Thursday, January 08, 2009

Book Review: “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion
By Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin (September 18, 2006)
On Amazon.com

I didn’t intend to write a review on Dawkins’ book for religion is without doubt one of – if not the – most discussed topics of today’s human culture, and given that the book is two years old already I am sure some thousand people have already said what there is to say. However, since we have on this blog repeatedly touched the issue of unquestioned belief and its troublesome relation to knowledge discovery (and Phil and Rae Ann encouraged me to), I thought the book would make for a good opportunity to discuss some questions regarding science and religion. I am offline while writing this, and I didn't read anybody else’s review, so apologies in case I’m repetitive.

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins’ book is a passionate argument against religious believes. In ten chapters, he presents the most commonly raised points in favor of religion, for the existence of a God, and in favor of tolerating both, for then to meticulously debunk them and expose their fallacies. His writing style is very clear while being entertaining, though he gets occasionally somewhat polemic. In many cases he anticipates objections a believer would raise and deals with them right away, which makes it very easy to follow his line of thought. The book tells that Dawkins has plenty of experience with arguing about this topic, and he draws from a huge reservoir of anecdotes. His main message is that atheists should voice their opinions more openly, not back up, and not quietly tolerate religion for it can be harmful.

Dawkins’ starts with explaining in the first two chapters in which way he refers to God: A “superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.” He refers to the existence of such as the “God Hypothesis”. His central argument against the God Hypothesis it is that a God with these abilities necessarily must be more complex than anything it allegedly created, therefore its own existence is enormously improbably, not to mention implausible: It begs the question who created God. This then turns the argument God is in some way a ‘simple’ explanation ad absurdum. Unsurprisingly for the time the book was written, Dawkins spends some time in defeating Creationists’ arguments, pointing out with a multitude of examples that the claims for Creationism stem in all instances from a lacking understanding of how Natural Selection results in complexity: by small gradual changes for which we have plenty of evidence.

Dawkins also makes a brief excursion into fundamental physics, asking for the origin of our universe and the laws of physics. He seems to regard the anthropic principle as a plausible explanation for why our universe is the way it is, but even more he seems to like Lee Smolin’s idea of Cosmological Natural Selection which goes very well with Dawkins’ affection for Natural Natural Selection. (See here for my Thoughts on the Anthropic Principle, and here for some comments on CNS.)

A recurring theme in the book is the evidence that higher education goes along with an increase of atheism, signaling the conflict of reason with unquestioned acceptance of inconsistent belief systems. He presents several survey results from different countries to make the point, and in the first chapters he also works with quotations of many well-known scientists. Though the circle of people I know is hardly representative, this confirms my personal impression. Dawkins’ argues that science and religion is mutually incompatible for the heart of science is examining the evidence and building understanding from it, whereas the main virtue of religion is believing without any evidence.

Dawkins spends a chapter on the plausible roots of religion, suggesting that the susceptibility of the human mind for religion is a by-effect of our brain’s evolution. Most notably he points out the vulnerability of children’s minds to indoctrination, a side-effect of evolutionary advantageous trust in adult’s knowledge, that allows religios ideas to be reproduced and passed on over the generations:


“More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations, and that experience needs to be passed on to children for their protection and well-being. Theoretically, children might learn from personal experience not to go too near a cliff edge, not to eat untried red berries, not to swim in crocodile infested waters. But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents; obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders without question. This is a generally valuable rule for a child. But […] it can go wrong.”

He also comments on the idea that religious traditions and convictions that our brains are most receptive for survive as memes in our civilizations. That addresses the survival of religious cults. As far as their origin is concerned, he suggests that the human mind has a predispostion to assign intentions to inanimate objects and to create explanatory narratives.

In chapter seven he dissects the Bible to demonstrate how inconsistent it is and how cruel its stories are, rendering it an unsuitable source to derive ones morals from. In chapter eight, he argues that religion is a global source of political conflict and cause of suffering. In chapter nine he explains in which sense religion is a cause also of personal suffering for many religions ensure loyalty by threatening with punishment in the case of acting against its rules, which can result in psychological trauma.

He ends with marveling at the enrichment to ones’ life when one understands part of how the world works, a step of insight that only science can provide, whereas religious believes demand the suppression of our curiosity and humans’ natural desire to understand.



Comments

Richard Dawkins spends some time addressing the argument that religions offer comfort and inspiration, making the case that both come at the price of suppressing the own mind’s curiosity and shutting off its questions. What he does not address at all however is the sociological role that many churches play in our cultures.

Leaving aside the fact that churches have something to do with religions, they are basically large groups that offer its members a sense of belonging and acceptance. They offer a place to turn to in case of trouble, and they have traditions that strengthen the feeling of being part of something. If you move into a new country and don’t know anybody, you look for the next church with the right symbol on its door and find a community where you know the rules of the game. In most countries, major churches play a vital role for the social system, they take care of the sick and the poor, they offer advice and counseling, not to mention places to meet likeminded people. Dawkins does not comment on this beneficial sociological side at all which I find very disappointing.

Some years ago I was at a physics conference and was sharing a table with nine other people, from several European countries, and from North and South America. I can’t quite recall how the topic came up but upon try it turned out all of us knew the Pater Noster by heart, though everybody in his native language and though most of us were not attending church. It found it astonishing to realize we shared this common knowledge though it had nothing to do with the reason of us meeting in the first place.

And that brings me to why, in its current form, religion will continue to dominate over science. Because scientists don’t have traditions, because science is all about competition and not about belonging, because you are not accepted simply by declaring your willingness of being part, because we don’t take care of our group members, because we offer no advice in hard times and no guidance for those in trouble. Because the scientific enterprise as it is today does not take care of these most human needs. And as long as we don’t make the scientific enterprise a more welcoming place, people will continue instead to turn to religion for comfort and a place of belonging.

Maybe, and only maybe, the Web2.0 is a step into the right direction. One of the roles that blogs play is without doubt one of mutual support, advice, and counseling.

Another point I found disappointing about Dawkins’ book is that his elaborations for the biggest part focuses on the Bible. I would have thought for a book on religion, he should have made more effort to present contradictions or murky moral values from other world religions as well.

I entirely agree with Dawkins’ assessment that the main reason why religions survive is that parents and preachers indoctrinate children. If you have grown up being told there is a God who watches over you, it is hard to part with it later in life. It is not coincidentally in most cases people carry on with the religion of their families, it is hardly a conscious choice of a grown-up. Whether or not somebody thinks God should play a role in his or her life is a personal decision, but it should be up for them when they are old enough to understand what they are chosing among. Dawkins however remains unfortunately very vague on how to address the problem for I see no way it will ever be possible or even desirable to dictate parents how to raise their kids. The only way I can see a change could happen is what he refers to as “consciousness raising.” As far as I am concerned, the worst thing about religion seems to me that it is such a waste of people’s time and interferes with their ability to understand and enjoy life.

I also don't share Dawkins’ sense that religion and science is mutually incompatible. It is some aspects of religious teachings that are incompatible, for - as I said earlier - science is the very antithesis of a belief system, you'd better call it a “doubt system”. There are also many aspects of presently established religions that are outdated and incompatible with scientific knowledge today. However, since I don't think we will know just everything there is to know any time soon, believing will remain part of human culture very possibly forever. The realm of believing however changes with time, and this has been and is reason for tension. Given the success and relevance of scientific research, almost all traditional religions are presently in a pretty much indefensible position and I expect they will become mostly redundant in the soon future (except for the incorrigible fundamentalists that will remain). What we will likely see instead is the spread of religions that are up to date with scientific progress and constrain belief to where it doesn't interfere with science, possibly finding new niches that science itself has only brought into our attention.

And finally, just to give you the context from which I am writing: I am a heathen, and according to Dawkins further a “sexed up atheist”. I insist on the “sexed up”.


Bottomline

The book is a recommendable read and it is very well written, entertaining though somewhat polemic. “The God Delusion” is basically a handbook for the atheist. It arms the reader with arguments for the people with the leaflets who want to talk about the existence of God. If this was an Amazon review, I’d give four stars.

97 comments:

Peter Turney said...

And that brings me to why, in its current form, religion will continue to dominate over science. Because scientists don’t have traditions, because science is all about competition and not about belonging, because you are not accepted simply by declaring your willingness of being part, because we don’t take care of our group members, because we offer no advice in hard times and no guidance for those in trouble. Because the scientific enterprise as it is today does not take care of these most human needs. And as long as we don’t make the scientific enterprise a more welcoming place, people will continue instead to turn to religion for comfort and a place of belonging.

This is a very interesting point. One thing I loved about Neal Stephenson's recent book, Anathem, was the idea of atheists living together in a kind of monastery, doing research together. It's an emotionally appealing image, to me, although I have no idea whether it would really work.

Bee said...

Hi Peter,

I didn't read Anathem, though I roughly know what it is about. Is it worth reading it? I read one of Stephenson's earlier books and though I found it interesting I didn't like his writing style too much. Best,

B.

Michael F. Martin said...

Because scientists don’t have traditions, because science is all about competition and not about belonging, because you are not accepted simply by declaring your willingness of being part, because we don’t take care of our group members, because we offer no advice in hard times and no guidance for those in trouble. Because the scientific enterprise as it is today does not take care of these most human needs.

Would science really be better off were these needs better met by the scientific community?

David Sloan Wilson is right about Dawkins. But the answer is not for science to become a religion. Nor is it for religion to become more scientific. Rather, it's for scientists or religious believers to get to know more scientists who are religious believers and religious believers who are scientists. Both communities should be big enough to accommodate these people.

Peter Turney said...

I didn't read Anathem, though I roughly know what it is about. Is it worth reading it?

Yes, I believe you will like it. I like his work, but I admit that his style can be annoying sometimes. Anathem is more accessible than, say, The Baroque Cycle.

Peter Turney said...

Would science really be better off were these needs better met by the scientific community?

Perhaps the question should be, not whether science would be better off, but whether scientists would be better off.

Bee said...

Hi Peter,

I shell give it a try if I find the time. Presently I'm reading (among some other books) Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine", pretty shocking indeed. Best,

B.

Uncle Al said...

In the whole of human history across the entire planet not one deity has volunteered Novocain. Take the hint.

One pass of Russian roulette validates priests' tenet. S&W Model 4006 with a 12 round clip loaded Speer Gold Dot .40 S&W 155 grain GDHP rounds. Remove 11 rounds, reinsert. Pull back the slide, pray, squeeze the trigger. Test of faith!

rillian said...

I found Anathem's monastic scientists quite interesting, and it was worth reading for that. Or at least worth reading the first third; he remains much better at beginnings.

