Response to Dawkins’s Preface
|December 12, 2006||Posted by Anthony under Blog, book reviews, General|
The reason why I have decided to address this book beginning with the preface is because it is here that I think we can see at a glance just how far off Mr. Dawkins is from credibly speaking to God as a ‘delusion’ or even ‘religion’ in general. There are three minor points and one major point that I wish to make.
Minor Point 1.
Dawkins is evangelistic in his approach. We read this quote: “”I suspect- well, I am sure- that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don’t believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parent’s religion and wish they could, but just realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you.”
I think this tells us much about the man. The truth is that you cannot throw a stick in the United States without hitting someone who has left ‘their parent’s religion.’
Despite this reality, Dawkins appears to feel incredibly alone in the world. I think what’s going on here is that Dawkins is uncomfortable, if not outright annoyed, by the fact that despite that legions of people have abandoned mainline Christianity for this alternative or that, the fact is that they haven’t chosen HIS alternative. Books like the “Celestine Prophecy” do not become best sellers within a society where people are too chicken to leave ‘their parent’s religion.’ I submit that this detachment from reality indicates that there is more going on in Dawkins’s mind, and one should be skeptical about his claims.
Major Point 1.
Mr. Dawkins aims to provide an overview of the ten chapters in his book. Chapter 1 is a discussion on religious people that Dawkins can tolerate (1% of the world) and those he can’t (the other 99%). Chapter 2 is presented like this: “Perhaps you feel that agnosticism is a reasonable position, but that atheism is just as dogmatic as religious belief? If so, I hope that Chapter 2 will change your mind, by persuading you that ‘the God hypothesis’ is a scientific hypothesis about the universe, which should be analysed as sceptically as any other.” If you come to agree with this, he asserts that “… you might enjoy Chapter 3 on ‘Arguments for God’s existence’ – the arguments turn out to be spectacularly weak.”
This is our first clue that we are not dealing with a credible perspective. I am not talking about the claim that the ‘God hypothesis’ should be ‘analysed as sceptically as any other.’ I agree with that. The notion that ‘God’ is a ‘scientific hypothesis’ is so off base, one wonders why his editors didn’t correct him. There is a reason why Gould and Collins come to the conclusion that science cannot speak to the question of God. The very definition of God is that he is a transcendental entity, who if anything, determines and sustains the very physical laws that science- allegedly restricted to the empirically verifiable- is constrained to.
In another place, he insists “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other. God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” Pg 50 With such a muddled definition of ‘God’ in play, one wonders what ‘God’ he is talking about here, but the problem is compounded even more by his casually overlooking the need to define exactly what a ‘scientific fact’ is. Given a transcendental entity, direct empirical detection of God is simply not possible, and for most people, ‘direct empirical detection’ is exactly what they think when they hear ‘scientific fact.’ You know… like phenomena like gravity and the speed of light.
If by ‘scientific detection’ you merely mean accessible at some point and place in time by our senses (via our empirical faculties) then not only is this assertion of his true, but it is insignificant. On that basis, everything is science, including history, literature, lust, and ‘Cretaceous extinctions.’ Describing the ‘God Hypothesis’ with that definition requires a watering down of ‘science’ to such triviality that it is no surprise, really, that he does not bother to pause and define ‘science’ for us. I should wish that he had: I think the world’s population would be served well to hear what passes for ‘science’ these days.
Worse, Dawkins does not merely mischaracterize ‘God,’ but he exhibits absolutely no intellectual and scholarly rigor in his description and definition. This is the ‘God Hypothesis,’ according to him: “there exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and anything in it, including us.”
When I first read that, I saw the word ‘super-human’ and wondered if he really was suggesting that the entity in question could be some contingent agent, perhaps a super-powerful space alien. The statement seems to speak only to relative intelligence (or so I hoped), but he cinched it himself, by saying, later, “Whether we ever get to know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century.” Pg 72.
Yes. Dawkins really does believe that the God defended by arguments by Aquinas which Dawkins will attack in chapter 3 may be qualitatively indistinguishable from Clark Kent. This point is rammed home when he says, “I am not attacking the particular qualities of Yahweh, or Jesus, or Allah, or any other specific god such as Baal, Zeus or Watan.” pg 31. He seriously believes that the ‘Abrahamic God’ defended over thousands of years now is akin to a comic book hero, or Ra, as illustrated in the movie Stargate.
Not only does he blunder along in these lines, but he considers the differences as being unimportant: “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.'” Pg 35
This ‘simply God’ is the very same God that he is going to be attacking in the next seven chapters, specifically taking aim at arguments for the existence of the ‘Abrahamic God.’ This is such a dramatic disconnect from reality, common sense, and even elementary education, it requires an explanation. But we’ll get to it in the last minor point. We need to hammer home the utter deficiency of Dawkins’s scholarship and credibility. Let me do so by comparing Dawkins’s discussion about what he plans on attacking with a much more reasonable and honest example.
I mean, of course, Antony Flew’s “God and Philosophy.” Of course, I disagree with much of what Flew says, but you’ve got to give the man credit, especially when you have a example in view showing how badly the matter could have been handled. In “God and Philosophy” Flew spends pages 1 thru 68 just on a discussion about what is meant by ‘God.’ That’s pretty respectable.
