September 24, 2007

The God Delusion: My Review

Over the weekend, I finally finished reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and I have to say: I can't figure out why they made the cover look that way.

Overall the book is pretty good. Dawkins has filled the books with interesting quotations and stories and he does make some very strong arguments about the Bible/Koran and morality and the generally deleterious effects of abandoning reason.

As I've discussed at great length, I disagree with his metaphysical analysis of the anti-concept "God" in the Muslim-Judeo-Christian-Bahai-whatever tradition.

Dawkins reminds me a lot of Sagan. I know they were buddies and they were/are both scientists so that their approach and thinking on this topic is similar comes as no surprise to me. To be perfectly honest, what I've read from the two of them is generally pretty enjoyable. I think I prefer Sagan's style a little more, but Dawkins hides his limousine leftist politics a bit more cleverly.

I especially enjoyed Dawkins's discussion of the ill-effect that religion has on children. I think he has a strong point there, that giving children a religious education is akin to neglect at best and child abuse if we're honest about it. I also really liked his commentary on the morality reflected in the Bible and the Koran. His commentary there is hilarious to say the least. And because he is a scientist of some sort (evolutionary biologist says Wikipedia) I enjoyed his discussion of evolution. The discussion of cosmology was a bit afield of my own scientific interests and understanding. Oh! And I also liked his talk about the American founding fathers and their religion. There's a whole lot of hay being made over seemingly theist remarks made by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and others, but the facts do not support the argument that America was in any significant sense "a Christian nation." AND! I like his discussion about the evolution and development of the bicameral mind in relation to the advent of theistic hypotheses/religions in civilization. (Apparently, people used to not understand that the voice they hear in their head is their own mind.)

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I probably would recommend it to people who are interested in the topic of atheism because in spite of its flaws, it is good to go over the discussion.

Ultimately, I do not think folks like Dawkins, Sagan, Pinker, and Dennett will be successful in wiping out theism and the anti-science mysticism that do seem to dominate popular thinking today. And it is because of the flaws like accepting the possibility that God exists that they will fail.

The optimist in me hastens to say that there is a certain mainstream appeal to folks like Dawkins. He's a cute old man with a keen wit and a positively vicious sense of humor. As an American, I think his accent is adorable, too. He's been on the Colbert Report, a sure sign of his appeal to the really cool people out there. So, I really hope he is successful in steering things away from faith and more toward reason.

But I was pointing this out to Mister Bookworm yesterday afternoon. Dawkins and Sagan both (my exposure to Dennett and Pinker is through secondary sources) concede the possibility of God's existence and proceed directly to the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim. Their conclusion, therefore, is that one ought not believe in God because there isn't a reason to. For those deeply committed to science-based thinking, this seems logical and indeed I think it is the best method for understanding nature.

Science, however, is not philosophy. Science begins only after one has established some understand about the nature of existence (metaphysics) and truth (epistemology).

Unfortunately, people like Dawkins and Sagan write as if science is where we start. (They are very intelligent men, so I wouldn't presume to say that they actually believe this, but what I've read of that work might lead someone to think that they do.) It is through this tiny door that the mystics creep.

In Dawkins book he tries desperately to pin down the mystics and "prove" that they haven't a leg to stand on. God, he says, maybe might could exist but it is extreeeeeeeeemly unlikely that he does. So the mystics respond with specious arguments like, "Well, until you can prove that he doesn't I will just go on believing." Every rational person understands this response to be idiotic at best but it does remain extremely persuasive to many intelligent people. I'm not kidding. It really does.

I believe that until the atheist "movement," if it can be called that, adopts a rational approach to metaphysics and epistemology, they will be playing a game of whack-a-mole during their philosophical parlor games. Basically, they need Objectivism.

Science needs philosophy first so that our great minds do not spend time on questions like this. God does not and cannot exist. There is absolutely no question on the matter.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 24, 2007 09:44 AM | TrackBack

The problem with most militant atheists is that they do not offer a rational alternative to theism. Once people eliminate religion from their lives, they need to fill that void with a moral and philosophical foundation. This is why we need Objectivism.

Posted by: Tiberius at September 24, 2007 10:05 AM

That's not true: they offer science as the alternative.

The problem, as I mention, is that science is not a philosophy. It is a method for exploring and discovering the concrete facts of existence. This will always prove insufficient to the task that religion sets out to perform for people and that is why these scientists need Objectivism.

Posted by: Flibbert at September 24, 2007 10:48 AM

You have a good point.

But I still think that there is a distinction between a "Militant Atheist" and a "Scientific Atheist" such as Dawkins.

Posted by: Tiberius at September 24, 2007 09:35 PM
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