This is the first of his novels I've read since Cryptonomicon, which while interesting didn't inspire me to try any of his later ones. But it is impressive how many popular science buzzmemes he packed into Anathem!

changcho said...

Thanks for the review of Dawkins' The God Delusion. I think you pretty much sum it up by saying it is a handbook for atheist. Being a 'heathen' like yourself, if I ever need to get into discussions with overly religious people I will look the book up. Fortunately, the people I mostly deal with, while some are religious, they are also very secular in their religiosity. For instance, my wife believes in god, yet never attends church (well, except weddings, say, at which point I also attend!). She also agrees that parents should not push religion to children, instead making them chose for themselves when they are old enough. Also I'd like to say that imo, Science does not need religion. Further Science should not care whether religion needs Science; that is for religion to figure out.

With respect to your comment:

"What we will likely see instead is the spread of religions that are up to date with scientific progress and constrain belief to where it doesn't interfere with science, possibly finding new niches that science itself has only brought into our attention."

Any religion that evolves in such a way was called "The God of the Gaps" by C. Sagan (see his Demon Haunted World).

And with respect to this comment,

"...evidence that higher education goes along with an increase of atheism..."

I also find (anecdotically of course) this to be the case.

By the way, if you like Dawkins' writing, you should check out what I think (imho) is his magnum opus The Ancestor's Tale.

What I find a bit disappointing about Dawkins is his abrasiveness with respectful religious people. Also, when it comes to evolution I am more on the side of S. J. Gould and his ideas (for instance, the importance of contingency in evolution), rather than Dawkins'. In any case, Dawkins is a serious intellectual, not just a great writer.

Michael F. Martin said...

@Peter Turney

I consider myself both a scientist and a religious believer (Christian), so I'm biased. But I would say indeed that scientists would be better off with more religious culture. And why reinvent the wheel (as apparently Stephenson has done in Anathem). There are no serious obstacles to scientists adopting traditional religious culture. In fact, both scientists and religious believers would benefit from the exercise.

The whole culture ware between science and religion, of which Dawkins's book is one artifact, was the result of a serious misunderstanding that occurred in the late 19th Century. It's time for us all to get on with the silliness and get back to cooperating the way we used to.

http://waywords.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/editorial-note/

Arun said...

A big problem with what I've seen of Dawkin's argument is the idea that religion requires belief. One can act from tradition without "believing in" anything.

Arun said...

Also want to post here something from a religious studies person, Jakob De Roover, hope you don't mind.

Friends and fellow heathens,

As some of you know, Balu and me are working on a new book on evolutionary biology and religion. Today, while re-reading certain passages from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (2006), I was so shocked by his combination of ignorance and arrogance that I need to get rid of some of the irritation. Forgive me for some Dawkins-bashing:

1. In a memorable passage, Dawkins discusses the problem of Trinitarianism in Christianity and extends it to other forms of "polytheism," such as the cult of the Virgin Mary and the saints in Roman-Catholicism. "What impresses me about Catholic mythology," he shares with the reader, "is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up the details as they go along. It is just shamelessly invented" (Dawkins 2006: 35).

As a reader, try to bracket away all presuppositions about religion and reread the sentences. If you succeed in doing so, the impact of Dawkins' claim dissolves. So what, if certain details of Roman Catholicism are human inventions? What is the problem in aspects of religion being "shamelessly invented"?

From a non-Christian, neutral point of view, it is unclear why Dawkins bothers to mention this. However, anyone with a basic understanding of the history of Christianity will note where his claim comes from: Dawkins himself reproduces a piece of theology in this sentence (apparently without knowing it).

From its earliest beginnings, Christianity claimed that it was the original and pure revelation of God, first given to Adam. This original revelation had been corrupted by sinful idolaters, seduced by the Devil into the worship of the false god and his minions. This corruption, according to Christian theology, took the form of human additions to the pure divine revelation: rites and myths, fabricated by priests and prelates.

During the Protestant Reformation, Luther, Calvin and their followers began to accuse the Roman-Catholic Church of the same sin of idolatry. They cried that the pope and his priests had invented a plethora of dogmas and rituals and imposed these on the believer as though they were part of God's revelation and necessary to salvation.

In this sense, the worst accusation one could make against Roman-Catholicism was that it consisted of "shameless human inventions."

The Enlightenment philosophers extended such charges of idolatry to all of Christianity and to all "religions" of humanity. All of these, including the notion of God itself, were human fabrications, the atheists among them claimed.

Ironically, Enlightenment atheism thus presupposed and built on the claims of Christian theology. Without the background belief that there is something intrinsically wrong in religion being a human invention—very much a Christian belief—the impact of such charges simply disappears into thin air.

At this first level, Dawkins reproduces Christian theology, even though he masks it as an atheistic insight that is supposed to liberate humanity from religion.

2. Discussing the theological difficulties that polytheism allegedly creates, Dawkins continues:

"How did the Greeks, the Romans and the Vikings cope with such polytheological conundrums? Was Venus just another name for Aphrodite, or were they two distinct goddesses of love? Was Thor with his hammer a manifestation of Wotan, or a separate god? Who cares? Life is too short to bother with the distinction between one figment of the imagination and many. Having gestured towards polytheism to cover myself against a charge of neglect, I shall say no more about it. For brevity I shall refer to all deities, whether poly- or monotheistic, as simply `God' (Dawkins 2006: 35-6).

The first issue to point out is that Greek and Roman followers of the "pagan" traditions were not in the least bothered by such "theological conundrums." This was the case, because to them the stories about Aphrodite, Venus, Zeus and Jupiter were just that: traditional stories, instead of theological doctrines (Balagangadhara 1994; Feeney 1998). To the Greeks and Romans, the stories were not subjects to truth claims; that is, the predicates "true" and "false" were simply not applicable to the many stories about the deities. Hence, many such apparently "contradictory" stories could co-exist without conflict. It was only when the church fathers tried to show that the Greeks and Romans had "false religion" that suddenly these stories became bearers of truth value and that the so- called "contradictions" appeared. Like the Christian ancestors who shaped their thought, the Enlightenment philosophers failed to grasp that the Roman and Greek stories were not meant to be doctrines or descriptions of the world. Hence, they ridiculed these stories as "mythologies," fictionalized and embellished accounts of human history (Hazard 1935). The difficulties that Dawkins notices are those created by Christians and Enlightenment philosophers, who tried to make sense of the traditional stories of Greece and Rome as mythological doctrines.

3. A second problematic issue lies in the use of the notion of polytheism. The contrast set to poly-theism, of course, is mono- theism (and, in a secondary sense, a-theism). The "theism" in these terms refers to "theos" or "god." First, take monotheism, that is, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Here the "theos" in the theism refers to the biblical God: the creator of heaven and earth. As a being and entity, this biblical God has certain properties. First, He is a being that exists outside the universe, outside space and time. Second, He is the sovereign creator and governor of the universe. Third, He is a "person" in the philosophical sense; he has a personal identity expressed in his plans and intentions. Fourth, His plans or intentions correspond perfectly to whatever happens in the universe. That is, He is omnipotent in the sense that there is no discrepancy between His intentions and His actions (as is the case among human beings): His will is law. As theologians have long told, (from our limited human perspective and understanding,) these are the essential properties of God (Swinburne 1977).

Note now that if this is God or "theos," there can be only one such being. If there were more than one, God could not be the sovereign creator and governor of the universe, whose will is law. Instead, there would be a clash of
several such beings, each trying to be the sovereign. In this sense,
if "God" or "theos" refers to the biblical God, there cannot be several Gods. Consequently, if the "theos" in poly-theism has the same reference as the "theos" in mono-theism, then "polytheism" is a
nonsensical notion. It cannot exist.

4. Yet, and this is the third issue, it appears from the above passage that Dawkins means to say that all "deities" are the same and can all be designated with the name "God," no matter whether it
concerns "monotheism" or "polytheism." Not only does he use the latter notion as though it makes eminent sense, he also argues
(albeit for the sake of brevity) that the "theos" in both kinds of
theism is "God." At the same time, a brief analysis shows that it is
conceptually impossible that "monotheism" and "polytheism" refer to the same "God." How to make sense of this? It may appeal to brevity or any other reasons, Dawkins' above paragraph remains conceptual nonsense. However, respecting the principle of charity, as interpreters we have to try and make sense of this paragraph as the product of a reasonably intelligent mind. The challenge, then, is the following: we need to show how the conceptual background that sustains Dawkins' reasoning about religion makes paragraphs like the above seem reasonably coherent, in spite of the absence of coherency.

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? :)

... In a thousand years the happily survived new-age humanity will remember today's epoch of “triumphant science” as a horrible dark-age, but fortunately brief period of change from one great religion period to the next one. :) I am laughing but there are already growing appeals for a new, belief-based kind of science (e.g. Stuart Kauffman) and abandonment of “traditional materialism” in science, and these, very serious ideas come from generally quite rational, non-believing and famous scientists... Aha, things are not that simple, if one thinks not only about destruction of previous, actually already dead cults. In fact, those “scientific religion” ideas go in the same direction as Bee's “guidance-for-those-in-trouble” wishes for science (but vain “economic” applications won't be enough here, to be sure!). Indeed, what is the “scientific” analogy of e.g. “(human) spirit”? Purely material “inspiration” cannot really compete, including Bee's implied ideas about “science for the poor” or else massive propaganda of scientific ideas in a “suitable” form (already done, multiply, with billion-scale investments)... Not so easy, baby. Dawkins is but a passionate destruction machine (attacking a dead body, oh dear...). When it's a question of alternative, but equally great (much greater!) and long-term creation drive, then a quite different insight would be needed... O ye of little faith...

It's so stupid to keep “proving”, today (!), “passionately” (= new blind belief?) that there is no God! Why not to note instead that the massive (true) fascination with science, in any its “best” moments, today and before, is simply incomparable with equivalent (same) people involvement in religious belief, including both great founders of modern science, Descartes and Newton (both “fanatic” believers), practically all great artistic creations of the past, etc. I would say that not only “quantity” but also quality of respective passions differ so noticeably... If today we are rather within the “golden age” of science, then let's honestly ask ourselves how deep that attachment to science (progress) really is, even within professional science community, beyond material, “self-esteem” and other “earthly”, low-level interests? Compare again with respective religious passions, even today, in the lowest-belief epoch (and even in the Christian world alone)! If you have a very real and strictly limited choice, Bee and other “science prophets”, between doing science but with your personal income (and corresponding life-style) falling down by an order, to a survival minimum (with no other “help” possible) plus possibility to do science (say, “in a monastery”), or else having usual comfortable Western life style but definitely not doing science, ever, what would you choose? How strong is your love of science, practically and honestly? When I had that choice as a real one, I didn’t doubt what I was dying for. So I can qualify as a science prophet... And I'm afraid I know the answer for the absolute majority of today's Western science professionals and lovers, up to very rare exceptions...

