Thursday, July 19, 2007

The God Delusion

   I received the Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion, for Christmas last year (heh, heh, for Christmas - the God delusion, heh, heh) and finally finished reading it last week. Not that it was a difficult read - quite the contrary, it was written in an easy to digest conversational tone. I'm just reading infrequently these days, so it takes me a while to get through anything. Also, the new Guy Gavriel Kay novel came out, so I had to read that first. But, I made my way through it, and I have to admit, I'm underwhelmed.
   Dawkins sets out, he announces in the preface, to convince, via reason, those on the fence about religion, that there really is no good reason to believe. All the way through the book, I found myself nodding in agreement with the things he was saying, but hey, I'm not on the fence, am I? I already agree with the guy. And I couldn't help thinking that he was preching to the choir. (Is it allowed to use a religious metaphor to describe an atheist book?) It brought to mind the Jon Swift quotation: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” Belief in God cannot be arrived at through the use of reason. It is irrational, and unreasonable by definition. No amount of reasonable dialogue is going to convince a believer that God doesn't exist.
   And those on the fence? As far as I'm concerned, those who are balancing on the fence are working fairly hard to stay there already. Seriously, it's not an easy place to stay. I expect people on the fence to stay on the fence as a matter of principle. It's not that they can't see and understand the arguments. It's just that they have decided to not listen to them in an attempt to keep their balance. Good luck to them.

   That said, I do think Dawkins' book is an excellent piece of work, and recommend it highly to all - especially the religious. Not because I hold out any hope of it converting you to reason (I know that's not possible), but because it explains the atheistic mindset in plain, easy to understand language. I think that many religious people don't really understand how atheists think, and this book can at least open that curtain.


tenyearnap said...

For most of my life, I thought there was something "wrong with me" because I couldn't settle into a religion/"spiritual belief system." I have the local Mormons to thank for REALLY taking me off the fence and helping me to become the atheist that I am today. This is the first time in my life I feel "comfortable" with admitting I am an atheist. These religious bigots I have the misfortune to live amongst here in Utah are prime examples of how Magical Thinking leads to environmental destruction and impedes all forms of free thinking.

I am also really glad to have met you, Paul, even if it is just on the intertubes. --Cin

dpoem said...

I'm not on the fence --not by any stretch.  Beliefs in religion can have a certain stultifying effect on a person.  But, you have to admit, in the great pursuit for answers to all our existential questions, it's much easier on the mind to simply accept the mythology than it is to try and wrap your mind around a complex and cold scientific reality.  But I'm getting off track here...

You do bring up an interest point.  I think a great many believers out there have no concept of the atheistic mindset.  And, a lot of them are fed a litany of lies about atheists from terrified preachers.  For example, there seems to be a puzzling belief that atheists are somehow immoral or evil, and that is something that has always troubled me.  


princesssaurora said...

Thanks for recommendation.... you know I will probably get to it.  It is on my list.  You know basically I think there is 'something' so, I don't know what I am... the fence, believer, whatever.  I certainly do not believe in the constructs of any man made 'religion'.   I will read it with an open mind.  I do my best with that...

be well,

simianfarmer said...

Just to be argumentative, I'll take exception to your phrase, "Not because I hold out any hope of it converting you to reason..."  Now, I doubt you meant to call all religious folk completely devoid of reason, but perhaps meant to imply that the book won't convince them to *apply reason* to their religious convictions?  Completely reasonable people can be very unreasonable on certain topics, and vice versa.


plittle said...

  You make an excellent point. I did, indeed, engage in a little bit of hyperbole with that statement. But then again, knowing me as you do, you know I did it on purpose to foment discussion. You are right. Most people I know who believe in God are perfectly reasonable about other things in their lives to one extent or another - with the exception of that one little thing. Even for yourself, and Dawn, and my buddy Brent, whose only belief is a conviction that there is "something" - with an admission that what Mankind's many organised religions describe are almost certainly not that something - that conviction is not born of reason. (Brent would argue that point, but I maintain his argument is one of personal incredulity, and thereby logically fallacious.)

oddb0dkins said...

I think I'm kind of on the fence in that I've always thought, like Brent, that there is 'something'. But, I've spent a lot of years looking for that something and I haven't found it. Nevertheless, I HOPE there's a 'something' so maybe I'll stay on the fence a little longer. In the meantime I'm gonna get me a copy of that book.
Cheers. B.

jennyp51 said...

From my limited experience there seems to be quite a difference between American athiests and British athiests.  British ones just do not believe in God, but say they admire our faith and wish that they could have the same faith.  On the whole they are supportive.  American athiests seem to be very evangelical in trying to convert everyone to their faith by what seems to me sometimes to be questionable methods.  If there is no God then what does it matter if some people believe there is.  If christians are wrong there is no real problem, but if athiests are wrong then when it comes to dying they are in real deep doo, doo.
In my shop i have three books answering Dawkins 'God Delusion', it is worth reading the other side as well and getting another perspective.
Jenny <><

aleclynch said...

