Saturday, February 03, 2007

* The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I have to come clean on a host of topics. First, in 1983 I read the 'Selfish Gene' by Dawkins. It had a profound impact on my worldview. Unfortunately, no book since from Dawkins has measured up to that first breathtaking publication of his. I would have to sadly add this to the pile. The book is not a tight, coherent, compelling argument against God which forces you into a corner with no recourse. Instead it is full of details, tangents, scientific minutaie. Sure for a fellow atheist, it will make sense, and in fact, it was already clear to start with. A far more entertaining book on this subject is Sam Harris' 'Letter to a Christian Nation', which Dawkins cites and quotes from. I'd start there.

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever… I have never imputed a purpose or a goal or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic… The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems na├»ve. – Albert Einstein, setting the record straight on this faith or faithlessness.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak, a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. P31

I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented. P36 Dawkins setting the record straight.

A $2.4M heart study published in the American Heart Journal April 2006 proved that there was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those were not. What a surprise! There was a difference between those who knew they had been prayed for and those who did not know one way or the other; but it went in the wrong direction. Those that knew they were the beneficiaries of prayer suffered significantly more complications than those who did not. Was God smiting them to show his disapproval of the whole experiment? P63

Intelligent design is a really a problem in itself. This is because the designer itself immediately raises the bigger problem of its own origin. Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable a universe would have to be even more improbable than a universe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance. P120

How could evolution ever be falsified (proven wrong)? [Easy! Just find] ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.’ –JBS Haldane p128

Did evolution create god?
In our ancestral past our greatest challenge in our environment came from each other. ‘The legacy of that is the default assumption, often fear, of human intention. We have a great deal of difficulty seeing anything other than human causation’ We naturally generalized that to divine intention. P144

What could be simpler than one God that controls everything? Well actually, almost everything. A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to require a mammoth explanation in its own right. P149

“If God answered the prayers for our loved ones to recover from cancer, then cancer would no longer be a problem for humans to solve.” (quote from Richard Swineburne – British Theologian). And then what would we do with our time? P149

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… There will be a selective advantage to children that possess the rule of thumb: believe without question whatever grown ups tell you. This is a generally valuable rule for a child. But it can go wrong. [Faith in God is an example.] P175

The flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses. For excellent reasons related to Darwinian survival, child brains need to trust parents and elders whom parents tell them to trust. An automatic consequence is that the child has no way of distinguishing good advice from bad. The child cannot know [initially until they are older] that not swimming in a crocodile infested river is a great idea, and that sacrificing a goat to the moon god to induce rain is a waste of time. Both come from a respected source and are delivered with solemn earnestness that commands respect and obedience. The same goes for propositions about the world, cosmos, morality, and human nature [and education – even in the sciences – until the child matures and can consider the issues himself]. And very likely, when the child grows up and has children of her own, she will naturally pass the whole lot on to her own children – nonsense as well as sense – using the same gravitas of manner. P176

Children are natural born dualists. Dualists acknowledge a fundamental distinction between matter and mind. A monist believes that mind is a manifestation of matter, and can’t exist apart from matter. A dualist believes the mind is some kind of disembodied spirit that inhabits the body and therefore conceivably could leave the body and exist somewhere else. Dualist personify inanimate objects at the slightest opportunity, seeing spirits and demons in waterfalls, clouds, stars, etc. p180

There is no 1 to 1 mapping between genes and units of anatomy and behavior. Genes collaborate with 100s of other genes in programming the developmental processes that culminate in a body, in the same way that words of a recipe collaborate in cooking process that culminates in a savory dish. It is not the case that each word of the recipe corresponds to a different morsel of the dish. P197

Cargo cults. New religions being born before our eyes.
[You can find lots of info on these bizarre religious cults that sprang up during WWII in the pacific theater.] One cult devotee responded to a critic that said ‘It has been 19 years since John Frum [the cult’s savior] said the cargo should have come. The cargo has not come. Isn’t 19 years a long time to wait? The devotee replies, ‘If you can wait 2000 years for Jesus to come, and he has come yet, then I can wait more than 19 years for John.’ P205

Many people today take the whole of their scripture to be literal fact. Many others consider it not literal fact but as an allegory. Let’s take as an example (for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, and how we should morally interpret this example from the Old Testament. Modern theologians would protest that this should not be taken as literal fact. OK, should we take it as an allegory then? As a moral lesson? But what kind of moral could one derive from this appalling story? Remember that God ordered Abraham to burn his son. So Abraham built an altar, gathered wood, tied his son up on top it, lit it ablaze, and just as the act was about to be completed, an angel told him to spare Isaac, and that God was only testing his faith. A modern moralist can’t help but to wonder how a child could ever recover from such psychological trauma. This disgraceful story is an example simultaneously of child abuse, bullying in 2 asymmetrical power relationships, and the first recorded use of the Nuremburg defense ‘I was only obeying orders’. Yet this legend is one of the great foundational myths of all 3 monotheistic religions. P242

“With or without religion, you’d have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg Nobel Laureate

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction” - Blaise Pascal

Polls suggest that 95% of US population believe that they will survive their own death. I can’t help wondering how many people who claim such belief really in their heart of hearts hold it. If they were really sincere, then why don’t they beam excitedly when told by their doctor that they have only month to live? Why don’t faithful visitors at her bedside shower her with messages for those who have gone before? Why don’t religious people act this way in the presence of the dying including their own? Could it be that they don’t really believe it? Or could be that they believe it, but fear the process of dying only? But we have no qualms putting our beloved pets ‘to sleep’, and laud this as humane. So why does the most vocal opposition to euthanasia come from the religious? The official reason is that killing is a sin, but why deem it as a sin if you a sincerely believe you are accelerating a journey to heaven, and you are sparing someone of the painful‘dying’ process? P356 Why should Rover get the first class treatment put Pops has to suffer?

The Meme Machine, Blackmore S

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World: A short history of Modern Delusions Wheen, F 2004

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My impression from the book was that Dawkins has set out to mobilise atheists, rather than open the eyes of bible thumpers. I know he succeeded at least to some degree, and am but one atheist to 'come out of the closet' as a result of The God Delusion.

It's near impossible to disprove a negative, and a futile to attempt in trying to do so. No, I think Dawkins is preaching to the choir in hopes that they go out and spread the message in ways that will best influence their own circles.