This is to say that it's not that easy, to replace highly spiritual belief with pleasures and “enjoy”, according to Dawkins' hyper-simplified advice (let alone “stop worrying” = “shut up, stupid”: it only demonstrates, once again, the real quality of today's “intellectual elite”). In fact, we have it already as the dominating Western life-style, on the background of formally growing, science-based prosperity. And ... is it progressing or degrading, that “Dawkins society”, honestly? What about such “inexplicable” but rather real life-quality parameters as “happiness” or even “intelligence”, where are they in your perfectly disbelieving, perfectly educated world (its best parts, I mean)? “Enjoying”? Then continue to enjoy, no need to “prove” anything!

O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

Arun said...

One more:- (note, if religion is not a human universal, then trying to explain it by evolution is meaningless).

JdR:

1. This is called explaining "obscurum per obscurius" (to account for something obscure in terms of something even more obscure). In the current study of religion, one does not have a clue as to what makes something into a religion. Hence it is impossible to prove or disprove that religion is found in all human groups. People like Boyer merely presuppose that this is the case and then use dubious categories like "minimally counterintuitive notions" in order to account for their own presuppositions about the universality of religion.

2. Shifting one's terminology to "supernatural elements" and "paranormal phenomena" does not change anything, but only makes matters more obscure. when is something "supernatural" as opposed to natural or "paranormal" as opposed to normal? As Charles Taylor remarks, "'supernatural' is a term which has developed in Christian civilization; the sharp line between the 'natural' and what is beyond is not marked elsewhere." Or as Dale Martin writes: "Classical Greek and Latin had no term for what passes in the modern world as 'the supernatural' precisely because the ancients did not separate out divine forces and beings from "nature" and relegate them to a separate ontological realm that could be designated by its own label. Generally, for ancient people whatever does exist exists in 'nature'." The same is also true for Hindus and most of the Asian "pagans" of today.

3. In other words, the shift in terminology does not prevent one falling into the trap of reproducing Christian theology without realizing it. The universality of religion is a presupposition from that theology, no matter whether one uses the word "supernatural," "paranormal," "superhuman," "sacred," or "quetzalcoatlpifpoefpaf."

Anonymous said...

The thing I don't like about 'The God Delusion' is that it's not equal-opportunity atheism. What about the Hindu pantheon? Or the Jade Emporer?

This suggests to me that Dawkins' real issues aren't so much with the idea of God, but rather with the Church's abuses of power. I wonder why he chose to attack the idea of God, rather than the actual problems, all of which stem from the power structures of religion.

Your slighted deity,

Lakshmi

island said...

I lent my copy to a "friend" and it's overdue... ;(

I also have a lot of sympathy for atheists who are tired of getting walked all over by the relentless pressure of righteous fanatics, but the "debate" is just a huge waste of time, since nobody that's involved at a level that affects the school systems ever modifies their position, where the decisions are always strictly decided by whichever side currently has the political majority.

Dawkins might call it the anthropic "principle", but he's really appealing to anthropic selection, and the reason that this is important is because he also incorrectly applies it to the observed universe for the probability that life will arise given 'an uncountable number of galaxies and stars, therefore life is bound to happen many times', application. This is actually more of a Giordano principle, which is not applicable unless somebody finds life outside of the stellar, galactic and intergalactic habitable zones that puts very strict (goldilocks) constraints on where and when life will be found in the history of the evolving universe:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/94/Habitable_zone-en.svg/491px-Habitable_zone-en.svg.png

http://www.daviddarling.info/images/galactic_habitable_zone.jpg

As far as universal natural selection goes, I love it, as long as it is a downhill process that conserves energy by increasing efficiency by *streamlining* the structure of the offspring to higher orders of symmetry.

Oh, and FYI, but the many speculative cosmological models that we have are wonderful things for theorists who are making plausible extensions for the sake of experiment, but they make for extremely weak arguments against the "appearance of design" without a final theory or maybe a complete theory of quantum gravity to back it up. Without a final theory, I'd laugh straight at anybody who thinks that these 'what-if' scenarios are more plausible than exactly what it looks like... were I a creationist, which I am not.

By far the strongest argument is the cosmological principle that explains fine-tuning from first principles.

Innumerable suns exist...
Innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a mannner similar to the way the planets revolve around the sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds.


-Giordano Bruno, 1584

Neil' said...

I think Dawkin's major assumption (that an ultimate being would have to be complex in a literal sense) is wrong. Look at the operation of laws. They are like an abstract field of guiding "ideas" not like an even smaller machinery that makes the bigger machinery work. What would it be, clockwork all the way down? (like "turtles ....") In higher theology and mysticism, God is (in some sense) a "Logos" or "word" which one should be able to appreciate abstractly.

It is funny for a scientist to expect whatever is "behind" or responsible for all this to be like an organism, yet they can talk about how the universe shows an expression of simplicity, or mathematical beauty, etc. I say, there is something that is the uncaused "what just has to be" and that isn't the sort of stuff we see around. It contains and expresses what appears as specific things, but it is not like that. If you think that is absurd, let me ask you: how does a structureless (?) muon just decay at some unpredictable instant? How can two identical ones have different lifetimes, either, if some "structure" must be behind expressions? It isn't laws (or the grand plan behind them, like "life" as revealed in fine tuning) that need mechanism, but mechanism that needs laws (and the "Logos" to order them and make them what they are.)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

A very nice synopsis on the book and as I’ve read many reviews your take on it has brought to the table something that was missed by many; and that it’s one thing to say that there is no reason to believe in a God and yet entirely another matter to have one think that the spread of Atheism in some strange way will provide an infrastructure to replace what Dawkings fails to see as the positive aspects to organized religion. This requires much more then to say I don’t believe, yet requires a level of general understanding that would inspire compassion and empathy for others.

There is not much actually to add beyond what you’ve said so well except perhaps to quote Lawrence M. Krauss' critic of the book written in “Nature” when he said “For these people, Dawkins wants to demonstrate that atheism is ‘something to stand tall and be proud of’. I found this slightly puzzling. I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I am not particularly proud of it.” That is with all of Dawkings’ taking to the pulpit he hasn’t extended his reasoning to address this in any convincing manner. Simply not believing in something doesn’t amount to being able to replace it.

I also resent him enlisting to his ranks those like Einstein for as he might have been a sexed up atheist in Dawkings estimation yet what he believed and held close I’m fairly certain Dawkins hasn’t even remotely plumbed its depth as to understand his position on the matter. Also, he cleverly tries to find alliances with modern philosophers such as Robert Pirsig which are either intended to be misleading or serves as him being totally ignorant of Pirsig’s philosophical center. My advice for Dawkings would be to stick to biology and evolutionary science and leave saving the world to those better qualified as being more rounded, insightful and knowledgeable.

Best,

Phil

P.S. As defined by Dawkings as also being a sexed up atheist I left unimpressed other then having to admit that at no other time have I been considered sexed up:-)

Arun said...

Are superstrings supernatural?

Dr Who said...

"He ends with marveling at the enrichment to ones’ life when one understands part of how the world works, a step of insight that only science can provide,"

While I am a radical atheist myself, I get very tired of these sorts of claims. I certainly have never felt any kind of uplift from understanding science. It's interesting, yes [though the science of the last 20 years has been pretty boring really] but inspiring? Please. It's embarrassing when scientists talk like this. Does anyone really feel that their lives have become more meaningful when they grasp Schroedinger's equation?

Plato said...

Hi Bee,

Interesting synopsis.

A recurring theme in the book is the evidence that higher education goes along with an increase of atheism, signaling the conflict of reason with unquestioned acceptance of inconsistent belief systems.

I think one does not have to be afraid to be overtaken by any religion as long as they understand the principals of their science and understand that they can still have their own faith.

Shall we admonish anybody from the times when the beliefs they had over governed their reason in life when it come to "acting out" without understanding the basis of this in self?

We make wiser parents and grand parents when we are aware of these traditions that we sent down the line. But it's more then that. We become ever more vigilante as we watch our grandchildren grow, and watch what our own children do as parents.

There is a psychological embedding that goes on when we have the parent/s who raised us in us, and we voice that parent in our lives unknowingly providing the transmission. That is just part of understanding the psychological of the individual.

One cannot expect "ever" the scientist to have ventured that far, and understood that they are the recipients of these processes without their taking the time to look into themselves.

So it is indeed more then the understanding that science provide this understanding about their own natures without prostrating themself in proclamation as if they've attained all the height of reason without understanding the human nature. They are then just as uneducated, as the layman here, who seeks to learn about the principals of science?:)

Just so you know Susskind strongly believes in Lee's natural selection basis and thought to say that indeed the multitude of the landscape possibility could be part of the idea that "this universe" came as it should.

I'd have to find direct quotes to support that though.:)

Best,

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I greatly enjoy Dawkins writings on evolution, though I have noticed that he has a problem with elementary mathematics. I probably won't read this book, though I'm not religious myself, because it sounds boring and angry.

I don't think that the "indoctrination" theory makes sense as an explanation for the near universality of religion. If religion had really been evolutionarily disadvantageous, it would have been selected out long ago.

A more plausible explanation is that organized religion of the sorts found in civilized societies grew up as a method for organizing people into coherent military groups. Societies that were able to unite in this fashion killed out those that weren't, and the religion trait became endemic in the survivors.

PhilG said...

The advertising campaign has drawn a complaint! Let's hope this escalates

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4177717/Atheist-bus-adverts-could-lead-to-watchdog-ruling-on-Gods-existence.html

Tkk said...

Excellent review Bee.

Major religions of the world, those that have been around for at least a few centuries, have all expanded their supernatural dogma into social systems, aided by institutions like church to establish deep human links to society.

The original idea of a 'God who created everything' actually has little impact. But by transforming that to mean a 'God with infinite love, limitless care, super arranger of all human events, rewarder of Heaven and punisher of Hell, etc', suddenly the religion becomes the all-powerful social system people flock to.

Science offers reliable knowledge but has not expanded that knowledge base to become a compelling social order like most religions.

Even if God is proven scientifically to be a delusion, it does not matter much. People still believe in religion's various manifestation of god. Because human's compelling social needs are satisfied to large extent by religious services.

