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Richard Dawkins The God Delusion

 

 

 

The following is an honest review of a thought provoking and interesting
book. A book I believe that raises almost as many questions as it answers. I
started the book as a sceptic non-believer in an interventionist deity and
finished it the same way. However I took issue with the author at several
points along the way.

Richard Dawkins, is a master of scientific exposition and synthesis. When it
comes to his own specialties, evolutionary biology and zoology, he manages
to explain his subject in an interesting and in the main understandable
fashion. The purpose of this book however, is not simply to explain science.
It is rather, as he tells us, “to raise consciousness,” which is quite
another thing. Dawkins though still does a fair bit of explaining science
and sets out in this book to convince the reader that there is no God. No
Abrahamic bearded old man in the sky who not only created us but also
intervenes in our lives. The evidence is overwhelming in this respect. How
could some interventionist deity simultaneously deal with the minutiae of
millions of lives and answer prayers? It is a highly unlikely and improbable
scenario.

Dawkins also points out the savage cruelty and barbarism of Yahweh the Old
Testament God and how the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is bizarre
in the extreme – especially if it were to be used as a literal moral
instruction guide. He reminds us of the consequences of religious
fundamentalism whether that is from Islamic Middle Eastern based terrorists
or Christian creationists in the U.S.A.

He states that Darwin was right and that creatures including humans have
evolved over billions of years by a process of natural selection. That is to
say those genetic physical and mental traits, which survive in a population
are those, which lead to the continuation and survival of the species. All
highly reasonable stuff backed up by the evidence. He then goes further to
question religion’s place in all of this. *Is there perhaps an area in the
brain that has a particular susceptibility to receiving information of a
religious nature? Is it perhaps a by-product of some other useful activity?
Either way Dawkins does wonder about this because religion at first doesn’t
seem to fit in with science, logic and natural selection. It seems a futile
non-productive activity.

Curious then that when he talks about radical atheism he holds up as an
example the gay rights movement. Going by the previous paragraph, and
applying Dawkins’ logic, surely the *religious have more in common with
gays!
His view of religion does seem highly pejorative and selective. He tries to
say that moderate religion and religious fundamentalism are the same when
they clearly are not. I heard a radio programme recently featuring Terry
Waite speaking about his experiences as a hostage in a very human and moving
way. He spoke about his captors in very measured and forgiving tones. To
compare Waite or Bishop Richard Holloway (who Dawkins mentions in the book
as describing himself as a ‘recovering Christian’) with fundamental wing
nuts like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson is simply absurd. His view on
Islamic fundamentalism is similarly coloured. 9/11 was simply a religiously
motivated crime. It was nothing to do with American foreign policy (despite
the fact that the building of an American base in his native Saudi was the
last straw for Bin Laden) or global capitalism apparently. Dawkins turns a
blind eye to the considerable good and lasting human benefit, which has
accrued from religion. He is also strangely silent on the horrors which
science has unleashed on the world. No mention of the chemical weapons used
in Viet- Nam or the atomic bombs dropped on civilians in Japan. Of course
Iraq is mentioned presumably because there is the religious aspect.

When dealing with 20th century despots, he denies that Hitler was an atheist
and claims evidence for Stalin being religious too. In any case he contends
that atheism wasn’t their motivation. Again by his selective view,
well-known atheists Poll Pot and Mao don’t even rate a mention.

In his dealing with the abortion issue he concentrates exclusively on the
abortion of embryos. He argues that as embryos don’t have a nervous system
and therefore can feel no pain then abortion is justified whether as a
(rather late) method of contraception or for stem cell research, which helps
many people. This would seem a sensible reasonable point of view. However
the abortion limit in the UK is 24 weeks, which is way beyond the embryo
stage. The 24-week foetus is recognisable as a human being. One wonders how
Dawkins views this. We are left wondering for he avoids the subject
completely. I do not follow any religion but I wonder at the morality of
abortion at this stage of the pregnancy.

 There are a few howlers in the book too. He apparently completely

misunderstands the ethno- political situation in Northern Ireland. He states

that the terms Loyalist and Nationalist are euphemisms for Protestant and

Catholic. Loyalist and Nationalist aren’t even antonyms. Loyalist and
Republican are antonyms as are Nationalist and Unionist. This is a man who is
outraged when a child is described as Protestant or Catholic and yet seems
quite happy (or ignorant) to assign incorrect labels to adults. He
hypothesises that if Ulster Catholic and Protestant schools were abolished                          

(there is in fact no such entity as Protestant schools so presumably he
means just Catholic schools)
then the ‘troubles’ would evaporate in a generation! This is highly
satirical stuff. Professor Dawkins loves analogies, to claim such a thing is
to claim that a stepping-stone could bridge a river (the Boyne perhaps?)
 

 

It would seem Professor Dawkins would love to see a world where there was no
religion. He would have us rise up against the natural selection and memes
(a term Dawkins coined himself in the 70’s to describe cultural beliefs
which pass down the generations) which have produced these belief systems.
He would have Amish parents in the USA tried for child abuse for
indoctrinating their children and depriving them of computers, t.v. and he
would argue a proper education. The facts that the Amish pose no threat to
their non-religious neighbours, teach pacifism, have no childhood obesity,
non existent crime, no drug or drink problem and seem on the whole to live
happy and fulfilled lives cuts no ice in the court of Dawkins. They must
know his scientific version of the truth and give up the way of life they
have led for hundreds of years. These peoples’ ancestors fled Europe in the
eighteenth century to escape religious persecution. It would be ironic if
they were to face the same thing in our so-called enlightened times.

It would be unfair and indeed untruthful of me to say that I didn’t enjoy
the book. Dawkins intellectual case for there being no personal God is one
that is almost impossible to argue with. He illustrates his points very well
with pithy analogies (‘to believe that the world is 6,000 years old is like
believing that Los Angeles is 700 yards from New York’).  However I share
Dawkins’ friend and fellow atheist Daniel Dennet’s misgivings that it would
be desirable to hasten the death of religion by similar intolerance
exercised by the religious fundamentalists.

I was fascinated by this passage quoting Steve Grand in the final chapter of
the book.

‘Think of an experience you clearly remember, something you can see, feel,
maybe even smell, as if you are really there. After all, you really were
there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is
the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body
today was there when that event took place. Matter flows from place to place
and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you
are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn’t make the hair stand
up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is
important’.

I cast my mind back over 200 pages and remembered Dawkins refuting dualism
i.e. a distinction between body and mind. He declared himself a monist i.e.
body and mind being one. Perhaps I am missing something or maybe it’s just
that I don’t know enough about science but doesn’t the above passage kind of
support dualism?

As I say the book poses as many questions as it answers.

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