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A Debater's Defense of His Atheism Points to the Perils of Religious Extremism
am 21. Mai 2007
Having enjoyed and learned from many of Professor Dawkins' writings about evolutionary theory and genetics, I was interested in why he thinks that believing in God is a delusion. I expected to find some detailed scientific experiments establishing this point. While the book certainly contains references to science and some experiments, I was disappointed to find that the book actually takes the approach that many high school students use in their debates. You demonize the other side by pointing out its worst flaws . . . and hope that no one notices your flaws.
Let me briefly summarize his major points. If you understand what those points are, you'll be in a better position to judge whether this book is right for you.
1. You can be impressed by the complexity and beauty of the world around you without believing in God.
2. Smart people (and almost all scientists you've ever heard of) don't believe in God.
3. Religious people are a threat to smart people and scientific inquiry.
4. Arguments for religious beliefs deserve no special respect.
5. The theological, philosophical and historical arguments for God's existence don't impress Professor Dawkins in logical or scientific terms.
6. The enormity of the Universe suggests that God (if He exists) is highly unlikely.
7. Morality doesn't need religion to be pursued.
8. Reading the Bible or Koran will incite you to behave in monstrous ways, such as by destroying those you perceive as being opposed to your religion.
9. Many arguments against atheists are based on faulty information.
10. Many religious people are very hostile to everyone who is not of their beliefs.
11. Religious experience is based on people being ignorant of the facts or deluding themselves with wishful thinking.
11. Creationism (and Intelligent Design) are harmful beliefs.
12. Having more people not believe in God will create room for better living and thinking.
13. Children should be protected from being taught religious beliefs by their parents.
As I read the book, I felt like I was seeing the thoughts of someone who can only see the world through the filter of the scientific method and the latest scientific "facts" and theories. Having seen how often scientific "fact" turns out to be wrong (as pointed out by other scientists a few years later), I find that single filter to be a fragile basis for determining if God exists . . . especially when Professor Dawkins doesn't employ the scientific method in his search for an answer. That suggests that Professor Dawkins is simply trying to defend his beliefs, something we are all entitled to do.
As a trained historian, I was struck by how much weight he puts on some historians' perceptions of whether or not certain biblical events took place or not. Historians are usually aware that getting things right over thousands of years is pretty near impossible for them to do.
As a student of the Bible, I also think that Professor Dawkins is better at picking at particular passages than he is at reading the overall message of the Bible. In places, we are told that God has superseded the old and replaced the old with new rules, for example. Thus, we shouldn't follow the old rules. Many of the extremes Professor Dawkins points out are superseded rules in the Christian faith.
Professor Dawkins is on solid ground where he points out that most believers have never read their own holy books and often hold opinions that are contrary to what those books say. Based on those erroneous opinions, extreme behavior that is not called for in the holy books is pursued. That's clearly regrettable.
What's the basic point? Davy Crockett probably said it best. "Be sure you're right. Then go ahead." Too many people are assuming that first step (that they are right), rather than checking out their understanding before acting.
I didn't find that believing in God is a delusion after reading this book. If that's what you want to learn, you may find that reading this atheist's arguments will convince you that your faith is justified. Or you could simply reaffirm your faith in some other way.
If you want to explore whether to become an atheist, I suspect you can find a better book than this one. I haven't read one so I cannot make a recommendation in that regard.
Ultimately, I suspect that the tone of the book in downgrading religion and religious impulses is heavily influenced by the often obnoxious treatment that Professor Dawkins has received from religious people who oppose his views on evolution and genetics. I hope he will learn to forgive them.