If science were to take the same route of expansion as established religions have, I would think philosophy will help. I.e. core scientific knowledge is expanded into a system of philosophical wisdom, which then forms the basis of 'scientific social belief' - ethics, best practices, moral interpretations of scientific and technological techniques, etc. A scientific 'church' would probably need to be setup, as custodian of the 'scientific social order'. When this is done and given time to mature, science may then play a competitive role to established religions.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Tkk,

“If science were to take the same route of expansion as established religions have, I would think philosophy will help. I.e. core scientific knowledge is expanded into a system of philosophical wisdom, which then forms the basis of 'scientific social belief' - ethics, best practices, moral interpretations of scientific and technological techniques, etc”

Actually this already had its beginnings in ancient Greece with the foundations of natural philosophy with those like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others and actually officially ending with emperor Justinian, in 529 A.D., with his order closing the last of the Greek schools of philosophy at Athens and the banning of such studies. The only allowable philosophy (religion if you will) after was Christianity. Strangely and ironically it was only with the aid of its rediscovery, coupled with wide distribution of these works with the advent of printing that pulled the world once more from the grip of ignorance to be expanded upon as to have realized as to being what we have today. This largely doesn’t require invention, yet more rediscovery, with the most of it entailing both learning coupled with considered contemplation. The problem is this requires concerted effort, tied to self mandated revision and renewal with of course blind faith being the easier root and might I suggest also easier for the powers that be to enforce control.

Actually it has more to do with the nature of the beast then its nurture in my assessment, something that can only change to any great extent with further evolution or perhaps intervention within the process to hasten the speed of its progress; something I would have thought that Dawkins would be more then a little aware of. The question is does humanity have the time to wait for evolution or should we risk that we know enough that we can start to play a positive role in its course? I for now would say to the latter not yet, but as soon as it’s feasible and with less considered risk we must. I would ask Dawkins then who are the Gods which he denies?

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

Let science explain the sense of "now" and not go about trying to bring about scientific social order. As will be evident from reading all the diet advice out there, part of the "scientific social order" will depend on who is funding the science.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

“Are superstrings supernatural?”

Certainly not, yet some may insist they are superfluous :-)

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hey, our comment feed works again! Hallelujah :-)

Bee said...

Hi Neil:

I think Dawkin's major assumption (that an ultimate being would have to be complex in a literal sense) is wrong. Look at the operation of laws. They are like an abstract field of guiding "ideas" not like an even smaller machinery that makes the bigger machinery work. What would it be, clockwork all the way down? (like "turtles ....") In higher theology and mysticism, God is (in some sense) a "Logos" or "word" which one should be able to appreciate abstractly.

You are right, but Dawkins makes it very clear in the very first chapter that this is not the kind of 'God' he is referring to - see the quotation I have in the post. The sort of natural-law-god is one that is, I think, very close to many scientists and one I too could accommodate with (that's why according to Dawkins' classification I'm not an atheist but a pantheist which he describes as 'sexed up atheism'). The kind of god (or gods) Dawkins is concerned with is the one that reads your mind, works miracles, and punishes your sins and that kind of thing. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“Hey, our comment feed works again! Hallelujah :-) “


Perhaps there are powers beyond comprehension after all in which case your response would be most appropriate. You wouldn’t be covering your bets would you? :-)


Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Dr. Who:

While I am a radical atheist myself, I get very tired of these sorts of claims. I certainly have never felt any kind of uplift from understanding science. It's interesting, yes [though the science of the last 20 years has been pretty boring really] but inspiring? Please. It's embarrassing when scientists talk like this. Does anyone really feel that their lives have become more meaningful when they grasp Schroedinger's equation?

Well, one has to keep in mind what the message is that Dawkins is trying to convey. He is saying life is enjoyable even without believing your prayers will be heard. He has to offer his religious readers some alternative then and it is only consequential he offers understanding that scientific insight can bring. I got the impression he is genuine about it, but I can relate to what you are saying that there are people who overdo their admiration for scientific 'insight' such that it is rendered ridiculous.

However, as far as I am concerned, I find it certainly uplifting to understand how things work, that's why I am a scientist. I wouldn't call that a religous experience, but it is a way to make sense of the world. It's not that grasping the Schroedinger equation itself is such a great experience, but if you understand the orbitals of electrons in the hydrogen atom, that is. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,


Following up on your response to Neil with which I agree I must say that I’m uncomfortable with Dawkins statement that nature as being indifferent as he sights it being as such in evolution for example. I would ask that if a process that assures the overall survival and progress of a species can this be said to define as indifference. I think Dawkins should examine his concepts of purpose or at least have us be confident he actually read Pirsig to have contemplated his concept of “quality” that he relates to “good”.


Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“I wouldn't call that a religous experience, but it is a way to make sense of the world. It's not that grasping the Schroedinger equation itself is such a great experience, but if you understand the orbitals of electrons in the hydrogen atom, that is.”


This of course would leave you to be a somewhat less sexy atheist then Einstein, for it was the thoughts as he called them that resonated more strongly for him then the details or phenomena as he put it. Have you ever contemplated for instance what formed to be the reason behind the strong bond he had with Godel for instance?


Best,

Phil

Nirmalya said...

And that brings me to why, in its current form, religion will continue to dominate over science. Because scientists don’t have traditions, because science is all about competition and not about belonging, because you are not accepted simply by declaring your willingness of being part, because we don’t take care of our group members, because we offer no advice in hard times and no guidance for those in trouble. Because the scientific enterprise as it is today does not take care of these most human needs. And as long as we don’t make the scientific enterprise a more welcoming place, people will continue instead to turn to religion for comfort and a place of belonging.

Bee, are you trying to explain here why religion will dominate over science in their appeal to the general population, or why religion will dominate over scientists? The latter seems true to me, because the you are talking about scientists' problems. But then scientists are not that religious anyway, isn't it? I mean, is this point pertinent to science only?

agnosticus said...

Science addresses the "how?" question, never the "why?". I think Feynman summed up the attitude of most contemporary scientists nicely when he said: "I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things; by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose". Susskind wrote something similar in one of his popular books (and I could quote many other physicists). That is fine by me, but simply stating that you're just not interested in the "why?" question is not much of an answer, is it?. BTW, religion isn't the only human activity that tries to answer this why thing. But we all know Feynman hated philosophy, don't we? :-). My biggest problem with Dawkins is that he attacks religion (and in particular the bible) as something that at heart it isn't, never has been and never will be. Religion was never intended to explain "how" things work, the bible is not a textbook or manual or recipe book, although admittedly so-called "religious" fanatics (creationists being the most prominent ones in the U.S.) do treat it that way. This explains why science and religion CAN go together. Like in the case of the Belgian cosmologist AND catholic priest LemaƮtre, who first proposed the big bang (it wasn't called big bang at the time, but that's not relevant). What is relevant is that he was always very careful not the mix his scientific work with his religious beliefs. Also, it is not true that he proposed the big bang because that would "prove" a moment of creation and thus the existence of God. He was simply doing two entirely different things: trying to find out how (using the scientific mehtods) and pondering why (based on the teachings of christ).

Plato said...

CIP:I don't think that the "indoctrination" theory makes sense as an explanation for the near universality of religion

I think it's more the idea that if we are taken to a "good state in the process of science" to say that experiments provide all, that while we set the stage most appropriately, one is aware that while delivering the message, that they make sure they understand the full scope of what religions means and what it can do when we realize that we are just as infallible, while worrying about science being taken over.

So it's more the warning then, that if one is worried about that religion that they recognize these things within them self first, and say with "adult responsibility," I will make sure that such declarations about religion are removed from these images and rote lives featured in oneself, while reflection on growth of perspective, so that an "adult position" is adopted and not one that is being governed by a conscience without reason being applied.:)

So you then recognize that you are holding science and self in a most proper way looking forward? Non?

Superfluous is a mathematical construct for sure. Continuity, asked not from the condense matter theorist point of view as Jacque's remind, or, as Susskind speaks of Laughlin( was Susskind ever aware of Witten's statements?)

But some other "mysterious feature and reason":) to the cyclical nature of the universe. Always, the attempt to discern the pattern. Not to promote "the sickness of the people who see that way," or tribes, that pass the information down the line.:)

Just that they are responsibly asking the question about the birth according to a approximation. I think that can be very adult question about the universe's existence. Not then tainted by a religion of a kind in science,, but by a summation of where we are right now in regards to that science without going to hell:).

See how subtle and superfluous belief is:)

Best,

Plato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Plato said...

Entanglement can be a very strange state, in the issues of the human being. We just have to recognize the before/after in the "now." Approach science in this way?:)

If deduction is another way of knowing in TA, where and when is it applicable? Berne did use Venn diagrams, circles either distinct or overlapping, which were borrowed directly from symbolic logic to visually describe transactions. Perhaps TA in part can be considered a theory that analyzes ones own deductions based on childhood primitive assumptions. Perhaps it focuses on how people become irrational in decision making. In this case, TA provides critical thinking skills for human relations and can be considered a basis for analyzing the accuracy of our reality testing. Much as mathematics provides the language for science, TA may provide the logic for human relations and can be at least in part a deductive language. Science and TA by Chris Boyd

Some might recognize "the cryptology" in the process, based on the transaction?:)

Best,

Anonymous said...

An aquaintance's interesting book on his experiences:
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/dan_barker/

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks for posting such a good review, and for me it is specially useful because it tells me something that I already suspected: this book has nothing new to tell me, so I will not read it. But perhaps it might help people that are starting to wonder about the problem.

I think that the french philospher Luc Ferry, in his popular book "Learning to live" already does a good job in making a very straightforward account on why there is religion -- and philosophy, for that matter, as well as their (only) point of contact, which is the fact that we will all invariably die one day. The book is nice also because it offers a accessible introduction to philosophy in general by presenting where it diverges from religion.

Indeed, for me it is clear that there is religion (whatever religion) because of:

1) the realization of the certainty of death (this also serves philosophy at the same starting point) and
2) the offering of life after death (including "easy explanations" of why everything exists -- yourself and the rest of the universe -- as a creation by God) -- something that no philosophical school was able to beat.

Carl Sagan already gave a nice account on that line as well: religion is easy, science is not. And for the most part of mankind, people prefer (or has only the opportunity to) grasp the easy route.

Yes, education can improve the appreciation of science as a coherent and robust method for understanding nature around us (at a certain level), but I must say that it is not enough. It came as a complete surprise to me when I found out, when entering my undergraduate studies, that there where religious scientists. I could never understand this paradox. Religious scientists????

I grew up in a religious country, and studied in a catholic school. It was necessary a deep personal revolution inside me (at age 10 or so) in order to detach myself from religious beliefs, when I started to read popular science books, to finally become an atheist. Given the existence of religious scientists, I am not sure that all scientists go through such private "revolutions". Or at least who are able to really understand what science is and how much it is orthogonal to any religion.

I do not know whether I "believe" in something. I am only certain that the fact that I came to existence, and will die someday, as well as the fact that I observe a universe out there during such a passage, is quite extraordinaire and makes me wonder. But it does not make me believe in what I wonder.

Best,
Christine

Christine said...