Now, it’s true that chapter two is titled ‘the God Hypothesis’ and runs from pages 31 to 73, but in fact only pages 31 thru 38 speak directly to it, concluding with the view that monotheism is conceptually in the same category as Ra and Zeus- which is ridiculous. Dawkins then invests pages 39 thru 46 to the question of whether or not America has secular roots or not, pages 46 thru 54 on attacking agnosticism, pages 54 thru 60 on Gould and whether or not ‘theism’ is a matter of scientific inquiry, pages 61 thru 66 on ‘The Great Prayer Experiment”, pages 66 thru 69 attacking cowardly evolutionists (seriously), pages 69 thru 73 on parodies of theism and whether or not space aliens could be considered ‘gods.’ Seriously. I kid you not.
It is with this under his belt that Dawkins sees fit to begin chapter 3 with an attack on Christian theism (he goes after the arguments of Christian theists, anyway). More than 300 pages of rebuttal are given to a proposition described and defended in one or two sentences here or there in a span of only about 9 pages. I for one almost can’t believe that no one has called him on this. I think people need to stop handling Mr. Dawkins with kid gloves, because this is getting absurd.
I said that this disconnect from reality requires explanation. Let me do so briefly by illustration.
Minor Point 2.
With such sheer ignorance on display, one wonders how nobody caught it. Of course, it’s obvious- Mr. Dawkins did not run his notions by anybody who ought to have known better. This is understandable, as this would mean running his notions by trained theologians, but he bends over backwards in numerous cases to mock theologians, and well, anyone with religious education. He can’t expose his statements to review by theologians and dismiss their intelligence at the same time, for reasons I don’t need to explain.
When we do get around to hearing about who helped Dawkins, we hear a long list of militant atheists: Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, and Dan Barker, to pull off some more well known names, but the entire list is chock filled with them. These are all people who share his perspective so it is perfectly understandable that even basic distinctions would go missed. You see the same approach in Mr. Shermer’s “Why We Believe What we Believe” where we hear of a litany of skeptical reviewers (Shermer did get one token theist in- Richard Abanes). This is all well and good if you’re trying to establish a pedigree of respectability among like minded people, but it’s not very good when you are specifically trying to dismantle someone else’s propositions. Contrast, for example, Angus Menuge’s “Agents Under Fire” where he pulls in Michael Ruse. At the very least, you know that the position being attacked is really the actual position, and not a strawman.
There is no way any reasonably informed person can conclude that Dawkins is representing questions about God accurately. In my opinion, it is reasonable grounds to distrust everything else he says, as well. At the very least, I can think of hardly any reason at all to fear the arguments in “The God Delusion” and I would actually go so far as to require this book in high school religion classes across the world just so that students can hear what the ‘best’ arguments against their God are.
This leads, finally, to Minor Point 3.
I mentioned earlier that I think that there is something more going on in Dawkins head. It’s evident from Â¾ of what he says that he has very little respect for the intelligence of 99% of the world, but I suspect that this troubles him because even he is uncomfortable with how arrogant this view is. That is why he wants people to know that they can leave their ‘parent’s religion.’ But I think that’s what is also behind statements like this, also in the preface:
“But atheists are a lot more numerous, especially among the educated elite, than many realize. This was so even in the nineteenth century, when John Stuart Mill was already able to say: ‘The world would be astonished if it knew how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments, of those most distinguished even in popular estimation for wisdom and virtue, are complete sceptics in religion.’ This must be even truer today…”
Dawkins says this as though it is some sort of breakthrough. Christians have been saying this for a generation. I’m glad this is on the table, because I’ve been particularly annoyed at the persistent assertion that “most scientists are actually Christian.” No, they really aren’t. Many are, but most aren’t. (Physicists seem to be more inclined to be theists and Christians than biologists… I wonder why that is…) At any rate, none of the scientists that Dawkins cites are Christians that I know of. The point here from Dawkins is that the elite of the world are actually atheists. The message is clear: “the rest are idiots- don’t you want to be an elite, and not an idiot?”
And this isn’t a strawman of my own, either. For example, this blogger seems to be fairly ecstatic to learn that he is counted among the smart people: http://mycaseagainstgod.blogspot.com/2006/10/with-whom-will-you-side-ill-take.html
I have no doubt that a large swath of our professors are secular humanists of the most profound type. The question is whether or not they are atheists because atheism is really a more tenable view, or if in fact they themselves are victims of the very thing they accuse religious people of perpetuating: indoctrination.
This indoctrination comes with the sweet recognition that people with letters after their names tend to both receive and transmit that indoctrination. The reader should be wary of this sort of argument, and my friends who urged ‘respect’ for Dawkins had better take notice on the pernicious methods and insinuations that Dawkins thrives on.
This has only been the preface. You can well expect that with such a strawman presentation of ‘theism’ at work, “The God Delusion” hardly dignifies a response, and to tell you the truth it annoys me that I have to respond to it. You’d think a lot of people out there with better credentials could have torn Dawkins to pieces a thousand times over the last twenty years. Folks, if you let the bully bully, this is the situation you get.
Soon, reviews on the next chapters.