was done was actually in line with the dogmas and doctrines of their religion or whether the individuals were mistaken as to what their religion teaches (another aspect of “causation”). Finally, for those cases where in fact the religion can actually be blamed, I suspect there will be no attempt to differentiate between religions, as if one religions theological errors are the fault of all religions (another example of lacking an appropriate “control group”), and further there will be no attempt to understand the rationale behind the move, that it will be analyzed through secular eyes as if that’s the only way to view the world.

In short, I’m expecting it, despite the authors claims, to be very short on logic and scientific analysis. Lots of assumptions will be made. Possibility sets will be artificially small (often because the author lacks the imagination to see additional possibilities). Generally speaking, there will be claims of scientific rigor, when in fact it will be completely lacking.

For the critical reader, they might be thinking that I’m starting the book making a lot of assumptions, which is quite true. This bias comes both from what I’ve heard about the book from all sides and how it leads me to believe that Dawkins fits a stereotype I have of the “arrogant scientific atheist”. I’ve talked with many people who more or less fit the stereotype, so it comes from personal experience, not 3rd party accusations. But more than that, it comes from from within me as I once could be properly labeled similarly. I personally know what it is to feel that God doesn’t exist and thinking that all religions and religious were barking made. I’ve been there. His arguments in principle won’t be foreign to me as I’ve likely made most of them, or at least a similarly minded one, in the past.

But thanks be to God he revealed Himself to me and I’ve been a fervent Catholic ever since.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mitigate that I go into this book with a bias and I won’t deny it. For those who would snicker at the thought, I’ll only justify it with this: I’m reading the book. Generally the charge leveled at those with a bias is that they refuse to consider other points of view. That would be justified if I stuck to my bias and refused to read it (note that there are other reasons besides bias not to read it such as time limitations, etc, so I don’t hold anything against those who don’t). But that is not the case. I am reading it. Frankly I hope that I’m surprised, that he gives religion its full due while defending atheists. There are those atheists out there who both think there is no God but also are fair enough in their mind to recognize the intellectually sound arguments for the other side and I’ve yet to find a book that communicates that.

That book would one everyone should read because it would help everyone understand exactly what is at stake, not what each side claims is at stake, which is generally artificially skewed favorably in their direction, at least as far as the public perception goes. It would help people understand what is indeed fact and what must be filled in with belief, whether that be belief in a single God, multiple competing spirits, perhaps an after life or reincarnation, or whether one would believe that none of that exists.

And so I’ll open the book and give Dawkins his opportunity to prove me wrong, that my bias was unjustified.