TA 106 (Müller)
Commentary 6 (to R3, Müller)
by Varadaraja V Raman
19 March 2008, posted 29 March 2008
< In particular would it be of interest to have the opinions of others who have actually read Dawkins' book, in order to compare their impression of his arguments about God with mine as I have described them.>
Richard Dawkins is the enfant terrible who, in book after book, has been presenting his case against the Almighty, and with such clarity, scientific support, and erudition that theists are hard put to answer him. Dawkins is a hard-core scientist, a biologist of the first rank who has trodden the path which expores how all of life can be reduced to genes and information bytes.
He is also a prolific polemicist. In his anti-religion crusade, he is incensed as much by the harm and hurt wrought in the name religion, as from the logically inconsistent and empirically unverifiable claims of the God thesis.
Plato is said to have remarked, "He is a wise man who invented God." Others have described God as the grandest creation of the human mind. In one of his more recent books Dawkins brushes off the notion of God less charitably as a mere delusion. Dawkins devotes 350 plus pages to elaborate on his thesis. He argues that are religions are extensions of childhood fantasies for protective parents even in adult life.
Like his other books, this too is incisive in its arguments, interesting and enjoyable to read, though here and there the language is not dignified. It is replete with the absurdities in traditional religious framework, and disposes of scientific proofs for God summarily, and in ways that should make any atheist feel triumphant. Dawkins effectively dismantles the framework in which God becomes plausible, while illustrating how religions have led to war, bigotry and child-abuse.
One may wonder why a clear thinker like Dawkins should engage in such harsh mud-slinging against what he dislikes. Perhaps we can get some idea of why he (and others like him) are so vehement about God and religion when we consider the matter in more general terms. People engage in virulent attacks, whether on belief-systems, on political opponents, on governments, or even on personal enemies, under two kinds of stress: moral outrage or feelings of being victimized. Under these conditions, one can become violent with words or with bloody deeds. They justify intentionally hurtful words and deeds on the grounds that their targets embody all that is wrong and evil.
Ardent true-believers and true-unbelievers tend to be unaware of, or choose to ignore, anything positive in their adversaries. Indeed, this is the ultimate cause of any conflict that seems irreconcilable. The goal of physical or verbal violence is to destroy one's enemy. If this is not achieved, one hopes to have at least some reformatory impact on them. Those who choose this path sometimes become indiscriminate in their attacks. Unfortunately, this is what happened to Dawkins in this context. Even in the midst of some valid and ingenious reasoning, he questions the honesty of Stephen Jay Gould and the integrity of those who accept the Templeton Award for their work on science-religion dialogues, and imputes dishonorable motives to Richard Swinburne.
In his book Dawkins' God: genes, memes, and the meaning of life, Alister McGrath, professor at Oxford and man of faith, analyzes Dawkins' books and theses in depth and with sympathy. He tries to rebut some of Dawkins' excessive and unwarranted criticisms of traditional religions, and to show that religion and science have not been as antagonistic in Western culture as Dawkins et al. contend. He pleads with Dawkins to join the ranks of those who are trying to build bridges between the two. It is unlikely that Dawkins and his followers and emulators will abandon genes and memes, and embrace God and religion on the basis of such appeals. The simple truth is that one can never confirm God's existence through arguments. That confirmation does not occur in the head.
In a world where religious fundamentalism in various strains is playing havoc with potential for even more in various religious traditions, books like the God Delusion serve as an antidote to the other extreme. It is unfortunate that at a time when what we need is greater peace and understanding, only extreme positions seem satisfactory for a great many people. Meaningful and mutually respectful compromises seem beyond their grasp.
It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future either the theists or the atheists will win. But Dawkins' works on the debates are worthy additions to humanity's cultural history.
Varadaraja V. Raman
e-mail < vvrsps (at) rit.edu >