Jenny, when you say atheists that don't believe in god "are in real deep doo doo", I assume you are speaking of hell.  Do you really think the god you believe in would severely punish an otherwise very moral and upstanding person who didn't believe in them, but provide ultimate awards for anyone who does believe?

As presumptuous as this likely sounds, I'd have real issues with any divine being that doled out rewards and punishments based primarily on such a criteria, especially when (consider the definition of faith) said divine being doesn't provide proof of itself.

Regarding your comment about American vs. British atheists, could it perhaps be that you know British atheists personally but American atheists primarily through blogs, in which case it makes sense that, online, you'd see the more outspoken ones. Not to mention that Richard Dawkins, the author who wrote the book Paul's discussing, is British...

And just to clarify, Atheism isn't a faith.

You ask "If there is no God then what does it matter if some people believe there is". I would suggest it depends greatly on the person. Let's assume for the sake of argument there is no God. For the bulk of people that believe in God, there probably isn't that much harm. One could argue it's a bad trend, neither productive nor safe, to have a false view of reality (assuming atheists are correct) just as some of those that believe in all things astrology, homeopathy, etc can lose time, money, and health to having faith in false things. However, I'd concede the point with most people.  But there are some (and I realize many religious people *don't* fall into this category) whose faith can cause harm. Think about the harm caused by those whose faith get intelligent design taught in schools. And, though you feel some atheists are unfair in their attempt to convince others of their position (which yes, can be true) I doubt they'll ever start a war over it.

bhbner2him said...

Faith is not a work of the mind, but a work of the heart.  -  Barbara

bpslider45 said...

Paul said,
"(Brent would argue that point, but I maintain his argument is one of personal incredulity, and thereby logically fallacious.)"

Yes I would!!

Having said that, the last time I tried to post something along these lines, I ended up with something that was long enough to be it's own entry and could not actually post it.

The short and sweet version is that I studied biology in university (specifically genetics)
I discovered in that science, complexities which I found beyond my ability to accept as having occurred by chance.
To me they simply required "creation."

Not "POOF!" creation!!

Creation that occurs over the many many years of evolution.
A guiding hand if you will.

Now, I know I cannot prove this.
I just cannot accept that kind of randomn chance creating something so complex.
If I could, I'd also expect to be able to play the lottery and win every week.

You know Paul, if the odds against something occuring are large enough, it can be 'logically' argued that it will not.
Unless of course there are other unseen factors involved which change those odds.
Can Mrs. Ho help me fix the Lotto 6/49 for better odds?

Hopefully, that was brief enough.

aleclynch said...

I've neither studied biology in university nor read up on the issue as much as Paul, so likely both of you could speak more intelligently on the issue than me, but your lottery example doesn't seem to work for me, Brent.

Regarding complex life being created by chance, you say "If I could [believe that], I'd also expect to be able to play the lottery and win every week."

Now I realize you were perhaps just trying to be brief, but wouldn't winning the lottery *every* week in your analogy only work if there was also complex life on *every* planet.  So far at least, we only know of complex life on one planet, so wouldn't an appropriate lottery analogy only require you to win once, after playing millions or even billions of times.  

If you have enough years and chances to play, winning once in a rare while doesn't sound so unusual to me.

plittle said...

  Alec, your response to Brent was spot on the money. The whole probability issue is a red herring in this discussion. Brent, what are the odds you would drive a silver car? Oh, wait, you're already driving a silver car! Probability theory only applies to potential events. Once an event has, in fact, occurred, it doesn't matter how unlikely it was before it occurred. Also, your comment that extremely unlikely events can be argued to be "logically impossible" is not true. Yes, the odds against you winning the lottery every single time you play are so high as to be uncalculable with current technology. That does not make it beyond the realm of comprehension. Sure, the fact of our existence might have been highly unlikely before we were here, but given 13 billion years, a lot can happen. And did, apparently.

bpslider45 said...

The point I was trying to make with the lottery analogy was simply, that what I learned about human biology at the level of genes, enzymes, cellular reproduction and the amazing intricacies involved were beyond my ability to accept as occurring accidentally.
In other words, if someone came to you and argued that they could win the lottery every week without cheating, you would believe them delusional or a liar.

These are the kinds of "odds against" I believe are demonstrated in the creation of our most basic cellular/bodily functions by random chance.

I again, admit this is not a provable theory (or idea if you wish).
I also admit that it requires a leap of faith (hence I do not advocate it being taught as science).

Paul, you always state that you are not arguing that you can prove that God does not exist. You admit this cannot be proven. You simply state that you see no evidence that He/She/It does.

I also admit that I cannot prove God does exist.

I just find it more reasonable to believe that something aided an almost infinitely impossible process to become possible.

The "odds" would seem better.


princesssaurora said...

Bingo Brent.  Neither of us can prove either side.  We just interpret the evidence we see from our own personal position.  Just like looking at art, no one sees the same thing.

be well,

penniepooh said...

I do find it ironic that you were given that book for Christmas. Then again, many people take part in the holiday without much belief in its meaning.