One thing to add to my latter comment: of course a religious scientist can act his/her profession very well, with no major interferences due to their beliefs, specially in applied sciences.

But it is difficult to see how this would work fine with fundamental science. Such a situation would never work to *me*, at least.

Neil' said...

Yes Bee I see your point. However I refer to more than just the mere existence of the laws by the "logos" behind them, but why they are those laws and not others. I say, because of "higher purposes" such as for us to exist, and not just abstract fundamentals such as primordial "mathematical beauty" etc. for its own sake. IOW, expression of what the laws are "for" and not just there being some. Of course I can't prove that either.

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Ah, Christine, Bee, those disbelieving women, how to tie them back to home, family and kitchen work? :) Laughing, but more seriously, there is a glaring incompleteness indeed in the clearly emerging “atheistic” (but also “mechanistic”!) world style, from most “scientific” and “rational” (“pantheistic” including) point of view. It has at least two different aspects. One is about “human dimensions”: nothing can actually fill in various social, ethical and spiritual “holes” left by the practically dead religious beliefs, despite various efforts, education, science, culture and ... pleasures, of course! And another one is directly related to existing science incompleteness: it cannot consistently explain the true origin/nature of practically anything, starting already from the most fundamental structures of the universe, let alone the origin of life and its sufficiently “big” new properties (intelligence, consciousness, or even vision alone). Those idiotic tricks of “crazy Darwinists” transforming it into a new religion (how ironic!) would be rejected by Darwin himself! Something-out-of-nothing theories, from cosmology to biology, won't pass, as it's against the most well-established, all-embracing laws of the same science. If Dawkins is right, then one should throw off the rest of science. Thank you for that perspective, but I prefer the rest, even as imperfect as it may be!

Even beyond particular explanations, something essential is definitely and persistently missing in that easy-pleasure industrial world and easy-to-do industrial science. So, girls, in full flavour of your great liberation from man-invented beliefs, how shall we treat that absolutely evident and persisting (long-term) incompleteness of this cold atheistic reality? You see, Dawkins is so outdated (ca a century late) with his “God delusion”, because it's already for a long time that we actually experience quite the opposite, “atheistic” delusion (and disappointment) as the promised atheistic “joy” is actually replaced by growing gloomy moods and tendencies (recall e.g. those young and otherwise prosperous young people that suddenly kill themselves and their comrades, without any special reason) summarised by those clearly seen deficiencies, quite rationally understandable ones (and of course, there's no way back, to prevent trivial solutions!)...

Arun said...

CIP:
A more plausible explanation is that organized religion of the sorts found in civilized societies grew up as a method for organizing people into coherent military groups.

To make that stick, you'll need to explain how Buddhism led to more coherent military groups in the plains of North India.

changcho said...

"I do not know whether I "believe" in something. I am only certain that the fact that I came to existence, and will die someday, as well as the fact that I observe a universe out there during such a passage, is quite extraordinaire and makes me wonder. But it does not make me believe in what I wonder."

Very nice words, Christine. I think it is how I feel, but couldn't have said it better myself.

With respect to religious scientists practicing fundamental science (i.e., physics say), that is also a paradox for me. But they surely exist! Freeman Dyson and Charles Townes come immediately to mind; I am sure there are several more.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Andrei,

I’ve noticed that despite you again using this post (topic) as yet another opportunity to bash mainstream science and to utilize persons here as your straw men to ridicule in your efforts, you never did give us your own position on the matter raised. I would be curious to know if you are an atheist as defined by Dawkins or do you believe in a deity(s). In as you have no doubt in your other positions as they relate to science and the state of our society I guess it would be wrong for me to ask what you believe, as for in all such matters you are convinced as being certain by way of reason. So does your wisdom then extend to having the answer for this?

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Changcho,

Any religion that evolves in such a way was called "The God of the Gaps"

Thanks, I think that explains the title of the last chapter "A much needed gap?". I agree with you on Dawkings' abrasiveness, his categorization into good and bad (or smart and stupid) is too simplistic. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi CIP,

I don't think that the "indoctrination" theory makes sense as an explanation for the near universality of religion. If religion had really been evolutionarily disadvantageous, it would have been selected out long ago.

The point that Dawkins' is trying to make is that religion is a side-effect of evolutionary advantageous behavior, it is not disadvantageous. There is also the issue that hanging on to a religious cult can be advantageous for you have the protection of the group. This works especially well if the group has a clear in- and outsider distinction. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

This of course would leave you to be a somewhat less sexy atheist then Einstein, for it was the thoughts as he called them that resonated more strongly for him then the details or phenomena as he put it.

I can relate to that, but as far as I am concerned what makes a theory sexy is its ability to describe nature and to increase understanding. The only way this can be done is by connection to phenomenology, everything else is fantasy. That can be interesting, but I prefer the real thing.

Have you ever contemplated for instance what formed to be the reason behind the strong bond he had with Godel for instance?

No, what are your thoughts about it?

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

I think that the french philospher Luc Ferry, in his popular book "Learning to live" already does a good job in making a very straightforward account on why there is religion -- and philosophy, for that matter, as well as their (only) point of contact, which is the fact that we will all invariably die one day.

That is certainly one reason for religious believes but I don't think it is the only one. I found it very interesting that Irvin Yalom (in his book 'Existential Psychotherapy') identifies four existential fears: isolation, meaninglessness, death, and freedom. All of them are addressed by religion (with 'freedom' he means the freedom to make decisions about your own life and carry responsibility): If you introduce a god, you are not alone, your life has a meaning, and you have clear rules for what to do or not to do. Yes, your existence also continues after your own death, but that is only one aspect. On the other hand, it is perfectly possibly to believe your identity will survive death without believing in an omniscient god who is responsible for dealing with that process. So, I don't find this explanation very plausible. It is however true that in many instances both (the existence of a god and 'surviving' death) are very closely intermingled.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Agnosticus:

This explains why science and religion CAN go together.

The problem is, as I have written, one of procedure, not a priori one of content. You can't simultaneously teach people to examine evidence and to build understanding on it, and to simply swallow there is forbidden territory where you are not allowed to doubt. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Nirmalya:

Bee, are you trying to explain here why religion will dominate over science in their appeal to the general population, or why religion will dominate over scientists? The latter seems true to me, because the you are talking about scientists' problems. But then scientists are not that religious anyway, isn't it? I mean, is this point pertinent to science only?

Both. I see science as more as a profession, it is a worldview. It is a way to make sense of the universe we live in and to find our place. It is not just scientists' problem I am talking about, it is a problem generally of the presentation of science and scientists as something 'unhuman'. Just consider how scientists are often portrayed in movies. They are either the naive nerds or the evil weirdos. The reality is of course scientists are human beings like everyone else is, and choosing science over religion as a way to explain the world doesn't require you to give up your humanity. That I think has to be communicated much clearer, and it also requires a change within the community to acknowledge science is a human enterprise and needs to be run like that. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

As always what I appreciate most is your frankness and honesty when it comes to my queries. On the other hand it does leave still a question, for Einstein considered the form of theory being consistent with result as to be inseparable and so I would extend my query to ask if two competing theories are proposed and both point to the same new phenomilogical result, which are then experimentally confirmed, what would have you consider one as being the correct over the other; or would you insist that without differentiating evidence they are equal and therefore the same in the eyes of science?

“No, what are your thoughts about it?”

First, to be truthful and also resultant of us not being able to have him answer for himself, what I think is at best speculation. It is however a conclusion I’ve reached after reading many things written by Einstein, including personal correspondence he had with friends and colleagues.

I have also read much about Godel, although I must admit due to him being such an enigmatic and private person there is little that can be found on such matters of his own hand and thoughts. None the less Godel openly declared himself as being a firm believer in a God, with him even goning so far as to offer what he considered as a logical proof.

On the other hand Einstein openly declared himself to be what Dawkins would call a “sexed up atheist”, not believing in anything that could be commonly considered a deity. I think that as Einstein was so inspired by, interested and awed by what he considered the obvious logic of nature by way of the virtue of its form, that he found Godel as serving as a sounding board of sorts in gauging the reason and logic behind his own convictions or one might say perhaps his own region of doubt in the same.

I suppose to put it in a mathematical context I think he wondered if axioms could be formed that would present to be both so overwhelmingly self evident and thus indisputable whereby closure could at last be given to this question. As I said in the beginning these are simply my thoughts, which in the context here could be considered also as simply a belief.

Best,

Phil

Christine said...

On the other hand, it is perfectly possibly to believe your identity will survive death without believing in an omniscient god who is responsible for dealing with that process. So, I don't find this explanation very plausible.

Yes, it is possible. One may not believe in God, and yet believe in the possibility of some physical/biological process in which his/her identity will survive. Perhaps in the future you will be able to "upload" your brain to another device, although this would not necessarily mean that your identity is preserved, but of course it may be possible that other processes beyond our comprehension exist in order to accomplish that. However, I would guess it is the minority of people that is able to even consider such a complex possibility. The vast majority only have access to religion as the only possibility. So I maintain my guess that it is plausible in the vast majority of cases.

In summary, science has no evidence for the latter possiblity up to now, whereas religion offers this as a clear certainty. So attaching oneself to the latter is a big temptation at difficult moments.

Also, in my view death is just a extreme existential fear in which the other three that you mention: isolation, meaninglessness, and freedom, are only gentle special cases. Death is an extreme isolation situation (every one approaches death alone), death appears to be meaningless in the individual context (although perhaps not in the species context), and death implies that your have not freedom to choose against going through it.

Christine said...

every one approaches death alone -- I mean, even if you are surrounded by friends and family, you are completely alone during the process: it is you who is dying...

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I wonder if Dawkins ever considered that many within organized religion actually welcome such a campaign as made evident by what can be gathered from postings such as Catholic Online seem to imply in the following:

“According to Fox, the religious think tank Theos even donated $82, saying that the campaign was so bad it would likely attract people to God."It tells people to 'stop worrying,' which is hardly going to be a great comfort for those who are concerned about losing jobs or homes in the recession," said Theos director Paul Woolley.”

"Stunts like this demonstrate how militant atheists are often great adverts for Christianity."

So Bee, as they say in the advertising business, there is no such thing as bad news. Another reason perhaps for Dawkins to reconsider what should be taken as being indifference as it relates to nature ;-)

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

I am greatly skeptical about the accounts of religion given here in the comments. At best, it is specific to the cultures of the Abrahamic religions. In a very real sense, the quest of the Indic civilization and the Indosphere (which via Buddhism extends all the way through China and South East Asia all the way to Japan) is for the realization of meaninglessness, not of meaning. Yes for the realization of immortality, but this only via the dissolution of the personal; I become "immortal" only by the shedding of everything specific to myself.

