Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is God a delusion or is Dawkins deluded?

There is no doubt Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" is provocative and there is even less doubt of that being his intention, a fact which I'd happily provide quote based evidence for except the book provides so many possible examples that I'm stuck for choice. However, a satisfactory example is surely the google search for "the god delusion" which yields over 1.3 million results.

I think the torrent of rebuttal from angry Christians needs to be calmed slightly; reasoned defences such as Alistair McGrath's "The Dawkins Delusion" are fair play but there is no need for Christians to match Dawkins' belligerent, hostile and defiant attitude in their replies. Dawkins actually quotes some of these in the book, as an example of how religion does not equate to morals. To cite some of this exploited ammunition, page 242 Dawkins shares a letter (as he spends a lot of the book in the role of wounded soldier) sent by a supposed Christian to an atheist of a similar position to Dawkins: "i'd love to take a knife, gut you fools, and scream with joy as your insides spill out infront of you..." If people can't manage to read atheistic writing without feeling so profoundly offended, they shouldn't be reading them at all. A small part of me can understand their inability to suppress their grievances, Dawkins (and many other atheist writers) is devastatingly good at pushing buttons thanks to his condenscending, biased and aggravating writing style but... I don't think the 'but' of this sentence requires elaboration, there is no excuse for such hostility. On the other hand, if a Christian felt unable/unwilling to refute Dawkins, even if only in their own mind or quietly in their own heart, then Dawkins is succeeding in robbing us of our convictions and we are allowing ourselves to be provoked in the very way he intends and the very way the bible warns against (click here).

I found that as I read it, I found myself siding with Dawkins and sympathetic of his point of view but the moment I put the book down, I forgot what he'd even been on about. I'll try and explain. Page 110 Dawkins debates the 'argument from beauty'. When I read Dawkins' debate of how appreciation of beauty doesn't indicate God's existence, his reasoning seemed to make sense. But then, I'd put the book down, and as soon as I experienced the appreciation of beauty, Dawkins' attack of it doesn't seem so sensible anymore. David Robertson explains this particularly succintly in "The Dawkins Letters":

Beauty - You state this argument really badly. For me it is one of the arguments that is central to proving the existence of God. You reduce it to someone asking: ‘How do we account for Shakespeare, Schubert or Michelangelo?’ But it is much more than that. It is not so much the fact that 'there is beauty' – but 'why do we as human beings have a sense of beauty'? I’m sure you will account for that by stating that it is a chemical reaction in my brain caused by millions of years of evolution. But that seems to me at best a partial explanation. Beauty is part of consciousness and it remains one of the great unanswered questions in evolutionary philosophy – where does consciousness come from? When I see the beauty of a sunset over the river Tay, or hear Beethoven’s sixth (substitute any beautiful experience), then I cannot grasp nor believe that this is just instinct or impulse that comes from ultimately nowhere. The words of Solomon fit so much better “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes ch.3 v.11)."

To take another example, Dawkins is quick to attack God's character with his careful selection of bible verses which indicate an unworshippable God. It's so easy to get caught up in Dawkins' assessment and to see his point but then, away from the atmosphere his book builds up which lulls the reader into aquiescence, the experience of the love and hope God brings in any situation quenches Dawkins' otherwise suggestions.

Another qualm I have with the book is this idea Dawkins holds, that religious people have all been indoctrinated. He claims he doesn't believe in authentic Christian children, he thinks you can't be Christian and be a child. This personally winds me up because I've been deeply spiritual since I was 5, with a deep understanding of God and the gospel. But then Dawkins is good at holding disbelief in things that evidently exist, let's add Christian children to the list, which already includes God and meaning of life among other things. As far as indoctrination goes, the power of influence is not confined to religion.

