Archive for the 'Chapter reviews' Category

TGD – The Preface

Monday, April 12th, 2010

If Dawkins had hoped to win a guy like me over with the preface, he most definitely failed. He starts off with an anecdote from his wife who went to her parents in adulthood to tell them how much she hated her (assumably religious) elementary school. Her parents asked her “Why didn’t you tell us?” to which she responded “I didn’t know that I could?”

He then launches into a page-long assertion that he thinks the reason most people don’t leave their faith is because they “didn’t know they could”. He hopes his book will show them that they can. I couldn’t help but physically ‘snort laugh’ when I read it.

Yeah, THAT’S the reason. Our society provides no visible avenue for people to walk away from their faith. I mean, it’s ridiculous just on the surface, much less as one delves into the idea.

I will give him this. It does appear when one is an atheist that everyone around you is religious and when you talk to them you never seem to get a sufficient answer for why that is the case. So I can see how it might appear that everyone feels trapped.

However, speaking from experience, it’s just a variant of the “everyone around me is an idiot” excuse. Seriously, how could one look at the openness of our society and conclude that people don’t know they can get out other than by thinking people are collectively dolts. In fact, even the story of his wife that he’s using is a story of his wife as a child and her preadolescent ideas of what she could or could not do. He’s then taking that preadolescent mindset and applying it to all the adults around him. He’s treating us all like little kids who are two immature to know that we don’t have to believe.

Dawkins then continues on with a series of paragraphs addressing how the book is organized. Basically, he listed a whole bunch of reasons people are reluctant to leave and then points them to the chapters he think will most help them do so. To give him full credit, the list of reasons is a reasonable one and his methodology for attacking them is reasonable on its surface. Of course the content of the attacks will have to wait until I get to each of those chapters. Nevertheless, he does seem to be taking a reasonable approach to methodically addressing the assertions of religion.

My preconception about the book mostly being about why religion has caused more harm than good, assuming his preface can be trusted as to what he accomplishes, seems to be only partially true. While he did spend a couple paragraphs rattling off a list of all the evils of religion (and being a list it lacked any of the necessary critical assessments I complain about, but one shouldn’t be too harsh when it’s a list) but it appears most of the book will be more methodical than that.

His bigger bias, based on the preface, seems to be that the mere raising of kids in a religion does harm to children and thus to society. It seems this is the wedge he’ll be using, basically calling it a form of abuse. We’ll see how this plays out as the book continues and whether this theme becomes a tired yet broken record.

Its a funny assertion because I’m sure he wouldn’t object one bit to children being taught that there is no God. No, those would be “brave” parents who escaped the terrifying grip religion has on society and are making sure to pass it on their children before they’re caught in it’s terrifying grasp. His argument that kids should be allowed to decide for themselves apparently doesn’t apply to his viewpoint.

Along these lines he brings up the fact that most people are the religion that their parents are. He uses this to suggest that religion is false just because he can take one kid and move them somewhere else and they’ll believe something else. He argues that shows the beliefs are arbitrary.

That doesn’t address two things however:

1. I’m most definitely not the religion of my parents and there are tons of people who aren’t. I went from lack of faith to faith. Others go from one faith to another. Still others go from faith to no faith, like his wife. So it’s clearly not a logical truth, it’s a loosely true demographic truth. He’s treating it like a logical one. The reality is that every adult has to decide for themselves what of their upbringing to maintain and what to reject. In the end we’ll own our own faith, or lack thereof, no matter what our parents did.

2. The corollary of that point is that demographics change. The Roman society was pagan and over the course of a couple hundred years became Christian. How does that happen if his assertion is correct? The reality is that while we are biased towards the religion of our parents, we can and do change and over the course of multiple generations, huge shifts DO occur and those changes reflect how compelling the religious arguments made during those centuries are. So the fact that we in the west are mostly Christian does not mean we’re dolts who are just doing what our parents did (notice the stupidity theme) it’s that over the centuries our collective intelligence showed Christianity to be the most appealing religious belief. (I would say “true” in the place of appealing, but to be generic, that’s as much as can be asserted based solely on demographics.)

In any case, the preface wraps up, after the tirade/list about the evils religion has done, the list of objections to his views and which chapters he addresses that, followed by a return to why “indoctrinating” children is a bad thing, by coming full circle back to his ridiculous “they didn’t know they could” assertion and driving it home as if its a compelling thought.

He’s going to let us know, “YES WE CAN!”

And with that we’ll move on to Chapter 1…