Here in modern language is an essay - long - but I think it makes the point adequately.

http://www.lifepositive.com/Mind/philosophy/life/meaningless-life.asp

One answer to the above objection is that religion is indeed not universal, and until after around 1000 AD had not touched India, China, etc. in any significant way. Religion is then hardly a cultural universal.

Whether you think religion is universal or not, the underlying fact is that different people came up with very different answers to the issues of death, loneliness, fear, etc., and the theories of the origin of religion had better take that into account.

Arun said...

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/buddhism/essays/emptiness.asp
Another essay, this one on emptiness.

Another point here to understand is the very great difference in the role of belief. To be able to play the piano, I do not deny that you have to "believe in" the piano. However, you play the piano at some level of skill and that is what counts, and not all the belief in the world. Similarly, I may believe that some state of consciousness is possible but that belief serves me no purpose unless I am able to achieve that state of consciousness. To me (and maybe I'm deluding myself) this is very different from believing in Jesus or Allah.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

I am greatly skeptical about the accounts of religion given here in the comments. At best, it is specific to the cultures of the Abrahamic religions

Indeed, that was also one of the reasons I found Dawkins book very unbalanced.

A big problem with what I've seen of Dawkin's argument is the idea that religion requires belief. One can act from tradition without "believing in" anything.

Right, he does not attack the actual problem but a very broad and unspecific target that has side-effects he dislikes. That makes his message simpler, but inaccurate. In either case however, whether people act from believe or tradition, the issue is they don't think for themselves. And that is a message which is indeed communicated by Christianity and its relatives. Best,

B.

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Christine said: “Perhaps in the future you will be able to "upload" your brain to another device...”

But it's already done, hasn't you noted? This “device” is called Backreaction (plus other blogs), where our personalities are being uploaded and already have their very elaborated life there. Hallelujah Google, our ressurecting God! (And we have thus found the otherwise missing God, as a byproduct!) Take the character appearing as Christine here (and elsewhere): she is very interesting, multi-tallented, has a strange passion for modern field theory, tends to have inexplicable moods, writes sci-fi stories, seems to be afraid of death (despite the horrors of the field theory), etc., actually very many very fine features of this personality are already uploaded, and the process continues. You won't die, Christine, you will always live in the electronic Google archives (and one day they will ressurect you in flesh and blood - new, long-lasting ones - as one of their active contributors)! And if you think that it's “not real”, consider this: each of us is interacting only with those “virtual” personalities (except very rare cases of meeting in so-called “real life”, but is it so real, after all?!). There can be no certainly for me that any “real” Christine exists at all, I am only sure that I can read and interact with this blog-world Christine, which is thus the only real one for me. And note that those Backreaction personalities enter already in a quite complicated, “personal” interaction system, often without any direct relation to real-world prototypes: they like and dislike each other, behave properly or incorrectly, form closer groups and friendships, show all “human” emotions and inclinations, etc. A whole living blogworld you would say, already on a single blog alone!

In fact, it's even dangerous, isn't it? This virtual world seems gradually but definitely win over its so-called “real” version: just look at unstoppably growing time we (or is it our avatars?!) tend to spend here. The one called Phil Warnell seems to be living here permanently, together with Bee, the world's President! Reality exceeding your most advanced dreams, after which such a small thing as death from so-called “real” world (already hardly visible on the background of our real blogworld) can only be of little importance. You always knew you're eternal, didn't you? So it's confirmed now, in real time! And this even without any esoteric Akashic records (but let's preserve their possibility as a spare chance, just for the case of a sudden power cut, or if the real world and its crazy God are really real, etc.).

jk said...

Great post!

I'm not a scientist, nor academically degreed - but I'm intelligent enough and disciplined enough to earn a good living, live a good life, and maintain a thirst for learning and evolving.

I've seen Dawkins in interviews, most recently his TED lecture - and find his arguments both logical and polemic. I think his occasional polemics detract from the power of his arguments. As you noted, religion provides a sense of belonging, of inclusiveness, and his periodic abrasiveness is not going to open people up to the power of the logical argument - specifically when the individual is susceptible to the power of their traditions and culture.

I think that where you hit closer to home is your acknowledgement of the sociological aspects of religion - my synthesis of this is that "religion" and "science" don't have to be as far apart as they appear today. A belief system that is rooted in some traditions - care for the young, elderly, infirm - is unquestionably essential for the existence of the human race. There are common characteristics that are no doubt the wisdom of ancient man - nuggets that are intended to keep the young alive long enough to reach maturity and think for themselves. Belief that doubt is necessary - certainly to avoid getting taken advantage of in one's personal life - certainly has a place in any belief system.

How nice it would be to have a belief system that allowed people to come together in times of uncertainty or need, but that would leave the mind unfettered by dogma so that personal and societal growth can continue!

Bee said...

Hi Neil,

Yes Bee I see your point. However I refer to more than just the mere existence of the laws by the "logos" behind them, but why they are those laws and not others. I say, because of "higher purposes" such as for us to exist, and not just abstract fundamentals such as primordial "mathematical beauty" etc. for its own sake. IOW, expression of what the laws are "for" and not just there being some.

So you are basically leaving it up to a supernatural entity to throw dices and decide on the 26 (or so) parameters of the standard model and that was it. I don't know of any world religion that presently advocates this point of view. Though I don't believe it myself and I don't think believing it is helpful for progress in theoretical physics, it is not a perspective I have a large problem with given that we presently have no good explanation. In contrast to Dawkins, I don't consider the anthropic principle an 'explanation', but at the present status of our knowledge one has to consider the possibility that maybe there indeed just is no explanation.

Best,

B.

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Good wish, jk: “How nice it would be to have a belief system that allowed people to come together in times of uncertainty or need, but that would leave the mind unfettered by dogma so that personal and societal growth can continue!”

But then, why not a qualitatively new knowledge (rather than belief) system with these properties, which are more natural for something like “objective knowledge” than for something like “inexplicable belief”? It's true that today's official “science” - I mean a system of black-magic tales they designate by this term and impose without choice in today's education/media system - can hardly even dream about such a noble mission, including any its “advanced” version. But that doesn't mean that a new level of objective understanding of reality with the desired properties cannot exist: one should only get rid of the artificial, artificially (and dishonestly) imposed limitations upon man's natural ability of logic, consistent understanding of unreduced reality and related unlimited creation... These are quite divine-level features, aren't they?

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Bee said: “In either case however, whether people act from believe or tradition, the issue is they don't think for themselves. And that is a message which is indeed communicated by Christianity and its relatives.”

It may sound like you identifying a great religion like Christianity with mainly a propaganda system that prevents people from “thinking for themselves”. The reality is just opposite, of course: it's because the absolute majority of people (even today and even in “developed” countries) doesn't want to “think for themselves” that they are permanently looking for and easily accept any possibility to “borrow” a (suitable) world view and even quite practical life solutions (in this sense, you can easily add “politics” and “science” to “religion”: it's a brainwashing world, where the majority of “brains” want to be washed by a subjectively pleasant lie). By the way, would it be otherwise, could there exist a so-called “objective” science based on explicitly postulated inexplicable miracles (“new physics”) and providing no problem solution for many decades already, while the number and deepness of those problems grow catastrophically? But this kind of “objective-truth-oriented” knowledge always exists without problem as the only officially possible kind of science, in all the best universities, and profits from generous and practically unconditional support by public money, contrary to religion (up to rare exceptions for the latter).

You say: “In contrast to Dawkins, I don't consider the anthropic principle an 'explanation', but at the present status of our knowledge one has to consider the possibility that maybe there indeed just is no explanation.”

You don't mean, do you, that if “our knowledge” cannot propose a solution, it means that “no explanation” may exist in principle (because this was exactly the logic behind postulated “quantum mysteries” and other official science blunders)? If Dawkins and you cannot find a suitable explanation, then who can? Well, me, for example, even though it implies (inevitably) a serious extension of “our knowledge”. But it's something called progress, you know, when a deficient “yesterday truth” is replaced by an explicitly more consistent, problem-solving one (rather than more “mysterious” kind of knowledge as it was in the case of official “new physics” version replacing much less mystified Newtonian world view – despite Newton's strong belief in God and dominating new-physics atheists!).

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Arun said: “In a very real sense, the quest of the Indic civilization and the Indosphere (which via Buddhism extends all the way through China and South East Asia all the way to Japan) is for the realization of meaninglessness, not of meaning. Yes for the realization of immortality, but this only via the dissolution of the personal; I become "immortal" only by the shedding of everything specific to myself.”

Yeah, you guys are really different... What's the value of “immortality” (of “myself”, right?) if my dear self disappears anyway?! It reminds of Kipling's

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgement Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

I just wonder where the other strong man (and still better woman!) is :) ...

But you are right in that this “Eastern” attitude has many implicit followers (whole nations!) well beyond the Indosphere readily wanting, already in this world, to sacrifice their personality in favour of their “collective whole”, in addition to those special communities that love nothingness and emptiness, in theory and practice... But what is particularly curious is that for that another reality after death, all of them rather insist on preservation of their individual personalities in a new world, which is conceived as being very far from emptiness! Disturbing contradictions from a very strange (real?) world... Better to be an atheist indeed to avoid another painful contradiction: but who could create this ... this ... (please, enter your own word for it)?!

Plato said...

Arun,

Well Arun it leaves you with a question.

"does it have the ring of truth?"

Best,

Christine said...

Andrei wrote:

actually very many very fine features of this personality are already uploaded

I am a product of time: both my own (cerebral-processing/environmental) timeline as well as a previous timeline that started with life on earth, its evolution until I appeared (namely, my DNA). To the internet, I am a character -- as you somewhat implicitly admit. I wouldn't deny that this character has its own sense of reality, because at a few events in my timeline I have put a tiny fraction of energy under informational form into the internet. But these tiny bits of energy are not necessarily even representative of my identity. They are just what they appear to others under their own interpretation and extrapolation. This evidently also happens in the real world. I am what people interpret of me, although I believe they can have a much better interpretation if they know me for years in close intimacy.

Also, I do not believe my particular sense of existence could return even if I uploaded all possible information about my history, including DNA. Perhaps in the future one could construct an exact physical replica of Christine by some advaced procedure. But without my private timeline, this Christine would not come to life as me. My private timeline is gone forever: my memory is just a projection and reduction of it. The replica would be just what the name says: a replica (with her own conscience).

I am already someone that is lost forever by myself, this will all eventually extinguish.

Phil Warnell said...

There have been some excellent points raised in debate here. The first that I find intriguing is Christine’s statement that one of the things that draw people to religion is that without it in death they are left alone to face it. My only comment would be this is true only if ones life has been of such a nature that in the end they find themselves in such a position.