Coincidentally (and I choose my word carefully there) somebody recently referred me to The God Delusion in order to allay my cynical attitude (the irony actually makes me nauseous). As the debate unfolded, many of the arguments they held against God are paraphrases of Dawkins himself yet my suggestion that this person holds a faith in Dawkins was instantly rebutted with the denial of any faith. Here is a selection of thoughts from this person, reproduced with absolutely no permission and probably much to her annoyance:

the bible is the most contradictory book I have ever read. the god it portrays is vindictive and bloodthirsty and supposedly at the same time loving and caring. Dawkins does not take meaning out of life, but makes it wonderful and exciting. The meaning from the bible is bad and confusing to say the least. Secondly I have no faith. I am an atheist. I lost my faith well over twenty years ago. I am only now reading the book by Dawkins and find it interesting. I cannot believe in god who purposely causes pain as Jesus is told to have done in the new testament. If he was truly a good all knowing god he would have known the suffering he was causing and would not have done it. Even before that I had many doubts about the existence of god and much disquiet about the contradictions in the bible. To me it is not enough to wait for an answer till I die. What good does it do to me then... Science does provide a more satisfactory answer than the bible has ever done. I prefer living as good and as moral a life as I can now and here than to wait for answers after death. If you find strength in your suffering, good for you. I wish you all the best in your studies and hope you will come to see the religion for what it is one day" Well, I could tear this apart but remembering this is about The God Delusion I'll just pick out a few points, as I'm sure a lot of these feelings stem from Dawkins' indoctrination. Additionally, coming directly on the back of my reading of The God Delusion, it's affected me to the point I want to refute it in the same manner. People should be more careful throwing around accusations without full understanding of the context of the point they are attacking, something which Dawkins really needs to learn before he teaches this distasteful art to the next generation.

"To me it is not enough to wait for an answer till I die"
Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
I'm not waiting for any answers. I know what's going to happen to me when I die. She then claims "I have no faith" Which obviously isn't true. She is sure in her hope that there is nothing after life. She is certain of her conviction to "live as good and as moral a life as I can now" She has as much faith as me, just at the opposite end of the spectrum.

"I cannot believe in god who purposely causes pain as Jesus is told to have done in the new testament"
Talk about gun.foot.shoot. and spade.hole.dig
Let's take away the personal element and assume what she actually means is 'how could anyone believe in a God who causes pain' and to push it further, let's clarify the statement to mean 'a God who causes pain cannot be believed in'. This is a circular statement if there ever was one. So nobody believes in this God (because they can't) because he induces pain. But if noone believes in him anyway then can he still really exist at all? If he isn't real to anyone (assuming noone in the world believes in him because they can't) then he doesn't exist in anyones mind and if the being we label as God does exist, (but noone ever thinks of him or knows him i.e. he is unknown to mankind) then we wouldn't be calling him a God as we wouldn't be able to conceptualise him. And if he doesn't exist, then he never caused any pain in the first place, which takes away that very reason to not believe in him. So either, there is a God who caused pain, therefore we can believe in him, or there isn't a God who didn't cause pain therefore we could not believe in him, but it couldn't be on the reasoning that he causes pain. I think what she meant to say was: 'I don't want to believe in a God who causes pain'. But this doesn't say much really, it just squeezes the issue into another ballpark where we have to debate benevolence etc etc which I've had enough of in philosophy lectures.

My point being, people read Dawkins and develop views on religion which are non- arguments, they don't contribute at all to fair disbelief.

I still have no idea where I'm going with all this so I guess I'll round it all up.
Dawkins' book is clever. If you're an atheist, you'll probably read it and be left with a proud inner satisfaction that you are right (even though it proves nothing). And congratulations, Dawkins has just turned your lack of faith into its own faith, and he's even provided the holy book by which you must live.
If you're a Christian, don't read it unless you are either a)not very clever and wouldn't understand what he's on about anyway b) endowed with the spiritual gift of faith c)accountable to some Christians or d)wanting to convert to atheism. It's a big blow to faith and you need the resilience of a Bobo doll to bounce back from it's attacks.
But, to answer the few people who've asked and the people who want to know and haven't asked: yes, I am still a Christian. I find the entire notion of the book, that life is scientific, clinical, chemical and genetic entirely discomforting and unsatisfactory. Just a few minutes of introspection leaves me facing thoughts and feelings which belong only to my inner soul, I don't look inside myself and see a biological motherboard with neurons and brain squidge. And absolutely nothing ever will.

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