The other comment was Arun’s where he made note that it was primarily only the Judeo-Christian brand of religion that is so focused on an afterlife, where the immortality of individual personality has such a prominent position and importance. Now if ones religion’s philosophical centre is focus around the cosmos as a whole it leaves such considerations to be of no importance and to further have one more cognoscente of what they do within this manifestation of consciousness. Also, these other forms challenge one to be more introspective, demanding more learning, study and contemplation.

So I would agree that a religion that is less species focused and more cosmic in nature holds little semblance with what Dawkins takes such strong issue with. Therefore the criticism could extend even further to have one contend that Dawkins insights are far too shallow for anyone who thinks themselves as being intelligent to consider and take seriously. I suggest then that instead of “The God Delusion” it be re-entitled “Atheism for Dummies”.

Christine said...

The first that I find intriguing is Christine’s statement that one of the things that draw people to religion is that without it in death they are left alone to face it.

Hmm, not exactly my words, but I don't know if it makes a difference. My statement was just that religion offers comfort to the idea of death, at least a kind of comfort that many people embrace without questions, that is, in pure faith.

Also, I have mentioned that death, like any other natural process that happens to a living creature, is a completely private one. Even if surrounded by friends and family, death is IMO entirely a lonely process that one have to face at a certain point. You came to existence and then get out of existence. Something that we have to internally accept. Most people choose religion to depart from directly facing such a reality. Many people find the fact (death) unbearable. As for myself, I would like to live much more than the current human life span, in a body of a 30 years old... :) I don't know whether that would make it easier to accept death (perhaps it would make it even worse), but at least I would end reading my pile of books, stay longer with the ones that I love, and contemplate nature at a deeper level...

Best,
Christine

Plato said...

Phil:My only comment would be this is true only if ones life has been of such a nature that in the end they find themselves in such a position.

For certain I do like your new title "Atheism for Dummies" better. For "how shallow" it really is.

But to your first point. It is totally irrelevant from the perspective that as ancient some statements can be, such an idea has been at the basis "of most who believe" that that such routes of travel in death have been written in one form or another.

That some see the "colours of life" as a fog, so it does not reveal its true nature, and yet, some recognize that to clear the muddied waters, life can be lived much fuller.

You must know that "such a scale" is "quite relevant" when we assess our own lives continually. That it can be done in such a "conclusive manner as too, "set the course of a new life."

Best,

Plato said...

...For "how shallow" it really is.

The book of course from reading your perspective,"Therefore the criticism could extend even further to have one contend that Dawkins insights are far too shallow for anyone who thinks themselves as being intelligent to consider and take seriously.":)

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

I understand and can appreciate your position, yet what I have to bring to this only amounts as being of personally experience. That’s not to suggest I’ve been the one facing it, yet I will tell you I’ve faced it with a person who’s life I considered (and still do) more valued and worthwhile then my own. So without this becoming a soap opera or a reality show, I can tell you that such a distinction does matter, for both those that face it and for those that are here still to deal with the aftermath.

As for living much longer without suffering deterioration I certainly can relate to that. One thing I can tell you is that it’s also relevant to how useful and productive ones life is and how ones consider it to be. As for example there is Stephen Hawkings who because of his illness is a intellect trapped within a useless body and yet it is the activity and the usefulness of that mind alone that I am confident that is key to the incredible length of his survival with all considered. One the other hand you have that poor teenage girl who has no friends, coupled with the fact that she considers herself unattractive and therefore worthless finds reason to end it all.

I heard some words of wisdom once I think expressed many years ago from you might find funny being a Disney film, whose name I can’t recall, where it was said something like this:

“Yesterday is merely history and therefore holds little value, while the future is not here and more so uncertain and as such it should not concern us much; yet now is the present with as it’s name suggests also a gift and as being such is what we should be concerned with and cherish as only it can be experienced to be enjoyed.”


Have it be science or religion, I find whatever it takes to have us understand to realize this is what for me is important.


Best,

Phil

Christine said...

Hi Phil,

Those words of wisdom were also mentioned by the old turtle in Kung-Fu Panda movie -- a very nice film BTW, with an interesting message for adults and children.

Best,
Christine

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

To be sure I’m not certain what you are communicating here, yet if it is to argue that there is little to distinguish, as to recommend between eastern and western religious philosophies I can’t agree. I guess to have it become more clear, first is to recognize that ones primarily centered and focused on man and his destiny and the other whose scope is widened to all that exists (organic and inorganic) . The bottom line is that one insists primarily not to displease or anger God so to speak, while the other insists only that one attempts to understand what it is or might be.

As you can see one requires only remembering rules by way of dogma and ritual and the other force an attempt to learn, as to understand in some fashion what all may be about. I’m not certain how you would look upon it, yet for me the latter seems to relate more to science, where the first seems not to require it or sometimes worse allow for it. In my mind an all encompassing philosophy must not only be able to accept the existence and worth of both the how and the why, yet to a large degree have them to be inseparable whatever in truth that turns out to be. It is in this respect I find Dawkins view simply lacking both in depth and scope of what I consider to be an important requirement.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

“Those words of wisdom were also mentioned by the old turtle in Kung-Fu Panda movie -- a very nice film BTW, with an interesting message for adults and children.”

“Kung-Fu Panda movie”, perhaps that’s where I heard it. Again, because this blog is not intended to be a reality show I won’t divulge how that could be, yet it make sense now that I’ve might of heard this more recently. It also indicates that perhaps properly inspired animated films may serve to be in part a modern replacement for out dated religions. Strangely perhaps I would have you take me serious in this.

Best,

Phil

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Christine said: “Even if surrounded by friends and family, death is IMO entirely a lonely process that one have to face at a certain point.”

Ah, my poor friend, you may just haven't noticed it yet, but the same is true for life, which ... doesn't necessarily make it worse. It's there, the whole problem of “spiritual life” (including religion, science and all the rest): if the superficial shell of material existence is left apart, what remains there in your life, for your true self? Conventional religions is an easy substitute for the answer: you don't need to look for your own version. Conventional science is a substitute for a substitute: your own version doesn't exist at all. Finally, the modern buffoon atheism Dawkins style devaluates even this imitation: “stop worrying” about any questions and “enjoy” those material pleasures. But we know that the answer exists, don't we, the true and superbly real one, far beyond all those substitutes. There's only infinity to span to join it...

“As for myself, I would like to live much more than the current human life span, in a body of a 30 years old... :) I don't know whether that would make it easier to accept death (perhaps it would make it even worse), but at least I would end reading my pile of books, stay longer with the ones that I love, and contemplate nature at a deeper level...”

It only shows that you are not ready yet to say goodbye to the ordinary life, with its ordinary pleasures and interests. Take your time until you find that body pleasures are limited, there is no more books worthy of reading, and the ones you love have their own ways and visions, while nature doesn't need your contemplation. It may actually need another you. At that point it's only death that remains for “ordinary people” and it's not a punishment, at that point. But another choice may exist, different from both (known) being and nonbeing. Another being. And when you get there, life naturally extends, simply because there's a new world to explore. Meet you there, one day. And in the meanwhile, here, hopefully :) .

Rae Ann said...

Hi Bee, thanks for the review and sorry for taking this long to get to read it. It's been pretty busy in the new year.

Dawkins' "central argument against the God Hypothesis it is that a God with these abilities necessarily must be more complex than anything it allegedly created, therefore its own existence is enormously improbably, not to mention implausible..."

That's interesting because the very same thing can be said about our own existence, or at least what we know of it in this huge universe. The enormous improbability, as far as we can tell, of our little planet hosting life at all is not an argument against God any more than it is an argument against anything else. And aren't we discovering that the universe is so much more complex and mysterious than our brains can currently decipher? Seems to me that this improbable complexity is as much an argument for the existence of a God as it is against it. In other words, a null argument.

"Trust your elders without question" is his primary psychosocial explanation for religion, but it only tells me that his understanding of human behavior and thinking is too limited. He needs to study up on these topics before preaching that one particular motivation or instinct is the primary reason for the survival of religion. Just because he's a famous physicist doesn't automatically mean he has a deep and meaningful understanding of human nature, history, psychology, and other complex social workings.

Whether or not God is a delusion to people isn't really the issue. There are many other "delusions" that humans have developed over time to deal with each other and themselves. Love is another one of those. No one can "prove" the existence of love, except trying through our words and actions, but science can explain away all of our wonderful feelings with chemical reactions and so on in our brains and bodies. Love is a delusion we define a particular way. The idea of God is just like that. Who is Dawkins or anyone else to go around hating and berating people for prefering to live with some pleasant, though possibly 'unrealistic,' delusion? If Dawkins is angry about the way that the official churches have abused their power then he should focus his hatred towards the lust for power that causes these things. Certainly, religion does not have a monopoly on lust and abuse of power.

Anyway, I'm glad to read your thoughts about the book. It's not your fault, but I am still not convinced that it is something that will enlighten me or otherwise open my eyes to a new understanding of the universe, or even religion.

And anything that is "sexed up" is okay by me. :-)

Bee said...

Hi RaeAnn:

Just because he's a famous physicist doesn't automatically mean he has a deep and meaningful understanding of human nature, history, psychology, and other complex social workings.

Richard Dawkins is not a physicist, check his Wikipedia entry. On the points you criticize, he is summarizing other people's work, from psychologists over ethologists, biologists and sociologists, I didn't check up on all references. Best,

B.

Low Math, Meekly Ineracting said...

My take on Dawkin's T.D.G is unchanged: It's an enormous waste of time. I'm quite sympathetic to his basic premise, but as his critics have pointed out quite convincingly, he's an apparently deliberately poor excuse for a philosopher. He both disdains their musings (as I happen to do as well), but wants to argue with them on their terms, seemingly ignorant that others have made some of his own points for him already, and far more convincingly. Dawkins unfortunately brings nothing new to the table except his own rather strident point of view, and does so in a rather slipshod manner, by philosophical standards. Other than arming atheists with sound-bites and yet another reason to cite his name in arguments from authority, it amounts to little more than blowing off steam. Everyone has a right to do that, and to make it widely public if they so choose, but there's little here to champion or really admire.

I have my own personal concern with the indoctrination hypothesis: It glosses over the troubling possibility that tendency toward "magical" and religious thinking is innate, and in many individuals quite inexorable. We hear no one addressing the real concern that if we could somehow wave a magic wand and erase all knowledge of organized faith from the human collective conscience, it would not reinvent itself in short order. This is a fundamental question of human nature, one even Dawkins has alluded to, yet he bulldozes on as if one can argue our way out of the problem, with little good data pro or con that approach. I think that's very unscientific. And if one is to argue that science is in fact the way out, again, what's the point?

Christine said...

Hi Andrei,

Congratulations to you for what appears from your message, at least to me, that the subject is solved to you -- you have defeated death!

Yes, and yes, I am not ready to die anytime soon, thanks. But, perhaps, when I grow up I can be as wise as you... and then accept it in a complete superior mind.

Bee said...

Hi Low Math,

I think the goal Dawkins was aiming at was simply not a novel or philosophical contribution with academic arguments, but he wanted to reach the masses. That's why his book is polemic, that's why high-brow critics complain he doesn't say anything new. One doesn't have to like that style, but to some extend I think his book is useful, timely and necessary, if only to stir up discussions like this one.

I agree with your comment that 'magical' thinking seems to be deeply ingrained in the human psyche. I think one has to find a way to live with it, not against it, this isn't going to work (at least not any time soon). Best,

B.

Giotis said...

Bee sorry but it would be good if you didn't use terms like "masses". There are no "masses". This is an offensive term used to diminish the value of human life and to suppress the individual thinking; aiming to turn us all to a flock of sheep.

Phil Warnell said...

“There are no "masses". This is an offensive term used to diminish the value of human life and to suppress the individual thinking; aiming to turn us all to a flock of sheep.”

I guess then Dawkings is correct, not only is there no God, yet better still we never truly needed one, for there are plenty willing and able to act in replacement as mind police. So this is what we have to look forward to in this brave new world. On second thought perhaps dogma and ritual isn’t all that bad.

Andrei Kirilyuk said...

Christine said: “But, perhaps, when I grow up I can be as wise as you... and then accept it in a complete superior mind.”

Oh, dear, being as wise as me is a really immense task! :) But yours is still much greater than this because you see, one should manage to be both wise and something opposite, (positively) “crazy”, motivated for a true change, ready to meet the challenge and evolve far beyond what they say you may dream about. Using the unified power of one's left and right hemispheres, so to say (if you recall a recent discussion here about it :) )...

In the meanwhile, just trying to postpone death by defeating boredom ... as all of us, finally, in our own ways. Dawkins is amusing with his clownish atheistic campaigns, we are amusing with denouncing his campaigns, and somebody is amusing with reading our ridiculous chats (maybe God). And thus the world keeps turning round and nobody knows why (maybe not even God). Fortunately nothing is eternal and too many things show that this cycle of everything is at its very end. And when the end is ours, then all the private ends meet in one great bifurcation and we shall see the purpose, in all its superior beauty. And after that - but only after that - will all religions and sciences lose their meanings. And before that they will continue stupidly their hectic activity, with the only real purpose, to defeat boredom and let the world make one more senseless turn. So the “victory” is not to “solve the problem of death”, it is to remain in the process of solution, but desirably really advancing, progressive one. There are so many strange people that are afraid of death and progress simultaneously. Life without change, without worrying, just “enjoying”, moving on the same circles... Quantum field theory without limits... What can be better, indeed? But we know, don't we, that the exquisite luxury of staying alive comes at a very high price, as high as real progress... Thanks for company anyway, on this turn of a spiral, and nice dreams from Hilbert space. :)

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

Instead of being bothered by my choice of vocabulary, why not extract instead the meaning? Dawkins didn't want to write a book that appeals to a small group of people on a high intellectual level which requires a lot of previous knowledge, but one that as many people as possible could relate to. Does that sound better to you? Is says the same thing. Best,

B.

Low Math, Meekly Ineracting said...

I dunno. Dawkins certainly wasn't writing for a scholarly audience, but the (I think quite valid) complaints leveled against him were that he cites certain philosophers of religion in a highly selective manner, maintains a kind of willful ignorance of the rest, seems to crib some of their arguments without attribution, and defends himself by claiming that body of literature isn't worth his time to familiarize himself with. He seems to be trying to have it both ways with philosphy (I hate it unless it's MY philosophy), and I can't understand what the use is. I mean, I tend to agree with him that it's a lot of navel-gazing interminable ruminating over completely unresolvable questions. He doesn't want to be a rigorous philosopher, doesn't value being one, but makes the attempt anyway in spite of himself, and inevitably does a rather half-arsed job at it. Why? He's more than capable of formulating rigorous and extremely compelling positive arguments about other things, not the least because those other things interest him enough to gather publication-quality knowledge of.

Don't get me wrong: I like his writing style, I think he's great with a turn-of-phrase, I'd certainly want him on my team if it's time to polemicize or indulge in some bitingly eloquent sardonicism, but beyond that, well...there's less there than meets the eye, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

I think what is essential to realize is that the book is written as a response to the creationist (intelligent design) movement primarily in the USA, but also in Britain. As a result, the arguments are meant to rebut an American/British idea of Christianity (with a belief in "God") and their rejection (and well funded suppression) of scientific explanations which even slightly contradict their viewpoint of the world.

Dawkins never tackles Eastern religions (some of which can be atheist), because I doubt he even understands them.

Anonymous said...

All these "believers" are really doubters because they don't practice what they preach.

When it comes to being sick they don't go to a witch doctor or pray for help, they rely on science.

"nothing can actually fill in various social, ethical and spiritual “holes” left by the practically dead religious beliefs, despite various efforts, education, science, culture and ... pleasures, of course! And another one is directly related to existing science incompleteness: it cannot consistently explain the true origin/nature of practically anything"

Ethical holes? Christianity isn't ethical by any standard, the church endorsed slavery until recently. Please. Moral values existed well before someone tried to codify them and pretend it came from a talking deity.

Science will never explain everything, that is no reason to make up your fantastic explanation that has no evidence.

God never talks to groups of people, only individuals. Typical con artist game. The world is full of hucksters and there are plenty afoot now, one man claims to be Jesus and 100,000 people follow him. Too funny for words.

Feel free to practice your religion but if you claim to govern me by your secret code then count me out. That is when religion becomes a danger to life on earth.

Father Clifford Stevens said...

Richard Dawkins has taken upon himself, with a scientific genius unparalleled since the rise of modern science, the task of dismantling religion before the eyes of the whole world. His audacity in this attack is backed by a scientific knowledge which, he says, undermines the foundation of religion, and exposes its fragile, infantile and destructive nature and its corrosive evil effects. His intent and purpose is well summed up in a phrase of another master of the well-turned phrase, Francois Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, "Encraser l'infame" This is undoubtedly the goal of Richard Dawkins: "Religion is a disease of the mind, get rid of the damned thing."

The only answer to Richard Dawkins is an attack in the opposite direction, exposing with awe-ful clarity the unreasoned foundation of his own premises and the pathetic infantile logic upon which they are based. He stands upon a mountain of knowledge of which he is the master and brilliant exponent, but none of his conclusions flow logically from that mountain of knowledge, but are based upon the primal fear of a feral child lost in the woods and cursing the darkness.

He is locked in the empiricism of Berkeley, Locke and Hume. He cannot recognize the difference between an opinion and a reasoned conclusion and his logical tools have been replaced by ridicule, revulsion and satire, in the face of a body of theological knowledge and theological culture too massive for his well-honed empirical skills. He is a master satirist, but satire is the last refuge of the intellectually incompetent, and of masters of deceit who create clever images to hide the poverty of their thinking, and, like a master magician, become masters of illusion as well.

The illusion he creates is that of a master of anthropology, history, philosophy, literature, education, and every human art and science, while his own knowledge is wrapped up in a few key concepts of Darwinian evolution, which no reasonable person questions, but from which he has drawn historical, anthropological and cultural conclusions, having no basis in the scientific data of which he is the supreme master.

It reminds one of Adolf Hitler's use of a diseased racial anthropology, concocted by his own masters of deceitk to despise, outlaw and ultimately plan the destruction of a whole race that he had painted with his own anthropological brush, and, if Richard Dawkins is correct in his diatribe against people of religious convictions, he is ready to outlaw those who hold convictions contrary to his own and imprison them in his own version insane asylums.

This deceit and claim of scientific inpartiality is backed by an overwhelming knowledge of evolutionary biology as if this gave him the key to the secrets of the universe and of human life itself. He has created an illusion of certainty based on the three-legged stol of Darwinian Evolution: Natural Selection, Descent with Modification, and Survival of the Fittest. That stool is supposed to explain the whole of human civilization and culture, the totality of human history and the root and origin of religion. THe rawest student in cultural anthropology could point out how thin is the reasoning and how fallacious the claim: parturiunt montes, mascetur ridiculus mus.

Bee said...

Hi Father,

Your comment is a perfect example of an ad hominem attack. Do you have anything to say of substance? I am reminded of a remark Paul Ginsparg made so aptly, sooner or later everybody will be compared to Hitler. Try harder. Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

BTW, The good Father here is not "attacking" anyone, he is only stating his own opinion just like everyone else. The whole book is based on an attack of believers, are we not allowed to use our god given free will to fight back? You stand for what you believe in as do we. If you guys don't want to go to church, fine, I didnt ask you to wake up at 9am and join the car pool. sheesh! on another note... i dont care what you believe as you dont care what i do.

How come something can be created from nothing is the real answer everyones seeking and what happens when you pass Nobody has been able to "prove" anything yet, even basic element of physics that are present, we have no understanding why they are here or how. We have "faith" you have theories. So why can't we all just get along? :P

God bless! and to the nah sayers "nothing happens when you die" so cya!

Phil said...

as an atheist i will admit to religion being the foundation for all civilization as it has given people a set of morales without which there could have been no success. That being said with those ideas and morales having them been driven into us since we were children have ended up leaving us with a moral compass which we do not directly need religion for anymore. Religion was founded because before there was much of a capability for research to have been done. People up until at least 200 years ago used it to en masse to have their fear of truly being empowered, in control of their own lives and results on the world be explained as well as to get rid of some personal responsibility.
PRAISE JESUS
^^^^^^^^^^------just kidding

Literary Kitty said...

I really enjoyed this book, though I thought it was a bit of a slow starter. I suppose it is a kind of 'atheists' handbook' but I definitely don't think that's to its detriment.

Christopher said...

"science does not accomodate for these human needs"

Religion has completely ruined how humans have been forced to survive....that without it, we would have no purpose or sense of belonging, or being a part of something...

Can we not all be part of this world?? and live in peace?

people are so brainwashed, it is scary...

"because science is all about competition"

um...well i think christianity is like a competition that if you don't enter, you not gonna win eternal life

jessica said...

believe in something..anything..it does not matter if it is religious or not...if it guides your life in being a good person and getting along in society then thats all that matters.

hpbbq said...

I have been an atheist for the majority of my (as yet) young life. Reading 'The God Delusion' has been a breath of fresh air as it cogently and elegantly articulates the reasoning behind atheism. It has instilled in me the confidence to oppose the deeply-rooted religious beliefs of my friends who often ignore proffered rationale and depend solely on (often misplaced) faith. Dawkins is able to shred their theistic arguments with consummate ease! A thrilling read!